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The Triumph Of The Baroque Style

Jun 28, 2008
Toward the close of the 16th century a style came into being that expressed a new concept of nature and the world, of the relationships among people, and of the function of art itself in the realms of both secular and religious power and in the private realm dedicated to the enjoyment of beauty.

This amazing style was the baroque and the capital of baroque architecture was papal Rome, with Gian Lorenzo Bernini and Francesco Borromini its leading exponents. Baroque architecture is the expression of a civilization of awe-inspiring, splendid, magniloquent images exploited by the powerful to disguise a far different reality, dramatic and full of strife: it is a tool for persuasion and propaganda.

In its effort to triumph over the Protestant heresy, the Roman church used artistic representations to spread the ideas of the Catholic religion; in the same way, Europe's great monarchs called upon artists to use it to exalt their power and prestige. This architectural language used 'rhetorical figures' for the alteration of classical proportions, the effects of gigantism, the expansion of spaces, and the dynamism of forms in the constant search for surprising and paradoxical effects.

Almost at the same time in the history, the interaction between the arts was put to the service of a display that preferred theatrical and illusionistic effects because of their ability to turn the public into both spectator and participant at once. The Galilean vision of the universe had given the arts a yearning for the infinite, expressed and at the same time manipulated in the marvelous optical tricks and effects of the period, in the exploration of the uncertain borders between truth and verisimilitude.

Artists mimicked the creative processes of nature and transposed natural reality into something artificial, even using light, water, and fire in their artistic creations. The palace and its facade, conceived as a theatrical backdrop, assumed a fundamental value, while the royal palaces in the countryside, from Versailles to Caserta, became emblematic expressions of 17th-century absolutism.

The church reproposed the basilican scheme, often using the ellipse as the geometric model of reference in increasingly audacious combination effects that made the dome the visual centre of urban space. At the same time the cities of Europe were being redefined with the creation of new, more easily travelled street systems, usually with right-angled or radial arrangements and vast squares. Undeniable, the triumph of the baroque started to see its influences everywhere!
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