Baroque according to Luc Tuymans

At the Prada Foundation, the Belgian artist presents his reading of the Baroque period through a combination of more than 80 works by 63 artists – including some very unexpected choices.

Berlinde De Bruyckere, "In Flanders Fields", installation view Fondazione Prada Milano. Photo: Delfino Sisto Legnani and Marco Cappelletti

Supporting the theory of Walter Benjamin, Baroque, according to Luc Tuymans, is the era which marked the dawn of modernity. This premise is fundamental for anyone visiting the Prada Foundation with an idea of Baroque which has been developed through studying the history of Italian art which, as the historian Paolo Prodi wrote, has remained “tied to a purely stylistic-formal approach” and which, as Lucia Simonato explains in the illuminating catalogue which accompanies the exhibition, “places Caravaggio and Rubens on opposite sides of the 1600s barricade: the Flemish artist is without a doubt Baroque [...] while the Lombard is, instead, a precursor of Gustave Courbet, Édouard Manet and Giorgio Morandi.” 

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Baroque according to Luc Tuymans

In fact, in order to examine the idea that lies at the foundation of this collection of works, and which tries to redefine the confines of this label, it is necessary to set aside the breathtaking visions of Guercino’s Aurora, the ceiling of Palazzo Barberini by Pietro Da Cortona or the dizzying movements of the Rape of Prosperina by Bernini; that entire mass of convictions that make up a style which is historically linked to the Rome of the 1620s and 1630s.

It would otherwise be difficult to understand the inclusion of two paintings by Caravaggio (amazing as always, although displayed here with a few problems of illumination) who we are used to imagining as the father of realism, and closer to the ideas of Catholic reform (in the direction indicated by Cardinal Paleotti in his Discourse on sacred and profane images) than the pre-concepts of the Counter-Reformation, for which the Baroque period has become the triumphant and symbolic language. However, if we have to dismiss notions of style in order to examine the concept of modernity and to understand the interpretation offered by Tuymans, aid comes from the now-famous definition by Longhi, who considered Michelangelo Merisi to be the first painter of the modern era. 

Sanguine. Luc Tuymans on Baroque, veduta della mostra, Fondazione Prada, 2018. Foto Delfino Sisto Legnani e Marco Cappelletti. Courtesy Fondazione Prada

Furthermore, it is necessary to take a step back to widen one’s viewpoint and consider the international character of the Baroque (with branches that took it well beyond the confines of Europe, as demonstrated by the photographs by Marcel Gautherot), because at this point, Italian art is no longer at the centre of the story, and it is no coincidence that this exhibition project (with some variations) has been created within the framework of the festival Antwerp Baroque, held in the birthplace of Peter Paul Rubens (whose The Lamentation of Christ from 1614 we see displayed).

Sanguine. Luc Tuymans on Baroque, veduta della mostra, Fondazione Prada, 2018. Foto Delfino Sisto Legnani e Marco Cappelletti. Courtesy Fondazione Prada

The other important premise in the reading of “Sanguine” is the understanding that we are looking at a selection made by an artist who has no historiographic pretence but who, as Éric Suchère explains so well in the catalogue: “does not base his choices on an in-depth analysis of the works which belong to a precise period on the basis of a scholarly and bookish form of knowledge, but rather is fuelled, first and foremost, by experience; he goes beyond aesthetic cataloguing, transcends chronological collocation, moves ahead in bounds, passing from one period to another [...] scoffing at the truth offered by archives and preferring to rely on his intuition and an analysis which is derived from professional experience, and a form of knowledge which emerges through practice”.

Tuymans’ Baroque is anything but that decadent era of “creative aridness” painted so negatively by Benedetto Croce.

Tuymans’ Baroque is anything but that decadent era of “creative aridness” painted so negatively by Benedetto Croce. Despite endorsing the irredeemable gap between art and sacred art (of which, in fact, the exhibition displays only a handful of works from the 17th and 18th centuries), Tuymans’ Baroque is, on the contrary, rich with vitality, even after four hundred years, and here it presents us with its most turbulent energy.

Thus, presenting Caravaggio’s Boy bitten by a lizard, the Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian by Francisco de Zurbarán, and The death of Cleopatra by Guido Cagnacci (to name but a few) on the walls surrounding a monumental, infinite and macabre work, Fucking Hell by Jake and Dinos Chapman (an enormous installation composed of nine dioramas showing apocalyptic scenes with clear references to Nazi violence) means clearly and unequivocally highlighting the more corporeal and bloody face of this Baroque spirit.

There are various occasions in this exhibition for us spectators-voyeurs to observe our own bestiality, like in one of the most disturbing and realistic episodes of Black Mirror, and we move between eros and thanatos with Human Mask by Pierre Huyghe, the splayed carcasses of In Flanders Fields by Berlinde De Bruyckere, Thanatophanies by On Kawara, Dead Girl by Marlene Dumas, the Immolation series by David Gheron Tretiakoff, but in some way also in Monelle by Diego Marcon, the youngest of the artists exhibited. 

Sanguine. Luc Tuymans on Baroque, Fondazione Prada, 2018. Foto Delfino Sisto Legnani e Marco Cappelletti. Courtesy Fondazione Prada
Title:
Sanguine. Luc Tuymans on Baroque
Opening dates:
18 October 2018 – 25 February 2019
Venue:
Fondazione Prada, Largo Isarco 2, Milano
Curator:
Luc Tuymans

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