image of baroque dome

From Rembrandt to Handel: Exploring the Baroque in 12 Works

Stepping out from the long shadow of the Renaissance, Baroque brought Europe to life – inspiring art, music and architecture across the continent.

In the space of 150 years, Europe was transformed by a single movement: Baroque. Emerging from Italy around 1600, this new way of thinking re-energized the arts and set architects free from the restraints of the Renaissance – culminating in the development of some of the continent’s most inspiring and creative buildings.

Today, the influence of the Baroque can still be admired across Europe, from its art, music and cultural legacy, to its majestic buildings and structures. So, join us as we explore the highlights of this instrumental movement, taking a whistle-stop tour through the architecture, music and art of Baroque Europe.


image of vienna palace

Baroque architecture emerged in Italy in the late-16th century, building on the long success of Renaissance design, yet with less-than-subtle differences. Where Renaissance works were restrained and austere, Baroque brought a renewed sense of theatre and drama – with light, colour, and ornamentation exaggerating common architectural flourishes. The movement brought us some of Europe’s most distinguished and attractive buildings, all in a window of around 150 years.

From Porto to St Petersburg, the Baroque is on display across the continent. Here, we introduce four of the movement’s signature buildings, all of which can be explored and discovered on a Scenic river cruise.

Winter Palace, St Petersburg

image of winter palace russia
Colour, pomp and excess characterize St Petersburg’s Winter Palace – the key pillars of the Baroque design movement. While an Imperial Palace had stood on Palace Square since 1708, it was in the 1730s that the Baroque officially arrived in the then Russian capital. Commissioned by Empress Anna Ioannovna, the new Winter Palace was designed by Italian baroque architect Francesco Bartolomeo Rastrelli, who would later design Catherine Palace. The building dominates the banks of the Neva River, its turquoise facades richly decorated with ornamental pillars, statues and parapets – tropes borrowed from the Renaissance. With its sheer scale and grandeur, the palace is easily one of the foremost Baroque buildings in Europe.

Palais Liechtenstein, Vienna

image of palais liechtenstein
In a city designated UNESCO World Heritage Site status for its remarkable architecture, Palais Liechtenstein holds its own as one of the great Baroque masterpieces of Europe. Built for the princely Liechtenstein family of Vienna, the palace is a stunning example of the High Baroque, marrying ornate exterior elements with a lavish, neo-Rococo interior. Opulent and excessive, the palace has been beautifully preserved over the centuries, and now plays hosts to private classical concerts, of which you can savour as part of an exclusive Scenic Enrich event.

Melk Abbey, Melk

melk abbey
Colossal in scale and architectural scope, Melk Abbey is Europe’s foremost Baroque masterpiece. Built on the site of an ancient Benedictine vestige, construction of the present-day monastery was commissioned in 1701, with the task going to architects Jakob Prandtauer and Joseph Munggenast. Over 30 years, the duo worked tirelessly in their creation of this Baroque jewel, labouring over every aspect and façade, while importing materials from around the globe. The result is a true masterwork, and the building, along with its surrounding vineyards, has become an enduring symbol of the beauty of the Wachau Valley, one of the most highly-prized stretches of the River Danube.

Clérigos Church, Porto

clerigos tower
Portugal is home to many exquisite Baroque structures, with the Iberian nation becoming transfixed by the movement in the 18th century. One such building is Clérigos Church, located on Porto’s macabrely-named ‘Hill of the Hanged Men’, a domineering Baroque work whose 249-foot spire provides breath-taking views of Porto and the Douro River. As you’d expect from a pure Baroque structure such as this, Clérigos is grand and excessive, containing some 49 bells and richly decorated with frescos and stone ornamentation. It’s a masterpiece of 18th-century architecture, and one of the very best places to gain a dramatic view of the city.


image of girl holding violin

The Baroque movement in classical music spanned a period of around 150 years, roughly from 1600 to 1750. It was popularised across much of Europe, from its origins in Rome to the High Baroque movement of Portugal, towards the mid-18th century. Drawing on Renaissance influences, the movement is known for its ornate, exaggerated melodies, vivid instrumentation and distinct sub-genres, which included opera, oratorio, cantata, sonata and concerto.

Experience the beauty of Baroque classicism with our selection of the movement’s signature compositions.

Comédies-ballets - Jean-Baptise Lully

Jean-Baptiste Lully (born Giovanni Battista Lulli) was the leading figure in the French Baroque movement, which hit its peak in the late 17th century in the courts of Louis XIV. Born in Italy in 1632, Lully relocated to Paris in 1646, where he remained for the rest of his life. It was here that he composed some of his signature works, including comedies-ballets, which fused Italian pastoral opera with the tropes of Baroque and the French ‘ballet du cour’. Such works brought Lully to the attention of Louis XVI, for whom the composer would perform as part of his work for the Académie de Musique in Paris.

Water Music - George Frideric Handel

A giant of classical music, George Frideric Handel was among a handful of composers who helped spearhead the Baroque movement – leaning heavily on Renaissance themes as well as Roman Catholic imagery. Born in Halle, Handel later served as the principal violinist at the Hamburg Opera House, before moving to London 1712. It was here that he penned some of his most famous works, including Water Music, whose success was such that King George I – who commissioned the piece – demanded several performances of Handel’s signature work.

Balleto A Cavallo - John Heinrich Schmelzer

Austria has a rich tradition of Baroque music, and one of the leading lights of the genre was Johann Heinrich Schmelzer, born in Lower Austria in 1623. Despite a humble upbringing as the son of a baker, Schmelzer’s talent was such that he found work as the Court Bandmaster for Habsburg Emperor Leopold I at a relatively young age. During his time in Vienna, Schmelzer composed such works as La Margarita and Balletto A Cavallo – a riotous and over-the-top piece which is believed to have soundtracked an equestrian ballet at the famous Riding School of the Hofburg.

The Well-Tempered Clavier - Johann Sebastian Bach

While many post-Baroque composers shunned the grandiose style of their forefathers, Johann Sebastian Bach was one of a handful of musicians whose work was a source of inspiration for the likes of Beethoven, Mozart and Haydn. Bach had a hugely varied career, beginning as an organist in regional towns throughout Germany, before taking up work as the director of the Leipzig Collegium Musicum. Perhaps his most revered Baroque work was The Well-Tempered Clavier, a collection of 48 preludes and fugues which are today considered among the finest, most influential piano compositions of all time


Baroque came to dominate the standards of European art in the 17th century and early-18th centuries. Originating in Rome around the time of the Catholic Counter-Reformation, it was influential across the continent – its realism, emotive use of colour and sense of movement representing a bold new direction away from the Renaissance form.

Tap into the spirit of Baroque with our pick of the genre’s essential works, all available to view as part of a European river cruise.

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