Characteristics of French Rococo Furniture


The Italian Baroque period of the 17th century evolved into the French Rococo style around 1740. The word "Rococo" blends the French words "rocaille" (rocks) and "coquilles" (shells) to describe its prominant shell motif, sensuous curvilinear design, and layers of textures and colors. The style was a reflection also on the changes in French society, mirroring the wealth of the rising French middle class.

Curvilinear Asymmetry

  • Rococo furniture, art and architecture were built on curves and more curves. Everything Rococo was sensuous and sinuous, reflecting a less serious, more frivolous lifestyle. Through the Baroque period the adherence to symmetry prevailed. Then master craftsmen devised a way to create different design elements on each side of a piece of furniture, without losing a sense of balance. This asymmetry is indicative of Rococo.

Elaborate Ornamentation

  • The riches of the French coffers and new trade routes with Asia allowed the middle class to enjoy every luxury available. Special artisans carved ebony as decoration. Some worked tortoise shell and ivory into beautiful scenes in marquetry. Some specialized in applying Chinese laquer; others applied brass and gold to the furniture. Chairs and sofas were upholstered in fine silks and brocades in rich colors and floral patterns imported from the Orient.

Introduction of Other Types of Furniture

  • There was a high demand for all sorts of furniture to fill the town homes of the wealthy, and artisan guilds arose with the skills required to meet the demand. Furniture became lighter and easier to move around, as an evening's social gathering might require. Chairs and sofas became smaller. The artisans made gaming and card tables and comfortable chairs for socializing. They created furniture especially for the ladies, such as dressing tables and secretaries. To demonstrate their skills, these furniture makers began to add special features, such as roll-top desks, table flaps, hidden compartments, and bowed fronts called bombe.

The Waning of Rococo

  • Later in the reign of Louis XV, under the influence of his mistress, Madame de Pompadour, the king began to cut back on the lavishness of his court. This led to a diminishing popularity of Rococo style. It was almost as if it drowned under its own weight of elaborate decoration and curves and gilding and bronze medallions, as well as its marquetry and parquetry. However, no one can dispute its pure artistry and creativity.

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