The Rococo movement became a widely popular decorative issue during the 18th century and can be seen all over Europe, most notably in France. The Rococo style is defined as “the final expression of the baroque movement”. This movement focused on the illusion and theater, achieved through crowded ornamentation with the use lighter colors. Rococo was not created by one artist/architect alone, but it was first seen during the reign of Louis XIV at Versailles. The Rococo style can be seen throughout the entirety of the Palace of Versailles in Paris and Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna. This style is very beautiful and exhibits enormous wealth and artistry. Soon it began to spread all across Europe as others took inspiration at heart and incorporated the style into their own palaces. Versailles and Schönbrunn are two of the most exemplary examples of Rococo.
The name rococo comes from the world rocaille meaning “rock-work or rockery”. This style was first used as architecture for interior rooms and later found its way into the art world. From the art style before, the change in focus was so enormous that rococo was known as “modern style” (Hamlyn 1969, 10). This new French style was focused around the Palace of Versailles and Louis XIV. The buildings in which this style was used were plain and boring on the exterior, while the interior rooms were lavishly decorated in order to wow. The most magnificent part of the decorative style were the walls, covered with “patterns of arabesques”. This rococo style also places emphasis on flowered and asymmetrical decoration. It was initially used for the decoration of the salon, but soon spread to encompass almost every room in the house. Rococo was so popular that copies of the design in Versailles were constructed in practically every country in Europe. With the spread of the movement, the wealthy of Europe looked to France for its inspiration. This style can be seen all throughout Europe, most notably at Versailles and later palaces like Schönbrunn. Being the style that it is, every monarch in Europe sought to use it in their own places.
Palace of Versailles is one of the most famous examples exhibiting rococo style and is still admired by millions today. The palace was first built in 1624 as a hunting chalet by Louis XIII. By 1682, Louis XIV moved his family and court into the palace (Praeger, 121). By moving the nobilities with him, Louis XIV was able to keep careful watch over them. His effort put into bringing Versailles to extravagance ended up being the most money he had ever spent. To try and cut down costs, every single material that went into the palace was created in France. The remodeling under Louis XIV lasted for over fifty years from 1661 up to his death in 1715. His most famous contribution is known as the Hall of Mirrors. After his death, the next king, Louis XV, did not start remodeling on Versailles until 1772. During his reign, the palace went through very extensive work on both the outside and inside. The palace was finally abandoned in 1789 and the French court never went back. The palace did not go through a renovation again until 1919 and restorations of the palace have been taking place up until 2016. Today, the palace is visited by up to three million people every year. From the 17th century to the 21st, Versailles continues to be a place of beauty and wonderment, enjoyed by people from all over the world.
One of the most remarkable rooms in the palace is the Hall of Mirrors, built by none other than Louis XIV. Opposite the seventeen windows in the room are seventeen arched mirrors that reflect them. What is most extraordinary about the arches is that each contains twenty-one individual mirrors, making the most beautiful reflections of the room and the windows looking into the gardens. By using so many mirrors, they “reflect the natural light from the windows and give the impression of an even larger space” (Stokstad and Cothren, 410). The rococo style introduced this way of positioning mirrors, as they were raised all the way up to the cornice and brought all the way back down to the floor, creating the term “the French window” (Hamlyn 1966, 125). This room was almost the most expensive room to build in the palace because at the time, mirrors were the most expensive item to own because the republic in Venice controlled the manufacturing. The minister of finances at the time managed to bribe some men from Venice to come to France to make the mirrors. The ceiling of the hall is very beautiful and depicts Louis XIV’s victories from the military. Even though the hall is very magical and beautiful, Louis XIV only used it when he was moving from his private room to the chapel at the palace. After his reign, it was used sparingly for family functions. Today, while on a tour of the palace you can walk through the hall yourself, and from personal experience walking by all those mirrors is a wonderful experience.
Consisting of 700 rooms, Louis XIV dedicated a few to the Roman and Greek gods and planets. Some familiar names of the rooms include Hercules, Venus, Diana, and Apollo. Each was decorated largely in the rococo style. However, we do not know if these were the real names of the rooms during Louis XIV’s reign, but they are named so according to the statues and paintings in each room. The Hercules room was the last to be constructed by Louis XIV and it was not finished until during the reign of Louis XV. The paintings within the room portray around 140 characters and are considered equal to Italian fresco masterpieces. However, these paintings did not use rococo style, but rather “marouflage technique where the scenes were painted on a canvas and then stuck onto the ceiling panels”. The next room, called the Venus room, was made the primary entrance to Louis XIV’s state rooms because it was located at the top of once existing the grand staircase. Here, Venus is shown on the ceiling as the goddess of love. The other paintings depict heroes that were inspired by Venus, which also may or may not hint at Louis XIV’s accomplishments. The Venus room displays the most rococo of any other room in the state apartments due to the “created dialogue between the architecture, sculptures, and paintings”. This room is considered the most beautiful out of all the state apartments and from personal experience it is certainly the truth.
The rooms of Diana and Apollo are almost twin-like as these two Greek gods are brother and sister. In the Diana room, the main part of the ceiling shows Diana in her natural habitat, the hunt. In her room, the added gold on the ceiling and walls is especially representative of the rococo style. Her brother Apollo’s room was very special because it was used as the throne room. The connection between Apollo and Louis XIV is very important because he was known as the Sun King and this room would especially highlight this name as Apollo is the god of the sun. The Apollo room used to contain the most famous painting of Louis XIV, which is now hanging in the Musée du Louvre. Each room of the state apartments are very beautiful and the meticulousness of decorating them in the rococo style make each unique and noteworthy.
The most spectacular room within the royal’s private apartment’s is the queen’s bedchamber occupied by Maria Theresa of Spain. Her room was extensively decorated in gold and rococo style, with beautiful walls and ceilings. Her bedchamber in Versailles is very beautiful, however she did not stay here very long as she died in 1683. After her death, the rooms were redecorated by Marie Leszczy?ska and Marie-Antoinette. Her private rooms are completely identical to those kept by Louis XIV. Her bedchamber served as her sleeping quarters, birthing room, and meeting room for her guests. The decoration of the room emulates the three queens who resided here. The walls consist not of paintings, but of woven fabrics that match the bedsheets. However, the current fabrics were re-sown because the originals were lost. Almost everything in the queen’s bedchamber was colored gold and is very beautiful, representing the queen’s elevated status. The entirety of Versailles is decorated extensively in the beautiful rococo style and has withstood the years to stay as beautiful as it was on the day it was built. Each room is unique in its own way, even though they are decorated with the same style.
West of France lays another beautiful, though not as large, palace that represents the rococo style as well. This place is known as Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna and from personal experience it is equally as beautiful. Schönbrunn Palace was actually a summer house for the Hapsburgs, most notably remodeled during the 1740s under Maria Theresa, the only female ruler of the Hapsburgs. The most famous emperor to live at the palace was Franz Joseph I of Austria, who lived here until his death in 1916. Schönbrunn Palace is considered the most important historical and architectural monument in all of Austria and I am glad to have gotten to visit it. Similar to Versailles, Schönbrunn also started off as a hunting lodge built by Franz Joseph’s father. The original palace was first built in 1642 by Eleonora von Gonzaga. The most interesting part of the palace is its yellow color. When Maria Theresa lived here, she had the palace painted in a golden color. The current yellow color is a possible reference to Maria Theresa herself. The rococo style of the palace was placed under work before the 1873 World’s Fair and began to cover every other room in the palace. The rococo style of Schönbrunn was paired with features of an imperial Austrian style. Almost every room in the palace is decorated in the rococo style and its beauty can still be witnessed first-hand today. Schönbrunn represents the heart of Austria and is a palace worth dearly loving.
The entirety of the Schönbrunn Palace interior is decorated in the amazing rococo style along with Austrian influence. Like that in Versailles, some of the rooms here have heavy rococo decoration with the walls covered in gold and the ceilings painted. The most notable rooms of the palace include the Great Gallery, the Vieux Laque room, and the millions room. The Great Gallery completely emulates the Rococo style with its gold and white color usage and ceiling paintings. This room of Schönbrunn has been called the “one of most magnificent Rococo ceremonial halls in existence”. The main portion of the ceiling portrays the prosperous Maria Theresa surrounded by the riches of the Hapsburg owned lands. Electricity was added to the giant golden chandeliers and wall lamps in 1901. This gallery is absolutely amazing and was recently restored in 2012 to add more modern light. The Great Gallery represents everything that the rococo style is and is an emblem for rococo and Austrian beauty.
The Vieux Laque room represents a golden splendor and a memorial to Franz Stephan, the husband of Maria Theresa. This room is completely covered in golden paneling on the walls and up to the ceilings. Some of the panels in the room are of Chinese style and came all the way from Beijing. These gold and Chinese panels represent the conversion from Rococo style to Classicism. This room was originally used as a study by Franz Stephan but later converted into a memorial for him. This room is very beautiful and all its decoration symbolizes the Rococo style.
The Millions Room is completely covered in gold as well and has decoration very similar to that of the Vieux Laque room. The Millions Room was originally used by Maria Theresa as her guest reception room. The golden Rococo frames were made into very unique shapes and each holds a small painting. This room is small yet very interesting as even though it is decorated in the Rococo style, it looks very different than any of the other rooms. The shaping of the golden frames separates it from any Rococo style seen before, transforming the style to fit that of the room. This room and including all the others of Schönbrunn Palace show off the amazing and beautiful Rococo style, perhaps being even more interesting and beautiful than the Palace of Versailles.
Being in two completely different European worlds, the palaces of Versailles and Schönbrunn beautifully exhibit the Rococo style in their unique ways. With Versailles being in France and Schönbrunn in Austria, one can see how far the Rococo style and inspiration spread across Europe during the and 18th century. Having gotten to visit both of these palaces, personally, I think that the Rococo decoration seen at Schönbrunn is more beautiful than that at Versailles. Regardless, both are equally magnificent and the Rococo is still admired today. Even though the Rococo style was used during the 1700s, it has lasted throughout the centuries and has stayed as wonderful as ever. The wealth and artistry of Rococo is still admired by millions today, including me.