Baroque period, era in the history of the Western arts roughly coinciding with the 17th century. Its earliest manifestations, which occurred in Italy, date from the latter decades of the 16th century, while in some regions, notably Germany and colonial South America, certain of its culminating achievements did not occur until the 18th century. The work that distinguishes the Baroque period is stylistically complex, even contradictory. In general, however, the desire to evoke emotional states by appealing to the senses, often in dramatic ways, underlies its manifestations. Some of the qualities most frequently associated with the Baroque are grandeur, sensuous richness, drama, vitality, movement, tension, emotional exuberance, and a tendency to blur distinctions between the various arts.
A term used in the literature of the arts with both historical and critical meanings and as both an adjective and a noun. The word has a long, complex and controversial history (it possibly derived from a Portuguese word for a misshapen pearl, and until the late 19th century it was used mainly as a synonym for `absurd' or `grotesque'), but in English it is now current with three principal meanings.
In the 17th century, Rome was the artistic capital of Europe, and the baroque style soon spread outwards from it, undergoing modification in each of the countries to which it migrated, as it encountered different tastes and outlooks and merged with local traditions. In some areas it became more extravagant (notably in the fervent religious atmosphere of Spain and Latin America) and in others it was toned down to suit more conservative tastes. In Catholic Flanders it had one of its finest flowerings in the work of Rubens, but in neighbouring Holland, a predominantly Protestant country, the Baroque made comparatively slight inroads; nor did it ever take firm root in England. In France, the Baroque found its greatest expression in the service of the monarchy rather than the church. Louis XIV realized the importance of the arts as a propaganda medium in promoting the idea of his regal glory, and his palace at Versailles--with its grandiose combination of architecture, sculpture, painting, decoration, and (not least) the art of the gardener--represents one of the supreme examples of the Baroque fusion of the arts to create an overwhelmingly impressive whole. (The German term Gesamtkunstwerk--`total work of art'--has been applied to this ideal.) In France, as in other countries, the Baroque style merged imperceptibly with the Rococo style that followed it.