The Rise of the Baroque Style in Italy

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The Rise of the Baroque Style In Italy

Qualities of Roman Baroque.

The buildings constructed as a result of the Baroque architectural revival displayed both great variety as well as certain common traits. The first architect to express many of the features of the new style was Carlo Maderno (1556–1629). In the façade he designed for the Church of Santa Susanna in Rome (1597–1603), he imitated many of the design elements from the earlier Jesuit Church of the Gesù, while giving these a completely new interpretation. Both structures were two-stories high, decorated with a profusion of columns or pilasters, and were crowned with central pediments. Maderno, however, massed his decorative detailing on the façade of Santa Susanna in such a way as to accentuate the central door of the church. He set the sides of the façade back to make the doorway to the church appear to protrude outwards, a welcoming effect to worshippers as they approached the structure. To enhance this impression, Maderno used double columns on both sides of the door while placing single rounded columns at the central bay's sides and barely visible squared pilasters at the façade's corners. In the earlier Church of il Gesù, the designer had finished the structure with a rounded arch that contained within it a triangular-shaped pediment, an awkward device that Maderno avoided at Santa Susanna. Instead he crowned the building with a simple gabled pediment, and he repeated this triangular shape above the door as well. These details made the structure's sight lines all seem to converge on the church's portal. Maderno's designs for Santa Susanna's façade included a wealth of decorative detailing, yet curiously this ornamentation never seems to be out of control. Rather, these decorative elements appear to enhance the critical design features of the structure. This search for ways to mass ornament and decoration to create dramatic effects and to suggest movement soon became a central quest of other Baroque architects working in the city.

St. Peter 's.

Even before he completed the façade for Santa Susanna, Maderno became chief architect for St. Peter's, a position that had been held by the sixteenth-century cultural giants Donato Bramante and Michelangelo Buonarroti. Bramante had originally designed the church in the shape of a Greek cross, that is, as a structure in which the four radiating arms were of equal length. His plans intended to crown the Vatican hill, the site of St. Peter's martyrdom and tomb, with a monumental domed temple that was thoroughly classical in spirit. Subsequent architects abandoned many features of his designs, although Michelangelo revived and reinstated the crucial features of Bramante's plans. Workers finished the construction of the dome during the pontificate of Sixtus V. Michelangelo's designs, while reinstating the spirit of Bramante's original plans, also treated the dome and the church like a gigantic sculptural mass. Today this feature of his work can only be appreciated from the rear, that is, from the Vatican Gardens, a place that few tourists ever see. The masking of his achievement occurred for several reasons, all of which served the demands of the Catholic Reformation that was underway during the seventeenth century. Although the construction of St. Peter's was well advanced by the time of Maderno's appointment in 1605, Pope Paul V (r. 1605–1621) was anxious to cover all the ground at the site that had originally lain within the ancient basilica, and thus he commissioned the architect to extend the church's nave. In this way the shape of the church conformed to the more traditional pattern of a Latin cross, a style recommended by influential reformers like St. Charles Borromeo. This considerable expansion, however, was incompatible with Michelangelo's immense dome, since it obliterated views as worshippers approached the church toward its main entrances. The resulting compromise, however, increased the scale of the church to truly monumental proportions and made St. Peter's undoubtedly the largest church in Christendom for many centuries to come. In the façade he designed for the building, Maderno again massed design elements, as at Santa Susanna, to make the center doorway the focal point and he emphasized the entrance again with a triangular pediment. But the addition of an upper story to the façade was another departure from the original plans set down by sixteenth-century architects, and one again that was not in keeping with the spirit of the original plans. It further obliterated views of the massive dome. Religious rituals like papal blessings, though, necessitated a loggia, or gallery, from which the pope might appear before the crowds who gathered in the square below, and so Maderno obliged by adding an upper story onto his façade. His plans also called for two bell towers to flank the façade at both ends, structures that might have relieved the horizontal emphasis of the structure as it stands today. These towers, though, were not immediately built. Somewhat later, Gianlorenzo Bernini, one of Maderno's successors at the site, commenced their construction, although he extended their height even further. When the first of the bell towers was built, its foundations soon proved inadequate. Fearing that it might collapse, Bernini had the tower torn down, and the project was soon completely abandoned. Thus, since the seventeenth century the façade of St. Peter's has stood as a compromise, one that, although imposing and grand, is not completely in keeping with its original plans. If the exterior of St. Peter's presents a not altogether satisfying appearance, Maderno's interior decoration remains an unsurpassed example of Baroque ornamentation. With the extension of the church, the architect faced the task of decorating a vast expanse of vaulting overhead as well as the massive columns and piers that supported the structure. In the additions he designed for the church, Maderno opened up broad vistas from his nave by using enormous arches. These arches provided views into the side aisles, which he decorated with broken pediments set atop columns of richly colored marble. To deal with the enormous expanse of vaulted ceiling, Maderno designed an elegant pattern of gilded coffering. Later architects at St. Peter's added to his decoration. Most notable among these additions were those of Gianlorenzo Bernini, who guided the design team that completed the massive bronze and gilt baldachino, a canopy that soars almost 140 feet over the church's high altar. Bernini also paneled the columns of the church's main aisle in richly colored marbles, and he placed many sculptures as decorative elements throughout the church. Yet the dominant decorative spirit within St. Peter's is Maderno's, and the use he made there of richly colored marbles mingled with much gilded ornamentation had numerous imitators in other architects of the period.


Anthony Blunt, Roman Baroque (London: Pallas Athene Arts, 2001).

Howard Hibbard, Carlo Maderno and Roman Architecture, 1580–1630 (London: Zwemmer, 1971).

Paolo Porteghesi, Roma Barocca: The History of an Architectonic Culture. Trans. Barbara La Penta (Boston: MIT Press, 1970).

Donato Ugi, Carlo Maderno. Architetto Ticinese a Roma (Lugano, Italy: Banco di Roma per la Svizzera, 1957).

see also Religion: Catholic Culture in the Age of the Baroque ; Visual Arts: Elements of the Baroque Style

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The Rise of the Baroque Style in Italy

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