18th C French Baroque and Rococo Art cc

Baroque French Classicism and the Rococo 17th to 18th Centuries

These two paintings are both Baroque renderings of aristocrats from the 1600 to 1700's.  One of them represents the older more autocratic traditions of Europe but both are the results of the "Enlightenment." The way in which they are portrayed are important clues as to how each of these rulers ruled there people and how they saw the world.  You will be given an assignment in which you will be asked to compare and contrast these two paintings and come up with some conclusions as to how each ruler is portrayed formally and iconographically.  You will be asked what this might mean about each ruler and the manner in which they governed.
Antoine Watteau. L' Indifferent 1716 
Oil on canvas 10''x7'' Located in Louvre, Paris
French Rococo
Hyacinthe Rigaud Louis XIV 1701 
Oil on canvas 9'2''x7'' Located in Louvre, Paris
French Baroque


Nicolas Poussin, Bacchanal before a Statue of Pan 1631-33
Oil on canvas, 100 x 142,5 cm. National Gallery, London.
French Baroque
Context:  This painting was executed just before Louis XIV came into his prime.  It represent both formally and iconographically a point of view that is in some ways similar but still different than the Rococo period.  In some ways classical images from the Baroque were a bit more "platonic" in nature than during the Rococo. Form: This painting is Baroque and in some ways it is the model for the paintings of the Rococo period.  This painting incorporates intense or saturated colors and a full use of chiaroscuro, linear perspective and atmospheric perspective and the pastoral or arcadian landscape.  The composition of this image recalls friezes from ancient Roman and Greek buildings and Poussin's figures are also dressed and modeled after classical figures. 
Iconography: The iconography of this painting is also somewhat the model for the Rococo paintings that follow.  It is the kind of image that Poussin might have seen in Italy either on a classical frieze or a pot.  Even though the image is "classical" it seems to me to be an almost sarcastic or moralizing way in which to depict it.  This painting seems almost to be a warning against hedonism
The theme this story that this painting portrays is a bacchanal
According to Webster's, n, pl bacchanalia [L, fr. Bacchus] (1591) 1 pl, cap: a Roman festival of Bacchus celebrated with dancing, song, and revelry 2: orgy 2, 3 -- adj or n 
The Rococo style is a substyle of the French Baroque and really only exists from about 1716 to the 1770's at which time it fell out of style.  Webster's defines rococo as, n (1840): rococo work or style ²rococo adj [F, irreg. fr. rocaille rocaille] (1841) 1 a: of or relating to an artistic style esp. of the 18th century characterized by fanciful curved asymmetrical forms and elaborate ornamentation b: of or relating to an 18th century musical style marked by light gay ornamentation and departure from thorough-bass and polyphony 2: excessively ornate or intricate
In terms of its form, the Rococo style is uses a lot of pastel colors which are various pale or light colors, such as powder blue, peaches and pinks.  The brushwork in many Rococo style paintings tends to be feathery and or rough.  Usually the paintings look a bit more like oil sketches and have a rough or unfinished look to them.  The compositions also tend to be a bit looser and not very symmetrical. In terms of iconography and subject matter, Rococo paintings do deal with classical themes but the stories emphasize less dignified themes such as love and romantic indiscretion, in short, the "Dangerous Liaison."   Stokstad points out that one of the main subjects of the Rococo style was the fête galante.

¹fete n [ME fete, fr. MF, fr. OF feste--more at feast] (15c) 1: festival 2 a: a lavish often outdoor entertainment b: a large elaborate party ²fete vt fet.ed ; (1819) 1: to honor or commemorate with a fete 2: to pay high honor to
fete n, pl fetes champetres [F, lit., rural festival] (1774): an outdoor entertainment

Many of the images in Rococo art are borrowed from opera and Commedia dell'arte.  According to the Brittanica,

Around the mid-16th century, there emerged in Italy a lively tradition of popular theatre that fused many disparate elements into a vigorous style, which profoundly influenced the development of European theatre. This was the legendary commedia dell'arte ("theatre of the professionals"), a nonliterary tradition that centred on the actor, as distinguished from the commedia erudita, where the writer was preeminent. Although the precise origins of the commedia dell'arte are difficult to establish, its many similarities with the skills of the medieval jongleurs, who were themselves descendants of the Roman mimes, suggest that it may have been a reawakening of the fabula Atellana, stimulated and coloured by social conditions in Italy during the Renaissance. In spite of its outwardly anarchic spirit, the commedia dell'arte was a highly disciplined art requiring both virtuosity and a strong sense of ensemble playing. Its special quality came from improvisation. Working from a scenario that outlined the plot, the actors would improvise their own dialogue, striving for a balance of words and actions. Acrobatics and singing were also used, as well as the lazzi (special rehearsed routines that could be inserted into the plays at convenient points to heighten the comedy). Because the actors stayed together in permanent companies and specialized in playing the same role for most of their professional lives, they achieved a degree of mastery that had been hitherto unknown on the Italian stage and that must have made the rest of the theatre seem all the more artificial. Another reason for the impact of the commedia dell'arte was that it heralded the first appearance in Italy of professional actresses (the best known being Isabella Andreini), though the female characters were never as sharply developed as their male counterparts. Most of the characters were defined by the leather half-masks they wore (another link with the theatre of antiquity), which made them instantly recognizable. They also spoke in the dialect of their different provinces. Characters such as Pantalone, the miserly Venetian merchant; Dottore Gratiano, the pedant from Bologna; or Arlecchino, the mischievous servant from Bergamo, began as satires on Italian "types" and became the archetypes of many of the favourite characters of 17th- and 18th-century European theatre.
From humble beginnings, setting up their stages in city squares, the better troupes--notably Gelosi, Confidenti, and Fedeli--performed in palaces and became internationally famous once they traveled abroad. The commedia dell'arte swept through Europe. It was particularly popular in France, where resident Italian troupes were established before the end of the 16th century. Local variations on the characters appeared in the 17th century. The cheeky servant Pedrolino became the melancholy Pierrot in France, while Pulcinella became Punch in England. By the 18th century the commedia dell'arte was a lost art, though its spirit lived on through the work of the dramatists it inspired, among whom were Molière (stage name of Jean-Baptiste Poquelin), Carlo Goldoni, and William Shakespeare.
Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

Contextually the Rococo style occurred mainly at a time when the aristocracy was fairly indifferent to ruling and more interested in having fun and enjoying the pleasures of life.  These excesses of the aristocracy ultimately lead to the downfall of the aristocratic class in France and the overthrow of the French monarchy in 1789.
Jean Antoine Watteau. Pilgrimage to the Island of Cythera
1717 oil/canvas 4'3"x6'4" Louvres, Paris
French Rococo
Nicolas Poussin Echo and Narcissus 1630
French Baroque
Compare Watteau's painting of a pastoral and classical image to Poussin's 
treatment of the same kind of image.  Think about how the form and the subject
matter are at once different and the same.  Why do you think these differences

Read the two poems below and see if you can find any parallels between the 
two poems and the two paintings.  How are they alike and how are 
they different?
Form: Watteau's palette consists mainly of pastel colors which are various pale or light colors, such as powder blue, peaches and pinks.  The brushwork is feathery and or rough and the composition is asymmetrical. The main line of figures that moves across the foreground are arranged almost musically in uneven undulating intervals that weaves in and out of the Baroque diagonal created by the landscape they inhabit.
Iconography and Context according to the Brittanica,

Watteau's Cythera.
In 1712 Watteau tried once more to go to Italy. He did not succeed, but he was accepted by the Académie as a painter of fêtes galantes--outdoor entertainments in which the courtiers often dressed in rural costumes--for his presentation of a scene depicting actors in a garden. Between 1710 and 1712 he had painted the first of his three versions of the "L'Embarquement pour l'île de Cythère." The myth of the island of Cythera, or of love, has distant roots in French and Italian culture, in which the journey is depicted as a difficult quest. Watteau's Cythera, by comparison, is a paradise wavering in the ephemeral and in artifice; it represents an invitation to delights amid the enchantment of nature. It is an island toward which the pilgrims embark but never arrive, preserving it preserves its light only if it remains far on the horizon.
Watteau's first version of the subject is anecdotal: it illustrates a comedy motif in a vaguely Venetian ambience. The second--which is the most beautiful--has the aspect of a profane ritual in an unreal, immense, and almost frighteningly empty landscape. In the third, in which cherubim flutter around a golden gondola, the subject has become vulgarized. Common to all three versions is a theatrical, almost scenographic, composition, a chromatic transposition of all that is suggested in the theatrical universe. The wonderlands of opera, romance, and epic are all evoked by Watteau's Cythera, which represents the country of the impossible dream, the revenge of madness on reason, and of freedom on rules and morality. According to one hypothesis, the theme was suggested to Watteau by a prose play, Les Trois Cousines (1700), by Florent Dancourt, in the finale of which a group of country youths, disguised as pilgrims of love, prepare to embark on the voyage to the island of Cythera. Since this story of rustic millers is parodistic in intent and quite different from the refined scene that Watteau set in an unreal Venice, it is more probable that Watteau was inspired by an opéra ballet of Houdar de la Motte, La Vénitienne (1705), in which the invitation to the island of love includes not only the pilgrims of Cythera but also the stock characters of the commedia dell'arte--that is, both of the great themes that Watteau pursued all his life.
The Passionate Shepherd to His Love
Christopher Marlowe c 1600
Come live with me and be my love,
And we will all the pleasures prove
That valleys, groves, hills, and fields,
Woods, or steepy mountain yields.

And we will sit upon the rocks,
Seeing the shepherds feeds their flocks,
By shallow rivers to whose falls
Melodious birds sing madrigals.

And I will make thee beds of roses
And a thousand fragrant posies,
A cap of flowers, and a kittle
Embroidered all with leaves of myrtle;

A gown made of the finest wool
Which from our pretty lambs we pull;
Fair lined slippers for the cold,
With buckles of the purest gold'

A belt of straw and ivy buds,
With coral clasps and amber studs:
And if these pleasures may thee move,
Come live with me, and be my love.

The shepherd' swains shall dance and sing
For thy delight each May morning:
If these delights thy mind may move,
Then live with me and be my love.
The Nymph's Reply to the Shepherd
Sir Walter Raleigh (1552-1618)
If all the world and love were young,
And truth in every shepherd's tongue,
These pretty pleasures might me move
To live with the and be thy love.

Time drives the flocks from field to fold
When rivers rage and rocks grow cold,
And Philomel becometh dumb;
The rest complains of cares to come.

The flowers do fade, and wanton fields
To wayward winter reckoning yields;
A honey tongue, a heart of gall,
Is fancy's spring, but sorrow's fall.

Thy gowns, the shoes, thy beds of roses,
Thy cap, the kirtle, and thy posies
Soon break, soon wither, soon forgotten--
In folly ripe, in reason rotten.

Thy belt of straw and ivy buds,
Thy coral clasps and amber studs,
All these in me no means can move
To come to thee and be thy love.

But could youth last and love still breed,
Had joys no date nor age no need,
Then these delights my mind might move
To live with thee and be thy love.
Jean-Honoré Fragonard, The Swing 1766 
Oil on canvas 35''x32''  Wallace Collection, London
French Rococo
Form:  Fragonard's palette is almost exactly the same as Watteau's.  It too consists mainly of pastel colors which are various pale or light colors, such as powder blue, peaches and pinks.  The brushwork is feathery and or rough and the composition is asymmetrical. The main line of figures that moves across the foreground are arranged almost musically in uneven undulating intervals that weaves in and out of the Baroque diagonal created by the landscape they inhabit.
Iconography:  Fragonard uses a combination of contemporary 18th century eroticism and classical themes.  The scene here is almost one that you might find in a movie or novel such as Moll Flanders, Dangerous Liaisons, or the Affair of the Necklace
The painting The Swing was commissioned by the treasurer et the French clergy. The client wanted a scene in which a lover - who can be seen amongst the rose bushes in the left foreground - would have an opportunity to look under the skirts of his mistress; originally the swing was supposed to be pushed by a bishop. But when, owing to its piquant nature, the commission was given to Fragonard, he replaced the bishop with a gardener.
(quoted from
The sculpture of Cupid and the two putti that hide in the bushes are an attempt in some ways to "dress up" the images with a classical touch.  The cupid presses his fingers to his lips as if to warn the young woman to be less obvious as she kicks her shoe off playfully. Fragonard also attempts to show his knowledge not just of classicism but also of art history with his playful nod to Michelangelo's Adam echoed in the pose of the young man who looks up his lover's skirts.


Jean-Honoré Fragonard, 1732-1806 
The Meeting, from Love of the Shepherds
1771-73 o/c 10'x7' New York, Frick Museum
Form:  In terms of form, this image is a perfect example of the Rococo style according to Stokstad's description of it. Iconography:  The works symbolism is almost completely clear even if one is not familiar with the exact story expressed by the series the Love of the Shepherds.  Here is a typical "dangerous liaison" as expressed in the two poems above by Marlowe and Raleigh.  The scene is a pastoral one, in fact the boy in red silk is the shepherd who vaults lightly over the low wall to meet his wary girlfriend.  Above them, almost in a decaying state because it is so overgrown, is a statue of Venus and Cupid.
The imagery is taken from a variety of literary, theatrical, and operatic sources.  In many of the novels of the period, such as in Dangerous Liaisons, letter writing is an important plot element and in this painting we see that the young woman holds a love letter in her hand.  The young man has just climbed a ladder is a reference to many of Shakespeare's balcony scenes from Romeo to Cyrano as well as scenes from operas such as Mozart's Don Giovanni and Commedia dell'arte.
Context:  Fragonard is the last of the great Rococo painters.  His style, which represents the last style developed by Louis XVI during his reign (1774-93) of Louis XVI, according to the Brittanica,

was actually both a last phase of Rococo and a first phase of Neoclassicism. The predominant style in architecture, painting, sculpture, and the decorative arts was Neoclassicism, a style that had come into its own during the last years of Louis XV's life, chiefly as a reaction to the excesses of the Rococo but partly through the popularity of the excavations at ancient Herculaneum and Pompeii, in Italy, and partly on the basis of Jean-Jacques Rousseau's call for "natural" virtue and honest sentiment. One of the most dramatic episodes in the stylistic oscillation from Rococo to Neoclassicism was played out in 1770 at Mme du Barry's Pavillon de Louveciennes. A series of large painted canvases by the Rococo painter Jean-Honoré Fragonard depicting the "Progress of Love" were removed almost as soon as they were installed and replaced with a series commissioned from Joseph-Marie Vien, a Neoclassicist. Vien's pupil Jacques-Louis David was the most important painter of the reign of Louis XVI; his severe compositions recalling the style of the earlier painter Nicolas Poussin are documents extolling republican virtues. During the Revolution, David was a deputy and voted for the execution of the King.


François Boucher, Brown Odalisk 1745 Oil on canvas
Musée du Louvre, Paris
François Boucher, Girl Reclining (Louise O'Murphy) 1751
Oil on canvas, 59,5 x 73,5 cm
Wallraf-Richartz Museum, Cologne
Form:  These are small paintings in which Boucher demonstrates his ability to paint the textures of skin, fabric and porcelain.  Iconography:  Titian in his The Venus of Urbino, 1538 offers the male viewer a classisizing excuse for gazing on the female form, however, Boucher makes no such excuse for his painting.  This is most obviously this is a semi pornographic painting meant for a male audience.  Despite the fact that images like this have been defended as beautiful renderings of the human form, these images are overtly meant to be small erotic works that would have been hung in the bedroom to stimulate the sexual appetites of the occupants.
What is more interesting about these two images is that they also juxtapose the eroticized female form with commodities or luxury items.  By playing the textures and body of the female against expensive persian carpets, fabrics, jewels and porcelain, the artist is also making the human female form another commodity which can be bought and sold.  In this way, the wealth of the patron is also eroticized.  This device is played off again and again throughout the history of art.
Context:  These two images are also historical artifacts that document two facts.  The first is that Marie-Louise O' Murphy was one of the many mistresses of Louis XV and the brown odalisk is a reference to the French penchant for exotic women. 
According to the O'Murphy surnames website:
The most notable woman bearing the Murphy name was the famous courtesan Marie Louise O Murphy (1737 - 1814), fifth daughter of an Irish soldier who had taken up shoemaking in Rouen, France. After his death, their mother brought the family to Paris where she traded in old clothes while finding her daughters work as actresses or models. Marie Louise posed for Boucher, a painter at court. He painted her so attractively that she came to the notice of Louis XV, who soon appointed her his mistress. Their child is supposed to have been General de Beaufranchet. She married three times and was divorced by her third husband, who was thirty years her junior. For a period during the reign of terror, she suffered imprisonment because of her royal connections.
This is one of the first instances that I know of that an artist has painted an odalisk in France.  An odalisk or odalisque is a Turkish harem girl.  Images of asian or oriental nude harem girls become the fashion in French art from this point forward.  We'll see many more of these white European male's fantasies of eroticized asian women from now on.  Images of the odalisque most likely symbolize the male French view of the world and in some ways both justify and inflame their desire to colonize the so called "orient." adj, often cap (1589) 1: idyllically pastoral; esp: idyllically innocent, simple, or untroubled 2 a: of or relating to Arcadia or the Arcadians b: of or relating to Arcadian n (1590) 1 often not cap: a person who lives a simple quiet life 2: a native or inhabitant of Arcadia 3: the dialect of ancient Greek used in Arcadia According to the Brittanica,
Modern Greek ARKADHÍA, mountainous region of the central Peloponnesus of ancient Greece. The pastoral character of Arcadian life together with its isolation partially explains why it was represented as a paradise in Greek and Roman bucolic poetry and in the literature of the Renaissance. The region is not exactly coextensive with the present-day nomós (department) of Arkadhía, which extends on the east to the Gulf of Argolis. The capital of the nomos is Trípolis. also adj (1823) 1: of, relating to, or being an autocracy: absolute 2: characteristic of or resembling an autocrat: despotic -- adv
fete n [ME fete, fr. MF, fr. OF feste--more at feast] (15c) 1: festival 2 a: a lavish often outdoor entertainment b: a large elaborate party ²fete vt fet.ed ; (1819) 1: to honor or commemorate with a fete 2: to pay high honor to
fete n, pl fetes champetres [F, lit., rural festival] (1774): an outdoor entertainment n [Gk hedone pleasure; akin to Gk hedys sweet--more at sweet] (1856) 1: the doctrine that pleasure or happiness is the sole or chief good in life 2: a way of life based on or suggesting the principles of hedonism -- n -- adj -- adv
neo.clas.sic or adj (1877): of, relating to, or constituting a revival or adaptation of the classical esp. in literature, music, art, or architecture -- n -- n or adj
oda.lisque n [F, fr. Turk odalik, fr. oda room] (ca. 1681) 1: a female slave 2: a concubine in a harem adj [ME, fr. L pastoralis, fr. pastor herdsman] (15c) 1 a (1): of, relating to, or composed of shepherds or herdsmen (2): devoted to or based on livestock raising b: of or relating to the countryside: not urban c: portraying or expressive of the life of shepherds or country people esp. in an idealized and conventionalized manner <~ poetry> d: pleasingly peaceful and innocent: idyllic 2 a: of or relating to spiritual care or guidance esp. of a congregation b: of or relating to the pastor of a church -- adv -- n ²pastoral n (1584) 1 a: a literary work (as a poem or play) dealing with shepherds or rural life in a usu. artificial manner and typically drawing a contrast between the innocence and serenity of the simple life and the misery and corruption of city and esp. court life b: pastoral poetry or drama c: a rural picture or scene d: pastorale 1b 2: crosier 1 3: a letter of a pastor to his charge: as a: a letter addressed by a bishop to his diocese b: a letter of the house of bishops of the Protestant Episcopal Church to be read in each parish
trompe l’oeil - (French: "deceive the eye"), in painting, the representation of an object with such verisimilitude as to deceive the viewer concerning the material reality of the object. This idea appealed to the ancient Greeks who were newly emancipated from the conventional stylizations of earlier art. Zeuxis, for example, reportedly painted such realistic grapes that birds tried to eat them. The technique was also popular with Roman muralists. Although trompe l’oeil never achieved the status of a major artistic aim, from the early Renaissance on, European painters occasionally fostered illusionism by painting false frames out of which the contents of a still life or portrait appeared to spill, or by creating window-like images suggesting actual openings in the wall or ceiling. (Brittanica)


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