Rococo Beyond Borders: From Style to Object

Today, the term rococo denotes a distinctive visual style that developed in France in the 1730s and quickly appealed to patrons, makers, and designers worldwide. Initially known as the “painterly mode” or simply “the modern taste,” this style is usually associated with exuberant, asymmetrical forms marked by curving, attenuated lines; a playful tension between solids and voids; an ornamental vocabulary of leaves, shells, flowers, and other natural forms; and a color palette dominated by pastel hues. How and where did this new, modern mode arise, who promoted it, and how did it spread? How did artists, artisans, architects, and designers across the globe develop the style’s inherent qualities while harnessing its seemingly boundless potential for novelty? Why was the style subsequently rejected—and, later, recuperated and revived—and how did it acquire political or even moral values as well as visual ones? This seminar investigates the rococo’s impact on interior design, household objects, textiles and dress, and gardening as well as sculpture, painting, and architecture. We will discuss what “rococo” signifies in recent scholarship and explore its perceived connections with cultural phenomena including elegant gatherings, pastoral romance, female-dominated salons, expanding commercial markets, and European consumers’ taste for eroticism and exoticism. While centered in Western Europe—including France, Germany, Italy, England, the Netherlands, and Scandinavia—our study takes a global and cross-cultural perspective, tracing how the movement of objects and people carried versions of the style to the New World, the Ottoman Empire, and China, where European modes were transformed and integrated into local projects. We will conclude by considering the rococo’s continuing resonance for contemporary artists and designers across media. 3 credits. Satisfies the chronological requirement.