Rococo art is art produced in the Rococo style, a style of artistic expression that emerged in France in the early 18th century; people also refer to this as “French style” art, in a reference to its nation of origin. Art and architecture in this style are characterized by very ornate, fanciful themes and a light air that sets it apart from earlier pieces produced in the Baroque period, which was both ornate and heavy. The Rococo style gave way to the neo-classical school, and many critics of that school dismissed this earlier movement as frivolous and without depth, which explains why some people use “Rococo” as a derogatory word for frivolous artwork and architecture today.
The term is a portmanteau of rocaille, the French word for “shell,” and barocco, the Italian word for “Baroque.” Rococo artwork is characterized by very ornate curves and shell-like shapes on a wide range of scales from ballrooms to side tables. It also typically includes elaborate foliage, animal figures, scrolls, and fanciful design elements. In a marked contrast with the dark, heavy colors of Baroque art, Rococo featured a lot of pastels, gilding, and other elements which made works from this period very light and lacy.
Like most schools of art, Rococo has ardent fans as well as die-hard detractors. Detractors often dismiss this style of art as being light and fluffy, without depth or texture, despite the fact that this is belied by the complexity of Baroque homes, which featured immensely detailed and ornate interior design. Like art from earlier periods, Rococo integrates many symbolic plants, animals, and themes, as someone who takes the time to closely examine it will learn.
While Rococo originated in France, it spread to other parts of Europe, and was adopted with great enthusiasm in Germany, where some excellent examples of Rococo art and architecture can be found today. Many religious structures incorporated elements of this style in their architecture as well. The playful art and design which distinguishes it was often used on a smaller scale, in things like individual pieces of furniture and paintings.
The flourishing of the Rococo period was brief, as social critics pointed to it as an example of the general degeneration of art and society. The more staid Neo-classical style certainly integrated Rococo elements, however, and in some parts of Europe, its fashions endured into the late 1800s, especially in England.