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Friday, 31 July 2015
The Conceit and Deceit of the Baroque
David Newport, Gallery Assistant

In the 17th and 18th centuries, the young gentlemen of means completed their education with a grand tour of Europe. The tour was a mixture of shopping spree, architectural inspiration and opportunity to sow a few wild oats. The proportion of each depended upon the gentleman concerned. Certainly, Byron was more interested in the women of Seville than its architecture. Although, to be fair, the route he took was somewhat restricted by the various wars taking place at the time.

However, the result of most grand tours is evident through the stately homes of Britain and don’t we love them. These homes are stage sets which enable us all to fantasise about a golden age which never really existed. What happens then when these grand tour artefacts are taken out of their homes and placed in a white cube?

The effect is startling. Without taking away from the magnificent workmanship, they now raise questions which we would not normally ask. Why make a silver pilgrim flask which is far too large to be functional? Why would a craftsman spend months creating a wonderful cabinet and then leave the back of it unfinished? With many of these objects the spell cast by their usual environments is stripped away and leaves us with the conceit and deceit of the Baroque.

The artist suggests that we start in Gallery 3; a gallery which provides a surreal view of Chatsworth’s architecture. The building appears to be swirling around us. The blue walls sport huge CAD illustrations of the famous house, but look closer. The building has been cropped and corrected. This is a 17th century building which has been given a 21st century makeover. A building with a curved façade styled to cover its faults is now a perfectly symmetrical vision: an architect’s dream.

In the middle of all this, is a make-believe room; a room for show not for comfort. The furniture is beautifully made, but its shortcomings become apparent when viewed from this angle.

Photo by Andy Keate

Moving from the dark to the light, the next gallery shows the wealth of the Chatsworth collection through a spectacular display of silverware housed in a faux Grecian temple with mirrors which multiply their images and provide a trompe l’oeil effect which visitors to Chatsworth will recognise. The balance of conceit and deceit is also reflected in the showcase of delftware tulip vases near the window. Their blue oriental decoration on a white ground appear as if they were Chinese porcelain, but they are actually tin-glazed pottery from Holland and their design, while enabling expensive cut flowers to be displayed, also limit their life because of the small amount of water they can hold.

Photo by Andy Keate

The next gallery surrenders the idea of the white cube through the construction of a drawing room in its space. This is the aristocrat’s inner sanctum. These are drawings, paintings and scientific objects of true interest; valued and not just for show. However, even here Pablo Bronstein plays with our senses by exhibiting a detailed and rather beautiful drawing of a set of swaged and tailed curtains which, if you look carefully, are hung on the outside of the window.

Photo by Andy Keate

And finally, Gallery 1 reminds us that even the most powerful, deceitful, and conceited will eventually turn to dust with its references to Ancient Rome’s temples and mausoleums. The theme is echoed by the twice-used Coronation Chairs decaying slowly in the centre of the room. But most of all, this gallery displays Bronstein’s incredibly detailed drawings of the Via Apia re-imagined as a Baroque masterpiece. A journey around these 17 illustrations is surely a most suitable finale to an exhibition that shows our familiar heritage in a different and sometimes unsettling light.

Photo by Hugo Glendinning


Posted by btimmins at 12:06


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