Baroque Architecture in Cracow

Baroque, due to its dynamics, opulence and a rich variety of its forms and spiritual reflections, made a deep and lasting impression on the cultural life of Cracow. It was manifest in literature, visual arts, and above all, in sacred architecture.

Baroque style in architecture was brought to Poland directly from Rome by the Jesuits. They were resposible for the building of St Peter and Paul's, the first Baroque church in Cracow. It was designed by the royal architect, Giovanni Trevano from Lombardy. The church, completed in 1619, was constructed on the plan of the Latin cross with an imposing central dome at the intersection of the nave and the transept, patterned on Rome's Baroque churches. Fronted by the figures of the twelve Apostles on pedestals , its unique façade with the figures of saints and with the royal cartouche, creates a highly unusual, picturesque whole.

After St Peter and Paul's, many more Baroque churches sprang up in the city. In the course of the 17th century, seventeen churches were built, and during the first half of the 18th century, five more. Some were the work of foreign - mainly Italian - architects. The majority of churches were patterned on the Baroque churches of Rome.

Among the most beautiful is the university church of St Anne's (1689-1703). It is the masterpiece of a Dutch architect, Tylman of Gameren, and was modelled on S.Andrea della Valle, a church in Rome. St Anne's shows a high level of artistic skill, a harmony and clarity of construction, crowned with a huge dome in the middle.

It must be added that the richness of Baroque forms was also expressed in the interior decoration of the churches, such as the illusionistic paintings that optically enlarge the perspective in the Piarist and Trinitarian churches. There are Baroque altars, stalls, paintings, sculptures, tombs or epitaphs in almost all churches. Even Gothic churches, such as St Mary's, have elements of Baroque style. We must also remember the Baroque central altars - masterpieces of woodcraft - in the churches of St Catherine's, Corpus Christi and the late Baroque Carmelite church "On the Sands". In addition, in the treasuries of some Cracovian churches there are Baroque reliquaries and liturgical vessels.

All in all, Cracow - the Little Rome - can boast a rich Baroque epoch, beginning with St Peter and Paul's and ending with St Anne's, both of which enrich the cityscape with their domes from far away.


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St Peter and Paul's church, a lithograph by Engelmann from the first half of the 19th c., based on the drawing by J.N.G³owacki (APKr, ref. no E 54, ryc. 889. Photo: RM)
St Anne's church, a lithograph from the first half of the 19th c. (APKr, ref. no E 54, ryc. 888. Photo: RM)