‘Baroque’ is a word that often gets thrown around, but what does it mean and what defines it as such?
Romanesque, gothic, neoclassical and postmodern: many words have been coined to describe and allude to different styles of architecture, painting, sculpture and music. What differentiates between these terms is a simple train of thought that was ubiquitous in the era during which that particular style was in vogue. The term ‘baroque’, for example, relates to the style of European architecture and art of the 17th and 18th centuries – and in a nutshell, it was all about extravagance, luxury and excess.
What we must understand about the baroque is that it followed the Renaissance, which had completely dismantled the architecture, social frameworks and, more importantly, the beliefs of the Dark Ages. One of the prime examples of baroque architecture is the palace of Versailles in France, which is adorned with gold, glass, mirrors, crystal and paintings. Everything about this extraordinary palace points to three logical and obvious truths: King Louis XIV was rich, he had great taste, and he didn’t see his vanity as sin.
In Malta, the baroque period enjoyed its heyday under the Knights of St John, and can be particularly seen and experienced within the walls of the city of Valletta. Although the city’s motto is ‘Città Umilissima’ (Latin for: a humble city), the architecture of Valletta also has elements of another rich style. The Mannerist style was a 16th-century Italian art form that was characterised by distortions in scale and perspective, as well as by the use of bright and lurid colours. This, in more ways than one, was the precursor of the baroque style.
Some of Valletta’s, and consequentially Malta’s, most precious treasures are from this era, in fact. Caravaggio was active during the early baroque period, and the Beheading of St John is the epitome of baroque art. St John’s Co-Cathedral’s famous interiors were also created during the baroque period and now stand testimony to the wealth and taste of both the Order as well as the Church at the time.
The Wignacourt Museum in Rabat, although much humbler than St John’s Co-Cathedral and Versailles, also has baroque elements. Features from this period in artistic and architectural history can be seen in both its stonework and also in many of the paintings on display, particularly those by Mattia Preti who was one of the most famous painters active in Malta during that period.
For more information on the Wignacourt Museum and its artefacts you can contact us on +356 2749 4905 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.