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Italian Baroque  Architecture

Italian Baroque Architecture

Author: Ian McConnell

This lesson will introduce the art of the Baroque period in Italy.

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Italian Baroque Architecture

An overview of Italian Baroque architecture

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Hello. I'd like to welcome you to this episode of Exploring Art History with Ian. My name is Ian McConnell, and today's lesson is about Italian Baroque architecture. As you're watching the video, feel free to pause, move forward, or rewind as often as you feel is necessary. As soon as you're ready, we can begin.

Today's objectives, or the things you're going to learn today are listed below. By the end of the lesson today, you will be able to identify and define today's key terms, identify examples of Baroque architecture. Key terms, as always, are listed in yellow throughout the lesson. First key term is piazza, a central square in an Italian town or city. And baldacchino, a permanent ornamental canopy that is either supported by columns or hanging over an altar. The big idea for today is that the Baroque is a style of art and architecture characterized by grand scale, movement, and dramatic effects.

So the time period that we're looking at today covers the years 1606 to 1667. And sculpture and architecture today comes from Rome, Italy. So the architectural design and construction of St. Peter's took place under many architects and over many years. Now given the magnitude of the project and the variety of artists commissioned to work on the project, it's quite remarkable the building looks as cohesive as it does.

Now the facade of St. Peter's is one area that many critics argue is the least appealing aspect of the church, despite its overall impressiveness. I personally always thought it looked very nice, but apparently it doesn't quite meet up to its technical expectations. Now this wasn't necessarily the fault of the designer, Carlo Maderno, who was a well-respected architect and had already proven himself in projects such as the facade of Santa Susanna in Rome. It was more of an issue of design by committee, with changes being made to his original design that altered the final plan and overall effectiveness of the facade.

Now in particular, the addition of two bell towers on either end stretched out the front of the facade, removing the verticality articulated in the earlier design. Catholic officials desired to lengthen the nave of the church, forced Michelangelo's gorgeous dome even further back. And you can tell in this example how the dome is barely visible from the front, much less the drum that it rests upon.

Now the piazza of St. Peter's, or St. Peter's Square, by the artist and architect Bernini, which exists in front of the facade, is considered a glorious achievement. Now the two arching colonnades of Tuscan columns symbolize the embracing arms of the church. And the center obelisk is, in fact, an ancient Egyptian obelisk repurposed as a form of Christian symbology, symbolizing the connection between heaven and earth, just as it did in the religion of ancient Egypt.

Now Bernini's talents were remarkable. And aside from his architectural endeavors, it was his reputation and skill as a sculptor that is his most widely remembered quality. Now the baldacchino of St. Peter's is a breathtaking example of baroque sculpture that marks the location of the central altar of the Church as well as the tomb of St. Peter beneath it.

Now it's a huge type of canopy, almost 100 feet tall, thought to be constructed with bronze repurposed from the Pantheon in Rome. It's meant to symbolize the triumph of the church, an important symbolism for the church after the Counter-Reformation, and serves as a bridge of space between the vast architectural scale of the church's interior and that of the humble viewer below.

The architect Francesco Borromini meaning was considered one of the leading Baroque architects of his time. And his facade of the Church of San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane is one of his most well-known examples and marks a departure from the flat Renaissance and classically inspired facades we've become accustomed to. Embodying the qualities of drama and dynamism essential to Baroque design, Borromini created a curving and rippling exterior and its facade, resembling the undulation of a wave, as if the facade was almost inhaling and exhaling, causing the banner of inscription above the Corinthian-style columns to almost flap as if it's in a breeze. Now this movement is extended to all the elements of the facade and really blurs the line between architecture and sculpture.

So that brings us to the end of this lesson. Let's take a look at our objectives again to see how we did. Now that you've seen the lesson, are you able to identify and define today's key terms? And can you identify examples of Baroque architecture?

And once again, our big idea is that the Baroque is a style of art and architecture characterized by grand scale, movement, and dramatic effects. And that's it. Thank you very much for joining me today. See you next time.

Notes on "Italian Baroque Architecture"

Key Terms


A central square in an Italian town or city.


A permanent ornamental canopy that is either supported by columns or hanging over an altar.


Image of Baldacchino Creative Commons http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Basilica_di_San_Pietro,_Rome_-_2677.jpg; Image of St. Peter's Public Domain http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:0_Basilique_Saint-Pierre_-_Rome_%282%29.JPG;Image of Italy Map Creative Commons http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:EU-Italy.svg; San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane; Public Domain: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:San_Carlo_alle_Quattro_Fontane.jpg; Image of St. Peter's Square Creative Commons via DAVID ILIFF http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:St_Peter%27s_Square,_Vatican_City_-_April_2007.jpg St Peter's Baldacchino; Public Domain; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Bernini_Baldachino.jpg; St Peter's Baldacchino, Creative Commons: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Vaticano2c20000.jpg