As grand as Baroque was, Rococo had a tantalizingly feminine and fantastical allure that made it different. Baroque had symmetry, Rococo distinctly asymmetrical; the former was balanced and controlled the later unstructured and lighthearted. Both styles displayed intricate details and delicate carvings, but Baroque tended to be heavier, more pronounced in its execution while Rococo was smaller, delicate and lacey. Baroque architects designed these effects and made building structures rather than interior decoration their priority; Rococo emphasized interiors. Baroque shapes included straight lines with stiff and weighty circular effects – Rococo boasted swirly “S” and “C” curves and counter curves that curled and bended in artful designs. These shapes extended to ornamentation and fixtures such as fireplace mantels as “ . . . in the interiors the architectonic had to yield to the picturesque . . .”1 Baroque materials often included marble, weighty bronze gilding while Rococo preferred porcelain, metals and soft woods.
Rococo rooms were smaller with dainty sitting rooms, elegant parlours and drawing rooms and libraries that were intended to be imaginative pastel-like expanses of fanciful broken curves and sweeps of graceful stucco designs. Rococo colours tended to be paler and creamy toned. Baroque used primary colours and dark tones, creating dramatic and intimidating spaces; Rococo reveled in muted colors with ivory white and gold creating softer more agreeable impressions. The Regence Style (taken from Philippe II, duc d’Orleans) that “ . . . represents a transition from baroque grandeur . . . to the light, intimate art of the Rococo style.”2 This term describes French furniture and decorative arts, particularly from 1700-1720 and continued to evolve with a variety of artists that included decorators Gilles Marie Oppenord – one of the originators of Rococo and Charles Cressent a furniture designer that use gilded bronze appliques as a central component of furniture decoration.
Fashionable Baroque furniture was symmetrical and heavy, oversized with legs that were double-curved, squared and fully upholstered – the pieces were immobile and looked as though supported by walls. Rococo furniture favoured asymmetry through scallops and elongated “S” and “C” curves and appeared moveable and comfortably accessible. Through rejection of classical Orders, Rococo furniture was designed to harmonize with the overall design scheme, including the paneling and the colours. The overall grand scale of Baroque room proportion was in contrast to the lightness and quaintness that prevailed with Rococo.
Similar to the Baroque era (or because of it) Rococo also influenced other artistic areas including music, theatre, painting and sculpture. The difference was again the lightness and softness in the expression but the subject matter was also different. Unlike Baroque, Rococo-style theatre finally placed emphasis on the actor and increased importance of set design. The idea of spectacle was so profound that “. . . many actors were trained or employed as scenographers . . .”3 this even extended to such noteworthy painters as Francois Boucher whom created painting with backgrounds that looked very much like theatre sets. Music continued to flourish during the Rococo era and was a seamless transition from the Baroque age. The major composers of the time including Vivaldi, Bach and Handel all continued to create a never-ending stream of popular work, displaying their versatility and virtuosity while other composers such Jean Philippe Rameau and Louis-Claude Daquin began their careers.
in the Rococo era, sculpture was deemed “miniature Baroque” pertaining to its smaller statues that were designed to be viewed at close range. They expressed greater human emotions and were dedicated to subjects related to love. French painters including Francois Boucher, Jean-Honore Fragonard and Jean-Antoine Watteau were known for their delicate renderings of subjects and thoughtful details. Portraiture and landscape paintings displayed in loving and suggestive depictions were introduced and were void of Baroque church and state influences.
Rococo had a beauty all of its own. It was the last of the truly extravagantly artistic periods in history and although some consider Rococo as merely the latter end of Baroque – this is a perception that is unfounded. Rococo will always endure as the truly unique period that it was, the true liberation of many artistic disciplines to explore new forms of expression through delicate sensitivity that related to audiences that were so interested in the changes that Rococo had to offer. For those that appreciate the workmanship, discipline and dedication these artisans had for their creations is truly exemplified in the Rococo age. Moreover, these creations have served to be the design inspiration and decided influence for many design periods that followed.
Rococo – Lean-to Writing Desk
Paris, France, ca. 1750
Marquetry inlay with gilt wood edging
Widener Collection 1942.9.424
National Gallery – http://www.nga.gov/fcgi-bin/timage
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Janson, Horst Woldemar, Janson, Anthony F., History of Art: The Western Tradition, Prentice Hall; 6th edition (January 1, 2004) ISBN-10: 0131828959,
ISBN-13: 978-0131828957, Edition: 6 – 2003, Page 640I