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    The Fall of English Baroque Architecture Essay

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    Different movements have marked the cultural development of Europe, imposing changes on the society’s perception of beauty and style. Some of those cultural transformations have been inspired by an earlier forms of art and architecture, stemming from Ancient Greece for example (Renaissance), and have been acquired to some extent and modified, as a new approach to traditional concepts. Most people have accepted and integrated those ideas into their everyday lives without hesitation but some were unable of approval from mass believes due to clashes with dogma, such as religion.

    Baroque, is one of those styles that differed from the European based definition of it and was consequently subject to changes in England because of religious pursuits. Two churches have passionately dedicated their beliefs to different notions-Protestants have based their new Christian concepts in England and the Catholic Church remained conservative towards those approaches. This separation resulted in difference in the construction and design in the Baroque architecture to some extent and had an impact on the art, as well.

    But this is not the sole reason for the premature “finale” of that style in England. Baroque art is less obscure and more daring than the art of Mannerism. It is so dramatic that it often borders with theatricality, and its appeal rarely fails to connect with the human senses and emotions, its language is one of contrasts, of opposing ideas, different and innovative ways of approaching light and proportions of spaces and objects. It is a style of the grotesque and exaggerated sizes and proportions of elements and detail.

    Baroque buildings are marked with grandeur and curvaceousness, and often stand out with bewildering pattern of lavishing rich surface decoration, twisting ornaments, and gilded statuary. Bright and vivid colours were dauntlessly used by architects to illustrate the ceilings. In order to give at least some comment on the reasons for the short period of time in which English Baroque lasted, a brief introduction into the achievements of the people who have developed this term, needs to be acknowledged. People whose work have embodied the term “Baroque” and thanks to them it has existed on the grounds of Great Britain.

    Although, different historians have doubted that there was an English Baroque, in this essay the causes of its fall will be considered. These causes will not only endeavor to explain its ?short life’ but also prove that there was such an era. A couple of events lead to the inability of English Baroque to last. Even from the start this style was put under the pressure of a lot of criticism and uncertainty. Historians were ready to conclude in their work that it never even existed in England at first place.

    English Baroque wasn’t a coherent style and lacked the esprit de corp (morale). The mass didn’t support and believe in it. Some architects like John Vanbrugh, who is probably the most famous one representing the English Baroque, have been strongly criticized in relation to their work. Vanbrugh has played a crucial role in triggering the negative reaction against the Baroque in England. He is, indeed, the architect of the infamous Blenheim that had stirred angry responses from political figures (Sarah Churchill) in relation to its design.

    Being regarded as ?extravagant and impractical’, it imitated a Palladian type of mansion, such as Wanstead, for example. Tracing back to the history the whole new period has been influenced by Inigo Jones. Influenced to an enormous extent by Andrea Palladio while visiting Italy, Jones has developed an understanding of construction and soon it reflected on British buildings. He is often labelled as the first British architect because he has founded the bases of the English architecture from observing French, Italian and Netherland buildings.

    Although, his buildings are revolutionary (Queen’s House, Greenwich), owing to him the next generation of architects have been springing all their inspiration of craft. But, due to the short ‘life span’ of English Baroque the idea of its existence, historically speaking, is put under a question. Considered one of Britain’s greatest architects, Sir Christopher Wren, rebuilt 52 churches after the Great Fire of London and designed one of the city’s landmarks, St. Paul’s Cathedral.

    Wren believed in ?natural’ (geometrical) beauty and ?customary’, which ?familiar or particular clination breeds in things not in themselves lovely’. Through this definition he admits that there are other forms of beauty and gives him the freedom to experiment with shapes. Once he gave a statement regarding his observation of how ‘our English Artists are dull enough at Inventions but when once a foreigne patterne is sett, they imitate soe well that commonly they exceed the originall’.

    What Sir Christopher Wren was trying to imply is that the British tried to modify a style that on its own has been already modified. They copied it so well that it didn’t surpass the basic idea of it. Sir Christopher Wren’s contribution was immense and his pupils had a significant impact on the Baroque in England, too. Even though, the difference in their views of the style lead to the failure of the English Baroque to be regarded as a definite style. Wren and the other English Baroque architects reached out for ideas in Greek and Gothic architecture.

    The architects of “Wren School” were individualists. Each one of them incorporated his own style and personality in the design. This has, presumably, had left to quite disagreements in terms of construction and design of some of the buildings. But Wren states that each one of his employees had a certain part in the design and they have been collaborating. . Still, his views and methods used in the architecture couldn’t be accepted by the new generation of architects that followed in the 18th century, to them they were merely too unconventional.

    One of the major reasons that have triggered the early ending of the English Baroque is that it coincided with the period of the Catholic Counter-Reformation and the birth of absolute monarchy that has occurred as a result of the separation of the two churches-Protestant and Catholic. However, even if it has lasted longer, it was perceived with lots of criticism and historians were ready to present this style as one that never existed in Britain at first place. But why was it welcomed with such hostility? After careful observation through the events in Continental Baroque compared to that on the Island.

    It isn’t hard to find similarities in the buildings in Italy, for instance, to those in England. Those building designs didn’t differ very much from the Catholic construction style during that time. Especially, for a newly born church which main purpose was to plant its roots deeply into British ground. It ought to stand out from the conventional buildings. In summary, English Baroque was bound to exist for such a short period time for no other reason than the period it overlapped with. Religion has always been in the heart of the problems occurring between the nations.

    During this period it didn’t make an exception, too. The Counter-Reformation and absolutist monarchy have been quite important events defining this period. Baroque art was being used as a means of expression of strong spiritual beliefs of Catholicism. It was inspiring and many Protestant artists and architects believed they can merge it in their craft. Unfortunately, the soul of the fascinating power of the Baroque was tightly associated with Catholic beliefs. As a result, the effect of the English Baroque was far more futile, misunderstood and unacceptable from the society.


    Downes K., 1966, English Baroque Architecture, London, A. Zwemmer Ltd

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