The Difference Between the Baroque and Rococo

Thursday, both a fellow Professor and a student asked me what the difference between the Baroque and Rococo is. Since I had 2 people ask me the same exact question in less then 24 hours, it made me think, “hum,… perhaps this is a question many people have”. After giving it a little thought and trying to find a way to best describe it in an approachable and easily understood manner here it is:

The difference between The Baroque and Rococo essentially boils down to 2 things: the amount of “frilly-ness” (if that’s a word) and subject matter. The Baroque is highly ornate and focuses on emotion and the “theatrical”.  See The Ecstasy of St. Teresa for a great example.

Another way to get a feel for The Baroque is to compare the 3 Davids.

The first 2 by Michelangelo and Donatello are both considered Renaissance. The third, Bernini’s is Baroque.

David by Donatello, 1440, Renessaince

David by Donatello, 1440, Renessaince

The David by Michelangeolo, 1550, Renaissance

The David by Michelangeolo, 1550, Renaissance

David by Bernini, 1623, Baroque

David by Bernini, 1623, Baroque

  • Notice the difference in poses?
  • Notice the difference in facial expressions?
  • Notice the different moments in time for the story?

Rococo, is different in than the Baroque in that it takes that realistic style and makes it over-real. It almost becomes stylized. A great example of the Rococo is Fragonard. Wikipedia says of the style (and I think that it is pretty funny they use the word  hedonism) “The late Rococo manner was distinguished by remarkable facility, exuberance, and hedonism.”  So it was still realistic, but the subject was entirely different. The Rococo focused on the pleasures and pastimes of the rich. Notice that the trees and bushes are stylized swirls. The colors are bright pastels.  Everything is exaggerated and stylized. Top that off with the subject matter being almost naughty and you have the essential differences between the Baroque and the Rococo.

Fragonard, The_Swing, 1767, Rococo

Fragonard, The_Swing, 1767, Rococo



  1. AC
    · October 27, 2011 2:17 pm · Permalink

    Thanks! This was succinct and beautifully explained. Answered my question :)

  2. David M. Brown
    · February 13, 2012 12:31 am · Permalink

    This post switches from characterizing baroque as “ornate” (as the dictionary does) to characterizing it “realistic.” Is ornateness regarded as inherently more realistic? Kitchen table tops might disagree. All I can gather is that Baroque is characterized by “elaborate ornamentation,” whereas rococo is characterized by “elaborate ornamentation.” American Heritage says that in music, rococo is “an extension of the baroque.” That the dividing line between baroque and rococo might be unclear is not what is confounding me; that is also true of many well-defined concepts. But if rococo simply means “Baroque, only more so,” perhaps that’s what we should say. I suspect that if examples of Baroque and Rococo art that the critic had never seen were mixed at random, he would probably not be able to say which is which. Not in the way he could tell whether a statue is from ancient Greece or from the Renaissance.

  3. Erin Sparler
    · February 13, 2012 10:28 am · Permalink

    Dear David,
    It is true that Rococco is a more elaborate extension of the Baroque. It essentially came after the Baroque. However, the Subject of Baroque is often more Realistic with depictions of actual people, places, ect. Whereas the Rococco’s subjects and their depiction became less based on reality and more based on an ideal life style.
    They are indeed difficult to distinguish, but what you need to look for is level of elaborateness and subject matter. Ask yourself is this a real person in real surroundings? Or is it more an idea of a person, an event, or an emotion/subject like love or pleasure? Is it contrived? Or cliché? Then it might be Rococco.

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