Neoclassical and Rococo

Topic 1: Neoclassical and Rococo

  • The eighteenth century is known as the age of Enlightenment. Writers and thinkers of the Enlightenment valued science and reason, direct observation and open enquiry. They questioned or rejected traditional ways of thinking and established institutions, including religion and monarchy. At the same time, the arts became increasingly secular in focus. In the field of painting, landscape, portraiture, genre scenes (scenes of everyday life), and history painting became as or more important than religious art, especially in Protestant countries.

  • In the world of the arts, Enlightenment values were associated with the Neoclassical style - the revival of Greek and Roman styles. The new field of archaeology helped inspire a fascination with Classical past with the excavation of the ancient Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum. Because the Roman republic and city-states of ancient Greece offered examples of non-monarchical societies, their art and architecture was seen as ideal models for the new American republic. In his role as architect, Thomas Jefferson was deeply influenced by Classical models and by later European interpretations of Neoclassicism.

  • However, the emphasis on reason and the search for universal laws also inspired a more rational, rule-based approach to the creation of art. The rise of national academies of art and of annual salons where works were selected by jury further encouraged the adoption of standards. While the Enlightenment and Neoclassicism influenced the content of paintings, painterly practice remained fairly conservative, emphasizing techniques learned from the "old masters" - the painters of the Renaissance and Baroque.

  • A lighter, more delicate variation on the Baroque style, known as Rococo, emerged in France, a country which was becoming the center of the art world. Rococo architecture and design provided the setting for aristocratic life, and Rococo art focused on depicting the pleasures of that life. A subgenre of painting known as the "fete galante" showed aristocrats holding parties and flirting in idealized pastoral settings. Rococo art portrayed a private world of delight, even as the French Revolution drew nearer.

Related Links:
The Enlightenment, Romanticism, and Revolution Quiz
Revolution and Romanticism
AP Art History Quizzes
AP Art History Notes