The whole tendency of European design in the 17th century was toward exaggeration, overemphasized brilliance. The movement was a natural consequence of the increasingly ornamental Renaissance style. Its extremes resulted from the Jesuit Counter Reformation, the effort of the militant Catholic order to recapture the imagination of the masses through overawing splendor. The intent of the style was to establish an emotional connection with the viewer. The spreading Renaissance carried this free manner everywhere, and for two centuries most European art was Baroque.
Motion is the essence of the Baroque
Motion is the essence of the Baroque, as distinguished from the repose of the classic ideal. Large curves, fantastic and irregular, are explosively interpreted, reversed, ornamented. Twisted columns, distorted and broken pediments, and oversized moldings sacrificed the structural sense to a tremendous theatrical effect. Scale and proportion had new meaning, everything is calculated to strike the eye, to excite rather than to suggest quiet and harmony.
Unlike architecture and other visual arts of the period, Baroque furniture got its start in France. Designers began to produce elaborate and ornamented pieces for the monarchy. Some of the pieces produced for the French king Louis XIV became symbols of Baroque furniture and are also known as the Louis XIV style, which is highly demanded by many antiques enthusiasts and collectors.
In furniture, the earlier Baroque tendencies were merely an exaggeration of scale. The fantastically overloaded ornament was added later; the earlier work was actually freer of plastic decoration than the preceding Late Renaissance types. The furniture pieces were usually symmetrical, and all the details were replicated on both sides, with very small variations, if any. Cabinets whose midsections were simply, if insistently, paneled, were carried on excessively carved bases and bore great pediments, usually broken and capped with towering finials. Chairs were elaborately scrolled and carved. Tables had bases of rich sculpture, fancifully shaped stretchers; others had twisted columns or complex scrolls as legs. Beds, particularly in France and England, were colossal structures of draped textiles. Heavy moldings were used to decorate not only the uppermost part but also the top of each section where there was an important change in size, like on top of the pedestals and lower drawers. For decorating the crown moldings, a wide variety of elements were used, from pediments to sculptures.
Exotic and exclusive
The establishment of regular trade routes between Europe and Asia influenced the materials used. Imported tropical woods were highly demanded and were considered exotic and exclusive. Ebony and mahogany were used in many pieces, while some of the local woods included oak, walnut, and chestnut. By the turn of the 18th century, the gilded finish was the trend. It was made by covering the surfaces of a furniture piece in gold leaf. Gold was associated with wealth, and having golden furniture was the ultimate luxury. Golden chandeliers and frames for mirrors or paintings also became popular among the European courts. Even doorknobs had an elaborate design and golden decoration.
Surface treatment became more splendid after 1650. Earlier solid wood surfaces were then painted, gilded, polychromed; inlays and marquetry reached their ultimate heights in the work of Boulle and the imitative scrollwork of seaweed marquetry. Marble and imitation stone, vivid textiles, cane, and metals all contributed to this unrestrained decorative orgy.
The Baroque is withal a masculine style, virile and blustering and bold. Its feminine counterpart, the Rococo, came in the 18th century, substituting prettiness and charm for Baroque magnificence.