Friday, March 14, 2014

What the Heck is Rococo?

By Gretchen Sawatzki

Ro-co-co it's fun to say. Try it. Say it out loud, RO-CO-CO! It's not the name of the latest pop star, or even name of the yappie dog next door, it's actually a real term - one used to describe a very specific type of revival furniture that was wildly popular in the United States between 1840 and 1860. It sounds foofy or even bourgeois that's probably because it is!

But, before we get into the details of Rococo, we should probably discuss what revival furniture is. Revival furniture borrows from the design of old and reinterprets it to meet the design tastes of a later time. Rococo Revival can best be described as an attempt to imitate French design from the age of the Renaissance. The original French Rococo style dates to the 16th century, and was popularized during the reign Louis XV. The word rococo derives from the French word rocaille, which are the rough shell-like decorations found in 16th century architecture and furniture. 

So, why imitate French design? Well imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, right? Right. By 1840 the Rococo Revival style was popular in London and Paris. By way of leaflets and books, the style eventually made its way to the United States where a new renaissance in arts and design were taking place in the form of European inspired furniture, interiors, and architecture. Gothic, Italian, and other Old World designs were in vogue, and high-styled and heavily carved objects were coveted - in other words foofy was hot!

So, what makes a piece of antique furniture Rococo Revival in style? Look for these 5 very distinct features:

1). Shell, fruit, and floral carvings
2). Cabriole legs - thin and delicate legs that have a "s" form 
3). S and C-scrolls - carved scrollwork that forms an "s" and "c" shape
4). Heavily carved surfaces
5). Overall delicate appearance

RO-CO-CO is not just fun to say. But if repeating it out loud a few times helps you remember it than go ahead and knock yourself out. Say it until you remember that it's a type of style found in American antique furniture that defined an era, roughly 1840 to 1860, has French origins, and is foofy in style.

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