An insight into baroque and rococo art
During the baroque period of great theatrical energy, and a dramatic use of light, scale, and balance, French artists adopted Italian Renaissance ideas but made them their own; by the end of the seventeenth century, France had began to take the lead in European art. Early eighteenth-century France, the heavy theatrical qualities of Italian Baroque art gradually gave way to the decorative Rococo style, a light, playful version of the Baroque. The curved shapes of shells were copied for elegantly paneled interiors and furniture, and they influenced the billowing shapes found in paintings. The enthusiastic sensuality of the Rococo style was particularly suited to the extravagant and often frivolous life led by the French court and aristocracy. Some of the movement, light, and gesture of the Baroque remained, but now the effect was one of lighthearted abandon rather than dramatic action or quiet repose. Rococo paintings provided romantic versions of life free from hardships, in which courtships, music, and festive picnics filled the days.
“The conversion of Saint Paul” is a fantastic example of the Baroque period in all its glory, encompassing many of its characteristics. In the oil on canvas piece, painted in 1601, “The Conversion of Saint Paul”, Caravaggio used light to imply a blinding flash, symbolizing the evangelist’s conversion: “And suddenly there shined around him a light from heaven: and he fell to the earth” (Acts 9:3). The figure of Paul, in Roman dress, is foreshortened and pushed into the fore-ground, presenting such a close view that we feel we are right there. In keeping with the supernatural character of the spiritual events he portrayed, Caravaggio evoked a feeling for the mystical dimension within the ordinary world. He wanted his paintings to be accessible and self-explanatory, and for this purpose he brought the emotional intensity of his own rowdy life to the stories of the bible. Essentially the painting is extremely theatrical, heavy, dark, powerful, and moving.
Whereas, in “The Bathers” Fragonard creates an animated and erotic scene of bathers in a well-planned and thorough composition. The bathers in this painting along with the lush natural setting are interwoven with thick rapid brushstrokes. The trees seem agitated by gusts of passion, yet the whole picture is lighthearted. These are living, vital, sun-drenched bodies, bodies on which the brush places the pure unmixed colors of vermilion, Prussian blue, and chrome yellow to render the light, shadow, and reflection of the figures. There is indeed a sparkling bouquet of colors in this painting. Fragonard’s scenes of frivolity and gallantry are considered the embodiment of the Rococo spirit. This picture was exhibited in 1765 shortly after his return from Rome, and is characteristic of a whole series of works noted for their delicate coloring and spontaneous brushwork. These virtues ensure that even his most erotic subjects are never vulgar, and this painting, considered one of finest, has an irresistible verve and joyfulness.
In conclusion, whilst the characteristically Baroque painting, “The Conversion of Saint Paul” focuses more on humanities tragic flaws, portraying a dark, theatrical, realistic scene, “The Bathers” is a far less serious scene combining nature with a sensual human presence as one. Using expressive brushwork, bright colours, and a sense of playfulness it is extremely fitting to the Rococo theme.
The playful Rococo style reflects an aristocratic preoccupation with leisure and frivolity. Neo Classism is its blunt comeback or reaction to what society believed was to excessively frivolous. Stern, somber, and Spartan – these words describe the neoclassical style that became the rage at the end of the Eighteenth Century.
The Neoclassical style in art history is primarily associated with the Eighteenth century. Some scholars have suggested that Neoclassicism was in vogue between the years circa 1750-1820, but it is important to remember that styles in art are fluid and seldom bound by specific dates.
This style, which was called Neoclassical only after the fact, was influenced by several factors. One of these influences was an artistic reaction against the frivolities and excesses of the Rococo period. Another was the mid 18th century discovery in of two ancient Roman cities – Herculaneum and Pompeii. These cities housed a hidden horde of ancient artifacts and art objects, the design of which created immediate interest in things Greek and Roman. Ultimately, artists combined fashion, politics, and a passion for antiquity to produce the neoclassical style.