TV review: Baroque! From St Peter's To St Paul's | Building The Olympic Dream
Baroque! From St Peter's To St Paul's, BBC4 Building The Olympic Dream, BBC2
IF THE artists of the Baroque ever produced something subtle, they were doing it wrong. That's the impression left by Waldemar Januszczak's new series, Baroque! From St Peter's To St Paul's (the exclamation mark is appropriate), which celebrates this fussy, dazzling, mad movement in all its over-the-top glory.
I'll confess to knowing little about the Baroque, but it didn't matter, as Januszczak had more than enough knowledge and enthusiasm for both of us. He seemed in his element wandering around Italy, constantly declaring: "Look at this!" as he explored examples of the beginning of what, he explained, was the world's first great international art movement.
Like modern art, Baroque buildings and paintings were designed to have an immediate impact. And like today's conceptual works, they were controversial, with many finding the new shapes, materials and illusionary effects to be too overwhelming. But it was art with a definite purpose, conceived as a "fightback" by the Catholic Church against the popularity of the Reformation.
The late-16th-century Council of Trent (not the one in Dorset) had called on artists to scrap obscure references in their work and make art that could appeal to the most illiterate and ignorant worshipper. The result was some of the most magnificent images ever seen, which even now represent the epitome of luxury and fantastical taste.
Januszczak's sheer love for this style came across, especially as he talked about Caravaggio, the painter whose cheeky works were more dramatically realistic – with striking spot-lit scenes and faces drawn from life – than religious imagery had ever been before. His paintings are almost alive, and while Januszczak's comparison to the cinema was maybe a bit obvious, perhaps they were as close as anyone of the period could get.
In a way, though, it's a shame that the programme couldn't replicate the intentions behind the movement it was about. Erudite and educational as it was, for all its presenter's vivid commentary this was still a highbrow BBC4 arts programme, hardly likely to appeal – as the Baroque itself did – to the masses.
The Last Stand At Stratford, part two of the series Building the Olympic Dream, was also awash with contradictions. There are grand plans for the area of East London earmarked for the 2012 Olympic Park, which Seb Coe promised would transform this rundown wasteland into a marvellous international village, followed by a modern development.
Except that the people living and working there didn't really think it was a wasteland, especially not the Manor Gardens allotment society members who'd been happily nurturing their plots there, in a tradition going back a century. They put up a good campaign to have them incorporated into the Olympics site, which could have opened up the prospect of some exciting new events: cross-country weeding, or synchronised digging. This would surely have been a winner for Team GB and given Alan Titchmarsh his only chance at Olympic gold.
Sadly, the campaign was doomed from the start, since ultimately the government had the final say – and they're rather keen on the Olympics (or at least, they were before the recession). The green oasis amid the capital's concrete is now a building site, and the new allotments promised elsewhere are still works-in-progress.
Despite the patronising use of jolly brass band music to accompany the scenes featuring the allotment holders, as if to emphasise their homely, salt-of-the-earth natures, this documentary was telling in what it revealed about the price of these grand projects. While the Olympics are London's thing, we're still paying for them and there could be a few lessons here for Glasgow's Commonwealth Games too.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 25 May 2013
Temperature: 5 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 13 mph
Wind direction: West
Temperature: 8 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 14 mph
Wind direction: West