A Django site.
June 15, 2009

History Division News
is about »
» Age of Magnificence

<image src="http://historydivision.weblog.glam.ac.uk/assets/2009/6/15/baroquebanner735.jpg" alt="Pallacio" width="745" />

What was Baroque?

If you’re in London this summer don’t miss Baroque 1620-1800: Style in the Age of Magnificence. This exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum showcases the dominant European artistic style of the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries

What was baroque? Most of all, it was exuberant. As the exhibition catalogue explains, baroque art ‘did not stand shyly by, hoping to be noticed. Paintings, sculpture and decorative arts swirled with vigorous action and strong feelings.’

The baroque - whether expressed in architecture, painting or sculpture – had a flamboyance that would have even Graham Norton pursing his lips. Why so? Part of the explanation lies with artistic patrons. The commanding baroque style expressed the growing power of princely courts and the aims of the Catholic Church in the Counter-Reformation.

<image class="right" src="http://historydivision.weblog.glam.ac.uk/assets/2009/6/15/Baroque_crop.jpg400.jpg" />

Monarchs, following the lead of Louis XIV of France, wanted an art and architecture that trumpeted their power. It’s no accident that the most grandiose projects of the age were the work of ambitious and powerful princes. Republics (like Holland) and weak, crisis-ridden monarchies (like England) were not major centres of the baroque.

Baroque style was also taken up with enthusiasm by the Roman Catholic Church as it sought to roll back the Protestant Reformation, the great doctrinal revolt of the sixteenth century. Protestantism was deliberately sober in form. The reformers looked down upon visual showiness. Scripture was the key to salvation. The Catholic Church retaliated by taking the opposite tack: lavish display was one of the best ways in which the untutored masses could be brought to understand the majesty of God.

Like the Church, baroque was international. It was, the exhibition organisers claim, the first global style. It coincided with the earliest overseas European empires, so some of the finest examples can be found in South America, in India, and in the Far East.

A sample of what’s on offer can be found at the exhibition’s website. You’ll be stunned by the opulence on show. You may also, like me, be repelled by the selfishness of Europe’s ruling elite.

Baroque 1620-1800: Style in the Age of Magnificence runs at the V&A; until 19 July 2009.

Chris Evans

February 26, 2009

History Division News
is about »
» News from the Classroom ... out and about at the Tate Modern

<image title="Final Year Students at the Tate Modern" src="http://historydivision.weblog.glam.ac.uk/assets/2009/2/26/tate3.jpg" alt="Final Year Students at the Tate Modern">

Third Year Option: 'From the Second Reich to the Nazis:
Culture, Art and Politics in Germany, 1890-1933'

<image class="left" title="Final Year Students at the Tate Modern" src="http://historydivision.weblog.glam.ac.uk/assets/2009/2/26/tateside.jpg" alt="Final Year Students at the Tate Modern">

The years immediately after the First World War are often shrouded in gloom and depression: war was followed by economic strife, deep misery, the rise of the radical right and then more war. There is some truth in this miserable chronology but, like all chronologies, it obscures another truth. For artists, sculptors, architects, film-makers and designers of all sorts, the 1920s were most exhilarating and productive. Revolution in Russia and Germany had been accompanied by great artistic innovation, and the new regimes encouraged artistic experiment.

Many artists were eager to help shape the new world. After the horrors of the First World War and the trauma of revolution many were deeply committed to making a world that was completely different to anything that had ever existed before. Alexander Rodchenko, and Liubov Popova were two of the most influential and prominent members of the Russian avant-garde. Rodchenko was a painter, photographer, sculptor and designer; Popova was an artist and designer. They both rejected the idea that art was the simple representation of reality and – like many artists of the time – saw their work as intrinsic to their politics.

Last week, final year history students on Fiona Reid's 'Culture, Art and Politics' module went to the Tate modern to see an exhibition of Rodchenko and Popova’s work. There were fantastic examples of early abstract compositions: pure colour and pure line. We also had a glimpse into the everyday life of early Soviet Russia. Popova produced designs for peasant women’s headscarves, Rodchenko designed the poster for Eisentein’s famous Battleship Potemkin. Given their political commitment, the artists had no qualms about producing adverts for the new Soviet state. So we saw pictures of Moscow department stores during the New Economic Policy and we saw how Soviet citizens were encouraged to eat ‘Red October cookies’. We could even sit in the chairs that Rodchenko created for his ‘Workers’ club’, one of the Soviet exhibits at the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes in Paris in the summer of 1925.

Powerpoint is brilliant but there is really no substitute for seeing actual works of art. Only then can you gauge size, texture, colour and depth –as well as the indefinable thrill of seeing the original work.

This trip was only possible because the university agreed to subsidise it to a great extent. We would like to thank those responsible.

Thanks also go to John Arnold (Final year History student) for taking the photographs.

Dr Fiona Reid