Dictionary of Art and Artists



History of

Architecture and Sculpture


















ARCHITECTURE AND SCULPTURE - Part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14






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.

Jean-Antoine Watteau.

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.

832. Jean-Antoine Watteau. A Pilgrimage to Cythera.
Oil on canvas, 1.3 x 1.9 m. Musee du Louvre, Paris
833. 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

Francois Boucher.

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.

834. Francois Boucher. The Toilet of Venus.
1751. Oil on canvas, 109.2 x 85.1 cm.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Jean-Honore Fragonard.

(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 Napoleonic era.

835. Jean-Honore Fragonard . Bathers. . 1765.
Oil on canvas,
64 x 80 cm. Musee du Louvre, Paris

Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin.

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 teacher. Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin (16991779), 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'sand ourscrutiny! 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.

839. Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin. Back from the Market. 1739.
Oil on canvas, 47 x 37.5 cm. Musee du Louvre, Paris
837. Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin. Kitchen Still Life. 1731.
Oil on canvas, 32 x 39 cm. The Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

Marie-Louise-Elisabeth Vigee-Lebrun.

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 (1755-1842).

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).

838. Marie-Louise-Elisabeth Vigee-Lebrun.
The Ducbessc de Polignac.
Oil on canvas,
98.3 x 71 cm.

The National 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.

William Hogarth.

The earliest of these painters, William Hogarth (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 message.

839. William Hogarth. The Orgy, Scene III of The Rake's Progress, . 1734.
Oil on canvas, 62.2 x 74.9 cm. Sir John Soane's Museum, London
840. William Hogarth. He Revels (The Orgy), Scene III of The Rake's Progress. 1735.
Engraving. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Thomas Gainsborough.

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, Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788), 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.

841. Thomas Gainsborough. Robert Andrews and His Wife, . 1748-50.
Oil on canvas, 69.7 x 119.3 cm. The National Gallery, London
842. Thomas Gainsborough. Mrs. Siddons. 1785.
Oil on canvas, 125.7 x 99.1 cm. The National Gallery, London

Joshua Reynolds.

Gainsborough painted Mrs. Siddons in conscious opposition to his great rival on the London scene, Sir Joshua Reynolds (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 Francenote 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.

843. Joshua Reynolds.
Mrs. Siddons as the Tragic Muse.

Oil on canvas.
236.5 x 146 cm.
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 (1659-1734), 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 1710 and 1760, and 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.

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
(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 every sort 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).

At one end, replacing a window (see fig. 849), 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 figures.

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 the Rococo.

852. Giovanni Battista Tiepolo. Ceiling fresco (detail). 1751. The Kaisersaal, Residenz, Wiirzburg
853. Giovanni Battista Tiepolo. The Marriage of Frederick Barbarossa (partial view). 1752. Fresco. Kaisersaal, Residenz, Wiirzburg

Corrado Giaquinto.

The artist replaced by Mengs was Corrado Giaquinto (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 intimately related. 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.

854. Corrado Giaquinto. Justice and Peace. . 1753-54.
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. 811), who specialized in depicting Rome's environs, but after 1720 it acquired a specifically urban identity. The most renowned of the vedutists was Canaletto (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 buyers.

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 brilliance.

855. Canaletto. The Bucintoro at the Molo. . 1732.
Oil on canvas, 77 x 126 cm. The Royal Collection

Giovanni Battista Piranesi.

Canaletto shared his background as a designer of stage sets with Ricci and also with Giovanni Panini (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, Giovanni Battista Piranesi (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.

856. Giovanni Battista Piranesi. Tower with Bridges,
Prison Caprices. 1760-61.
Etching, 55.2 x 41.6 cm.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York


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