chapter  6
17 Pages

Blinding light and gloomy darkness

Illumination, spectatorship, and the oratorio in baroque Rome
WithHuub van der Linden

Light and darkness had deep symbolic significance, and its strategic manipulation was one of the key ways in which architects and painters shaped their audiences’ perception of space. Light had rich symbolic significance, but as with so many cultural signifiers its effect also derived at least in part from its economic underpinnings. The cost of illuminations was a part of regular, “ordinary” oratorio performances, like the ones at the Congregation of the Oratorio of San Filippo Neri and the oratory of the SS. Crocifisso in San Marcello. The nature, cost, and especially the perception of these illuminations are more difficult to assess, not in the least because contemporary comments on ordinary lighting are hard to come by. Spending money on lighting was thus disproportionately effective, partly because it had an immediately visible effect, but especially because for ordinary people the lighting was arguably the most relatable part of the cost of an oratorio performance.