Baroque in Italy: a bit of history starting from Salento
Our land, the land of Salento, is rich in splendid churches and enchanting monuments in Baroque art. Before going into and dealing with baroque in Apulia and especially in Lecce and its province, we preferred to give you two input on this artistic movement in Italy.
Baroque in Italy: origins
Baroque art is spread in Italy between 1600 and 1700 and it has been calculated that in the Belpaese it is concentrated at least 70% of the architectural and artistic works and treasures of world art of all time and is no exception to Baroque. Between’ 600 and’ 700 were Gian Lorenzo Bernini and Francesco Borromini to “compete” in the design of works, which still amaze the entire humanity. Starting from the colonnade of St. Peter’s Square in Rome, to arrive at the famous canopy with its twisted columns, where the acanthus leaves are twisted, the Baroque expression has been brought to the extremes of art until then known.
In Rome there are spectacular examples of this so joyful and creative period of architecture and, among these, we cannot fail to mention Sant’ Agnese in Navona, Sant’ Andrea al Quirinale, San Carlino alle Quattro Fontane, Sant’ Ivo alla Sapienza. The two artists were able to express the beauty, sensuality, elegance and richness of Baroque in all its most representative forms. The term “baroque”, however, took on a negative meaning towards the end of the 17th century, as it was synonymous with “bad taste”, but it was fully revalued and rehabilitated by Denis Mahon, recently disappeared art historian.
The symbolic cities of Baroque in Italy
Among the symbolic cities of Baroque there is Noto, in Sicily, but above all Lecce, in Salento.
In Lecce, in Apulia, Baroque has certainly reached its highest, richest and riskiest expression, to transform the city into what is now called “Florence of the South” (with the baroque Chapel of the Princes), where the facades of palaces and religious buildings, such as the Cathedral of Lecce or the church of Santa Croce, are sculpted as if it were chiselling.
An incredible care and precision of the details is present throughout the Baroque period in Salento and this is mainly due to the quality of the stone from Lecce. This material favoured the creativity of artists because it was easy to model and, in any case, robust, lent to the hands of passionate architects who gave their best in a period when the power of the church was endangered by the Protestant Reformation.
The beauty of the churches was soon imitated in the palaces, as for the former convent of Celestini or for the offices of various modern-day town halls throughout Salento and diocesan sites, as in Nardò. The monumental portals, powerful but at the same time lightened by the most malleable stone ever used by an artist, were decorated with floral motifs, fruit, allegorical or animal figures, in some cases grotesque. The rich decorations, the use of different levels all masterfully adorned with statues, Bible scenes or historical scenes, rendered plastically the idea of what the architects wanted to communicate.
Still today, on some columns so richly decorated you can admire the “embroidery” work made with infinite patience and mastery.
Characteristics of Lecce Baroque
The careful observation of the facades of many churches, basilicas and cathedrals in Lecce highlights some of the typical characteristics of Baroque in Apulia and common to other cities.
Complexity has been brought to excesses, so much so that the observer who was and is led to wonder how such works of art can be made almost incredulous.
The virtuosities of the Baroque architects were so high that there was no free space left in the façades. This is a tendency that was called “horror vacui”, that is a sort of “fear of emptiness”.
The goal of an extremely elegant art, as the city of Lecce itself, has been widely achieved and you can see it walking through this magical city of the south.