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Art In The 18th Century History Essay


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Both the Rococo and the Neoclassical Art period occurred at some stage in the 18th century in what is know known as the European age of Enlightenment. This time period is known for the establishment of the traditional Western notion of social progress. In political thought, philosophers such as John Locke and Thomas Hobbes developed key ideas of government based on an agreement between the rulers and the ruled. The belief that human beings who perform according to the fundamental principals of logic or reason in order to have an enjoyable life on earth was met by excitement among European intellectuals. Some of the most widely recognized prose from that time period- satire, non-fictional essay, and the modern novel- all addressed some aspects of human behavior in their social situation.

Eighteenth-century art and music reflected the changing force of society and the tastes of its social classes. The fashionable Rococo style showcased the aristocratic fondness for daintiness, intimacy, and elegance in art. The materials used in art of this period are known for what is now generally considered overindulgent luxury, resiliency and typically required a high level of artistic technique. During the middle of the 18th century, some classes rebelled against the Rococo style who felt that the luxurious nature of that style of artwork glorified the aristocracy which was quickly falling out of fashion. Towards the declining end of the Rococo period and the beginning of the Neoclassic period, artists began creating art that promoted the moral virtue in the lives of the middle class over the extravagance and veneration of the upper class. At the time between the end of the Rococo period and the beginning of the Neoclassical period, a rejuvenated interest in archeology sparked interest in ancient Greek and Roman art. Neoclassical art work supplanted Rococo in the same way that democracies were pushing out aristocracies.

Rococo art depicted unrealistic subjects of aristocratic leisure devoted to idleness and recreation in a nature turned pleasure commons. The love garden theme was used frequently. Rococo art featured light, pastel colors brushed quickly and delicately so that reality was dematerialized into a fantasy world of floating veils of pink and blue. Young, beautiful, and richly dressed figures frolicked lovingly in deliberately insubstantial, perpetually cheerful settings. Rococo art is typified by rich, ostentation ornamentation often in the form of shells and scrolls. In architecture it is displayed most frequently in interior design and furniture. Rococo is typically pretty but superficial art.


Rococo art was initiated in the early 18th century. The term is a portmanteau of rocaille, the French word for shell or stone, and barocco, the Italian word for Baroque. Rococo art began in early 18th century France. It is sometimes referred to as French-style. While Rococo originated in France it became very popular in Germany.

Characteristic Style and Social Conditions

Rococo art is typified by elaborate foliage, plentiful curves, animal figures and fanciful design. Rococo art and architecture demonstrates many pastel colors and gilding.

Historical Significance

The historical significance of this period comes primarily from the end of the reign of Louis XV, the only French king to be executed. After the French revolution Rococo became persona non grata in favor of the new Neoclassic style. Rococo has become a derogatory term for old fashioned or senselessly frivolous.

Major Works of Art from Period

Major works of art include the Basilica at Ottorbeuren where architectural spaces flow and crowd with fanciful designs. The Basilica is considered a masterpiece. Thousands of tourists travel their every year to view this incredible work of art.

Comparison to Neoclassical and Influence

Rococo art is different from the preceding Baroque in that where Baroque is ornamental and heavy, Rococo is ornamental and light. During the political upheaval of the 18th century tastes turned away from the Rococo design and towards the more sagacious Neoclassical school.

Neoclassical Art

The Neoclassic period lasted approximately from the mid 18th to the end of the 19th century. Neoclassic roughly means renewed classic. The Neoclassical style permeated all types of art during the 18th century. Most people would associate the Neoclassic period with the Greek revival. Neoclassical artists used sensible ornamentation and composition to depict moral and sensible works of art.

Neoclassical art is characterized by a strict adherence to the ideals of classical art, literature, and music. In music, eighteenth century classicism disregarded the excessive decorativeness typical of Baroque and instead focused on simplicity of form and .contrast.

Characteristic Style and Social Conditions

Neoclassical art was inspired by archaeological excavations of Greek artifacts during that period and the trend away from glorification of the aristocracy in the Rococo period. When revolutionary actions launched the new republics in America and France, the new democratic governments embraced Neoclassicism as the preeminent style for their representative art, due to its recognized connection with the democratic/republic societies of ancient Rome and Greece.

Major Works of Art from Period

A major work inspired by the Neoclassical movement that most Americans would recognize is the architecture of Capitol Building in Washington, DC. The capitol building along with many other buildings in Washington D.C. is in the same style as Greek temples.

Another example of Neoclassical art is Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss by Antonio Canova. It shows the Neoclassical fixation on Greek symbols, as evidenced by the depiction of the god Cupid. It is a masterpiece that evokes feelings of sight and touch. Many viewers after looking at this statue feel that they could simply fly away. An interesting fact is that while ancient Greek and Roman statues were typically painted in bright and vibrant colors, the Neoclassical artists, who found most of the external paint on the archeological pieces chipped away after years of decay, felt that the austere white marble better dignified the classical style. As a result, most people today do not realize that the stark white works of art they see standing in museums is not at all what ancient Greeks and Romans saw.

Historical Significance

The historical significance of this style can be felt when a person visits almost any major city capitol. Not only has Greek architecture lasted centuries, but modern Neoclassical buildings, like the Capitol Building in Washington DC, will stand for centuries more. It has become so ingrained in our society as a whole that it is impossible to look at a Roman column and not think of all the exquisiteness and intangible loveliness of democratic society.

Comparison to Rococo and Influence

The Neoclassical style sprung up as a result with the working class dissatisfaction with the contemporary Rococo. Neoclassical and Rococo styles are a contrast to each other. Neoclassicism was a rejection of the embellishment of Rococo style. These two movements gave rise after Baroque, one of the most impressive periods in the history of art.

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