The Lecce Baroque: history and origins


Whitely gilded
is the sky where
on the ledges they run
sweet-breasted angels,
Saracen warriors and learned donkeys
with rich ruffs.

A fast-paced game
of the soul that is afraid
multiply figures,
defends itself
from a sky that is too clear.

An air of gold
mild and unhurried
he entertains himself in that kingdom
of useless gears including
the seed of boredom
it unfolds its arrogantly witty flowers
and as for bet
a stone carnival
simulates infinity in a thousand guises.

(from After the Moon, 1956)

Vittorio Bodini was an established Apulian poet and translator, he was born in Bari but spent his childhood in the Salento capital, he translated into Italian several Spanish writers including Federico Garcia Lorca and Miguel de Cervantes. In his poem "Lecce" we find a splendid and exciting description of the Lecce Baroque and we start from here to talk about this architectural style which in two centuries, between 1550 and 1730, changed the face of the city forever and made it the jewel it is today, capable of attracting visitors from all over the world.
Let's start from the words of an established translator of Spanish works for a specific reason, the link between Spain and Italy is not accidental if we talk about the Lecce Baroque, this style is in fact very influenced by the Spanish Plateresque, an artistic style that flourished in Spain. in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, characterized by many ornaments and composed starting from the imitation of silverware works (in Spanish “plata”), from which the name of plateresque derives. A few decades after the Spanish presence in the Kingdom of Naples contributes decisively to the customs clearance of this taste for details and decorations and therefore to the birth of the Lecce Baroque. There are also other historical reasons behind this Baroque spring in the Heel of Italy, such as the outcome of the Battle of Lepanto in 1571, which considerably weakened the armies of the Ottoman Empire, making southern Italy less exposed to raids by pirates and invasions by the enemy. Finally, the Counter-Reformation, or a set of measures of spiritual, theological and liturgical renewal with which the Catholic Church reformed its institutions after the Council of Trent. Following these measures, many churches were re-adapted at an architectural level to be more functional to the new post-Tridentine liturgies, many buildings of medieval construction were "renovated", through embellishments with stuccoes, marbles and various decorations, which made them assume

these look like baroque churches. But the Baroque was particularly lucky in Salento also thanks to the quality of the local stone used: the Lecce stone, which we have already talked about in this blog, or a soft and compact limestone with warm and golden tones suitable for working with the stonemason.

The Lecce Baroque is immediately recognizable even to less experienced spectators, due to its gaudy decorations that characterize the coatings of the buildings: precisely baroque exuberances, floral motifs, human figures and mythological animals, friezes and coats of arms. All this richness of agricultural and floral decorative elements is a metaphor for the "grace of God" and the beauty of creation. Among the most common fruits are the pine cone, a symbol of fertility and abundance, the apple, a symbol of temptation but also of redemption, the pomegranate, a symbol of the Resurrection, the vine, an attribute of Christ.

This new style, which at first only affected sacred and noble buildings, then spread also in civil architecture and therefore its floral motifs, figures, mythological animals, friezes and coats of arms also triumphed on the facades, balconies and on the portals of private buildings.

Until then Lecce had been a fortified city, almost austere, gathered around the severe bulk of the Castle of Charles V, but in less than two centuries it changed considerably, becoming that "... stone carnival, which simulates the infinite ”recounted by Bodini in his beautiful verses. In the next article of this blog we will see to analyze in detail each of the buildings resulting from this admirable architectural revolution.