What is Baroque?
- Expert curated
Originating in Rome, the Baroque was a cultural movement in Europe throughout the 17th century. As with most movements, its exact duration is difficult to define and was only categorised by later critics. Find out how you can identify the Baroque style across many forms of art including painting, sculpture, architecture, music, literature and theatre.
A theatrical style
Throughout the 17th century, the Baroque arts appealed to the senses and overwhelmed viewers with characteristically theatrical lines, masses of material and vibrant colours. Its appeal can be seen in the art, architecture, theatre and music across Europe at the time, with many striking examples existing in Britain today.
Bernini’s sculpture Apollo and Daphne, Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos and the Radcliffe Camera library in the heart of Oxford are all examples of the dramatic exaggeration, amplified movement and strong tonal contrast that contribute to the movement’s iconic theatricality.
Baroque art dominated the visual culture of the 17th century. Originating in Rome, it spread throughout Europe with the help of those on the Grand Tour.
Exploring many of the same allegorical themes as the Renaissance, Baroque art is distinct from its predecessor due to its exaggeration, opulence and theatricality. Baroque art is ostentatious, with dramatic lines and abundant rich material.
Baroque style had a strong influence on British art, architecture and culture. However, the exaggerated forms of the Italian Baroque were often too ostentatious for the reserved taste of the British.
A more refined genre, known as English Baroque, began to develop toward the end of the 17th century. Specific to Britain, the style was much more understated than its Italian counterpart and maintained a classical reserve.
English Baroque in architecture
English Baroque is most evident in architecture, where it was popularised by Sir Christopher Wren after the Great Fire of London. Although much simpler than continental Baroque architecture, English Baroque designs were equally heavy, sensual and decorative.
Sir John Vanbrugh was a driving force behind English Baroque architecture and Seaton Delaval Hall, which he designed, is an exquisite example of the style.
Baroque architecture at National Trust places
In 1700 John Bourchier inherited Beningbrough Estate in North Yorkshire, and in 1704 he embarked on a Grand Tour of Europe, spending almost two years in Italy. Inspired by the Italianate Baroque architectural style he'd seen abroad, John planned and built the current hall upon his return, with William Thornton as his chief craftsman. Thornton was responsible for the main cantilevered staircase and the fine woodcarving in the hall. Completed in 1716, the hall now stands proud at over 300 years old.
This is a Trusted Source article, created in partnership with the University of Oxford. This article contains contributions from Christopher Ansell. Christopher is a curator and art theorist with a specific interest in contemporary approaches to exhibiting historic art from the 15th century to the 18th century.
Find out more about our Trusted Source articles, which were created in partnership with the University of Oxford, and explore topics related to the special places in our care.
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