Rococo Period Vs. The Neoclassical Thesis

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This painting shows the philosopher, unjustly condemned to die for his beliefs by the government, as a kind of pagan saint, statue-like and stoic in his beliefs and powerful and noble in the dark, stark anatomical shadings of the work. David's Death of Marat (1793) shows the French Revolutionary hero as a kind of political saint.

One interesting contrast between the rococo and the neoclassical is the period's differing depictions of women. In the rococo, the female was often central as an object of ornamental desire. Rococo celebrated femininity, the feminine form and a color palate that enhanced the delicacy of its subjects. Even its male rococo subjects were often highly feminized. When neoclassical works depicted women, in contrast, they tended to be idealized representations of freedom, as in the case of Marianne in the symbolic, bare-breasted depiction of Delacroix's Liberty Leading the People (1830). "It shows the allegorical figure of Liberty as a half-draped woman wearing the traditional Phrygian cap of liberty and holding a gun in one hand and the tricolor in the other" (Pioch 2002). Although the fighting men are realistically depicted, including a self-portrait of the artist himself involved in the rebellion, the feminine figure is not -- this may be contrasted with the rococo, where symbolic figures tended to relate only to romance, and both male and female figures were romanticized.

For the most part, as in David's the Oath of the Horatii (1784) neoclassical art reinforced a masculine aesthetic: "Neoclassical themes often centered on classical stories of heroic male deeds and virtues. The activities and expectations of men and women were strictly divided.
Males are shown in public roles and depicted as heroic and stoic. Conversely, women and femininity were confined to the realm of the private and domestic spheres," like the retiring women who cower in the corner as the Horatii take their oaths in David's great work (European art: Neoclassicism, 2009, GLBTQ arts.). In neoclassical painting there is a "severe linearity, rational compositions, direct lighting, and strong acidic colors. Male figures are usually given angular and sculptural qualities, while females are typically rendered in soft, curvilinear forms" (European art: Neoclassicism, 2009, GLBTQ arts.). While this was often characteristic of the gender divisions of neoclassical art, in an interesting contradiction to this general trend, the assassinated Marat in the Death of Marat, looks almost feminine, swathed in white, shroud like garments. This reflects Marat's feminized, vulnerable state of symbolic martyrdom, much like Marianne's feminized rebellion in the later Delacroix.

Works Cited

Buser, Thomas. Experiencing Art Around Us. Thompson Learning, 1995. Excerpted on Mark

Harden's Art archive "Neoclassical Art." March 8, 2009.

European art: Neoclassicism." (2009). GLBTQ arts.

March 8, 2009.

Kitson, Michael. "Art Periods: Rococo style." Art Periods in France. From the Grolier

Multimedia Encyclopedia. 9.01.1997. March 8, 2009.

Pioch, Nicholas. "Liberty Leading the People." Web Museum: Paris. 2002. March 8, 2009.

Watteau, Antoine. Pilgrimage to Cythera. 1717. Louvre. March 8, 2009.

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