Rococo vs. Baroque in Architecture and Design
In France, the Baroque and Rococo were adjacent stylistic periods that ensconced two entirely distinct sensibilities; one was heavy-handed and provocative while the other expressed lightness and playfulness within elaborate decoration. Differences in the temperament of the two ages had profound influence on their artistic/decorative movements. Yet while the Baroque era stretched across the 17th century, the Rococo style was fleeting in comparison, spanning more or less from the 1730s to the 1760s (during the reign of Louis XV). The differences between the two can more or less be summed up in terms of mood (feeling of the age), function, and method.
Rococo style had its inception in France unlike the Baroque that had beginnings in Italy than moved to other parts of Europe. The Rococo was not one applied to exterior architecture as was the Baroque, but was an expression of art and the interior; while Baroque decoration was commonly applied to church interiors - outside of Germany and Austria - the Rococo style was not. The Baroque embraced formality and ceremony, but in contrast society under Louis XV and the corresponding spirit of the Rococo age embraced comfort, warmth, privacy and informality.
The Baroque aesthetic was generally a serious and somber one; not so with the Rococo that expressed frivolity, elegance and fantasy. Baroque colors were bold, contrasting; the Rococo was a gentler force that tended towards ubiquitous gold and white and pastels.
Artificial light and use of mirrors was a component of interior design in both styles but the Baroque uniquely emphasized bold contrasts by using highlighting and shadow. Purposeful lighting was likewise apparent in Rococo style but it was used to create a cozy space – sometimes by way of French windows (tall narrow windows often almost wall height, that also functioned as doors) decorated with tasseled curtains and with artificial light sources - inherited from the Baroque - in the form of candlesticks, wall brackets, candelabra, and chandeliers. As in the Baroque, interiors were often decorated with mirrors, but in the Rococo, they become larger in scale and more extensively used - the Galarie de Glaces, or Hall of MIrrors, at Versailles Palace is a prime example of using mirrors in Rococo style albeit the Palace itself is is an expression of the Baroque.
In the Baroque, a two story salon (large central space separate from private quarters for living and specifically, entertaining) was common; in the Rococo period, a one story salon was the standard as overall, rooms were designed to be smaller because people wanted to be more intimate and were not as concerned in impressing their guests. The Rococo also leaned towards the asymmetric not only in décor, by embracing curved lines and corners, but also in room shape; the Hôtel Amelot de Gournay in Paris, designed by Gabriel-Germaine Boffrand as a private home, was constructed with the exterior front facade half-circling an oval inner courtyard, situated as such to embue privacy and convenience (the French called it “convenance" and it referred to the establishing of easy, functional relationships between rooms) in what is now recognized as the Rococo style. This early 18th century building demonstrated the way in which Rococo was realized in conjunction with function, form, and utility.
Classicism waned during the Rococo period after being so extensively executed in the Baroque. The Roman orders (rules and levels of style adopted from Roman architecture) were mostly abandoned in so far as Rococo interior architecture. Simply put, Baroque rigidity and precision was replaced. In Baroque interiors, pilasters lined the walls set with frames and panels and an entablature, would encircle the room above a dado and frieze. Ornamentation on stucco and in wood included scrollwork, "grotesque" designs and trompe l’oeil paintings and frescoes. Tapestry was used and chimneypieces were prominent and lavish.
In contrast, Rococo decoration was used to create a sense of flow with the use of abstract and asymmetrical detail. The dado is lower and less commonly used. Walls would not have a full entablature and the angle between wall and ceiling were eliminated by plaster covers in the corners. Rococo surface decoration on ceiling and walls favored shallow relief and depressed or semi-circular arches. Decoration was asymmetrically styled, yet unified, with meandering and wistful s-scrolls and wave like lines. Rococo décor was about dreams and the fantastic – stucco and carvings included shapes and images of flowers, shells, bats’ wings, festoons, garlands, fountain jets, swags (stylized natural forms) and also chinoiseries and singeries. Baroque sensibilities delineated common people from royalty but Rococo admired if not idealized humanistic and sometimes carnal inclinations of life. Even the furniture of the Rococo was more delicate and light, as seen for example in the use of the cabriole leg in furniture instead of bulbous thick legs as seen in the Baroque.