The eighteenth century witnessed a paradigm shift in beliefs from religious centered to scientific, hence the reference as the age of reason. After being led through religious beliefs in divine power for very long, humanity wanted to understand it place in the natural world based on factual evidence and not just faith. Consequently, there were significant shifts in cultural and philosophical developments, and one of the areas influenced was painting art. In an article published online by Jeanne Willette in 2009, it is argued that reasoning behind the enlightenment stemmed from the need to seek sensations and pleasure in the world, a discourse envisioned in the Rococo, as the revolutionary art at the time was called. In the eighteenth century, visual arts, such as painting, represented class and harbingers of the revolution that followed (Willette, 2009).
Painting art epitomized liberation from many decades of religious strife and preaching of reformation that held art patrons hostages of their own profession. For instance, under the disguise of the philosophy of “classicism”, Joseph Mary Vien (1716-1809) inspired the use of antiquity as an excuse not to wear clothes, with the intention of exhibiting female plump and pink bodies to male spectators (Willette, 2009). Having been suppressed for long because of religious beliefs, female nudity in paintings was adopted and became a phenomenon to be celebrated rather than abhorred, thus influencing cultural perceptions. The revolution epitomized by Rococo art was philosophical in that it inspired ideologies that watered down the existing Baroque art. Rococo painting was anti-style with a unique palette and brushwork that discredited the Baroque, an art for pleasure’s sake only, through its ability to please spectators using fleshy and witty eroticism. The Rococo paintings were representation to sexual allure rather than the solemn call to duty in the previous arts. According to Willette (2009), the Rococo art turned the late expression of pompous and grandiose Baroque into lovely and domestic. The Rococo paintings recognized the feminine domain of patrons and artists through adoption of the pale pastel colors that were formally glossed over in favor of the masculine ones. Art painting during the enlightenment generated more cultural debate regarding perceptions towards depiction of what was masculine and feminine, moral and immoral, and frivolous and sober. The notable aspect about art paintings at the time is that they respected neither the church nor the state, and were “private and aristocratic and public and accessible” (Willette, 2009).
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Perhaps the revolutionary contribution of painting art was informed by philosophical observations of enlightenment critics such as Denis Diderot that art’s key objective “to make virtue attractive, vice odious, ridicule forceful; that is the aim of every honest man who takes up the pen, the brush or the chisel.” This was the very moral issues exalting traditional Catholicism that enlightenment thinkers sought to address through Deism, the declaration of God’s existence and recognizing His role as a by stander rather than an active participant in human affairs. Art historians argue that interpretations of the pleasures of Rococo painting art would have been lost on audiences at the time who were more interested in preferences rather than the social and sub-class text artists tried to convey in these paintings. It is evident that neo-classicism has adopted a similar approach where Rococo painting art painting is concerned as it was perceived o represent an outmoded style of art that was frivolous. Subsequently, some of the famous paintings of Rococo art such as those by Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732-1806) namely, The Pursuit, The Meeting, The Lover Crowned, and Love Letters are almost as famous as earlier 1767 work, The Happy Accidents of the Swing (The Swing ) are now held in private collections and inaccessible to the public (Willette, 2009). It proves that critics of the enlightenment such Diderot, who advocated for adoption of art painting that depicted righteous and moral, such “Jean-Baptiste Greuze (1725-1805) and Jean-Baptiste Chardin’s (1699-1779), over the licentious art of François Boucher (1703-1770), such as Leda and the Swan (1741). The Diligent Mother (1740) by Chardin displayed the sober and reasonable life style of the middle class. The Father’s Curse, The Ungrateful Son (1777) by Greuze was an object lesson in didactic morality” (Willette, 2009). The conclusion that can be drawn from developments in painting art during the enlightenment is that Rococo art was inspired by reason with the aim to express human sensations and pleasures openly, but the same reason was against it role in depicting morality and righteousness
Willette, J. (Oct, 2009). The enlightenment and artistic styles: Rococo and revolution. Art History Unstuffed. Retrieved 10/03/2017 from http://arthistoryunstuffed.com/enlightenment-artistic-styles/