Italian Rococo

Italian Rococo

Historical background

The art of Italian Settecento was one of the closing periods in the centuries of the history of classical art. It was a time of the overhelming popularity of Italian artists all over Europe. Saint-Petersburg, Madrid, Paris, London, Vienna, Warsaw – masters from the Apennines were invited everywhere to complete orders for royal courts and aristocracy. They were valued as skillful mural painters, portraitists, architects, sculptors and stage designers.

Such a significant authority can’t be explained by the innovative character of the Italian culture at that time. On the contrary, it seemed too closely tied up to the visual mentality and language of High Renaissance and Baroque and was sometimes even less progressive versus the achievements of creators from France and England, for example. Relevance of Italian artists in various European centers was furthered by the reputation, formed by proceeding epochs. The legacy of the 16th and 17th cent. shaped general high and equal level of arts’ development. Besides, it was in Italy, where the first steps towards professional artistic education were made. Apart from establishing orienteers in subjects and topics, Italians dictated standards in technique virtuosity and quality of works. In the upshot, all that allowed them to form a truly prestige image.

One of the reasons for spreading of Italian masters all across Europe was lack of work for them on their own motherland. Exhausted by wars, during the 18th cent. Italy was fragmented and economically ruined. Its southern part obeyed to Spanish Bourbons, meanwhile Habsburgs ruled Tuscany. Social disorder caused disturbance and unorganized rebels of the poverty. Only Venice and Papal region (with capital in Rome) maintained their independence. That’s why Venice and Rome played an outstanding role in spiritual and cultural life of Italy in Settecento.

Characteristic features of Italian Rococo

Although in comparison to its flourishing in the 17th cent. Italian architecture of the 18th cent. disclosed certain decay, it nevertheless produced some interesting ideas. Even in a difficult economic situation of this period, Italians demonstrated their love towards erecting grandiose buildings and virtuosity in working with monumental forms. And orientated on small-scale rococo here was overshadowed by somewhat inert echos of the bygone Grand style. This dependence on the achievements of the past in Italy was more obvious than in other national schools, so baroque and classicistic tendencies predominated.

From the art of the 17th cent. Italian mural painting inherited passion for illusionism. Quadraturas – creating perspective constructions on a flat wall surface with a striking effect of depth – were praised among connoisseurs. Giovanni Battista Tiepolo was a great specialist in this field and one of the prominent artists of his epoch.

When Rococo gradually wasted away all over Europe, under more and more frequent reproaches in frivolity, Venice still had some outstanding masters of this style, who demonstrated charm and vividness of rococo in their best pieces. The most “roccaile” one was Pietro Longhi. His genre scenes included typical for the 18th cent. subjects of carnival, feasts, galant leisure spending etc. Another branch of Italian rococo was more rationalistic, though not deprived of the element of mystery and fantasy: it’s veduta – a detailed cityscape, done usually in realistic manner. Dutch by its origins (enough to remember city vistas by Vermeer), veduta was brought to the highest level in the oeuvres of Francesco Guardi, Bernardo Bellotto and Canaletto.

Italian rococo was based on both innovative French artistic trends and deeply ingrained principles of classical art. Here, as nowhere else, its connection with baroque art was evident. That made it an original and self-sufficient cultural phenomenon.

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