15 November 2009

Baroque

I feel that the Baroque gets a raw deal. English culture is deeply antipathetic to it; why? Because it is (for the most part) foreign and we are a nasty insular people given to defining ourselves only in terms of not being foreign? Perhaps you can tell me. But there are writers of intelligence - Pickstock and Hemming spring to mind - who don't give the Baroque a fair run. And in liturgical circles, you only have to characterise something as 'Baroque' to have spoken its condemnation.

On his trip to Prague, our Holy Father said something which strikes me as perhaps the start of a Spirituality of the Baroque; if Prague, he asked, is the heart of Europe, in what does that 'heart' consist?
Surely a clue is found in the architectural jewels that adorn this city ... Their beauty expresses faith; they are epiphanies of God that rightly leave us pondering the glorious marvels to which we creatures can apire when we give expression to the aesthetic and cognitive aspects of our inmost being ... The creative encounter of the classical tradition and the Gospel gave birth to a vision of man and society attentive to God's presence among us.

It looks to me as though Benedict's theology of the aesthetic may prove one of the significant intellectual gifts of this pontificate.

8 comments:

Malcolm Kemp said...

Last year a well-known classical music shop opposite South Kensington tube station had in its window a small humorous book entitled "If it ain't Baroque don't mend it". This year the V&A had a marvellous exhibition of Baroque and, of course, there was the real thing next door which I was able to enjoy first hand on Corpus Christi Sunday.

At a risk of being accused of bring repetitive yet again, Baroque art, vestments, music and architecture lift us beyond ourselves and the humdrum to something higher; something greater than ourselves and not entirely explicable. That can lead us to an experience God and that in itself is no bad thing.

Of course, I'm not saying this is the only way to find or experience Him but it is one very effective way for a larg enumber of people.

Those of us who worked and worshipped with the late Fr John Milburn jolly quickly learned that Baroque Is Best!!!

Rubricarius said...

'B' is for Baroque, 'B' is for bad;

'G' is for Gothic, 'G' is for good!

My highly intellectual contribution for the day.

Joshua said...

I believe the late great Louis Bouyer had some interesting things to say on this topic - he both admired the good aspects of the Baroque, and sternly rebuked its tendency to be rather carnal than spiritual, disguising more or less pagan exultation in the body as spiritual joys: as in the tale of the dissolute Cardinal who, upon seeing the famed sculpture of St Teresa in ecstasy, remarked that "I well know that pleasure".

rev'd up said...

There's the concern that expressions of religious joy may morph into wantonness. This was a real concern (especially in hindsight) regarding the Baroque and Rococo. But there is much to learn from the Baroque temperament considering the times for what they were. Plague, high infant mortality, dearth, famine, war etc. yet they deliberately made sacrifices for highly complex expression of joy and religious ecstasy in the visual arts, architecture and music. It seems the Baroque was the opposite pendulum swing from Puritanism which had divested folk of joy and beauty. Even Protestants heartily embraced its excesses.

Ungpikekatolikk said...

Before Benedict XVI visited the Czech republic, his nuncius in Praha, Diego Causero, said in an interview:
"This country has the most beautiful baroque in Europe, and it is because the churches were built while the Church was triumphant. The churches "smile". The landscape looks Christian. Not only because of all the churches, but there is something more in it, some christian expression from the past still living which one should preserve."
Yes, the landscape is Catholic and it is baroque with all the statues of saints in the fields and forests and everywhere. People get still formed by it in their religious understanding and expression.
Benedict XVI made clear signal during his visit that the traditional faith in Central Europe (meaning baroque-formed faith) is to be preserved. He told so after the mass in Brno when he encouraged keeping traditions and above all, by his grand gesture of giving a crown to Infant Jesus. The statue of Infant Jesus is to be found in the church of Our Lady of Victory, the symbol itself for 16th century anti-reformation in the Empire.

Ungpikekatolikk said...

Correction: 17th century. Lost in translation...

AndrewWS said...

Hmm, yes, but Pugin (who was an Englishman and a Roman Catholic - by conversion? I'm not sure) insisted on Gothic for Godly buildings, so if we are to be English Catholics (whether or not of the Anglican Use), Gothic is the most appropriate.

Baroque music, however, is wonderful and works anywhere - Bach, Handel, Blavet, Telemann, Vivaldi, Marcello, Rameau, Leclair .... some of them were even Protestants.

Joshua said...

My former parish priest, now bishop of Lismore, NSW, is a great fan of both Pugin (whose designs for churches and all manner of items were used in early Tasmania) and Comper - the latter having more of a Baroque sensibility, of union by inclusion. After all, how grand to have a Baroque altar in a Gothic church...

I think Comper would be a part of the Patrimony...