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Rococo

Jean-Honore Fragonard

Jean-Antoine Watteau

Giambattista Tiepolo

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Rococo

An l8th century style, principally associated with the decorative arts, deriving its name from the French, rocaille, meaning 'rock work'. The name was first used in the early 19th century as a pejorative term, denoting the frivolous over-elaboration which contemporary critics considered the salient feature of the style. Rococo evolved in France from, and as a reaction against, the formal and somewhat ponderous style centred on the court of Louis XIV at Versailles. Following Louis XIV's death in 1715 the court moved to Paris and Rococo reflected the new taste for lighter, more delicate decoration suitable for the smaller, more comfortable and intimate interiors of town houses. Interiors and furnishings alike were decorated with abstract 's' curves and 'c' scrolls combined with naturalistic motifs derived from shells and plants, often in a playfully asymmetrical arrangement. The paintings of Watteau, Boucher and Fragonard, with their playful eroticism, soft colours and elegant forms, provided a perfectly attuned accompaniment to the interiors for which they were intended.

The most celebrated sculptor associated with Rococo style was Falconet, particularly in his role as director of the Sevres porcelain factory. Another Important Rococo porcelain factory was at Meissen, near Dresden. In fact, after France, the other main centres of the Rococo were Catholic parts of Southern Germany and Austria, where the churches of Neumann and Dominikus Zimmerman took Rococo decoration to breathtakingly elaborate extremes. The leading German Rococo sculptor was Ignaz Gunther. In Italy only Venice adopted the Rococo style, but it did produce in Tiepolo the finest decorative painter of the period. He worked throughout Europe, notably at Wurzburg and Madrid. Tiepolo's work in Spain influenced in turn the early paintings of Goya. The style never took a firm hold in England, although Hogarth's love of the 's' curve clearly derives from the Rococo and the elegance of Gainsborough's paintings partakes of its flavour. The Rococo style was eventually supplanted in the 1760s by the radical seriousness of the Neoclassical style.

- From The Bulfinch Guide to Art History




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