Eighteenth Century Rococo
Chapter 22: The Rococo
 
For your reference, you can click on the artist name to go to that section of the lecture. This way, if you are looking for a specific reference or artist, you don't have to scroll through the entire page.
1. About the Rococo Style
3. Francois Boucher 7. Giovanni Battista Tiepolo
4. Jean-Honore Fragonard 8. The end of the Rococo Style and the beginning of the classical revival and Neoclassicism
 
About the Rococo Style

According to our book, there are similarities between the 17th century Baroque and the18th century Rococo styles, but there is also a fundamental difference between these two styles. "In a word, it is fantasy." They say the Rococo is smaller and more intimate than the Baroque. The Rococo shows us "an enchanted realm that presents a diversion from real life." We see the tastes of aristocrats changing. Eighteenth century aristocrats show us they are much more powerful and they use that power to commission more domestic artworks, artworks that are more private and personal. There is also a sense of ornamentation to Rococo art. The art of the early 18th century Rococo is thought of as "excessively ornate" (Davies et al. 761).

The Rococo style is the art style most associated with the early 18th century and the reign of Louis XV. The term Rococo supposedly comes from a combination of the French terms rocaille and coquille that together mean overtly and unnecessarily decorative. Can you see this decorative quality in Fragonard's The Swing?

Jean-Honore Fragonard, The Swing, 1767, Oil on canvas, 2'8" X 2'1"
Jean-Honore Fragonard, The Swing, 1767, Oil on canvas, 2'8" X 2'1"
The 18th century begins in France when Louis XIV dies in 1715. His reign, from 1643 to 1715 was the longest reign of any European monarch. Louis XIV was an absolute monarch who had a lot of political power, spent a lot of money, and took France into many unnecessary wars. But he it seemed as though he was always there and his death brought a profound sense of uncertainty (Kloss). When Louis XIV dies, he was replaced by the reign of Louis XV.
So the decorative nature of the Rococo Style was partially a reaction against the rigidity of the court of Louis XIV. The Rococo was seen as busy, feminized, corrupt, erotic, and nostalgic. It described a world of pleasure and beauty. It was a natural world, but it wasn't a world where anyone got dirty. Rococo was playful and it allowed artists to drop the high seriousness of the Baroque. There are influences from Baroque art in terms of color and composition - you'll see more of that Baroque diagonal line in the form of Rococo paintings. But Rococo is distinct from the Baroque in the use of more sensual colors (the light pinks and light blues of the sky) and a preference for elegant and easy subject matter, instead of the intense emotionalism of the 17th century Baroque and it's Counter-Reformation angst.
 
Rococo Painting in France
Jean-Antoine Watteau (1684-1721)
Jean Antoine Watteau, The Festival of Love, c. 1717, Oil on canvas, 2' X 2'5"

The French painter, Jean-Antoine Watteau, shows us an excellent example of Rococo style in The Festival of Love that he painted in 1717.

This painting shows us a world of pleasure and beauty. This painting shows the influence of Classical antiquity with the reference to Venus and Cupid in the statue in the right side of the painting. There is a lazy, languid quality to the gestures of the figures laying around on the grass.

You can see the influence of Caravaggio in the way the light hits the figures laying on the grass, but the painting does not have the emotional intensity of Caravaggio's tenebrism. This is a much more playful painting.

Jean Antoine Watteau, The Festival of Love, c. 1717, Oil on canvas, 2' X 2'5"

In this detail of The Festival of Love, you can see the playful gazes of the figures in the painting. Everyone is focused on someone else. The two figures on the left look over there shoulders to the couple sitting on the ground. The gazes of the four people on the ground are complicated, but they aren't looking at each other. Even Venus seems preoccupied with Cupid.

This distracted focus shows the different energy of the Rococo style. The figures have a lot of movement, but the gestures aren't the idealized figures of the Renaissance, they aren't the elongated figures of the Mannerist period, and they don't show the spiritual transformation of the Italian Baroque.

This painting shows the Rococo style as playful. It shows how artists dropped high seriousness in favor of eroticism, decoration, and pleasure. And this happened really fast. The Festival of Love was painted in 1717, just 2 years after the death of Louis XIV.

Jean Antoine Watteau, The Festival of Love, c.1717, Oil on canvas, detail
Jean Antoine Watteau, The Festival of Love, c.1717, Oil on canvas, detail
 
Francois Boucher (1703-1770)
Francois Boucher was also a French Rococo painter. His work embodied and extended the playful sensuality of Watteau. He painted the paintings below, The Rising of the Sun and The Setting of the Sun, for Madame de Pompadour, King Louis XV's mistress. The subject matter refers to relatively recent scientific changes in thinking about light and the sun. But these are not scientific paintings. They don't seem remotely interested in reality! The scantily dressed gods and goddesses refer to classicism and the flying putti seem to be trying to push the day and night around. Both paintings have an asymmetrical composition, with strong diagonal lines and swirling movement (sounds like the Baroque!) Even the water has an arabesque design. While Boucher was influenced by the diagonal lines and the swirling movement of Baroque painting, the subject matter (the putti) and the form (the lighter, more sensual colors) show us Rococo paintings that are definitely more playful, more decorative, and more sensuous than any Baroque painting.
Francois Boucher, The Rising of the Sun, 1753, Oil on canvas, 10'5" X 8'7"
Francois Boucher, The Setting of the Sun, 1753, Oil on canvas, 10'5" X 8'7"
Francois Boucher, The Rising of the Sun, 1753, Oil on canvas, 10'5" X 8'7" Francois Boucher, The Setting of the Sun, 1753, Oil on canvas, 10'5" X 8'7"
 
Francois Boucher's Portrait of Marquise de Pompadour (1756)

This portrait is by Boucher and is of his patron, the Madame de Pompadour. Madame de Pompadour was Louis XV's official mistress. She also served Louis XV as his political advisor.

Madame de Pompadour helped establish the arts as an important part of Louis XV's reign. She was "an educated, cultured, accomplished woman who was also elegant, beautiful, and sophisticated." Boucher show us this by painting her with all her powdered beauty. We see the Rococo style at it's height with the ornate flowers growing at her feet. The delicacy of the flowers blooms are echoed in the rose-pink silk and frilly bits of her ribboned, lacey dress (Jones).

Boucher painted this portrait of Madame de Pompadour in a cultivated woodland. She is at ease in this setting. "She leans naturally against the plinth of a statue and holds her fan with ease; it points to her little spaniel, who sits loyally. This is a message to the king - she is as reliable as her patient pooch. The statue [behind her] is called Friendship Consoling Love - the eager boy is Cupid - and it alludes to the transformation of her relationship with the king from a sexual to a companionable one" (ibid).

Madame de Pompadour used portraits to communicate with the king and the public. She announcing her loyalty, love, and intellectualism. Boucher painted her several times (ibid).

Francois Boucher, Portrait of Marquise de Pompadour, 1756, Oil on canvas, 6'7" X 5'1"
Francois Boucher, Portrait of Marquise de Pompadour, 1756, Oil on canvas, 6'7" X 5'1"
 
Jean-Honore Fragonard (1732-1806)
Jean-Honore Fragonard, The Swing, 1767, Oil on canvas, 2'8" X 2'1"

Jean-Honore Fragonard is another important French painter in the Rococo style. The Swing, painted in 1766, is a quintessential Rococo painting. It shows adults playing at love. The elegantly dressed woman sits on the swing while her lover, an older man, pushes the swing. The light strikes her and the statue of Cupid, who is on the left side of the painting (who also puts his finger to his lips to indicate a discrete silence.) The light also catches a younger man in the bushes. She kicks off a shoe as a souvenir (see it up and to the left of her foot in the air?) All the characters are surrounded by a lush, frilly vegetation - maybe suggesting the garden is a fertile as the young woman?

The composition of this painting is also a diagonal. The ropes from the swing flow on the diagonal and the figure of the young man completes the line. The three figures are the three points of a triangle - a triangle of love? If you look in the center of that triangle, you'll see the two putti embracing and looking at the woman swinging. The symbolism is private, personal, and a little racy!

Jean-Honore Fragonard, The Swing, 1767, Oil on canvas, 2'8" X 2'1"
 
Jean Baptiste-Simeon Chardin (1699-1779)
Jean Baptiste-Simeon Chardin, Young Sketcher, 1733-35, Oil on canvas, 8" X 6"

It's hard to believe that Chardin, Boucher, and Fragonard all worked at the same time. Chardin did, however, work during the same period in France. But he turned his back on the superficiality of Rococo and developed the 16th century northern European style of Vermeer and his genre paintings (Kloss).

Chardin was the treasurer for the very powerful French Academy and was also responsible for installing artworks for exhibitions, so he was linked into the French art establishment. There was a wealthy middle class developing in France and Chardin's more quiet, household scenes appealed to these new patrons (Davies et al. 769).

 

Jean Baptiste-Simeon Chardin, Young Sketcher, 1733-35, Oil on canvas, 8" X 6"
 
Chardin's The Soap Bubble (ca. 1733)

This work by Chardin, called The Soap Bubble, shows a young man blowing a soap bubble through a straw. The glass holding the soap is to the left and it holds another straw. The young man leans on a stone sill, leaning toward us. A small child peers over the window sill in rapt attention, waiting until the moment the bubble bursts.

The transitory nature of the soap bubble was a common metaphor for the transitory nature of life itself (Davies et al. 770). The demeanor of the young man is careful concentration. The bubble reaches into the space of the viewer and it hovers there. Chardin uses warm brown colors, with some pink in the faces. The figures are very still, giving this painting the feeling of a still life.

Jean Baptiste-Simeon Chardin, The Soap Bubble, ca.1733, Oil on canvas, 36-5/8" x 29-3/8"

Jean Baptiste-Simeon Chardin, The Soap Bubble, ca.1733, Oil on canvas, 36-5/8" x 29-3/8"
 
Eighteenth Century Painting in England
William Hogarth (1697-1764) and his Time Smokes a Painting (1761)
William Hogarth, Time Smokes a Painting, 1761, Etching

The British artist William Hogarth made this etching called Time Smokes a Painting in 1761. Hogarth is making fun of how people of the time would buy anything if they thought it was old and classical. He etches Father Time blowing smoke from his pipe onto a new painting. Father Time carelessly sits on a broken classical statue - and Hogarth adds his feelings about the ancient, classical works of art that everyone is so excited about - 'As statues moulder into Worth.'

He was making the point that people buying paintings weren't always buying a picture they liked to look at. They bought paintings they believed were valuable -only because they were old. And artists would accomodate their wishes by painting artwork that just LOOKED old. They would do that by 'adding' a smoky film and by using a coat of dark varnish to make the painting look older than it actually was (Adams, 676).

Hogarth wanted people to decide for themselves what they liked. He want them to "look at nature and to themselves, rather than to the plaster casts of traditional art schools, for "what to feel."

William Hogarth, Time Smokes a Painting, 1761, Etching
 
Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1696 - 1770) Back to the Rococo

According to the Getty Art Museum, "Giovanni Battista Tiepolo was born into a wealthy and noble family in Venice. He is also called Giambattista Tiepolo and was recognized by contemporaries throughout Europe as the greatest painter of large-scale decorative frescoes in the 1700s. Tielpolo painted 'acres' of frescoes! He also made approximately 800 paintings and 2,400 drawings."

Tiepolo was an amazing fresco painter. "He was admired for having brought fresco painting to new heights of technical virtuosity, illumination, and dramatic effect. He had a wonderful imagination and he was a gifted storyteller, Tiepolo painted walls and ceilings with large, expansive scenes of intoxicating enchantment. (Sounds very Rococo, doesn't it?) In breath-taking visions of mythology and religion, the gods and saints inhabit light-filled skies" (Giovanni Battista Tiepolo).

 
The grand finale of the Rococo Style in Europe: Balthasar Neumann (architecture) and Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (frescoes) for the Episcopal Palace in Wurzburg, 1751-52

Balthasar Neumann combined French, German, and Italian early 18th century ideas about architecture and put them all together in what our book calls 'the breathtaking Kaisersaal' (to the right) (Davies et al. 780). This detail is of the great oval hall and the ceiling fresco that was painted by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo.

For the form of the architecture, the surfaces of walls and the areas around the windows are covered with Rococo style colors: white, gold and pastel shades of light blues and pinks. All the columns and other architectural details are lacy and curling details, emphasizing these elements as decoration, rather than columns as structure. Our High Renaissance architect Alberti would have been horrified! But Balthasar Neumann's airy, ornate, and light design is the epitome of early 18th century Rococo architecture.

Tiepolo used the skill that the Getty Museum describes above to paint these Wurzburg ceiling frescoes. His work here, which according to our textbook, shows us Tiepolo's "mastery of light and color, his graceful and masterful touch, and his power of invention that made him famous far beyond Venice" (Davies et al. 781).

Balthasar Neumann, Kasiersaal, Residenz, Wurzburg, 1719-44 / /Frescoes by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, 1751-52
Balthasar Neumann, Kasiersaal, Residenz, Wurzburg, 1719-44 / /Frescoes by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, 1751-52
 
Tiepolo's The Marriage of Frederick Barbarossa below shows us how Tiepolo took a 12th century event and imagined it in an 18th century setting. In terms of the ancient subject matter, Frederick Barbarossa was the Holy Roman Emperor in 1152 and this painting shows us his marriage to his wife Beatrice. The painting shows us the moment they are married by the Bishop of Würzburg. The father of the bride, Count Raynald of Burgundy, kneels on the steps to the left of the altar and he is shown with two attendants. Tiepolo puts the court jester (we only see his back) in the foreground at the foot of the steps to the altar. This shows us how Tiepolo put his own funny and frivolous ideas into the agreed upon subject matter with his clients. For form, the steps to the altar take us into the picture and, along with the colossal background architecture, create great spatial depth (Kren and Marx).
Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, The Marriage of Frederick Barbarossa (partial view), Kaisersaal, Residenz, Wurzburg, 1752, Fresco
Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, The Marriage of Frederick Barbarossa (partial view), Kaisersaal, Residenz, Wurzburg, 1752, Fresco
 
The end of the Rococo Style and the beginning of the classical revival and Neoclassicism

The work of Tiepolo brings us to the end of the Rococo Style. According to our textbook, Tiepolo goes to Spain to paint for Charles III. He meets the German painter Anton Raphael Mengs. Mengs is a good friend of Johann Joachim Winckelmann, a German archaeologist and art historian (Davies et al. 782).

The ancient Roman city of Pompeii was discovered in 1748. You remember the ancient Roman city of Pompeii, right? We know it by all those frescoes that were buried and perfectly preserved for us so we could see what those ancient Romans were up to. Well, if you don't remember, you can click here to find out about Pompeii. Pompeii was buried in 79 CE when the volcano Vesuvius erupted and covered the town and its inhabitants in tons of volcanic ash.

Wincklemann was the 18th century archaeologist that oversaw the excavation of the ancient classical culture of Pompeii. The discovery of the ancient, classical culture led to a renewed revival of classical subject matter and classical form. Poor William Hogarth!

Raphael Mengs, Portrait of Johann Joachim Winckelmann, after 1755
Raphael Mengs, Portrait of Johann Joachim Winckelmann, after 1755
 
The end of the Age of Absolutism
Partially because of this discovery of the ancient Roman city of Pompeii, the Neoclassical Style will be the next important style of Art. Wincklemann and Mengs will be important figures in promoting this new style. The Neoclassical Style will also be important to the French because it will become the style that is adopted by the new French government after the French Revolution in 1789.
Remember that the 17th century was the "Age of Absolutism", where Louis XIV of France and Charles I of England and Phillip IV of Spain all held control of their respective countries. But the philosopher John Locke came along at the end of the 17th century, in 1690, and argued against this divine right of kings. He said government should be a contract between the ruler and those who are ruled. If this contract is broken by the people, the ruler has a right to punish them. But if the contract is broken by the ruler, the people have a right to revolt and fight back. Then, in 1762, the French philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau published his Social Contract. Rousseau argued the social contract is between people and people, not between ruler and people. Americans Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson use Rousseau's ideas to draft the American Bill of Rights and the American Constitution. The French see the success of the American Revolution and their (our) success influences the beginning of the French Revolution in 1789. It is the new French government, after Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette are removed as King and Queen, that adopts Neoclassicism as the new French Republic's artistic style. This is where we will stop for here for the semester, but history kept on going. You can pick up the thread in ART 106 next semester!
 
Works Cited
Adams, Laurie Schneider, Art Across Time, Volume I: The Fourteenth Century to the Present, 4E, New York, New York: McGraw Hill, ©2011, Print.
Davies, Penelope J. E., Walter B. Denny, Frima Fox Hofrichter, Joseph Jacobs, Ann M. Roberts, and David L. Simon. Janson's History of Art: The Western Tradition. 8th ed. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2011. Print.
"Giovanni Battista Tiepolo ." Artists. The J. Paul Getty Museum, n.d. Web. 20 Apr. 2014. <http://www.getty.edu/art/gettyguide/artMakerDetails?maker=787>.
Jones, Jonathan. "Madame de Pompadour, François Boucher (1759)." The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 8 Sept. 2001. Web. 20 Apr. 2014. <http://www.theguardian.com/culture/2001/sep/08/art>.
Kloss, William. "French Art in the 18th Century" A History of European Art. Part 4, Disc 1. The Teaching Company. Video Lectures, Chantilly, VA. 30 Jan. 2004. Lecture.
Kren, Emil, and Daniel Marx. "The Marriage of the Emperor Frederick Barbarossa to Beatrice of Burgundy." Tiepolo, Giovanni Battista . Web Gallery of Art, image collection, virtual museum, searchable database of European fine arts (1000-1900), n.d. Web. 20 Apr. 2014. <http://www.wga.hu/frames-e.html?/html/t/tiepolo/gianbatt/5wurzbur/1hall2.html>.