Baroque Prague Architecture
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Style with a Twirl
Even though Prague is most associated with the modern era of Art Nouveau, it’s greatest influence by far is Baroque. You don’t just see Baroque Prague, you feel it, you touch it, you hear it. Baroque was certainly a reaction to the fairly plain decorative nature of the Renaissance period. Once again, Bohemia was late to accept this new style and again it was largely due to war. You’ll find that Italy and France have Baroque residences from @1580 which pre-date the ones in Bohemia by more than 100 years. Note that I now run a Prague Architecture Tour for people who want to really get into who built this city and why.
As a rule Baroque Prague was all about projecting power and wealth with grand entrances, entrance halls, massive staircases, opulent state rooms and immense art. The word “Baroque” is thought to be derived from a Portuguese word meaning “irregular”. Even today in Baroque Prague the term is used to describe anything with an excess of ornamentation or something of a complex or irregular nature.
The rise of Baroque coincides with the rise of Catholicism in continental Europe. Following the 30 years war (1618-1648) the Catholics emerged victorious and consolidated their power over the next quarter of a Century before embarking on leaving their mark. Without doubt, Baroque Prague is laden with religious meanings and iconography but from a layman’s view it was an exploration of new ideas that included:
- External moldings and figures (stucco or covered wood)
- Emphasis on colour and light both internally and externally
- Plain interior walls (for painting)
- Ceilings heavily stuccoed or frescoed
- Illusory decoration as general art
- Facades with massive central adornments
- Asymetrical facades
Late Baroque (Rococo)
As with all eras before it finishes, somebody always jumps on the back of it and it’s no different with Baroque Prague. In this case, a very French post-revolution protest movement which evoked a less grand form of Baroque, less religious and more witty was called Rococo (in Czech Rokoko) but the style died out with the end of the Baroque period around 1880. The picture above shows classic Baroque on the right with it’s Late Baroque Rococo descendant on the left.
Places to see Baroque Prague
As far as Baroque Prague is concerned there will be two names cropping up again and again. Dientzenhofer (Kristof or Killian) and Lurago (Anselmo). The Dientzenhofers were a father an son whose major works in the city include the external features of ST Nicholas Church (Lesser Town), ST Nicholas Church (Old Town) and the Kinsky Palace (Old Town) whilst the Lurago family seems to crop up in relation to the interiors. I’ve stood hundreds of times on the Old Town Square and just by simply looking from one side to the other I appreciate a clearly religious commission (ST Nicholas @1730) with a clearly private one (Kinsky Palace @1754) on the other side of the square.
Look at most of the facades on the “shaded” side of the Old Town Square and those that extend up Celetna and you’ll get a good impression of what a Baroque facade looks like. To appreciate the internal Baroque features you’ll need to visit a palace. Adjacent to Prague Castle you’ll find the Archbishops Palace and in the Old Town you’ll find Clam-Gallas Palace. Both of these are 100% Baroque Prague but you’ll need to buy a ticket to either a classical music performance (Clam-Gallas) or a National Gallery exhibition (Archbishops Palace) to get in. Or, take a look at the Klementinum and do the tour. If you want to see an example of Late Baroque or what can be called Rococo then take yourself to Wenceslas Square and right in the middle where the tram line crosses, on the corner you’ll find the Rokoko Palace (pictured above).
The major differences between Renaissance and Baroque are explained on the Old Town and Jewish Quarter walking tour.
The next era – SECESSION