a history of western art

from the renaissance to the present

The Rococo and Neo-classicism


people, terms, and concepts: Rococo, Neo-classicism (also known just as Classicism), history painting, didactic, contemporary, realism, idealization, expression, upper classes (aristocracy), middle classes (bourgeoisie), lower classes (peasants and proletariat)

This topic examines two styles in relation to an enormous social and political transformation that took place across the eighteenth century. The Rococo style was associated with the last days of the Aristocracy, and Neo-classicism was associated with the revolutionary rise of democracy in the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth century all across Europe.

•  What are the characteristics of the Rococo style with regard to subject-matter, form or style, and general purpose? Who were the major patrons of Rococo art, and how does it reflect their social and moral values?

          What are the general characteristics of the Neo-classical style with regard to subject-matter, form or style, and general purpose? How is it generally different from the Rococo style?

          Why is Neo-classicism closely associated with the rise of democracy in France and the United States? Why did both countries choose the Neo-classical style for its official state art and architecture?

          Be able to identify an obvious example of the Rococo and/or Neo-classical style and analyze the work to explain how you knew.


Angelica Kauffmann, Cornelia and her children, British Neo-classicism,  1785

How is this work a perfect example of Neo-classicism? What sorry is being told, and how does Kauffmann tell that story in a way that conveys a didactic lesson to viewers? How is the form or style typical of Neo-classicism and similar to Renaissance classical works such as Raphael's School of Athens?


David, The Oath of the Horatii, French Neo-classicism, 1784-85

How is this work a perfect example of the Neo-classical style? What story is being told, and how does David tell that story in a way that conveys a civic lesson to viewers? How is the form or style typical of Neo-classicism, and similar to Renaissance classical works such as Raphael’s School of Athens?


Fragonard, The Swing, French Rococo, 1767

How is this work typical of the Rococo stye in terms of both its subject and its style? How does Rococo art help to cement the reputation of the eighteenth-century French aristocracy as corrupt and interested only in their own pleasure?


Boucher, The Shepherd's Presents, French Rococo, 1737

How is this work typical of the Rococo stye in terms of both its subject and its style? How does Rococo art help to cement the reputation of the eighteenth-century French aristocracy as corrupt and interested only in their own pleasure?


Charles Bullfinch, The Massachussets State House, American Neo-classicism, 1798

How is this building a perfect example of the Neo-classical style? What aspects refer to Ancient Greek architecture? What aspects refer to Ancient Roman architecture? Why did American architects choose Greek and Roman architecture as the model for civic buildings housing the new government?