I’ve never forgotten the prince’s cradle I saw in a palace in Rome, carved at the height of the early-18th-century Baroque. It was as deep and as long as a beer barrel sliced in two, its exterior gilded and encrusted with shells. At one end a cherub on tiptoes shhhhed through puffed cheeks; at the other a woman’s breasts rose over the rim, her uplifted arms transforming into wings. Imagine the view of a child, whose world came into focus rocked by candlelight below a ceiling painted with gods and legends. It was a cradle that could so easily topple over.
For a few years in the 18th century Britain was seduced by the Baroque, with Italy’s finest painters and sculptors travelling north to the new rich of a new empire to paint fleshy skies in Grosvenor Square and sculpt demigods in weightless plaster in the cold chapels of country estates.