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Triumph of the Baroque: Architecture in Europe 1600-1750



Emerging in both Rome and Paris shortly after 1600, the baroque in art and architecture soon spread throughout Europe, where it prevailed for one hundred and fifty years. During this period new social and political systems resulted in the concentration of power in the hands of individuals with absolute authority. Architecture affirmed this -- through the structures and decorative programs of palaces, churches, public and government buildings, scientific and commercial buildings, and military installations. Magnificent churches, fountains, and palaces attested to the renewed strength of the popes in Rome, while architects also gave new forms to churches for the Protestant and Russian Orthodox liturgies. Baroque architects had been schooled in the classical Renaissance tradition, emphasizing symmetry and harmonious proportions, but their designs revealed a new sense of dynamism and grandeur. Renaissance architects had sought to engage the intellect, with their focus on divine sources of geometry, while their successors aimed to overwhelm the senses and emotions. Baroque architects also mastered the unification of the visual arts -- painting, sculpture, architecture, garden design, and urban planning -- to a remarkable degree, producing buildings and structures with a heightened sense of drama and power.

Giovanni Paolo Panini, Modern Rome, 1757, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gwynne Andews Fund, 1952

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Architectural Models


This exhibition brings together twenty-seven of the finest surviving architectural models made in Europe between 1600 and 1750. Models enabled architects to study their designs in three-dimensional form and allowed prospective patrons to grasp immediately the essence of a proposal. Often they were submitted to competitions for architectural commissions. Once a project was under way, models were occasionally brought out for the laying of the cornerstone and used to guide workmen during the course of construction. The eighteenth-century Russian architect Vasily Ivanovich Bazhenov explained the purpose of models: "In order to understand how beautiful and excellent the building will really be [the architect] must inevitably imagine it in perspective; and in order to be even more convinced of it, he must make a model for it. Indeed the making of the model is considered to be half the work."

Illustration from J. F. Penther, Zweiter Teil der Bürgerlichen Bau-Kunst, 1745

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The Baroque in Rome


Although baroque architecture emerged almost simultaneously in the capital cities of Italy and France, Rome is usually regarded as its place of birth. During the early decades of the seventeenth century Rome witnessed a surge of building activity supported to a large extent by the popes. Churches, fountains, and palaces were erected throughout the city, transforming and animating its urban spaces. First appearing in the innovative designs of Carlo Maderno, and further developed in the works of Pietro da Cortona, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, and Francesco Borromini, Roman baroque architecture inspired the design of buildings in Europe for more than a century. By considering the relationship between new and existing structures, architects sought to give urban spaces a new sense of unity, coherence, and dynamism. The careful integration of architecture with its surroundings is magnificently demonstrated in Bernini's Four River's Fountain, among the most spectacular monuments of the baroque era in Rome.

Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Model for the Four Rivers Fountain, Piazza Navona, Rome, c. 1650, Accademia di Belle Arti di Bologna

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Four Rivers Fountain


Gian Lorenzo Bernini was one of the most innovative architects and sculptors of the Baroque. Born in Naples in 1598, his long and successful artistic career lasted from his teens until his death in 1680. Following his early success in Rome, where he worked for the city's most powerful families and the popes, his fame spread across the whole of Europe. His royal patrons included King Charles I of England and King Louis XIV of France. A sculptor, architect, painter, stage designer, poet, and dramatist, Bernini created dynamic monuments that combined the arts of painting, sculpture, and architecture in an integrated whole.


The Four Rivers Fountain in the Piazza Navona in Rome is one of Bernini's most celebrated works. Designed and built between 1648 and 1651 for Pope Innocent X Pamphili, the fountain commemorates the pope's redirection of water from the Acqua Vergine (one of Rome's principal water supplies) to the square in front of his family palace, the Palazzo Pamphili. Bernini's fountain ingeniously incorporates an ancient Egyptian obelisk, which had been recovered from the Circus Maxentius in Rome, with a tall stone base. Set on the rocks are four large figures symbolizing the four great rivers of the four quarters of the world -- the Danube for Europe, the Nile for Africa, the Ganges for Asia, and the Plata for the Americas.


This model, circa 1650, is an early study for the final design for the Four Rivers Fountain. The sculpted rock of the fountain base is represented with wood, and the one surviving figure, representing the Plata River, is modeled in clay. The design of the finished fountain differs slightly from that of the model: the circular form of the basin became an oval, and the openings in the rock were made more irregular.

Giovanni Battista Piranesi, Veduta di Piazza Navona sopra le rovine del Circo Agonale, probably 1747/1748, etching on laid paper, National Gallery of Art, Mark J. Millard Architectural Collection, acquired with assistance from The Morris and Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation, 1985.61.16

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Churches and Chapels


During the early years of the seventeenth century the renewed strength of the Roman Catholic Church led to the construction of many new ecclesiastical buildings. This followed the upheavals of the previous century, when the Church, challenged by the rise of Protestantism in northern Europe, had set out to reform its doctrines and practices in order to strengthen its position. The Catholic Church emerged from the Counter Reformation with renewed optimism, and in need of a new architectural image.


Baroque churches were larger in scale than their predecessors, and their interiors more richly decorated with sculpture and paintings. Like devotional handbooks that encouraged people to participate actively in the mystical experiences of saints, baroque church interiors were designed to elicit an immediate, emotional response. The dramatic lighting effects, dynamic architectural forms, and lavish decoration of baroque churches were aimed at awing, inspiring, and converting the visitors.


Throughout Europe religious architecture was governed by the varying liturgical and architectural traditions of each region and nation. While magnificent decorative ensembles became the dominant feature of the ecclesiastical architecture of Catholic Europe, the churches built in the Protestant north, where devotional paintings and sculpture were equated with idolatry, were far more restrained.

Gabriel Loser, Model for the Abbey Church of Saint Gall, Switzerland, 1751-1752, Stiftsbibliothek St. Gallen

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Abbey Church of Saint Gall


The Abbey of Saint Gall in Switzerland was one of the most powerful monasteries in Europe from its foundation in the eighth century until its dissolution in 1805. In the early eighteenth century the Benedictine monks decided to rebuild their medieval church. The design process lasted more than four decades and occupied almost a dozen architects.


Among the fourteen surviving designs for the building is this wooden model of 1751-1752 by the Benedictine lay brother Gabriel Loser, who was a master cabinetmaker rather than a trained architect. Loser's skillful craftsmanship is reflected in his intricate model, complete with carved details.

Abbey Church of St. Gall, Switzerland © Foto Marburg/Art Resource, NY

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The Abbey Church of Saint Gall, which essentially conforms to Loser's model, is a long rectangle with a large rotunda set in the center. This combination of a centralized and longitudinal ground plan is one of the characteristic features of late baroque churches in the German-speaking areas of Europe.

Brother Nokter, Plan of the Abbey Church of Saint Gall, Switzerland, 1770, Stiftsarchiv St. Gallen

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Civic Architecture


The baroque era witnessed an increase in the building of new town halls and the expansion of existing ones. New independent states emerged throughout Europe, creating a corresponding demand for local self-government. Then, as now, the town hall housed the offices of government and provided a place of assembly. Set in the center of a town, it was likely to be modeled after an urban palace, and it often included a prominent façade and tall clock tower. Large and elaborately decorated, the town hall stood as an imposing symbol of civic pride and identity.

Jacob van Campen, Model for the Amsterdam Town Hall, 1648-1650, Amsterdams Historisch Museum

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Town Hall of Amsterdam


The Town Hall of Amsterdam, designed by Jacob van Campen beginning in 1648, was intended to house the administrative offices and assembly hall of the Amsterdam Town Council. The building was also a symbol of the political and economic power of the newly established Dutch Republic and its capital city Amsterdam. By the seventeenth century, the city had become one of the most important ports, and the main banking center of northern Europe. Its growing wealth and confidence are reflected in the monumental design and rich materials of the Town Hall. The façade was built of sandstone imported from Germany, and its interiors sumptuously decorated with Italian marble. Foreign visitors to the city marveled at the building's expense and lavish construction, which was unprecedented in the Netherlands. In 1813 it was converted into the Royal Palace of the Netherlands.


This carefully finished model of 1648-1650 was probably made to present the architect's design to the city council. The exterior is adorned with intricate sculptural and decorative details, and the interior demonstrates the arrangement of rooms inside the building. The model consists of several levels, which can each be removed, revealing numerous rooms, such as the mayor's office, the guard rooms, an arsenal, the city bank, a courtroom, a prison, and a torture chamber. With few exceptions, the Town Hall was built as shown in the model, and inaugurated on 29 July1655.

Johannes Lingelbach, The Dam, Amsterdam, with the Town Hall under Construction, c. 1670, Amsterdams Historisch Museum, on loan from the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

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Commercial Architecture


As trade expanded throughout Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries, the baroque also extended to commercial structures such as banks and market buildings. Everyday necessities such as food and clothing could be purchased locally at such market halls. Luxury items too were increasingly in demand, and fine silks, porcelain, spices, tea, coffee, tobacco, and rum were imported to Europe from Asia and the New World. The growth in local and international trade required more elaborate transportation networks of roads, canals, and, in particular, shipping routes, harbors, and lighthouses. Eddystone Lighthouse, located off the southwestern coast of England, was built as a commercial enterprise. It was commissioned in 1756 by a small company of shareholders, who collected tolls from ships entering Plymouth Harbor in return for maintaining the light.

John Smeaton (architect) and Josias Jessop (model maker), Model for the Eddystone Lighthouse, off Plymouth, England, 1757-1759, Trustees of the National Museums of Scotland, Edinburgh

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Eddystone Lighthouse


The dangerous Eddystone reef in the English Channel posed a constant threat to ships traveling along the southwestern coast of England. When the second lighthouse to stand on the site was destroyed by fire in 1755, a third was designed and built by a civil engineer, John Smeaton. His ingenious and influential structure became the model for all subsequent rock lighthouses.

(left) John Smeaton (architect) and Josias Jessop (model maker), Model for the Eddystone Lighthouse, off Plymouth, England, 1757-1759, Trustees of the National Museums of Scotland, Edinburgh

(right) Unknown Draftsman after John Smeaton (architect), Plan of the Seventh Stone Course and Section of the Eddystone Lighthouse, off Plymouth, England, c. 1756, Trustees of the National Museums of Scotland, Edinburgh

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Two models were made for Smeaton's lighthouse. The first, a sectional model, can be taken apart in sections to reveal the lighthouse's internal construction and arrangement of rooms, including the staircase, storerooms, kitchen and bedroom. Each of these rooms had a chain set into the wall head, which helped to distribute the load of the floor. Around the balcony at the top of the lighthouse Smeaton set a rounded cornice to deflect the waves that battered the side of the lighthouse during stormy weather.

John Smeaton (architect) and Josias Jessop (model maker), Model for the Eddystone Lighthouse, off Plymouth, England, disassembled, 1757-1759, Trustees of the National Museums of Scotland, Edinburgh

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The second model represents the seventh level of stonework at the base of the structure. It shows how the lighthouse was constructed of interlocking stonework secured by metal pins.


Eddystone Lighthouse stood until the1880s when the reef below it began to crumble. A similar lighthouse was then built on an adjacent site. The most famous lighthouse of modern time, Eddystone Lighthouse demonstrates the triumph of engineering and enterprise over the destructive forces of the sea.

John Smeaton (architect) and Josias Jessop (model maker), Model for the Seventh Stone Course for the Eddystone Lighthouse, off Plymouth, England, 1757, Trustees of the National Museums of Scotland, Edinburgh

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Military Architecture


The seventeenth century was a period of continuous warfare in Europe, with only four years passing without a battle. For European states, military construction was at once a heavy financial burden and a source of pride. Fortresses, naval arsenals, and other military structures demonstrated a nation's strength and provided crucial defense. Architectural models for military complexes had numerous functions: having served their purpose in the design and construction of a fortress, they would then be used by military leaders to plan defensive strategies. When several models were gathered together, they could be shown to visiting ambassadors as proof of a sovereign's military might and glory, or kept as evidence of territory gained through military campaigns. Made of painted paper, cardboard, and papier-mâché, large-scale models are more fragile than those carved in wood. Fortunately, numerous models for military fortresses have survived, providing invaluable evidence of the developments in town planning that occurred during the baroque period.

Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban, Model for the Fortress of Neuf-Brisach, c. 1703-1704, Musée des Plans-Reliefs, Direction de l'Architecture et du Patrimoine, Ministère de la Culture, Paris

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Fortress of Neuf-Brisach


The most important developments in military architecture during the baroque period occurred along the northern and eastern frontiers of France, where the French army was involved in military campaigns against its neighbors, the Spanish-ruled southern Netherlands and the Rhineland. From the late 1660s King Louis XIV of France embarked on an ambitious project to build fortifications along these frontiers. The fortress town of Neuf-Brisach, one of these strongholds, was constructed between 1698 and 1720. Designed by Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban, Louis XIV's chief military engineer, Neuf-Brisach was one of the most sophisticated defensive designs of the period. Vauban envisioned the fortress town as an "ideal city" that included a central square, a church, barracks, magazines, and officers' quarters, housing for various classes of citizens, and monumental walls and gates. The star-shaped fortifications that surround the town were intended to prevent the enemy's artillery from reaching the settlement.

Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban, Plan of the City of Neuf-Brisach, after 1702, Musée des Plans-Reliefs, Direction de l'Architecture et du Patrimoine, Ministère de la Culture, Paris

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That Neuf-Brisach still survives today, largely untouched by later conflicts, is evidence of the efficacy of Vauban's defensive system.

Aerial View of Neuf-Brisach, France

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Private Residences


During the baroque period, nobles, merchants, and financiers shared a new enthusiasm for building private residences. The urban palaces and country villas that they commissioned reveal a wide range of national and regional variations. Townhouses developed into multi-storied structures with elaborate interior decorations, particularly during the eighteenth century. Country villas continued a tradition established in the Italian Renaissance of integrating buildings and gardens with the natural landscape. Intended as places of leisure, such residences were often surrounded by extensive gardens. The design for an entire landscape was often illustrated with large scale models, while smaller models were made for individual garden buildings, such as pavilions and towers.

Girolamo Frigimelica (architect) and Giovanni Gloria and/or Sante Benato (model makers), Model for the Villa Pisani, Stra, c. 1716, Musei Civici Veneziani, Museo Correr, Venice

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Villa Pisani


The Villa Pisani at Stra near Venice was the country residence of one of the most powerful families of northern Italy and one of the many villas built in the region. Positioned on the banks of the Brenta River, and surrounded by extensive gardens, it was intended as a place of leisure, where the owner could escape from the heat and humidity of the Venetian lagoon during the hottest weeks of summer. The Venetian playwright Carlo Goldoni described the glories of such villas: "Few are the foreigners, even those from far away, who do not know the Brenta [River]... along whose banks stand so many palaces, gardens, and weekend retreats that one could never ask for anything more magnificent or delectable. Everyone rushes there, at different times, to the amusement of the countryside."


This model of about 1716, represents a design by Girolamo Frigimelica, a nobleman from Padua. His plan for the Villa Pisani is eclectic, and illustrates a north Italian preference for open, colonnaded structures. Equipped with metal handles, each level of the model can be lifted to show the organization of the interior spaces.

Girolamo Frigimelica (architect) and Giovanni Gloria and/or Sante Benato (model makers), Model for the Villa Pisani, Stra, c. 1716, Musei Civici Veneziani, Museo Correr, Venice

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Despite the refinement of the model, however, Alvise Pisani rejected Frigimelica's proposal, and opted for the more monumental and restrained design of Francesco Maria Preti, completed 1756.

Villa Pisani, Stra © Alinari/Art Resource, NY

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Royal Palaces


Royal palaces are among the most significant and spectacular structures of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, a time of political absolutism, when immense power was concentrated in the hands of individual rulers. Ambitious architectural projects, especially palaces, were embodiments of the right to rule. Larger and more magnificent than their predecessors, royal palaces in this period functioned as the sovereign's residence and also as the center for government administration. The most influential baroque palace was that of Versailles, begun in the 1660s by Louis Le Vau. Built for King Louis XIV of France, its overwhelming scale and grandeur expressed the king's immense wealth and absolute power. Versailles became the model followed by sovereigns throughout Europe, in the palaces of Rivoli and Caserta in Italy, for instance, and the Kremlin in Russia.

Vasily Ivanovich Bazhenov, Model for the Central Part of the Façade of the Great Kremlin Palace, Moscow, 1769-1773, A. V. Shchusev State Research Museum of Architecture, Moscow

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Great Kremlin Palace


In 1767 Empress Catherine II of Russia commissioned architect Vasily Ivanonich Bazhenov to design a new administrative building in the Kremlin in Moscow. Bazhenov, however, prepared designs for a new palace that would surround all the medieval buildings of the Kremlin. The project was so immense that a special government agency, the Department for the Building of the Kremlin, was created to plan and build the structure. Although the palace was never constructed, a large model showing Bazhenov's proposed design was completed between 1769 and 1773. Exhibited to the upper classes of society once a month, it became one of the most popular attractions in Moscow.

(top) Vasily Ivanovich Bazhenov, Model for the Central Part of the Façade of the Great Kremlin Palace, Moscow, 1769-1773, A. V. Shchusev State Research Museum of Architecture, Moscow

(bottom) Studio of Vasily Ivanovich Bazhenov, Section for the Oval Plaza of the Great Kremlin Palace, Moscow, 1769, A.V. Shchusev State Research Museum of Architecture, Moscow

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The central part of the model can be taken apart to reveal the palace's ceremonial spaces: the throne hall, oval plaza, and stair hall. More than 40 feet long, the model is carved from four types of wood: lime wood for the basic structure, maple for the cornices, and apple and pear for the interior decoration. Some decorative details were cast in lead for greater precision. The monumental façade reveals a strong classical influence, anticipating the neo-classical architecture that would come to dominate Russia in the late eighteenth century.


Bazhenov recognized the importance of models in the design process, claiming that, "in order to understand how beautiful and excellent the building will really be...the architect must make a model...indeed the making of the model is considered to be half the work." The project, though never built, exerted a profound influence on Russian architecture.

(top left) Vasily Ivanovich Bazhenov, Model for the Throne Hall of the Great Kremlin Palace, Moscow, 1769-1773, A.V. Shchusev State Research Museum of Architecture, Moscow

(bottom left) Vasily Ivanovich Bazhenov, Model for a Portion of the Oval Plaza with the Entrance to the Theater, Great Kremlin Palace, Moscow, 1769-1773, A.V. Shchusev State Research Museum of Architecture, Moscow

(right) Vasily Ivanovich Bazhenov, Model for the Stair Hall of the Great Kremlin Palace, Moscow, 1769-1773, A.V. Shchusev State Research Museum of Architecture, Moscow

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