Articles and Reviews



At the Victoria & Albert Museum  until July 19 2009.

Divided into eight sections - The First Global Style, Art & Performance, Architecture & Performance, Marvellous Materials, The Theatre, The Square, Sacred Spaces and Secular Spaces.

Baroque was the leading fashionable style in Europe for a hundred years from the mid 17th century. The period saw not only the establishment of great European empires ruled by absolute monarchs but also the growing power of the Roman Catholic Church. Baroque was their style.

It was opulent and impressive, dramatic and moving, but also very serious in its purpose. Baroque artists and designers worked in many media and art forms, from painting and sculpture to architecture, interior decoration, gardens and the ephemeral world of theatre and public events. Often they combined many different art forms to create ‘total works of art’. These engaged the emotions of the viewer by appealing to all the senses.

Baroque was also the first style to have a significant global impact. Beginning in Italy and France, and spreading to the rest of Europe, it was carried around the world by the expanding European powers.

  • Exhibition guide.


    What about the architecture of the Roman Empire, Vitruvius, International Gothic, Palladio and Palladianism?

    International Gothic is a specific style within late Gothic and was confined to a few countries.

    Paladianism has a greater claim.

    Palladio also predates the Baroque, and Inigo Jones brought it to Britain before the Baroque period began. The Palladians then preferred it to the English Baroque in the early 18th century; and as demonstrated in an exhibition earlier in 2009 Palladio was the first architect to have such a great global influence, eventually reaching north America, and still being influential today. What excludes Palladianism is that it was exclusively architectural, whereas the Baroque included painting and sculpture. It also included perfomance art in theatre, opera, firework displays, public events, and in the Church liturgy.

    It also beats the Romans in how far it spread, though one might say that the Roman Empire reached the whole of the known world. But what also makes Baroque distinctive is not only that it included all the arts, indeed the whole of culture, is that it spread not only by export through conquest and trade, but also by import, as monarchs such as Catherine the Great imported the style, and craftsmen made Baroque items for export back to the Baroque homelands. Or perhaps such was its power that it conquered foreign absolute monarchs and the finest craftsmen who gained by accepting it.

    Why was it so fashionable?

    In many cases it was imposed on people by their rulers to emphasize their absolute reign. It was also imposed by the Roman Catholic Church, again to demonstrate its spiritual authority (and by popes to show their political power), but also to engage people with its emotional power.

    This latter was paralleled by the Catholic Church in Britain in the later 19th century, to engage the working classes by giving them something more appealing than the plainness of nonconformist chapels. Brompton Oratory is a supreme example, and the exhibition included a film of the liturgy of the Mass taken in that setting.

    Style in the Age of Magnificence has not received as high acclaim as other blockbuster exhibitions. Because of the breadth and spread of Baroque it would be impossible to do justice to the style. In showing its breadth it necessarily loses on depth, and in a largely static visual display performance arts, except for music, lost out. The film sequences are necessarily modern and not 18th century.

    Nevertheless the exhibition is well worth seeing, and contains many exhibits from outside the UK, including a complete baptistery from protestant northern Europe.

    Were the exhibits OTT and too much to take in? In fact many of the exhibits were elegant and refined, and many palaces and churches with OTT interiors have very plain exteriors, particularly in northern Europe but also in Spain.

    Finally on another level much could be learnt about the origin of articles of furniture and the ‘equipment’ for celebrating a Catholic Mass. The use of thuribles and monstrances was explained. (These words are not in Word’s data base!)

    But what might we learn, or ask, in general?

    Christianity is a global religion or lifestyle. Should it have a cultural expression that integrates all aspects of life? - and to what extent should it be global, regional or local in scope?



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