Rococo art and architecture were born from the Baroque era in 18th century France, during the age of Enlightenment. Rococo is seen both as the climax and fall of Baroque art.
In 1715, France crowned a new king for the first time in over seventy years. This new King was five-year-old Louis XV. With this change in leadership came a change in thought for the French monarchy. This new zeitgeist was reflected in the artwork. The name Rococo, then called Old Frankish, is thought to be derived from a garden ornamentation style: rocaille and coquille (literally rock and shell.) After the heavy works created in the Baroque style artists and the French people were ready for a change. Rococo is characteristically light (visually and physically), graceful, and fanciful. Rococo artists and architects paid special attention to fine detail.
The Enlightenment society was introducing new ideas about human existence. Rococo art and architecture are the visual representations of the optimism people felt in response to Enlightenment writing and theory.
Eventually the Rococo art was replaced by the more serious style, Neoclassicism. Critics condemned it as “tasteless, frivolous, and symbolic of a corrupt society”. Rococo then became a derogatory term used by Neo-Classical artists.
First seen in the decorative arts and displaying such elements as pastel colors, flowers, patterns, and curves that have often been described as erotic. The essence of Rococo art is light. Extreme highlights are placed on the subject matter and the overall work is light in color, effect, and emotion.
The subject matter in Baroque art was often religious and historical figures; sculpture was large and created only for the elite. Rococo painting did not completely neglect these subjects but turned more often to views of everyday life and scenes from mythology. Rococo sculptures were much smaller and could be owned by the average person. The most popular type of sculpture was portraiture busts. The artists prided themselves in creating realistic representations rather than idealized.
Antoine Watteau is considered to be one of the first Rococo painters. He often created asymmetrical compositions. This type of aesthetic balance became not only an important part of Rococo art, but of design in general.
Rococo often borrowed from other cultures that the Europeans had just begun to explore. A branch of Rococo known as Chinoiserie, for example, borrowed from Chinese art.
The goal of Rococo art was not to be thought provoking or glorifying. The main raison d’etre of this style was decoration. As the way of life for the French began to evolve salons and coffee houses were becoming more common. The small light-hearted Rococo paintings were more ideal for these environments that the large, dark works of the Baroque period.
Some Rococo Artists:
Giovanni Battista Tiepolo
Rococo architecture had refined lines and engravings, contrasting the Baroque plasticity and grandiloquence. The buildings were structured so that more light could fill the interior space and be more graceful and ethereal. Both the interior and exterior of the spaces were intricate replacing the dominating characteristics of Baroque decoration. Most examples of Rococo architecture are found in sacred spaces such as churches and cathedrals. Common motifs are scrolls, shells, branches, flowers, clouds et cetera. Like Rococo painting and sculpture white and pastel colors were the most prevalent as well as gilded surfaces. This type of architecture quickly spread throughout Europe flourishing in Germany and Italy.
Renaissance and Baroque spaces were often divided. Rococo architects modified these interiors creating more unified space, emphasis on structural elements, continuous decorative schemes, and reduced need for large columns. The nave ceiling was generally higher than that of the rest of the space pre-Rococo. The architects changed that element too making all the ceilings the same height, further unifying the space.
Numerous windows were added not only to increase the amount of light, but also for added drama. Walls were generally smooth and lacked the high-relief carvings found in Baroque buildings. The corners of the mostly rectangular rooms were often rounded to soften their appearance. Windows, wall panels, mirrors, and doors characteristically went from floor to ceiling accentuating vertical space.
Architects begin to focus on creating elegant parlors, dainty sitting rooms, boudoirs, drawing rooms, and libraries. These rooms were filled with paintings and furniture all in the style of Rococo.
The exteriors follow along the same guidelines as paintings, sculptures, and interiors. The façades are covered in delicate formations alluding to nature and mythology. Buildings were often accentuated by gardens in the same shell-work style. The gardens had an abundance of fountains and fanciful sculptures.
Some Rococo Architects:
Robert de Cotte
Gilles Marie Oppenord
Jacques Ange Gabriel
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