The difference between Rococo and Baroque in art

These names may be similar, but they are two utterly different styles, which have left a sizeable imprint on the art world.

Baroque. This name has Italian roots, and translates as ‘strange’, ‘absurd’, ‘coarse’. It is a style that features contrasts, pomposity and a monumental aspect. It convinces the onlooker that they are in the presence of luxury and extravagance, where none really exist. After reaching its apogee in the 16th century, it began to wane thereafter. Rich people turned to art as a way of compensating for not having the funds to build palaces. Baroque art is sometimes seen as a type of art that reflects violence and darkness.

Rococo. This name is derived from the French word for shell. The style first emerged in France in the 18th century, and went on to become the successor to the Baroque style. Out went cold grandiosity, strict symmetry, and dull pomposity. Rococo strives for lightness, accessibility, playfulness. It is characterized by elegance, gallantry, richly decorative designs, and the use of scenes from mythology.

Baroque style: "Judith Beheading Holofernes" by Carravagio

The reasons why Rococo came into being

The emergence of this style was brought about by a change in philosophical views and the development of new tastes. Its principle idea lies in the proclaiming of eternal youth and beauty, and a desire to hide away from real life.

In painting, a preference developed for characters shown against a backdrop of pastoral motifs. For these characters, life’s troubles do not exist: they are full of love and are enjoying blissful moments, in an atmosphere of complete harmony with the natural world around them. Even the sheep in the paintings look happy.


Rococo style" "The toilet of psyche" by Charles Joseph Natoire

The key areas of difference

Colour. The prevailing colours in the Baroque style are heavy, dark, saturated colours: red, maroon, dark emerald, mustard. In Rococo, bright colours make way for pastel tones: pinks, light blues and lilacs. Another distinctive feature, meanwhile, is eroticism. Nudes, the goddess Venus and nymphs are most commonly depicted.

Mood and fashion.In the Baroque style, the preference is for saturation, volume, and a massive scale. The Rococo style is about slender lines, intricate details, playfulness and lightness.

Portrayal of nature. In Rococo art, the characters are shapely and feminine, and affected; the women’s skirts leave their ankles uncovered, and their cheeks are rosy – a manifestation of their youthfulness. In the past, this style was seen as rude.

The main distinguishing feature of Rococo art can be found in its more subtle and feminine portrayal of the life of that era.

Rococo represents a kind of rebirth of Baroque, symbolizing a change of epochs. The spiritual ecstasy and excitement that it conveys fully accord with the expansion of scientific and philosophical knowledge, and the development of culture, that were taking place at the time.