© Swiss National Museum


Age of Contrasts

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Baroque is more than a matter of style. This cultural epoch, between 1580 and 1780, was a time of enormous contrasts: opulence and innovation on the one hand, death and crises on the other. Ongoing religious wars and the opening up of global trade networks resulted in power gains and cultural exchange, but there was also famine and exploitation. Switzerland played its part in all this radical change: Swiss architects designed major works throughout Europe, Swiss artists and scientists were part of international networks, clothing and interiors reflected the culture of the French court, and the worldwide circulation of products and knowledge had life-changing impacts. The exhibition presents beautiful objects from Baroque architecture, garden culture, fashion and art, focusing on the historical context of these items in order to illuminate this creative epoch in all its glorious ambiguity.

Blog articles


Baroque. Age of Contrasts

National Museum Zurich | 16.9.2022 - 15.1.2023
published on 14.9.2022

Opulence and innovation on the one hand, death and crisis on the other: the Baroque was an age of great contrasts, and it left a legacy that survives to this day. In this year’s major autumn exhibition, the National Museum Zurich explores this era in depth.

For most people, the term “Baroque” conjures up images of magnificent churches and masterpieces of fine art, and extravagant monarchs living in sumptuous palaces. But there was much more to this period of approximately 200 years, between 1580 and 1780, than its reputation for splendour and excess would suggest. The Baroque was an age of extremes, with dark and tragic aspects. The grandeur and excess was juxtaposed against a background of ongoing religious wars, colonisation and squalor.

The Thirty Years’ War and the Counter-Reformation were largely responsible for the rift within society. These conflicts evolved increasingly into a protracted struggle for power in Central Europe. This strife not only determined religious life and the political system in Europe, but also brought with it profound societal, economic and cultural changes. In this sea of contrasts, science and culture developed and transformed rapidly, leaving their mark on an increasingly interconnected and globalised world. The Swiss Confederation was a significant part of these diverse interrelationships. The region’s inhabitants adopted numerous trends in fashion, garden culture and interior design. And Swiss architects such as Ticino native Francesco Borromini, who worked mostly in Rome, had a hand in spreading the Baroque style further afield, designing important buildings throughout Europe.

The exhibition at the National Museum in Zurich shines a spotlight on this fascinating age, and reveals that the Confederation was an active part of this global epoch including, on many occasions, leading the way with new ideas and innovations. The show also looks at how, even today, elements of Baroque culture still shape our society – on the dinner table and in the garden, for example. Beautiful objects from Baroque architecture, garden culture, fashion and art illustrate the opulence and elegance of the era, without losing sight of their historical context.


From near and afar

During the age of Baroque, the still life became a genre in its own right. Artfully arranged gold and silverware, Venetian glass, oriental fabrics, and fine Chinese porcelain bear witness to the collecting and trading interests of the time. Simon Luttichuys (ascribed to), still life, 1650–1680, oil on canvas.

Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Europe as battlefield

Religious differences triggered the Thirty Years’ War. It was to be the most momentous event of the Baroque era. Mercenaries plundered and murdered; the civilian population suffered hunger and disease. Philips Wouwerman, battle (of Nördlingen), 1665–1668, oil on canvas.

bpk / Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen

New worldview

European expansion gave rise to a growing interest in cartography. The elaborate maps were not only a significant asset for maritime voyages but also – now assembled in valuable atlases – as sought-after collectibles. Pieter Goos, Zee-atlas ofte waterwereld […], Amsterdam, 1676, copperplate, coloured.

Utrecht University Library

Baroque culture of collecting

At no other time was collecting pursued with such intensity. In princely and bourgeois art collections and cabinets of curiosities with their sundry and spectacular objects and works, the knowledge of the world was amassed, presented, explored, and discussed. Cornelis I. de Baellieur, gallery of a collector, around 1640, oil on wood.

Privatsammlung, Dauerleihgabe an LIECHTENSTEIN. The Princely Collections, Vaduz-Vienna, Inv.-Nr. G 28 © LIECHTENSTEIN. The Princely Collections, Vaduz–Vienna

Instructive and moving

Ticino-born Giovanni Serodine (1594/1600–1630) was a pioneer of early Baroque sacred art. Lavishly ornamented Baroque churches and religious paintings serve as visual instruments of the Christian faith. Giovanni Serodine, Vergine dei Mercedari, around 1625–1627, oil on.

Pinacoteca cantonale Giovanni Züst, Rancate (Mendrisio), Cantone Ticino, Svizzera (Foto: Roberto Pellegrini)

Histoire du Roi

This tapestry depicts an event during talks in relation to the Treaty of the Pyrenees, and the proposed marriage of Louis XIV and the Spanish Infanta. The hall was designed specially for the meeting. Charles Le Brun, Entrevue de Philippe IV et Louis XIV, Manufacture des Gobelins, Paris, 1668, tapestry (high warp), silk, wool, gold thread.

(Collection du) Mobilier national, Paris, Philippe Sébert

Views of Rome

Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720–1778) produced imposing views of Baroque Rome. Many of its most important monuments, such as the obelisk in Piazza del Popolo, trace back to Domenico Fontana. Giovanni Battista Piranesi, Veduta della Piazza del Popolo, sheet from

ETH-Bibliothek Zürich, Graphische Sammlung

Precious items from the Ocean

Going back to the 16th century, magnificently decorated nautilus cups were highly sought-after objects in cabinets of art and curiosities. The nymph poised on the nautilus points to the area of Indo-Pacific as find-place. Nautilus cup, Melchior Maria Müller, Zug, around 1670–1680, mother-of-pearl, silver, gilded in parts.

Swiss National Museum

Exotic Silk

This Swiss-owned, elaborate silk mantua is strikingly decorated with Chinoiseries. The fabric came from the Netherlands where manufacturers specialized in orientally inspired textiles that were exported across Europe. Mantua, 1730–1750, silk.

Swiss National Museum

Spanish court dress

Under Archduchess Maria Anna, the hooped skirt called guardainfante became iconic thanks to the portraits of court painter Diego Velázquez (1599–1660). It developed out of the French and Spanish hooped skirt and testifies to the lively exchange between the two courts. Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez and workshop, Archduchess Maria Anna, queen of Spain, 1652–1653, oil on canvas.

Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien, Gemäldegalerie, photo: KHM-Museumsverband

A view of the exhibition.

© Swiss National Museum

A view of the exhibition.

© Swiss National Museum

A view of the exhibition.

© Swiss National Museum

A view of the exhibition.

© Swiss National Museum

A view of the exhibition.

© Swiss National Museum

Swiss National Museum press contact

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Exhibition imprint

  • Overall management Denise Tonella
  • Project direction and curator Joya Indermühle
  • Curatorial consultancy Christina Sonderegger
  • Scientific collaboration Michèle Seehafer
  • Scenography Alex Harb
  • Project support Heidi Amrein
  • Project assistant Noemi Albert
  • Project coordination Sophie Dänzer, Regula Moser
  • Scientific advisors Axel Christoph Gampp, Christine Göttler, Urs Haenggli
  • Special researches Noemi Albert, Andrea Franzen, Christian Hörack, Daniela Schwab, Christina Sonderegger, Christian Weiss
  • Advisory committee Heidi Amrein, Beat Högger, Markus Leuthard, Sabrina Médioni, Denise Tonella
  • Controlling of project Sabrina Médioni
  • Cultural Services and Museum Education Gerda Bissig, Stefanie Bittmann, Lisa Engi, Vera Humbel
  • Advertising graphic Roli Hofer, Zürich
  • Exhibition graphic Thomas Lehmann, LDSGN Zürich
  • Technical management Debbie Sledsens, Mike Zaugg
  • Exhibition construction Bashir Ezzerari, Janine auf der Mauer, Marc Hägeli, Dave Schwitter, Ladina Fait, Philippe Leuthardt
  • Conservation management Nikkibarla Calonder, Carolin Muschel
  • Conservation and montage of objects Nikkibarla Calonder, Natalie Ellwanger, Anna Jurt, Iona Leroy, Sarah Longrée, Jürg Mathys, Charlotte Maier, Carolin Muschel, Sarah Obrecht, Gaby Petrak, Guillaume Rapin, Ulrike Rothenhäusler, Alexandra Schorpp, Alina Schmid, Helen Wybrew-Bond, Peter Wyer, Tino Zagermann; Chrigel Alder, Alder Stahl + Schweiss, Wädenswil; Romain Jeanneret, Atelier de restauration, Abbaye de St-Maurice; Glas Mäder & Co. AG, Rüschlikon; Sarah Obrecht, Bern; Marco Rebel, Luzern
  • Lending and logistics of objects Christian Affentranger, David Blazquez, Simon D’Hollosy, Reto Hegetschweiler, Maya Jucker, Markus Scherer, Samira Tanner, Angela Zeier
  • Photography Jörg Brandt
  • Picture library Fabian Müller, Andrea Kunz
  • IT | Web Danilo Rüttimann, René Vogel
  • Media stations Alex Baur, Thomas Bucher, Ueli Heiniger, Pasquale Pollastro, Danilo Rüttimann, René Vogel
  • Animated map projection xkopp creative, Berlin
  • Podcast: Texetera, Bern
  • Marketing and Communication Andrej Abplanalp, Anna-Britta Maag, Sebastiano Mereu, Carole Neuenschwander, Alexander Rechsteiner
  • Translations Marco Marcacci, Laurence Neuffer, Nigel Stephenson

Items generously loaned by

  • Staatsarchiv Aargau
  • Bischöfliche Administration der Kapellstiftung | Schatzkammer und Wallfahrtsmuseum, Altötting
  • Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
  • Alice und Louis Koch-Stiftung, Basel
  • Historisches Museum Basel
  • Staatsarchiv Basel-Stadt
  • Öffentliche Bibliothek der Universität Basel
  • Bernisches Historisches Museum, Bern
  • Burgerbibliothek Bern
  • Staatsarchiv des Kantons Bern
  • Universitätsbibliothek Bern, Bibliothek Münstergasse
  • Haus zum Dolder – Sammlung Dr. Edmund Müller, Beromünster
  • Musée militaire et des toiles peintes, Colombier
  • Bibliothèque de Genève, Ville de Genève
  • Collection Musée Ariana, Ville de Genève
  • Fondation Charles-Frédéric Necker, Genève
  • MAH Musée d’art et d’histoire, Ville de Genève
  • Stiftung Schloss Jegenstorf
  • Musée Historique Lausanne
  • Museo d’arte della Svizzera italiana, Lugano. Collezione Città di Lugano
  • Historisches Museum Luzern
  • Provinzarchiv Schweizer Kapuziner, Luzern
  • Staatsarchiv des Kantons Luzern
  • Accademia di architettura, Università della Svizzera italiana, Mendrisio
  • Bayerisches Hauptstaatsarchiv München
  • Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, München – Alte Pinakothek
  • Grafische Sammlung, Institut für Kunstgeschichte der Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München
  • Universitätsbibliothek der LMU München
  • Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nürnberg
  • Château de Nyon
  • Mobilier national, Paris
  • Pinacoteca cantonale Giovanni Züst, Rancate (Mendrisio), Cantone Ticino, Svizzera / Deposito Fondazione Gottfried Keller, Berna
  • Gallerie Nazionali d’Arte Antica di Roma
  • Zentralbibliothek Solothurn
  • Galerie Ruf AG, Stansstad
  • Kunstmuseum St.Gallen
  • Stiftsbibliothek St.Gallen
  • Textilmuseum St.Gallen
  • Stiftung Schloss Landshut, Utzenstorf
  • Utrecht University Library
  • LIECHTENSTEIN. The Princely Collections, Vaduz-Vienna
  • Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Città del Vaticano
  • Musei Vaticani, Città del Vaticano
  • Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien, Gemäldegalerie
  • Kunst Museum Winterthur
  • Entomologische Sammlung ETH Zürich
  • ETH-Bibliothek, Zürich
  • Graphische Sammlung ETH Zürich
  • Jesuitenbibliothek Zürich
  • Kunsthaus Zürich
  • Museum zur Geschichte der Veterinärmedizin und A.+M.Mahler-Lee Microscope Collection, Zürich
  • Paläontologisches Institut und Museum, Universität Zürich
  • Schweizer Finanzmuseum, Zürich
  • Zentralbibliothek Zürich
  • Zürcher Hochschule der Künste | Museum für Gestaltung Zürich
  • Staatsarchiv des Kantons Zug