Rococo 1700 – 1770

A decorative style of the early to mid-18th century, primarily influencing the ornamental arts in Europe, especially in France, southern Germany and Austria The character of its formal idiom is marked by asymmetry and naturalism, displaying in particular a fascination with shell-like and watery forms Further information on the Rococo can be found in this dictionary within the survey articles on the relevant countries

Rococo, or “Late Baroque”, is an early to late French 18th-century artistic movement and style, affecting many aspects of the arts including painting, sculpture, architecture, interior design, decoration, literature, music, and theatre It developed in the early 18th century in Paris, France as a reaction against the grandeur, symmetry, and strict regulations of the previous Baroque style, especially of the Palace of Versailles, until it was redone Rococo artists and architects used a more jocular, florid, and graceful approach to the Baroque Their style was ornate and used light colours, asymmetrical designs, curves, and gold Unlike the political Baroque, the Rococo had playful and witty themes The interior decoration of Rococo rooms was designed as a total work of art with elegant and ornate furniture, small sculptures, ornamental mirrors, and tapestry complementing architecture, reliefs, and wall paintings

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By the end of the 18th century, Rococo was largely replaced by the Neoclassic style In 1835 the Dictionary of the French Academy stated that the word Rococo “usually covers the kind of ornament, style and design associated with Louis XV’s reign and the beginning of that of Louis XVI” It includes therefore, all types of art from around the middle of the 18th century in France The word is seen as a combination of the French rocaille (stone) and coquilles (shell), due to reliance on these objects as decorative motifs The term may also be a combination of the Italian word “barocco” (an irregularly shaped pearl, possibly the source of the word “baroque”) and the French “rocaille” (a popular form of garden or interior ornamentation using shells and pebbles) and may describe the refined and fanciful style that became fashionable in parts of Europe in the 18th century

The Rococo love of shell-like curves and focus on decorative arts led some critics to say that the style was frivolous or merely modish When the term was first used in English in about 1836, it was a colloquialism meaning “old-fashioned” The style received harsh criticism and was seen by some to be superficial and of poor taste, especially when compared to neoclassicism; despite this, it has been praised for its aesthetic qualities, and since the mid-19th century, the term has been accepted by art historians While there is still some debate about the historical significance of the style to art in general, Rococo is now widely recognized as a major period in the development of European art

Rococo architecture, as mentioned above, was a lighter, more graceful, yet also more elaborate version of Baroque architecture, which was ornate and austere Whilst the styles were similar, there are some notable differences between both Rococo and Baroque architecture, one of them being symmetry, since Rococo emphasised the asymmetry of forms, whilst Baroque was the opposite The styles, despite both being richly decorated, also had different themes; the Baroque, for instance, was more serious, placing an emphasis on religion, and was often characterized by Christian themes (as a matter of fact, the Baroque began in Rome as a response to the Protestant Reformation); Rococo architecture was an 18th-century, more secular, adaptation of the Baroque which was characterized by more light-hearted and jocular themes Other elements belonging to the architectural style of Rococo include numerous curves and decorations, as well as the usage of pale colours

Though Rococo originated in the purely decorative arts, the style showed clearly in painting These painters used delicate colors and curving forms, decorating their canvases with cherubs and myths of love Portraiture was also popular among Rococo painters Some works depict a sort of naughtiness or impurity in the behavior of their subjects, indicating a departure from the Baroque’s church/state orientation Landscapes were pastoral and often depicted the leisurely outings of aristocratic couples

Sculpture was another area where the Rococo was widely adopted Étienne-Maurice Falconet (1716–1791) is widely considered one of the best representatives of French Rococo In general, this style was best expressed through delicate porcelain sculpture rather than imposing marble statues Falconet himself was director of a famous porcelain factory at Sèvres The themes of love and gaiety were reflected in sculpture, as were elements of nature, curving lines and asymmetry