Rococo (// or //), less commonly roccoco, or "Late Baroque", was an exuberantly decorative 18th century European style which was the final expression of the baroque movement. It pushed to the extreme the principles of illusion and theatricality, an effect achieved by dense ornament, asymmetry, fluid curves, and the use of white and pastel colors combined with gilding, drawing the eye in all directions. The ornament dominated the architectural space.
The Rococo style of architecture and decoration began in France in the first part of the 18th century in the reign of Louis XV as a reaction against the more formal and geometric Style Louis XIV. It was known as the style rocaille, or rocaille style.  It quickly spread to other parts of Europe, particularly Bavaria, Austria, Germany and Russia. It also came to influence the other arts, particularly painting, sculpture, literature, music, and theatre. Rococo artists and architects used a more jocular, florid, and graceful approach to the Baroque. The Rococo had playful and witty themes. The interior decoration of Rococo rooms was designed as a total work of art with elegant and ornate furniture, small sculptures, ornamental mirrors, and tapestry complementing architecture, reliefs, and wall paintings. Rococo was also influenced by chinoiserie and sometimes in incorporated Chinese figures and pagodas.
The word rococo, was first used in 1835 in France, as a humorous variation of the word rocaille or a combination of rocaille and baroque.  Rocaille was originally a method of decoration, using pebbles, seashells and cement, which was often used to decorate grottoes and fountains since the Renaissance. In the late 17th and early 18th century it became the term for a kind of decorative motif or ornament that appeared in the late Style Louis XIV, in the form of a seashell interlaced with acanthus leaves. In 1736 the designer and jeweler Jean Mondon published the Premier Livre de forme rocquaille et cartel, a collection of designs for ornaments of furniture and interior decoration. It was the first appearance in print of the term "rocaille" to designate the style. The carved or molded seashell motif was combined with palm leaves or twisting vines to decorate doorways, furniture, wall panels and other architectural elements.
In the 19th century the term was used to describe architecture or music which was excessively ornamental. Since the mid-19th century, the term has been accepted by art historians. While there is still some debate about the historical significance of the style, Rococo is now widely recognized as a major period in the development of European art.
Lavishly -decorated architecture had appeared earlier in the baroque period in the architecture of Francesco Borromini in Rome, Guarino Guarini in northern Italy, and in the extremely decorative churches of the Churrigueresque architects in Grenada and Seville in Spain; but Rococo architects took a different approach. 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 centerpieces, and offered different points of view of the decoration.
The Rocaille style, or French Rococo, appeared in Paris during the reign Louis XV, and flourished between about 1723 and 1759.  The style was used particularly in salons, a new style of room designed to impress and entertain guests. The most prominent example was the salon of the Princess in Hôtel de Soubise in Paris, designed by Germain Boffrand and Charles-Joseph Natoire (1735-40). The characteristics of French Rococo included exceptional artistry, especially in the complex frames made for mirrors and paintings, which sculpted in plaster and often gilded; and the use of vegetal forms (vines, leaves, flowers) interwined in complex designs. The furniture also featured sinuous curves and vegetal designs. The leading furniture designers and craftsmen in the style included Juste-Aurele Meissonier, Charles Cressent, and Nicolas Pineau.
The Rocaille style lasted in France until the mid-18th century. and while it became more curving and vegetal, it never achieved the extravagant exuberance of the Rococo in Bavaria, Austria and Italy. The discoveries of Roman antiquities beginning in 1738 at Herculanum and especially at Pompeii in 1748 turned French architecture in the direction of the more symmetrical and less flamboyant neo-classicism.
Salon of the Hôtel de Soubise in Paris (1735-40)
Table design by Juste-Aurele Meissonier (1730)
Woodwork in the Hôtel de Varengeville by Nicolas Pineau (1735)
Commode by Charles Cressent (1730), Waddleston Manor
Artists in Italy, particularly Venice, also produced an exuberant rococo style. Venetian commodes imitated the curving lines and carved ornament of the French rocaille, but with a particular Venetian vsristion; the pieces were painted, often with landscapes or flowers or scenes from Guardi or other painters, or Chinoiserie, against a blue or green background, matching the colors of the Veneitian school of painters whose work decorated the salons. Notable decorative painters included Giovanni Battista Tiepolo , who painted ceilings and murals of both churches and palazzos, and Giovanni Battista Crosato who painted the ballroom ceiling of the Ca Rezzonico in the quadraturo manner, giving the illusion of three dimensions. Tiepelo traveled to Germany with his son in 1752-54, decorating the ceilings of the Würzburg Residence, on of the major landmarks of the Bavarian rococo. An earlier celebrated Venetian painter was Giovanni Battista Piazzetta, who painted several notable church ceilings. 
The Venetian Rococo also featured exceptional glassware, particularly Murano glass, often engraved and colored, which was exported across Europe. Works included multicolor chandeliers and mirrors with extremely ornate frames. 
Ceiling of church of Santi Giovanni e Paolo in Venice, by Piazzetta (1727)
Juno and Luna by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1735-45)
Between 1680 and 1750 a large number of important palaces and chateaux were constructed in Germany and Austria, as well as abbeys, built by religious orders, which were intended as pilgrimage destinations and were sumptuously decorated.. These became the grand showcases of the Baroque movement. They were frequently built by Italian craftsmen, or those who had been trained in Italy. One of the early creators of the rococo style was Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach, whose major works included the Schoenbrun Palace, and Karlskirche in Vienna (1716-1729) which combined the grandeur and art of Versailles with that of the Italian Baroque. The Karlskirche featured an oval dome, lavishly painted, over the nave. Like many later rococo churches, it combined rococo in a framework of classical columns and pediments. 
While Vienna and Prague major centers of late Baroque and Rococo, impressive palaces and churches were constructed in the regions of Swabia, Bavaria, Franconia; Dresden and Potsdam also became centers of Rococo. Balthasar Neumann (1687-1753) took the rococo to a new level of lavishness Neumann was the author of the Würzburg Residence (1737) which Neumann called "a theater of light". A stairway with three ramps wound upwards toward a ceiling painted by Tiepolo. A stairway was also the central element in a residence he built at the Augustusburg Palace in Brühl (1743-1748). There the stairway was the central feature, taking visitors up through a stucco fantasy of paintings, sculpture, ironwork and decoration, with surprising views at every turn.(1741-1744), 
Other important figure in the German rococo or late baroque include Matthäus Daniel Pöppelmann and Balthasar Permoser, who designed the Zwinger Pavilion in Dresden (1709-1728) a space designed for ceremonies and celebration, is highly theatrical, with an overflow of decoration on the facade and a grand stairway in the interior. The building was destroyed during the Second World War, but has been reconstructed.
Johann Michael Fischer was the architect of Ottobeuren Abbey (1748-1766), the most celebrated Bavarian rococo landmark. The church features, like much of the rococo architecture in Germany, a remarkable contrast between the regularity of the facade and the overabundance of decoration in the interior.
In Great Britain, rococo was called the "French taste" and had less influence on design and the decorative arts than in continental Europe. although its influence was felt in such areas as silverwork, porcelain, and silks. William Hogarth helped develop a theoretical foundation for Rococo beauty. Though not mentioning rococo by name, he argued in his Analysis of Beauty (1753) that the undulating lines and S-curves prominent in Rococo were the basis for grace and beauty in art or nature (unlike the straight line or the circle in Classicism). 
Rococo was slow in arriving in England. Before entering the Rococo, British furniture for a time followed the neoclassical Palladian model under designer William Kent, who designed for Lord Burlington and a other important patrons of the arts. Kent travelled to Italy with Lord Burlington between 1712 and 1720, and brought back many models and ideas from Palladio. He designed the furniture for Hampton Court Palace (1732), Lord Burlington's Chiswick House (1729), London, Thomas Coke's Holkham Hall, Norfolk, Robert Walpole's pile at Houghton, for Devonshire House in London, and at Rousham. .
Mahogany made its appearance in England in about 1720, and immediately became popular for furniture, along with walnut wood. The Rococo began to make an appearance in England between 1740 and 1750. The furniture of Thomas Chippendale was the closest to the Rococo style, In 1754 he published "Gentleman's and Cabinet-makers' directory", a catalog of designs for rococo, chinoiserie and even Gothic furniture, which achieved wide popularity, going through three editions. Unlike French designers, Chippendale did not employ marquetry or inlays in his furniture. The predominant designer of inlaid furniture were Vile and Cob, the cabinet-makers for King George III. Another important figure in British furniture was Thomas Johnson, who in 1761, very late in the period, published a catalog of Roroco furniture designs. These include furnishings based on rather fantastic Chinese and Indian motifs, including a canopy bed crowned by a Chinese pagoda. (now in the Victoria and Albert Museum). 
Other notable figures in the British Rococo included the silversmith Charles Friedrich Kandler.
Design for a State Bed by Thomas Chippendale (1753-54)
Proposed Chinese sofa by Thomas Chippendale (1753-54)
Design for candlesticks in the "Chinese Taste" by Thomas Johnson (1756)
The art of Boucher and other painters of the period, with its emphasis on decorative mythology and gallantry, soon inspired a reaction, and a demand for more "noble" themes. While the rococo continued in Germany and Austria, the French Academy in Rome began to teach the classic style. This was confirmed by the nomination of Le Troy as director of the Academy in 1738, and then in 1751 by Charles-Joseph Natoire.
Madame de Pompadour, the mistress of Louis XV contributed to the decline of the baroque and rococo style. In 1750 she sent her nephew, Abel-François Poisson de Vandières, on a two-year mission to study artistic and archeological developments in Italy. He was accompanied by several artists, including the engraver Nicolas Cochin and the architect Soufflot. They returned to Paris with a passion for classical art. Vandiéres became the Marquis of Marigny, and was named director general of the King's Buildings. He turned official French architecture toward the neoclassical. Cochin became an important art critic; he denounced the petit style of Boucher, and called for a grand style with a new emphasis on antiquity and nobility in the academies of painting and architecture.
The beginning of the end for Rococo came in the early 1760s as figures like Voltaire and Jacques-François Blondel began to voice their criticism of the superficiality and degeneracy of the art. Blondel decried the "ridiculous jumble of shells, dragons, reeds, palm-trees and plants" in contemporary interiors. By 1785, Rococo had passed out of fashion in France, replaced by the order and seriousness of Neoclassical artists like Jacques-Louis David. In Germany, late 18th century Rococo was ridiculed as Zopf und Perücke ("pigtail and periwig"), and this phase is sometimes referred to as Zopfstil. Rococo remained popular in the provinces and in Italy, until the second phase of neoclassicism, "Empire style", arrived with Napoleonic governments and swept Rococo away.
The ornamental style called rocaille emerged in France between 1710 and 1750, mostly during the regency and reign of Louis XV; the style was also called Louis Quinze. Its principal characteristics were picturesque detail, curves and counter-curves, asymmetry, and a theatrical exuberance. On the walls of new Paris salons, the twisting and winding designs, usually made of gilded or painted stucco, wound around the doorways and mirrors like vines. One of the earliest exampls was the Hôtel Soubise in Paris (1704-05),with its famous oval salon decorated with paintings by Boucher, and Charles-Joseph Natoire.
The best known French furniture designer of the period was Juste-Aurèle Meissonnier (1695-1750), who was also a sculptor, painter. and goldsmith for the royal household. He held the title of official designer to the Chamber and Cabinet of Louis XV. His work is well known today because of the enormous number of engravings made of his work.which popularized the style throughout Europe. designed works for the royal families of Poland and Portugal.
Italy was another place where the Rococo flourished, both in its early and later phases. Craftsmen in Rome, Milan and Venice all produced lavishly decorated furniture and decorative items.
Candlelabra by Juste-Aurèle Meissonnier (1735-40)
Chariot of Apollo design for a ceiling of Count Bielinski by Meissonier, Warsaw, Poland (1734)
The sculpted decoration included fleurettes, palmettes, seashells, and foliage, carved in wood. The most extravagant rocaille forms were found in the consoles, tables designed to stand against walls. The Commodes, or chests, which had first appeared under Louis XIV, were richly decorated with rocaille ornament made of gilded bronze. They were made by master craftsmen including Jean-Pierre Latz and also featured marquetry of different-colored woods, sometimes placed in checkerboard cubic patterns, made with light and dark woods. The period also saw the arrival of Chinoiserie, often in the form of lacquered and gilded commodes, called falcon de Chine of Vernis Martin, after the ebenist who introduced the technique to France. Ormolu, or gilded bronze, was used by master craftsmen including Jean-Pierre Latz. Latz made a particularly ornate clock mounted atop a cartonnier for Frederick the Great for his palace in Potsdam. Pieces of imported Chinese porcelain were often mounted in gilded bronze rococo settings for display on tables or consoles in salons. Other craftsmen imitated the Japanese art of lacquered furniture, and produced commodes with motifs of Japanese paintings. 
Clock-chest for Frederick the Great (1742)
Lacquered Commode in Chinoiserie style, by Bernard II van Risamburgh, Victoria and Albert Museum (1750-1760)
British Rococo tended to be more restrained. Thomas Chippendale's furniture designs kept the curves and feel, but stopped short of the French heights of whimsy. The most successful exponent of British Rococo was probably Thomas Johnson, a gifted carver and furniture designer working in London in the mid-18th century.
Solitude Palace in Stuttgart, Chinese Palace in Oranienbaum, the Bavarian church of Wies, and Sanssouci in Potsdam are examples Rococo in European architecture. Sportive, fantastic, and sculptured forms are expressed with abstract ornament using flaming, leafy or shell-like textures in asymmetrical sweeps and flourishes and broken curves; intimate Rococo interiors suppress architectonic divisions of architrave, frieze, and cornice for the picturesque, the curious, and the whimsical, expressed in plastic materials like carved wood and above all stucco (as in the work of the Wessobrunner School). Walls, ceiling, furniture, and works of metal and porcelain present a unified ensemble. The Rococo palette is softer and paler than the rich primary colors and dark tonalities favored in Baroque tastes.
A few anti-architectural hints rapidly evolved into full-blown Rococo at the end of the 1720s and began to affect interiors and decorative arts throughout Europe. The richest forms of German Rococo are in Catholic Germany. Inaugurated in some rooms in Versailles, its magnificence unfolds in several Parisian buildings (especially the Hôtel Soubise). In Germany, Belgian and German artists (Cuvilliés, Neumann, Knobelsdorff, etc.) effected the dignified equipment of the Amalienburg near Munich, and the castles of Würzburg, Potsdam, Charlottenburg, Brühl, Bruchsal, Solitude (Stuttgart), and Schönbrunn.
In Great Britain, Hogarth's set of paintings forming a melodramatic morality tale titled Marriage à la Mode, engraved in 1745, shows the parade rooms of a stylish London house, in which the only rococo is in plasterwork of the salon's ceiling. Palladian architecture is in control. Here, on the Kentian mantel, the crowd of Chinese vases and mandarins are satirically rendered as hideous little monstrosities, and the Rococo wall clock is a jumble of leafy branches. Rococo plasterwork by immigrant Italian-Swiss artists like Bagutti and Artari is a feature of houses by James Gibbs, and the Lafranchini brothers working in Ireland equalled anything that was attempted in Great Britain.
Elements of the Rocaille style appeared in the work of some French artists, including a taste for the picturesque in details; curves and counter-curves; and dissymetry which replaced the movement of the baroque with exuberance, though the French rocaille never reached the extravagance of the Germanic rococo. The leading proponent was Antoine Watteau, particularly in Pilgrimage on the Isle of Cythera (1717), Louvre, in a genre called Fête Galante depicting scenes of young nobles gathered together to celebrate in a pastoral setting. Watteau died in 1721 at the age of thirty-seven, but his work continued to have influence through the rest of the century. The Pilgrimage to Cythera painting was purchased by Frederick the Great of Prussia in 1752 or 1765 to decorate his palace of Charlottenberg in Berlin.
The successor of Watteau and the Féte Galante in decorative painting was François Boucher (1703–1770), the favorite painter of Madame de Pompadour. His work included the sensual Toilette de Venus (1746), which became one of the best known examples of the style. Boucher participated in all of the genres of the time, designing tapestries, models for porcelain sculpture, set decorations for the Paris opera and opera-comique, and decor for the Fair of Saint-Laurent.  Other important painters of the Fête Galante style included Nicolas Lancret and Jean-Baptiste Pater. The style particularly influenced François Lemoyne, who painted the lavish decoration of the ceiling of the Salon of Hercules at the Palace of Versailles, completed in 1735.. Paintings with fétes gallant and mythological themes by Boucher, Pierre-Charles Trémolières and Charles-Joseph Natoire decorated the famous salon of the Hôtel Soubise in Paris (1735-40).. Other Rococo painters include: Jean François de Troy (1679–1752), Jean-Baptiste van Loo (1685–1745), his two sons Louis-Michel van Loo (1707–1771) and Charles-Amédée-Philippe van Loo (1719–1795), his younger brother Charles-André van Loo (1705–1765), and Nicolas Lancret (1690–1743).
"Luncheon with Ham" by Nicolas Lancret 1735)
Ceiling of the Salon of Hercules by François Lemoyne (1735)
The Toilet of Venus by François Boucher (1746)
In Austria and Southern Germany, Italian painting had the largest effect on the Rococo style. The Venetian painter Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, assisted by his son, Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo, was invited to paint frescoes for the Würzburg Residence (1720-1744). The most prominent painter of Bavarian rococo churches was Johann Baptist Zimmermann, who painted the ceiling of the Wieskirche (1745-54)
Religious sculpture followed the Italian baroque style, as exemplified in the theatrical altarpiece of the Karlskirche in Vienna. However, much of Rococo sculpture was lighter and offered more movement than the classical style of Louis XIV. It was encouraged in particular by Madame de Pompadour, mistress of Louis XV, who commissioned many works for her chateaux and gardens. The sculptor Edmé Bouchardon represented Cupid engaged in carving his darts of love from the club of Hercules Rococo style—the demigod is transformed into the soft child, the bone-shattering club becomes the heart-scathing arrows, just as marble is so freely replaced by stucco. Étienne-Maurice Falconet (1716–1791) was another leading French sculptor during the period. The French sculptors, Jean-Louis Lemoyne, Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne, Louis-Simon Boizot, Michel Clodion, and Pigalle were also active. In Italy, Antonio Corradini was among the leading sculptors of the Rococo style. A Venetian, he traveled around Europe, working for Peter the Great in St. Petersburg, for the imperial courts in Austria and Naples. He preferred sentimental themes, and made several skilled works of women with faces covered by veils, one of which is now in the Louvre.
A new form of small-scale sculpture appeared, made of porcelain, mounted on bronze or marble pedestals and displayed on console tables and dining room tables. The Swiss-born German sculptor Franz Anton Bustelli produced a wide variety of colorful figures for the Nymphenburg Porcelain Manufactory in Bavaria, which were sold throughout Europe. The French sculptor Étienne-Maurice Falconet (1716–1791) followed this example. While also making large-scale works, he became director of the Sevres Porcelain manufactory and produced small scale works, usually about love and gaiety, for production in series.
High altar of the Karlskirche in Vienna (1737)
Vertumnus and Pomone by Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne (1760)
Pygmalion et Galatee by Étienne-Maurice Falconet (1763)
The "Veiled Dame (Puritas) by Antonio Corradini (1722)
Figure of a cheese seller by Bustelli, Nymphenburg Porcelain (1755)
Porcelain figure, A lady"" from the Chelsea porcelain factory (1755)
Royal Crown Derby porcelain figures (1755)
A Rococo period existed in music history, although it is not as well known as the earlier Baroque and later Classical forms. The Rococo music style itself developed out of baroque music both in France, where the new style was referred to as style galante ("gallant" or "elegant" style), and in Germany, where it was referred to as empfindsamer stil ("sensitive style"). It can be characterized as light, intimate music with extremely elaborate and refined forms of ornamentation. Exemplars include Jean Philippe Rameau, Louis-Claude Daquin and François Couperin in France; in Germany, the style's main proponents were C. P. E. Bach and Johann Christian Bach, two sons of the renowned J.S. Bach.
In the second half of the 18th century, a reaction against the Rococo style occurred, primarily against its perceived overuse of ornamentation and decoration. Led by C.P.E. Bach (an accomplished Rococo composer in his own right), Domenico Scarlatti, and Christoph Willibald Gluck, this reaction ushered in the Classical era. By the early 19th century, Catholic opinion had turned against the suitability of the style for ecclesiastical contexts because it was "in no way conducive to sentiments of devotion".
Zwinger in Dresden
The Rococo Branicki Palace in Białystok, sometimes referred to as the "Polish Versailles"
Electoral Palace of Trier
Antoine Watteau, Pierrot, 1718–1719
Antoine Watteau, Pilgrimage to Cythera , 1718–1721
Francis Hayman, Dancing Milkmaids, 1735
Charles-André van Loo, Halt to the Hunt, 1737
François Boucher, Diana Leaving the Bath, 1742
François Boucher, The Toilet of Venus, 1751
Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, The Death of Hyacinth, 1752
Jean-Honoré Fragonard, Inspiration, 1769
Jean-Honoré Fragonard The Meeting (Part of the Progress of Love series), 1771
Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin, Still Life with Glass Flask and Fruit, c. 1750
Jean-Baptiste Greuze, The Spoiled Child, c. 1765
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