"Capricious and bizarre" were the words used by a popular seventeenth-century Roman guidebook to describe buildings that today we call Baroque. Later critics wrote of such buildings in even harsher terms. Francesco Borromini, one of the most progressive of Baroque architects, was accused of trying to "debauch mankind with his odd and chimerical beauties," and equally acerbic comments and unflattering assessments prevailed in the literature until the beginning of the twentieth century. Even then, expressions like "rough, rude, and uncouth" were still applied to structures of similar character. Undoubtedly, it was the self-assured, at times flamboyant way in which the design of many Baroque buildings violated the cherished canons of classical architecture that disturbed most critics. To those raised in other faiths, the predominant associations of Italian art with institutions of post-Reformation Catholicism could be just as offensive. Only in our own secular age, now as weary with modernist reduction as with premodern censures against flaunting accepted conventions, have students of architecture become sympathetically attentive to the imaginative solutions of the Italian Baroque.
The origin of the word Baroque is so steeped in confusion as to be itself the subject of a growing scholarly literature. 1 Only in the last century has it been freed from its traditional associations with speciousness and a lack of refinement. Like Gothic, which had long been synonymous with barbaric but which now usefully describes the art of the late Middle Ages, Baroque has become the most widely accepted designation for the period-style that prevailed in Europe from the end