The Rococo Style: Let Them Eat Cake

The Rococo Style: Let Them Eat Cake
Rococo… The word just rolls off the tongue with a whimsical flourish, not unlike the style of 17th and 18th century architecture, decoration, fashion, and art it reflects. Rococo arrived on the heels of the Italian Baroque period (1595-1750). Italian Baroque architecture featured tormented use of materials, while its art often depicted violent, religious themes shrouded in rich chiaroscuro darkness and Catholic Reformation propaganda, as illustrated by Artemisia Gentileschi’s (1593-1653) painting, Judith Beheading Holofernes. French Rococo (1715-1793) blossomed during the reign of King Louis XV, and reached its pinnacle under the reign of King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette. The over-the-top masculine intensity of the previous era gave way to an equally over-the-top femininity. Louis XV by Hyacinthe Rigaud. © Public Domain Upon the death of King Louis XIV, in 1715, the long held idea that the king was empowered by God came under question, and a new kind of secularism evolved. Louis XIV’s heir, Louis XV, was only five years old. The “regency”, led by the Duc d’ Orléans, ruled France until Louis came of age in 1723. The transitional Regency style (1700-1730) turned away from the Sun King’s formality towards comfort and pleasure. The manifestation of God’s messenger became the mischievous cherub. As the architect, writer and professor, Witold Rybczynski, has written, “Rococo style epitomized the society that prayed AND played.” Rococo was an organic movement towards a light-hearted, pastoral, rose-tinted view of the world. The term Rococo is derived from the Portuguese word, “barroco”, which means “irregular pearl”, and “roc” from the French word “rocaille”, a method of decorating fountains and grottos that dates back to the Italian Renaissance. Using this technique, artisans mixed seashells, pebbles, and other organic materials with cement creating marine-inspired pieces. Rococo designers were not only enthralled with shells, but also with foliage and intricately designed scrollwork, often finished with gilt. Anything that could be decorated was. The whimsical nature of Rococo appealed to Louis XV’s mistress, confidant and advisor, Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson (1721-1764), better known as Madame de Pompadour. Often known as the  “godmother of Rococo,” she was responsible for promoting Paris as the European capital of fashion, music, art, and design. Greatly influenced by The School of Fontainebleau (1528-1630), known for its unique interior design style in which all the elements created a seamless composition, Madame de Pompadour also brought the ideas of privacy, and comfort to bourgeois Parisian houses. Louis XV even modified Versailles to be a more secluded, private home. The Palace of Versailles. © Andreas H./ Pixabay

Lead photo credit : Versaille © emilydixon18 Pixabay

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Sue Aran lives in the Gers department of southwest France. She is the owner of French Country Adventures, which provides private, personally-guided, small-group food & wine adventures into Gascony, the Pays Basque and Provence. She writes a monthly blog about her life in France and is a contributor to Bonjour Paris and France Today magazines.


  • Susan HOSKINS
    2021-07-16 04:05:19
    Susan HOSKINS
    I wish I didn’t have to enter my email and password every time I change articles