Morality and the Art of the Classical Era



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At the beginning of the Classical era within the visual arts was the Rococo style. This style was started in France and spread through Europe. The aristocrats were huge patrons of this new style or it could even be said that they were the Rococo styles only patrons. The aristocrats of the Classical era had enormous political power and wealth; many of them chose to live a leisurely, frivolous life and the Rococo style was a reflection of their taste. The Rococo style uses lots of pastel colors, curving forms, and light subject matter in a very romanticized way. The subjects of the artwork have a glow that is almost doll like and dressed in luxurious cloth and lace with fabulous hairstyles. The artwork was seen as frivolous and carefree with an emphasis on pleasure. The paintings did not reflect real life whatsoever and were very self-indulgent.  Fetes galantes paintings became a genre within the Rococo style depicting lavish and exquisite outdoor parties. The figures within the artwork would be in ball dress or masquerade costumes posing in park like settings.


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Francois Boucher (1703-1770), born in Paris was an artist of many talents. He worked in virtually every genre of his time and was well known for his ability to work with many styles and types of artwork. He is well known for helping form the Rococo style and spreading it throughout Europe. One of his Rococo style paintings is The Toilette of Venus which was painted in 1751 in Paris France; it is an oil on canvas painting. The painting is of Madame de Pompadour who was a patron of Boucher’s until her death in 1764. As you can see in the painting it is the essence of Rococo style with the grand sofa she is seated on as she glows in a goddess like way with beautiful tapestry surrounding her and the cupids adoring her. As you can see she is relaxing in a carefree state of mind as her cupid plays with her hair and holding a bird in a godly type of way as it is a normal thing to do. As her riches lay at her feet and one cupid is playing with her expensive jewels you get the sense that her riches are just another thing to her as she lives a glamorized life.


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Another great Rococo style painting by Boucher is, Diana Leaving Her Bath which was painted in 1742, oil on canvas, in France. She is shown as a huntress in this painting as you can see her bow and kill in the corner of the painting with her hunting dogs sniffing around as she rests after her bath. You can just imagine the scene that played out before her bath; after a leisurely hunt in the forest they stopped for a bath in a nearby pond before heading home. Even in the forest after a hunt the characters of Rococo style are shown in lavish riches; as Diana is holding pearls with a fabulous hairstyle. It seems as though the other girl in the painting is her maiden as she is kneeling next to her inspecting her foot and even she has a lovely hairstyle.


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During the Classical era the visual arts changed dramatically. There was a huge movement towards the Neoclassical style and a swing away from the Rococo style that had dominated the beginning of this era. This happened because the middle class was appalled with the Rococo style as it became a symbol of the moral decline of the French leadership. Artists who were supporters of linear art that showed orderliness started a trend that was anti-Rococo in nature.  With changes in human intellect from the enlightenment and the scientific discovery of the ruins of Herculaneum and Pompeii came an inspiration that was much more virtuous and public minded. It created a culture, within the people, that was of moral virtues, patriotic self-sacrifice, and goodly deeds.  

Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825), born Paris was an instrumental Neoclassical artist. He was inspired by the findings of Pompeii and looked to arts of antiquity to find an ancient moral energy for his artwork. Even in his earliest of painting he was light years away from the frivolous nature of the Rococo style. He was an avid supporter of the Revolution and could be called the “official” painter of that time. One of the famous Neoclassical paintings of David’s is called the Portrait of Monsieur Lavoisier and His Wife which was painted in 1788, oil on canvas, in France.  It depicts the perfect idea of what the Neoclassical style was about with simplicity and as if the painting was capturing a moment in time. It also shows how the enlightenment affected people as they wanted to be seen as more studious and intelligent rather than carefree.


In the beginning of the era Classical music was dominated by composers creating and preforming for the aristocrat classes for their private entertainment. By the end of the era the composers became independent freelance artists. They were still working for the wealthy, but they also created compositions for public concert halls and opera houses. This is surely linked to the dramatic change from Rococo to Neoclassical style that happened during this era. The aristocrats were looked down upon for their romanticized lifestyles and this brought more and more people to break away from these ideals, even composers of this time. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) being one of the predominant composers of the Classical era was a child prodigy. At the age of 5 he was already composing and preforming for royalty. He first started his career preforming for royalty and then gradually started preforming in concert settings as he became an established and well liked composer. The Magic Flute is one of Mozart’s last compositions that he created before he died. It is an opera in two acts and premiered at Schikaneder’s theatre in Vienna in 1791.


Overall the Classical era was a time of great achievement. The Rococo and Neoclassical styles have huge differences, but they show how our world is changing all the time. Within one era there were great scientific discoveries and a change of mind in the way people thought about life and how the average person could impact life. These changes were for the better, with moral virtues held in a higher regard than frivolous, self-indulgent ways. Even though is era is long gone I am glad to know that even then people were making changes for the better. It helps me remember how good humankind can be.  










Pomarède, Vincent. Diana Leaving Her Bath. N.p, 2007. Web. 7 Mar. 2014.

Khan Academy. Fragonard’s The Swing. N.p, 2014. Web. 7 Mar. 2014.

Neoclassicism and French Revolution. Jacques-Louis David. N.p. Web. 7 Mar. 2014.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. François Boucher (1703–1770). N.p, 2013. Web. 7 Mar. 2014.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Toilette of Venus, François Boucher. N.p, 2013. Web. 7 Mar. 2014.

Wikipedia. François Boucher. N.p, 2014. Web. 7 Mar. 2014.

Wikipedia. Portrait of Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier and his wife. N.p, 2014. Web. 7 Mar. 2014.

Wikipedia. The Magic Flute. N.p, 2014. Web. 7 Mar. 2014.

Wikipedia. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. N.p, 2014. Web. 7 Mar. 2014.


5 thoughts on “Morality and the Art of the Classical Era

  1. Very well put! I love how you compared Rococo and Neoclassical art when it came to moral and values. I also like your transition between pieces and how you describe them, it’s very descriptive and yet its easy to read, which I like. One thing that I’ve noticed in the Rococo style is that a portion of paintings during that era seemed somewhat satirical to royalty, did you notice that as well?

  2. Very clear and thorough post detailing the characteristics of the Rococo style. You made it very clear what the Rococo style stood for, who it appealed to, and ultimately why morality in the arts came to play an important role in the Classical Era. I really like all of your examples, they all fall in line with the descriptions you outlined in your introduction and you make the connections to the influences very easy to see in your detailed writing. I like when you are describing the artwork how you give more than a brief analysis, but you provide great detail and convey what sticks out to you and the impression you get from each painting; that makes understanding your aesthetic appreciation very easy. I am not a fan of Rococo style works and I really don’t like anything visually about the paintings. In your introduction you said that the subjects have a doll-like glow and that is probably what I don’t like about them, they lack realism and the subjects kind of look like porcelain dolls posing; they’re just not for me. I would like to present a comparison of these paintings to one of Jacques-Louis David’s called “Napoleon Crossing the Alps.”
    I like this painting by Jacques-Louis David because it represents something magnificent and striking. I really like how you detailed how David was influenced by the French revolution. I really like a lot of Jacques-Louis David’s work. Here is a link to some more info:

  3. I really liked how you talk about how each era is so different and there are so many changes within them. It was very helpful that you started by talking about and showing Rococo style and than moving on to classical so you can really see the switch between the two and think about why this happened.

  4. I thought this was a great blog because you told us from the start about the rococo style and classical. I like how you also put a kind of emphasis on the transformation in the era. The scientific discoveries and art are huge to this specific era. Life is always changing and I also believe that this era showed how anything can change.

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