The Churriguera family was prominent during the last years of the 17th century and the first quarter of the 18th. The chief members of the family were three brothers, sons of a Barcelona altarpiece maker, all active at the same time. The family has become identified with the Spanish late Baroque style. The term Churrigueresque denotes a style that is visually frenetic and exuberantly detailed.
It is frequently difficult to distinguish the work of the various family members. José Benito (1664–1725) is recognized as the head of the family and as an important architect in his own right. His brother Joaquín (1674–1724) is remembered for his work at the Salamanca cathedral (1714–24; dismantled after 1755) and at the Colegio de Calatrava (begun 1717) in Salamanca. Another brother, Alberto (1686–1750), designed the handsome Plaza Mayor in Salamanca.
José moved from Barcelona to Madrid in the early 1670s to continue the family trade. He achieved recognition in 1689 by winning a competition for a catafalque for the tomb of Queen Marie-Louise d'Orléans, the first wife of Charles II, and in 1690 he was appointed to a court position under Philip V. Following disagreements with his rival at court, Teodoro Ardemáns, he was dismissed from his post and went to Salamanca. Named maestro mayor of the cathedral, he began the work that within 50 years turned Salamanca into a Churrigueresque city. He designed a palace (1715; altered in 1773 in a Neoclassical style by Diego de Villanueva) in Madrid for his patron, the banker Juan de Goyeneche, which today is the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando; he also designed Nuevo Baztán (1709–13), a new town near Aranjuez that was a centre for manufacturing glass.
José's brothers and various students of the Churrigueras are primarily responsible for more exuberantly lavish Churrigueresque style. The art of José himself is marked by more restraint and shows the influence of Andrea Palladio and Juan de Herrera. As is evident in his masterpiece, the high altar retable (1693) in the church of San Estéban, Salamanca, José (unlike other Churrigueresque architects) did not permit the sculptural qualities of his work to be hidden behind stucco decoration.