For about 200 years, the Baroque was the style that dared not speak its name. From its 17th-century apogee, it descended ever further from the realms of acceptable taste until it found itself not only out of fashion but also beyond the aesthetic pale. Even by the late 1970s, it was barely respectable: one leading art historical handbook claiming that "it is still possible to use the term as one of simple abuse, but this is now confined to the very old or the very unsophisticated".
It is easy to see just what the very old and very unsophisticated objected to. The origins of the Baroque lay in the Counter Reformation Catholic Church and with, largely, the Catholic monarchies. It was the house style of absolutism, celebrating a worldview that had long gone. So to a forward-thinking European of the post-First World War generation, for example, it was anathema. What was Rubens when you had Picasso or Charles Lebrun when you had Le Corbusier? What were the foibles of princes and prelates when the new world was ruled by the merchant class? And what was the point of a style where form so determinedly refused not just to follow function but to ignore it altogether?
While later generations may have disparaged the Baroque and loathed its curves and ornamentation, its drama, light and shade, there was no doubting its artistry, however misplaced it was felt to be. The Baroque was not an intellectual style but a sensory one, designed to impress upon its viewers the God-ordained authority of monarchy and Church. To do this, artists and architects were encouraged to give free rein to their imaginations: what they sought to inspire were wonder and awe. It is this inventiveness that is the key element of the narrative of the style's birth, spread and influence told in Baroque 1620-1800: Style in the Age of Magnificence at the Victoria & Albert Museum. It is an exhibition that is a major acknowledgement of the rehabilitation of the Baroque.