Emerging in both Rome and Paris shortly after 1600, the baroque in art and architecture soon spread throughout Europe, where it prevailed for one hundred and fifty years. During this period new social and political systems resulted in the concentration of power in the hands of individuals with absolute authority. Architecture affirmed this -- through the structures and decorative programs of palaces, churches, public and government buildings, scientific and commercial buildings, and military installations. Magnificent churches, fountains, and palaces attested to the renewed strength of the popes in Rome, while architects also gave new forms to churches for the Protestant and Russian Orthodox liturgies. Baroque architects had been schooled in the classical Renaissance tradition, emphasizing symmetry and harmonious proportions, but their designs revealed a new sense of dynamism and grandeur. Renaissance architects had sought to engage the intellect, with their focus on divine sources of geometry, while their successors aimed to overwhelm the senses and emotions. Baroque architects also mastered the unification of the visual arts -- painting, sculpture, architecture, garden design, and urban planning -- to a remarkable degree, producing buildings and structures with a heightened sense of drama and power.
This exhibition brings together twenty-seven of the finest surviving architectural models made in Europe between 1600 and 1750. Models enabled architects to study their designs in three-dimensional form and allowed prospective patrons to grasp immediately the essence of a proposal. Often they were submitted to competitions for architectural commissions. Once a project was under way, models were occasionally brought out for the laying of the cornerstone and used to guide workmen during the course of construction. The eighteenth-century Russian architect Vasily Ivanovich Bazhenov explained the purpose of models: "In order to understand how beautiful and excellent the building will really be [the architect] must inevitably imagine it in perspective; and in order to be even more convinced of it, he must make a model for it. Indeed the making of the model is considered to be half the work."