Rococo is perhaps the most rebellious of the design styles. Often described as the final expression of the Baroque movement, it was an exceptionally ornamental and theatrical style without rules. Compared to the order, refinement and seriousness of the classical style, the Rococo was considered superficial, degenerate and illogical.
What is rococo?
Rococo derives its name from the French word ‘rocaille’, which means broken stone or shell, natural motifs that were often part of the designs, as were fish and other marine decorations. The acanthus leaf, or rather a highly stylised version of it, was also a characteristic motif. Another key feature of the design is its asymmetrical curved ornamentation, the shapes of which often resemble the letters ‘S’ and ‘C’, and where one half of the design does not match the other.
The Rococo style: origin
Rococo emerged in France in the 1720s and 30s as a style developed by craftsmen and designers rather than architects, which is why it is found mainly in furniture, silverware and ceramics. Rococo flourished in English design between 1740 and 1770. It first appeared in England in silverware and ornamental prints in the 1730’s. Immigrant artists and craftsmen, including Huguenot refugees from France, such as Paul de Lamerie, played a key role in its spread. The most influential set of pattern engravings was published as a book of furniture designs. This book broke new ground by being both a source of design ideas and a pattern book for potential customers. The patterns had the greatest effect on small furniture makers, mainly outside London.
The Rococo style spread
From France, the Rococo style spread in the 1730s to the German-speaking Catholic countries, where it was adapted to a brilliant style of religious architecture that combined French elegance with Southern German fantasy and a persistent Baroque interest in dramatic spatial and plastic effects. Some of the finest Rococo buildings outside France are to be found in Munich, for example, the refined and delicate Amalienburg (1734-39) in the Nymphenburg Park and the Residenztheater (1750-53; rebuilt after the Second World War), both designed by François de Cuvilliés. In Italy, the rococo style is concentrated mainly in Venice, where it is embodied in the large-scale decorative paintings of Giovanni Battista Tiepolo. The urban views of Francesco Guardi and Canaletto were also influenced by rococo.