British Barroque: Power and Illusion.

The Whig Junto, 1710 John James Baker
Queen Anne, 1702. Michael Dahl

BY Susana Valcarcel

This exhibition covers the reigns of the last Stuart monarchs, from the restoration of Charles II in 1660 to the death of Queen Anne in 1714. It was an age when art was used to support and advertise the authority of the monarchy. The later Stuart period was an age of hierarchy.

Antonio Verrio The Sea Triumph of Charles II c.1674

Displays of magnificence to express status and influence were used by royal courts, aristocrats and the rising political elite. Works of art on a grand scale, the use of illusion and perspective to awe-inspiring effect, and the visual impact of the great buildings of the age such as St Paul’s Cathedral, Chatsworth and Blenheim Place were persuasive statements of power and the awe-inspiring impact of baroque mural painting.

View of Chatsworth, 1699. Jan Siberechts
St Paul’s Cathedral: elevation of the West front, 1702. Possibly Simon Gribelin

This exhibition will include the work of the leading painters of the day – including Peter Lely, Godfrey Kneller and James Thornhill. It will celebrate grand-scale portraiture, the wonder and artifice of trompe l’oeil painted to trick the eye into thinking the objects depicted are real.

Trompe l’Oeil Letter Rack, 1700. Edward Collier

It should also be added that there are artworks representing slavery on display. An important but deeply troubling picture Hortense Mancini, Duchess of Mazarin, as Diana, 1684 by Benedetto Gennari, is included in the exhibition because it challenges us to reflect upon the presence of Black people in Britain and their mistreatment. It and other paintings on display reveal the later 17th-century growth of the slave trade. The Black figures are not named and they were used to emphasize the power wealth and prestige of the white sitters. The slave trade in the British Empire was officially abolished in 1807, and slavery itself in 1833, though both continued unofficially beyond those dates.

Hortense Mancini Duchess of Mazarin, as Diana, 1684

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