The baroque: the senses, the intellect, the heart and the very soul

The baroque: the senses, the intellect, the heart and the very soul

There has never been an artistic movement as magnificent as the baroque.

Martin Gayford

Standing beneath the stage of the perfectly preserved baroque theatre in the Castle of Cesky Krumlov earlier this year, I found myself searching for an association. There was something familiar about the mighty wooden winches, intricate timber structures and swathes of rope that surrounded me. Then I got it. This was very much like wandering beneath the decks of Nelson’s Victory.

Indeed, there is a close connection. Both are specimens of advanced 18th-century technology, the one to fight maritime battles, the other to create illusion, a commodity as essential to European civilisation in its way as cannon balls and grape shot. Theatrical illusion and spectacle was a speciality – and to a considerable extent, an invention – of the 17th and 18th centuries.

That is why props and costumes from Cesky Krumlov, a picturesque town in the south-west corner of the Czech Republic, will feature in the forthcoming exhibition at the V&A, Baroque 1620-1800: Style in the Age of Magnificence (April 4 to July 19). Much of what we now take for granted in the arts – opera, for example, and the proscenium arch theatre – developed in that era.

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