Rococo - Encyclopedia

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ROCOCO, or Rocaille, literally "rock-work," a style of architectural and mobiliary decoration popular throughout the greater part of Europe during the first half of the 18th century. In France it was especially characteristic of the regency and the reign of Louis XV. A debased style at the best, essentially fantastic and bizarre, it ended in extravagance and decadence. A meaningless mixture of imitation rock-work, shells, scrolls and foliage, the word came eventually to be applied to anything extravagant, flamboyant or tasteless in art or literature. The very exuberance of the rococo forms is, indeed, the negation of art, which is based upon restraint. There is something fundamentally Italian in the bravura upon which the style depends; yet Italy has produced some of the worst examples of what in that country is called the "Jesuit style," in allusion to the supposed lack of directness in Jesuit policy. Everything, indeed, in the rococo manner is involved and tortured, though before a superb example of Jacques Caffieri, such as the famous commode in the Wallace Collection, it is impossible not to admire the art with which genius can treat even the defects and weaknesses of a peculiarly mannered fashion. The best French work possesses a balance and symmetry which are usually entirely absent from its imitations. Spain and Italy produced many monstrous travesties - it is impossible to imagine anything more grotesque than the flamboyant convolutions of the monumental Roman style of the third quarter of the 18th century. In Germany, weak and lifeless imitations were as popular as might be imagined in a land which was content to take its art, especially its bad art, from France. England did not escape the infection, and Chippendale and his school produced examples of rocaille work and coquillage which were quite foreign to their own sentiment, and rarely rose above respectable mediocrity.

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