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Baroque (17th Century)

Altar in San Moisè

Follows from the High Renaissance.

Baroque was the spectacular new art of Counterreformation Italy, led by the Church and designed to induce temporal obedience and psychical oblivion. Skeptical, worldly Venice, one of the only free states in Italy, managed to resist its charms. On the whole, little of the more excessive brand of Baroque from Rome and north Italy made it to Venice. In the 17th century, Venetian palaces and churches retained most of the manners of the Renaissance, with a few Baroque touches tacked on.

The age does provide some exceptions to the rule: see Baldassare Longhena’s magnificent church of the Salute on the Grand Canal. Longhena, deeply indebted to both Sansovino and Palladio, was Venice’s only Baroque architect of note, and his palette ranged from the massive but exuberant Ca’ Pésaro to the grotesque in the Ospedaletto façade and the lugubrious in the Scalzi.

Baroque frosting, much of it gone a bit rancid, is the key with Longhena’s mediocre successors, Alessandro Tremignon (San Moisè) and Giuseppe Sardi (Santa Maria del Giglio). The best 17th-century sculptors came from elsewhere: the Genoese Nicolò Roccatagliata, the Flemish sculptor Juste Le Court, and Bernini’s pupil from Rome, Filippo Parodi.

Meanwhile, Venetian painters, wallowing in the muddy aftermath of Tintoretto, darkened the city’s churches with one diagonal, shadow-bound composition after another, reaching a hypnotic extreme in Gian Antonio Fumiani’s trompe l’œil ceiling for San Pantalon.

Most of the fresh inspiration was to come from outsiders, many of whom arrived in Venice as pilgrims desiring to learn more about light and the free handling of paint: the short-lived German Johann Lys stands out, along with two inspired if somewhat eccentric Italians, Francesco Maffei of Vicenza and Sebastiano Mazzoni.

Next up, Rococo

Text © Dana Facaros and Michael Pauls

Image by Dennis Jarvis, Creative Commons License