Rococo architecture (or Late Baroque) emerged in 18th-century Paris as part of a more expansive aesthetic movement that also encompassed art and decoration. This highly ornate, theatrical, over-the-top style developed as a reaction to the strict confines of Baroque architecture exemplified in such iconic structures as the Palace of Versailles and Louis XIV’s strict ideas about what constituted art.
What Is Rococo Architecture?
Rococo architecture, also known as Late Baroque or rocaille, is an ornamental, flamboyant, intricately detailed and layered style of architecture that emerged in the 18th century in Paris and spread throughout France and Europe.
Rococo spread throughout France and elsewhere in Europe until it was succeeded by Neoclassical style.
History of Rococo Architecture
Rococo architecture, art, and design were born in Paris not long after the death of Louis XIV in a reaction to Baroque architecture such as the Palace of Versailles and the Sun King’s preferred self-glorifying French classical art. In this new era, Parisians returned to the city from Versailles and started renovating their homes with a freer, more lighthearted spirit.
Rococo style was especially popular when decorating salons used to entertain guests, and became the height of fashion beginning in the 1720s. Playful and exuberant, Rococo is a wedding cake of a style, with a delicate, pastel-hued, and—what has long been for better or worse thought of as—classically feminine allure in part to counterbalance the testosterone-driven aesthetic dominance of the reign of Louis XIV.
Rococo interiors were highly cohesive, with interior architecture, design, furniture, and art all sharing common characteristics. The Rococo salon was its own aesthetic universe, where wall treatments, painted ceilings, sculpture, art, and decorative elements worked to create a high-spirited, light, and frothy atmosphere that made them perfect backdrops for high-minded aristocrats looking to entertain and impress their guests.
Rococo style spread throughout France and Europe, to countries including Austria, Germany, Italy, and Russia. Largely considered to be Baroque’s last hurrah, Rococo’s vivacious spirit eventually died down and was succeeded by the decidedly more constrained Neoclassical style.
Key Elements of Rococo Architecture
- Considered a highly ornamental, decorative, and theatrical style
- Frequently uses decorative elements that incorporate curves and counter curves, as well as asymmetrical forms based on the shape of S’s and C’s
- Influenced by the natural world, decorative elements often emulate the look of shells, pebbles, flowers, birds, vines, and leaves such as acanthus
- Decoration is also often based around angels, musical instruments, and stereotypical Far Eastern imagery such as pagodas and dragons, but tends to skew more secular than Baroque imagery
- Rococo interiors feature decorative flourishes such as frescoes, sculpted moldings, scrolls, and copious gilding
- Freely uses mixed wood types and tones, painted and unpainted
- Known for the use of trompe-l'œil, for example on ceilings often painted to look like the sky
- Interiors feature a light, pastel palette featuring such colors as light pinks, yellows, and blues
- Some decorative elements include mirrored glass to enhance the perception of space and light; crystal chandeliers; gilded wall sconces; stucco ornaments; and boiserie
Notable Examples of Rococo Architecture
Hotel de Soubise in Paris, France. The interiors of the Hotel de Soubise at the National Archives complex in the Marais neighborhood of Paris are a hidden jewel, and one of France’s best examples of ultimate Rococo style. Redecorated by Germain Boffrand in the 1730s, these exquisite rooms include former prince and princes apartments with oval-shaped salons that feature exquisite boiserie, painted ceilings, and carved, gilded, and mirrored details. These breathtaking rooms which have stayed authentic to their 18th-century aesthetics were among the film locations for Sofia Coppola’s 2006 film about the life of Marie Antoinette.
Salon de Monsieur le Prince in Chantilly, France. Decorated by Jean Aubert and completed in 1722, the Salon de Monsieur le Prince in the Petit Château at Chantilly, north of Paris is another stunning example of fine Rococo architecture.
Charlottenburg Palace in Berlin, Germany. This magnificent palace, the former home of Sophie Charlotte, the first Queen consort in Prussia, is the city’s largest palace, and its Rococo style helps make it a popular tourist attraction.
Amalienburg in Munich, Germany. The Amalienburg hunting lodge at the Nymphenburg Palace Park in Munich was designed by François Cuvilliés between 1734 and 1739. It is a splendid example of Rococo style with rooms such as the spectacular Hall of Mirrors (top photo) designed by Johann Baptist Zimmermann.