In the modern sense, I mean. All the reference sites explain the origin of the word Baroque and mention that up until the late 19th Century it was a derogatory term:

It was only with Heinrich Wölfflin’s pioneer study Renaissance und Barock (1888) that the term Baroque was used as a stylistic designation rather than as a term of thinly veiled abuse, and a systematic formulation of the characteristics of Baroque style was achieved.

Britannica Encyclopedia, definition of Baroque

What terms would a 17th century architect use when he wished to describe, say, the Lessay Abbey in Normandy (Romanesque), Notre Dame in Paris (Gothic) and the Versailles Palace (Baroque)?

1 Answer 1


The way people describe a certain kind of architecture can change a lot with time and place.

For example, and to answer your question: Gothic architecture started in the 12th century, and thanks to its very innovative characteristics at the time (structural and ornamental) was given a proper name Opus Francigenum (Latin for "French Art"). But the word "Gothic" was only first used to describe it in Italy in 1518 by the painter Raphael. Le Robert dictionary says it is used this way by French scholars only a century later in the beginning of the 17th century and gradually took over.

So your 17th century architect might have called Notre-Dame de Paris opus francigenum or gothic, depending on how up to date (or Italian) he was ;-).

As for Baroque architecture, Wölfflin (1888) is indeed regarded as the first who applied the term for the architecture after the Renaissance. Previously (but only from the 18th century on) people rather called it classical, as modern masters began to be regarded as as "perfect" as roman and Greek ones.

Interestingly, in French, people still describe most of the architecture of 17th-18th century France (such as Versailles) as classical (« architecture classique ») and not Baroque, which kept its pejorative connotation. In English and German, you use Baroque for the same buildings.

  • 1
    You're going to have to support the "classical" designation for "baroque" a little better. In Anglophone societies at least, "classical" refers to the neoclassical movement, which started in the mid-18th century, superseding the previous Baroque and Roccco movements.
    – Spencer
    Sep 25, 2018 at 18:50
  • Classical (17th-18th century) and neoclassical (mid 18th century on) architecture are clearly distinguished – in English and Latin languages (but not in German). See Neoclassical architecture Wikipedia page or the introduction of John Summerson's The Classical Language of Architecture.
    – crtn-hrd
    Sep 26, 2018 at 9:04

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.