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Henry Millon (ed.) 1999. The Triumph of the Baroque: Architecture in Europe 1600-1750. London: Thames and Hudson

Contents:

Henry Millon: Introduction
Paolo Portoghesi: Birth of the Baroque in Rome
Christian Norberg-Schulz: The Baroque and its Buildings
Hilary Ballon: Architecture in the Seventeenth Century Europe
Christian Norberg-Schulz: The Age of the Late Baroque and Rococo
Dmitry Schwidkovsky: The Architecture of the Russian State: between East and West, 1600-1700
Elisabeth Kieven: “Mostrar l’inventione”: The Role of Roman Architects in the Baroque Period
Werner Oechslin: Architecture est scientia aedificandi: Reflection on the Scope of Architectural and Architectural-Theoretical Literature
Fernando Marias: From the “Ideal City” to Real Cities: Perspectives, Chorographies, Models, Vedute
Jörg Garms: Architectural Painting: Fantasy and Caprice
Michel Conan: Garden Displays of Majestic Will
Claude Mignot: Urban Transformations
Simon Pepper: Military Architecture in Baroque Europe
Vera Comoli Mandracci: Turin: An Example for the Town Planning and Architectural Models of European Capitals in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries
Cesare de Seta: The Royal Palace of Caserta by Luigi Vanvitelli: The Genesis and Development of the Project
Michael Krapf: The Architectural Model in the Sphere of Influence of the Imperial Court in Vienna
Europe in the Age of the Baroque
Works on Exhibit
Appendix, Chronology, Bibliography, Index of names, Index of works

This lavishly illustrated volume gives a splendid and informative panorama of the gem that was Baroque Europe. The volume has a collection of essays by international scholars and also includes the full catalogue of the international travelling exhibition organised by Palazzo Grassi, Venice.

The exhibition organisers write: “The exhibition is intended to make explicit through examples in architecture and the arts the existence of shared attitudes about a notion of Europe (and of European architecture) that was formed in the 17th and 18th centuries and that persists to this day in the contemporary characterization of Western, Central and Eastern Europe.” Unfortunately I have not been able to visit the exhibition, but this lavish publication certainly achieves that aim.

The Baroque magnificence has survived in Europe and is a tribute to a lavish age which saw the expansion and triumph of human genius. Images of Versailles, St Petersburg, splendid sculptures, paintings and fountains immediately spring to mind when one mentions the Baroque. This book focuses on the phenomenon of Baroque architecture that gave rise to a new urbanism.

It is impossible to do justice to a book of this calibre in a short review. Readers should start with Henry A. Millon’s introduction, which explains perceptions of Baroque architecture, including the distaste which persisted until the end of the nineteenth century and the rediscovery of a bygone age. Highly informative, the introduction is very readable and will be of interest to the scholar and layman alike. The wealth of detail is presented in a flowing, scholarly and clear narrative and sets the pace for the rest of the book.

The wide variety of topics presented provides hours of fascinating reading coupled with a five-star photographic journey. Christian Norberg-Schulz’s discussion of the architectural diversity of 17th Europe is an excellent paper which first examines the pre-Baroque context, thus setting the pace for what was to follow. What makes this paper enjoyable is this focus on people and concepts, which cannot really be divorced from the architecture. It is after all the human which created the physical. Putting architecture in its proper context helps the reader appreciate not just the splendid physical, but also the people behind the splendour. Norberg-Schulz adopts the same contextual approach when discussing the Late Baroque and Rococo. It is only by understanding the social and historic context of the 18th century that we can understand the nature of the Late Baroque and the Rococo.

Seventeenth century architecture is examined in more detail by Hilary Ballon. Ballon examines four features which contributed to the triumph of the Baroque: the norms of court society, urbanisation, the renewal of religion and methods of Baroque design. The paper can be better appreciated after reading Norberg-Schulz’s contribution. Combined with Simon Pepper’s contribution on Baroque European military architecture and Claude Mignot’s examination of urban transofrmations, these papers give a solid, informative analysis of these intertwined aspects of Baroque architecture.

Architectural plans and models serve to illustrate the grandeur of the Baroque. More importantly, they played a vital role in the practice of architecture during the period. Models enabled architects to study their designs in three-dimensional form. On another level, prospective patrons could get a visual idea of the project. Elisabeth Kieven examines models and plans, explaining their use and importance while showing how a person became an architect and how architects worked. Michael Krapf examines the model within the context of the Viennese Imperial Court, showing that it was a standard tool of everyday building in the 18th century, rather than merely a single model of “imperial Vienna.”

Vera Comoli provides a “site-specific” analysis of Turin as an example for the town planning and architectural models of European capitals. Although this and the above-mentioned papers are not consecutive chapters, it is advisable to read them in this order as this enables the reader to appreciate the various themes in their proper context.

Looking at specific countries, Paolo Portoghesi examines the complex birth of the Baroque in Rome, focusing on architecture and Dmitry Shwidkovsky examines Baroque Russia. His opening lines provide food for thought. He writes: “The inclusion in an exhibition devoted to the Baroque in Europe of architectural models created in St Petersburg and Moscow reflects the change of view of Russian culture that has come about in recent years.”

Due to political reasons, Russia was isolated from the west for a long time, keeping scholars from looking at the European characteristics of Russian structures. Shwidkovsky provides a detailed account of Russian architecture, notably the transformation of Russia’s architecture in “the Western spirit”. The complex Russian scenario is clearly explained and is accompanied by splendid photography.

Three other papers provide the reader with intertwined perspectives on Baroque architecture. Werner Oechslin gives a detailed discussion of the Baroque theory of . Fernando Marias examines the difference between the “ideal city” and the real city, while Jörg Garms examines architectural painting. The papers are better appreciated and understood if read as a “trio”.

Baroque gardens were meant for show. It is were people gathered to admire the theatrical gardens. Gardens were not just about the greenery, they were meant to have an audience to admire the splendour and note the owner’s power and importance. Michael Conan examines this phenomenon, noting that “the history of Baroque gardens in Europe is still to be fully documented before it can be written.” Conan describes the principles of garden composition and elements of garden design. He examines some of the most famous Baroque gardens, highlighting their diversity and significance.

Another site-specific paper examines Luigi Vanvitelli’s Royal Palace of Caserta. Cesare de Seta traces the history and evolution of the project. Built for Charles III of Bourbon, the palace is the translation of the King’s wishes into reality and it represented the last of the ambitious undertakings of this absolute monarch. There are many innovations in this project, notably its dimensions and the placing of the palace in a town plan and these are discussed in further detail by de Seta.

This magnificent book is beautifully presented. What is tiring is the bibliography, printed in a very small font. Otherwise, the splendid photographs and scholarly text make this book a must-have. Readers can explore aspects of the Baroque via the papers or opt for a relaxing, photographic panorama.


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