English Baroque

A session in the archive of the Tate gave me an opportunity to see the exhibition on British Baroque, which I used to regard as my period.

I don’t remember seeing the John Bushnell terracotta bust of Charles II from the Fitzwilliam which shows his intelligence and sensuality:-

The bust by Honoré Pelle is comparatively stylised:-

There’s a sensational Grinling Gibbons font cover from All Hallows by the Tower, commissioned by a parishioner in 1682:-

Jan Siberechts contemporary view of Chatsworth shows its colossal ostentation as it appeared to Siberechts who was there in 1699:-

It’s good to see the Kneller portrait of Prior from Trinity, which shows what a wonderful artist he could be on a good day:-

There’s a picture of the Junto, painted in 1710, only acquired in 2018. It surely should have gone to the NPG. Hard to see as a major contribution to British art:-

The exhibition is good on the martial character of the period and the dominance of the monarchy, but it’s hard to convey its wealth and variety through so many royal portraits, no tomb sculpture, and mostly two dimensions.


3 thoughts on “English Baroque

  1. Oliver Domeisen says:

    Dear Charles,
    I completely agree with your review. The Grinling Gibbons pieces and designs were thrilling and there were some nice Thornhill sketches (not enough though). Did you notice the two marble plaques Gibbons produced with Arnold Quellin for the Catholic chapel at Whitehall Palace? Fabulous – and Arnold was of course the nephew of Artus Quellinus, sculptor of the marvellously bonkers auricular screen at the Nieuwe Kerk Amsterdam. That screen featured prominently in the ‘Kwab – Ornament as Art in the Age of Rembrandt’ exhibition of summer/autumn 2018 at the Rijksmuseum; a much more credible and focused take on the period than what Tate Britain is currently offering (I also recommend Reiner Baarsen’s catalogue). As you hinted there seem to be too many mediocre portraits at the Tate Britain and I missed Rubens and van Vianen (and where was the stunning Anthony van Dyck self portrait in Kwab frame from the NPG?). I left slightly underwhelmed and longing for a more exuberant continental baroque – but then that may be an inevitable consequence of the baroque never really achieving its full potential in Britain, a country that would inevitably fall under the spell of the Neo-palladians.

    • Dear Oliver, I can see they excluded Rubens and Van Dyck as being pre-Restoration and I thought it was legitimate to focus on the different character of the three reigns. But Lely came out as being colourless, instead of louche and I could have done with more on the character of the Restoration art world, its links to the Royal Society and a less bland presentation. I wish I had seen Reiner’s exhibition as he knows the period so well. Charles

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