British Baroque: Power and Illusion, Tate Britain - ★★★★★ - Until April 19, 2020

The Sea Triumph of Charles II by Antonio Verrio, c.1674. The Royal Collection Trust, © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2019.

Art in the service of politics! A quite different perspective from many of today's artists who see their mission as to challenge the status quo. The period from the restoration of Charles II to the death of Queen Anne was a tumultuous time. Society was seriously divided between Catholics and Protestants, and later there were the struggles of the Tories and the Whigs. The country as a whole, and the monarchy in particular, were far from stable. Art and architecture were used to assert a sense of certainty and constancy that were in reality far from assured. Artistic expression served as propaganda to instill a sense of awe, authority and control. Classical idioms to impress were employed where religious expressions could be divisive. But, all of this grandeur is partially aimed at hiding the fundamental divisions and insecurities at the heart of the social structure and to pretend to a national unity often politically achieved by war. This is an amazing exhibition which is the first of its kind to look at the British Baroque period, and it brings to light several works not previously on public display. The show is arranged chronologically but also has some fascinating interludes exploring the contemporary fascination with the concept of illusion. The trompe l'oeil exhibit in Room 4 and Interiors exhibit of Room 7 are particularly interesting. In our own current period of political division and increasingly nationalistic assertion, this is an exhibition which offers a look at a little known era not so dissimilar from our own as it might at first appear. This is an exhibition that is a feast for the eyes whilst offering considerable food for thought.

Reviewed by J.C.

 Our Score:  ☆☆☆☆☆ 

WHEN, WHERE, GETTING THERE:
Until April 19, 2020
Mon - Sun: 10 am - 6 pm
Tate Britain
Nearest tube: Pimlico
https://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-britain/exhibition/british-baroque

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