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Baroque and Rococo Art Periods Essay

The Baroque Art era is classified by many as Early Baroque, High Baroque, and Late Baroque periods. The Rococo Art era is often said to be part of the Late Baroque period. The time frame of the Rococo era and whether it is one and the same as the Late Baroque period have been in debate through the years. Although the Baroque Art and the Rococo Art periods are sometimes classified as one in the same, they are actually quite distinct and unique. The Baroque Art period was between 1600 and the mid 1700’s, and originated during the Catholic Reformation in Rome, Italy, and quickly spread throughout most of Europe. During the late 1500’s, the Protestant reformation started to attack the Catholic Church on doctrine. In response to these attacks, the Catholic Pope started a movement within the church to reaffirm and spread Catholic beliefs. During this time, most people were uneducated and illiterate so the church had to devise a way to spread the gospel message so everyone would understand. It was decided that the message would be spread through art. “This art was to be direct, emotionally persuasive, and powerful-designed to fire the spiritual imagination and inspire the viewer to greater piety.

The church felt that God of greatness and power should be worshiped with the kinds of rituals, ceremonies, and churches befitting these divine qualities.” (McKay & McKay, 2010) So began the Baroque movement with it’s dramatic use of color in paintings and architecture that was forceful, emotional, and extravagant. The Rococo art period emerged in the mid-17th century as a continuation of the Baroque art period. “By the end of his seventy two-year reign Louis XIV led his country victoriously through numerous wars and France had long replaced Spain as the continental power. He is known in history as one of greatest French kings but also as a “micromanaging control freak.” (Zaky. n.d.) The Baroque style during his reign represented the Catholic faith and the monarchy with art that was “direct, obvious, and dramatic.” (McKay & McKay, 2010) Louis XIV was succeeded by Louis XV who reigned during the height of the “Age of Enlightenment” era, a time where attitudes and morals loosened. The enlightenment movement was in opposition to the established church, as it promoted thinking for oneself and not following a deity. The art of this time period centered around a carefree lifestyle rather than the symbols and rules of the church. It had “no place for morality, saints or heroes, painting were neither didactic nor devotional.” (Zaky. n.d.) The art was meant to please the eye of the viewer with no real meaning behind it.

The art also portrayed the everyday life, not just important moments in history. The Baroque art movement was stern and originated from the Catholic church wanting to spread religion. The Rococo art movement came about from the “Enlightenment” era where people wanted to think for themselves instead of being told what to think by the church or monarchy. The Baroque style “depicted heroism, martyrs, and biblical stories,” but Rococo painters showed themes of love, youth, and playfulness. (Zaky. n.d.) The Baroque artists used dark, stormy colors, whereas Rococo used light, soft opalescent colors. Baroque art was made to be seen and used as propaganda for the Catholic church, and the artwork and architecture was large and bold. The Rococo art was smaller in scale to be enjoyed by a person or family as a decoration. The change from the Baroque period to the Rococo period was significant in that it shows the transition of the society at that time. The Monarchy and Catholic Church were both under scrutiny for excessive spending and what people viewed as political tyranny. The change in attitude by the people not only affected the political environment but also the arts.

Tired of oppression, they revolted politically by beheading King Louis XV and by changing the way they created and viewed art. The painting, “Descent from the Cross,” by Rembrandt is a classic example of the Baroque style. His use of dark colors and shadowing depicts the death of Christ and creates a dramatic scene. He uses light to reveal Christ’s body, Mary, and the cloth that he will be buried in. The painting depicts the religious scene so that the viewer can understand the significance of the event and contemplate its meaning. In contrast “The Swing,” by Jean-Honore Fragonard, is of a woman swinging carefree in a garden. Fragonard uses pastel colors and illuminates her from the surrounding trees. He places cherubs in the painting another characteristic of the Rococo style. This painting is interesting in that at first glance it seems that this is nothing more than an innocent day in the garden. Upon further inspection, one can see the way Fragonard was bold enough to mock the Baroque style and time period. The man sits at a place where he is able to see up the woman’s skirt as she swings above him symbolizing the free spirit and sexuality of the time. The servant is almost completely hidden, symbolizing the church no longer being as important in society.

One area of art from the Rococo period that is often overlooked is the furniture form of architecture. During this time period a shift was made from large and grand rooms to small, intimate, and personal spaces. The furniture was redesigned to reflect this change and the desire for comfort. The Bergère chair was designed with “cushioning in the seat and arms which made it comfortable and kept out drafts”. (Azzarito. n.d.) The painting, “A Reading of Moliere” by Jean François De Troy, depicts this idea of comfort showing women lounging in the Bergere chairs. (Troy. 1728) The Bergère was “a favorite chair of the most fashionable women of the day” and is still one that is used in homes today making it a surprising example of a work of Rococo art that has survived through the years. (Azzarito, n.d.) The artists of the Rococo period experimented with color, light, and illusion, and mastered the technique of layering paints to make a object look opalescent in color. They created the sense of texture in their paintings, which was not done during the Baroque period. The artists of the Rococo art period mastered new techniques, giving important significance to the time period. Although the Baroque Art and the Rococo Art periods are sometimes classified as one in the same, they are distinct and unique.


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