If it’s not Baroque, don’t fix it

By Lorenzo

Today, went to St John’s co-cathedral in Valletta. Downloading and then uploading images from my iPad defeats me. But images are available here.  It is an unrestrained example of a Baroque Catholic cathedral. When I say “unrestrained”, I mean they did not know when to stop. I would say it was positively Hindu or Chinese in its inability to know when to stop, except that would give mere ornamental bling excess a bad name.  It does not so much assault the boundaries of good taste as unthinkingly obliterate them.

But the cathedral  has two Caravaggios on display--St Jerome Writng and The Execution of St John. In a side chapel. A juxtaposition that allows one to contemplate the conjunction of the sublime and the ridiculous.

Still, the cathedral itself is proof that old does not equal tasteful. Or, as I have been known to observe to fellow re-enactors, bad taste is period too.

12 Comments

  1. Tim
    Posted May 15, 2012 at 4:02 am | Permalink

    Nice to see a post on an aesthetic matter Lorenzo. Sometimes I think aesthetics and beauty are neglected areas of thought and life today. Also nice to see a post on architecture (one of my favourite of the useful arts). The “if it’s not baroque” line is also one of my favourite corny joke lines.

    According to a quick Googling, it was a fellow named George Gough Booth who said “a life without beauty is only half lived.” 🙂 I took an aesthetics course in college and valued it.

    I kind of like the Baroque period in general though, or at least some aspects of it. While some Baroque art needs fixing, one of my favourite composers, Henry Purcell, was from the Baroque period (according to my understanding of the periodization).

    Some of the photos remind me of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, one of my favourite churches. Has anyone seen any of the Baroque art at St. Peter’s in Rome? Some of the photos of this church remind me of art in St. Peter’s.

    I saw some unappealing examples of Baroque art and architecture in Portugal. Some of them pretty busy, over-elaborate and excessively ornate (not elegant and simple, two qualities of beauty). Neoclassical architecture (like St. Suplice, the Pantheon, and a couple others in Paris) can provide a nice contrast to some Baroque work.

    But I guess tastes in art differ from person to person. One person’s beauty is another person’s gaudy.

  2. Posted May 15, 2012 at 10:47 am | Permalink

    Very Baroquoco. (Nice review Lorenzo.)

  3. Lisa
    Posted May 15, 2012 at 11:05 am | Permalink

    More is more and less is a bore. I think it’s fab.

  4. Posted May 15, 2012 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

    [email protected] … take a bow for that one.

    Definitely think Rococo should be used for something as over-the-top as Lorenzo describes. I don’t know if there are official dates or anything, but the division for me is if it’s overly ornate, it’s Rococo, if the ornamentation is elegant, it’s Baroque.

  5. Mel
    Posted May 15, 2012 at 8:14 pm | Permalink

    That cathedral is utterly vulgar: It looks like a Liberace-Imelda Marcos co-production. I bet if you opened one of the side doors, you’d find ten thousand pairs of high heeled shoes!

    I prefer the simplicity of the Japanese aesthetic.

  6. Posted May 15, 2012 at 11:29 pm | Permalink

    This church in Krakow, Poland made me want to wear sunglasses, although it is in considerably better taste than the one Lorenzo just visited in Malta.

  7. Tim
    Posted May 16, 2012 at 4:06 am | Permalink

    Some may consider Bach too ornate. Or Handel.

    Reminds me of a line from the movie Amadeus. The emperor is asked about a piece by Mozart that he has just heard. He says “too many notes.” One of my favourite comical lines. 🙂

    Is there such a thing as “good taste”? Is it a valid concept? Or is the concept of good taste (or poor taste) an imposition of one person’s preferences? One person’s beauty and elegance are another person’s “too many notes.”

  8. Posted May 16, 2012 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

    [email protected] On good taste, I know it when I see it.

    Since that is how the High Court defines an ‘excise’ I am told, if it is good enough for them, it is good enough for me 😉

  9. Tim
    Posted May 17, 2012 at 7:38 am | Permalink

    Good enough for me too I guess. 🙂
    And yet part of me yearns for some aesthetic criterion. Surely the Greeks had one. Didn’t Aristotle or Plato discuss beauty?

    In my parochial context (American public law), it reminds me of Potter Stewart’s use of the same phrase.

  10. Larry
    Posted May 17, 2012 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

    The level of ornamentation, if not the style, is Byzantine to the nth degree.

  11. Posted May 18, 2012 at 8:30 pm | Permalink

    [email protected] We can surely agree that avoiding sensory overload is an important aesthetic principle–the eye has to have somewhere to rest!

  12. Tim
    Posted May 20, 2012 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    Agreed.

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