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British Baroque: ‘Power and Illusion’ – Majesty and style for sure, and many on display for first time, but wider influences less apparent…

British Baroque: ‘Power and Illusion’ – Majesty and style for sure, and many on display for first time, but wider influences less apparent…

The return of the monarchy in 1660 heralded a new and particular aesthetic in British art…

By Momtaz Begum-Hossain

THERE’S a staggering 10 rooms filled with finery at Tate Britain’s latest opening British Baroque: Power and Illusion, which captures the era between 1660 and 1714.

It was a time when King Charles II was restored* to the throne, and redefined what it meant to be a royal.

KIng Charles II marble by Honoré Pelle 1641-1718 (sculptor)

A monarch who enjoyed pomp and grandeur, there’s no shortage of portraiture and sculptures of him throughout the exhibition and there’s a sense that he truly revelled in the glory that came with being in his position.

You only need to observe the sheer spectacle of his outfits in the paintings to appreciate this. Draped in luxury textiles and colourful attire, Charles II certainly had an eye for style.

Elsewhere, away from his many incarnations, there’s a room devoted to baroque architecture featuring rare drawings and plans by Sir Christopher Wren who designed St Paul’s Cathedral and Hampton Court Palace; walls dedicated to the King’s many mistresses who booked in their own personal portrait sessions, so that they could be immortalised alongside the King, and a space entitled The Beauty Room, which features portraits of eight royal court women.

What makes these paintings extra special is that they have never been displayed in public before as full-length artworks, previously they were folded into three quarters and it required meticulous restoration to return them to their former glory. In fact, a large part of the exhibition features works that are being showcased in public for the first time.

That alone makes the trip to Tate Britain to see the exhibition worthwhile for art connoisseurs.

If it’s history that compels you on the other hand, there’s no doubt this is an exhibition that perfectly captures the ‘power’ and ‘illusion’ aspect of its title but on the ‘baroque’ end of the scale there is more to the era than what’s depicted at the Tate and though theirs is the ‘British’ take on this part of history, it gets quite repetitive and perhaps too fixated on the King…some wider European influences would have given the overall exhibition some more colour, as would the inclusion of music which played a major role in how baroque culture and creativity is usually celebrated, yet was absent here.
ACV rating: *** (out of five)

(*As the monarchy was restored following the death of Oliver Cromwell and the end of the English Republic )

Pictures: Momtaz Begum-Hossain


British Baroque: Power and Illusion is on at Tate Britain, February 4 –April 19 2020.
Tate Britain, Millbank, Westminster, London SW1P 4RG Info/tickets:

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Written by Asian Culture Vulture