Such cultural and artistic phenomenon as rococo takes its origin in the eighteenth century France. The very word “rococo” is the blending of two words rocaille (which can be translated into English as “shell”) and Baroque (Kalnein, 44). Overall, this style can be characterized by elaborate ornamentation and asymmetry. Rococo is often vied as some period in the evolvement of western European Art.
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To some extent every period in the history art attempts to contradict its predecessor. For example, Rococo with its fluid forms is the opposite of Classicism, with its mathematical proportions and precision. It would be an exaggeration to say that this style is based on the aesthetic principles of Renaissance,
In spite of the fact that in the majority of cases, rococo is considered to be a decorative art, this style found its reflection not only in the architecture, sculpture, or interior design but also in the literature and theatre.
Many art historians believe that Rococo style should be viewed as the unity of sculpture, painting and interior design. In their view, these notions are so closely intertwined, that they should not be even separated. Thus, our major task is to discuss the influence of this artistic movement on the visual arts, in general and on interior design in particular. In this case interior design is viewed as some complex,
Before we start discussing the main peculiarities of this style, it is of the crucial importance for us to understand the difference between Baroque and Rococo, because these two notions are so often confused. At first, glance it may seem that these they are practically identical, because in their core they have some similar feature.
Some scholars believe that Rococo is just the stage in the genesis of Baroque style; in addition to that, they do not view Rococo as an independent artistic movement, in their opinion rococo is the degenerated form of Baroque. Some art historians even associate this art movement with the desire of French aristocracy for luxury; they believe that it is too pompous. Moreover, in their opinion, Rococo is almost devoid of any artistic value. However, this statement can be easily disputed, because this style undoubtedly has very interesting features, which are almost unique in some cases.
The main peculiarity of Baroque is dynamics; it can be applied to every visual art of that period: painting, design sculpture, and painting. The smoothness of the lines can be found practically in every work of art executed in this style. The same goes for Rococo, but there are some distinctions between them (Basin, 245).
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First, Rococo is much more inclined to the eastern motifs, which is not typical of Baroque. This interest in the eastern motifs can be ascribed to the fact that artist, who lived in the eighteenth century tried to find something new. It seemed to them that the symbiosis of Western and Eastern art would help to achieve more realistic effect (Schwarz, 24).
Secondly, in its core, Rococo is based on asymmetry. This phenomenon can be ascribed to the desire for truthfulness. There is nothing entirely symmetrical in the nature; even the body of a human being is not symmetrical. The representatives of this style believed that an artist had to show that life and the nature are chaotic. This is probably the main difference between these two styles.
Another distinctive feature between these two styles is that that Baroque painting prefers mostly bright colors; moreover, the palette usually comprises the combination of such colors as black, red and white. This coloring usually produces a very lasting impression on the viewer, because these colors usually attract our attention. Moreover, the outlines of Baroque painting are usually very sharp.
In contrast to Baroque, rococo painting is much smoother; the outlines never can be sharp. As regards the palette, the preference is given mostly very light colors. In this case the word “light” implies that they create the atmosphere of serenity or placidity.
As we have already mentioned Rococo, style originates in France, the Epoch of Enlightenment, to be more exact. It reached its acme in the works of such prominent French artists as Francois Boucher and Antoine Watteau. It should be taken into account that it was often viewed as the degeneracy of baroque.
In addition to that, it was often criticized for its seemingly misshapen forms. The main reason for it that people were so used to the “logical” art of classicism, that they were unable to appreciate something new.
Despite the fact that Rococo was replaced by Neo-classicism at the end of the eighteenth century, it had some period of revival in the middle of the nineteenth century, especially in England. We cannot say that it was entirely forgotten, because aspiration for gracefulness, vividness has often attracted many artists to this style. Even, now the influence of Rococo is very noticeable, certainly not all of its elements. Probably, the main reason for it, that this style truly shows the chaotic nature of life
Now that we have outlined the major peculiarities of this style, and its historic development, we should analyze its influence on the Western European art. It is necessary to show how the principles of Rococo are reflected in such visual arts as interior design. Moreover, we should show how paintings and sculptures were incorporated in the interior design.
It is worth mentioning, that the representatives of rococo style believed that such interior design, sculpture and painting should merge into a single entity, in order to produce a combined effect on the viewer, therefore, it is necessary for us to discuss it a complex of visual arts.
As we have already noticed, Rococo is mostly based on asymmetry and fluidity; it is the most peculiar feature of its interior design. It seems that shapes and forms tend to overflow into one another. To a certain degree, it is a protest against Classicism, which mostly preferred austere style.
According to this artistic movement, the essence of life and nature is order. It is just the opposite with rococo. First, forms and outlines of the interior seem to be unbalanced. They are often characterized as somewhat whimsical, because it is next to impossible to predict their development. As far as the coloring of Rococo interior is concerned, we can say that the pallet tends to be a little bit paler and softer.
This feature also distinguishes Rococo from Baroque and Classism. According to Rococo, life cannot be divided only in black and white; it is full of tints. Perhaps, the main purpose of such coloring is to show the diversity of life forms. Moreover, sculpture served the same purpose in Rococo interiors.
There is a widely held opinion among many art historians that rococo interior design originates from Versailles. Despite the fact that, it is usually classified as an example of Classicism, this building undoubtedly has many features, peculiar only to Rococo, especially, if we speaking about its interior design.
This statement can be substantiated by some examples. First, large forms or probably it would be better to say dimensions are practically absent in the inner part of the building. Additionally, much emphasis is placed on the so-called “minor” arts (if such term can be appropriate in this case), such as furniture, porcelain and mirrors.
This combination of minute forms produces a very strong impression on the viewer. It seems that shapes are going to move or probably it would be better to say evolve. This is one of the major principles of rococo style.
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Special attention should be given to the materials, which were used, because they also constitute an inseparable part of the interior. As regards the sculpture, it should be mentioned, that marble was practically banished from rococo. For instance, fountain sculptures were mostly made of lead. The main reason for it is that the combination of metal and water produce an unforgettable light effect.
As far as indoor sculptures are concerned, we can say that in the majority of cases, the preference was given to the porcelain. It was mostly used for very small objects. Overall, we can say that sculpture was practically the main part of interior design. This statement can be substantiated by some examples. For instance, the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg can be discussed within the context of Rococo style, though it has some features of Baroque.
It should be mentioned that it was inspired by the architecture of Versailles and in terms of interior design these two buildings have many in common. First, we may single out the extensive use of fluid forms and outlines. The second similar feature is the presence of Puttos, naked boys with wings that to a certain degree remind Cupids.
Another peculiar feature of Rococo interior design is that the concept of furniture underwent certain changes. It was no longer austere, as it was during classicism. Besides, it usually serves a double-purpose. First, it had to be convenient; secondly, it should not be static. Perhaps, it would be better to pay more attention to this issue. First, Classism perceived furniture as something immovable; it was usually located near the walls.
Overall, the furniture was of no artistic value. Rococo drastically changes furniture as the part of interior design. The very word implies two meanings, convenient and beautiful. Rococo makes furniture light in two senses, first, visually and what is more important physically.
Regarding the materials, we can say that the overwhelming majority of furniture items were made of mahogany. There are two reasons for it. First, mahogany color creates a very peaceful atmosphere in the room. Secondly, it is relatively light and strong, thus it makes furniture easy to move around the apartment (Kimball, 223).
As for the shape of this furniture, we can say that the concept of shell seems to be the dominant one. We can see convolution practically everywhere. Additionally, every article of furniture is made according to the principle of asymmetry. Mathematical precision and proportion were no longer acceptable, as it had been with Classicism. Rococo is not logical in its core, and therefore it cannot be predicted.
Special part of Rococo interior design is mirrors. First, in the eighteenth century France, the so-called unblemished glass was often used. Mirrors had been looked upon before Rococo arrived. They were viewed as form of human vanity. Certainly, we cannot say that they were absent at all, but their design had no artistic value. The representatives of rococo had a different view as to this point. They proved that the use of mirrors creates a beautiful play of light and shade in the room (Harwood, 133).
Though Rococo is viewed by many scholars as decorative art, this epoch produced a great number of famous paintings. Among them, we can single our Francois Bucher, Tomas Gainsborough, and Joshua Reynolds. They style has something in common with Renaissance painting. First, the smoothness of the lines or the so-called sfumato technique can be observed almost in every painting, executed in Rococo style.
Gradual transition between areas of different color, avoiding sharp outlines is often viewed as the tribute to Renaissance tradition. If we take for example, Bouchers famous portrait “Marquise de Pompadour” , we may see that forms tend to overflow into one another.
The colors are mostly soft and a little bit vague. Another peculiar feature of Rococo painting is the predominant motifs. It mostly focuses on mythology, femininity, and romance. Some scholars believe that, it is a protest against classicism, which gave preference to the mathematical proportions.
Among famous Rococo painters, we can single out Giovanni Tieplo and his picture “The Death of Hyacinth’ and “Apotheosis of Spain”. Another renowned representative of this artistic movement is Jean Chardin. His famous picture “Still Life with Glass” eloquently demonstrates the principles of Rococo. In fact, this picture cannot even be classified as still life, because every outline seems to be in motion.
If we speak about rococo painting, it should be mentioned, that erotic was one of the most dominant motif. Probably this is the main reason why this style aroused so much indignation.
Church believed that it was highly immoral. Bouchers picture “Cupid. A Captive” was often subjected to heavy criticism. Probably, the image of Cupid contradicted to the morality of the then France.
Special attention is given to every minute detail, though we cannot say that such paintings are realistic. It should be taken into consideration that rococo painters depicted only members of the aristocracy; therefore, it is not surprising that artists could not create a true image of this people. Everything had to be pleasing to the eye of the viewer.
It stands to reason, that painting was an inseparable part of the interior design. Combined use of sculpture and painting as the parts of interior design produced the impression of fluidity, which was the most important principle of rococo.
Sculpture was also an inseparable part of Rococo interior design. As it has already been mentioned, interior design in Rococo tradition should be viewed as a single entity of sculpture, painting, and “minor arts”. Etienne Falconet is believed to be the most renowned representative of Rococo sculpture. He is famous for his sculptures of Putto, a naked child with wings (Dempsey, 32).
To a certain degree, this symbol has something in common with Cupid. It is a very ancient image; however, its revival is mostly ascribed to Renaissance. The etymology of this word is also interesting, because it derives from Italian word “putana”, which can be translated into English as “prostitute”. It is not easy to interpret this symbol; on the one hand, it is associated with Cupid, Roman god of erotic love, on the other hand, putti are perceived as angels.
Art historian Juan Martinez believes that it is necessary to differentiate between Putti and Cherubs, because they represent entirely different notions such as Antiquity and Christian world. However, they are always depicted in the same way.
Regarding Rococo style, we may mention Bouchardons sculpture, depicting cupid or putto, who carves his darts from the club of Hercules. To a certain degree, it represents the principles of the style, a child, which is gradually transforming into a semi god and vice verse.
Thus, having analyzed the major peculiarities of Rococo style, especially within the context of interior design, we can arrive at the conclusion it major peculiarities are the following. First, we should mention the symbiosis of painting sculpture and the so-called minor arts. The second characteristic feature is the skillful use of various materials, in order to achieve various aesthetic effects. Moreover, rococo interior usually server double purpose, the practical use and the aesthetics, in other words design.
- Buie Harwood, Bridget May, Curt Sherman. Architecture and Interior Design Through the 18th Century: An Integrated History. Prentice Hall, 2001.
- Charles Dempsey. “Inventing the Renaissance Putto” UNC Press, 2001.
- Dana Arnold. Reading Architectural History. Routledge, 2002.
- Germain Bazin, Jonathan Griffin. Baroque and Rococo. Thames & Hudson, 1964.
- Fiske Kimball. Creation of the Rococo Decorative Style. Peter Smith Pub, 1980.
- Katie Scott. The Rococo Interior: Decoration and Social Spaces in Early Eighteenth-Century Paris, Yale University Press, 1995.
- Michael Levey. Rococo to Revolution: Major Trends in Eighteenth-century Painting. Thames and Hudson, 1985.
- Michael Schwarz. The Age of the Rococo. Praeger, 1971.
- Wend von Kalnein, David Britt. Architecture in France in the Eighteenth Century: New Edition. Yale University Press, 1995.