Since the beginning of human civilization, there were always differences in life depending on whether you have a lot of money, a decent amount of money, or barely enough money to live on. Art is a great way to compare and contrast the differences of how people lived back in the day whether they were swimming in money as Kings and Queens, or doing everything they could to scrape up some coins to buy bread for their family. In the Baroque, Rococo, Neoclassical and Romantic times, there are some very good examples on the vast differences of these people’s lives.
“Louis XIV” painted by Hyacinthe Rigaud in 1701 shows off incredible wealth by flaunting the King’s very expensive possessions. His Ermine lined fleur-des-lis robes are thrown over his shoulder to reveal his toned ballet legs, and his gold sword with a gem encrusted sheath. His right hand rests on a gold scepter, on top of a fleur-des-lis cushion that also holds a regal crown. Rigaud captured the King’s wealth and power by showcasing his expensive belongings.
Another example of showing off wealth in paintings is Peter Paul Rubens’ “Arrival of Marie de’ Medici at Marseilles” painted between 1622 and 1625. The Painting clearly depicts how wealthy Marie de’ Medici is. She steps off the boat, passing a very extraordinary and extravagant dock, covered in gold, with intricate carvings and sculptures on it. It also flaunts the coat of arms of the Medici family. She is wearing a very lavish and elegant gown. A man wrapped in fleur-des-lis, the symbol of royalty, runs to greet her, along with a canopy waiting for her so the sun doesn't damage her beautiful ivory skin. It’s hard to look at this painting and not believe that Marie de’ Medici was a very wealthy and powerful woman.
On the other side of the spectrum, we have the paintings that depict the middle and lower class people. One painting that shows the middle class, is “Distant View of Dordrect, with a Milkmaid and Four Cows, and Other Figures” painted in the late 1640s by Aelbert Cuyp. This painting shows a milkmaid doing her chores in simple peasant clothing. There is no gold or fleur-des-lis anywhere, just cows in a pasture. The woman could own this land, and uses the cows to sell milk and cheese, but she isn’t very wealthy. In the background you can see the city, so she doesn’t live in the middle of the city, but does well living on a farm. Her clothes are clean and not very worn out, showing that she has a good income to buy or make clothes frequently.
Another example of middle class can be seen in Angelica Kauffmann’s painting called “Cornelia Presenting her Children as Her Treasures” painted in 1785. It shows a mother presenting her children has her treasures to a woman trying to sell jewelry. The mother and children are not ornately dressed, but they aren't looking too shabby either. The woman who is selling jewelry looks more upper middle class, because she is wearing a gold and silver headband, a gold belt, and earrings, and her clothes are more colorful and more fancy than the mother’s. The women are showing off their beautiful possessions like a wealthy King or Queen would in their paintings, but their prized belongings are more common and obtainable to the regular person, like jewelry or their lovely children.
An example of a poor person in a painting would be “Water Carrier of Seville” by Diego Velazquez in 1619. This painting depicts a poor looking man serving water to a young boy. The man looks very tired, with wrinkles around his eyes, droopy skin, and grey hair in his beard. He's wearing very plain clothes that look very battered, with a great big hole in his poncho. He looks generally poorer than the young boy who is taking the water from him.
The contrast between painting of the wealthy and poor is very apparent. The wealthy are wearing very elaborate and dazzling costumes, and the middle class are wearing normal everyday clothing. Kings and Queens show off their expensive possessions by surrounding themselves with them, whereas the middle class are happy with the beautiful gifts they have whether it be children, cows, or jewelry.