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Rococo was a style in fine art and design, developed in Paris during the the first half of the 18th century. It began as a reaction against the Baroque grandeur of Louis XIV's court at the Palace of Versailles. In some ways, it was in contradiction with the Baroque (by using pastel colours, light-hearted subjects in painting and sculpture, and asummetry in design), but it was also a continuation (by using motifs and rules taken from Greco-Roman antiquity in exterior architecture, many surfaces covered in gold leaf, and the overall bourgeois or noble vibe). The movement started as an ornamental, elegant interior design style, and was characterized by curvy shapes. Architecture followed and then painting and sculpture.

History[]

The Rococo style developed in France in the first half of the eighteenth century. The king of France, Louis XV is often thought to be a key patron and supporter of the movement-- a very likely hypothesis considering the monarch's need to differentiate himself from the king who proceeded him: Louis XIV (a key patron of the Baroque style).

Philosophy[]

Rococo styling brought about a new wave of romanticism; the new idea of finding a soulmate, someone whom you love, as opposed to the arranged marriages common in the past.

Architecture[]

Interior of the Hôtel d'Évreux, Paris, 1706-1708, by Pierre Bullet

Interior of the Hôtel d'Évreux, Paris, 1706-1708, by Pierre Bullet

Rococo architecture is fancy and fluid, accentuating asymmetry, with an abundant use of curves, scrolls, gilding and ornaments. The style enjoyed great popularity with the ruling elite of Europe during the first half of the 18th century. It developed in France out of a new fashion in interior decoration, and spread across Europe. While few Rococo exteriors were built in France, a number of Rococo churches are found in southern Germany. Domestic Rococo abandoned Baroque's high moral tone and seriousness: in fact, its abstract forms and carefree, pastoral subjects related more to refuge and joy that created a more forgiving atmosphere for polite conversations. Rococo rooms are typically smaller than the Baroque ones, reflecting a movement towards domestic intimacy. Even the grander salons used for entertaining were more modest in scale, as social events involved smaller numbers of guests.

Characteristic of the style were Rocaille motifs derived from the shells, icicles and rock-work or grotto decoration. Foliage was also widely used for decoration, under the form of acanthus leaves, garlands (aka festoons), many flowers, and bouquets of flowers. Rococo foliage was always twisting and sinuous, with the common serrated-edged raffle leaf form often bordering the abstract. Other widely-user motifs in decorative arts and interior architecture include: birds, elements associated with love (putti, quivers with arrows ans arrowed hearts) trophies of arms, cherubs (aka putti), medallions with faces, and sometimes Far Eastern elements (pagodes, dragons, monkeys, bizarre flowers, bamboo, and Chinese people). Asymmetry is present in architecture and applied arts, making buildings and ornaments look more dynamic. Pastel colours were widely used, like light blue, mint green or pink. Designers also loved mirrors (the more the better), an example being the Hall of Mirrors of the Amalienburg (Munich, Germany), by Johann Baptist Zimmermann. Generally, mirrors are also featured above fireplaces. Sometimes, Chinese black and glossy lacquer panels were used for decorating rooms in Rococo palaces, used as wall panels. Due to its aspect, black lacquer was popular for Western men's studies.

Art[]

Similarly with the case of architecture, Rococo paintings and sculptures are characterized by elegantly flowing shapes and pastel colours. They often show romantic subjects, moments of aristocratic life, and scenes of Greco-Roman mythology. With his sensuous paintings, François Boucher was one of the most acclaimed Rococo painters, but the most significant was Jean-Antoine Watteau, with his 'fête galante' outdoor scenes. Paintings of this type were also popular in England and Italy. Besides canvases, impressive frescos were produced in this style as well. In present-day Germany, multiple palaces and churches have painted ceilings, featuring complex scenes. They were influenced by the works of 17th century Baroque painted Andrea Pozzo, who made illusionistic ceiling paintings. These painted ceilings evoke joy and triumph.

Rococo sculptures feature elegantly flowing shapes, just like how paintings do. Sculptures of cherubs (aka putti), are often used for decorating buildings, both secular and religious. Some marble sculptures had also porcelain reproductions, like the Seated Cupid by Étienne-Maurice Falconet. Reliefs of human faces (aka mascarons) are sometimes used for decorating keystones at the top of windows or doors, especially in French architecture.

Design[]

Chest of drawers, Charles Cressent

Chest of drawers, Charles Cressent, circa 1730, oak and pine carcass with walnut and pine drawers, veneered with satinee and purpleheart, gilt-bronze mounts and marble top

Most of the characteristics of architecture, like asymmetry or the wide use of foliage decoration, are also present in Rococo design. S and C-shaped volutes appear everywhere, from furniture to porcelain.

The most widely used materials are oak, beech, walnut, gilt bronze and brass, grey, pink, red, green, orange or blue marble; velvets, fabrics, and silks in light colours. Sometimes, Chinese black and glossy lacquer panels were used for making furniture. In some cases, rectangular or medallion-shaped painted Sèvres porcelain plaques were used for decorating. However, in most cases wood was inlayed and designs of flowers, trophies, characters, or just geometric shapes decorated furniture. Different types of wood were used for achieving different colours. Gilded wood is used less than in the Baroque period, being reserved for mirror frames, console tables and some archairs. Bronze fittings were often gilded using mercury (ormolu).

Most of the Rococo chairs have their framework painted in light colours, like white. Their upholstery is decorated, either with foliage or pastoral scenes. Desks and commodes were usually decorated with gilt bronze mounts, and had marble tops, usually white or grey.

Delicate Rococo porcelain figures and vases were produced during the 18th century. They are often coloured and glossy, but also sometimes completely white and biscuit porcelain. Some marble sculptures had also porcelain reproductions, like the Seated Cupid by Étienne-Maurice Falconet, and some porcelain figures were made after paintings. The most famous manufactories were at Meissen (near Dresden) in Germany, and Sèvres in France. Porcelain was developed in China in the 9th century. Its recipe was kept secret from other nations, and only successfully copied in the 15th century by the Japanese and Vietnamese. During the 18th century, European kilns finally figured out how to make porcelain, beginning with the alchemist Johann Friedrich Böttger and the physicist Ehrenfried Walther von Tschirnhausen, who made the first European variety in 1709. Later, other kilns stole the recipe or came up with their own porcelain technology.

Fashion[]

Rococo fashion was based on extravagance, elegance, refinement and decoration.

Men's Fashion[]

Suits[]

  • Habit à la française

Accessories[]

  • Tricorne Hats

Women's Fashion[]

Gowns[]

  • Brunswick
  • Chemise à la reine
  • Robe à l’anglaise
  • Robe à la française
  • Robe à la polonaise

Footwear[]

  • Louis Heels

Accessories[]

  • Fichu
  • Gloves
  • Hand Fans

Jewelry[]

  • Cameos
  • Diamond Bracelets
  • Diamond Collars
  • Diamond Earrings
  • Lace Chokers
  • Pearl Earrings
  • Pearl Necklaces

Rococo Chinoiserie[]

Pair of Chinese vases with French Rococo mounts

Pair of Chinese vases with French Rococo mounts, porcelain: early 18th century, mounts: c.1760-1770, hard-paste porcelain with gilt-bronze mounts

Chinoiserie was a Western decorative style of Orientalism popular during the 18th century that was heavily inspired by Chinese arts. It blended well with Rococo and both aesthetics synergized in a movement known as Rococo Chinoiserie.[1]

Nobles and kings built little structures inspired by these styles in the gardens of their palaces. They fully decorated a handful of rooms of palaces, with Chinese lacquer panels used as wall panels. Due to its aspect, black lacquer was popular for Western men's studies. Those panels used in chinoiserie were usually glossy and black, made in the Henan province of China. They were made of multiple layers of lacquer, then incised with motifs in-filled with colour and gold. Chinese, but also Japanese lacquer panels were also used by some 18th century European carpenters for making furniture. Lacquered furniture was admired for its impermeability and for its lustrous beauty. In order to be produced, Asian screens were dismantled and used to veneer European-made furniture. The vogue for East Asian objects was not limited only lacquer. Porcelain brought from the east was very popular, both as vases and figures. Porcelain collections were often displayed on the walls of certain rooms, usually each vase or figurine having a bracket under it. In some cases, Chinese or Japanese ceramics were decorated by Europeans with gilt bronze mounts.

Chinoiserie objects and architecture were also produced during the 19th century, but without the Rococo twist like they were in the 18th century. Chinoiserie also sometimes extended to music, an example of this being the 1931 song 'The Yodelling Chinaman' by George van Dusen. Music in Western genres but with an East Asian twist is also produced in recent times, such is the case of 'Song 2' from 2004 by DJ Krush.

Decline[]

Due to its association with an increasingly irrelevant aristocracy, the Rococo was replaced during the mid-18th century by Neoclassicism, a movement that heavily takes its inspiration from and tries to revive the art of Ancient Greece and Rome. Most writings place the end of the Rococo in the mid-18th century, however, impressive Rococo art was also produced during the 1760s and 1770s, and artists like Josef Anton Mesmer were painting illusionistic ceilings in rural Switzerland as late as 1815. Some of the most important figures of the movement flourished long after the style's purported death. In more remote areas of Latin America, where non-white artists who were kept out of the metropolitan academies found patrons among Amerindians, Baroque and Rococo churches were still being built in the 1850s.

The transition from Rococo to Neoclassicism wasn't very abrupt. Some of the biggest patrons of Rococo art also commissioned early Neoclassical works. Madame de Pompadour, one of the main figures of Rococo, commissioned the Petit Trianon, one of the most important examples of French Neoclassical architecture. Similarly, Louis XV, the king at whose court the Rococo flourished, founded the Panthéon, another iconic Neoclassical monument. Besides this, in France there was the Louis XVI style, which uses shapes and motifs taken from ancient Greek, Etruscan and Roman antiquity, but still has the sweet, delicate and fancy vibe of the Rococo. In the UK, Robert Adam's Greco-Roman inspired interior of the Eating Room in the Osterley Park, near London, despite being Neoclassical, is painted mainly in white and pastel green and pink, reminiscent of Rococo. It must be mentioned that Neoclassicism wasn't about copying. Artists didn't try to become frozen in the past, but to use Antiquity and its ideals in a way that was relevant to contemporary society.

Revivals and later influence[]

Similarly with other styles, like the Gothic or the Baroque, there was a revival of the rococo during the 19th century. This 19th century revival was popular particularly in France, due to the fact that this is the country where the style appeared in the 18th century. Neo-Rococo buildings, furniture, paintings, tableware, mantel clocks and other objects were created during the 19th and the early 20th centuries. Between the 1830s and the 1860s, Jacob Petit produced porcelain inspired by the curvy lines and shapes of rococo, some of which are exhibited in the Museum of Decorative Arts in Paris.

After WW1, styles of the past were seen as "dated" or "passé", including the rococo. The complex ornaments of these movements were replaced by geometric shapes and abstracted motifs, or just simple blank surfaces, in Art Deco, Bauhaus and mid-century design. Later, during the late 2000s, the 2010s and the 2020, due to the interest for vintage stuff and the appreciation of young generation for styles of the past, new Rococo objects were and are produced. This present-day revival was particularly popular in frames and porcelain, since most frames and tableware that try to look "vintage" or "old" are in this style. Some music videos or high-fashion outfits also make references to the style. The best example of this is Katy Perry's 2018 song and music video Hey Hey Hey.

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