Morality.. and the lack there of

Rococo Art was birthed as a rebellion towards the strict regulations that had been placed upon Baroque Art. It was a style displayed in sculptures, architecture, music, literature, theater, and other artistic avenues, yet was formed in a much different manner than that of Baroque. The artists used notably more grace, humor, and ornate embellishments. It can be identified by its soft and light shades, frequent illustrations of cherubs, and even by its sexual symbols. Rococo Art is well-known for its extravagant depictions of the leisures enjoyed by the aristocracy.


The Toilette of Venus, painted by Francois Boucher in 1751, is a wonderful example of Rococo Art and its strong distinction between other art forms of its time. The painting was commissioned by Madame de Pompadourr and was placed in her dressing room at Bellevue. Venus, the goddess of love, is nude; not a surprise as Boucher was very familiar with depicting nude characters. She is also surrounded by male cupids, with soft skin and blonde hair, another common characteristic to distinguish the art form. Venus is sitting on a Rococo styled upholstered seat and surrounded by extravagant ornaments and decor. The soft tones in Boucher’s painting, paired with beautiful choice of colors, create a very dreamy finish. The painting is notably elegant, and in fact, defined luxury and a life of wealth, for women of the time. Boucher’s excellence in art can be seen through his attention to detail and through his sense of judgement applied to WHOM he was creating the piece for. It is the perfect piece for a dressing room and for the likes of Madame de Pompadourr!

However, many did not approve of this style. The immoral foundations of Rococo Art did not go unnoticed and the Neoclassical Era can be described as opposite to that of Rococo. Neoclassical art took a stand FOR morality and clung to the strong values held on to by the Enlightenment philosophy.  Artists used classical styled painting styles in order to push their agenda. Jacque Louis David was one of the most popular artists in the Neoclassical Era and marked a distinctive move away from Rococo art.


The Oath of the Horatii, painted by Jacque Louis David in 1784, is a well-known painting that effectively represents the Neoclassical Art style. Like many Neoclassical pieces of the time, it depicted a scene from history. This particular painting illustrated the tension between Rome and Alba-Longa, and the heroic sacrifice that three brothers made for their country. Notice, the background is not a focal point in this painting, rather, the people in front demand the attention. This painting is not characterized by its soft tones, technique, and light brushstrokes, rather its invisible strokes and ability to allow the viewer to focus on the subject matter of the picture. Unlike the illogical rationalization of Rococo art, the frozen state of each person, illustrates sound reason. The story line is very moral and encourages and inspires the viewer. The women display great emotion, while the men show masculinity and patriotism.


Antoine-Jean Gros’, Bonaparte Visiting the Plague Victims of Jaffa, is another great example of Neoclassical Art. The piece was painted in 1804 and was commissioned by Napolean Bonaparte himself. Bonaparte, one of the greatest leaders in history, visited a scene of countless bubonic plague victims, putting himself in danger, but revealing his patriotism and love for his country. Once again, a historical moment was depicted, utilizing many techniques as seen in Jacque Louis David’s, The Oath of the Horatii. There is great detail, once again, in the forefront of the piece, drawing the viewer to the moral focus and allowing attention to be drawn to the unique moment in history. Note the man dressed in expensive attire, passing out food to the victims. There are doctors, soldiers, officers, servants, victims, and the general, all in once scene. It is no wonder Bonaparte wanted this moment to be captured.

The distinction between Rococo and Neoclassicism Art is very clear through the moral conclusions the viewer is left with, as portrayed in these three pieces. In The Toilette of Venus, the reaction was to hang it up in the dressing room and dream of life as a wealthy women of the time. In The Oath of the Horatii and Bonaparte Visiting the Plague Victims of Jaffa the focus is patriotism and standing up for what is right. The power of art is so beautiful in that it has the ability to be interpreted in so many ways and inspire. The leaders of Neoclassicism believed in this power.

Cokeley, Sarah R. “Brushes With Conflict.” Military History 31.6 (2015): 52-57. Academic Search Premier. Web. 30 June 2015.

Hyde, Melissa. “The ‘Makeup’ Of The Marquise: Boucher’s Portrait Of Pompadour At Her Toilette.” Art Bulletin 82.3 (2000): 453. Academic Search Premier. Web. 30 June 2015.

Kljaich, Lisa. “4.4- Visual Arts in the Classical Era.” Art Music Theater F200 RSS. Kljaich, Lisa (UAF), n.d. Web. 05 Mar. 2013.

Wikipedia contributors. “Bonaparte Visiting the Plague Victims of Jaffa.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 16 Apr. 2015. Web. 1 Jul. 2015.



  1. Emily Shipman · July 6, 2015

    I completely agree that the Rococo style was different from the Neoclassical style because of their separate perspectives on morality. This difference is obvious to viewers when you notice the seriousness of Neoclassicism as opposed to the carefree depictions in the Rococo paintings. Also, I think it’s very smart of you to point out who these paintings were meant for! It makes sense that an aristocrat like Madam de Pompadourr would want a piece like “The Toilette of Venus” while Napolean Bonaparte would want an important historical scene. Personally, I like both styles, but I really enjoy the freedom that Rococo art exudes. The unseriousness is a nice change from such religious works from the Baroque era. However, the scenes that the Neoclassical artists created are also great because of the stories they tell. For example, “The Death of Socrates” by Jacques-Louis David is definitely worth looking at if you’re interested in how the great philosopher died.


  2. mjsilta2 · July 6, 2015

    I really enjoyed reading your post and I thought you did a really great job distinguishing between the morality in the Rococo and Neoclassical art. Your description of the colors and other characteristics in The Toilette of Venus really showed how difference between the two styles. I liked your comment about how it was meant to be hung in the dressing room to dream of a wealthy and lavish life. I think that this painting is beautiful to look at for a short amount of time but I find the paintings you presented for the Neoclassical era much more intriguing. I enjoy the angles and lines presented in the Neoclassical paintings, and along with the morality and heroism in the stories of the paintings, these artists presented the morality very well. I found this article really helpful in getting familiar with Neoclassicism and really enjoy the paintings they provide:


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