Rococo Art Style (18th Century)
Centred in France and emerging as a reaction to the Baroque grandeur of King Louis XIV's royal court at the Palace of Versailles, the Rococo movement or style of French painting was associated particularly with Madame Pompadour, the mistress of the new King Louis XV, and the Parisian homes of the French aristocracy. It is a whimsical and elaborately decorative style of art, whose name derives from the French word 'rocaille' meaning, rock-work after the forms of sea shells.
In the world of Rococo, all art forms, including fine art painting, architecture, sculpture, interior design, furniture, fabrics, porcelain and other "objets d'art" are subsumed within an ideal of elegant prettiness.
EVOLUTION OF VISUAL
GREAT EUROPEAN PAINTERS
Rococo art is exemplified in works by famous painters like Jean-Antoine Watteau (1684-1721) especially his 'fete galante' outdoor courtship parties; Jean-Honore Fragonard (1732-1806) with his pictures of love and seduction; Francois Boucher (1703-70) with his lavish paintings of opulent self-indulgence; the Venetian Giambattista Tiepolo (1696-1770) known for his fantastically decorative wall and ceiling fresco paintings; and the sculpture of Claude Michel Clodion (1738-1814), sculptor of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, best known for his terracotta sculpture of nymphs and satyrs. In Britain, Rococo painting achieved its zenith in the female portraits of Thomas Gainsborough (1727-88). Rococo was eventually replaced by Neoclassical art, which was the signature visual style of Napoleon in France and of the American revolution.
WORLDS TOP ARTISTS
Rococo is the frivolous, wayward child
of noble, grand Baroque. The parent was born
in Italy, the child in France. The Baroque (barocco, a rough pearl) developed
in the early 17th-century and spread rapidly throughout Europe. At first
predominantly a sculptural and architectural style, its greatest exponent
and genius was Gianlorenzo
Bernini (1598-1680) who, like Michelangelo before him, was first and
foremost a sculptor, but turned naturally to painting, theatrical decorations
and architecture while serving several Popes in the remodelling of Rome.
His "Ecstasy of
St. Teresa" and the small church of S. Andrea al Quirinale in
Rome both reveal the tendencies which lead on to the rococo style: a brilliant
use of light and shade on expensive and elaborate materials, such as coloured
marbles and bronze.
The Rococo Style
in France - Characteristics
French Rococo Architecture, Interior
Design and Decoration
One of the problems of any examination
of rococo decoration is that we are uncertain as to how much of it originated
from the small army of draughtsmen, whose leading figures such as Mansart
kept behind the scenes, and how much from the great architects themselves.
Thus, while a building or an interior passes as the work of Mansart or
De Cotte, the novel details in it may just as well have sprung from a
'ghost' designer with a certain sense of fantasy and an originality which
the Royal Architect passed off as his own.
The main steps forward were made in interior decoration and painting, while little of importance happened to the appearance of the exterior, except that a certain light sophistication replaced the heaviness of the Louis XIV style, and, instead of relying on the Classical Orders, architects such as Jean Courtonne and Germain Boffrand produced buildings whose main effect lay in the subtle treatment of stonework and the skilful disposition of delicate sculpture against sophisticated rustication. In Paris, two of the best examples are the famous Hotel de Matignon of 1722-23 and the Hotel de Torcy of 1714.
In interior decoration a steady progression towards extreme elaboration is seen during the Regency, as demonstrated by the Palais Royale and Hotel d'Assy, culminating in such triumphantly sophisticated rooms as the Salon Ovale of the Hotel de Soubise in Paris (1738-39) by Boffrand, whose influence on German rococo architecture was to be considerable.
A tendency to replace the huge series of very formal apartments favoured in the Louis XIV period with smaller, more intimate rooms is also seen, as in the Petites Appartements in Versailles, where form follows function more closely. Sadly these, together with many of the greatest rococo rooms, have disappeared without trace. Apart from Paris, much fine architecture and decoration in the full-blown rococo style was effected at Nancy, where the dethroned King of Poland lived.
French Rococo Painting
While there were a number of great individual
artists, there were also families of painters who followed an almost unchanging
stylistic tradition. Among these are the Coypels, who executed
the chapel ceiling at Versailles, the Van Loos and the De Troys,
all of whom painted consistently amusing pictures for the upper classes
and for the rising middle classes, who appear for the first time in the
rococo period as important patrons and to some extent account for the
increased demand for portraiture. Some of the most delicious evocations
of the sophistication of society are found in the portraits of Nattier,
Drouais, Roslin and, of course, Boucher himself, whose delicate likenesses
of Madame de Pompadour are among the finest portraits of any woman in
that century. See also the Rococo portraits by Elisabeth
Vigee-Lebrun (1755-1842), the court portraitist to the French
French Rococo Furniture and Decorative
Porcelain was sometimes incorporated into
French furniture design, usually in the form of painted plaques or discs
set in bronze frames. Much of it is from the factory of Sevres. Louis
XV had himself provided funds to back a porcelain enterprize at Vincennes,
near Paris, specifically to imitate Meissen porcelain, which moved in
1756 to Sevres. Although not the first factory in France to produce porcelain
(Rouen and Saint-Cloud were both operating in the last years of the seventeenth
century), Vincennes-Sevres was certainly the most successful in its production
of hard-paste porcelain, counting important painters such as Boucher among
The rococo style in France represented her greatest artistic contribution before the rise of Impressionism in the nineteenth century and embraced all the arts to an extent found nowhere else in Europe apart from Germany. The amazing quality of French Rococo is due to the maintenance of the highest standards throughout. It has the added appeal of patronage by such figures as Madame de Pompadour, with whom the style is identified, and it stood at the end of a long tradition of the finest French craftsmanship.
The Rococo Style
in Italy - Characteristics
Italian Rococo Architecture, Interior
Design and Decoration
Italian Rococo Furniture and Decorative
Outstanding in the art of inlay was Pietro
Piffetti (1700-77), who worked for the House of Savoy at Turin, creating
highly individual furniture combining wood and ivory inlays with such
refinements in metal as masks at the corners and mounts for legs. The
Royal Palace at Turin contains some breathtaking pieces, literally covered
with ivory inlay and occasionally seeming to be supported solely by chance,
so fragile are the legs beneath their elaborate upper parts. In the Museo
Civico in Turin is a card-table by Piffetti, stamped and dated 1758, with
a wholly convincing trompe l'oeil of playing-cards in ivory and rare woods.
Italian Rococo Painting
Rococo emerged in Italy slightly later than in France. Early traces can be seen in the lighter style of late Baroque painting, introduced in Rome and also in Naples by artists like Luca Giordano (1634-1705) and Francesco Solimena (1657-1747).
Then, in the space of 25 years, Venice produced Giambattista Tiepolo (1696-1770), his son, Giandomenico (1727-1804), Antonio Canaletto (1697-1768), Pietro Longhi (1701-85), Francesco Guardi (1712-93), Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720-78) and Canaletto's nephew Bernardo Bellotto (17201780). All of these, except the last two, spent their working lives in Venice, although Canaletto visited England in 1746. Longhi, and to a lesser extent, the younger Tiepolo, portrayed the daily life of Venice, the former in small canvases, the latter in drawings; while Canaletto, Guardi and Bellotto painted outdoor scenes on the canals and piazza. Piranesi, though born in Venice, came to Rome in 1738. No paintings by him are known, and his fame rests entirely on his etchings of architecture and ruins. The elder Tiepolo is best known for his extraordinary fresco decoration of the state dining room (Kaiseraal) and the ceiling of the Grand Staircase (Trepenhaus) in the Wurzburg Residenz of the Prince Bishop Karl Philipp von Greiffenklau, which was undoubtedly the greatest and most imaginative masterpiece of his career. The focal point was the soaring fresco of Apollo Bringing the Bride (1750-1) in the centre of the Trepenhaus, a work which brings to a majestic conclusion the Italian tradition of fresco painting initiated by Giotto (1270-1337) four hundred years earlier.
In the elder Tiepolo, and in him alone, can one speak of a pure rococo style, related to the late Baroque in many ways, but creating an entirely new type of visual experience. Not surprisingly, many of the greatest Venetian qualities from the past are present in his work: the colour and original imagination of Titian; the figure types and luxurious materials of Paolo Veronese, together with his love of opulent classical architecture as a backdrop for rich pageants of history and mythology.
The artificiality of the atmosphere in
his early frescoes links Tiepolo at once with the mainstream of rococo
art, but at a time when he could not have known much about contemporary
French painting. From then on his career was a meteoric success until
his eclipse in Madrid at the end of his life at the hands of the neoclassicists
under Mengs (1728-79).
Pietro Longhi (1702-85), in contrast,
specialized in somewhat gauche renderings of contemporary life; in their
gaucheness however lies their great charm, and in the often delightfully
unexpected choice of subject such as the 'Rhinoceros' (National Gallery,
London) or the 'Moorish Messenger' (Ca' Rezzonico, Venice).
Of all the European countries which had adopted or contributed to the baroque style, England was the one which paid least attention to the Rococo.
English Rococo Architecture, Interior Design and Decoration
In architecture, at least, England moved directly from the baroque style of Wren and Vanbrugh to Palladianism, a transition so swift that it allowed of no intermediate development. With buildings such as Walpole's Strawberry Hill, Twickenham, built from 1748, and Arbury, Warwickshire, of the same date and the other Gothick buildings erected during the eighteenth century it is sentiment which places these works in the rococo category rather than any relationship with the rocaille.
In fact English Gothick is divided into two distinct categories - 'associational' and 'rococo', the latter being a light-hearted form of decoration loosely based on medieval precedents but frivolous enough to become almost a counterpart of Continental Rococo in its sense of abandon and superficiality. William Kent (1684-1748), architect and decorator, devized his own vocabulary of Gothick decoration, which spread as quickly and as effectively over England as the arabesques of Continental Rococo. But, apart from this, rocaille in England touched only a handful of interiors, some high-quality furniture, certain paintings and some porcelain, in particular the products of Chelsea and Bow.
The earliest example of rocaille in England
was the commission given to the great French designer Meissonnier
by the Duke of Kingston in 1735 for a suite of table furniture in silver.
But this was a fairly rare instance and rococo design was generally confined
to engraved decoration on sobre forms almost entirely unaffected by the
style. The new tendencies were disseminated predominantly by pattern-books
such as Matthias Lock's, or Jones's "The Gentleman's or Builder's
Companion" of 1739, which made rococo or quasi-rococo details available
to every craftsman who could afford the volume. The fact that these were
only details, detached from their surroundings, accounts for the frequently
gauche quality of much English rococo furniture. since the craftsman could
not be expected to appreciate the organic nature of the style from mere
Rococo decorative art appear in other English town and country house interiors and issometimes of the highest quality - notably in the hall at Ragley, at nearby Hagley, and in the swirling plasterwork of the Francini brothers. who executed much stucco work in Ireland, and are particularly famed for their work at Russborough. But this attractive local craftsmanship is a far cry from the consummate, all-embracing schemes of the Continent.
English Rococo Furniture and Decorative Arts
Unlike the French, English cabinet-makers did not usually sign their pieces, and so comparatively little is known of men such as John Linnell, John Cobb, Benjamin Goodison and William Vile, who all appear to have worked extensively in the new fashion. The name of Chippendale is, however, outstanding, not only because of the quality of his pieces, but also because of his publication "The Gentleman and Cabinet-maker's Director" (1754).
In his designs for mirrors and overmantels, often flavoured by chinoiserie, one sees exotic examples of the rococo style, every bit as meticulous as French boiserie but designed to be used as isolated features and rarely as part of a whole decorative scheme. Likewise, the elaborate and fantastic carvings in the hall at Claydon are isolated in an otherwise classical setting.
English Rococo Painting
Gainsborough, on the other hand, began
life as a painter of small, stilted portraits later developing a more
sophisticated style after his move to fashionable Bath. He painted some
portraits in a rococo style surprisingly close to Boucher, their floating
brushwork and feathery landscapes, bright pinks and silvery greys pronouncedly
more rococo than any contemporary English painting. See also the Regency
society portraitist Thomas
In contrast to the superb restraint of the finest French rococo, Germany provides a breathtaking range of some of the most outrageous and magnificent rococo architecture and interior decoration in the history of European art.
German Rococo Architecture, Interior
Design and Decoration
German rococo can be seen to trace its
origins to Roman churches of the baroque period such as Bernini's Sant'
Andrea al Quirinale, where colour, light and elaborate sculpture are all
combined. This is apparent for the first time in Germany in the Abbey
Church of Weltenburg, built after 1714, with its oval dome cut away internally
to reveal a frescoed vision of the heavens above.
One of the most exciting features of German
rococo architecture is the highly dramatic siting of some of the most
important examples, such as the Abbey of Melk by J. Prandtauer,
begun in 1702. Deliberately placed in a commanding position high above
the Danube, the two great towers dominate a courtyard in front opened
to the outside world by a great Palladian-type arch. Such a feeling for
drama, and for the total involvement of the faithful both externally and
internally, is also found at Ettal, in a reversed role, with the monastery
dominated by surrounding mountains.
Later Variants of Rococo
Royal assent was given to the style by Ludwig of Bavaria in his Linderhof Palace and Herrenchiemsee of the same period. It became the accepted taste in the decoration of the many new hotels of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and 'Le gout Ritz' was to be synonymous with luxury and elegance.
For styles of painting and sculpture, see: Art Encyclopedia.