Social, political, or economic conditions can significantly alter the nature and meaning of art. As power shifted from the wealthy to the common man, art in Europe changed dramatically to reflect that change. During the Rococco period, art was detailed and overblown. Interior decorations- primarily furniture- were full of curving lines and organic inspiration, and paintings, “with their playful eroticism, soft colours and elegant forms” (Malyon, 1999, para. 1) were well suited to balance these rooms. Such frivolousness could only be associated with a powerful upper-class.
The common man, of course, could not afford such luxurious surroundings when the main concern was putting food on the table. That this style was the style of the day clearly illustrates how the aristocracy’s desires for excess affected artists’ and craftsmen’s work. Rubens’ work during the Baroque period, with its focusing on robust, curvaceous women, seems to be bursting with life and hope. In “Portrait of Isabella Brant,” for example, Isabella has a slight smile on her face, as though she has a secret that might be a little bit funny.
It’s as though she knows how important the shift of power, from the few, rich aristocrats, to the many struggling working class citizens, will be. She doesn’t appear to be a peasant, but neither is she a princess. Isabella, perhaps, had more to be laugh about than most- with the aristocracy soon becoming a target for violence, and the impoverished still limited by a lack or resources, the middle class would become the best social class to belong to! Because Rubens was a well respected citizen, (Eisler, 1996) his skillful portrayal of the working class drew attention to people, who, for the first time, had some hope of being empowered.
At the same time, portraits of the aristocrats were subdued and sad-looking, as though they know their reign is nearly over. In El Greco’s “Saint Louis, King of France, and a Page,” for example, “He holds… attributes of royal power in his hands… but intensely gazes at the viewer with a grave, melancoly (sic) expression on his face. ” (de Vergnette, n. d. ) When the lower classes finally did revolt, the Neoclassic style emerged and drew heavily on ancient Greek and Roman influences. Bust of Voltaire Without His Wig, by Jean-Antoine Houdon, and Cupid and Psyche, by Antonio Canova, are two notable examples.
The human body is portrayed without garments or other adornment- rich and poor are equal without clothes on. These ancient civilizations’ famously successful (for a time) democracies must have been quite inspirational to people who had been subjugated for hundreds of years. Their standards were therefore emulated not only in the political and social world, but also in the art world.
de Vergnette, Francoise. (n. d. ) “Saint Louis, Kind of France, and a Page. ” Paintings: Spanish Painting. Retrieved March 16, 2008 from http://www.louvre. fr/llv/oeuvres/detail_notice. jsp? CONTENT<>cnt_id=10134198673226326&CURRENT_LLV_NOTICE<>cnt_id=10134198673226326&FOLDER<>folder_id=9852723696500811&fromDept=true&baseIndex=162&bmUID=1189640373517&bmLocale=en Eisler, Colin. (1996). Masterworks in Berlin: A City’s Paintings Reunited: Painting in the Western World, 1300-1914. Retrieved March 16, 2008 from http://www. artchive. com/artchive/R/rubens. html Malyon, John. (1999). “Rococco. ” Mark Harden’s Artchive. Retrieved March 16, 2008 from http://www. artchive. com/artchive/rococo. html