What does ‘baroque’ mean?

South side of red bricked baroque hall

Originating in Rome, the baroque was a cultural movement in Europe throughout the seventeenth century. As with most movements, its exact duration is difficult to define and was only categorised by later critics. Baroque style can be seen across many forms of art including painting, sculpture, architecture, music, literature and theatre.

A theatrical style

The baroque arts appealed to the senses and overwhelmed the viewer with characteristically theatrical lines, masses of material and vibrant colours. 

Bernini’s sculpture Apollo and Daphne, Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos and the Radcliffe Camera library in the heart of Oxford are all striking examples of the dramatic exaggeration, amplified movement and strong tonal contrast that contribute to the movement’s iconic theatricality.

English baroque

Baroque style became 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 seventeenth century. Specific to Britain, the style was much more understated than its Italian counterpart and maintained a classical reserve.

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 his Seaton Delaval Hall is an exquisite example of the style.

Art

Baroque art dominated the visual culture of the seventeenth 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 masses of rich material. Its sensual appeal can be seen in art, architecture, theatre and music across Europe with many striking examples existing in Britain today. 

See the baroque at our places

Children walking downstairs at Beningbrough hall Yorkshire

Beningbrough Hall 

In 1700 John Bourchier inherited Beningbrough estate in North Yorkshire, and in 1704 embarked on a Grand Tour of Europe, spending almost two years in Italy. On his return and inspired by the Italianate baroque architectural style he'd seen abroad, John planned and built the current hall, 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 300 years old.

The Central Hall

Seaton Delaval Hall 

Designed by one of the most iconic architects of the era, Sir John Vanbrugh’s Seaton Delaval Hall is a striking example of English Baroque architecture.

The west front of Dyrham Park, South Gloucestershire

Dyrham Park 

Dyrham was transformed from a Tudor house into the present baroque mansion by William Blathwayt, Secretary at War to William of Orange, in the late seventeenth century. Dyrham retains much of its original, seventeenth-century interiors and houses Blathwayt’s superb collection of Dutch art.