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European Art: Eighteenth Century  
 
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In the Rococo, classical subjects were treated with a daring, witty playfulness. The sight of flesh, female in particular, was applauded, even by female audiences and patrons. It was in many ways a subversive style that mocked what artists had come to see as the empty heroics of the Baroque.

François Boucher, under the patronage of Madame de Pompadour, painted with less finesse than Watteau but with an element of fantasy that enshrined the arts of love. He continued Watteau's eroticizing of the space between the viewer and viewed. Showing subjects face on and up close, Boucher's Reclining Girl (1752 ) is notable for its daring treatment of the female nude. Diderot observed that Boucher's pupils had a penchant for painting "chubby pink bottoms" rather too hastily.

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Italian and Spanish Artists

During the eighteenth-century, art from Venice was in great demand, especially in England where panoramas of the Grand Canal were particularly prized. Giovanni Antonio Canaletto along with Francesco Guardi were masters of these ceremonial and festive scenes of regattas. Guardi's brushwork in some ways foreshadowed the Impressionists.

Other Venetian artists of the period included Giambattista Tiepolo, whose technique many believed unsurpassed. His painting The Death of Hyacinthus (1782) is said to be modeled on a real death in a homosexual affair. Paolo Veronese also worked very much in the Baroque mode, but with substantial individual flair. Their massive lush, opulent canvases and altar pieces were greatly admired.

It was Giovanni Battista Piranesi, however, who heralded a strikingly new approach. His etching series entitled Imaginary Prisons (1745) contained almost violent chiaroscuro effects that immediately captured the public imagination. He depicted architecture in ruins, but in an emotional way, somewhat like opera scenery. Some etchings suggest a nightmare reality.

His work satisfied the growing taste for accurate archaeological details, but added a questing, nostalgic, romantic spirit. The influence of Piranesi's work was to be a continued inspiration even on interior designer Robert Adam, causing people to reevaluate the antique.

Francisco de Goya working in Spain also produced paintings of exceptional verve and intensity, particularly in his etchings. Though his work is not easily classified, it also presages the deeper, darker feelings unearthed by Romanticism.

Johann Winckelmann and the Neoclassical Revival

The Grand Tour to the archaeological ruins of Italy and Greece became de rigueur for a gentleman hoping for a complete education. New discoveries at the sites of Herculaneum and Pompeii in Italy were significant enough to warrant a detailed examination of Greek and Roman art.

First there and eager to study the artifacts was Johann Winckelmann, a humble teacher and son of a cobbler from Germany. He eventually managed to be elected in charge of the Antiquities in Rome. Once Winckelmann was established in Rome, he almost single-handedly formulated a new system of thinking about Greek Art, one that clearly drew on his personal taste for adolescent male nudes with slim hips and underdeveloped pectorals.

Winckelmann's monumental study of Greek statuary, The History of the Art of Antiquity (1764), had a profound effect and was recognized immediately as setting a new standard of art criticism and art history. He made the notion of "noble simplicity and calm grandeur" gain currency in what emerged as a new aesthetic throughout Europe. Central to this notion was the male nude, classed as the highest and most esteemed pinnacle of art.

Winckelmann formulated, sometimes in unashamedly ecstatic prose, an almost measurable system that privileged the ideals of beauty and the sublime. While not denying female beauty, his ideas were clearly rather than ambiguously . This favoring of a slim, toned youthful body represented a shift from what that had previously been the acme of beauty, a mature, tortured frame. The Apollo Belvedere became one of the most admired Greek statues because of Winckelmann's ecstatic criticism.

Winckelmann's work was more than art history or art criticism. It was fundamentally a plea for a ideal that asserted the primacy of art for a healthy culture. Central to his vision was his sheer delight in male--and some female--physiques.

Even Hegel acknowledged Winckelmann's contribution to European culture as lending force to establishing both art history and archaeology as serious scholarly studies. The murder of Winckelmann in Trieste in 1768 shocked not only Goethe, who lamented the news, but the whole of Europe.

English Neoclassicism

In England Robert Adam, working with a variety of artists such as Angelica Kauffmann, achieved a Neoclassical revolution in interior decoration in the eighteenth century. At Syon House, Middlesex, and Harewood House, Yorkshire, he utilized fresh tints and color combinations, artful settings, integrated schemes, and bas-reliefs based on Greek models.

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