Baroque makes a comeback at this time of the year. Everything is decorated, from our houses, to whole streets and city squares. Garlands and angels are everywhere.
The idea of Christmas decorations comes from 19th century. The first Christmas tree was placed in Britain by Queen Charlotte in 1800. Illustrated London News put on their cover the Victorian Christmas image of the Prince Consort and the Queen standing with their children around their tree. This came out in December 1848 and launched the German-invented Christmas tree and its decorations into English popular culture.
But, the fairies, lights, gold and silver, flamboyance and spectacle of modern decorations, actually began with art style that existed long before the Victorian age, exactly two centuries before that, and it was called the Baroque. It was made of spectacular architecture, painting and sculptures. Europe’s churches, pyramidal ornaments, city squares with giant cherubs, lashings of gold and opulent baubles, were really shining. This was somewhere between 17th and 18th century.
If you ever saw the Throne of St Peter, created in the middle of 17th century in St Peter’s basilica by Gianlorenzo Bernini, your Christmas tree will not seem that gracefully anymore. The Throne of St Peter is made of many angels that swarm in a molten cloud of gold which cascades upward. Instead of fairy lights, that obviously did not exist back in 1648, there was a heavenly host from which were emerging golden rays of light with a luminous window in the middle.
Baroque and Christmas decorations could remind us of each other, because they both have something so beautifully gratuitous about them. Hundreds and thousands of lights are placed all across our city streets and trees in public squares at this time of the year.
Baroque art is even more expressed trough today’s modern Christmas decorations and that can be very beautiful. Christmas tree is one thing that can especially remind us of baroque style. It is like some kind of a sculpture, and the shape of its fir makes it naturally pyramidal, pointing towards the top. Favorite form of baroque public art is exactly this. Christmas tree-like decorations in the streets of Naples, are made of marble and they stretch up in the sky. These wonderful decorations were built for a reason. They are made to celebrate the end of an epidemic of the plague. They proudly taper upwards, just like Christmas trees, and are also beautifully decorated.
Another Christmas decoration that brings baroque age to life, are cherubs. Plastic cherubs can be hung on our Christmas trees. The good example for this is the baroque architectural masterpiece made by Sir Christopher Wren. Gigantic cherubic faces are floating among fruit and foliage very nicely carved from stone, and because of that, the exterior of St Paul’s cathedral in London looks absolutely magnificent. They can be seen throughout the whole year in London because they are the greatest Christmas decorations in this city.
The energy and ecstasy of baroque art can be better understood by the help of our own love of fairy lights and sparkles at Christmas. The bright lights of Christmas can be, at the same time, profound and ridiculous. The big urge to decorate is something very spiritual and beautiful, but in some ways, it could also be truly merry and manic. We usually get that strange sense of wonder. Ceiling paintings and fountains of Europe’s baroque share that same sense of wonder. Don’t you agree?