The term baroque is from the Italian barocco, meaning misshapen pearl. It was used by later critics of the period following the Renaissance and its dominant style. Though the Baroque period of the seventeenth century followed the Renaissance chronologically, as a style, it does not have clear boundaries. The characteristic features in architecture and interior furnishings – drama, movement, special volume, three-dimensionality, strong contrasts – were already introduced in the later stages of the Renaissance, especially in the transitional style called Mannerism.
The Protestant Reformation had begun in 1517, and the Northern style associated with it was austere, especially compared to Italian Baroque. To counter its effects and to contrast the Northern style, Italy built churches in a deliberately flamboyant Baroque style. Architects Giovanni (1598-1680) and Francesco Borromini (1599-1667) rivaled each other in designing their distinct classical interpretations. Where Florence had been the Renaissance center, Rome was the focus of the Baroque period. The church used art to awe its followers, and church interiors surpassed many palaces in the display of wealth, drama, and glitter. Sumptuous interior architecture, sculpture, and frescoes suggested a hereafter filled with spiritual and aesthetic delight. Bernini and other leading Baroque designers no longer used the static symmetry of classicism. Instead, even when symmetrical, draperies and even stone walls and ceilings undulated and writhed in continual motion.
Italian Baroque furniture of the first half of the seventeenth century was massive and generally rectilinear. Like the architecture, it was excessively, even obsessively, ornamented. Because drama and three-dimensionality were stressed, carving was the preferred decorating method. Not only relief, but sculpturesque carving, often enhanced with gilding was preferred. Exaggerated scale in both form and ornament was preferred. Cartouches, banderoles, volutes, and every type of scroll – foliated, C-scrolled, S-scrolls were freely used. Where chiaroscuro, the use of light and dark to create contrast and dimensionality, was used in painting, Baroque sculpture and ornament also relied on light and dark to achieve its dramatic three-dimensional effect. Furniture was simply another blank canvas on which to paint Baroque extravagance.
By the mid-seventeenth century, the Italian Baroque style had culminated. Spanish influence yielded to French, after Louis XIV ascended to the throne in 1643 and France later defeated Spain in 1659. By the end of the century, Italy had adopted the French Baroque style and relinquished the artistic lead that it had enjoyed during the centuries of the Renaissance.
Reference: Leslie Pina. Furniture in History 3000 B.C--2000 A.D