ARCH 221 Report: The Popes as Planners: Rome-Absolutism and Bourgeoisie: European Architecture


St. Peter’s Basilica

The Baroque period was one of the most exciting times for European architecture. During this period, from the end of the 16th century to the dawn of the 18th century, European architecture exploded in novel directions. Rather than designing a single building, an architect might be responsible for reimagining a complex of buildings, or even planning an entire city. With this shift, the capital of art and architecture moved from Rome to Paris.

 Regular, repeating designs gave way to curves and irregularity, as various styles were mixed and adapted. Yet this variety was regulated for the purposes of symmetry and grandeur. Finally, for the first time since antiquity, architects began tinkering with optical illusion in building. They realized you could trick the eye into making a large building seem even grander. This hearkens back to Greek tricks that allowed their grand temples to tower even larger in the eye of the beholder. Let us begin, as the Baroque style did, in Italy. Here we can see the most obvious Baroque architectural innovation: the use of curves. At the Church of San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane, we can see how straight lines were replaced with delicate curves, giving the building its distinctively Baroque feel.

There is no doubt that the best example of Baroque architecture is in Italy is at Rome itself. At the heart of the Vatican stands the Basilica of St Peter. This impressive structure reached its current state at the hands of Baroque architects. Saint Peter’s had featured a central plan design, upon which various architects had worked (especially Michelangelo). Maderno converted the building into a Latin cross basilica by extending the nave, thus pushing the main entrance of the church forward. Saint Peter’s can therefore be roughly divided into two parts: the core and the front extension. The great dome of Saint Peter’s is also chiefly Michelangelo’s work, though Maderno did adjust its proportions (by stretching it vertically). The facade of Saint Peter’s contains a number of typical Baroque elements, including double columnslayered columnscolossal columns and broken pediments. All of these elements were pioneered during the Late Renaissance, in mannerist architecture.


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