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ROCOCO. A style of art characteristic of the eighteenth century, its focal point was France, where it was the dominant style during the first half of the century, although it enjoyed manifestations throughout Europe. Etymologically, "rococo" probably derived from a combination of the first two syllables of the French words rocaille (a form of rockwork found in architectural ornament and decorative arts) and coquillage (a shell motif that accompanied the rocaille ). Coined in the 1790s by students of the neoclassical French painter Jacques-Louis David (17481825), "rococo" began as a pejorative expression. In an ironic twist of history, however, the earliest instance of the term's recorded usage applied it to David, rather than to a rococo artist properly speaking (such as Antoine Watteau, 16841721, or François Boucher, 17031770). A group of David's students (he called them his "Greeks"), finding his Intervention of the Sabine Women (1799) not Greek enough, judged his masterpiece "[Charles André] Van Loo, [Madame de] Pompadour, rococo." Originally then, the term was studio slang that involved critical judgments about aesthetic taste in general and about painting in particular, rather than a designation for stylistic tendencies in decorative arts, interiors, or architectural ornament (what the eighteenth century called le rocaille or le genre pittoresque, which rococo now denotes in its strictest usage). This account of the word's origin (which comes from David's student, Etienne Delécluze) also suggests that from the start "rococo" was a critical term bound up conceptually with issues of gender and classhence the synonymity between rococo and Madame de Pompadour (17211764), the longtime favorite of Louis XV (ruled 17151774).

Until the end of the nineteenth century "rococo" was not widely used as an art historical term, except in Germany. For the French it remained a general label for the taste that was fashionable during the reign of Louis XV. As early as the 1840s the French also commonly applied it to anything that was old-fashioned, as did the English. By then Jacob Burckhardt had begun to use it as a generic art historical term for the decadent phases of all period styles (he described a "rococo" in Romanesque, Gothic, and Hellenistic art). Soon thereafter other German art historians began to use rococo as a formal classification of the general period and style of Louis XV, and it was they who inaugurated the first critical analyses of the style. Though recognizing rococo as a mode of decoration that originated in France, these scholars were concerned largely with theorizing the style in relation to baroque architecture in Germany and Italy. The Residenz in Würzburg, designed by Balthasar Neumann (16871753), is a magnificent example of German rococo architecture.

Since Fiske Kimball's foundational book, The Creation of the Rococo (1943), the term has been used most commonly to name an indigenously French style of decoration, marked by asymmetry and motifs both fanciful and naturalistic, that was distinct and separate from the baroque and was developed by a small number of designers, ornamentalists, and architects during the first half of the century (these included Gilles-Marie Oppenord, Nicolas Pineau, Juste-Aurèle Meissonier, and Jacques de Lajoüe). In the meantime, the word has continued to be used variously as a designation for a broad historical period spanning the decades from the Regency to the reign of Louis XVI (ruled 17741792), known as the "Rococo Age," or a pan-European style "capable of suffusing all spheres of art." Some scholars have argued that it was the first "modern" style; others have denied that it qualifies as a style at all. Lately it has become possible to speak of rococo as a cultural mode of being, thought, and representation rather than exclusively as a formal idiom.

See also Baroque ; Boucher, François ; David, Jacques-Louis ; France, Art in ; Louis XV (France) ; Pompadour, Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson .


Delécluze, E. J. Louis David, son école, et son temps: Souvenirs. Paris, 1983.

John, Richard. "Rococo." In The Grove Dictionary of Art Online, edited by L. Macy. Available at

Kimball, Fiske. The Creation of the Rococo. Philadelphia, 1943.

Minguet, J. Philippe. Esthétique du Rococo. Paris, 1979.

Park, William. The Idea of Rococo. Newark, Del., and Cranbury, N.J.: 1992.

Roland Michel, Marianne. Lajoüe et l'art rocaille. Neuillysur-Seine, France, 1984.

Schönberger, Arno, and Halldor Soehner. The Age of Rococo. Translated by Daphne Woodward. London, 1960.

Sedlmayr, Hans, and Hermann Bauer. "Rococo." In The Encyclopedia of World Art. New York, 1966.

Semper, Gottfried. Der Stil in den technischen und tektonischen Künsten, oder, praktische Aesthetik: Ein Handbuch für Techniker, Künstler, und Kunstfreunde. 2 vols. 2nd rev. ed. Munich, 18781879.

Melissa Hyde

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Rococo. C18 decorative style (some (e.g. Pevsner) have denied it as a style at all, but others (e.g. Kimball, Sedlmayr, and Bauer) had no such doubts) originating in France, and coinciding with the Régence and Louis Quinze periods, that rapidly spread throughout Europe. It was elegant and frothy, deriving from Auricular, Rocaille, and Baroque themes, drawing on the marine and shell motifs found in grottoes, and incorporating ogee and C-scrolls, asymmetrically disposed around frames, cartouches, etc., like a mixture of coral, seaweed, and stylized foliage. Colours were light and pale, often incorporating gold and silver, while the exotic was never far away, for Rococo designs included aspects of Chinoiserie, Gothick, and even, in its late phase, Hindoo decorations. Rococo decorations included bandwork, diaper-patterns, espagnolettes, scallop-shells, and scroll-work, incorporated in schemes of decoration of unsurpassed grace and beauty, perhaps achieving their greatest heights in France and Southern Germany. In Southern Bavaria and Franconia Rococo reached its finest expression with the interiors of the Amalienburg, Schloss Nymphenburg, Munich, by Cuvilliés and Zimmermann, and the Pilgrimage Church of Vierzehnheiligen (Fourteen Saints), Franconia, the building of which was by Neumann, who had nothing at all to do with the marvellous Rococo decorations (stucco-work and statuary by Johann Michael Feichtmayr (1696–1772), much influenced by his associate, Johann Georg Üblhör (1703–63—who died after the contract was signed, but before the actual work on site commenced), frescoes by Giuseppe Appiani (c.1701–85/6), central altar-shrine with baldacchino (Gnadenaltar) designed by Johann Jakob Michael Küchel (1703–69—who took over the construction of the building itself from 1745) and made by Feichtmayr). Rococo enjoyed a revival in France during C19, while in America, Britain, and Germany aspects of Rococo re-emerged from the 1820s to the 1860s, and in the late 1880s and 1890s there was another revival which was transmogrified into a synthesis of design in Art Nouveau.


B l (1973);
Chilvers, Osborne, & Farr (eds.) (1988);
Hitchcock (1968a);
Kimball (1980);
Lewis & Darley (1986);
Loers (1976);
M&E (1999);
C. Powell (1959);
Jane Turner (1996);
Zürchner (1977)

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rococo (rəkō´kō, rō–), style in architecture, especially in interiors and the decorative arts, which originated in France and was widely used in Europe in the 18th cent. The term may be derived from the French words rocaille and coquille (rock and shell), natural forms prominent in the Italian baroque decorations of interiors and gardens. The first expression of the rococo was the transitional régence style. In contrast with the heavy baroque plasticity and grandiloquence, the rococo was an art of exquisite refinement and linearity. Through their engravings, Juste Aurèle Meissonier and Nicholas Pineau helped spread the style throughout Europe. The Parisian tapestry weavers, cabinetmakers, and bronze workers followed the trend and arranged motifs such as arabesque elements, shells, scrolls, branches of leaves, flowers, and bamboo stems into ingenious and engaging compositions. The fashionable enthusiasm for Chinese art added to the style the whole bizarre vocabulary of chinoiserie motifs. In France, major exponents of the rococo were the painters Watteau, Boucher, and Fragonard and the architects Robert de Cotte, Gilles Marie Oppenord, and later Jacques Ange Gabriel. The rococo vogue spread to Germany and Austria, where François de Cuvilliès was the pioneer. Italian rococo, particularly that of Venice, was brilliantly decorative, exemplified in the paintings of Tiepolo. The furniture of Thomas Chippendale manifested its influence in England. During the 1660s and 1670s, the rococo competed with a more severely classical form of architecture, which triumphed with the accession of Louis XVI.

See F. Kimball, The Creation of the Rococo (1943); A. Schönberger and H. Soehner, The Rococo Age (tr. 1960); H. A. Millon, Baroque and Rococo Architecture (1961); G. Bazin, Baroque and Rococco (tr. 1964); H. Hitchcock, German Rococco (1970).

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rococotacho, taco, tobacco, wacko •blanco, Franco •churrasco, fiasco, Tabasco •Arco, Gran Chaco, mako •art deco, dekko, echo, Eco, El Greco, gecko, secco •flamenco, Lysenko, Yevtushenko •alfresco, fresco, Ionesco •Draco, shako •Biko, Gromyko, pekoe, picot, Puerto Rico, Tampico •sicko, thicko, tricot, Vico •ginkgo, pinko, stinko •cisco, disco, Disko, Morisco, pisco, San Francisco •zydeco • magnifico • calico • Jellicoe •haricot • Jericho • Mexico • simpatico •politico • portico •psycho, Tycho •Morocco, Rocco, sirocco, socko •bronco •Moscow, roscoe •Rothko •coco, cocoa, loco, moko, Orinoco, poco, rococo •osso buco • Acapulco •Cuzco, Lambrusco •bucko, stucco •bunco, junco, unco •guanaco • Monaco • turaco • Turco

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ro·co·co / rəˈkōkō; ˌrōkəˈkō/ • adj. (of furniture or architecture) of or characterized by an elaborately ornamental late baroque style of decoration prevalent in 18th-century Continental Europe, with asymmetrical patterns involving motifs and scrollwork. ∎  extravagantly or excessively ornate, esp. (of music or literature) highly ornamented and florid. • n. the rococo style of art, decoration, or architecture.

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rococo Playful, light style of art, architecture and decoration that developed in early 18th-century France. It soon spread to Germany, Austria, Italy, and Britain. Rococo brought swirls, scrolls, shells, and arabesques to interior decoration. It was also applied to furniture, porcelain, and silverware.

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rococo (of furniture or architecture) of or characterized by an elaborately ornamental late baroque style of decoration prevalent in 18th-century Continental Europe, with asymmetrical patterns involving motifs and scrollwork; extravagantly or excessively ornate. Recorded from the mid 19th century, the word comes from French, as a humorous alteration of rocaille, an 18th-century artistic or architectural style of decoration characterized by elaborate ornamentation with pebbles and shells. The word (which is French) comes from roc ‘rock’.

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rococo †old-fashioned; characterized by conventional shell-and-scroll-work, as of the time of Louis XIV and XV of France. XIX. — F. rococo, fanciful alt. of rocaille pebble- or shell-work, f. roc ROCK2.

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rococo (from Fr. rocaille, fancy rock-work in architecture). In visual arts term is applied to the delicate, diverting style of Watteau and his contemporaries. Mus. application refers to the decorative style e.g. of F. Couperin, and of certain works by Rameau and J. C. Bach. Musically it is a vague term, almost synonymous with galant and the 18th cent. and referring to works which are no longer baroque and not yet classical.