An 18th century style, principally associated with the decorative arts, deriving its name from the French, rocaille, meaning 'rock work'. The name was first used in the early 19th century as a pejorative term, denoting the frivolous over-elaboration which contemporary critics considered the salient feature of the style. Rococo evolved in France from, and as a reaction against, the formal and somewhat ponderous style centred on the court of Louis XIV at Versailles. Following Louis XIV's death in 1715 the court moved to Paris and Rococo reflected the new taste for lighter, more delicate decoration suitable for the smaller, more comfortable and intimate interiors of town houses. Interiors and furnishings alike were decorated with abstract 's' curves and 'c' scrolls combined with naturalistic motifs derived from shells and plants, often in a playfully asymmetrical arrangement. The paintings of Watteau, Boucher and Fragonard, with their playful eroticism, soft colours and elegant forms, provided a perfectly attuned accompaniment to the interiors for which they were intended.
The most celebrated sculptor associated with Rococo style was Falconet, particularly in his role as director of the Sevres porcelain factory. Another Important Rococo porcelain factory was at Meissen, near Dresden. In fact, after France, the other main centres of the Rococo were Catholic parts of Southern Germany and Austria, where the churches of Neumann and Dominikus Zimmerman took Rococo decoration to breathtakingly elaborate extremes. The leading German Rococo sculptor was Ignaz Gunther. In Italy only Venice adopted the Rococo style, but it did produce in Tiepolo the finest decorative painter of the period. He worked throughout Europe, notably at Wurzburg and Madrid. Tiepolo's work in Spain influenced in turn the early paintings of Goya. The style never took a firm hold in England, although Hogarth's love of the 's' curve clearly derives from the Rococo and the elegance of Gainsborough's paintings partakes of its flavour. The Rococo style was eventually supplanted in the 1760s by the radical seriousness of the Neoclassical style.
Rococo on France
French painting was largely dependent upon and centred around the Court, which provided the artists with commissions, support, and patronage. It adopted a graceful and voluptuous Rococo style that often coexisted with a concern for realism that was gained through a profound knowledge of the Flemish school. French painters were also influenced by the enduring academic tradition of the Bolognese and Roman schools, which they equated with a particular period in the 17th century, and the work of Nicolas Poussin (1596-1665).
The enchanting paintings of Jean-Antoine Watteau (1684-1721) set the agenda for the development of art in 18th-century France. The commedia dell'arte and masked performers are a recurring theme in the artist's work, reflecting his early career as a costume designer. The reception of his paintings was so successful that he was soon made a member of the Academy, and he became a specialist in the fetes galantes genre, which depicted figures in pastoral settings. Despite Watteau's sure touch and the frequently ironic and light-hearted nature of his works, there is an undercurrent of melancholy, a sense of the temporal nature of life and of pleasure in his most significant paintings. The idea of the fleeting moment is often the subtext of his pictures; for example, his work Embarkation for Cythera expresses a particularly fragile atmosphere. Of the French school, the work of Francois Boucher (1703-70) typifies the fullest expression of Rococo. A court portrait painter whose career spanned the Regency and continued into Lotuis XV's reign, Boucher captured the spirit of Rococo, and was responsible for propagating the Pompadour style. Respectful of the Roman academic tradition, especially after his stay in Rome. Boucher was also influenced by the Venetian school and, in particular, by Sebastiano Ricci. He was a faithful follower of the Baroque masters, and was known not only for his portraits but also for his landscapes, designs for porcelain, and tapestries, and his stage sets. Boucher represented an aristocratic and worldly approach to painting (he was known for flattering and even seducing his sitters), but the faithfully studied realism that stemmed from Flemish roots was still discernible in his work, as it was in that of his contemporaries. It was clearly evident in the work of Chardin, whose descriptive virtuosity in his portrayals of still lifes and bourgeois domestic scenes made him one of the most admired painters of the mid-18th century. Chardin's pupil, Jean-Honore Fragonard (1732-1806), in surprising anticipation of the Impressionist movement, captured the immediacy of his subjects via rapid brushvvork and a rich impasto.
Rococo on Italy
The inclination towards the High Baroque style was first visible in Italy in the early 18th century in the gradual departure from sombre colours and adoption of a light, airy palette. The paintings of Luca Giordano (1634-1705) in Naples represent a definite, but not complete, step away from the intense sentimentalism of the Neapolitan school and towards a less explicit and more enjoyable art. In Naples. Giordano decorated the inside of the Treasury dome in the charterhouse of St Martin. He travelled frequently, for work or simply for artistic curiosity, to see the output of other artists in Florence, Venice, and Spain.
Gregorio de Ferrari (1647-1726) in Genoa introduced a new and radiant fluency in his work, reinterpreting old themes and subjects from the preceding century with a fresh and original touch. This is evident in the series of frescos executed for the palaces of the Genoese aristocracy, especially in the allegorical paintings for the Palazzo Rosso. In Lombardy,
Stefano Maria Legnani, known as Legnanino (1660-1715). moved away from the academic style of the Roman artists, towards the High Baroque, investing his paintings with an expressive sentimentalism that echoed the style of Borromini. Besides numerous altarpieces, Legnanino is known for the luminous frescos in the Palazzo Carignano in Turin, and those in the central nave of Monza Cathedral. Another influential painter was Sebastiano Ricci (1659—1734). responsible for the superb ceiling fresco in Palazzo Colonna, Rome. Like de Ferrari, he gave a freer and more varied interpretation of the style of Correggio in order to keep in line with contemporary stylistic trends. Ricci also made use of his profound knowledge of the techniques used by Venetian colourists during the 16th century, and he was one of the early leading figures in the revival of Venetian decorative painting. His work was much in demand in many cities, both for easel and fresco paintings. While in London and Paris. Ricci was instrumental in the dissemination of the new style.
The Venetian school, which included only artists working in the city itself, was slower in embracing the Rococo style. However, a few decades later, following the rise of Ricci. Tiepolo and a group of painters known as redutisti, a new Venetian style came about. This was characterized by unprecedented force of movement and brilliant colour schemes. Other Italian painters tended to retain strong chiaroscuro contrasts with distant echoes of Caravaggio. The Bolognese painter Giuseppe Maria Crespi (1665-1747) was an artist of renowned originality, drawing his inspiration from the great Venetians -Correggio and Baroccio in particular, and also from the early "Caravaggesque" works of Guercino. His works, often derived from genre subjects and mythologies, are invested with an uncanny naturalism, inspiring such newcomers as Gian Battista Piazzetta.
In their varied interpretations, compositional originality and choice of iconography these painters showed how susceptible they were to the new taste in art. Thus, their ingenuity lies in their fresh response and progressive approach to painting. The Genoese painter Alessandro Magnasco (1667-1749) is considered to have been ahead of his time, given his choice of unusual and provocative subjects, his use of quickly applied brushstrokes, and his sharp, angular forms. In Rome, where academicism survived longest, Pompeo Batoni (1708-87) was one of the first to reintroduce the classical style, which heralded the end of Rococo, from the middle of the century onwards. Tiepolo was eager to learn from the great past masters and from those with whom he worked. He had a genius for composition, an appealing theatricality, and an unshakable conviction that the artist should be able to communicate even the most dramatic-subjects in a beautiful, grandiose manner. After his early successes, which led to the commission for the biblical frescos in the Archbishop's Palace in Udine (1724-25), he was always in demand. He employed the assistance of quadraturisti or Irompe I 'oeil specialists when the commission called for architectural perspectives.
From the mid-18th century onwards, his sons Lorenzo and Giandomenico worked alongside him. Commissions were plentiful for Tiepolo's easel paintings, often of religious subjects, and for frescos, mainly in the ceremonial reception rooms of royal and aristocratic palaces. During the period when the Hapsburgs were consolidating their hold on Venice and Lombardy, the nobility in these regions sought to uphold its prestige by building lavish new palaces. Tiepolo went from Milan (where he painted frescos in the palaces of Casati-Dugnani and the Clerici) to Venice to execute the History of Anthony and Cleopatra in the Palazzo Labia with architectural perspectives by the virtuoso Bolognese quadraturista Gerolamo Mengozzi-Colonna. From there Tiepolo moved to the Palace of Wurzburg, then on to Madrid to paint the Glory of Spain fresco on the ceiling in the throne room of the royal palace. Tiepolo's prolific output spans almost the entire course of the century. By the time of his death in Spain in 1770. new trends, such as Neoclassicism together with the first stirrings of Romanticism, had started to push his work out of fashion.
It was at about this time that a young admirer of Tiepolo was establishing himself - Francisco Goya.
The English School
Although they were affected by contemporary trends, 18th-century English painters were openly anti-academic. Their work began to show signs of a Romantic sensibility during the second half of the century, especially in their tendency to place figures in the middle of wide stretches of landscapes and impart a greater sense of immediacy. Although the work of Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-92) shows a certain Rococo flair in his handling of subjects, the strength of his images lies in the subtlety and indeterminate quality of his portraits, the use of natural settings, and the suggestion of intimacy. The apparently cold and detached approach to portrait painting that is often displayed in the works of Sir Thomas Gainsborough (1727-88), is offset by his choice of attractive and enchanting settings, which are painted in a style that heralded the work of 19th-century landscape artists.