Cuvilliés, François de

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FranÇois de CuvilliÉs


Interior Designer

Early Life.

Born at Hainault near Brussels in 1695, François de Cuvilliés entered into the service of Duke Maximilian II Emmanuel of Bavaria as a court dwarf when he was eleven. At the time, the duke was in exile from his duchy, but when he returned to Munich in 1714, he brought Cuvilliés with him. Over the years that followed, Maximilian looked after his servant's education, apprenticing him eventually to serve as a draftsman to his court architect. With Maximilian's financial support, Cuvilliés left Munich for Paris in 1720, and during the next four years he completed his architectural studies there. At the time that Cuvilliés was a student in the city, the early Rococo style was becoming fashionable in France. The young architect studied under Jean François Blondel, one of the most important of the early French Rococo designers. In Paris, he also studied the techniques of French rocaille or "rockwork" plaster, and on his return to Bavaria he began to use them in his architectural creations. His first project was at the Wittelsbach's country palace, Schloss Schleissheim. Pleased with his creativity, Duke Maximilian granted Cuvilliés a position within his court architect's office. Somewhat later, under Maximilian's successor, Carl Albert, Cuvilliés began to receive a series of more important commissions.

Mature Style.

In Cuvilliés' greatest works he outshined the merely decorative conventions of Rococo style and surpassed the many competent designers who practiced in the style in France. Some of his work has been destroyed since the eighteenth century, but two of the greatest of his creations—the Amalienburg in the gardens of Schloss Nymphenburg and the Residence Theater in Munich—survive. The Amalienburg was a small pleasure villa built between 1734 and 1739. From the outside the structure appears as a model of courtly refinement. Once inside, though, its extreme ornateness becomes quickly evident. Like many Rococo structures, the rapidly floating and swirling spaces of stuccowork at the boundary between the ceilings and walls make it difficult to tell where one ends and the other begins. While filled with decorative detailing, the relatively limited palette of pale colors provides a sophisticated, rather than merely ornate, air to the rooms. The Residence Theater in Munich is, by contrast, a riot of sumptuous ornament. Built in 1751–1752, the palette of bright red, gold, and white has splashes of ornament to demarcate the social hierarchy of the nobles and courtiers who attended the productions staged there. The Wittelsbach box and the balconies that surround it have the most decoration, while on the levels above simpler ornamentation becomes the rule. While ornate in the extreme, Cuvilliés' theater was also a very practical environment in which to perform plays, and it was adaptable to other uses as well. The theater was originally equipped with a mechanism that allowed the sloping floor of its auditorium to be lowered into a flat position so that court balls could be held there. Of the many theaters built during the Baroque and Rococo periods, it remains one of the favored spots for the performance of period dramas and operas.

Influence on Design.

The Amalienburg and Residence Theater are only two of the many structures that Cuvilliés worked on during his long career in Bavaria. In 1740, his patron at the time, Duke Carl Albert, rose to the office of Holy Roman Emperor, and at that time the architect received the largely honorific title of "Imperial Architect." While the empire was largely a fictional power by this time, Cuvilliés' position close to its heart still won him many commissions outside Bavaria. These included plans for numerous additions to Schloss Wilhelmstal near Kassel, the country palace Seraing for the bishop of Liége in modern Belgium, and a palace for the aristocratic Fugger family. In addition, he completed plans for the Residence at Würzburg as well as an urban plan for the city of Dresden, which acquired its delicate late Baroque and Rococo character at the time. The architect was also an enthusiastic collaborator, and during his career he worked with Johann Baptist Zimmerman and other southern German architects, helping to spread knowledge of the decorative techniques he had acquired while a student in Paris. In 1738, Cuvilliés began another project that firmly established his influence among other architects practicing throughout Europe. In that year he began to produce a series of bound engravings illustrating the proper ways to ornament and decorate buildings and furniture. When completed in 1755, this project totalled 55 books of engravings published in three separate series. These works had wide circulation throughout the continent, and even influenced later Rococo decoration as well as the construction of furniture. Cabinetmakers, for instance, enthusiastically studied Cuvilliés' designs for inspiration as they created sophisticated works for their aristocratic clients.


Hermann Bauer, Rocaille. Zur Herkunft und zum Wesen eines Ornament-Motivs (Berlin: De Gruyter, 1962).

Wolfgang Braunfels, François de Cuvilliés (Munich: Süddeutscher Verlag, 1986).

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Cuvilliés, François de

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