Charles Le Brun
Martyrdom of St. John

Click on the picture to see an enlarged version.

    • Oil on Canvas c. 1641
    • Saint-Nicolas du Chardonnet, Paris

This grand altar-piece painting Some authorities have argued that there never was any "rococo" painting as such. In this argument, paintings that bear the "art-history" designation of rococo are entirely too dependent, in style, subject matter, compositional techniques, and palate to the baroque. to deserve its own category. But even accepting all the similarities, rococo art is distinguished as a taming down of the baroque, making it attractive for a more "civilized" age, and possessing a sense of humor which is alien to the formidable baroque triumphalism. Wit plays an enormous role in the rococo, respecting neither the Church and the State, nor the artisitic forms of classical Greece and Rome.

This painting, of about 1745, is an excellent example of this development. The subject matter alleges to be the drunken celebrations of Bachus by virgins and young women in ancient Greece. But here, the treatment makes the subject somewhat absurd. These delicate young girls, so deliciously posed, seem to have been selected as an opportunity to show a lot of skin, without being pompous or solemn about these once religious ceremonies.

The artist here assumes a kind of freedom, to paint truly human figures (almost all of them young females) without grand gestures, but just to show them having fun.

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