Italian Baroque

Italian Baroque

Italy was a birth-place of another major style – baroque. Its origin was conditioned by the beginning of Counterreformation processes that took place in Rome, as the center of Catholic power. The country was again in difficult historical conditions, divided between Spanish Habsburgs, Papal government and several independent republic and aristocratic states. For sure such situation left a mark on cultural atmosphere of that time. Masters of Italian baroque art were among the first, who saw the complexity and mystery of the world. They weren’t afraid of showing the fragility of human being, the contradictoriness of his nature and all obstacles awaiting for us on the way to spiritual values.

Italian Baroque Architecture

Italian Baroque art served for manifestation of catholic and absolutistic ideas. When it comes to innovations, 17th cent. Roman architects didn’t produce new types of buildings, but found for old one – churches, palaces, villas – new constructive compositional and decorative methods, that radically changed form and content of architectural image. They strived for dynamic and dramatic space, rendered volumes in more picturesque way, apply complex plans with prevalent curvilinear shapes. They destroyed tectonic connection between interior and façade, underlining the esthetical and decorative value of the latter. Deliberately using antique architectural orders, they emphasize the plasticity and theatricality of the general building concept.

Special attention was paid to the development of typical temple façade. For baroque architects in Italy and other countries a sample for creating it was the façade of Il Gesu Jesuit church, designed by Giacomo Della Porta. Here we see irregular vertical partition, with order elements that outline the direction of the movement. All that, as well as big decorative volutes, semicircular pediments, broken cornices etc., became typical toolset of baroque architect. Another outstanding master of his epoch, who provided totally new figurative language to the 17th cent. style was Francesco Borromini. His San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane demonstrates ingenious and spectacular interpretation of simple geometrical shape of the oval.

Italian Baroque Sculpture

Architecture and sculpture were tied-up in Baroque period. For ecclesiastic buildings freestanding statues, sculptural groups, relief compositions on biblical themes and sculptural tombs were created. Mundane affectation and spiritual outburst merged in them. As the brightest example, the work of Bernini “Ecstasy of St. Teresa” by one of the greatest baroque sculptors and architects – Lorenzo Bernini should be mentioned.

Secular sculpture is represented with monuments of different types: parade full-length statues of famous personalities, bust portraits of nobility and so on and so forth. Sculptors preferred using marble and bronze, combining them with other precious decorative materials, like gold. Medium and artistic conception were mutually complied. The art of making fountains and garden sculpture reached its fullest flower. It comes as no surprise, as baroque aesthetics required architectural or natural surrounding, interaction with it, with elements of light, air and water. Rome is well-known for its numerous fountains of intricate qulity, for instance the Fountain of the Rivers in the Piazza Navona by ubiquitous Bernini and the Trevi fountain by Niccolo Salvi. Expression in gestures is especially apparent in sculptural groups, created for this monuments. Small-scale statues on mythological themes were popular as well.

Whether during Renaissance epoch painting gravitated towards sculptural visual language, in the 17th cent. Italian art sculpture strived for picturesqueness. Masters were proud of their ability to imitate painting, using play of light on the surface of their pieces. Delicate chiaroscuro blends created vivid impression, accentuated by multiple viewing angles. By the artistic tension baroque sculpture compared to Renaissance one, like works of Greek Hellenistic masters to works of their classical predecessors.

Italian Baroque Painiting

In Italian painting of the 17th cent. an important role belonged to so-called “bologna academism” – a movement, emerged in 1585, when brothers Ludovico, Agostino and Annibale Carracci opened a workshop “Incamminati” (“of those opening a new way”). They wanted to bring up artists, who’d revive forgotten ideals of beauty, embodied, as they believed, in antiquity, Renaissance, and, first of all, in art of Rafael. The focus was on permanent mastering virtuosity. Carracci affirmed, its level depended not only on technical skills, but of education and acuity of intellect. That’s why their program included theoretical courses – history, mythology, anatomy.

Among the academy’s students, who received recognition were Guido Reni and Guercino. Their canvases are distinguished by high level of painting craftsmanship, but, at the same time, emotional coldness. In contrary, to a certain level anti-classical, scenes of Salvator Rosa with bandits in gloomy cliffy landscapes, were more taut and close to baroque spirit. Despite all its inconsistency, bologna academism made a great contribution in elaboration of the principles of artistic education.

A prominent artist of Italian baroque was Michelangelo Caravaggio. He transgressed classical aspire for ideal beauty and clarity and developed tenebrism manner, based on dramatic contrast of light and predominating dark. A whole caravaggist movement formed after his success: painters, with different level of penetration in its essence, replicated his chiaroscuro method. Some of them started specializing on night and evening illumination. Orazio Gentileschi and Giuseppe Maria Crespi were famous followers of Caravaggio.

Religious monumental painting in the middle of the 17th cent. gives us exquisite examples of baroque illusionism that was intended to represent the heaven-sent visions. The subjects of temple plafonds in different variants interpreted the ideas of Divine Truth, glorifying Christ and the Virgin. For that purpose artists used dizzy foreshortenings and often imitated the breakthrough into the sky, like Andrea Pozzo in his best fresco “The triumph of St. Ignacio Loyola” in St. Ignacio church in Rome.


Apart from Rome and Venice, some local engraving schools emerged in the 17th cent. A significant place in evolution of baroque engraving belonged to already mentioned bologna Carracci family, almost all of whom practiced etching and cut engraving. They considered engraving to be an important field for artistic experiments, both for reproduction of some painting samples, and creating absolutely self-sufficient works. Agostino Carracci brighten general tone of his prints, made lines and contour sharp-cut in his mythological and erotic scenes. Genovese Benedetto Castiglione with his mysterious, obscure scenes, illustrates the baroque atmosphere and attitude towards the world.

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