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Rococo Architecture in France

Instructor: Stephen Taul

Stephen has master's degrees in both architecture and city planning and has taught architecture design studios.

Learn about the emergence of a new style originating at the famous Palace of Versailles. Explore its unique characteristics and development throughout France.

The Beginnings of Rococo

Imagine curving golden decoration, flowing light blue walls, and art full of sensuous fantasy. This description might have characterized the urban home of an aristocrat living in Paris around 300 years ago. Rococo style or late Baroque first emerged in France in the early 18th century. Germany and Austria were later influenced by this style as it radiated out from its birthplace at the Palace of Versailles. Interestingly, the word Rococo comes from the French word, rocaille, which referred to the shell-covered rocks used to decorate man-made caves or grottoes.

Characteristics of the Style

This new style showcased curving, natural forms and gracefully delicate ornamentation. Baroque, on the other hand, had been much more rectilinear with heavier and darker adornment. Rococo was based largely on the shapes of C and S, shells and other natural forms. Unlike Baroque, Rococo design was asymmetrical. In general, colors were white, gold and light pastels. This style was also more secular with less religious imagery and emphasized privacy instead of public majesty. Mirrors were an important aspect of the overall design as well.

Rococo Ornamentation
French armoire

Rococo at Versailles

Many royal designers for Versailles played a part in bringing this style to the palace. As a way to counteract the formality of classical baroque found elsewhere at Versailles, several rooms were redesigned with a fresh approach. One of these rooms was the king's bedroom. Another good example of using mirrors in the Rococo style is the Hall of Mirrors.

Hall of Mirrors
Versailles

Rococo in Paris

In 1715, the royal court was moved to Paris, and the Rococo style spread to the city. It took the form of urban palaces built for elite social parties. Smaller rooms and one-story, instead of two-story salons were designed. These salons, or large central spaces for entertaining, indicated a cultural shift from wanting to impress guests to yearning for more intimacy and less grandeur. The women of the court were predominately the hosts of social events in these Rococo-styled salons. Some even consider the style to be more feminine in nature because of this.

Not only did Rococo include curved shapes in ornamentation, but also began to incorporate curves in the shape of rooms. One example of this is the Hotel Amelot de Gournay. A central courtyard was designed for the private home that allowed privacy from the street. It also allowed easy movement from one room to another.

This courtyard or forecourt was in the shape of an oval which was very unique, and showed that Rococo style could be used in the exterior architecture, and not just interior design. Because of this oddly shaped space, the front facade responded by forming a horse-shoe shape around the courtyard. The design may have been inspired by the San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane which also contains a similarly shaped inner court. Built in Rome, this building was designed by the famous Baroque architect, Borromini.

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