Baroque Architecture: Exploring the European History

At the beginning of 16th century Italy, a new genre of art and architecture came into being, termed baroque architecture. This style transformed the Renaissance style of Rome and presented it in a dramatic and ornamented form. Baroque architecture initially appeared in Italy in the 16th century. Further, it spread throughout Europe during the 17th century. It was termed by the Catholic churches as a sign of reformation. Moreover, the Protestant churches promoted this style in order to establish a new form of expression, inducing surprise and awe. Eventually, this became the style of architecture for churches and palaces across Italy, Spain, Portugal, France, and Austria.

Key Characteristics of Baroque Architecture:

Baroque architecture included basic elements of the Renaissance era. The typical baroque architecture characteristics comprised domes and colonnades. The idea here was to add a play of form, light, and shadow with dramatic intensity. It became an expression of high grandeur and authority. Quadrature paintings and sculptures heavily adorned the interiors. The ceilings were crowded with clusters of sculptures and painted figurines. The abstract idea behind this feature was to create an illusion that these structures ascended to heaven. The use of the twisted columns helped to add to this ascending effect. The extensive use of light marked the idea of creating a theatrical effect inside these structures. In baroque architecture, the use of grand stairways is also one of the most prominent features. This can be seen in most of the palaces as a central element of design.

The Stages of the Baroque style of Architecture

Baroque Architecture transformed extensively with time and cultural fabric. We can broadly divide it into three stages.

The Early Baroque Architecture:

This period from 1584 – 1625 was immensely dominated by the contribution of Roman architects. The early baroque aimed majorly at religious reforms in Rome. This was a reaction to the more influential style of earlier churches. The early baroque era inspired the masses with the effects of surprise, emotion, and awe. Therefore, this new expression got widely accepted by the new religious orders. This included the Theatines and the Jesuits, who eventually used this form of expression in their churches and religious structures. 

Notable structures of Early Baroque:

The Church of the Gesù, St. Peters Basilica of Rome,  Luxembourg Palace, Salomon De Brosse -Paris, Corpus Christ Church, Santa Sussana, The Church of Saints Peter & Paul- Krakow.

The High Baroque Architecture:

The High Baroque produced major works in Rome in the period 1625 – 1675. The baroque architecture characteristics of this era spread across Italy. The High Baroque saw one of the finest monuments like the Barberini Palace and the residence of the family of Urban VIII. Moreover, the High Baroque movement also inspired the exteriors of Pope’s family residence, especially the immense fresco on the ceiling and the interiors. This period saw the construction of Santa Maria della Salute by Baldassare Longhena in Venice.

Notable structures of Early Baroque: 

The Church of Santi Luca e Martina, San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane, the Chapel of the Sorbonne by Jacques Lemercier and the Château de Maisons by François Mansart .


The Late Baroque Architecture:

1675–1750 marked the spread of baroque architecture to all parts of Europe, along with Spanish as well as Portugal colonies. The Late Baroque saw regional variations in the style of architecture. The typical characteristics involved the sculpted and painted decorations, covering every space on the walls and ceiling. The Late Baroque period gave rise to the magnificent structures of the Palace of Versailles, including the Hall of Mirrors and the Chapel.

Notable structures of Early Baroque: 

Dome of Les Invalides, Stupinigi Palace, the Basilica of the Fourteen Holy Helpers and the Wurzburg Residence.

Typical Features of Baroque Architecture

The following are the baroque architecture characteristics that create the design with visual and dramatic effects. These features contribute to rendering the structural status of grandeur.


Quadratura refers to the paintings in trompe-l’oeil, a typical style of ornamental painting. The Quadratura usually are imageries of angels and saints and painted on the domes and ceilings of the structures. They usually decoratively combine with stucco frames to create an illusion of three dimensions. This style of art forms on the ceilings also refers to the abstraction of looking to heaven. An additional feature of this style can be seen in the painted or sculpted figurines of Atlantes, which look like holding up the ceiling. 


A dome is one of the most common elements in baroque architecture examples. Grand Domes form an essential part of the Baroque-styled structures and often have interiors painted with a sky, filled with angels, and sculpted sunbeams. The dome and the art forms adorned with it depict the glory of heaven. The Bavarian, Czech, Polish, and Ukrainian Baroque are often marked by the presence of Pear-shaped domes.


Cartouche in the Baroque style of architecture elaborates forms and sculpted frames. They majorly help to break up the surfaces and add three-dimensional effects to the walls.

Grand stairways

Grand Stairways form an essential feature of baroque architecture characteristics. They are often located centrally, adding a dramatic effect. These stairways, winding upwards in stages help in achieving changing views from different levels. Therefore, they serve as a great feature for ceremonies.


Mirrors help in achieving an impression of depth and greater space. When particularly combined with windows, these add to the grandeur and of the interior space as well as exterior space.


They establish strong contrasts of darkness and light in the structures, adding a theatrical value.


In most of the baroque architecture examples, we can spot the use of overhead sculptures. These figures are generally installed just below the ceilings. The figurines are made of wood, plaster, stucco, marble, or faux finishing. This gives an impression of floating in the air.

Solomonic columns

Solomonic columns give an illusion of motion.

Elliptical or oval spaces

Elliptical or oval spaces are the most common feature in most of the baroque architecture examples. These forms help in eliminating right angles.

Key Learnings:

The Baroque is essentially an art of illusion comprising scene painting, perspective illusions, and trompe-l’oeil. The elements in this style are employed to achieve a total spatial effect. It was also a step towards the inclusion of art and sculpture in architecture. Baroque paintings and art forms are an integral part of this setting, and the absence of any of them would not result in the total effect of the space, otherwise achieved in Baroque art.

Baroque architecture was an art form, associated with a great abstract quality. The pomp and embellishments of the baroque architecture depict the emotional quotient attached, which aimed at bringing reform in society’s perception. On the other hand, the visual grandeur depicts the wealth and power of religious institutions in the 16th and 17th centuries. Moreover, this highlights the fact that religious institutions used art and architecture to establish their authority and agenda in society.