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Baroque style

Decorative style originating in Italy in the 1620s and characterized by monumental and dynamic sculptural forms and opulent effects. It represented the revival of the authority of the Roman Catholic Church during the Counter-Reformation, and in the decorative arts was strongly influenced by contemporary painting, sculpture, and architecture. The overall effect of grandeur was enhanced by bulbous, monumental forms, elaborate moldings and carving, gilding and luxurious materials and rich velvet upholstery.

The style spread during the mid-17th century from Italy to France, where, in a more restrained classicizing form, it reached its height in the decorative arts during the reign of Louis XIV (r.1643-1715). The magnificent unified schemes of decoration and furnishings at the French royal palace of Versailles, near Paris, were designed to symbolize the power of the French monarchy.

Although Classical architecture and sculpture remained the dominant influence in the Baroque, this was mingled with exotic elements, in particular chinoiserie. With the establishment of trading stations and Jesuit missions in East Asia, trade between China and the West increased during the late 17th century. This resulted in a fashion for imported lacquer-work panels and furniture, motifs such as pagodas and Chinese figures, and blue-and-white porcelain - widely imitated in tin-glazed earthenware by potteries in France, England, and especially the Netherlands.

The distinctive French Baroque was disseminated throughout Europe in the late 17th and early 18th centuries through the publication of engraved ornament by leading French designers such as Jean Le Pautre (1617-82) and later Jean Berain (1639-1711), but particularly throughout the emigration of Huguenot designers and craftsmen after Louis XIV's 1685 revocation of the 1598 Edict of Nantes - which had guaranteed Huguenots religious freedom - resulted in religious persecution of Protestants in France. Many Huguenots settled in the Protestant Netherlands and later in England, where the style was also made fashionable by King William III and Queen Mary II (see: William & Mary style).

In the early 18th century the ponderous and formal characteristics of the Baroque were gradually replaced by a lighter style - known as the Regency style - dominated by grotesques, bandwork, lambrequins, satyrs and chinoiseries - that prefigured the Rococo style. However, during the 19th century enthusiasm for historical styles led to a revival of the Baroque, particularly in France during the Second Empire (1852-70).

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