The Rococo

1600-1700

Although Rococo was a response to the heaviness and grandeur of Baroque, its attempt at delicacy was only lighter in its own time. Later movements would look back on it as being opulent in its own right.

Rococo tended toward fluidity in line, floral motifs, grace, and femininity. The French aristocracy were the great patrons of the period in juxtaposition to the stolid Church of the latter Baroque. As such, a playful and witty essence is felt in the style of Rococo.

This period saw cohesiveness in design so that a painting wasn’t merely a painting and room not merely a room, but all elements were designed together or at least with awareness of the side by side elements. The design of a room was comprised of much ornamentation in the gilded chairs, mirrors, and plasterwork, and designs were present in the carpets and in reliefs on the walls.

The colors of the period were in part determined by interior design which favored interlacing of delicate plaster S and C curves, and other, often shell shaped, plaster adornments on the walls. Some were gilded, and gold was usually the heaviest color in a room, as most other colors were pastel or light in nature. Mirrors enhanced the airy spaces and their gilt frames added to the luxurious feel of the room.

Origins and Historical Importance:

Rococo has its roots in late Baroque when architects from Italy were enticed north by the church and their work was seen by the wealthy families of the regions they visited. They commissioned these artists and architects to design their palaces.

When Louis XIV took the throne and moved the center of court life away from Versailles, Rococo took hold throughout French society. Louis the XV would be a “perpetual adolescent”, so the playful nature and delicacy of the Rococo style was well suited to his reign.

The style was spread by exposure through the illustrations of French engravers in printed publications and by word of mouth. Its reception overseas was slightly derisive regarding the architecture, but the design of its silver and gold objects were appreciated. Britain was fond of the porcelain and textiles of the period and incorporated some Rococo principles into their textiles and ceramics.

The visual arts within the Rococo period went beyond interior decoration and the style of the period was evident in painting and in sculpture.

Painters had a fond use of pastels, light, and colors that evoked a more feminine and delicate essence than the harsh, bold, and dramatic paintings of the Baroque period. Subjects tended toward scenes of fun, whimsy, laughing, and love and sometimes included positive mythical creatures, angels, and cherubs. Landscape painting lost its harshness and majesty in favor of the calm and pastoral. Landscapes often included people.

Concerning sculpture, marble was mostly left behind to let in the lighter and more delicate porcelain. Porcelain sculpture followed much the same subject matter as painting with a focus on happiness, frivolity, and flirtation.

The end of Rococo when authors, artists, and activists pointed out the superficiality of the aristocracy and the flippancy of the artistic styles associated with it. Germans saw the period as that of “pig tails and periwigs”.

Rococo was succeeded by Neoclassicism which looked to harmony after two periods of excess.

Key Highlights:

  • Rococo had a small amount of influence from Oriental sources and incorporated its natural motifs and asymmetry.
  • The British furniture designer Thomas Chippendale borrowed some of his design elements from Rococo design.
  • Some examples of Rococo artwork hint at amorality, sexual innuendo, and flirtation in complete contrast to the previous era’s concern with religion in painting.
  • Visitors to Rococo palaces in Italy were sometimes disappointed when they entered the grand façade only to find that their own room was without ornamentation.
  • Part of the success of the period is owed to the vanity of the French aristocracy at the time. They were very driven by fashion and trends in thought, literature, art, and especially in the vanities.
  • Madame de Pompadour, the king’s mistress, and authority of all things stylish, was a major patron of the Rococo arts in France. It was highly unusual for a mistress to play such a role and so once known, she became associated with the style. She commissioned portraits of herself. The common people were not impressed with her lavish waste of wealth on what was beginning to be seen as decadent, degenerate art.

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