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Effect of Social & Political Events on Rococo Art

Effect of Social & Political Events on Rococo Art
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  • 0:01 The Rococo
  • 0:46 Louis XIV and the Regency
  • 2:51 Louis XV
  • 5:26 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.

In this lesson, you will explore the Rococo, a major artistic style of the 18th century, and discover how its popularity was affected by various factors. Then, test your understanding with a brief quiz.

The Rococo

All art is connected to the society that created it. Social and political events have a major effect on art, changing the attitudes, tastes, or opinions of potential patrons. This is always true. Watching art change to reflect society during the 18th century can just be flat-out fun. Child kings, runaway aristocrats, powerful mistresses, revolutions - you know, fun. One of the major artistic styles of this time was the Rococo, centered on the mixture of the grand and intricate with the lighthearted and frivolous. Rococo art was complex and detailed but light and whimsical, reflecting an era of elite wealth, power, and above all, fun.

Louis XIV and the Regency

Louis XIV portrait

The story of the Rococo really begins with this man, Louis XIV, king of France from 1643-1715. Louis XIV was an absolute monarch in every sense, sharing his power with no one. The elites of France were centered around Louis's courts. Politics and society both were based in his palace of Versailles. Now, this was not the Rococo. The Rococo started when Louis XIV died in 1715, leaving his 5-year old grandson as the rightful king of France. What followed was an 8-year regency, a period when another noble rules a country until the rightful heir comes of age. In France, the Duke of Orléans ruled as regent until his grand-nephew, the young Louis XV, came of age in 1722. This regency period is when the Rococo in France really began.

The regency period changed France both politically and socially. In terms of politics, it meant that the absolute power of the monarch was gone, at least until Louis XV came of age. Thus, the aristocrats and nobles had nearly a decade to enjoy a newfound level of power and influence. This focus on the aristocrats over a king also meant that socially, the center of high society was no longer found in the regal courts of a king but in the massive, lavish homes of the nobles.

This is where we first really see the Rococo. This artistic style first appeared in architecture and interior design, as these wealthy and powerful aristocrats built new homes to show off that they had all the power of kings but with none of the seriousness. While the palace of Versailles is intimidating and regal, private homes in the Rococo feature organic, playful patterns that are just as intricate but are lighthearted, whimsical, and frivolous. The regency opened France up to a period of parties and balls as the elites enjoyed their virtually unchecked power, and the emerging Rococo style reflected that.

Louis XV

When Louis XV officially took control of France in 1722, he restored the power of the absolute monarch but with none of the seriousness of his grandfather. Louis XV's reign was characterized by a continuation of all the parties, frivolity, and excess of the regency. So, the Rococo style continued to thrive but became officially sponsored by the monarchs across Europe as well as the aristocrats.

Although Louis XV was in complete control of France, several other people began finding new power in this time, most notably his official mistress Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson, more often remembered by the title Madame de Pompadour. Although a commoner by birth, her position as mistress to the king gained her access to France's political inner-workings, and she quickly became a major figure in national politics. She also became a major patron of the arts and helped to maintain the status of Rococo painting and interior designs by filling her many estates with this style. What her example illustrates is that art remained something that the aristocracy continued to focus on after the end of the regency, and these private estates were still the center of elite social life in France.

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