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Italian Baroque Architecture (see also Baroque)

Baroque architecture, starting in the early 17th century in Italy, took the humanist Roman vocabulary of Renaissance architecture and used it in a new rhetorical, theatrical, sculptural fashion, expressing the triumph of absolutist church and state. New architectural concerns for color, light and shade, sculptural values and intensity characterize the Baroque. But whereas the Renaissance drew on the wealth and power of the Italian courts, and was a blend of secular and religious forces, the Baroque was, initially at least, directly linked to the Counter-Reformation, a movement within the Catholic Church to reform itself in response to the Protestant Reformation. The Council of Trent (1545–1563) is usually given as the beginning of the Counter-Reformation.

The Baroque played into the demand for an architecture that was on the one hand more accessible to the emotions and, on the other hand, a visible statement of the wealth and power of the Church. The new style manifested itself in particular in the context of new religious orders, like the Theatines and the Jesuits, which aimed to improve popular piety. By the middle of the 17th century, the Baroque style had found its secular expression in the form of grand palaces, first in France—as in the Château de Maisons (1642) near Paris by François Mansart—and then throughout Europe.
 
Giacomo della Porta's façade of the Church of the Gesù, a precursor of Baroque architecture Sicilian Baroque: San Benedetto in Catania
Santa Susanna: Carlo Maderno St. Peter's Basilica, Rome: view from east through the Piazza San Pietro [east facade by Maderno, 1607-1615; dome by Michelangelo Buonarroti, constructed 1546-1564]
 
Rome and South Italy

The sacred architecture of the Baroque period had its beginnings in the Italian paradigm of the basilica with crossed dome and nave. One of the first Roman structures to break with the Mannerist conventions exemplified in the Gesù, was the church of Santa Susanna, designed by Carlo Maderno. The dynamic rhythm of columns and pilasters, central massing, and the protrusion and condensed central decoration add complexity to the structure. There is an incipient playfulness with the rules of classic design, still maintaining rigor. They had domed roofs.

The same emphasis on plasticity, continuity and dramatic effects is evident in the work of Pietro da Cortona, illustrated by San Luca e Santa Martina (1635) and Santa Maria della Pace (1656). The latter building, with concave wings devised to simulate a theatrical set, presses forward to fill a tiny piazza in front of it. Other Roman ensembles of the period are likewise suffused with theatricality, dominating the surrounding cityscape as a sort of theatrical environment.

Probably the best known example of such an approach is trapezoidal Saint Peter's Square, which has been praised as a masterstroke of Baroque theatre. The square is shaped by two colonnades, designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini on an unprecedented colossal scale to suit the space and provide emotions of awe. Bernini's own favourite design was the polychromatic oval church of Sant'Andrea al Quirinale (1658), which, with its lofty altar and soaring dome, provides a concentrated sampling of the new architecture. His idea of the Baroque townhouse is typified by the Palazzo Barberini (1629) and Palazzo Chigi-Odescalchi (1664), both in Rome.


Sant'Ivo alla Sapienza: Francesco Borromini

Bernini's chief rival in the papal capital was Francesco Borromini, whose designs deviate from the regular compositions of the ancient world and Renaissance even more dramatically. Acclaimed by later generations as a revolutionary in architecture, Borromini condemned the anthropomorphic approach of the 16th century, choosing to base his designs on complicated geometric figures (modules). Borromini's architectural space seems to expand and contract when needed, showing some affinity with the late style of Michelangelo. His iconic masterpiece is the diminutive church of San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane, distinguished by a corrugated oval plan and complex convex-concave rhythms. A later work, Sant'Ivo alla Sapienza, displays the same antipathy to the flat surface and playful inventiveness, epitomized by a corkscrew lantern dome.

Following the death of Bernini in 1680, Carlo Fontana emerged as the most influential architect working in Rome. His early style is exemplified by the slightly concave façade of San Marcello al Corso). Fontana's academic approach, though lacking in the dazzling inventiveness of his Roman predecessors, exerted substantial influence on Baroque architecture both through his prolific writings and through a number of architects whom he trained and who would disseminate the Baroque idioms throughout 18th-century Europe.

The 18th century saw the capital of Europe's architectural world transferred from Rome to Paris. The Italian Rococo, which flourished in Rome from the 1720s onward, was profoundly influenced by the ideas of Borromini. The most talented architects active in Rome — Francesco de Sanctis (Spanish Steps, 1723) and Filippo Raguzzini (Piazza Sant'Ignazio, 1727) — had little influence outside their native country, as did numerous practitioners of the Sicilian Baroque, including Giovanni Battista Vaccarini, Andrea Palma, and Giuseppe Venanzio Marvuglia.


Basilica di Superga near Turin: Filippo Juvarra

The last phase of Baroque architecture in Italy is exemplified by Luigi Vanvitelli's Caserta Palace, reputedly the largest building erected in Europe in the 18th century. Indebted to contemporary French and Spanish models, the palace is skilfully related to the landscape. At Naples and Caserta, Vanvitelli practiced a sober classicizing academic style, with equal attention to aesthetics and engineering, a style that would make an easy transition to Neoclassicism.

North Italy

In the north of Italy, the monarchs from the House of Savoy were particularly receptive to the new style. They employed a brilliant triad of architects—Guarino Guarini, Filippo Juvarra and Bernardo Vittone—to illustrate the grandiose political ambitions and the newly acquired royal status of their dynasty.

Guarini was a peripatetic monk who combined many traditions (including that of Gothic architecture) to create irregular structures remarkable for their oval columns and unconventional façades. Building upon the findings of contemporary geometry and stereotomy, Guarini elaborated the concept of architectura obliqua, which approximated Borromini's style in both theoretical and structural audacity. Guarini's Palazzo Carignano (1679) may have been the most flamboyant application of the Baroque style to the design of a private house in the 17th century.

Fluid forms, weightless details and airy prospects of Juvarra's architecture anticipated the art of Rococo. Although his practice ranged well beyond Turin, Juvarra's most arresting designs were created for Victor Amadeus II of Sardinia. The visual impact of his Basilica di Superga (1717) derives from its soaring roofline and masterful placement on a hill above Turin. Rustic ambience encouraged a freer articulation of architectural form at the royal hunting lodge of the Palazzina di Stupinigi (1729). Juvarra finished his short but eventful career in Madrid, where he worked on the royal palaces at La Granja and Aranjuez.

Among the many who were profoundly influenced by the brilliance and diversity of Juvarra and Guarini none was more important than Bernardo Vittone. This Piedmontese architect is remembered for an outcrop of flamboyant Rococo churches, quatrefoil in plan and delicate in detailing. His sophisticated designs often feature multiple vaults, structures within structures and domes within domes.