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 The Baroque style is synonymous with Rome. The two great architects of this period were the Naples- born Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680) and Francesco Borromini (1599-1667) from Lombardy.

No other architect before or since has had such an ompact on a city as Bernini did on Rome. H ewas patronised by the Barberini pope, Urban VIII, who in 1629 appointed him official architect of St Peter's, grave. Bernini transformed the face of the city and his churches, palaces, piazzas and fountains (such as Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi in Piazza Navona) are Roman landmarks to this day.    

Bernini's great rival was Borromini, who created buildings involving complez shapes and exotic geometry. His most memorable works (both in Rome) are the Chiesa di San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane (built 1641), which has an oval interior, and the Chiesa di Sant'ivo alla sapienza, which combines a unique arrangement of convex and concave surfaces and is topped by an innovative spiral campanile.

Bernini was also the peroid's master sculptor. Baroque sensibilities gave a new importance to exaggerated poses, cascading drapery and primacy of emotions, and Bernini remained unequalled in his capacity to render such swirling emotion and, one might say today, camp movement. His works are not sculptures but rather theatrical and emptional spectacles set in stone that unfold before the viewer's eyes. His Davide, II Ratto di Prosperina (The Rape of Prosperine) and Apollo e Dafne, all in Rome's Galleria Borghese, are cases in point. Bologna-born Allessandro Algardi (1595-1654) was one of the few sculptors not totally overshadowed by Bernini. His bronzes and marbles grace several Roman churches and palazzos and his white marble monument to Pope Leo XI (1650) is in St Peter's.

Rome may have been the epicentre of this billowing artistic out-pouring but the tremors washed over other towns and cities. And again, styles varied from place to place. Florence and Venice, the other two senior stages of the Renaissance, were touched to a far lesser degree by the excess of Baroque. In Florence relatively few examples of a more restained version of the style appeared. The most important is the facade of the Chiesa di Ognissanti. In Venice, Baldassare Longhena (1598-1682) directed the Baroque orchestra. His masterstroke is the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute - without doubt one of the best known images of the Grand Canal.

Far from the grand city states of northern and central Italy, the deep south town of Lecce (Apulia) became a showcase island of Baroque, Quarries near the city yielded a comparatively soft stone that lent itself to decorative manipulation an then hardened with time. As a result, the city is laden with elegant Baroque churches, led by the opulent Basilica della Santa Croce.

In Sicily, following the 1693 earthquake, new churches and public buildings were erected in a derivative late-Baroque style.

The late-16th century saw few highlights in Italian painting, although Annibale Carracci (1560-1609) created magnificent frescoes of mythological subjects in the Palazzo Farnese, Rome, between 1597 and 1603.

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1573-1610) heralded a move away from the confines of the High Renaissance towards a new naturalism. His paintings, using street urchins and prostitutes as models for biblical subjects, were often rejected for being too real. However, his innovative sense of light and shade and supreme drawing ability meant that he was courted by his contemporaries and was influential for centuries.

More successful in their day, although less highly reveres since, were the drily academic painters Guido Reni (1575-1642) and Domenichino (1581-1641), who  were considered by their contemporaries and immediate successors to be on a par with Raphael and Michelangelo. Domenichino, a native of Bologna and a pupil of Annibale Carracci, received innumerable commissions from the aristocratic clergy and his best works adorn nine churches in Rome.

Michelangelo had started a fashion for ceiling frescoes that continued for some time into the 17th century. Pietro da Cortona (1596-1669) was one of the most sought-after decorators of Baroque Rome, completing the ceiling frescoes in the Salone Grande di Palazzo Barberini as well as in the Chiesa Nuova and many private palaces.

The Jesuit artist Andrea dal Pozzo (1642-1709) made a name for himself by creating trompe l'oeil perspectives on ceilings and walls in the many Jesuit churches erected in Rome, while serene landscapes were produced by Salvator Rosa (1615-73) and the Italianised French painters Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665) and Claude Lorrain (1600-82).


The early 18th century saw a brief flurry of surprisingly creative architecture, such as Rome's Spanish Steps (built 1726) and exuberant Fontana di Trevi (Trevi Fountain), which was designed in 1732 by Nicola Salvi (1697-1751) and completed three decades later.

Ceiling detail in Palazzo Barberini (Rome)

The neoclassical style is generally considered to have begun in the mid-18th century. It returned to the fundamental principles of lassicism and was a direct reaction against the frivolous excesses of Baroque.

In Naples, the ruling Spanish dynasty, the Bourbons, built the Palazzo Reale di Capodimonte and at Caserta, to the north, Luigi Vanvitelli (1700-73) designed another vast royal palace and grounds, the Reggia di Caserta, combining an ornate Baroque interior with a restrained neoclassical exterior. In Milan, Vanvitelli's pupil Giuseppe Piermarini (1734-1808) became the most popular architect, building - among other edifices - La Scala opera house in 1778. Venetian Giorgio Massari (1686-1766), inspired by Palladio, was one of the country's main exponents of neoclassicism. He is remembered above all for the Chiesa dei Gesuati. Venice's opera house, Teatro la Fenice, first built in 1792, was a fine piece of neoclassical design. You wouldn't know that to look at it now, sad and forlorn after being gutted by a fire in 1936 and again in 1996.

Trevi Fountain

The Neoclassical sculptural style was adopted by many foreign artists who had come to Rome, but among the Italians it was best represented by Antonio Canova (1757-1822). He was an accomplished modeller, but his work is sometimes devoid of emotion. His most famous work is a daring sculpture of Pauline Bonaparte Borghese as a reclining Venere Vincitrice(Conquering Venice), in the Galleria Borghese in Rome, which is typical of the slightly erotic sculptures for which the sculptor became known.

Meanwhile, a late offshoot of Baroque, the still more ebullient rococo, took particular hold in Venice with Giambattista Tiepolo (1696-1770) and his son Giandomenico (1727-1804). At much the same time, other painters in Venice where exploring an altogether different genre, that of the vedutisti. Led by the prolific Canaletto (1697-1768), they produced remarkable landscapes and urban views. Canaletto is best known for his numerous portraits of Venice, which he tended to sell above all to foreign collectors based in the city and abroad.

The attention of many foreign artists who settled in Italy during the 18th century turned to the antique. The widely disseminated etchings of Rome and its ancient ruins by Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720-78) attracted Grand Tourists and artists alike.

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