Baroque architecture (1650-1750)

A curvaceous take on Classicism

England's greatest architect was Christopher Wren (1632-1723), a scientist and member of Parliament who got the job of rebuilding London after the Great Fire of 1666. He designed 53 replacement churches alone, plus the new St. Paul's Cathedral and numerous other projects.

Other proponents of the Baroque were John Vanbrugh and his mentor and oft collaborator Nicholas Hawksmoor, who also sometimes worked in a more Palladian idiom.

Identifiable Features

  • Classical architecture rewritten with curves. The Baroque is like a Renaissance where many of the right angles and ruler-straight lines are exchanged for curves of complex geometry and an interplay of concave and convex. The overall effect is to lighten the appearance of structures and add some movement of line to the static look of the Neoclassical.
  • Complex decoration. Unlike the sometimes severe and austere designs of Renaissance and other Classically inspired styles, the Baroque was often playful and apt to festoon structures with decorations intended to liven things up.

Best Examples

  • St. Paul's Cathedral, London. The crowning achievement both of the English Baroque and of Christopher Wren himself.
  • Royal Naval College, Greenwich. London's other main Wren attraction.
  • Nicholas Hawksmoor's London churches. Practicing a Baroque more fanciful than that of his teacher, Christopher Wren, Hawksmoor left London several churches, including St. Mary Woolnoth, St. George's Bloomsbury, Christ Church Spitalfields, St. Anne's in Limehouse, and St. Alfege in Greenwich.
  • Queen's College, Sheldonian Theatre, and Radcliffe Camera, Oxford. Queen's College is the only campus of Oxford constructed entirely in one style, and includes a Library by Hawksmoor. (Sadly, Queens College is rarely open to tourists). The Sheldonian Theatre was Wren's first crack at architecture, an almost Classically subdued rotunda showing little of later Baroque exuberance. Compare this to the much more Baroque rotunda of the Radcliffe Camera by James Gibbs.
  • Blenheim Palace, Woodstock, Wiltshire. John Vanbrugh's crowning achievement, a British Versailles surrounded by perhaps the best of Capability Brown's gardens (and the place where young Winston Churchill grew up).
  • Castle Howard, Yorkshire. Another masterpiece by the team of Nicholas Hawksmoor and then-neophyte John Vanbrugh, made famous as a backdrop to Brideshead Revisited.