The grand and ostentatious baroque style that Louis XIV preferred in the seventeenth century gave way
to a much more delicate, but equally sumptuous, style in the eighteenth century: the rococo style.
Whereas Louis XIV ruled France with a heavy hand, the rulers that followed—Louis XV and the Duke of
Orléans who acted as regent for him until he came of age—were more relaxed and indecisive. As royal
power waned, royal patronage became less important, and wealthy aristocrats provided artists with most
of their commissions. This new group of patrons, many of them women, were not interested in allegories,
histories, or huge architectural projects that proclaimed the power of the crown; instead, they wanted
lighter subjects for their paintings and sculptures and more refined decoration for their salons, where the
most elegant and witty members of Parisian society would gather. Paris became an influential art center
of Europe in this period, and many of the European courts emulated the rococo style that had become so
fashionable there.
The word rococo is derived from two French words meaning “shell” and “pebble.” These small, curved
forms in nature are indeed similar to the delicate tendrils, shells, and lacy frames decorating the salons of
aristocrats of eighteenth-century Europe. Whereas the baroque style, as seen at Versailles, was given a
monumental character with massive classical pilasters, such strong vertical accents are absent in the
rococo Salon de la Princess (below). Here clouds of gilded ornament float lightly on the white walls and
ceiling. Relatively small paintings might add to the refined display, being hung in the open areas on the
walls or mounted on easels within the room. Compared to spaces like the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles,
these are much smaller rooms, and their decoration gives them a sense of intimacy that complements the
polite conversation and light entertainment that took place there.
The Salon de la Princesse, Hotel de Soubisse, Paris, 1735-40
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