Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Romantic Era (pt. 1)

Lest we find ourselves completely out of the historical order of the 19th century, it is vital that I point out here and now that history is rarely an exact, mathematical study.  Periods of history blend together.  This is easily enough understood, I trust.  It isn't like the world was still living in agrarianism in 1799, and as soon as the calendar turned to 1800, then the Industrial Age began—not at all.  Art is the same way; our periods will increasingly begin to blend and mesh together.  Not to worry: just keep in mind that other things are continually happening during a single period of art.  I think the French Revolution is one of the greatest examples of an absolute and immediate turn-around in the art world.  After 1789, Rococo art met its end almost immediately, given the violent extremity of the situation in France—almost.  The style still was continued on here and there.  American artist Edward Hicks's painting Peaceable Kingdom, painted in 1826, for example, still demonstrates the aristocratic ideology of Rococo-style art.
This Post-Revolutionary painting is also an example of propaganda in that it showcases European supremacy.  On the left, Europeans make peace with the Native Americans; and on the right, little children, pure and clothed in white, make peace with otherwise savage animals.  The two sides are correlative: the Europeans are pictured as innocent babies learning to tame the allegedly uncivilized and savage Native American beasts.  This is a very white supremacist message, and one which honors the upper-class aristocracy over the common man (or Indian)—a Rococo-inspired theme.  I always thought it was kind of a weird painting.  Look at the wildness in the animals' eyes, showing how dangerous and undomesticated they truly are; but the babies are calmly sitting nearby and even petting the beasts.
Paintings like this continue to be produced, but noticeably less after the French Revolution and, eventually, not at all.  So, we see a crossing-over with Rococo into Neoclassical art.  The timeline is not always precisely in sequence.  In fact, one of the chief works credited to the Neoclassical Period of art was painted by David before the Revolution: his Oath of the Horatii.  We furthermore see a combination of Neoclassical art with Romantic art.  We have arrived in our study of art history at the Romantic Period now, but that does not mean that Neoclassical styles have altogether expired.  In fact, Romanticism (capital R) took much of its inspiration from Neoclassical theory, and these qualities can be seen in many of the paintings we are about to look at.

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