Comparing Rococo & Baroque Portraiture

Comparing Rococo & Baroque Portraiture
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  • 00:00 Portraiture
  • 00:44 Baroque Portraiture
  • 3:10 Rococo Portraiture
  • 5:08 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

How different can portraits be? Find out as you explore the different portrait styles of the Baroque and Rococo. Then, test your understanding with a brief quiz.

Portraiture

So, I hear you're in the market for a portrait. Good for you! Portraiture is a time-honored tradition in art and a great way to show off your wealth, political standing, and social acumen. That's what you're going for, right? Well, it's a big decision. You may think that having your image painted is pretty basic; how different can portraits be, really?

Truth is, they can be very different. Various artists at various times can create completely different styles of portraits. Some emphasize your personality, others your physical traits, others your wealth. The end result is an entirely unique portrait. Here, let me show you what I'm talking about by comparing Baroque and Rococo portraiture.

Baroque Portraiture

Okay, let's start by looking at portraits from the Baroque style. The Baroque is a wide term that encompasses the 17th century and is generally characterized by intricate detail to produce scenes of drama, extravagance, and grandeur. Baroque artwork is ornate but usually very serious, with strong shadows and bold colors, but it did vary by region and was a little bit different in each area where it was popular.

Charles I Dismounted

Now, as to their portraiture. Baroque portraiture tended to show off the grandeur and wealth of the patron in a way that was commanding and respectful. Look at this 1653 portrait by the northern painter Anthony Van Dyck entitled Charles I Dismounted. Charles I was king of England, so this is a royal portrait. The king is relaxed and informal but still undeniably elegant, graceful, strong, and noble. His authority is unquestionable, and he stands out defiantly against the dark shadows of the painting, making him the unmistakable focal point.

Louis XIV

Here's another example of Baroque portraiture, this one from France, where the power of the monarchy was reaching its height. This portrait is Louis XIV, painted in 1701 by Hyacinthe Rigaud. Louis XIV was the absolute ruler of France, who shared little power with the nobility and insisted that the power of the king was divinely granted by God. In fact, Louis even took the title le Roi Soleil, the sun king, because as far as he was concerned, he was, in fact, the center of the universe.

That attitude is unmistakable in Rigaud's portrait. Louis is in the dead center of the painting and is slightly raised so that he is looking down upon the viewer. The intricate details of his clothes show off his power and wealth, and his facial expression goes beyond mere confidence to arrogant superiority. The king is also clearly showing off his legs here, partly because he was proud of having been a ballet dancer in his youth and partly to show off the high-heeled shoes that he designed to compensate for his natural shortness.

The regal, absolute authority of the king was so well captured in this portrait that when the king was not on the throne, this portrait was considered to preserve his power. Louis took this seriously enough to insist that his portrait be treated with all the rituals and respect given to the king whenever he was gone.

Rococo Portraiture

After the death of Louis XIV, French tastes changed and the noble aristocrats gained much more power, leading to the Rococo, an early 18th-century style of lighthearted frivolity. The Rococo maintained the Baroque focus on intricate details but used soft colors, less symmetrical compositions, and tended to feature wealthy aristocrats rather than kings.

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