The 16th century can be considered a century of passage between the Renaissance, with its great works, and the Baroque, the art style that shaped the modern Rome. The great maestros of the Renaissance had left a heavy heritage, indeed, which prevented the succeeding artists to develop their own style. This kind of art, which imitated the great model of the Renaissance, especially Leonardo, Michelangelo, and Raphael, was even too exasperated and produced few original works of art.
The artistic efforts to reproduce the manners of the maestros passed under the name of Mannerism, the typical art style of this century. Again, the Italian centre of the new artistic trend was Florence, where worked Andrea del Sarto.
His manner was imitated by other artists, first in Tuscany and then in other Italian cities, till it spread in France. Here, in Fontainebleau, Francis I founded a centre of mannerist culture of European importance.
The other artistic trend developed in Italy towards the end of the century was the so called “carraccismo”, worked out by the three maestros Carracci.
They spread their technique of painting first in Bologna, and then in Rome, where Annibale Carracci (1597-1603) frescoed the great hall of Palazzo Farnese with a naturalistic, classical style.
The ingenious treatment of the angels, and the impressive overall scheme centring on the Triumph of Bacchus, demonstrate the great imagination of the artist.
This work had a profound influence on later Baroque ceiling decorations. Carracci was assisted by his brother Agostino and-in the frescoes above the doors and niches-by Dominichino.
Between the end of the 16th century and the beginning of the 17th, the great painter Caravaggio (1571-1610) elaborated a particular kind of artistic style, known with the name of “Caravaggism”. His painting style, indeed, characterized by deep contrasting images of a popular and realistic content, revolutionized the traditional taste.
Discover the art and life of Caravaggio, a painter who left an indelible mark on Rome. This fascinating walking tour takes you to see Caravaggio's most characteristic masterpieces, and weaves a fascinating story with a tragic end.
Duration: 4 hours (approx.)
Price: Starting from EUR €49 per person
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But the most innovating and interesting artistic trend of the 17th century was by far the Baroque, born in Rome and then spread in Europe and South America. The Catholic Church, by far triumphant over the Lutheran Reform, exploited the Baroque art to spread the Catholicism.
During the 17th century, Rome became again the major religious and cultural centre in Italy. The Baroque, the original artistic style born in Rome, involved all the aspects of life: art, fashion, literature, theatre, music, and dance. Its peculiar elements are the originality, the fantasy, the irregularity, the rich decoration, and circular forms in movement.
The greatest Italian architects of the Baroque, Bernini, Borromini, and Pietro da Cortona, all worked in Rome and, under the patronage of the popes, contributed to give it its present Baroque aspect. Most of their geniality is manifest in the numerous fountains that spread throughout the city. But they also erected wonderful churches, courtyard, and palaces.
Some of the greatest masterpieces of these artists are in Piazza Navona. Three splendid fountains decorate it.
At its centre rises the Fountain of the Four Rivers, one of Bernini’s most famous works. Four colossal allegorical figures are seated on a triangular base of travertine rock. They represent the four most important rivers of the time—the Danube, Ganges, Nile, and Rio della Plata—symbolizing the four continents Europe, Asia, Africa, and America.
A horse and a lion with long flowing tails inhabit the caves in the hollow rock below, seen from both front and back, and near a scaly sea monster with a snout there is a sea serpent in the water. The rock is overgrown with various carved plants and a palm tree.
The fountain was designed to sustain the obelisk, which was cut in Egypt and had been brought to Rome by order of Domitian. It lay for centuries in five pieces in the Circus of Maxentius on the Via Appia, before the Pamphilj pope, Innocent X, decided to move it here.
The Fontana del Moro at the south end was designed by Giacomo della Porta in 1576, with sculptures of many artists to decorate it. But it was altered by Bernini in 1653 when he designed the central figure, known as Il Moro (The Moor), executed by Antonio Mari.
The fountain at the north end of the square, representing Neptune struggling with a marine monster or giant octopus, Nereids and see-horses, was also designed by Giacomo della Porta and then modified and realized by Bernini.
On the west side of the piazza is Sant’Agnese in Agone, an ancient church built on the ruins of the stadium which Christian tradition marks at the spot where St. Agnes was exposed. It was reconstructed in 1652.
The splendid concave façade, which add emphasis to the dome, was begun by Borromini (1653-57), who also planned the two twin bell-towers and a cupola in the centre. The small Baroque interior has an intricate Greek-cross plan in which a remarkable effect of spaciousness is provided by the cupola.
Next to the church is the splendid façade of Palazzo Pamphilj, completed by Borromini for Innocent X in the mid-17th century. It is known the Brazilian Embassy.
The very pale blue colour of the façade has been rediscovered in its recent restoration. The interior is of greatest interest for its architecture and painted decorations. It includes the Sala Palestrina, a magnificent example of Borromini’s secular architecture, using the minimum of surface decoration. The Roman architect has also designed the long gallery.
The activity of Bernini, both as sculptor and painter, was long and intense. In 1658 he built the church of Sant’Andrea. The simple façade, of a single order, balances the fine domed elliptical interior, with columns, pilasters and frames in pink and grey marble, and gilded and stuccoed decorations. Numerous cherubim look down from the lantern. Bernini’s Classical architecture is combined with his original lighting effects: each chapel is lit by windows high up behind the altars.
Also the Colonnade of St Peter, planned in 1656, reproduces the same elliptical form as the church. The colonnade has 284 statues and 88 pilasters, and 144 statues on the frame.
Covered galleries, also decorated with statues, unite the colonnades with the portico of St Peter’s. The gallery on the right, known as the Corridore del Bernini, which leads to the Scala Regia, is closed by the Portone di Bronzo.
Inside the Vatican Church, Bernini erected in 1633 the great baldachin.
It rises over the high altar and above the cupola.
This colossal Baroque structure, a combination of architecture and decorative sculpture, is cast from bronze taken from the Pantheon. Four gilt-bronze Solomonic columns rise from their marble plinths, which are decorated with the Barberini bees.
The columns resemble in design the colonna Santa but are decorated with figures of genii and laurel branches. They support a canopy ascend ornamental scrolls, which support the globe and cross. Inside the top of the canopy the Holy Spirit is represented as a dove in an aureole.
Bernini’s masterpiece is the Fontana della Barcaccia, one of the most beautiful fountains of the city. It rises in the centre of the long and irregular piazza di Spagna. The design of a leaking boat is well adapted to the low water-pressure of the fountain. During his long career, Bernini has designed some of the most delightful fountains of Rome. Isolated in the centre of the square Barberini rises the Fontana del Tritone (1642-43), with four dolphins supporting a scallop shell on which is seated a Triton (or merman) blowing a single jet of water through a conch shell held up in his hands.
The artist’s drawings that have survived put into evidence the exactness of the study concerning the place where the water would fall. But since the water pressure is now lower the full effect can no longer be appreciated. The spray was meant to have reached the scallop shell, and from there the water should brim over into the lowest basin.
Commissioned by the Barberini pope Urban VIII, it is decorated with the beautifully carved Barberini coat of arms with the emblem of the bee. On the north side of the square is the small Fontana delle Api, reconstructed by the artist one year later.
The fountain is decorated with the same Barberini bee and with an inscription on the scallop shell stating that the water is for the use of the public and their animals.
The small marble basin below was designed at the beginning of the 20th century, when the fountain was moved from its original site on the corner of Via Sistina and recomposed here.
Among his numerous sculptures, it is to be mentioned the Ecstasy of St Teresa, placed in the beautiful church of Santa Maria della Vittoria. The interior self, well-proportioned, is considered one of the most complete examples of Baroque decoration in Rome, rich in colour and glowing with marbles. It has good stuccowork and a fine organ and choir by a pupil of Bernini.
The second south chapel has an altarpiece of the Madonna and St Francis by Domenichino. The fourth chapel on the north side is the chapel by Bernini, a splendid architectural achievement that exploits the shallow space to great effect.
It is here, over the altar, that rises his famous sculptured group, the Ecstasy of St Teresa, and below is a gilt-bronze relief of the Last Supper.
The ability of Borromini as engineer is mostly evident in the little church of San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane, an oval church that rises, providing an interesting effect of contrast, close to Bernini’s Sant’Andrea. The tall curved façade (1665-68) is well adapted to the cramped site on the corner of a narrow street.
The interior (1638) has convex and concave surfaces in a complicated design using triangles in a unifying scheme. The symbolism throughout is of the Holy Trinity. From the church it is possible to enter the small cloister, also designed by Borromini.
The crypt is designed in a wondering play of curves linked by a heavy continuous cornice. It is thought that the artist intended this as place of his own burial.
During the 17th century Rome was enriched by many beautiful villas, mostly as country residences for wealthy nobles or ecclesiastics in search of peace and amusement out of the city. The most elegant one is Villa Borghese, commissioned in 1613 by the Prince and Cardinal Scipione Borghese to the Hollander architect Jan Van Santen and the Italian Flaminio Ponzio.
The building, erected on the model of the Renaissance Villas, is composed by a main body flanked by two lateral wings. The magnificent Villa is fully immersed in a 688-hectares extended park, intersected in every direction by avenues and paths, with fine oaks, giant ilexes, umbrella pines and other tress, as well as statues, fountains and terraces.
The suburban villa houses also the famous Museo e Galleria Borghese, with one of the most prestigious collections of paintings and sculptures from the Renaissance to the Neoclassicism, including masterpieces by Bernini, Canova, Raphael, Titian and Caravaggio.
Explore the art history of Baroque Rome in style on a private walking tour of the Galleria Borghese with an art expert. Accompanied by your own private guide who specializes in art history, you'll enjoy personalized attention on your special private tour of Baroque Rome's Galleria Borghese.
Duration: 3 hours 30 minutes
Price: Starting from EUR €56.25 per person
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