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 (1748–1825), "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, 1684–1721, or François Boucher, 1703–1770). 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 class—hence the synonymity between rococo and Madame de Pompadour (1721–1764), the longtime favorite of Louis XV (ruled 1715–1774).
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 (1687–1753), 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 1774–1792), 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 http://www.groveart.com.
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, 1878–1879.
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Jane Turner (1996);
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.