This is especially true when a theme or subject is used in art from different time periods. One can see how the view of the subject has changed or stayed the same. One theme that has evolved over time is the subject of women. Their complexities, mysteries, and roles in society have been studied throughout the ages. That is why they have been a favorite point of interest for artist. If an artist can capture the essence of a woman, then he/she can capture life.
The Baroque Period was the earliest of these artistic movements. It came after the European Renaissance and spanned the whole seventeenth century. Although some features appear in Dutch art, the Baroque style was limited mainly to Catholic countries. It is a style in which painters, sculptors, and architects sought emotion, movement, and variety in their works.1 Baroque art was basically an answer to the Catholic Reformation. The objective of the church was to communicate the emotions of the biblical stories in art. The church desired that the patrons who were illiterate to be able to view the art and understand the story and feel the emotions that they could not comprehend because of their lack of reading. The wealthy patrons had a different purpose for the art they commissioned and this was to impress others.
The focus of the paintings were to be dramatic and to tell a story that would appeal to the senses. The realism in the art of this period was incredible. The subjects were multidimensional as well as the textures accurate.
An excellent example of art from the Baroque Period is Young Girl Writing a Love Letter by the Italian painter Pietro Rotari. The painting was completed in seventeen fifty-five so it was done in the middle of the period which would represent the peak of the artistic movement. Young Girl Writing a Love Letter is not a painting with a religious theme, but Rotari did paint many that were. Instead, he chose a young woman for his subject.
Even though the theme is different than most Baroque art, the young woman has a dreamy, almost angelic quality and expression on her face. There is a purity about her that reminds one of the Virgin Mary. She is resting her head on her hand while she gazes off into the distance while contemplating just the right words to write to her lover. However, one can tell from her innocent face that even though she is in love, she her motives are pure. The treatment of women as a theme in art during the Baroque Period truly reflects the religious focus during that time.
Rotaris style is typical of the Baroque Period. His painting of Young Girl Writing a Love Letter is realistic. The young womans hair is painted so that it gives the appearance of her hair having strands with a few wisp of stray hairs that have fallen out of her neatly pulled back hairstyle. The silk fabric of her dress is realistically shown through the use of lights and darks. Even the wood of the desk is painted using perspectives so that it has a three dimensional look.
Rococo was the eighteenth centurys answer to the Baroque movement. As Baroque concentrated on religious figures and themes, the artist of the Rococo Period focused on the wealthy aristocracy. The ornamental, graceful curves, delicate colors, and anything of elegance were the markings of the period. The aristocracy wanted to be the focus of the art instead of heroes from history and the Bible. The movement originated in France during the reign of Louis XV. The architecture and furnishings of the day were also representative the movement.
One of the foremost painters during the Rococo Period was Jean Marc Nattier. He was a French painter who, at fifteen, painted for Peter the Great, but he was a member of King Louis XVs court and mainly painted for him. Many of his paintings are still in France and still displayed at the Louvre.
Mythological portraiture allowed Nattier to synthesize his desire to be a history painter with the financial necessity of making a living, for portraits were in demand. After the 1740s, as tastes began to change, Nattier created more straightforward representations. Financial problems and illness finally caused him to stop painting in 1762. (Getty Museum)
An excellent example of Jean Marc Nattiers work is the painting Portrait of a Young Woman Painter. The young woman is obviously an aristocrat because is adorned in a lavish yet delicate dress with a carefree look on her face as she gazes out at the painting. She has a face that is fragile as though it has never seen the sun, hard work, or bad and troublesome thoughts.
Her hand is rested on her head in a ladylike pose while her smile is faint. She holds her palette as if she is not serious about painting. In fact, she looks as like there is nothing that really interest her. She is graceful and her curves are sensual as the open neckline of her dress. The background is muted as are the colors of the portrait. It is not bright and vivid as the paintings of the Baroque Period.
The artist deals with the subject of a young woman as mystical. She does not
standout in any way because of the muted shades, but simply fades into the background. Her palette that should have vibrant colors on them, but they are varying shades of the background. This symbolizes that a woman considering an occupation is just a frivolous idea that is fleeting. Instead of angelic as women were portrayed in the Baroque Period, the woman depicted in the Rococo movement is seen more as a status symbol. It is as if she only exist to prove that the man in her life can afford her. She would be his proof that by pampering her, he has the means to sustain his social position.
Following the Rococo Period was the Neoclassical movement which focused on the classical forms of the ancient Greek and Roman works of art.
Neo-classicism was a style that emerged in Britain and France in the 1750s. Artists and architects sought to create an eternally valid true style that could be expressed across all areas of the visual arts. The style was based on the designs of Classical Greece and Rome. A major source of inspiration came from archaeological discoveries such as those made at Herculaneum and Pompeii which brought the ancient world to life. (Learn About Style)
Patriotism, heroism, courage, and sacrifice were elements of the Neoclassical Period. This movement stated in the seventeen fifties, and lasted well into the eighteen hundreds.
Marie-Louise Lebrun, also known as ‰lisabeth-Louise Vige-Le Brun, was a famous portrait artist during the Neoclassic Period. Her paintings were simple and pure as was popular during the period. Her well known painting, Portrait of Theresa, Countess Kinsky is typical of the Neoclassical design. There is a landscape that is faded into the background so that the focus is on the Countess.
Her head is wrapped in a long flowing cloth that is reminiscent of the loose draping of the ancient Greeks and Romans. The dress is of a deep midnight blue that draws the eye to the classic lines of the clothing. Her demeanor is of a woman that is knowledgeable and intense. The Countess is has a striking pose that draws immediate attention to her. Her eyes are piercing while her smile is alluring.
The theme of woman in this picture is unique in that the subject is a female seen through the eyes of another female. It is amazing how Lebrun presents a woman of obvious strength that is not seen in the previous paintings. The Countess is a confident compelling subject. There is power in the expression of her countenance. Her intellect is shown as a positive element that only adds to her beauty. In reality this womans life was rather tragic. Her husband left her at the altar after their wedding and went to his mistress. Given the beauty of Theresa, the Countess, one wonders about the personalities of the people involved.1 A woman who lived the life of the Countess would have to have been strong and command the attention of Lebrun, who was a professional woman and was also a symbol of strength.
The Romantic Period encompassed the first half of the nineteenth century. The artist of the day concentrated on emotion, the supernatural, and the glorification of nature. _____________________
Romantics were more emotional, usually melancholic, even melodramatically tragic.1 There was more of an attention to the exotic that the ancient Greece and Rome. There was also a fascination of horror. It was definitely different from artistic period in the past. One could not help but be drawn into the emotional state of the subject because it was the objective of the Romantic artist to completely convey the emotion of the subject of his/her art.
The talented Thodore Chassriau was characteristic of the Romantic Period. He started painting at a young age and was a master painter by the time he reached adulthood. The Angel, by Chassriau, is unlike any of the angels painted in earlier artistic periods. The angel is either on earth or a place that has a similar landscape. The prominent tree trunk, the colorful fall foliage of the tree leaves, and the lush green underbrush are typical of the Romantic focus on the glorification of nature.
The light fluffy clouds add to the effect. The angelic being depicted on earth is an example of spotlight on the supernatural. The expression of deep concern and pain is on the face of the being which is opposite of what most think of angels who are thought to be creatures of peace, love, and protection. However, this angel is in hurting in some way. The clothing is realistic, but the hair and feathers of the angel are more fantastic than real.
The angel is depicted as a woman in the painting The Angel. It sets the tone that women were seen as heavenly beings during the period. They were not seen as equal to men, yet men saw them as mysterious. The fact that this angel is distressed displays to
the viewer that heaven might not be what the world expected it to be. As women are stereotypically emotional people, the angel is definitely female. In the Bible, the angels have male names, yet Chassriau, like others of his day, portrayed it as female. Women were seen as the ones who were immensely emotional.
Women have been the subject of art ever since there was art. They are intriguing and beguiling. Each artistic period was representative of societys view of women. It is a way to freeze a moment in time. It is an interesting idea to examine how the place of woman in society has evolved over time.
Chassriau, Theodore. The Angel. 1840.
Countess Kinsky. http://hal.ucr.edu/~cathy/artists/evlb93.html
Getty Museum. Artist. http://www.getty.edu/art/gettyguide/artMakerDetails?maker=459
Learn About Style. Neoclassicism.
Lebrun, Marie, Louise. Portrait of Theresa, Countess Kinsky. 1793.
Nattier, Jean Marc. Portrait of a Young Woman Painter. 1740.
Rotari, Pietro. Young Woman Writing a Love Letter. 1755.