Rococo

Rococo is a period that gave a new meaning to the idea of amenities, and the main characteristics of the style – decorativeness, appeal, intricacy of form – can be seen in interior decoration as well. From the spaces of ceremony, social life moved into smaller and more intimate salons, and the lightness and refinement of the furnishing of interiors corresponded to the intellectual mood of the society of the time. Light tones prevailed in the interiors; console tables and chests of drawers, above which there were mirrors, are integral parts of the wall surfaces. Seating furniture and tables could be freely grouped in the space as required. New types of seating were developed, which along with innovations in a constructive sense also became more comfortable, as illustrated by the exhibited armchair (à la reine) upholstered in silk brocade of the time.

Furniture made from costly materials and exotic kinds of wood shows exceptional workmanship in the decoration, whether it is to do with luxuriant marquetry (a table) or the application of bronze gilt (a chest of drawers). The pieces shown are on the whole of French or Venetian origin. Along with the chest or drawers, one of the favourite types of Rococo, and the two Venetian bureau cabinets, also important is furniture decorated with a special technique inspired by oriental lacquer, lacca veneziana, as it was called. The technique in which on a ground of pastel tones a polychromed painted decoration is placed (chinoiserie or flowers) and then coated with a special lacquer was developed in Venice and achieved its full flowering in the mid 18th century, in which chests of drawers, armchairs, occasional tables, boxes and mirrors were all decorated in this way.

In the 18th century, a time of great discoveries and fascination with the Far East, Europe discovered the secret (the Arcanum) of producing the most precious kind of ceramic ware – porcelain. The first manufactory was set up in Meissen in 1710 and then in Vienna in 1718; by the end of the 18th century the French royal manufactory had been founded in France, the imperial manufactory in St Petersburg as well as English, Italian and numerous German porcelain manufactories. European crowned heads and aristocrats collected china items as signs of their status, decorated their living spaces with them or kept them in special rooms – porcelain cabinets. The bureau cabinet on show that is meant for displaying china is a more modest version of the private space for this purpose.

Characteristic of the production of glass in the Rococo period are glasses with double walls with engraved sheets of gold placed between them – Zwischengoldgläser. The invention of this technique is ascribed to glassmaker and alchemist Johann Kunckel. The technique was used most for the making of ceremonial glasses. In this room, Venetian glassmaking is represented by an engraved mirror and an opulently decorated chandelier of coloured glass – an authentic and still highly appreciated Venetian product.

Characteristic of this period is the fashion of little objects – such as snuff boxes, jars, bonbonnières, needle cases and sewing kit – made out of expensive materials and often decorated with the technique of painted enamel. Rococo enamel is mostly put as appliquéon copper, but also on silver and gold, particularly where snuffboxes and jars that had the function of jewellery too were concerned. The style of workmanship and decoration of very expensive snuffboxes was set by the demands of the aristocratic classes of the 18th century, primarily at the French court. The highest quality examples of enamel in the Museum’s collection are in fact French, while among the objects on display there are a few items of English origin, such as boxes for sewing accoutrements and a bonbonnière in the form of a dog’s head.

The Rococo also brought in the cult of the fan; although it had been in use since Antiquity, in Rococo it became an indispensable fashion accessory and in the culture of galant behaviour it was also a means of sophisticated non-verbal communication. Great demand for fans led to the perfecting of their production, particularly in France, which as early as the 17th century had the lead over Italy. Expensive materials and fine execution are characteristic of 18th century fans.