Rococo (Architectural style)

Rococo. A pictorial and decorative style from the 18th century characterized by elaborate, delicate and ornate ornamentation. The positions that defend that the Rococó is to the Baroque what are the Mannerism to the Renaissance are habitual . However, it is much more than that. Rococo should be extended as an independent and personal style unlike the Baroque, which is unconcerned about Catholic issues. It is an eminently aristocratic art, for the upper middle class, lover of a worldly, intimate and delicate style.


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  • 1 Definition of Rococo art
  • 2 History
  • 3 General characteristics
    • 1 Painting
    • 2 Architecture
    • 3 Sculpture
  • 4 Style and diffusion
    • 1 France
    • 2 Spain
  • 5 Sources

Definition of Rococo art

The term rococó comes from the French word “rocaille” ( stone ) and “coquille” ( shell ), elements of great importance for interior ornamentation.

The important thing is the decoration, which is completely free and asymmetrical. It shows its predilection for wavy and irregular shapes and natural elements such as shells, sea stones and plant shapes predominate .

It can also be translated as rockery, drawing in the shape of an oyster shell , the main element of rococo decoration. This shape, when combined with plant elements, acquired an anti-naturalistic and fantastic character. This type of decoration was used on the ceilings and on the walls of the palaces, complemented by large golden mirrors and sumptuous curtains.


The Rococo period roughly corresponds to the reign of Louis XV, King of France 1715 – 1774 . Its exact origins are obscure, but it seems to have started with the work of the French designer Pierre Lepautre , who introduced arabesques and curves into the interior architecture of the royal residence in Marly, and with the paintings of Jean Antoine Watteau, whose delicate colored paintings on aristocratic scenes that take place in the middle of an idyllic setting break with the heroism of the Louis XIV style .

It has been considered the culmination of the Baroque , however, it is an independent style that arises as a reaction to the classical baroque imposed by the court of Louis XIV. Rococo, unlike baroque, is characterized by opulence, elegance and the use of bright colors, which contrast with the pessimism and darkness of the baroque.

During the reign of Louis XV, the style has innumerable curves and contracurves and is very ornate; instead, in Louis XVI’s time, straight lines and certain decorative elements of Greco-Latin origin appear that are linked to the discovery of the Roman city of Pompeii . This taste for greater sobriety is also related to the presence of bourgeois rationalism expressed in the ideas of the Enlightenment.

General characteristics


Portrait of Mademoiselle Henriette. Jean-Marc Oil

In the painting the characters are represented with great elegance and nature is idealized. The painting developed different themes, among which portrait, mythological themes, court scenes and landscape predominated. The latter had a great development in Venice , where painters like Canaletto and Guardi captured different views of the city and different ceremonies that took place in its streets and squares. In France , the place of origin of Rococo art, Watteau, Fragonard and Boucher stood out, who painted aristocratic and courteous scenes.

The painting is primarily decorative. Walls and ceilings are decorated with large frescoes. The easel painting is also cultivated, although in canvases of a smaller size, generally, to the great fabrics of the Baroque painting of the previous century. In a certain sense, this painting was also decorative as it decorated the houses of the nobility and the bourgeoisie, so the painting adapted to the spaces of the eighteenth-century houses.

Oil painting is still cultivated and pastel painting is popularized as a means of expression, that is, color drawing on a sheet of paper. It was, in fact, one of his favorite means of expression. The brushstroke was fine, not usually appreciated. As for the chromaticism, it is a very colorful painting; Bright, bright, soft and light colors are preferred. There is a conscious effort to avoid shadows, preferring light.


Built in Austria

In architecture, ornaments adhered in caves and waterfalls representing false rocks, called rockeries, they were the main new element, introduced to replace the rigid system of classical orders, to evoke in architecture the freshness and joy of the primitive and country. Palaces are the first to adopt capricious boxes, sculpted columns, shells, etc. as basic elements.

The most remarkable aspect of rococo interiors is the internal layout. The buildings have specialized rooms for each function and a very comfortable distribution. The rooms are designed as a set that, with marked functionality, combines ornamentation, colors and furniture. The new style was perfect for the residences of the nobility and the upper bourgeoisie, the classes most eager to change according to the new canons and those most endowed with the economic means to achieve it.


Work of Francisco Salzillo (Murcia, 1707 – 1783)

A great rococo sculptor was Andrea Schluter, author of the equestrian effigy of the elector Federico Guillermo, in which it can be seen how the movement of masses and lines, which in Baroque time only affected the conception of the ensemble, in the 18th century was used as a detail to give life to every detail of the bodies.

Style and diffusion

The Rococo style quickly spread to other European countries, particularly Germany and Austria , where it intermingled with the Baroque creating a lavish and sumptuous style, especially in churches and sacred spaces. It culminated in the work of the Bavarian architect and designer François de Cuvilliés in his work on the Amalienburg pavilion 1734 – 1739 , near Munich , the interior of which, similar to a jeweler, was composed of mirrors, silver and gold filigree , and decorative panels. In SpainThe La Granja palace is the building that most closely approximates this artistic style, although rococo was developed more in interior decoration. In France it gave way to the austere neoclassical style at the end of the 18th century and disappeared with the start of the French Revolution in 1789 suddenly and completely.



Furniture design is the main activity of a whole dynasty of Parisian cabinetmakers, some of whom had been born in Germany , who develop a three-dimensional curved line style, where the varnished surfaces were completed with bronze marquetry.

In France the style remains very sober, since the ornaments, mainly made of wood, were less massive and were presented as compositions of floral motifs, scenes, grotesque masks, paintings and stone inlays.

The upholstery was an important chapter to achieve comfort in the furniture. The seats reached unimaginable heights of comfort a few years earlier. The general trend in favor of luxury and comfort meant that courtiers and assiduous hall attendants were now able to sit (and even recline and stretch) at meetings, unlike in the earlier days, when it had been compulsory to remain standing for protocol reasons.


With the estrangement of the culture from the palaces of the court, the characteristic buildings of this time were the houses far from the city center or in the middle of the countryside: «folies», «bergeries», «bagatelles» or «hermitages». In urban residences, the “hôtel” or mansion in the city, the floor plan is divided into relatively small spatial units, thus obtaining specialized areas, of different sizes depending on their function: living room, dining room, room, antechamber, gallery, cabinet.

In this way a more practical distribution appeared than the previous one of «enfilade», now the rooms would be independent and with individual access. The corners of the rooms were obliquely cut to place secondary staircases in the spaces gained and these were communicated with each other through corridors, corridors and galleries.


  • GERMAIN BOFFRAND: decoration of the Hotel Soubisse, Paris, 1734 .
  • ROBERT DE COTTE: decoration of the Golden Gallery of the Hotel la Vrillière, Paris.
  • EMMANUELLE HÈRÉ DE CORNY: Stanislas Square in Nancy, 1752.



Rococo in Spain began during the reign of Felipe V (1700-1746), favored by the Churrigueresque style, which had led the Baroque to ornamental recharge. Its influence was limited, since there were very few contacts that Spain had with the European Rococo and especially with France and Germany.

The earliest example of Rococo architecture is the cover of the Valencia Cathedral, made by the German Conrad Rudolf. Divided into three sections and crowned with a curved pediment, the concave rhythm in its lateral streets alternates with the convex rhythm in the central one.

The Cádiz cathedral, designed in 1722 by Vicente Acero, is the most representative work of Spanish Rococo. Acero follows the Renaissance schemes of the Granada Cathedral of Diego de Siloé, that is why its interior is structured in three naves. The head has a ambulatory around the main chapel, which is circular and covered with a cupola on a drum.

Along with these, we must highlight the use of the rococo style in the decorative projects of the interiors of the palaces of the Royal Family, such as in the Gasparini Room of the Royal Palace of Madrid.


As for painting, there are few Spanish artists whose style can be described as properly Rococo. Luis Meléndez and Luis Paret stand out. Luis Paret y Alcázar (1746-1799) painted gallant scenes and friendly manners, with bright shades of great decorative effect that make him the most important representative of Spanish rococo painting.

His paintings include The Masked Ball, The Royal Couples or Party in the Botanical Garden. For Carlos III he also made a series of views of ports and marinas in the Cantabrian Sea.


Regarding sculpture, the style causes in Spain the appearance of certain features that are incorporated into the basic vocabulary of the Baroque, but which do not change it. Among them, a greater sweetness and intimacy in the interpretation of the themes and a greater appreciation for the picturesque and for the most trivial details.


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