The Wolfson Gallery
From about 1720, wealthy Europeans enjoyed a less formal way of living, which began in France and eventually reached all parts of Europe. They revelled in new levels of comfort and adopted French cuisine and modes of dining. Artists and designers developed the playful new decorative style we call Rococo, which often featured fantasies on Asian themes. Fashionable goods were not only bought by royal and ducal courts, the nobility, and the Catholic Church, but also by an expanding market of professional people and merchants.
Catholicism continued to flourish in the 18th century, despite increasing questioning of the Church’s authority and doctrines in intellectual circles. Religious items made for private devotion at home expressed the underlying faith that informed daily life at every level of society. Precious objects were commissioned to serve the rituals performed in churches and monasteries. Many of these pieces followed the Rococo style then fashionable.
Fashionable Europeans were fascinated by Chinese and Japanese imagery. Artists copied features from Asian art and design to create a hybrid style that became known by the French term ‘chinoiserie’. Similar combinations of European design and Turkish-inspired imagery were known as ‘turquerie’. Both presented romanticised depictions of Asian and Turkish peoples living lives of luxury and ease. Artists’ indifference to or ignorance of geographical and cultural differences also resulted in designs that combined ‘chinoiserie’ and ‘turquerie’.
The ornamental style known today as Rococo dominated European design for much of the 18th century. Originating in France in about 1730, it is characterised by curvilinear lines, and light and sinuous shapes in asymmetrical formations. These features replaced the heavier, more architectural forms of the previous generation. The style rapidly spread throughout Europe, where it was assimilated and re-interpreted. German and Italian Rococo often exceeded the French version in extravagance and inventiveness.
Video: Rococo in Germany
This film explores the design of the Amalienburg hunting lodge to show how the prevailing Rococo style was adopted in Germany in the 1730s.
The royal and ducal courts of 18th-century Europe often protected and financially supported the manufacture of luxury goods. The German, French and Italian porcelain factories enjoyed such support but supplied much wider markets. Luxury goods were often made in specialist centres, where raw materials were readily available and craft skills firmly established. Compared with the large porcelain factories established under princely patronage, furniture workshops remained small. By 1700, fine cabinet-making had spread throughout Europe as skilled craftsmen moved to seek their fortune in different cities. Many rulers appointed their own official cabinet-makers. In some cities, these individuals were given special workshops and freedom from the rules imposed by the craft guilds that controlled the trades.
The Faubourg St Honoré in Paris was Europe’s centre for fashionable shopping. Fabrics, furnishings, porcelain and trinkets were displayed in sumptuous interiors. These shops provided a seductive environment in which to purchase the latest luxuries, and in which to socialise. Merchants, known as marchands-merciers, stocked, adapted and re-purposed items – both local products and exotic novelties – often setting trends with their inventive combinations. They undertook costly commissions as well as supplying more affordable items to an international clientele.
Europe in the 18th century saw major changes in the way food was served at grand dinners, leading to practices that are still with us today. Many new specialised tablewares were introduced. Some, such as tureens and sauceboats, were made in response to changing fashions in food. Others reflected a growing concern with hygiene and were intended for individual use. Many were for the dessert course, which was often theatrically presented and became the climax of the meal.
Video: The Meissen Table Fountain
This film follows an ambitious conservation project of a porcelain table fountain made in 1745 at Meissen, near Dresden.
Conservation supported by the Arnhold family.
In the 18th century, fashion was expressed more through fabric, colour and pattern than through cut. The most expensive material was silk, which was woven into plain and patterned textiles. Lyon, in the south of France, was the main European centre of production, its designers supplying manufacturers with new patterns every season. Travelling salesmen and retailers sold these silks across Europe. Usually their customers employed a tailor or dressmaker to have their garments made to measure.
Accessories such as snuffboxes, fans and canes had practical functions, but they also made coded statements about fashion, status and wealth. By gesturing with them in certain ways, their owners could use them to communicate with others. Men and women carried small boxes for snuff, tobacco, cosmetics and sweets. Folding fans were used only by women by the 18th century. Canes were mainly carried by men.
The Sérilly Cabinet
This small room, or cabinet, was made in 1778 for the Parisian townhouse of Antoine Megret de Sérilly, Paymaster General to the French Army, and his wife, Anne-Marie-Louise. It would have been used as a private retreat and for entertaining close friends. The decoration in the fashionable Neoclassical style was designed by the Rousseau brothers, who had worked for Queen Marie-Antoinette. It epitomises the elegance and luxury of aristocratic Parisian interiors just before the Revolution.
Video: The Sérilly Cabinet
The film explores the decoration of the Sérilly Cabinet