Rococo

Rococo in French Decoration

Rococo salons are known for their elaborate detail, serpentine design work, asymmetry and predisposition to lighter, pastel, or gold-based color palettes.

Learning Objectives

Discuss the importance of the Rococo salon in France and its typical design

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • After the reign of Louis XIV, the wealthy and aristocratic moved back to Paris from Versailles and began decorating their homes in the new Rococo style that was associated with King Louis XV.
  • The notion of the salon is an Enlightenment era ideal that transformed the salon, or living room, into the central space for aristocracy to entertain guests and engage in intellectual conversation.
  • Rococo interiors are highly unified in nature, and represent the coming together of a number of decorative arts.
  • As with other Rococo art forms, the color palette is lighter, the lines are curvaceous (‘S’ curve), and the decoration is excessive.
  • Furniture rose to new heights in the period and emphasized lighthearted frivolity.
  • Furniture, friezes, sculpture, metalwork, wall, and ceiling decoration are woven together stylistically in the Rococo salon.

Key Terms

  • asymmetry: Lacking a common measure between two objects or quantities; incommensurability.
  • serpentine: Sinuous; curving in alternate directions.
  • mahogany: Any of various tropical American evergreen trees, of the genus Swietenia, having a valuable hard red-brown wood.
  • palette: The range of colors in a given work or body of work.

In 18th century Europe, the Rococo style became prevalent in interior design, painting, sculpture, and the decorative arts. A reaction to the rigidity of Baroque style, the frivolous and playful Rococo first manifested itself with interior design and decorative work. In French, the word salon simply means living room or parlor, and Rococo salons refer to central rooms that are designed in the Rococo style. In addition, the notion of the ‘salon’ is an Enlightenment era ideal that transformed the living room into the central space for aristocracy to entertain guests and engage in intellectual conversation. The idea that one’s architectural surroundings should encourage a way of life, or reflect one’s values, was the philosophy of the time.

The Rococo interior reached its height in the total art work of the salon. Rococo salons are characterized by their elaborate detail, intricate patterns, serpentine design work, asymmetry, and a predisposition to lighter, pastel, and gold-based color palettes.

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Bureau Danton de l’Hôtel de Bourvallais: This example of a Rococo salon exemplifies the serpentine design work and heavy use of gold that were both typical of the Rococo style.

As another means of reflecting status, furniture rose to new heights during the Rococo period, emphasizing the lighthearted frivolity that was prized by the style. Furniture design became physically lighter, so as to be easily moved around for gatherings, and many specialized pieces came to prominence, such as the fauteuil chair, the voyeuse chair, and the berger et gondola. Furniture in the Rococo period was freestanding, as opposed to wall-based, in order to accentuate the lighthearted and versatile atmosphere that was desired by the aristocracy. Mahogany became the most widely used medium due to its strength, and mirrors also became increasingly popular.

Rococo salons often employed the use of asymmetry in design, which was termed contraste. Interior ornament included the use of sculpted forms on ceilings and walls, often somewhat abstract or employing leafy or shell-like textures. Two excellent examples of French Rococo are the Salon de Monsieur le Prince in the Petit Château at Chantilly, decorated by Jean Aubert; and the salons in the Hotel Soubise, Paris, by Germain Boffrand. Both of these salons exhibit typical Rococo style with walls, ceilings, and moulding decorated with delicate interlacings of curves based on the fundamental shapes of the ‘S,’ as well as with shell forms and other natural shapes.

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Salon de la Princesse: A Rococo interior from the Hotel de Soubise, Paris that demonstrates highly elaborate ceiling work.

In France, the style began to decline by the 1750s. Criticized for its triviality and excess in ornament, Rococo style had already become more austere by the 1760s, as Neoclassicism began to take over as the dominant style in France and the rest of Europe.

Rococo in Painting and Sculpture

Rococo style in painting echoes the qualities evident in other manifestations of the style including serpentine lines, heavy use of ornament as well as themes revolving around playfulness, love, and nature.

Learning Objectives

Identify themes and qualities commonly associated with Rococo art

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Rococo style developed first in the decorative arts and interior design, and its influence later spread to architecture, sculpture, theater design, painting, and music.
  • Rococo style is characterized by elaborate ornamentation, asymmetrical values, pastel color palette, and curved or serpentine lines.
  • Rococo art works often depict themes of love, classical myths, youth, and playfulness.
  • Antoine Watteau is considered to be the first great Rococo painter who influenced later Rococo masters such as Boucher and Fragonard.
  • In sculpture, the work of Etienne-Maurice Falconet is widely considered to be the best representative of Rococo style.
  • Rococo sculpture makes use of very delicate porcelain instead of marble or another heavy medium.

Key Terms

  • Rococo: A style of baroque architecture and decorative art, from 18th century France, having elaborate ornamentation.
  • pastel: Any of several subdued tints of colors, usually associated with pink, peach, yellow, green, blue, and lavender.
  • serpentine: Sinuous; curving in alternate directions.

Rococo Painting

Painting during the Rococo period has many of the same qualities as other Rococo art forms such as heavy use of ornament, curved lines and the use of a gold and pastel-based palette. Additionally, forms are often asymmetrical and the themes are playful, even witty, rather than political, as in the case of Baroque art. Themes relating to myths of love as well as portraits and idyllic landscapes typify Rococo painting.

Antoine Watteau

Antoine Watteau is considered to be the first great Rococo painter. His influence is visible in the work of later Rococo painters such as Francois Boucher and Honore Fragonard. Watteau is known for his soft application of paint, dreamy atmosphere, and depiction of classical themes that often revolve around youth and love, exemplified in the painting Pilgrimage to Cythera.

The painting portrays an amorous celebration or party in an outdoor setting. There are many couples in various poses, doing various things. There are many cupids flying around the couples.

Pilgrimage to Cythera by Antoine Watteau: Watteau’s signature soft application of paint, dreamy atmosphere, and depiction of classical themes that often revolve around youth and love is evident in his work Pilgrimage to Cythera.

Francois Boucher

Francois Boucher became a master of Rococo painting somewhat later than Watteau. His work exemplifies many of the same characteristics, though with a slightly more mischievous and suggestive tone. Boucher had an illustrious career, and became court painter to King Louis XV in 1765. There was controversy later in his career as Boucher received some moral criticism from people such as Diderot for the themes present in his work. The Blonde Odalisque was particularly controversial, as it supposedly illustrated the extra marital affairs of the King.

A young woman lay naked on a chaise lounge.

Blond Odalisque by Francois Boucher: Blond Odalisque was a highly controversial work by Francois Boucher as it was thought to depict an affair of King Louis XV. The work employs serpentine lines, a reasonably pastel palette and themes of love indicative of Rococo artwork.

Rococo Sculpture

In sculpture, the work of Etienne-Maurice Falconet is widely considered to be the best representative of Rococo style. Generally, Rococo sculpture makes use of very delicate porcelain instead of marble or another heavy medium. Falconet was the director of a famous porcelain factory at Sevres. The prevalent themes in Rococo sculpture echoed those of the other mediums, with the display of classical themes, cherubs, love, playfulness, and nature being depicted most often as exemplified in the sculpture Pygmalion and Galatee.

Sculpture depicts Pygmalion on his knees, falling in love with a sculpture of a woman. A cherub kisses the hand of the woman.

Pygmalion and Galatee by Etienne-Maurice Falconet: Pygmalion and Galatee is indicative of Etienne Maurica Falconet’s Rococo style in its depiction of lighthearted love, including a cherub indicating its predisposition to mythology.

Rococo Architecture

18th century Rococo architecture was a lighter, more graceful, yet also more elaborate version of Baroque architecture.

Learning Objectives

Distinguish Rococo architecture from its Baroque predecessor

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Rococo architecture was a lighter, more graceful, yet also more elaborate version of Baroque architecture, which was ornate and austere.
  • Rococo emphasized the asymmetry of forms, while Baroque was the opposite.
  • The Baroque was more serious, placing an emphasis on religion, and was often characterized by Christian themes; Rococo was more secular and light-hearted.
  • Rococo architecture brought significant changes to the building of edifices, placing an emphasis on privacy rather than the grand public majesty of Baroque architecture.

Key Terms

  • jocular: Humorous, amusing or joking.
  • motif: A recurring or dominant element in a work of art.
  • cherub: A statue or other depiction of an angel, typically in the form of a winged child.

Rococo architecture was a lighter, more graceful, yet also more elaborate version of Baroque architecture, which was ornate and austere. While the styles were similar, there are some notable differences between both Rococo and Baroque architecture, such as symmetry; Rococo emphasized the asymmetry of forms, while Baroque was the opposite. The styles, despite both being richly decorated, also had different themes; the Baroque was more serious, placing an emphasis on religion, and was often characterized by Christian themes (the Baroque began in Rome as a response to the Protestant Reformation); Rococo architecture was an 18th century, more secular, adaptation of the Baroque that 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 use of pale colors.

There are numerous examples of Rococo buildings as well as architects. Among the most famous include the Catherine Palace in Russia, the Queluz National Palace in Portugal, the Augustusburg and Falkenlust Palaces in Brühl, the Chinese House in Potsdam, the Charlottenburg Palace in Germany, as well as elements of the Château de Versailles in France. Architects who were renowned for their constructions using the style include Francesco Bartolomeo Rastrelli, an Italian architect who worked in Russia and who was noted for his lavish and opulent works, Philip de Lange, who worked in both Danish and Dutch Rococo architecture, or Matthäus Daniel Pöppelmann, who worked in the late Baroque style and who contributed to the reconstruction of the city of Dresden in Germany.

Rococo architecture also brought significant changes to the building of edifices, placing an emphasis on privacy rather than the grand public majesty of Baroque architecture, as well as improving the structure of buildings in order to create a more healthy environment.

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Catherine Palace in Tsarskoe Selo, Saint Petersburg: The residence originated in 1717, when Catherine I of Russia hired German architect Johann-Friedrich Braunstein to construct a summer palace for her pleasure. In 1733, Empress Elizabeth commissioned Mikhail Zemtsov and Andrei Kvasov to expand the Catherine Palace. Empress Elizabeth, however, found her mother’s residence outdated and incommodious and in May 1752 asked her court architect Bartolomeo Rastrelli to demolish the old structure and replace it with a much grander edifice in a flamboyant Rococo style. Construction lasted for four years, and on July 30, 1756 the architect presented the brand-new 325-meter-long palace to the Empress, her dazed courtiers, and stupefied foreign ambassadors.