About 1600 European culture was again revolutionized. In northern Europe the Renaissance had become the Protestant Reformation. In Italy, beginning with the foundation of the Jesuit Order in 1539 and the Council of Trent of 1545-63, the Roman Catholic church began the Counter-Reformation, a campaign to strengthen itself in reaction. There resulted a more purely Catholic and emotional style, the baroque.
Italy, however, was becoming less and less the center of European civilization. The discovery of America brought great wealth to Spain in the 16th century; the expansion of trade made Holland and Britain major powers in the centuries following; and political centralization made France under Louis XIV the most influential state on the Continent. In these northern states religious architecture was overshadowed by political building–palaces and government institutions. The profession of architecture evolved in response. The architect had become a gentleman during the Renaissance. Now he became a government official, a bureaucrat, a part of the centralized administration of building. The greatest architects of the age–Jules Hardouin-Mansart, Sir Christopher Wren, Jacques-Germain Soufflot, Balthasar Neumann–were heads of corps of designers and builders who were assembled to carry out national construction projects of all sorts. These were educated men, but they were not (with the exception of Wren) philosophers or (with the exception of Bernini) practitioners of many arts.
Italy. The first great architect of this period was the Italian Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini. He was the last Renaissance architect in the sense that he was equally able in sculpture, painting, and building. But already there was a difference; instead of being a free-thinking Humanist like Alberti or Leonardo, Bernini was a faithful Catholic and a lay member of the Jesuit Order. This was reflected in his works, which were stage sets for the dramatization of Catholic ritual.
A nave, at the clergy’s insistence, had been added to the front of Michelangelo’s St. Peter’s by Carlo Maderna in 1607-15. In 1656 Bernini began a plaza in front of it defined by dramatic curving and angled colonnades. Connecting this to the papal apartments, he erected the Scala Regia of 1663-69, made dramatic by concealed light sources and a progressive diminishing of width as it rises. His little church of San Andrea al Quirinale of 1658-78 was his most perfect work. It is no longer round, like Alberti and Bramante’s ideal, but expressively oval. A concealed light source illuminates a vision of religious figures in stucco over the altar that seems to float in the real space of the building. What in the 16th century had been cerebral and static became, in the 17th century, actual and dynamic.
Bernini had a brilliant assistant, Francesco Borromini, who in the 1630s emerged as his competitor in architecture. If Bernini’s designs appear dramatic, Borromini’s seem bizarre. His largest work, the chapel of San Ivo della Sapienza in the Collegio Romano of 1642-60 displays a distorted triangular space internally and a stepped dome that culminates in a spiral on the exterior. His intentions were evidently symbolic. The plan shows the triangular emblem of divine wisdom, and the spiral evokes the pillar of truth. The whole building has thus been made to become the Domus Sapientiae, the “House of Wisdom,” expressive of its location in a college and its dedication to a saint of learning.
At the end of the 17th century, Bernini’s use of dramatic lighting and Borromini’s free spatial geometry were combined by Guarino Guarini in a series of churches in Turin. Here space opens mysteriously behind space, and webs of dome ribs seem to float in front of bursts of divine light, producing the highest expression of the Italian baroque.
Spain. The Spanish Empire in the 16th and 17th centuries enjoyed great prosperity as well as close proximity and political interrelationship with Italy. In 1563-84 there arose the first great non-Italian work of the High Renaissance, Philip II’s Escorial. It was simultaneously a monastery, mausoleum, fortress, and palace–a symbol of royal piety and power that became characteristic of the age. The principal architect, Juan de Herrera, worked closely with the king. The result, built in black granite, has the clarity of Bramante and the massiveness of Michelangelo and achieves the king’s desire that it have “simplicity of form, severity in the whole, nobility without arrogance, majesty without ostentation.”
France. France equaled Spain in power and finally, during the reign of Louis XIV (1643-1715), outshone its rival. The Renaissance had arrived early there also, during the reign of Francis I (1494-1547) in his palace at Fontainebleau. He had imported Italian artists, including Leonardo (who died at Amboise in 1519), but the architectural results during the 16th century were largely decorative and fantastic. In 1615, however, an equivalent to the Escorial began to rise in Paris in the Luxembourg Palace designed by Solomon de Brosse for the regent Marie de Medicis. This was followed by the chateaux and churches of Francois Mansart, especially his Val de Grace of 1645-67, and by the whole town and chateau of the Cardinal Richelieu commenced to a single design by Jacques Lemercier in 1631.
It was Louis XIV, upon his accession to power in 1661, who carried the combined expression of central power and state church to a new plane. He started by projecting the completion of his city palace, the Louvre, and in 1664 invited Bernini to Paris to execute it. But what had started as an admission of Italian supremacy ended as an assertion of French independence when Bernini returned to Rome after a few months’ stay, and his baroque project was superseded by a simpler, more correct one by Claude Perrault, executed from 1667 to 1670.
Paris, however, was becoming too small a canvas for Louis XIV’s architectural display of royal authority. His superintendent of finances, Nicolas Fouquet, had employed in 1657-61 the architect Louis Le Vau, the painter Charles Le Brun, and the landscape gardener Andre Le Notre to coordinate their three arts to produce his chateau at Vaux-le-Vicomte. Louis was deeply impressed. He had Fouquet’s finances investigated, took over his team of artists, and in 1668 set them to work producing an even grander ensemble for him at Versailles. Here huge expanses of formal gardens on one side and three monumental avenues on the other culminate in a vast palace designed in the severe style of the Louvre and the Escorial
Versailles was built slowly in parts. Upon Le Vau’s death in 1670, Jules Hardouin-Mansart took over, designing the famous Galerie des Glaces (begun 1678). He rose to be first royal architect and then, in 1699, superintendent des batiments. He designed Louis XIV’s last and largest projects in a style that finally began to show baroque complexity and richness–the chateau at Marly (begun 1679), the Dome of the Invalides (1679-91, intended as Louis’s mausoleum), and the Place Vendome (begun 1698). Significantly, Hardouin-Mansart was one of the first architects to be accused by his contemporaries of not producing his own designs but of using the talents of skillful assistants.
Holy Roman Empire. To the east of France lay the Holy Roman Empire with its capital at Vienna. Beginning in 1690, Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach worked there, starting the baroque Karlskirche in 1716. The most extraordinary work in the German sphere was produced in the early 18th century in the bishopric of Wurzburg, where Balthasar Neumann, trained locally as a military engineer, served as state architect. He designed the magnificent bishop’s Residenz (palace), with ceiling frescoes by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, as well as the pilgrimage church of Vierzehnheiligen (1741-71, near Lichtenfels in Bavaria). In the latter building the spatial geometry of Borromini is combined with a richness of decoration and an openness of structure that make the whole space a religious apparition.
England. France’s real competitor for domination of northern Europe, however, was the developing maritime nation of England. The Renaissance had arrived especially late there. After an almost abortive introduction of Palladianism by Inigo Jones in the early 17th century, the development was suspended until Sir Christopher Wren’s appointment as surveyor of the king’s works in 1669. He was the last scholar-architect, having pursued mathematics and astronomy before becoming involved in building. He became one of the most brilliant and prolific architect-bureaucrats of the age. Before his death in 1723 he had designed 52 London churches (after the 1666 fire), carried through the construction of St. Paul’s Cathedral from foundation to cupola-top between 1673 and 1710, extended several palaces, and built two huge military hospitals at Chelsea and Greenwich.
He is chiefly remembered for St. Paul’s. It is French in its severity but original in its Gothic plan (insisted upon by the cathedral chapter) and ingenious in its vaulting and dome. From Wren’s office emerged Nicholas Hawksmoor who, together with the gentleman-architect Sir John Vanbrugh, erected a series of huge ducal palaces in the early 18th century, notably Blenheim Palace near Oxford (begun 1705).
France continued in the 18th century to be the center of northern European culture and architecture, producing Ange-Jacques Gabriel’s Place de la Concorde (begun 1757) and Jacques-Germain Soufflot’s Pantheon (1755-92). The latter structure was built originally as the church of Ste-Genevieve, and all of its complication of colonnades, domes, and windows restates the original Renaissance theme of the centralized, vaulted space that is decorated with sober ancient Roman ornamentation.
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