Music and Theatre in Watteau's Paris

The exhibition Watteau, Music and Theater, presented in honor of Director Emeritus Philippe de Montebello, explores the place of music and theater in the work of the great early eighteenth-century French painter and draftsman Jean-Antoine Watteau (1684-1721). The works compare the imagery of power associated with the court of the Sun King, Louis XIV, with a more optimistic and mildly subversive imagery of pleasure developed in contemporary opera-ballet and theater.

Georgia Cowart, a scholar of Watteau and the music and theater of his time and author of The Triumph of Pleasure: Louis XIV and the Politics of Spectacle, discusses the subversive and political culture of pleasure in Parisian opera and theater during the waning years of Louis XVI, describing the period as one in which arts and culture were liberated from the Sun King's grasp. Lighthearted comedies and spectacles, often with satirical undercurrents, contributed to an erosion of class distinctions—spectacle had been the domain of the King. As the power of Versailles began to wane, at a moment of and political and religious unrest and deepening economic depression, Watteau's images captured a new Parisian worldview, and speak to the rise of a new public in France.

Georgia Cowart, Professor, Department of Museum, Case Western Reserve University; introduced by Jayson Dobney, associate curator, Department of Musical Instruments, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Learn more about eighteenth-century France on the Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History:

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