Thursday 2 April 2009

More Than One Baroque

Baroque is definitely the style of the moment, what with the blockbuster exhibition at the V&A and the Handel tercentenary all over Radio 3 - I've lost count of the number of times I've seen the headline 'Baroque 'n' Roll' over some baroque-themed gush. Well, baroque is good. It's an endlessly fascinating and far-ranging style, and, unlike Renaissance, we Brits made a pretty good fist of it - in architecture and related crafts big-time, in painting and music more than enough (thanks to some shrewd imports). For far too long, the baleful influence of John Ruskin led to widespread suspicion of the Baroque; it's good to have it back where it belongs (though it's unlikely it will ever have the crowd-pulling appeal of, say, French Impressionism).
I wonder if, in due course, there will be a re-evaluation of the late flowering known as Edwardian Baroque, the defining style of the triumphant British Empire, and the dominant style of many of the grander public buildings in London and other cities. We seem strangely blind to its charms just now, and it's easy to feel intimidated by it; Edwardian Baroque can be a heavy, forbidding, altogether excessive style, especially when over-Frenchified. However, in its peculiarly English 'Wrenaissance' form, as practised by the great Lutyens, it can be graceful, elegant and beautiful. That's his Country Life offices above, with the Midland Bank, Piccadilly, below (if my uploading went right). Such buildings tend to be ignored or simply not noticed, while from the heavier manifestations of Edwardian Baroque we shrink away. It's a shame - we're missing, or taking for granted, some very fine, and very abundant, architecture. Edwardian Baroque might even be in the same kind of neglected, looked-down-on place Victorian Gothic was a few decades ago. Surely its time will come (and that of Edwardian architecture in general, which seems to me to be seriously underrated, but that's, maybe, for another post...)


  1. I'm wondering whether the Baroque swallows up and eats people? According to his blog, Mr A was last seen entering the Dorchester but so far he has failed to return. I'm guessing that the inside of that pleasure palace must have rather Baroque touches. Perhaps he has now been engorged and forms part of a lamp stand.

    Hmmn, I wonder who was the last real master of the Baroque? It seems so far from our austere, minimalist tastes these days. Maybe the taste for self-confident buildings that are there to be seen (and celebrated) has passed to other hands, in India perhaps or China.

  2. What the Baroque needs is another Counter-Reformation. Benedict XVI as Pius V anyone?

    For an institutionally sponsored exercise, whose sole purpose was to propagandise for Catholicism against the perceived drabness, lifelessness and humourlessness of Protestantism, it didn't half do bad.