Historical Art Periods: A Critical Evaluation of Baroque and Rococo Artistic Styles

It is of fundamental importance that the essential elements and characteristics of art periods be understood especially after the noteworthy realization that these periods marked or were caused by important social conditions and events in historical context.

There exists numerous art periods in the history of civilization, with some evolving as a continuation of earlier art periods while others evolved as a response to preceding art periods (Minor, 1999). It is the purpose of this essay to compare two such art periods, namely Baroque and Rococo, with a view of establishing their characteristics, social triggers and the relationship between the two.

Although no major contemporary books on the baroque artistic style and period has been released in the recent past, it still remains an important era in the historical calendar of art.

Conceived in Italy in the late 16th century, the style was adopted by other European countries such as France, Germany, and Spain, culminating to its replacement by a subsequent art period in early 18th Century (Laurie, 2001). Baroque covers a broad spectrum of styles and artists. According to Minor (1999), Baroque art period was characterized by intrinsic artistic consistency, grandeur, and distinctiveness.

It is imperative to note that the demands for new forms of art in 1600 led to what is now identified as the Baroque. As such, the Baroque artistic style and period was a reaction to previous artistic styles, specifically the Mannerist art of the 16th century, which appealed to the witty and intellectual qualities only (Laurie, 2001).

Unlike its predecessor, the application of Baroque artistic style turned deliberately to an intuitive appeal designed for the senses. According to Laurie (2001), although Baroque artistic styles bears the characteristics of simplicity, sensuous richness, and obviousness on the outside, it is powerful, direct, awe inspiring, resplendent, and dramatic within.

The art and architecture of this particular period echo an often peculiar style characterized by ornamental decorations and flamboyant concepts especially in churches and palaces. During the Baroque era, the aesthetic ideal penetrated practically all facets of the European way of life – from architecture to music, furniture designs and fashion (Laurie, 2001).

Baroque artistic works generate a sentiment of movement, energy and tension. According to Palmisano (n.d.), the arts present strong contrasts of both light and silhouette, with an immeasurable amount of space being clearly manifest. In addition, Baroque art is characterized by passionate spirituality and realism.

Painters during this art period used monochromatic color to draw paintings with an infinite distance to represent eternity. The Baroque period of art was initiated by a multiplicity of social conditions, namely “…the Protestant Reformation, the rise of the Mercantile System, absolutism or imperialism in government and advances in science (Palmisano, n.d., para. 1).

The Baroque art faded out in late 1700 as it progressed into a more delicate Rococo artistic style. The superseding of Baroque by Rococo art began in France in the late 1720’s, particularly for interior decorations, paintings, and other forms of decorative arts (Laurie, 2001). Rococo period is thought to be one of the shortest in the history of art periods as it faded away in the late 1750’s, giving way to the neoclassic style.

The short lifespan not withstanding, Rococo is broadly recognized a key period in the development of European art. This art style was particularly spread by French artists and imprinted publications, and readily found acceptance in catholic-dominated regions in countries such as Germany and Austria.

The Rococo art period is characterized by many artistic styles and forms. Generally, “Rococo art and architecture are characterized by very ornate, fanciful themes and a light air…” (Smith, 2010, para. 1).it is also characterized by the use seashells, fussy detail, whimsical scrolls, complex compositions, playfulness and certain superficiality to generate a flowing artistic design. This particular style utilizes pastel colors to generate a light but decorative complexion.

In addition, the Rococo artwork and style is characterized by shell-like shapes on a variety of architectural and artistic designs ranging from hotel suites to ballrooms and typical side tables (Laurie, 2001). Rococo art is known to incorporate the symbolic nature of plants, animals, and other related themes in its design. The social conditions prevalent in France during the 1720s, namely the rise of the middle class, deep consciousness for fashion, and the sudden death of Louis XIV initiated the Rococo art period

There exist several similarities and differences between the two artworks. First, it is worth noting that Rococo art period came as a reaction to the Baroque art rather than a continuation of the former period. Other art historians view Rococo art as the degeneration of Baroque artistic period (Laurie, 2001).

Both artistic styles attempted to express some form of authority or power, with Baroque art being used by the aristocracy to express imperialist orientations while Rococo was used by the French aristocracy and elite as a fashion statement. According to Marquit (2006), both styles were also characterized with elaborate design, more color and more feelings than preceding styles.

There are, however, broad differences in the two art styles. First, while Baroque art works were both heavy and ornate, Rococo’s artistic designs were characteristically ornate, fanciful and light (Smith, 2010). Rococo art was known to utilize pastels and other elements to make the artworks extremely light and lacy while Baroque art employed dark, heavy colors. Second, Rococo art refers to capricious rounded lines that countered the heavy, straight lines prevalent during the Baroque period.

Third, the Baroque art is much more religiously oriented than Rococo art owing to the social conditions prevalent during its initiation. Forth, “…Rococo art was on a whole more frivolous and optimistic than Baroque art” (Marquit, 2006, p. 2). Lastly, the Baroque artistic style was mainly focused in Europe while rococo art easily blend with other exotic artistic styles prevalent during the period.

It is imperative to note that social, political, economic and artistic factors informs the decision on whether to continue with a particular art period or deviate from it. The Baroque period evolved because of the existing social conditions especially in the Catholic Church and the Italian aristocracy.

The church felt particularly threatened by advances in science that often contradicted its teachings. As Such, Baroque art was used by the church to reach out to the unintelligent masses in the hope of convincing them about Christianity (Laurie, 2001). But there was need to deviate from this form of art when attempts to convince the masses on Christianity were no longer tenable.

There exists numerous works of art for each of the historical art period discussed above. For instance, Giovanni Bernini, undoubtedly the most outstanding sculptor of the Baroque era, came up with the famous sculpture known as the Ecstasy of St. Teresa (Marquit, 2006; Economic Expert.com, n.d.). His sculpted art pieces combined both the physical and the spiritual.

This piece portrayed a religious theme as a direct result of both the inquisition and the Catholic Church spirited attempt to maintain its immense influence in the face of rapidly increasing scientific advances that seemed to contradict some of the teachings offered by the church.

Jean-Antoine Watteau was perhaps the most prolific painters of the Rococo art period. His ‘fete galante’ painting, depicting delightfully dressed young individuals idling away their free time in a wonderful, idealistic, pastoral setting attracted many in the French aristocracy (Laurie, 2001).

The relationship that exists between the two pieces of art discussed above is that of appeal to a certain group or class of people. The later piece of artwork follows in the footsteps of its predecessor in attempting to communicate the feelings and statuses of the French aristocracy.

It should be remembered that the Ecstasy of St Teresa sculpture attempted to reach out to the uneducated masses during the reformation period (Laurie, 2001). As such, the relationship present is that of trying to communicate certain ideas, concepts, and world views as demanded by the existing social conditions.

The Rococo art period had great historical significance although it was characterized by a very short tenure in the calendar of art periods. Rococo architecture, decorations, and designs are still used today, thousands of years after it was supplanted by neoclassic art period (Laurie, 2001). The physically lighthearted furniture, decorations and use of pastels that evolved during this particular art period changed the course of art in ways that had not been previously witnessed (Minor, 1999).

Although Rococo art was received with skepticism in Britain due to the fact that it was largely French, it found its way into other civilizations where it was uniquely used or blended with other forms of art to produce masterpieces that were and still are major centers of attraction. In Germany, the Rococo designed Sanssouci Palace built in 1747 still remains a major attraction for tourists (Laurie, 2001).

All in all, it can now be revealed that Baroque and Rococo are two distinct art styles even though former scholars believed that the latter was a refinement of the former. While there exist several similarities as discussed in this essay, the themes and general perceptions of Rococo art style seems to insinuate that it is, indeed, independent of Baroque art (Marquit, 2006). However, both periods of art are important milestones in historical context since through them; art has been able to evolve to its present day state.

Reference List

Economic Expert.com. (n.d.). Baroque. Retrieved February 28 2010

Laurie, S.A. (2001). A History of Modern Art. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill

Marquit, J. (2006). Style differences between Baroque and Rococo art. Retrieved February 27 2010

Minor, V.H. (1999). Baroque and Rococo: Art and Culture, 1st Ed. Prentice Hall. ISBN: 0810941082

Palmisano, B (n.d.). The Baroque period of art. Retrieved February 27 2010

Smith, S.E. (2010). What is Rococo Art? WiseGeek. Retrieved February 272010

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