Italian art: The Third Baroque

Jan 20, 2018 683

Salento, the southernmost region of Puglia, has been experiencing an unparalleled revival of tourism for more than ten years. In addition to the two splendid seas that surround it, and the windy and undulating views of the endless rows of olive trees, the other famous beauty of Salento is Baroque.

Roman Baroque (we are talking about the architectural side of the style) was born from the visionary ideas of Francesco Borromini that rotates traditional forms of stairs, shakes the facades of churches in alternating waves, rework the concept of concave and convex intertwining the solid bodies of the buildings. In the Lecce or Salento Baroque, instead, is already under way a reworking that comes through the Iberian taste, which brings it back up in different styles in the domains of the Spanish Empire on Italian soil.

In fact, it is in the Kingdom of Sicily (at the time in full Spanish territory) that the second baroque developed, the one called Ibleo, after the tragic earthquake that in 1693 devastated the south-east of the Sicilian island. In the reconstruction of the entire area after the earthquake, the Roman lesson is improved, the curves increase, entire squares are drawn following the course of the ground and creating real theatrical scenes where, in addition to the forms, also rich chromatic decorations contribute to the new astonishing interpretation of the space.

In the same Spanish domains, even more on the outskirts than in the middle of the empire, a third type of Baroque, the Salento type, will grow in its far east area.

Linked to the rural and agricultural heritage of its society, where even the nobles were substantially rich landowners, the Lecce baroque focuses on floral and natural decoration. Fruit, flowers, festoons, racemes and plants intertwine every possible decorative motif not only on the facades of churches and palaces but also inside them, creating altarpieces that simulate a tangle of plants in memory of the richness of this land and celebrating it at the same time.

So from the end of the 17th century, those that until then were very flourishing agricultural centres became towns full of squares decorated with very elaborate church façades and palaces decorated in Lecce stone, slightly yellower than the Iblea stone, but equally easy to work and sculpt.

Nardò, Duchy of Acquaviva, still preserves a street and a square rich in baroque testimonies; Gallipoli, despite the strong Venetian influences, of which it was a colony for much of the Renaissance, preserves one of the most beautiful baroque basilicas of the Ionian coast, that of Sant'Agata.

Galatina is the most striking case of how the palaces in style are still lived in the daily life by the original families but also by new owners who take care of the beautiful structures, a city where even the neoclassical left many signs.

Finally, of course, Lecce is the capital of the area and also the city where all the declinations of the Salento Baroque style are represented to the maximum. Every monastic order, every 17th-century noble family has contributed to the current splendor of the city, which has been able to best preserve all its exceptional heritage. A walk in these cities will give an alternative vision of a style that exists in every Italian area, but that certainly in southern Italy has found really remarkable peaks of excellence.

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