The 17th century in Europe is traditionally called the Baroque era. Although the origins of this term remain obscure, this century was incredibly important in the sciences, the arts, religion, and politics. Thus, architecture thrived during this age. By now, artists routinely modeled their imagery upon close observations of nature, thereby linking the sciences and the arts. In the 1500s, Copernicus had argued that the Earth revolves around the sun, and in the Baroque era Johannes Kepler first observed the elliptical orbits of the planets and Galileo developed a telescope to better observe the surface of the moon. People also learned more about their world through increased trade and travel, and it was during this era that many European countries created a flourishing economy by seeking to establish both economic and religious control over the Americas, Africa, and Asia. Protestantism had gradually taken hold in northern Europe, while southern Europe remained strongly Roman Catholic, which spurred on the Counter-Reformation. Counter-Reformatory leaders sponsored some of the most elaborate architectural construction of the century, while the newly wealthy middle class as well as the entrenched aristocracy sought to match this construction with their own government buildings and lavish homes.
   Stylistically, Baroque architecture elaborates on Renaissance aesthetics by expanding classical references beyond Vitruvius to reveal a more eclectic form of classicism, one that is more sculptural and ornate. Baroque architecture is also considered to be more massive in size and more theatrical in its design and placement. It makes clear reference to its surrounding environment, which is why many people consider Baroque architects to exhibit some of the first ideas on urban planning. It came about at a time of extensive architectural construction, as seen in the monumental projects for Saint Peter's Church in Rome and Versailles Palace outside Paris.
   One could argue that the Counter-Reformation was largely an architectural campaign, in which massive construction projects not only affirmed the power of the Roman Catholic Church but also inspired believers to remain loyal to this age-old faith. This was very different from the Protestant focus on a simplified church hierarchy, with its more restrained approach to artistic display in church architecture. The more lavish Baroque style is considered to have first appeared in Rome, where the Counter-Reformation's newly established Catholic religious orders sought to establish themselves with the construction of new churches at the same time that the papacy embarked on a massive campaign of architectural renewal. The leader of this movement in Rome was the architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini, who worked in a style that blended Renaissance classicism and a dynamic interaction with the surrounding environment. This style is seen in his famous church of Sant'Andrea al Quirinale, built in Rome in the 1650s, in which the façade curves back in a concave shape while a rounded portico pushes outward in the opposite direction. Inside, the oval ground plan provides a more varied and more sculptural effect than the Renaissance use of the square and circle to define church interior space. Francesco Borromini also worked in Rome during this time, and his church of Sant'Ivo alla Sapienza, built in the 1640s, reflects similar ideas. Here the façade rises up from a Renaissance courtyard to reveal a dome and lantern with fanciful spirals and sculptural elements that refer to its papal patronage. Considered eclectic and unique, Borromini's work reveals the new architectural freedom found in the Baroque era.
   Neighborhood complexes were also constructed at this time, ex-emplified by the Piazza Navona, built in downtown Rome over an Ancient Roman stadium to house the family of Pope Innocent X. In the 1640s, the Pamphili Palace, which fronts onto the long, oval-shaped piazza, was enlarged, and then in the next decade Pope Innocent X commissioned the construction of a large church next to his palace, in emulation of Saint Peter's Church on the other side of town. This church, dedicated to Sant'Agnese, replaced a smaller church marking the spot where this early Christian saint was martyred. The original commission was given to Girolamo Rainaldi, who had been in charge of constructing the Pamphili Palace, and to his son Carlo Rainaldi. Borromini is credited with the undulating design of the façade, which curves outward from the center toward the tall, flanking towers. A dome then rests upon a tall drum that rises up to provide broad visibility across the city and to create a visual link with the dome of Saint Peter's Church. The highly sculptural façade as well as its monumentality are typical of Baroque architecture.
   Gian Lorenzo Bernini was also commissioned during this same time to complete a large fountain sculpture called the Fountain of Four Rivers to symbolize the unification of the four parts of the world under the Catholic Empire. This fountain, located directly in front of Sant'Agnese, was designed with powerful water spouts to spray water over the travertine rock and provide a visual link to the church. It is also an auditory experience consistent with the Baroque interest in theatricality and the unification of the arts. This papal interest in neighborhood revitalization found favor on a smaller scale across the city. For example, Pietro da Cortona's church of Santa Maria della Pace, built in Rome in the 1660s, included carving out a small piazza in front of the church to accommodate carriage traffic, and renovating the façades of several of the surrounding apartment buildings to provide a visual regularity to the square.
   Finally, the large Piazza del Popolo, which was particularly important as the northernmost entrance into the city of Rome, also received a thorough renovation in the 1660s to include the paving of the square, the addition of a large obelisk to anchor what was designated as the middle of this trapezoid-shaped square, and finally, the addition of matching churches built by Carlo Rainaldi at the ends of the trident-shaped streets that come together in the piazza. These churches, called Santa Maria dei Miracoli and Santa Maria in Montesanto, give the impression of perfect symmetry, but this symmetry is just an illusion because one church is oval and the other is circular in plan. Rainaldi adjusted the shapes of these churches in this ingenious way because the circular church was seen at a slightly raking angle from the piazza entrance, and thus, when viewed from across the piazza, it appears to match the oval church. It is this interest in theatricality and a more sophisticated understanding of optics and visual illusions that provide a dramatic and powerful first impression of the city of Rome so characteristic of the Baroque age.
   Baroque-style architecture spread across Europe, and can be seen at Versailles Palace, built by François Mansart and Louis Le Vau beginning in the 1660s for King Louis XIV. This massive complex consists of a central core of royal apartments flanked by extensive administrative wings, a huge chapel, and various theaters and concert halls, some of which appear as separate buildings constructed throughout the extensive formal gardens of the palace. It is evident here how Roman Catholic Counter-Reformatory religious propaganda was adapted for use by the aristocracy across Europe to assert their dominance. In this case, the massive architectural complex of Versailles and its extensive surrounding gardens provided a powerful visual reminder of the king's far-reaching political influence. In the Netherlands, the Dutch "Golden Age" of Baroque architecture followed the classical principles of the Italian architects Andrea Palladio and Vincenzo Scamozzi, and classical buildings constructed by architects such as Hendrick de Keyser and Jacob van Campen in Haarlem and Amsterdam sought to legitimize rule through such historical precedent. In England, this aristocratic Baroque style was adapted for use by the court architects Inigo Jones and Christopher Wren, who constructed palaces and churches around London, while John Vanbrugh's Blenheim Palace, located north of London and begun in 1705, recalls Versailles in its vast plan, symmetrical arrangement, and extensive surrounding gardens. This emphasis on theatricality and ornamentation set the stage for the architectural style of the next century, called the Rococo.

Historical Dictionaries of Literature and the Arts. . 2008.

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