Antoine Watteau, architecture, art, art movement, Baroque, Boulle, corset, fashion, François Boucher, France, furniture, Germany, Italy, late baroque, Louis XV, neoclassicism, painting, roccoco, Rococo
In the early part of 18th century Baroque silently gave way to Rococo. Also known as late Baroque or Roccoco, this art movement was another produce of the enlightened age that began years ago with renaissance, this time originating in France. The term Rococo is believed to have been formed from two French words, rocaille, meaning stone and coquilles, meaning shell, two items extensively used as motifs of decoration during this period. The art movement coincided with the reign of Louis XV (1710 – 1774) and in fact owed much to him for its popularity.
With the inception of Rococo, the grandeur of Baroque sometimes exaggerated to a tasteless level, started phasing out. The dramatization, tenebrism and strong focus on symmetry were replaced by graceful lightheartedness, ornate sinuous lines and asymmetry. Decorative and playful, the figures were more slender, palms and feet smaller more in line with the feminine theme. Pastel gained ground. Characters were set in a rural idyllic background and there were more emphasis on painting nature the way it is. In furniture, the delicacy of Rococo with its undulating lines substituted the powerful forms of Baroque. Wooden furniture was gilded with artistic designs and was finished off with bronze shoes. The so–called Boulle furniture, named after Andre–Charles Boulle (1642 – 1732), with its metal, wood and tortoise shell inlay is a striking example of Rococo philosophy. Architecture no longer followed the stricture of symmetry, highlighting geometric forms and ellipsis in particular, as it did in the Baroque era. Instead, asymmetry was the norm of the day. Ceilings were no longer decorated with elaborate paintings. The new school of architects and painters subtly curved trumeaux (over doors) and created small–scale painted panels. Rooms also started becoming smaller and more intimate as form started following function. All these contributed in a more elegantly sophisticated yet understated environment.
Originating in France, Rococo was quick in pervading the neighboring countries of Italy and Germany. Each of these nations added its own layer in painting, architecture, interior decoration, furniture and fashion that eventually enriched the Rococo style. In France, figurative and portrait painters gravitated towards pastel as a medium of choice due to its inherent ability of defining texture. The contrast of toned down light and shade added to a certain frivolity of expression. Porcelain made its appearance and was used for sculpting figurines as well as inlaying wooden furniture. The Rococo women started wearing corsets and did show an inclination of owning satin or silk puffy dresses and crinolines, a rage in the then fashion scene. Unlike French Rococo style, Italian masters still sought external expressionism even while adhering to the basic principles of Rococo. Highly decorative windows, large central sculptures, elegant porticos and high domes all contributed to the splendor of Rococo architecture. The walls decorated with Trompe l’oeil (realistic painting) added to the overall sense of theatrical brilliance. Elsewhere in Germany, colors such as pink, lemon, blue, lilac became important vehicle for the visual narrators in conveying the story. German Rococo embraced more staccato rhythm. Enormous frescoes, silver rocaille and glittering glass ornamented the walls and ceilings. Rococo saw its grandest and most opulent implementation in Germany.
1730s could be considered the height of Rococo style in France exemplified by the works of Antoine Watteau (1684 – 1721) and François Boucher (1703 – 1770). Antoine Watteau, a Flemish painter residing in Paris, had a lyrical quality associated with his paintings. Also, following a decorative style he introduced tasteful nudity in his artwork. Francois Boucher, on the other hand, opted for more suggestive, amorous topics even within the periphery of classical subjects. His portrayal of Madame de Pompadour in 1759 brought him not only fame but also patronage from none other than Madame de Pompadour (Louis XV’s mistress) herself.
Ferdinando Fuga (1699 – 1782), a Florentine architect, dominated the architecture and decorative art scene in Italy. Palazzo delia Consulta (1732 – 1737) and the facade of Santa Maria Maggiore (1741–1743) are generally considered to be his greatest works. Giambattista Tiepolo (1696 – 1770) and his son, Giandomenico (1727 – 1804) defined Italian Rococo painting in many ways. The older Venetian’s Frescos in the state dining room (Kaiseraal) and the Grand Staircase (Trepenhaus) in the Wurzburg Residenz were imaginative masterpieces of his lifetime. Younger Tiepolo took more interest in painting the daily lives of Venice. Like in Italy, Rococo masters decorated both churches and secular buildings in Germany. Francois Cuvillies (1695 – 1768) was involved in a number of projects including the sterling example of Rococo architecture in the building of Amalienburg. In France, Germany, and Italy and in smaller ways in England, Spain and Russia, artists, architects and even draughtsmen and artisans contributed in the flourish of the movement in their own ways.
French aristocracy embraced Rococo and Louis XV loosened the moral codes emphasizing pleasure over power, yet the detractors of Rococo were steadily gaining ground. By the beginning of 1760s, the critics of this art form found powerful allies in Voltaire and Jacques–François Blondel who voiced their opinion against the superficiality and garishness of Rococo. In Germany, Rococo was ridiculed as Zopfstil (pigtail and periwig). It took a longer time in provincial France and Italy to see Rococo completely extinguished. Yet, the signs were ominous. A paradigm shift towards sensitivity and moral values paved the way of Neoclassicism in Europe. With its introduction, the style swung back to simplicity and the calm grandiose of classicism.