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
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.