From the riot of curves and decoration of the baroque to the opulence of rococo
More than any other movement, the Baroque aimed toward a seamless meshing of architecture and art.
The stuccoes, sculptures, and paintings were all carefully designed to complement each other—and the space itself—to create a unified whole.
This whole was both aesthetic and narrative, the various art forms all working together to tell a single Biblical story (or, often, to subtly relate the deeds of the commissioning patron to great historic or Biblical events).
Rococo is the Baroque gone awry into the grotesque, excessively complex and dripping with decorative tidbits.
The Baroque flourished across Italy, but some of the best examples include Borromini’s Sant’Ivo alla Sapienza in Rome (1640s) with it's interplay of concave and convex ovals, interlocking truncated triangles, and an elliptical ramp-like dome that looks like nothing so much as soft-serve ice cream (as scooped by a mathematician).
One of the quirkiest and most felicitous Baroque styles flourished in the churches of the Apulian city Lecce. When an earthquake decimated the Sicilian town of Noto near Siracusa, it was rebuilt from scratch on a complete Baroque city plan, it streets and squares made as viewing platforms for the theatrical backdrops of its churches and palaces.
Identifiable features of Baroque architecture
- Classical architecture rewritten with curves. The Baroque is like a Renaissance where many of the crisp angles and ruler-straight lines are exchanged for curves of complex geometry and an interplay of concave and convex. The overall effect is to lighten the appearance of structures and add movement of line and vibrancy to the static look of the classical Renaissance.
- Complex decoration. Unlike the sometimes severe and austere designs of the Renaissance, the Baroque was playful. Architects festooned structures and encrusted interiors with an excess of decorations intended to liven things up—lots of ornate stuccowork, pouty cherubs, airy frescoes, heavy gilding, twisting columns, multicolored marbles, and general frippery.
- Multiplying forms. The Baroque asked why make do with one column when you can stack a half dozen partial columns on top of each other, slightly offset, until the effect is like looking at a single column though a fractured kaleidoscope? The Baroque loved to pile up its forms and elements to create a rich, busy effect, breaking a pediment curve into segments so each would protrude further out than the last, or building up an architectural feature by stacking short sections of concave walls, each one curving to a different arc.