Baroque and Beyond C. 1600–1850

Rococo and the Eighteenth Century

What is a fête-galante?

A fête-galante is a type of rococo painting that depicts aristocrats engaging in a small, elegant party, usually in a beautiful outdoor location, and often involving some kind of amorous, if not erotic activities. This type of painting was first introduced by Jean-Antoine Watteau in the early eighteenth century, and his work, A Pilgrimage to Cythera (1717), is a good example. The mythical island of Cythera is the location of the birth of Aphrodite, who was formed by sea foam. To the far right, a statue of Aphrodite (also known as Venus) is decorated with flowers. Just below, a group of dreamy, well-dressed aristocrats hold hands and sit close, some embracing, in an apparent homage to the Greek goddess of love. Further to the left, a ferry, shaped like a scallop shell and draped with a pink cloth, waits to take the reluctant visitors off the island. Pink cherubs float overhead and the sky is tinged with the color of sunset. Watteau’s painting reflects the rococo style with its silky, powdery texture, amorous themes, and aristocratic focus. With A Pilgrimage to Cythera, Watteau created an entirely new category of painting: the fête-galante.


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