The Difference Between the Rococo and the Baroque Periods

Written by jess kroll
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The Difference Between the Rococo and the Baroque Periods
Baroque paintings often focused on the use of light. ( Images)

Rising from and eventually supplanting the Mannerist artistic movement, the Baroque period in Europe lasted from the last 1500s to the early 1700s. In some places this late period of Baroque branched into a artistic style called Rococo, before being replaced in popularity by the Neo-Classical style. Both Baroque and Rococo art focused on creating intricate and full artistic experiences, but the two differed greatly in approach and, at times, subject matter.

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Although the technique originated during the Renaissance, Baroque paintings are often identifiable from a strong usage of chiaroscuro, a type of lighting that creates sharp contrasts between light and dark. Often, it leaves part of a painting completely obscured by shadow while another area is presented in a bold light. Rococo paintings, by contrast, often employ a much lighter technique, focusing on a greater use of bright colours and whimsical compositions, at times focusing on a greater level of secular or even amorous enjoyment than Baroque paintings, which typically focus on religious themes.


In sculpture the Baroque period took the detailed and dramatic ideas of the Mannerist period even further through the abundant use of contrapposto (counterpoise), in which a subject's body is twisted with the legs and shoulders facing in different directions to create a dynamic effect. Whereas Michelangelo's Renaissance sculpture of David depicts the figure standing in a fixed pose, Bernini's Baroque sculpture has him in action, with his body twisting and his face tight with effort. In the Rococo period sculptures again took on more relaxed poses. Instead of the rigid actions of Baroque, the subjects were often captured in moments of quiet rest or contemplation. Also, the Rococo period introduced a greater use of porcelain instead of the hard marble used up to that point.


Baroque architecture created drama through the use of bold colonnades and domes, painter-like colour schemes, plays on light and mixing volume with void through heavy areas mixed with empty space. For interiors Baroque architects used monumental staircases to reach up and beyond previous artistic styles, which in turn created movement throughout a building. The period also employed the technique of building grandeur and drama sequentially, until viewers reach a climactic space, typically a room of great power such as a throne or state room. The Rococo period moved away from the dramatic while adding greater detail, particularly to interiors. Rooms were elaborately decorated, even designed to the particular furniture and items placed within a chamber. The period also moved toward asymmetrical design, with wall decorations having an unbalanced quality.

Subject Matter

Whereas the Baroque period is defined through predominantly religious iconography, the Rococo period emphasised a more secular and aristocratic atmosphere. Baroque paintings and sculptures often depicted scenes from religious texts, primarily because of the continued commissioning of the church for artwork. With the aristocracy and upper classes gaining more influence, Rococo art became more decadent, luxurious and fanciful, with landscapes and leisurely compositions replacing the rigid and often harsh religious ones. The Rococo period used lush colours and curves to create more playful, erotic and superficial scenes.

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