The Artistic Movement: Rococo

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“I have just completed a forty-two-day voyage around my room. The fascinating observations I made and the endless pleasures I experienced along the way made me wish to share them with the public… Be so good as to accompany me on my voyage.” Xavier de Maistre

Renee L. Winter
University of Calgary
Word count: 2044

Abstract
This paper looks at the artistic movement known as Rococo in France after the death of Louis XIV. Artwork by France’s Jean-Antoine Watteau, and Jean-Antoine Fragonard, as well as artwork done by Italian artist Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini, and will be discussed to demonstrate that Rococo and the themes of the pictures represented a form of escapism for the aristocracy in Europe.

According to Pignatti (1988, p.203), the decorative art and design movement known as Rococo featured light-hearted romance and care-free aristocrats at play in imaginary settings. This style is characterized by pastel colors, gracefully delicate curving forms, fanciful figures, and a light-hearted mood. Paintings by Jean-Antoine Watteau (1684-1721), Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini (1675-1741), Jean-Antoine Fragonard (1732-1806), and Thomas Gainsborough (1721-1788) were all part of an emerging trend that started in France and spread throughout Europe in the last decades of the 17th century as described by Stinson in Seventeenth and Eighteenth-Century Art (1969 p.302). These works reflected the escapism society strived for in a time of socio-economic and political decline after the death of Louis XIV and the heavy, authoritarian formality of the court at Versailles. Art responded to the new demands; depictions of the amusements, the pleasures, and the variety of life. Rococo art is the visual representation of the optimism people felt in response to new ideas emerging. Rococo was a reaction against the “grand manner” of art identified with the baroque formality and rigidity of court life, portraying a world of artificiality, make-believe, and game-playing. Although it was less formal, it was essentially an art of the aristocracy and emphasized what seem now to have been the unreflective and indulgent lifestyles of the aristocracy rather than piety, morality, self-discipline, reason, and heroism. Stinson (1969, p. 302) argues that the specific character that French painting took in the 18th century was in large part determined by Antoine Watteau (1684-1721). That he was one of the world’s great draftsmen because he drew incessantly from life, capturing the inflections of a gesture, or the nuances of a pose or attitude. Jean-Antoine Watteau’s Embarkation for the Isle of Cythera, (1717) reflects the idea of escapism. Stinson says that in Antiquity, Cythera, one of the Greek islands, was thought to have a serious claim to be the birthplace of Aphrodite, goddess of love. The island thus became sacred to Aphrodite and love; Couples in the foreground on the right, pictured beneath a statue of Venus are rising to their feet. They are at the end of a procession of people, some of whom carry a pilgrim’s staff-Bartz (Bartz, 2005), argues that this was no religious pilgrimage, that those shown are lovers, paying homage to Venus, the goddess of love.

While looking at the picture, one is unsure if the people are waiting to leave Cythera, the island of love, or if they are instead waiting to be ferried across to the island. Bartz (Bartz, 2005) says that cupid is hidden, his bow and arrow hanging on the bottom of the statue’s base, Cupid’s mother. Janson argues (Janson, 1991), that Watteau’s picture violated all “academic canons” and its subjects did not conform to any established category. Janson also argues that Watteau characteristically inter-wove theater and real life so that no clear distinction can be made between the two. Embarkation for the Isle of Cythera also included classical mythology and eighteenth century custom. Watteau painted a picture that appeared entirely to be real. His contemporaries themselves...
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