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  The origins of the word ‘baroque’ are obscure. Some authorities derive it from Italian barocco, the name of a particularly ornately-patterned kind of pearl; others say that it was a mnemonic coined by the 13th-century writer William of Shyreswood (a mnemonic for what, the pundits seem to have forgotten). It is a term used particularly in architecture, visual art and music. In architecture, it was first applied in the 18th century (by French neoclassical critics) as a term of abuse, meaning ‘fantastic’ or ‘misshapen’. Late 19th-century art historians took up the term and used it more systematically to investigate (and to some extent categorize) work of the late-16th to mid-18th centuries. The architecture of this period, particularly perhaps that of Borromini (1599 - 1667) and Bernini (1598 - 1680), gives a sensation of the building treated as sculpture, particularly noticeable in the almost unprecedented use of curvilinear forms. (Fine examples are the front elevation of the Church of San Carlo Quattro Fontane and the colonnade of St Peter\'s, both in Rome.)

Baroque architecture is characterized by movement and drama. The principal elevations of baroque churches are often conceived in concave and convex planes, their interiors embellished with sculpture and painting. The expressionist qualities of the baroque are often ascribed to a particular phase in the history of the Catholic Church, after the readjustment and internal reform set in motion by the Council of Trent (1545-1563) had given the Church both a renewed self-confidence, and a need to attract people away from the now established Protestantism.

In fine art, the term ‘baroque’ refers to work of the 17th and much of the 18th centuries in (especially) the Catholic countries of Europe, and to a style midway between mannerism and rococo. It implies grandeur, spatial complexity and an interest in the excesses both of decorative elaboration and of light and shade in short, a sense of theatre which often involves the manipulation of the spectator, whether the medium be painting or sculpture. By extension, the ‘ringmaster’ artist must co-ordinate all the arts in order to achieve the desired effect, so that baroque is frequently the union of the arts, working together (as in Bernini\'s ‘control’ of the crossing of St Peter\'s in Rome, mentioned above, or his arrangement of the piazza outside the building).

In music, baroque is used to describe European art-music from about 1600-1750: from the heyday of Monteverdi to the death of Bach, the period of such composers as Corelli, Handel, Telemann and Vivaldi. In the baroque period, the focus of attention shifted from church to secular music. Although church pieces continued to be written, secular opera became the vocal form most favoured by composers and patrons, and new forms of instrumental music (especially concerto, sonata and suite) were developed to replace the fantasias and ricercares of earlier times. There was a marked rise in the importance of virtuoso performers, opera singers and violinists in particular being in demand, and able to name their price (and the kind of music they would play) throughout the continent: this led to a homogenization of style which, by the end of the baroque period, had become pervasive. PD MG JM KMcL

See also Renaissance.Further reading Anthony Blunt, Baroque and Rococo; , John R. Martin, Baroque.



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