‘Rococo’ refers to an eighteenth-century art and design movement in Europe that affected almost all facets of art, including: literature, music, architecture, painting, interior decoration, fashion, and theatre. It was characterized by ostentatious and superfluous luxury, as well as excesses of ornate ornamentation and detail. The word ‘rococo’ is a French word meaning “old-fashioned, outmoded (1825), designating furniture, architecture, etc. [ . . . ] The style in question came to be perceived as needlessly elaborate and old-fashioned by early 19th-cent.” (OED)
Many of the characteristics of Rococo architecture weigh more heavily on applied decoration than actual construction. Interior forms such as pilasters and architraves, as well as the shape and style of doorways and windows, morphed with the movement, whereas the form of rococo buildings as a whole are largely of the neoclassical style. Decorative elements became more elaborate and gaudy and took on a more curvilinear and whimsical character than that of any previous movement.
A prime example of Rococo architecture is the Palace of Versailles, in France. There are very few, if any, buildings on earth that can rival the extravagant ornamentation, detail, and luxury of Versailles. The palace sits on a 200 acre garden that is equally impresive. The palace and grounds stand as a physical manifestation of the ideology and domination of the French monarchy at the time of Louis XIV. The grounds emanate power and wealth, and are designed to intimidate and impress the onlooker. The palace and grounds also embody the total domination of the government and the oppression of the French people at that time. It is inextricably linked to the French revolution and shows the degree of luxury that the monarchy indulged itself in while the people were left to suffer.
The elements of play and whimsy are also very present in Rococo art. “The Swing,” painted in 1767 by Jean-Honore Fragonard, depicts a young woman on a swing, and a man lying a short distance away looking up her skirt. “The Swing” possesses a titillating quality not uncommon to many art works of the Rococo period. It is a scene of frivolity and gallantry and can be viewed as an embodiment of the Rococo spirit. The Rococo period was all about indulgence and lavishness simply for the sake of pleasure. Paintings of the period did not hold deep moral undertones or lessons to be learned. They were made to entertain and amuse the onlooker. In “The Swing,” the slipper being kicked off of the woman’s foot is somewhat sexually suggestive and points towards a sense of mischief prevalent in much of the art produced during the Rococo period.
“rococo adj. and noun.” OED online, accessed Nov. 21, 2012
Kimball, Fiske. The Creation of the Rococo. New York: Norton, 1964. Print.
Stokstad, Marilyn and Micheal Cothren. Art History. New York: Pearson 2010. Print