Rococo and Rocaille Exoticism
The name Rococo derives from the French word rocaille, which describes shell-covered rock-work, and coquille, meaning seashell. Rococo architecture is fancy and fluid, accentuating asymmetry, with abundant use of curves, scrolls, gilding, and ornaments. The style enjoyed great popularity with the ruling elite of Europe during the first half of the 18th century. It developed in France out of a new fashion in interior decoration and spread across Europe.
Domestic Rococo abandoned Baroque's high moral tone, its weighty allegories, and its obsession with legitimacy: in fact, its abstract forms and carefree, pastoral subjects related more to notions of refuge and joy that created a more forgiving atmosphere for polite conversations. Rococo rooms are typically smaller than their Baroque counterparts, reflecting a movement towards domestic intimacy. Even the grander salons used for entertaining were more modest in scale, as social events involved smaller numbers of guests.
Characteristic of the style were Rocaille motifs derived from the shells, icicles, and rock-work or grotto decoration. Rocaille arabesques were mostly abstract forms, laid out symmetrically over and around architectural frames. A favourite motif was the scallop shell, whose top scrolls echoed the basic S and C framework scrolls of the arabesques and whose sinuous ridges echoed the general curvilinearity of the room decoration.
While few Rococo exteriors were built in France, a number of Rococo churches are found in southern Germany. Other widely-user motifs in decorative arts and interior architecture include acanthus and other leaves, birds, bouquets of flowers, fruits, elements associated with love (putti, quivers with arrows and arrowed hearts) trophies of arms, putti, medallions with faces, many many flowers, and Far Eastern elements (pagodas, dragons, monkeys, bizarre flowers, bamboo, and Chinese people).
Pastel colours were widely used, like light blue, mint green, or pink. Rococo designers also loved mirrors (the more the better), an example being the Hall of Mirrors of the Amalienburg (Munich, Germany), by Johann Baptist Zimmermann. Generally, mirrors are also featured above fireplaces. Rococo features exuberant decoration, with an abundance of curves, counter-curves, undulations, and elements modeled on nature. The exteriors of Rococo buildings are often simple, while the interiors are entirely dominated by their ornament. The style was highly theatrical, designed to impress and awe at first sight.
Floor plans of churches were often complex, featuring interlocking ovals; In palaces, grand stairways became centrepieces, and offered different points of view of the decoration. The main ornaments of Rococo are asymmetrical shells, acanthus, and other leaves, birds, bouquets of flowers, fruit, musical instruments, angels and Chinoiserie (pagodas, dragons, monkeys, bizarre flowers, and Chinese people). The style often integrated painting, moulded stucco, wood carving, and quadratura, or illusionist ceiling paintings, which were designed to give the impression that those entering the room were looking up at the sky, where cherubs and other figures were gazing down at them.
Materials used included stucco, either painted or left white; combinations of different coloured woods (usually oak, beech or walnut); lacquered wood in the Japanese style, ornament of gilded bronze, and marble tops of commodes or tables. The intent was to create an impression of surprise, awe, and wonder on the first view.