a history of western art

from the renaissance to the present

the french baroque and rococo


people, terms, and concepts: King Louis XIV, Apollo, absolutism, geocentrism, heliocentrism


The ultimate development of the ‘pomp and splendor Baroque’ is in its celebration of the absolutist governments and religious institutions of the seventeenth century. Be able to describe how Rubens applied the 'pompous Baroque' style to celebrate the magnificence and power of Henry IV and Marie de’ Medici in the 21-painting Marie de' Medici cycle. Know the iconographic program of the sculpture, architecture and garden design at Versailles, and how it conveyed the idea of Louis XIV as the center and controller of France's nobility, of France as a nation, of the world, of nature and the seasons, and in fact (borrowing the imagery of Apollo and the new scientific theory of heliocentrism) of the whole cosmos (ambitious fellow).

After the death of Louis XIV in 1715, the central government of France went into decline and power shifted to the aristocracy, who preferred the Rococo style, a more light-hearted and sensual art than the bombastic Baroque. Typically featuring scenes of frolic and flirtation among shady bowers in a frothy, pastel color scheme, Rococo art has since held the reputation of demonstrating the self-indulgence and corruption of the aristocracy in the decades leading up to the French Revolution of 1789.

Fragonard, The Swing, French Rococo, c. 1765

Le Veau and Mansart, Aerial view of Versailles palace and gardens, c. 1685

Rubens, Henry IV receiving the portrait of Marie de’ Medici, Flemish Baroque, c. 1625

Le Vau and Mansart, Views of Versailles:  the Orangerie, the Grand Canal, and the Fountain of Apollo, c. 1685