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Loving Rococo and Late Baroque

June 17th, 2014, Promulgated by Bernie

Liturgical art in the Rococo or late Baroque style* was for me, for years, a turn-off. It has only been in the last few years that I have come to love Rococo/late Baroque church architecture/decoration.

(Click on pictures to view enlarged images.)

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“Wieskirche”, 1745-54, Weis, Bavaria. Perhaps Bavaria’s greatest Rococo church.

Rococo’s explosion of fanciful forms, intricate curves, counter curves, details, and predominant use of pale or pastel coloring with an abundance of white and gold creates a heavenly environment for the celebration of Mass. It is a vision of heaven on earth.  “It’s overwhelming” and “I don’t know where to look” are common reactions people volunteer upon entering a truly stunning Rococo or late Baroque style church. I imagine heaven to have that kind of impact. Disorienting and yet wonder filled.

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“Einsiedeln Monastery Church”, 1704-50, Switzerland. A late Baroque church.

Everything is happening at once in a Rococo or late Baroque style church. Biblical events and snippets from saints’ lives appear all over the place in sweeping panoramic views and in small framed localized ones.

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“Chapel of the Black Madonna”, Einsiedeln Monastery Church, Switzerland.

Everything is alive, moving, growing, spilling, slithering, and pulsing. The structure of the church building nearly melts away in many Rococo style churches as forms burst out of frames and spill over cornices, floating ever upwards right through the ceiling in a vision of infinity or tumbling from eternity down to now.

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“Andecks Monastery Church” 1712, Andechs, Bavaria. Technically, this is a Baroque style.

The cause of all this life comes from an altar that is almost visually lost in the exuberance; from the altar of sacrifice, from the cross, from the tree of life. What we see in the decoration is the cosmic importance of the Incarnation and the climax that is the sacrifice of the cross made eternally present in the Mass.  Heaven and earth, physical and spiritual are reunited, everything is a new creation. It is all timeless and infinite. We are left speechless except perhaps to utter a “wow” or “O, my!”

Most especially, we are filled with joy –youthful joy; the joy of our youth as the psalmist wrote.

The Rococo or late Baroque styles are not to everyone’s taste. Certainly the moralist will complain of the richness of it all. That was me for many years. A Cistercian might be very uncomfortable worshiping in such an environment, at least on any kind of a regular basis.  But the Catholic Church has no official style of art and architecture. It has, rather, a few liturgical art requirements that can be applied to any style. The work must: 1) be orthodox; present the truths of the faith without ambiguity, 2) exhibit noble beauty, 3) have the exclusive aim of turning men’s minds devoutly toward God, and 4) be of high quality in terms of material and artistic skill.

That liturgical art must be simple and/or impoverished is not a requirement.

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“Asamkirche” 1740, Munich, Germany. Built as a private chapel that doubled as a ‘show room’ for the Rococo architectural firm of the Asam brothers whose office and home were right next door.

The Church does caution against liturgical art that has the sole purpose of displaying wealth, privilege or skill. Admittedly, there is more room for debate considering that caution when it comes to Rococo art than other styles. But then, much contemporary or modern liturgical art fails when measured against the Church’s first four requirements for good liturgical art.

Could there ever be a Rococo revival; a Neo-Rococo or Baroque movement in church art? How about liturgical art that is at least inspired by the essence of the Rococo style? What might that look like?

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* What is the difference between the Rococo and late Baroque styles in church architecture, decoration? Rococo artists and architects used a more jocular, florid, and graceful approach to the Baroque. It’s a difference not worth much dwelling on for our purposes as the difference in impact on the untrained viewer is hardly noticeable. It would take some explanation –and several examples– for most of us to appreciate the difference.

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2 Responses to “Loving Rococo and Late Baroque”

  1. avatar Jim R says:

    Very nice pictures.

    A nit: “flamboyant” is used in architecture for late French Gothic. It comes from the French for “flaming.”

    Granted English colloquial usage of the term is not restricted to either architecture or the late Gothic French style, but in a piece on architecture, its use with “Baroque” is a bit jarring.

    Its use in this context is a bit reminiscent of a priest I know commenting on a parent’s request for double baptism of a child in the Catholic and Presbyterian churches who said, “I believe that would be anathema in both traditions.” The pre-concillar reference to “anathema” and post-conciliar reference to Presbyterianism as a “tradition” just was a bit jarring – apt or not in its usage.

  2. avatar Bernie says:

    Jim R: I agree. I replaced “flamboyant” with “late”. I have seen late Baroque referred to as “flamboyant” at least once. I toyed with just saying “late” but then thought the colloquial “flamboyant” would help people to see the similarity I was suggesting (at least on the surface)the late Baroque has with Rococo. Thank you for the nit.


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