Chateau of versailles Louis le Vau, architect to Louis XIV, remodelled Versailles between 1661 and 1670, turning a small chateau into a grand and luxurious Baroque palace. It was the official residence of the French court from 1682 to 1789.
Age of ornament 1680-1760 lavish opulence
After more than a century of destructive warfare, which had been motivated as much by political diffrences as religious ones, recognizably Modern nation states Began to emerge across europe from about 1650.
Emerging states of Europe
Power was increasingly centralized under the monarch, although in Britain and the Low Countries parliaments were gaining power, and as a result national identity began to replace regional or local affiliation.
During the reign of the autocratic Louis XIV (1643-1715), France aggressively extended its territory and influence
through a series of wars with its neighbours, notably Spain and the Low Countries. By the start of the 18 th century it had confirmed its status as the leading power in Europe. England and the Low Countries – commercial rivals for much of the period – were briefly united against the French threat under the Dutch King William of Orange from 1688 to 1702.
Both countries grew increasingly rich on international trade and colonial expansion, while the union of the English and Scottish parliaments in 1707, a century after the union of their crowns, gave birth to a strong and stable United Kingdom.
DUTCH CHAIR Made of walnut with floral marquetry, the chair is carved with shells and has a solid vase-shaped splat, cabriole legs, and claw-and-ball feet. 18th century.
In central Europe Austria fought off an Ottoman Turk siege of its capital, Vienna, in 1683, to emerge as the major power in the region. To its north, Prussia, under Frederick William I (1713-40) and his son, Frederick II, “the Great” (1740-86), became the dominant state in northern Germany. Both Germany and Italy, however, remained merely geographical descriptions, as each of them was a collection of small and disunited kingdoms and principalities often fought over or controlled by outside powers.
GERMAN ROCOCO MIRRORS This pair of wooden mirrors is carved and stuccoed with typically Rococo asymmetry, rocaille (rockwork), leaves, and flowers. Early 18th century. H 98cm (39in).
The wider world
Outside Europe, the first of the three long-lived Manchu emperors, Kangxi, reigned from 1662 to 1722, presiding over a lengthy period of stability and increasing wealth. Trade in tea, porcelain, spices, and silk between China and Europe flourished, while European merchants, notably the British, French, and Dutch, established commercial bases and small colonies throughout southern and eastern Asia. Although in relative decline during this period, both Spain and Portugal continued to derive great wealth from their colonial empires in the Americas.
Hotel de soubise, Paris The four tall windows of the oval salon are reflected in three corresponding mirrors. The white and gold boiseries (wood panelling) are decorated with Rococo shells, garlands, and cupids. Above the boiseries, under the elaborate cornice, eight paintings by Charles-Joseph Natoire recount the story of Psyche.
Intellectually, the leading movement of the period was the Enlightenment, a Europe- wide shift in favour of rational thought and scientific discovery at the expense of religion and superstition. New ideas in philosophy, politics, and economics were accompanied by discoveries in astronomy, physics, biology, and botany. One practical result of the Enlightenment was safer navigation at sea and a substantial increase in overseas exploration and trade.
Artistically, the dominant style in Europe and its overseas possessions remained the Baroque. A flamboyant, theatrical style that grew out of the Renaissance, Baroque was used for religious and secular buildings. Its emphasis on order and proportion appealed to monarchs seeking to build capital cities and palaces that glorified their rule. The centres of Rome and Paris were remodelled as Baroque cities. Almost all of St Petersburg and the great palaces of Louis XIV at Versailles, the Habsburg palace of Schdnbrunn in Vienna, and the Royal Palace of the Prussian kings in Berlin, as well as the London skyline after the Great Fire of 1666, owe much to the Baroque style. Towards the end of the period, a lighter, more playful and colourful style known as Rococo predominated, at first in France and then in Germany and Austria.
Bohemian goblet Now the Czech Republic, Bohemia was a long-established glassmaking centre in the 18th century. This goblet depicts a battle scene, and has a baluster-shaped stem. c.1730. H:18cm (7Wm).
The new grand palaces and large town houses that sprang up across Europe required furnishing and decorating in the latest style. The first true porcelain in Europe was produced at the Meissen factory in Saxony, Germany, in 1713; the quality of its output was only matched some 40 years later by the French national porcelain factory first at Vincennes and then, after 1756, at Sevres. Fine silverware was produced in Paris and London, furniture in many European cities, and large-scale tapestries in French workshops. Such items, although hand-produced at great cost, were bought in large numbers by monarchs, aristocrats, and wealthy merchants anxious to impress with their style and opulence.
elements of style
As the 17th century drew to a close, the decorative arts were slowly released from the formal strictures of the heavy Baroque style and began to flourish anew. Artisans enjoyed a new freedom to imbue their work with a more personal aesthetic. the Rococo style was brought to fruition in extravagant commissions for the aristocratic Paris society that flourished during the Regence (1715- 23). Oriental influences and the vast natural resources of the New World contributed to the heady atmosphere of the time and also had a direct effect on its decorative art.
aubusson tapestry. Great tapestry factories in France and the Low countries continued to flourish during this period. Tapestries were used extensively to adorn walls and cover furniture. Needlework was a popular art form, and many seats were upholstered with petit-point embroidery, particularly in France.
Chantilly cooler. Chinoiserie. The increasing fascination with the Orient resulted in a European interpretation of Chinese decoration known as Chinoiserie – an imaginary version of china complete with latticework, fretwork, dragons, chinese figures, and pagodas. it was used on ceramics and chinese chippendale furniture of the period.
English candlestand. A legacy of classical mythology bearing the influence of the Renaissance grotesque style, fantastical beasts were used frequently in the Baroque and Rococo styles. The naturalistic inclinations of Rococo designers limited them to dragons in the oriental tradition or sea creatures based on mariners tales.
French cartel clock. Frequently seen adorning the corners and aprons of furniture of this period, the S-scroll is derived from the classical volute that was first used on the capitals of ionic columns and is thought to be inspired by rams’ horns. cartouches of multiple scrolls were very popular in Baroque and Rococo decorative arts.
french regence commode. Metal mounts. cast-bronze and gilt-metal mounts were initially used to protect the vulnerable corners of ornate veneered furniture, but they quickly became decorative elements in their own right. The casting of ormolu mounts was a specialist industry in France, and popular motifs included scrolls, masks, and foliate designs.
George I secretaire. Japanning
The practice of japanning furniture spread across Europe and the American colonies during this period: shellac varnish was applied to the surface in imitation of Japanese lacquer. A wide range of colours was used, but a white surface provided the most suitable base for further painted decoration, often of Oriental scenes.
German mirror. Asymmetry. After the heavy formality of the Baroque period, the Rococo era represented a lighter, more playful style. Asymmetry was an important aspect of this more fluid aesthetic. The more realistic representation of nature that flourished during the period recognized the essential disorder of the natural world.
Italian table. Carving and gilding
Furniture made of softer indigenous woods, rather than more expensive tropical hardwoods, was frequently carved with elaborate scrolls and smothered with gesso and gilding to provide a more lavish decorative effect. The carving was often carried out by specialists trained in the art of sculpture.
louis xv table. Exotic timbers. During the 18th century Europe began to import more and more luxury goods. Along with tea, spices, and fine porcelain, merchants also satisfied a new demand for exotic hardwoods, which were much admired for their rich colours and lent an air of opulence when inlaid into furniture.
meissen figure group. Bright colors. By the turn of the 18th century a wide range of bright enamel colours was available to painters and decorators of ceramics and glass. Also known by the French name petit feu, overglaze enamels changed the face of ceramic design, allowing for brighter and more durable colors.
Queen anne walnut side chair. Shell motif
The term “Rococo” is derived from the French word rocaille (rockwork) and refers to the irregular rock and shell forms on grotto ornament. Shell motifs – especially scallops, or cockleshells – are found frequently on Rococo silver, ceramics, and furniture. In the late 18th century the conch shell gained popularity.
Sceaux plate. Sprigs of flowers. Rococo designers respected and imitated natural forms. The extensive palette available led to realistic representations of flowers and foliage. European porcelain manufacture was still in its infancy, and decorators frequently used scattered flower sprays to cover small blemishes and firing faults.
swedish beaker. Enamelled glass. The European glass market was dominated by Bohemia during this period. Among the many specialities of the region was enamel decoration, ranging from the stark monochrome of Schwarzlot, or “black lead” enamel, to pastoral themes picked out in multiple colours and gilt.