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Page 4 Art HistoryBaroque, Rococo and Neo-classical periods

The Baroque Period

In Europe around the 1600's, Artists could now portray any 3D scene on a flat surface. They enjoyed the respect of the community as specialists and if extra talented, could ascend to the social status of genius. Now with the rise of a wealthy merchant class who could pay the artists as much as the church, artists were free to experiment. The Baroque period is renowned today for its painting as well as the music. If the Renaissance was a period of renewal and growth; the Baroque was a period perfecting and celebrating that newfound knowledge.

They reacted to the intricate and formularised style of the Mannerists. This gave rise to the Baroque period. It is less complex, more emotive and was encouraged by the Catholic Church as a return to spirituality and tradition. The chiaroscuro painting technique of emerging the subject out of a dark background meant that scenes could be portrayed lifelike, but simplified of distracting background details and dramatized all at once.

Mouse over Carravagio's "The Denial of St. Peter" below, to see his painting "St. Peter's Crucifixion", another skilful use of this technique.

Caravaggio's Denial of Saint Peter and The Crucifixion of Saint Peter

Notice how in the painting above, "The denial of St Peter", Caravaggio carries this technique to the extreme with the Roman soldier's face almost in negative. He dramatizes the good and evil aspect of St Peter and his accuser. This dramatic shadow behind a subject is typical of this period.

The focus was on dramatising the message as we see here in Peter Paul Rubens "Daniel in the Lions Den" and his "Battle of the Amazons". Both pictures use action poses to tell the story and the background is reduced to the minimal definition required to appear realistic. The overall effect is an uncluttered but complex and bold painting that tells the story with no distractions.

Two of the 2000 paintings attributed to Rubens

Peter Paul Rubens was a prolific Baroque Flemish painter who moved from Belgium to Venice, where he studied under Titian. The Flemish and Dutch painters were renowned for their fine precise detail during the Renaissance period. Rubens was unusual because he broke with this style and sought the influence of the Italian masters. He set up an Italian style artists studio with several fully trained artists creating work from his drawings. In this way, he was extremely prolific; producing 2000 paintings.

Rubens came from a religious family and used biblical scenes frequently in his work. He was engaged by the Catholic Church for altarpieces in the churches of Santa Croce di Gerusalemme(1602) and the Chiesa Nuova (1607); his first recognised works.

Mouse-over the Altarpiece of Santa Maria at Vallicella (below) to see another painting for the Altarpeice of the Antwerp Cathedral, called "The Descent from the Cross".

Several of Rubens Altarpeicees exist today

His royal patrons, Archduke Ferdinand and Archduchess Isabella, saw not only an artist in Rubens but also a brilliant diplomat. Rubens art career was interrupted frequently when he took part in negotiations brokering the end of the war between the Spanish Netherlands and the Dutch Republic and helped conclude (1629-30) a peace treaty between England and Spain.

Charles I of England was so impressed with Rubens's efforts that he knighted the Flemish painter and commissioned his only surviving ceiling painting, The Allegory of War and Peace (1629; Banqueting House, Whitehall Palace, London). Rubens was also knighted by Phillip IV and became the only artist to be knighted twice.

Rubens had studied under all the top Italian masters. When he arrived in Spain as artist to the court of Phillip IV and diplomat, he had a profound effect on Spanish art styles, inspiring artists like Pueblo Valazquez as seen here in his "Las Meninas" (and if you mouse over it, it will change to his painting "Old Woman Frying Eggs"; where he relies heavily on the chiariscuro technique to add a sense of dramatic action to what would be a boring everyday scene).

Valazquez readily adopted the Baroque painting style

Valazquez, in his painting "Las Meninas" has created a conundrum. Firstly the canvas is in the front of the picture, while he has painted himself in the background with his pallet and brush, as if standing back admiring his work. On the rear wall, above and to the left of the princess, is the king and queen watching their daughter princess being dressed up as maid of honour, as if they are in a mirror, in which case they are standing where we are, when we look in the picture.

Click on the Baroque artists names below for more information about them.

Caravaggio, Rubens, Velazquez,Annibale Carracci, Rembrandt, Vermeer, Gianlorenzo Bemini and Nicolas Poussin are all artists typical of this period.

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The Rococo period

The Rococo period is often considered the final phase of the Baroque period. Throughout the 18th century, especially in France, a new wealthy and influential middle class-class was beginning to rise. Until now only Royalty and the Church sponsored art. This new middle-class was affluent enough to afford to own works of art.

When the palace at Versailles was abandoned at the death of Louis XIV, the high society of Paris became the driving force behind style. Rococo was predominantly an evolution in interior decoration style. The term is derived from the French word "rocaille" and refers to pebbles or more specifically stones and shells used to decorate the interiors of caves. The shell motif became common in Rococo decoration. High society ladies competed with each other for the most elaborate interior decoration and thus Rococo is a very ornate and feminine style.

Here we see the "Investiture of Bishop Harold as the Duke of Franconia" and (if you mouse over this) "Time Unveiling Truth" by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo. Both are typical of the Baroque style although they fall into the Rococo period at the end of the Baroque era.


The Rococo period is often regarded as the end of the Baroque period.

Francois Boucher was the painter and engraver son of a lace designer and was considered the epitome of the Rococo artist style. He won fame with his sensuous and light hearted mythological paintings and landscapes. He was commissioned for works for the Queen of France and Mme Pomadour (Lois XV's mistress), the two most powerful women in French society. He also became the principle designer for the royal porcelain factory and the director of the Gobelins tapestry factory. Tapestry was a favoured art form for young ladies to develop their needlework. Tapestry was a socially acceptable pastime that could be practised by any young lady who was not creatively artistic but would produce a work of art.

The Rococo subjects became more femine and romantic.

Notice the very feminine subject and rendition. We have the chiarascuro shadowy background used to throw the subject into contrast but the background is still busy and the painting features many small extra items or "minutae" and fine detail.

Prominent artists of this period are Francois Boucher, Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, William Hogarth, Angelica Kauffmann, Giovanni Antonio Caneletto.


Ornate Bar


The Neo-Classical style

The Neo-Classical style was a reaction to the Rococo period and a desire to remove the trivial. It wasn't only an art movement but was echoed throughout the Western world. In Britain it was referred to as the Regency Style in furniture and architecture, while in the US it was called the Federation Style. It consided with the excavation of the ruins of Herculaneum in 1738 and Pompeii in 1748. It was seen in a return to Greco-Roman classical architecture and as a return to the classical art ideals of the ancient Greeks and Romans.

Subjects were less flippant and there was a return to the portrayal of ideals like courage, sacrafice, loyalty and love of country. The rendition was less ornate.

David "Oath of the Horatii


The artists Jaques-Louis David and Antonio Canova were the principle forces behind this art movement

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