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Publication Date: 2015-06-15

Design Insights

Design Dictionary: Baroque

If there ever was an winner for the most overused phrase in design speech, it would be “go for Baroque!” Yuck! How about a ban? The Baroque style has an aura of “I know it when I see it.” but there are some defining characteristics. Let’s go at them! BAROQUE: The Baroque style held sway during the 17th century and the term is believed to have been derived from the Portuguese word barroco for an irregularly shaped pearl. The style began in Italy but was brought to France by Catherine de Medici when she married French king, Henri II.

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The style was further fostered by Cardinal Mazarin, prime minister to Louis XIII and reached its fullest expression during the reign of Louis XIV (known as the “Sun King.”). Some dub the style as synonymous with “Louis XIV-style,” but since versions of the Baroque style appeared throughout Europe, that categorization may be too limited.

Identifying the Baroque Style

So how to identify the Baroque style? Think in terms like magnificent and opulent. Ornamentation in the Baroque room was overscaled, and featured cherubs, floral ornaments and acanthus leaves coupled with architectural motifs like columns and pilasters. Look for exaggerated S curves and large mirrors. Every inch of the Baroque room was heavily decorated including ceilings which often featured celestial scenes. Sumptuous textiles were used in silks, velvets and damasks, again with large-scale patterns. Color palettes are richly saturated hues, including golds, burgundies and rich blues.

Baroque furniture also is overscaled with extravagant, heavily carved ornamentation, and often rectilinear. Chairs are throne like. The console table is new in this period and many tables and case pieces had x-shaped stretchers. Pieces where decorated with marquetry, intarsia, pietra dura, lacquer and gilding or parcel gilding. (If don’t know these terms, leave a comment and I will address them in a future post).

Above: 1. An Italian Baroque Chair. 2. Mazarin Writing Desk, 1685-1700. Marquetry of brass, ebony, ivory, mother-of-pearl and clear toroiseshell or horn with painted paper backing, on a pine carcase. 3. Attributed to André-Charles Boulle French, Paris, about 1680 Oak veneered with tortoiseshell, pewter, brass, ebony, horn, ivory, and various natural and stained woods; gilt-bronze mountsa 4. Baroque clock and Baroque cabinet attributed to Boulle Baroque chair with some Rococo elements from the Met.

No discussion of the Baroque period is complete without mentioning the ebeniste (French for cabinet maker) Andre-Charles Boulle, the leading furniture maker of his time He perfected a distinctive variation of marquetry in tortoiseshell and brass, combined with ebony and occasionally ivory. It became so widely copied that his name is used to refer to the technique.

It is also important to note that the Baroque style impacted both music and art. The Baroque painting style involved clear simple forms with dynamic movements and theatrical effects. Famous Baroque painters include Caravaggio, Rubens, Rembrandt and Van Dyke. Bach, Handel and Vivaldi are among the Baroque composers.

Finally, sometimes it is easy to confuse the Baroque style with the Rococo style, which slowly evolved after it. It can help to think of the Baroque style as heavier and more masculine and rectilinear with rich, bold colors in contrast to the curvier, feminine and somewhat lighter Rococo, which often featured pastel hues.

Baroque Today

The Baroque style continues to impact design today.

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