Baroque and Rococo Art

Professor:Dr. P E Michelli
Class meets:Tuesday, Thursday, 1.20-2.45 pm
Office Hours:By apointment
J S Held and D Posner, 17th and 18th Century Art, Prentice-Hall, Inc, Englewood Cliffs, New Yersey, 1974

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The range of Baroque art is so wide that it can be difficult for form an overall impression of it. The contrast, for example, between Rubens and Vermeer, or Georges de la Tour and Velasquez can leave you wondering why these artists are grouped under the same umbrella. In fact, the diversification of style (from Classicism to naturalism, from austere smoothness to buttery luxuriance) and subject matter (the introduction of new kinds of landscape, interiors, still lifes, genre, and apotheoses) are part of what Baroque art is about. They are aspects of its sincerity in the face of political diversification and social change. And what do we make of the Rococo? Is fluffiness all there is to it? We'll see.

As the syllabus shows, the period is dominated throughout by the Classical tradition as promulgated during the Italian Renaissance. There is conscious continuation and development, as in Section I. This approach belongs to Italy and France attempting to maintain the old social order. There is also conscious rejection, as in Section II. This approach is subversive, whether we are looking at the growing attention paid to the poor in Italy, France and Spain, or the new Protestant morality of Holland. This subversiveness is new, and it spawns most of the new subjects, styles and ways of moralizing. Finally, there is an attempt to reconcile glorious sensuality with Classical moral rigor, as in Section III. This tends to occur in royal circles in Spain, Flanders and England, and while it can lead to very rich secular and social effects which easily deteriorate into frivolity, it also produces the most fascinating invention of all: the tantalization - the deliberate stimulation and enhancement of an emotional response to produce a spiritual complement to the Classical idealization.

The syllabus divides the course into a series of numbered units. Each unit represents one class, and each asterisk represents a twenty-minute seminar presentation by a student. You will be required to produce TWO seminars during the semester (in place of the more usual papers) which will be linked by lectures, topical handouts, and class discussions at the end of each section to draw the threads together. Do not be daunted by the seminars: once you get the hang of them, you will never want to study in any other way again. You will be supported as you learn the techniques, and you are guaranteed a friendly and sympathetic audience. This is an excellent opportunity to learn some basic art historical research and presentation strategies before tackling larger independent projects such as Senior Theses or graduate research. And having done all this, the final exam will be a breeze: an oral defense of Rococo painting.

Start preparing your seminars at once. You are expected to put in an average of seven hours' study per week (added to your class time, this comes to ten hours per week, one quarter of a normal working week). This time is directed towards your seminars and the final exam. These account for 90% of your course grade (an average of your two best grades). The other 10% is for attendance (built up in increments of .4% per class attended). It is your responsibility to make sure that I have recorded your attendance. If you arrive late, come and check the register after class before you leave.

Attendance at Steensland Art Museum Exhibitions is required. Opening nights particularly recommended. A roster sheet will be in the lobby by the door. Make sure you sign it. Steensland has its own web page with calendar of events>. You can get to it from the Art Department Page or from the home page of my site here.

Note that there are other helpful documents on my site. These include paper preparation strategies (i.e. basic research strategies - how to generate your own informed take on the field without getting brainwashed by the published authorities), and paper planning strategies (i.e. how to make the best of all your material, even when it doesn't seem to be very much or very useful). You will give your seminars from a paper plan (I will penalize you for reading from a written paper), so you may find these documents useful. There is also a dedicated art history browser, with Baroque and Rococo sites among the rest. The Survey class (Art 151) is producing an on-line encyclopedia (no longer available) on this site too, with Renaissance and Baroque artists appearing within the first couple of weeks. Send them a comment!

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