Dictionary of Art
ARCHITECTURE AND SCULPTURE
- Part 1,
"POUSSINISTES" VS. "RUBENISTES."
It is hardly surprising that the straitjacket system of the French
Academy produced no significant artists. Even
Charles Lebrun, as we have seen, was far more Baroque in his practice
than we would expect from his classicistic theory. The absurd rigidity
of the official doctrine generated, moreover, a counter-pressure that
vented itself as soon as Lebrun's authority began to decline. Toward the
end of the century, the members of the Academy formed two warring
factions over the issue of drawing versus color: the "Poussinistes" (or
conservatives) against the "Rubenistes." The conservatives defended
Poussin's view that drawing, which appealed to the mind, was superior to
color, which appealed to the senses. The Rubenistes advocated color,
rather than drawing, as being more true to nature. They also pointed out
that drawing, admittedly based on reason, appeals only to the expert
few, whereas color appeals to everyone. This argument had revolutionary
implications, for it proclaimed the lay person to be the ultimate judge
of artistic values and challenged the Renaissance notion that painting,
as a liberal art, could be appreciated only by the educated mind.
By the time Louis XIV died in 1715, the
dictatorial powers of the Academy had already been overcome, and the
influence of Rubens and the great Venetians was everywhere. Two years
later the Rubenistes scored their ultimate triumph when the painter
Jean-Antoine Watteau (1684-1721) was admitted
to the Academy on the basis of A Pilgrimage to Cythera (fig.
832). This picture violated all
academic canons, and its subject did not conform to any established
category. To accommodate Watteau, the Academy invented the new category
of fetes galantes (elegant fetes or entertainments). The term
refers less to this one canvas than to the artist's work in general,
which mainly shows scenes of elegant society or comedy actors in
parklike settings. He characteristically interweaves theater and real
life so that no clear distinction can be made between the two. A
Pilgrimage to Cythera includes yet another element: classical
mythology. Accompanied by swarms of cupids, these young couples have
come to Cythera, the island of love, to pay homage to Venus, whose
garlanded image appears on the far right. The action unfolds in the
foreground, like a continuous narrative, from right to left, which
informs us that they are about to board the boat: two lovers are still
engaged in their amorous tryst; behind them, another couple rises to
follow a third pair down the hill as the reluctant young woman casts a
wistful look back at the goddess' sacred grove.
The scene at once recalls Rubens' Garden of Love (compar fig.
779), but Watteau has added a touch of
poignancy, lending it a poetic subtlety reminiscent of Giorgione and
Titian (see fig. 669). His figures,
too, lack the robust vitality of Rubens'. Slim and graceful, they move
with the studied assurance of actors who play their roles so superbly
that they touch us more than reality ever could. They recapture an
earlier ideal of "mannered" elegance (compare figs.
538 and 725).
Watteau was separated from even his most faithful followers by an
unbridgeable gulf in human understanding and artistic ability. Shortly
before his death, Watteau painted perhaps his most moving work:
Pierrot (fig. 833), known
traditionally as Giles after a similar character in the Italian
commedta dell'arte. It was probably done as a sign for a cafe
owned by a friend of the artist who retired from the stage after
achieving fame in the racy role of the clown. The troupe's performance
having ended, the actor has stepped forward to face the audience. The
other characters all bear highly individualized likenesses, no doubt
belonging to friends from the same circle. Yet the painting transcends
portraiture and its purpose as an advertisement. Pierrot is lifesize, so
that he confronts us as a full human being, not simply as a stock
character. In the process, Watteau transforms Pierrot into Everyman,
with whom he evidently identified himself. The face and pose have a
poignancy that suggests a subtle sense of alienation. Like the rest of
the actors, except the doctor on the donkey who looks mischievously at
us, he seems lost in his own thoughts. Still, it is difficult to define
his mood, for the expression remains as elusive as it is eloquent.
Jean-Antoine Watteau. A
Pilgrimage to Cythera.
Oil on canvas, 1.3
x 1.9 m. Musee du Louvre, Paris
Jean-Antoine Watteau. Giles and Your Other Characters from the Commedia dell'Arte (Pierrot).
1719. Oil on canvas, 184 x
149 cm. Musee du Louvre, Paris
The work of Watteau signals a shift in French art as a whole to the
Rococo. Although the term originally applied to the decorative arts, it
suits the playful character of French painting before
1765 equally well. By about 1720 even
history painting becomes intimate in scale and delightfully ebullient in
style and subject. The finest painter in this vein was
Francois Boucher (1703-1770), who epitomized the age
of Madame de Pompadour, the mistress of Louis XV. The Toilet of Venus
(fig. 834), painted for her
private retreat, is full of silk and perfume. If Watteau elevated human
love to the level of mythology, Boucher raised playful eroticism to the
realm of the divine. What Boucher lacks in the emotional depth that
distinguishes Watteau's art, he makes up for in unsurpassed
understanding of the world of fantasies that enrich people's lives. Yet,
compared to Vouet's goddess (see fig. 812)
from which she is descended, Boucher's has been reduced to a
coquette. In this cosmetic never-never land, she is ageless in her
youthful beauty, for she has the same soft, rosy skin as the cherubs who
attend her. Trapped in eternal youth, she is a Venus who seems strangely
incapable of passion.
The Toilet of Venus.
1751. Oil on canvas,
109.2 x 85.1 cm.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
Bathers (fig. 835) by
Jean-Honore Fragonard (1732-1806), Boucher's
star pupil, shows him to be an even franker Rubeniste than Boucher. He
paints with a fluid breadth and spontaneity reminiscent of Rubens' oil
sketches and even paraphrases the Flemish master's figures (see fig.
778). They move
with a floating grace that also links him with Tiepolo, whose work he
had admired on an extended stay in Italy (compare fig.
853). Fragonard had the misfortune to
outlive his era; his pictures became outmoded as the French Revolution
approached. After 1789 he was reduced to poverty,
supported, ironically, only by a curatorship to which he was appointed
in 1793 by Jacques-Louis David,
who recognized his achievement, although their styles were
antithetical. He died, virtually forgotten, in the heyday of the
Oil on canvas,
64 x 80
cm. Musee du Louvre, Paris
The style Fragonard practiced with such mastery was not the only
alternative open to him and the other French painters of his generation.
His art might have been different had he followed that of his first
(1699—1779), whose style can be called Rococo only with
reservations. The Rubenistes had cleared the way for a renewed interest
in still-life and genre paintings by Dutch and Flemish masters. This
revival was facilitated by the presence of numerous artists from the
Netherlands, especially Flanders, who settled in France in growing
numbers after about 1550 while maintaining
artistic ties to their native lands. Chardin is the finest French
painter in this vein. He is nevertheless far removed in spirit and
style, if not in subject matter, from any Dutch or Flemish painter.
Indeed, he is more akin to Le Nain and Sanchez Cotan.
His paintings act as moral exemplars, not by conveying symbolic
messages as Baroque still lifes often do, but by
affirming the Tightness of the existing social order and its values. To
the rising middle class who were the artist's patrons, his genre scenes
and kitchen still lifes proclaimed the virtues of hard work, frugality,
honesty, and devotion to family.
Back from the Market (fig. 836)
shows life in a Parisian middle-class household with such feeling
for the beauty hidden in the commonplace, and so clear a sense of
spatial order, that we can compare him only to Vermeer and De Hooch (see
fig. 804), but his remarkable
technique is quite unlike any Dutch artist's. Devoid of bravura, his
brushwork renders the light on colored surfaces with a creamy touch that
is both analytical and subtly lyrical. To reveal the inner nature of
things, he summarizes forms, subtly altering their appearance and
texture, rather than describing them in detail.
Chardin's genius discovered a hidden poetry in even the most humble
objects and endowed them with timeless dignity. His still lifes usually
depict the same modest environment, eschewing the "object appeal" of
their Dutch predecessors. In Kitchen Still Life (fig.
837), we see only the common objects that
belong in any kitchen: earthenware jugs, a casserole, a copper pot, a
piece of raw meat, smoked herring, two eggs. But how important they
seem, each so firmly placed in relation to the rest, each so worthy of
the artist's—and our—scrutiny!
Despite his concern with formal problems, evident in the beautifully
balanced design, Chardin treats these objects with a respect close to
reverence. Beyond their shapes, colors, and textures, they are to him
symbols of the life of common people.
Back from the Market. 1739.
Oil on canvas, 47 x 37.5 cm. Musee du Louvre, Paris
Kitchen Still Life. ñ 1731.
Oil on canvas, 32
x 39 cm. The Ashmolean Museum, Oxford
It is from portraits that we can gain the clearest understanding of the
French Rococo, for the transformation of the human image lies at the
heart of the age. In portraits of the aristocracy, men were endowed with
the illusion of character as a natural attribute of their station in
life, stemming from their noble birth. But the finest achievements of
Rococo portraiture were reserved for depictions of women, hardly a
surprising fact in a society that idolized the cult of love and feminine
beauty. Indeed, one of the finest practitioners in this vein was herself
a beautiful woman: Marie-Louise-Elisabeth Vigee-Lebrun
Throughout Vigee's long life she enjoyed great fame, which took her
to every corner of Europe, including Russia, when she fled the French
Revolution. The Duchesse Je Polignac (fig.
838) was painted a few years after Vigee
had become the portraitist for Queen Marie Antoinette, and it amply
demonstrates her ability. We will recognize the duchesse as the
descendant of Domenichino's St. Cecilia (fig.
748). She has the eternally youthful
loveliness of Boucher's Venus (fig. 834),
made all the more persuasive by the artist's ravishing treatment
of her clothing. At the same time, there is a sense of transience in the
engaging mood that exemplifies the Rococo's whimsical theatricality.
Interrupted in her singing, the lyrical duchesse becomes a real-life
counterpart to the poetic creatures in Watteau's A Pilgrimage to
Cythera (fig. 832) by way of
the delicate sentiment she shares with the girl in Chardin's Back
from the Market (fig. 836).
The Ducbessc de Polignac.
Oil on canvas, 98.3
x 71 cm.
Trust Waddesdon Manor
Across the Channel the Venetians were the predominant artists for
more than a half-century, but the French Rococo
had an important, though unacknowledged, effect and, in fact, helped to
bring about the first school of English painting since the Middle Ages
that had more than local importance.
The earliest of these painters,
(1697-1764), was the first English artist of genius since
Nicholas Hilliard (see fig. 725).
Although he certainly learned something about color and brushwork from
Venetian and French examples, as well as Van Dyck, his work is of such
originality as to be essentially without precedence. He made his mark in
the 1730s with a new kind of picture, which he described as "modern
moral subjects . . . similar to representations
on the stage." He wished to be judged as a
dramatist, he said, even though his "actors" could only "exhibit a dumb
show." These pictures, and the engravings he made from them for popular
sale, came in sets, with details recurring in each scene to unify the
sequence. Hogarth's "morality plays" teach, by horrid example, the solid
middle-class virtues. They show a country girl who succumbs to the
temptations of fashionable London; the evils of corrupt elections; and
aristocratic rakes who live only for ruinous pleasure, marrying wealthy
women of lower status for their fortunes, which they soon dissipate.
Hogarth is probably the first artist in history to become a social
critic in his own right.
In The Orgy (figs. 839
and 840), from The Rake's Progress,
the young wastrel is overindulging in wine and women. The scene is so
full of visual clues that a full account would take pages, plus constant
references to the adjoining episodes. However literal-minded, the
picture has great appeal. Hogarth combines some of Watteau's sparkle
with Jan Steen's narrative gusto (compare figs.
832 and 803), and entertains
us so well that we enjoy his sermon without being overwhelmed by its
William Hogarth. The Orgy,
Scene III of The Rake's Progress, ñ.
Oil on canvas, 62.2 x
74.9 cm. Sir John Soane's Museum, London
Revels (The Orgy),
Scene III of The Rake's Progress.
Engraving. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
Portraiture remained the only constant source of income for English
painters. Here, too, the eighteenth century produced a style that
differed from the Continental traditions that had dominated this field.
Its greatest master,
began by painting landscapes, but ended as the favorite
portraitist of British high society. His early portraits, such as
Robert Andrews and His Wife (fig. 841),
have a lyrical charm that is not always found in his later
pictures. Compared to Van Dyck's artifice in Charles I Hunting
(see fig. 781), this country squire
and his wife are unpretentiously at home in their setting. The
landscape, although derived from Ruisdael and his school, has a sunlit,
hospitable air never achieved (or desired) by the Dutch masters, while
the casual grace of the two figures, which affects an air of
naturalness, indirectly recalls Watteau's style. The newlywed couple—
she dressed in the fashionable attire of the day, he armed with a
rifle to denote his status as a country squire (hunting was a privilege
of wealthy landowners)—do not till the soil
themselves. The painting nevertheless conveys the gentry's closeness to
the land, from which the English derived much of their sense of national
identity. (Many private estates had been created in
1535, when Henry VIII broke with the Catholic church and
redistributed its property to his supporters.) Out of this attachment to
place was to develop a feeling for nature that became the basis for
English landscape painting, to which Gainsborough himself made an
important early contribution.
Gainsborough spent most of his career working in the provinces, first
in his native Suffolk, then in the fashionable resort town of Bath.
Toward the end of his career, he moved to London, where his work
underwent a pronounced change. The very fine portrait of the famous
actress Mrs. Siddons (fig. 842) has
the virtues of Gainsborough's late style: a cool elegance that
translates Van Dyck's aristocratic poses into late-eighteenth-century
terms, and a fluid, translucent technique reminiscent of Rubens' that
renders the glamorous sitter, with her fashionable attire and coiffure,
to ravishing effect.
Andrews and His Wife, ñ. 1748-50.
Oil on canvas, 69.7
x 119.3 cm. The National Gallery, London
canvas, 125.7 x
99.1 cm. The National
Gainsborough painted Mrs. Siddons in conscious opposition to his
great rival on the London scene, Sir
(1723-1792), who had portrayed the same sitter as the Tragic Muse
(fig. 843). Reynolds, president of the Royal
Academy since its founding in 1768, was the
champion of the academic approach to art, which he had acquired during
two years in Rome. In his famous Discourses he formulated what he
felt were necessary rules and theories. His views
were essentially those of Lebrun, tempered by British common sense. Like
Lebrun, he found it difficult to live up to his theories in actual
practice. Although he preferred history painting in the grand style,
most of his works are portraits "enabled," whenever possible, by
allegorical additions or disguises like those in his picture of Mrs.
Siddons. His style owed a good deal more to the Venetians, the Flemish
Baroque, and even to Rembrandt (note the lighting in Mrs. Siddons)
than he conceded in theory, though he often recommended following
the example of earlier masters.
Reynolds was generous enough to give praise to Gainsborough, whom he
outlived by a few years, and whose instinctive talent he must have
envied. He eulogized him as one who saw with the eye of a painter rather
than a poet. There is more truth to this statement than it might seem.
Gainsborough's paintings epitomized the Enlightenment philosopher David
Hume's idea that painting must incorporate both nature and art. Gainsborough
himself was a simple and unpretentious person who exemplified Hume's
"natural man," free of excessive pride or humility. Reynolds' approach,
on the other hand, as enunciated in his Discourses, was based on
the Roman poet Horace's dictum ut pictura poesis. His frequent borrowing of poses from the antique was
intended to elevate the sitter from an individual to a universal type
through association with the great art of the past and the noble ideals
it embodied. This heroic model was closely related to the writings of
the playwright Samuel Johnson and the practices of the actor David
Garrick, both of whom were friends of Reynolds. In this, Reynolds was
the very opposite of Gainsborough. Yet, for all of the differences
between them, the two artists had more in common, artistically and
philosophically, than they cared to admit. Reynolds and Gainsborough
looked back to Van Dyck, drawing different lessons from his example.
Both emphasized, albeit in varying degrees, the visual appeal and
technical proficiency of their paintings. Moreover, their portraits of
Mrs. Siddons bear an unmistakable relationship to the Rococo style of
France—note their resemblance to Vigee's
Duchesse (fig. 838)—yet remain distinctly
English in character. Hume and Johnson were similarly linked by an
abiding skepticism. If anything, Johnson's writings, which inspired
Reynolds, were more bitterly pessimistic than Hume's, which generally
advocated a tolerant and humane ethical system.
Siddons as the Tragic Muse. 1784.
Oil on canvas. 236.5
Henry K. Huntington Library and Art Gallery,
San Marino, California
Just as the style of architecture invented in Italy achieved its
climax north of the Alps, much of the Italian Rococo took place in other
countries. The timid style of the Late Baroque in Italy was suddenly
transformed during the first decade of the eighteenth century by the
rise of the Rococo in Venice, which had been relegated to a minor
outpost for a hundred years. The Italian Rococo is distinguished from
the Baroque by a renewed appreciation of Veronese's colorism and
pageantry, but with a light and airy sensibility that is new. The first
to formulate this style was Sebastiano Ricci
who began his career as a stage painter and emerged as
an important artist only in mid-career. Their skill at blending this
painterly manner with High Baroque illusionism made Ricci and the
Venetians the leading decorative painters in Europe between
they were active in every major center throughout Europe, particularly
London and Madrid. They were not alone: artists from Rome and other
parts of Italy also worked abroad in large numbers.
(1696-1770). In his mastery of light and color,
his grace and felicity of touch, and power of invention, Tiepolo far
surpassed his fellow Venetians, and these qualities made him famous far
beyond his home territory. When Tiepolo painted the Wurzburg frescoes (figs.
849, 852, and 853), his powers were at their height.
The tissuelike ceiling so often gives way to illusionistic openings of
that we no longer feel it to be a spatial boundary. These openings do
not, however, reveal avalanches of figures propelled by dramatic bursts
of light, like those of Roman ceilings (compare fig.
752), but rather blue sky and
sunlit clouds, and an occasional winged creature soaring in this
limitless expanse. Only along the edges of the ceiling are there solid
clusters of figures (fig. 852).
Giovanni Battista Tiepolo.
The last, and most refined, stage of Italian illusionistic
ceiling decoration is represented in Wiirzburg by its greatest master,
Giovanni Battista Tiepolo
At one end, replacing a window (see fig.
is The Marriage of Frederick Barbarossa
(fig. 853). As a public
spectacle, it is as festive as Christ in the House of Levi (fig.
691) by Veronese, whose
example the artist has followed by placing the event (which took place
in the twelfth century) in a contemporary setting. Its allegorical
fantasy is literally revealed by the carved putti opening a curtain onto
the wedding ceremony in a display of theatrical illusionism worthy of
Bernini. Unexpected in this lively procession is the element of
classicism, which lends an air of noble restraint to many of the
Tiepolo afterward became the last in the line of Italian artists,
beginning with Luca Giordano,
invited to work at the Royal Palace in Madrid.
There he encountered the German painter Anton Raphael Mengs, a proponent
of the classical revival whose presence signaled the effective end of
(1703-1765), who departed because
of ill health. The only serious rival in ability to Tiepolo, he can be
claimed with equal justice as the last great representative of painting
in both Naples, where he trained under Francesco Solimena, and Rome, where he passed most of his career, for the two schools were
At the Spanish court, where he exercised powers
comparable to Lebrun's,
Giaquinto was hailed as the successor to Giordano, whose
work in turn had a decisive impact on his art.Justice and Peace
(fig. 854) bears an
obvious resemblance to Giordano's Rape of Europa (fig.
753), but with overtones of
Boucher that suggest an awareness of his style (see fig.
834). The painting happily unites
the best of both worlds: the monumentality of Italy and the charm of
France. What sets it apart is its ravishing beauty. The seemingly
effortless brushwork and bold palette are unique to Giaquinto. No other painter of the Rococo could apply such a daring
array of hues with such creamy consistency.
Giovanni Battista Tiepolo.
Ceiling fresco (detail). 1751. The Kaisersaal, Residenz, Wiirzburg
Giovanni Battista Tiepolo.
The Marriage of Frederick Barbarossa
1752. Fresco. Kaisersaal, Residenz, Wiirzburg
The artist replaced by Mengs was Corrado Giaquinto
811), who specialized in
depicting Rome's environs, but after 1720
it acquired a specifically urban identity. The most
renowned of the vedutists was
(1697-1768) of Venice. His pictures were great favorites with the British, who purchased them as souvenirs of the
grand tours of Italy, then so popular. Indeed, he enjoyed such success
with clients from England that he later became one of several prominent
Venetian artists to spend lengthy sojourns in London. The Bucintoro
at the Molo (fig. 855)
was one of a series of paintings commissioned by Joseph
Smith, an English entrepreneur living in Venice. These served both to
decorate Smith's house and to introduce Canaletto's work to prospective
854. Corrado Giaquinto. Justice and Peace.
Oil on canvas,
2.16x4.25 m. Museo del Prado, Madrid
During the eighteenth century, landscape in Italy evolved
a new form in keeping with the character of the Rococo: veduta
(view) painting. Its beginnings can be traced back to the seventeenth
century with the many foreigners, such as Claude Lorraine (see fig.
Smith subsequently issued them as a suite of etchings to meet
the demand for remembrances of Venice by those who could not afford an
original canvas by the artist. Canaletto's landscapes are, for the most
part, topographically accurate. However, he was not above tampering with
the truth, and while he usually made only slight adjustments for the
sake of compositional effectiveness, he would sometimes treat scenes
with considerable license or create composite views. He may have used a
mechanical or optical device (perhaps a camera obscura, a forerunner of
the photographic camera) to render some of his views, although he was a
consummate draftsman who hardly needed such aids. In any event, they
fail to account for the visual sparkle of his pictures and his sure
sense of composition.
These features sprang in part from Canaletto's
training as a scenographer. This experience in the theater also helps to
explain the liveliness of his paintings. He often included vignettes of
daily life in Venice that lend a human interest to his scenes and make
them fascinating cultural documents as well. The Bucintoro at the
Molo shows a favorite theme: the Doge returning on his magnificent
barge to the Piazza San Marco from the Lido (the city's island beach) on
Ascension Day after celebrating the Marriage of the Sea. Canaletto has
captured to perfection the festive air surrounding this great public
celebration, which is presented as a theatrical display of spectacular
(1691-1765), his fellow vedutist in Rome who
had a passion for classical antiquity (see fig.
250). They, in turn, are the forerunners of
another Roman artist,
(1720-1778), whose Prison Caprices (fig.
856) derive from his stage
designs for operas. Unlike the prints after Canaletto's paintings, these
masterful etchings were intended as original works of art from the
beginning, so that they have a gripping power. In Piranesi's
romanticized imagery, the play between reality and fantasy, so
fundamental to the theatrical Rococo, culminates in a vision of despair
as terrifying as any nightmare.
Canaletto. The Bucintoro at
the Molo. ñ. 1732.
on canvas, 77 x 126 cm. The Royal Collection
Canaletto shared his background as a designer of stage sets
with Ricci and also with Giovanni Panini
Tower with Bridges,
Prison Caprices. 1760-61.
x 41.6 cm.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York