In an era of tightened belts and Ikea flatpacks, no wonder the opulent style of French kings is making a comeback, says Aoife O'Riordain
baroque is having a moment. It seems that the style that dominated Europe throughout much of the 17th and 18th centuries with its dazzling expressions of wealth and opulence could turn out to be a surprising but perfect antidote to our gloomy, penny-pinching times.
Take a look, say, at the achingly hip interiors of the newly opened Mondrian South Beach Hotel in Miami. Its look was masterminded by Dutch design supremo Marcel Wanders, who likens the end result to Sleeping Beauty's castle. Both inside and out, the hotel is sprinkled with Baroque references, featuring plays on scale and shape plus oversized architectural and decorative elements - a huge pillar here or a giant chandelier there. Neo-Baroque chairs dot the edge of the swimming pool and the entire hotel has been imbued with a Baroque sense of the theatrical.
The re-emergence of the style today is in keeping with its history of finding life in a succession of vastly different eras. As the current exhibition at London's Victoria & Albert Museum shows, Baroque is arguably the world's first truly international style. Following its birth in the Rome of the 1620s, it quickly spread, with the help of Kings, colonialists and the ever-expanding Catholic church, as far as India, the Orient and Latin America.
Baroque's potential as a powerful tool of communication was instantly recognised by the Roman Catholic Church. Originating from the Portuguese word, barroco, which means a misshapen or imperfect pearl, Baroque's visual language was all about size: maximalism reigned supreme. As it spread throughout Europe, Baroque's influence manifested itself in many modes of expression. Painting, architecture, sculpture, theatre, furniture design and music were just some of its forms; Caravaggio, Rubens and Wren are just a few of the acknowledged masters of the period.
While the grandeur of the Baroque period and the profligacy of Versailles may seem far removed from our daily lives, many of the period's innovations still grace our homes today. The world of Louis XIV influenced where we place our furniture and gave us some of the first examples of upholstered armchairs, day beds, over-mantel mirrors and table settings. When, in 1682, Louis XIV moved the French court from Paris to Versailles, its transformation from hunting lodge to one of the world's most sumptuous palaces started in earnest. Louis' ultimate goal was for France to overtake Italy as the centre of the civilised world and Versailles' elaborately decorated salons and apartments, vast gardens and complex court rituals were his modes of expression. As displays of wealth and opulence go, it does not get more over-the-top than Versailles, the most impressive and lavish Baroque palace ever built. …