History and philosophy
'Baroque',likemanyof the labelsusedbyarthistorians,beganas a termof abuse.
Baroqueartwas regardedas imperfectincomparisonwiththeperfectionof theHigh
Renaissance.Bazinsuggeststhatthewordderivesfrombarocco,meaningan 'irreg-ularpearl'.'Buthe admiresbaroqueartandseestheyearsfrom1600to 1750as 'theperiodof Westerncivilisationthatis richestinexpressivevariety'.Bazindistinguishes
Classicalcompositionsaresimpleandclear,eachconstituentpartretainingitsindependence;theyhaveastaticqualityandareenclosedwithinbound-aries.TheBaroqueartist,incontrast,longsto enterintothemultiplicityofphenomena,intothe fluxof thingsintheirperpetualbecoming- hiscompo-sitionsaredynamicandopenandtendtoexpandoutsidetheirboundaries.2
nobles. baroque art affected all Europe. including the Protestant countries. The speed
with which the new style was adopted varied according to political, economic and reli-
gious circumstances, but where- and whenever they emerged, baroque gardens
shared many common features.
Should one seek a prime cause for the changes which affected Europe during the
Baroque Age, the best candidate is the weakening of church authority.The arguments
of Copernicus (1473-1543), Kepler (1571-1630), Bacon (1561-1626), Galileo (1564-
1642)and Newton (1642-1727) were, slowly and reluctantly, accepted by the church.
The most notable example of this was Galileo, whose use of the telescope to study
the organisationof the solar system led him to conclusions that could only conflict with
religious teaching. Catholics and Protestants fought each other but accepted the use
of reason, as did armies, philosophers, politicians, industrialists and artists. The resul-
tant changes are known collectively as The Enlightenment because the 'light of
reason' illuminated, and thus undermined, the dogma of earlier times. Mathematics
helped to explain the universe and, following the key influence of the philosopher,
Descartes (1596-1650), wa~linked ever more closely with naturalphilosophy and thefine arts.
Though Descartes did not write on aesthetics or gardens, the term 'Cartesian
garden' is often applied. It points to the rationalist philosophy on which the Baroque
Age was founded and reminds us of Descartes' personal contribution to geometry. In
philosophy, Descartes' Discourse on Method proposed the application of 'systematic
doubt'.3 It would, he argued, tell us what knowledge men can have which is certain
beyond any possibility of doubt. His conclusion was that we cannot doubt either the
truths of mathematics or the existence of God. Descartes' Discourse inspired artists
and authors to emphasise certainty in human affairs. Scientists looked for 'laws
of Nature', a phrase invented by Descartes, and critics looked for 'rules of taste' to
7.2 ThebaroqueperiodgaveEuropeits mostdramaticsculpture(theBoboliGardens,left)andfountains(Schleissheim,right)
7.3 Astronomybecamea royalenthusiasminthebaroqueperiod.TheObservatoryatGreenwichPark,London,is seenhere,withtheremainsof thegiantstepsthatoncecarriedtheaxisupthehill fromLeNotre'sgrassparterre
distinguish good art from bad art.The rules appealed to long-acceptedstandards, such
as formal poetic structures. Even the greatest scientist of his age, Newton, believed
himself to be rediscovering truths known to the ancients' Rules of taste were exam-
ined for their antiquity and their mathematics. The Golden Section passed both tests,
having been explained by Euclid.s Alexander Pope equated the 'rules of old' with a
Newtonian conception of Nature.6 'Geometry was the branch of mathematics with the most obvious application in
garden design. Axes, as introduced to gardens by Bramante, became their dominant
feature. The stages in the advance of axes were as follows:
7.4 Developmentof thebaroque:(1)axeswithingardens(2)axesaimedon landmarksoutsidegardens(3)axesprojectingbeyondgardens
Single axis, within boundaries (Belvedere Court, Vatican, 1505) Transverse axes, using focal points within boundaries (Villa Castello,
1538; Villa d'Este, 1560;Villa Lante, 1566) Transverse axes, projecting to remote focal points (Villa Mattei, 1582;Villa Montalto, 1585) Long axes projectingthrough the landscapeto churches and distant focalpoints (VillaAldobrandini, 1589; Villa Torlonia, 1621)
Radiating and cross axes, within boundaries (Boboli Gardens, 1549-1620; Luxembourg Gardens, 1612) Radiating axes, projecting beyond boundaries (Vaux-Ie-Vicomte, 1656;Versailles and Paris, after 1665) Radiating axes, projecting through cities (Karlsruhe, Germany, 1715;Washington, DC, USA, 1791;New Delhi, India, 1911;Brazilia,Brazil,1956).
Axes could weld garden, architecture and landscape into unified geometrical compo-
sitions. The principal features of baroque gardens were:
buildings on axes
focal points within gardens (e.g. fountains)
focal points outside gardens (e.g. churches)
axially coordinated steps, water features and statues, as pioneered by
integration with the surrounding landscape.
Baroque ideas influenced the planning of avenues in the princely suburbs of capital
cities: at Frascati outside Rome; at Versailles outside Paris; at Potsdam outside Berlin;
at Hampton Court outside London; at the Peterhof outside St Petersburg. Although
the Reign of Terror in France after 1793cooled Europe's enthusiasm for this avowedly
aristocratic style, similar principles were applied to the layout of Paris itself after the
failed revolutionof 1848 (the military idea behind this - which provedsuccessful in the1871 Paris Commune - was that revolutionaries could be chased down the broadboulevards and shot like the beasts in a nobleman's park).
The characteristics of baroque parks and gardens varied with the circumstances
of the countries in which they were made. As Bazin remarks, it was 'the moment at
which each of the peoples of Europe invented the artistic forms best fitted to its own
genius'.7 One can distinguish an Early Baroque period in Italy, when the tendency
began, a High Baroque period in France, when a climax was reached, and a Late
Baroque period when the style was adopted, with different accents, throughout
Europe. A distinction can also be made between gardens, with a domestic space
related to the dwelling, and parks, integrated with the surrounding landscape.A few
baroque projects, including Isola Bella and Drottningholm, achieved both objectives.
Mirabelle in Salzburg and Quelez in Portugal are gardens. Versailles, near Paris and
Caserta in Italy are parks. The style also had a powerful influence on town planning in
capital cities (Rome, Paris, Berlin, Washington, DC) and elegant resorts (Versailles,
Potsdam, St Petersburg, Aranjuez).
Early Baroque in Italy
Italy was dominatedby Spanish influenceduring the reign of the Hapsburgs
(1525-1700),althoughsome areas,includingVenice,the PapalStates,Tuscanyand
Genoa,retainednominalindependence.It was a periodof relativeeconomicdecline
civilisation:the placewhich everyartistand everytouristfelt compelledto visit.
Visitorswere interestedboth in ancientremainsandnewprojects.Leadingbaroque
projectswere initiatedby the church;the greatestof allwas thecompletionof St
bytheperistylecourtof Old St Peter's.
The useof focalpointsingardendesignwasfirstseenattwoproto-baroquevillasin Rome:Montalto(c. 1570;demolished)andMattei(c. 1582).8TheVillaMontalto
belongedto SixtusV before he becamePope. It was designed,with Domenico
Fontana'shelp,to havea networkof avenues,someprojectingbeyondthegarden
ancientart,althoughatone timehe ISixtusJhadscornfullyopposedthecultof antiq-
uity'.The mostsignificantfeatureof thegardenwas that:
Here for the very first time the artist is working in a largerstyle with perspec-
tive. Long avenues are made with definite endings, architectureor sculpture
. . . Villa Montalto had not only its own points de vue to rejoice in,