Friday, March 7, 2014

The Swing: France's Pursuit of Pleasure

After the death of King Louis XIV (1715), there was a great shift from the "Grand Manner" art form to the new Rococo. Versailles was abandoned by the aristocracy, who sought to regain their personal preference, ideals, and styles, which King Louis had controlled up until this point. The aristocracy moved to Paris and began living lives of complete luxury (for they controlled 90% of Frances wealth and governmental power) and often were involved in romantic intrigue instead of actual work.

This style of living is scene in "The Swing" by Fragonard (1767) quite easily. As with most Rococo paintings, there is an quick understanding of this work. The overall idea is that a young couple trick an elderly man to push the woman in a swing so that her lover (who hides in the bushes) can see up her skirt! This lack of seriousness, like Baroque paintings, caused most Enlightenment thinkers to condemn such paintings since it doesn't show human behavior at its most noble.

A viewer's eye is instantly drawn to the bright pink in the middle of the canvas at first glance. We see a woman, riding a swing, and completely engulfed in pastel pink lace, floral, and swirling fabric. Her stockings exposed, she flips a pick slipper into the air, expressing complete interest in the moment. She is being pushed by a elderly gentlemen, who is most likely completely innocent to the lover's plot, on her left side. Her eyes meet with her lover's, who hides in overgrown rose bushes. A little fence barely controls these roses where the man hides, but gives us a clue that he isn't supposed to be there.

Above the hiding man, a statue of a cupid quiets the viewer with a "hush" and his finger over his lips. Two cupids (under the woman's left arm) cuddle, but give a scowl upon their faces.

Perhaps the most interesting piece is the yapping dog, a sign of infidelity. Could the shadowed man, the one pushing the woman, really be the woman's husband? Is there about to be a romantic interest with the man in the bushes or has it already happened?

Overall, this Rococo piece is full of symbolism, not only expressing the ideals of the aristocracy during this period, but showing the illicit spontaneity and overabundance that would latter cause the French Revolution and the uprising of the rest of the country's people.

Helpful Links:

Duffy, Stephen et al., The Wallace Collection, London: Scala Publishers Ltd. 2011.

Harris, Beth. "Fragonard's The Swing." Rococo. Khan Academy, 2005. Web. 07 Mar. 2014.

"The Swing." Artable: The Home of Passinate Art Lovers. Artble, 2014. Web. 07 Mar. 2014.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Florals, Frills, and Lace: Rococo Fashion in France

 Rococo Fashioned Women: Notice pastels, floral patterns, and flowers 

Three things are needed to have fashion; a society with enough influence to carry out fashion ideals, information transferring abilities, and a need or desire for that fashionable item.

Beginning in the 18th century, France had a shift in culture known as the Enlightenment. This new ideal of valuing reason over authority caused new forms of art, culture, and fashion. Up to this point, Versailles was the hub of fashion information, but the Enlightenment caused Paris to become a culture center. Educated bourgeoisie gained influence and power during this time, so when new fashion arose, it not only affected the royals and aristocrats, but also middle and lower classes as well.

Madame Pompadour: Notice the full flowing skirt silhouette and powered white hair

One of the greatest figures in Rococo fashions was Louis XV's mistress Madame Pompadour. By adoring herself in pastel colors, floral patterns, and the light, happy styles which became Rococo, she made Rococo clothing fashionable for that time.
Marie Antoinette in "chemise a la reine" designed for her country house. The dress was designed for easy movement due to no corset and was based off the "chemise" or lady's underwear of the time. Pagoda sleeves based off of oriental designs were popular. 

Fashion designers gained influence during this era and fashion magazines emerged to capture the imagination (and money) of all classes with their colorful, hand painted illustrations. The new silhouette for women developed and the pannier (wide hoop under the skirt) became the staple in women's fashion. Corsets tightly constrict waists to bring contrast to the wide skirts. Plunging necklines and open front skirts which displayed petticoat underneath became popular as well. Hair was powered with wheat meal and flour, which caused outrage to the lower classes as bread prices increased.

The Watteau gown had a loose back which became part of the full skirt and
 a tight bodice. The women above in the floral navy shows this example.

Men's fashion really just became variations of a coat, waistcoat, and breeches. The waistcoat was the most decorative. Coats became more fashioned to the body and lace jabots were tied around the neck. In men's fashion, tailoring became the way to emphasis wealth and power, thus a tailored suit became the status symbol without all of the flowers, lace, and bows that women had in Rococo fashion. "Macaronis"  or lavish French men were especially fashionable in dress. 

Fashion also played a large role in the French Revolution. The Tricolor - red, white, and blue- on rosettes, skirts, and breeches became a sign of the Revolutionaries. The Sans-Culottes, or "without breeches" became the lower class Revolutionaries (they were trousers instead due to the un-tailored nature of this clothing article). Extravagant gowns or suits became dangerous to wear because it became the sign of an aristocrat, which the Revolutionaries despised.

Tricolor Cockade

The Rococo fashion era largely ended during the French Revolution, yet its contrasting themes created a diverse fashion like none before. The quest for simplicity yet extravagance, light colors vs. heavy materials, the bourgeoisie and the aristocrats...these contrast made up what became the Rococo fashion and culture of this particular style during this time. 

Helpful Links: 

"History Of Fashion - Rococo. " History of Fashion - Rococo. N.p., 2007. Web. 06 Mar. 2014.

Tortora, Phyllis G., and Keith Eubank. Survey  of Historic Costume: A History of Western Dress. New York: Fairchild Publications, 1998. Print.

West, Abigail. "History of Costume." History of Costume. Word Press, 12, May 2014. Web. 06 Mar. 2014.

The Sun King

Sun King Golden Emblem 

French King, Louis XIV, reigned from 1643-1715, bringing absolute monarchy to its greatest height. With the building of Versailles, Louis XIV controlled  his court, their wishes, monies, and powers to the best of his ability...and mostly, he controlled them absolutely. His court was moved completely to Versailles on May 6, 1682.
Versailles, Air View

Early in his life, Louis XIV saw a civil war which would cause the royal family to be driven out of Paris. It is believed that this civil war brought Louis XIV poverty, misfortune, fear, and lack of trust in Paris, its nobles, or its common people.

King Louis XIV Painting 

Upon the dealt of the chief minister, Louis XIV declared himself chief minister and ended the "reign of the cardinal-ministers." From this point on, Louis XIV would control his government until his death.

Hall of Mirrors, Versailles

Yet gaining control over France wasn't as easy at this might sound thus far. First, Louis XIV put elaborate displays of his sovereignty at the Palace at Versailles. He committed other royal's time with his daily rituals of getting out of bed, eating meals, and strolling through gardens, which became huge theatrical productions. It became fashionable and expected for royalty to have these elaborate schedules, which other noblemen would vie to help with.

Second, Louis XIV used centralized government to create domestic tranquility, which was much appreciated after years of war with almost every other country in Europe and a civil war. Upper bourgeoisie were awarded positions of power, but were moved to Versailles to keep any of them from gaining regional power.

Thirdly, he wanted to have "one king, one law, one faith." He raged endless war with Protestant institutions in the attempt to create religious unity in France.

Fountain in the Versailles Gardens 

For Louis XVI, unity was everything to France, but years of war would cost the country in the end. His decline happened after revoking the Protestant minority's right to worship by his Edict of Fontainebleau. Many of the Huguenot's (Protestants), which constituted the industrious segment of French society, left the country, taking skills and wealth with them. His intolerance helped unite the Protestants of Europe against the Sun King.

Helpful Link:

Pegard, Catherine. "NewsEvents." Shows at Versailles. Public and Private Companies Throughout France, n.d. Web. 17 Mar. 2014. <>.

 Stingrad, Elena. "Minority." Louis XIV. N.p., 26 Nov. 07. Web. 04 Mar. 2014.