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Mansart, Church of the Invalides, 1679-1691
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European architecture of the 17th century, referred to as Baroque, is characterized by magnificence, grandeur and richness in invention, design and, usually, in scale.  The Papacy in Rome remained a principal motivating force and commanding Popes continued to support important architectural commissions.  But political developments throughout Europe during the preceding century, particularly the urge toward nation-building and centralized authority, produced a new range of powerful royal patrons who harnessed architecture and urban planning as a means of demonstrating the supremacy of the state.  Innovative architectural ideas began from the Classical principals that had dominated the Renaissance, further stimulated by the often clever and surprising buildings of the mid and late 16th century.  The austerity and intellectual rigor of Michelangelo’s Laurentian Library in Florence, for example, yields to the richness and intellectual complexity of Borromini’s San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane in Rome.  In this period of expansionist goals, architecture came to embrace sculpture and painting as integral components of total design reflecting a conceptual cohesion often lacking in earlier buildings.  Magnificent decoration, including both frescoes cycles and altarpieces, was unified through a more sophisticated use of light and color to enhance architectural space.  This reflects, in part, the effort to construct large, complex buildings anew, motivated by the political and religious goals of the period and bolstered by full coffers, rather than adding on to existing buildings in a piecemeal manner as was often the case during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.  The buildings of the period are frequently described as dramatic but perhaps the term spectacular, in the sense of creating a spectacle of theatrical grandeur, capture the architecture of the period with greater accuracy.

Baroque architecture emerges first in Italy, a land favored by an enviable confluence of forces that fostered cultural renewal and reinvention for centuries.  And if Florence is the ideal city of the Renaissance, then Rome is the ideal city of the Baroque, in this case privileged by the convergence of ambitious popes and an artist of international repute, Gianlorenzo Bernini, heir to Bramante, Michelangelo and Raphael as well as a succeeding generation of architects working in the latter half of 16th-century Rome.  Reinvigorated by the Council of Trent, the Popes sought to complete the protracted rebuilding of St. Peter’s Basilica, which was essentially a construction site since the early 16th century.  From the monumental gilded-bronze baldacchino erected by an army of craftsmen in the 1620’s beneath Michelangelo’s dome to the embracing colonnaded piazza of the 1650’s, Bernini defined the character of 17th-century Rome.  The consummate artist of his epoch, Bernini represents one seminal direction in architecture during this period.  Francesco Borromini, a former member of Bernini’s studio, emerged in the 1630’s with a markedly different approach to architecture.  Comparison of two small churches, Bernini’s San Andrea al Quirinale and Borromini’s San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane, less than a mile apart in Rome, succinctly summarizes what these two masters shared and how they diverged.  In no other buildings of the period is the simple geometrical shape of the oval developed with greater creativity, complexity and effect.

Despite continuing preeminence in Italy, the declining authority of the Papacy and the prestigious Italian families in its orbit may be measured against the rise of other European powers especially the kings of France and the thriving French aristocracy.  In Italy, ecclesiastical architecture was at the heart of stylistic evolution in the 17th century, but in France secular architecture and urban planning come to the fore.  In 1657, Nicholas Fouquet, the Surintendent des Finances, commissioned Louis Le Vau to build a majestic chateau at Vaux-le-Vicomte which, along with the formal gardens laid out be Le Notre, represents the grandest example of French residential architecture with the exception of the Palace at Versailles.  French ecclesiastical architecture reaches its apogee in J.H. Mansart’s Church of the Invalides begun in 1679 under the patronage of Louis XIV.  From the classical rigor of the façade, culminating in a dome inspired by St. Peter’s in Rome, to the rich yet restrained interior, the Invalides epitomizes the French interpretation of the aesthetic principles of the age.  The double-shelled dome filled with a frescoed rendering of celestial glory is complemented by a high altar designed as a careful adaptation of the baldacchino in St. Peter’s shaping an impression that Bernini himself would have recognized as Baroque splendor.

In an age of national progress and expansion, England was not to be outdone. Blenheim Palace, begun in 1705 by John Vanbrugh as the residence of the Duke of Marlborough, combines elements recognizable from Bernini’s Piazza San Pietro, the Palace at Versailles and even

elements reminiscent of medieval fortresses all marked by the careful use of Classical ornamentation to create an English interpretation of imposing and massive Baroque architecture. In church architecture, Christopher Wren brought a thoroughly continental design to St. Paul’s Cathedral, rebuilt after the devastating fire of 1666 that destroyed much of Medieval and Renaissance London.  But English ecclesiastical buildings in the 17th and 18th centuries invented new solutions based on local religious ceremony and a newly emerging aesthetic.  In 1722, James Gibbs designed St. Martin-in-the-Fields in central London drawing on ancient Roman temples for the exterior coupled with a striking steeple evoking medieval references, leading into a light, elegant interior characterized by a flattened barrel vault in the nave and delicate domes in the side aisles supported by Corinthian columns.

As Baroque architecture, and the subsidiary style defined as Rococo, drew to a close by the late 18th century, the language of architecture had grown rich and varied based on the enduring Classical tradition creatively adapted for a range of new solutions by means of individual, cultural and national interpretations.  With political revolutions in America and France, the modern world is ushered in at the dawn of the 19th century bringing with it unprecedented change, diversity and growth in all areas of architecture.


Bath (England)

Building: Circus
Architect: John Wood
Date: ca. 1754

Exterior view of the Circus

Building: Royal Crescent
Architect: John Wood the Younger
Date: 1767 1774

Exterior view #1 of the Royal Crescent
Exterior view #2 of the Royal Crescent

Blenheim (England)

Building: Blenheim Palace (near Oxford)
Architect: John Vanbrugh, gardens designed by "Capability" Brown
Date: 1705 1722

Exterior view #1 of Aquatic Garden
Exterior view #2 of Aquatic Garden
Exterior view of East Court
Exterior view of Italian Garden
Exterior view #1 of main court
Exterior view #2 of main court
Exterior view #3 of main court
Exterior view #1 of main court from the west
Exterior view #2 of main court from the west
Exterior view of main facade

Bussy-Rabutin (France)

Building: Chateau
Date: ca. 1649

Central Court
Salle des Devises
Salle des Guerres
Tour Dorée

London (England)

Building: Saint Martin-in-the-Field
Architect: James Gibb
Date: 1721 – 1726

Interior view of nave
Interior view #1 of north tribune
Interior view #2 of north tribune

Palermo (Sicily)

Building: Quattro Canti
Architect: Guilio Lasso
Date: 1608 – 1620

Exterior view

Paris (France)

Building: Hôtel de Lamoignon
Date: ca. 1585

Exterior view of courtyard

Building: Hôtel de Sens
Date: 1475 – 1507

Exterior view of courtyard

Building: Places des Vosges (Originally Place Royale)
Date: Begun 1605

Exterior view of courtyard

Building: Luxenbourg Palace and Gardens
Architect: Salomon de Brosse
Date: 1615

Exterior view of palace and Medici fountain
Exterior view

Paris (France) continued...

Building: Hôtel de Sully
Architect: Jean du Cerceau
Date: 1624 – 29
Exterior view of first courtyard
Exterior view of inner courtyard
Building: Hôtel de Soubise
Architect: Pierre-Alexis Delamair
Date: 1704
Exterior view of courtyard
Building: Place de la Concorde
Architect: Jacques Ange Gabriel
Date: 1754 – 63
General view
Building: St. Roch
Architect: Jacques Le Mercier; Robert de Cotte; Jules Hardouin Mansart
Date: 1653 – 1740

Church Interior view of crossing

Building: St. Sulpice
Architect: Louis Le Vau
Date: Began 1646
Interior view of crossing
Interior view of nave
Paris (France) continued...

Building: Palais du Louvre
Architect: Louis Le Vau; Claude Perrault
Date: ca. 1660s
Exterior view of Cour Carée
Building: Palais du Louvre
Architect: Louis Le Vau; Claude Perrault; Charles Lebrun
Date: ca. 1660s
Exterior view of east Flank of Cour Carée
Exterior view of south flank of Cour Carée from Pont des Arts
Building: Palais Royal (Palais Cardinal)
Architect: Jacques Lemercier
Date: Begun 1633
Exterior view of street facade
Exterior view #1 of courtyard
Exterior view #2 of courtyard
Building: Place Vendôme
Architect: Jules Mansart
Date: Begun 1698
General view
Paris (France) continued...

Building: Pantheon (Church of Sainte-Genevieve)
Architect: Jacques-Germain Soufflot; Antoine Chrysostome Quatremere de Quincy
Date: 1764 – 89
Exterior view of Place du Panthéon
Exterior view of porch
Exterior view of roof

Interior view of aisle
Interior view #1 of crossing
Interior view #2 of crossing
Interior view of tribune
View #1 of model
View #2 of model
View #3 of model
Building: St. Louis des Invalides
Architect: Jules Mansart
Date: Begun 1671
Chapel #1
Chapel #2
Chapel #3
Chapel #4
Rome (Italy)

Building: Basilica San Pietro, Piazza
Architect: Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini
Date: 1656 – 67
Exterior view of Piazza #1
Exterior view of Piazza #2
Exterior view of Piazza #3
Exterior view of Piazza #4
Exterior view of Piazza #5
Exterior view of Piazza #6
Exterior view of Piazza #7
Exterior view of Colonnade
Building: Piazza Navona and Four Rivers Fountain
Architect: Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini
Date: 1600s
Exterior view
Rome (Italy) continued ...

Building: San Andrea al Quirinale
Architect: Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini
Date: 1658 – 70
Interior view
Building: San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane
Architect: Francesco Borromini
Date: 1665–76
Exterior view of courtyard
Interior view
Siracusa (Sicily)

Building: Duomo
Exterior view of the south end of the Piazza, with Santa Lucia
Vaux-le-Vicomte (France)

Building: Chateau
Architect: Louis Le Vau
Date: 1657 – 61
Exterior view of back steps
Exterior view of Chateau and front gardens from dome
Exterior view of front steps
Exterior view of gardens from dome
Exterior view of gardens
Interior view of banqueting hall
Interior view of bath antechamber
Interior view of billiard room
Interior view #1 of dome hall
Interior view #2 of dome hall
Interior view of dome timbers
Interior view of entry hall
Interior view of game room
Interior view of King's bedroom
Interior view of library
Interior view #1 of wing
Interior view #2 of wing

Also, be sure to visit the following featured projects:

Paris, Pantheon (Ste-Geneviéve), 360°

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Rome, Sant' Andrea al Quirinale, 360°

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Vaux-le-Vicomte, Chateau, 360°

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Experience the Rome, San Carlocelle Quattro Fontane Interactive Plan. Go there.
Designing Saint Peter's Web site  
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