The primary difference between Baroque and Rococo art is that Baroque describes the grand, overstated, dynamic late-European art between 1650 and 1700, while Rococo is a late-Baroque response that embodied light playfulness and more intimacy. During the Baroque period, art reflected the strength of Catholicism and royalty by embodying opulence and ornamentation. The Rococo period arose after the death of Louis XIV in 1715 with the dawn of a softer and more relaxed age. This was reflected first in the decorative arts, as interior design became lighter and more decorative, and then in painting, as artists used asymmetry and playful whimsy as an informal interpretation.
While both Baroque and Rococo were centered in Europe, Baroque began in Rome and was heavily influenced by the Roman Catholic church, which supported religious themes in painting and the arts as a reaction to the advance of Protestantism. Rococo began in France and was embraced by the French monarchy before spreading to most of the rest of Europe. Both Baroque and Rococo were an extension of the stylistic changes characteristic of the Renaissance period. Each was characterized by elaborate detail and motion, but Baroque was heavier, masculine, and more serious. Rococo was lighter and more feminine.
Baroque and Rococo each reflect the predominant philosophies of the times in which each style flourished. The Baroque period grew out of an increased interest in naturalism as advances were made in astronomy and science. Art of this period became increasingly active and dynamic, portraying motion through space and time, while retaining some elements of Classicism and strongly religious themes.
The term “Baroque” may have been derived from the Portuguese word barroco, meaning a rough pearl with an irregular shape. It was meant as a derogatory term to describe what critics felt was an overly ornamental, theatrical perversion of the Classical style. There was an emphasis on the sensuous visual representation of intangible symbols, as with Rubens and Bernini, that some felt was garish and extreme.
Unlike Baroque, Rococo artists leaned away from religious themes in favor of curvilinear forms and repetitive, naturalistic, organic shapes in decoration. Rococo began as a movement in interior design and moved into architecture, music, and paintings of the era. When French royals abandoned Versailles to spend more time in Paris, the arts reflected this more relaxed way of life and embraced the more informal surroundings of the city. Subject matter often captured a bit of naughtiness, as in Fragonard’s “The Swing,” an asymmetrical rendering of a young lady kicking off her shoe at the statue of the god of discretion while swinging high above her beau stretched out on the ground. In very different ways, both Baroque and Rococo art reflected a new interest in understanding the physical world that led to the birth of the modern world.