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Footloose and Fancy Free: 18th Century Rococo Art

Laughing ladies and gentlemen in powdered wigs and pastel costumes frolicking about the countryside. Partially clad mythological gods and goddesses reclining in idyllic settings surrounded by rosy-cheeked cherubs. What do these scenes have in common? They are examples of the Rococo style of art that originated in France and flourished throughout Europe during the 18th century. Some art historians believe that the rise of Rococo as an art style was a reaction against the classical baroque style favored by Louis XIVth at Versailles but others consider it to be a final phase of the baroque period.

A style of the aristocracy, Rococo reflects a taste for elegance, refinement, culture and pleasure. In painting and sculpture, the style is a portrayal of the carefree life of the aristocracy. Common themes are love, romance, carefree life, and a connection with nature. Favorite subjects of Rococo paintings are country parties, ladies, dancing, and courtly love affairs, as well as mythological characters which often lend a sensual tone to the work of art. These subjects were in contrast to the emphasis on historical or religious subjects of previous styles. The Rococo style is characterized by graceful movement and subtle color, often giving the impression of a dream. Pastoral or idyllic scenes predominate. Compositionally, the Rococo style employs asymmetrical arrangement of S-curves to create gracefulness and light movement.

In architecture, the Rococo style is light and graceful. Motifs in Rococo architecture include sea shells, flowers, clouds, scrolls, vines, and branches, all of which are often carved into doors and woodwork or sculpted into stone edifices. White and pastel colors predominate and gold is used for embellishment. The use of mirrors in rooms is also indicative of the Rococo style. The motifs used in architecture and the themes and subjects used in paintings also appear in the decorative arts, such as furnishings, ceramics, glassware and textiles.

The word Rococo appears to have its roots in the French word rocaille, meaning stone, shell or rockwork, probably referring to the shell and pebble motifs used for embellishment that first characterized the style. Rococo is actually the Italian word for the style and is most often used in English, whereas Rocaille is the French word for the style.

The Rococo style of art was largely inspired by the works of the French painter Antoine Watteau, whose works represent the aristocratic ideal of grace and elegance. Popular as well were the works of two other French painters, François Boucher and Jean-Honoré Fragonard. In England, the works of Thomas Gainsborough and Sir Joshua Reynolds embodied the Rococo style and in Italy, Francesco Solimena and Giovanni Battista Tiepolo are best known for this style.

To learn a bit about the life of French Rococo painter Jean-Antoine Watteau and to see a gallery of his paintings, click here.

A beautiful example of Rococo architecture is actually found in Germany and can be seen here.

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Diana Blake is a professional artist and art history enthusiast. Her fascination with art history began when she encountered European art firsthand during several trips abroad as a young adult. As she began to compose a portfolio for her own art career, she called upon what she had seen in Europe and extended her knowledge to other styles of art through profuse reading and exhaustive research. As a result, Diana has written more than one hundred articles in which she delves into a variety of art history topics and she has compiled a list of links that she believes to be invaluable for art history enthusiasts. In addition, she also reviews books and movies on the topic of art history and has assembled an extensive list of online stores that sell books, movies and gift items related to art history.
   You can see Diana's own artwork by visiting her site at