By the 18th century & the age of enlightenment, however, we start to see a change of attitude: Art is defined as "An occupation or pursuit in which skill is directed to the ratification of taste or production of what is attractive." For the first time here we hear that art is related with taste, and beauty, (though still skill is there). In the eighteenth century artists and writers were frequent guests in aristocratic salons. Fragonard, Tiepolo, Gainsborough, are amongst the leading artists in this period.
The ideas of the Enlightenment prepared the way for the quick "progress" of the following century. In the several branches of the arts, new ideas were producing, interacting along with each of the other, and shaping the culture & artistic heritage of Europe. It was at this time, and specifically during the reign of Peter the Great that Russia started to participate in the secular artistic world of the West. Having a distinct artistic past than Europe and traditionally valuing a distinct approach to art, the Russian artists required a period of adjustment to become acclimated to Enlightenment styles & techniques. A short explanation of the significant movements of the time, specifically of Neoclassicism, will provide an insight to the background against which eighteenth-century Russian art must be seen.
Although the eighteenth century encompasses several conflicting styles, neoclassical ideas may be best seen in the genres of historical painting, landscape and portraiture. In part a reaction against baroque and rococo excesses, neoclassicm is related, in France, with a return to "virtue" and an acceptance of the new ideological demands of the French Revolution. As a follower of the revolution, and one of the most significant neoclassical artists of France, Jacques Louis David connect neoclassical art with the ideas of honor, duty and patriotism in such works such as Oath of the Horatii and The Death of Socrates. The contemporary literary wish for classical structure and form, exemplify through Boileau's Ars Poetica, together with renewed interest in ancient Rome (spurred on by new archeological discoveries and a publication of Winkelmann's Antiquities of Rome), furthered the influence & effect of neoclassicism.
By classical examples as models & guides, neoclassical art is characterized through its sense of order, clarity, logic, and to an extent, realism. Duty to a higher cause, such like one's country or its ruler, as well as the sense of decorum and suitability are emphasized. These qualities are seen in the amplified "naturalism" of landscapes (such like those of Canaletto and Bellotto) and in the fact that classical models inspired the new changes in landscape painting. In portraiture, artists such like Sir Joshua Reynolds attempted to elevate the genre through infusing it with the heroic influences of the "Grand Style." Through incorporating the depth of the historical paintings to portraiture, artists sought to make portraits more than just representations of "likenesses."
In this time of new ideas & social change, symbolism in painting (especially in portraits) became a significant means of defining oneself and one's place in a society. Through the reigns of Anne, Peter the Great, Elizabeth, and Catherine the Great, love and appreciation of Western art was encouraged and cultivated. Just as the Academies of Art had played a vital role in the legitimization and development of styles in England and France (by recognizing artists and supporting certain stylistic trends), in Russia the Academy of Fine Arts took on a same centralizing role. By sending capable students to learning in Europe, employing foreign artists and importing the works of European masters, the Russian rulers were capable to insure the penetration of Western aesthetic ideals to the fabric of Russian artistic life. Although some of the artists just imitated the Western masters (as did several less original Western artists), artistic representation that transcends plain imitation may be found in the works of Dmitrii Grigorevich Levitskii, Ivan Petrovich Argunov, Vladimir Lukich Borovikovskii, , Fedor Stepanovich Rokotov, Aleksei Petrovich, Ivan Nikitin, Andrei Matveev , Antropov Ivan Firsov, and others.
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