The Rococo Aesthetic: How it's influence spread across Europe
The Rococo style germinated in France but became a prominent aesthetic by the mid-1700s. It spread in a short time to other parts of Europe but its influence was most strongly embraced in Southern Germany and Austria. Elements of the Rococo were expressed to some extent in the Low Countries, Spain, Portugal and Italy, but not as extensively as in central Europe and perhaps in concert with other design aesthetics (like Baroque).
In England the Rococo was mostly ignored except in a few instances. When the Rococo was integrated into native stylistic trends, it was done so mostly by way of texts – books of engravings, patterns or design – or in the manner of art, etchings and paintings. However, Rococo trained and influenced architects, artists and designers found employment across the continent with royals, aristocrats and wealthy patrons and this helped disseminate the Rococo style.
The distribution of illustrated books throughout Europe particularly those containing decorative engravings were pivotal in allowing for the spread of the Rococo. Many of the most distinguished French Rococo architects and craftsman produced these books; Jean Berain was a French painter and engraver of whom many Rococo style ornamental designs were published in a book of illustrations in 1711 called the Œuvre de Jean Bérain; this work would inspire emergent Rococo ornamental design in the decades to come. Similarly influential were the engravings of Berain’s colleague artist Claude Audran III, the work of French goldsmith Juste Aurèle Messonier, and the etchings published showcasing the work of Francois de Cuvielles, Pierre Le Pautre, Gilles-Marie Oppenord, and Germain Boffrand.
French artist Antoine Watteau, who lived before the height of the Rococo Era, produced works that wholly captured the spirit of Rococo and was considered a master if not creator of the iconic fêtes galantes (a joyful and playful party) images that are so apparent not only in Rococo art but its interior design, in tapestry, fabrics and paintings – vehicles by which Rococo designs were inadvertently spread. The fêtes galantes imagery is important to the Rococo because it distinguishes itself from the serious, formal tone of the Baroque. Other 18th French artists like François Boucher and Jean-Honoré Fragonard also had artistic works included in the interior design schema of many grand buildings, as panel paintings or on furniture, for example. The works of these artists were commissioned or collected by patrons across Europe. As the first “painter to the king,” Boucher created paintings for King Louis XV, for his mistress Madame de Pompadour, and even for Count Tessin, the Swedish ambassador to Paris. Boucher’s prints were widely reproduced at the time on plates or on porcelain, as his pastoral images were popular, and became definitive of Rococo style in decorative arts.
Some of the French designers would leave France to inform style abroad, most notably Cuvilliés and the carver and ornamental designer Nicholas Pineau. Cuvilliés was a Belgian born, French trained architect who became court architect in Bavaria and designed the interiors of several important structures, notably the Amalienburg at Nymphenburg Palace in Munich and the Munich Residenz, especially in the Cuvilliés theater. Cuvilliés is sometimes thought of as having been more free to perfect (or to exaggerate perhaps) the Rococo aesthetic than if he had worked in France; his work was punctuated with use of mirrors, pastel colors, differing room shapes, and elaborate surface decoration in stucco, paint and carvings. Pineau expressed his mastery of Rococo style in projects he completed for the Russian Tzar, specifically the Cabinet of Peter the Great in the Grand Palais at Peterhof. Pineau would return to Paris when his commission ended and joined with other Rococo era artisans like Oppenord and Messonier to further promote the style in France. French émigré artisans like Cuvillies and Pineau indelibly popularized the Rococo aesthetic and their collaboration with local artisans – Cuvielles with German stucco plasterer J.B. Zimmermann, for example – further extended its influence.
In the Germanic areas, the Rococo suited a desire for a flamboyance not only in aristocratic residences but in Catholic churches, while in England, political and social circumstance did not engender the hedonistic artistry of the Rococo’ rather, the English glossed over the Rococo for the most part and embraced Palladianism and Georgian style. Many Southern German/Austrian structures incorporated Rococo style. Peter Thumb’s pilgrimage church at Binau is decorated in Rococo style stucco and painting, in gold and while colors. Balthasar Neumann incorporated Rococo style in his designs – the Residenz at Würzburg and the pilgrimage church of Vierzehnheiligen (which incorporates some Baroque features as well). The pilgrimage church of Die Wies designed by German architect and stuccoist D. B. Zimmerman is considered Rococo with its white and gold coloring and intricate plaster work. Also notable are the designs of Johann Michael Fischer, seen at Zwiefalten Abbey and at Ottobeuren Abbey in Bavaria. The German Asam brothers incorporated the Rococo in their designs that include the Asamkirche in Munich. In so far as secular structures, Rococo design is present in the design of Mathaus Daniel Poppelmann, as seen in the Zwinger in Dresden, and at San Souci in Potsdam that was designed by Georg von Knobelsdorff. Rococo elements can be observed in other 18th century structures, like at Schonnbrunn and Belvedere palaces in Vienna, Falkenlust Palace in Brühl (built in part by Cuviellies) and at Schloss Ludwigsburg. The Rococo style was demonstrated elsewhere in Europe of course, like in the Queluz Palace in Portugal and the Amaleinborg Palace in Denmark, but it was in France, Austria and Germany that we can see most prolific and unadulterated examples of the style.