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Indepth Arts News:

"Triumphs of the Baroque: Architecture in Europe, 1600-1750"
1999-12-09 until 2000-04-09
Montreal Museum of Fine Arts
Montreal, QU, CA Canada

The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts is ending 1999 on a note of splendour with the exhibition Triumphs of the Baroque: Architecture in Europe, 1600-1750, on display from December 9, 1999, to April 9, 2000. The exhibition is made up of thirty magnificent large-scale architectural models, thirty paintings and ninety drawings that highlight European architectural projects during a war-torn period in history when Church and State were striving to affirm their role with prestigious building projects.

The Baroque style was born in Rome about 1630 and spread throughout Catholic Europe, then in a state of upheaval brought about by divisive religious conflicts. The Europe of the Hapsburgs was threatened by the rise of the middle class and the Protestant Reformation; Germany was parcelled into small, almost feudal kingdoms; and Spain was on the brink of ruin owing to the wars of Phillip II. Weakened by the Reformation, the Catholic Church reacted by convoking the Council of Trent (1545-1563) and promoting a triumphant style of art that would dazzle and impress. Against this turbulent background, both political and religious authorities found in this new form of artistic expression an effective means of rebuilding and reaffirming their image.

The recent European and American success of an exhibition of fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Italian architectural models (The Renaissance from Brunelleschi to Michelangelo) clearly indicates the public's interest in these rarely exhibited objects, which are often of great beauty and remarkably well preserved. This further exhibition of original period models, from the seventeenth century and the first half of the eighteenth, has the added advantage of focussing on a stylistic trend that permeated all of Europe. Triumphs of the Baroque looks at architecture from not only Italy but also England, France, Russia, the Low Countries, Scandinavia, central Europe, the Balkans and the Iberian Peninsula.

Some of the architects represented are Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Pietro da Cortona, Filippo Juvarra, Christopher Wren, Bartolomeo Rastrelli, Vasili Bazhenov and Pierre Puget, and their creations will be set off by works of art by Rubens, Canaletto, Piranesi, Hubert Robert and many others.

The exhibition is arranged by type of project - royal and private architecture, public architecture and religious architecture - in order to allow comparison and contrast of the various national and regional developments. Numerous engraved urban views also illustrate the emergence of an urban fabric reflecting the genius of particular nations and cities.

Residences - royal and private, urban and rural - occupy a prominent place among the building projects. The similarity of expressions of regal splendour, as seen in the palaces at Versailles, Caserta and Schoenbrunn, is contrasted with the variety of types of construction used in private dwellings - French hôtels particuliers, English manor houses, Italian palazzi and so forth.

Parks, gardens and grounds, increasingly treated as an extension of interior space, were filled with pavilions and other ornamental features. This virtual atomization of the residence and its environment was furthered by the proliferation of country homes. Interior decor also derived the vocabulary of its renewal from the ornamental repertory of gardens, and the interplay of interior and exterior is one of the keys to understanding the at-times bewildering Rococo style that spread throughout Europe during the first half of the eighteenth century.

The flourishing of grand public building projects (hospitals, town halls, theatres and fountains), along with spectacular fireworks displays and opulent funerals, reflected the undisguised intent of the political authority to flaunt its munificence and efforts to meet the public's needs. The urban fabric was often woven around these enormous constructions, which determined the layout of squares, avenues and prospects, and were based on an essentially ceremonial perception of space.

Religious architecture probably illustrates the stylistic diversity of the Baroque era most clearly. It is in this domain as well that architects pursued the formal research initiated at the beginning of the eighteenth century in Rome most avidly. Although a Classical tendency was prevalent in England and France, central Europe developed an entirely new formal system, influenced by Guarini.

Besides built architecture, there was the protean world of architectural possibilities, reveries, imaginings and poetics. Silent protagonists in a drama played out in painted decors, dreamlike fantasies based on existing monuments, meditations on abstract spaces that are only echoes of ourselves, trompe-l'oeil using the pleasure of illusion to the detriment of perception of actual built constructions - the common thread among all these seems to be the desire to conceive of a splendid and awe-inspiring place where anything is possible. And this may be a clue to the true Baroque spirit.

Conceived by the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in collaboration with the Palazzo Grassi in Venice, Triumphs of the Baroque: Architecture in Europe, 1600-1750 will later be seen at the National Gallery in Washington and the Musée des beaux-arts in Marseilles. In Montreal only, the exhibition will include a number of drawings as an exceptional loan from the Canadian Centre for Architecture.

Henry A. Millon, dean of the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, is chief curator of the exhibition. Guy Cogeval, director of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, is responsible for its presentation in Montreal, along with Frédéric Dassas, a specialist in the period and director of the Musée de la Musique in Paris.

Promotional support for the exhibition is being provided by La Presse, Cité RockDétente and CKAC.

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