Written by Shantel Susan, Art Consultant & Founder Shantel’s Art & Design Inc.
The crossover from where Baroque ended and Rococo began is indefinite; but there are distinguishable aspects of the Rococo period that separate it from Baroque. One of the most profound is Rococo’s geographical emersion; the French originated it, Italy (other than Venice and Turin) ignored it, Germany, Bohemia and Austria embraced it while England avoided it. Stylistically, Rococo emerged from Baroque but it had clear significant differences – it was expressed with lighter, fancier, womanly influences not previously seen, the decoration of interiors was being brought to the forefront with exterior architecture becoming secondary and fluffiness and playfulness became the center of all design considerations.
It later was recognized that Rococo was clearly a turning point in the history of interiors as it was the last period of overtly lavish and opulently articulated design but moreover, it was expressed in a way that was pure fantasy. This is partly due to Rococo materializing at a time when the aristocracy and the rulers with wealth and privilege, including religious leaders and the church, were moving towards a lesser greatness. The general population in Europe was eager for change and as it is often true, artistic expression was first to offer it. The communicative approach of Rococo was dominant in the regions that chose to welcome its many fine attributes. The “masculine heroics and rhetoric of Baroque were replaced by dainty gallantries and pointed sallies of humor.” 1
Rococo materialized as a reaction or rather indifference to the Baroque period of past years. A combination of various factors contributed to the decline of Baroque and the acceptance of Rococo. In France, after the death of King Louis the XIV and the subsequent coronation of King Louis XV decided to move the court to Paris from Versaille. The new King and his mistress Madame de Pompadour disliked Baroque as they associated with the strict regime of the prior King and the influence of the Church. They wanted to reflect a new sense of style to match the somewhat looser protocol in which the King aspired.
Interestingly, Rococo emerged from French Baroque although Baroque originated in Italy. Not surprisingly, Rome generally found little interest in Rococo (when compared to its massive display of Baroque) and except for scattered regional interest, Italy chose to cling tightly to its Baroque ideals. England, probably the most advanced country in terms of bringing science and philosophy to the fore, invented machinery and processes that would benefit the new world and in moving toward democracy and capitalism, they did not favour a design that indulged in such frivolity. Germany embraced Rococo as it found it more tolerable then Baroque and integrated this design mainly into churches. Other parts of the world including Russia and The United States had their own versions of Rococo appreciation.
First and foremost it was the refinement of the decorative arts that were the signature difference between Rococo and Baroque. The French Royal workshops, the Gobelins, were the dominant creative center of decorative arts for the court. This changed when the court moved from Versaille to Paris and this loss of control helped to lead the way for Rococo-style arts to flourish. Architects became involved with interior decoration while sculptors and other artisans fashioned items that were used for ornamentation and decoration. The standard of interior décor was elevated to the heights of fine art. Many furniture designers introduced new techniques and materials for creating pieces that were innovative. Each furniture piece often involved a variety of artisans ranging from gold and silver-smiths, cabinet-makers to porcelain makers, upholsterers and wood carvers all whom made creations that were free from the dominant strictness of Baroque and responded to the desires of the public for well-crafted and tailor-made creations.
Baroque – Mirror
French or Swedish, About 1700
Attributed to Burchardt Precht
Silvered bronze over wood, mirror glass.
Symmetrical and bold
Rococo – Looking Glass
American, About 1775
Carved in pine
Purchase, Friends of the American Wing Fund, and Max. H. Gluck Foundation Inc. Gift, in honor of Virginia and Leonard Marx, 1990 (1990.18)
The Met Museum – http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/bouc/
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Gardner, Helen, Art Through the Ages, Published by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Inc., ISBN 0-15-503769-2, 1926, Page 822.