It’s golden with ornate embellishments, upholstered in a beautiful silk: It’s a baroque sofa. Or is it a Rococo style sofa? Both of these furniture styles are beautiful and in demand, but do you know the difference between Baroque and Rococo? When exploring these styles, it becomes apparent that while each has defining characteristics, there are good reasons why it’s sometimes hard to tell the difference between Baroque and Rococo.
Baroque actually refers to a particular period spanning from the 17th century until the beginning of the 18th century. At this time, a style that originated in Italy around 1600 became popular throughout Europe and beyond.
According to Stip International – and Webster’s dictionary — the term baroque likely arises from the Portuguese word, “barocco,” which means “uneven pearl.” The style typically uses classical orders and ornaments in a free and sculptural way that evokes movement and has a dramatic effect. Baroque style permeated most parts of culture, including gardens, architecture, music and art.
Baroque architecture emphasized bold massing, colonnades, domes, light-and-shade ‘painterly’ colors and the bold play of volume and void. This is also the era when monumental staircases came into fashion – Wikipedia.
Furniture from the Baroque era can be identified by its very ornate and luxurious look. Intricate, elaborate and exaggerated decorations are characteristic and most often include flowers, leaves, and cherubs. Baroque furniture was highly detailed and overly ornamented, yielding an overall look is grand and lavish yet symmetrical and balanced. According to the Victoria and Albert Museum of London, Baroque era interiors were luxurious: Furnishings were upholstered in rich velvet and damask, framed by the gilt-wood and marquetry. The style remained fashionable until about 1725.
5 Characteristics of Baroque Furniture
The museum explains that Baroque furniture has several defining characteristics:
Foliage motifs — Baroque style used a great deal of plant life in its ornamentation, including scrolling foliage and garlands of flowers.
Marquetry — Marquetry involves laying different-colored wood veneers onto the surface of furniture. Furniture craftsmen learned this technique from French and Dutch cabinet-makers.
Putti — This is an Italian word that means ‘boys’ and refers to chubby infants used in much of the Baroque décor.
Crests and initials — Monograms used for decorative purposes were common in Baroque style furniture, as were heraldic crests.
Lambrequin motif — We’ve already noted that the Baroque era was typified by luxurious textiles, and the features of these fabrics were used in other media as well. A tasseled cloth motif, called a lambrequin, is one of the most commonly seen.
The French were the main adopters of the Baroque style. Louis the XIV’s reign marked the end of the Renaissance and the rise of this very influential style, often considered the most magnificent of the French period styles, writes the V&A. In this era, great furniture designers and cabinet-makers thrived. Andre Charles Boulle was the cabinet-maker to King Louis XIV and was one of the greatest artists in the field of inlaying ebony wood with tortoise shell, brass and other metals. He created the magnificent pieces that we have come to know as belonging to the Baroque Louis XIV age.
Originally, Baroque era furniture had turned or pedestal feet, and later curved legs. This is the period when small, round and oblong tables and consoles became common, according to the museum. Chests and cabinets, many with inlaid wood panels, were very in vogue. Cabinetmakers predominantly used oak, walnut, chestnut, and ebony. Much of the ornamentation was done in rosewood, sandalwood, tulipwood, and other exotic woods.
The basic shape of Baroque furniture is also distinctive: curved legs are a hallmark of the period. These handmade pieces overwhelmingly came from Italy, and were made of the best woods. Upholstered pieces could be covered in cloth or leather, but wood was always a prominent feature of every piece of Baroque style furniture.
The first pieces of baroque furniture were coated in a transparent layer of varnish, points out Stip. Over time, preferences changed and different types of Baroque style furniture were produced. Among the wealthy, pieces with gold-painted wood were very popular as a status symbol. Sometimes, this paint – in either gold or white – had a crackled finish.
The Difference Between Baroque and Rococo Style
The lighter, more graceful Rococo style originated in France and came at the end of the Baroque period. In fact, it is generally considered a subset of the Baroque era, notes SF Gate HomeGuides. In fact, some historians call it late Baroque. Rococo is a style that was used in interior design and the arts by artists and designers, but not by architects. Regardless, it was a shorter stylistic period: The Baroque era spanned the 17th century, however, the Rococo era lasted from the 1730s to the 1760s, which was during the time of Louis XV.
The term Rococo originates with the French word rocaille, which denoted the shell-covered rock work that was used to decorate artificial grottoes, writes Britannica. Rocaille also refers to how the French love of arranging stone gardens in the shape of seashells.
While Baroque was opulent and heavier –more “serious” – Rococo is considered more lighthearted, frivolous, fantastical and whimsical. Decoration was typically used to create a sense of flow, particularly using abstract and asymmetrical detail. Often, it also included Asian influences like chinoiseries. Trade with the Far East influenced decorative motifs, and these patterns and lacquerwork became increasingly fashionable.
The style originated as a “revolt against the dull and solemn Baroque designs of the royal courts of France in Versailles.” The general mood of the Rococo age was all about comfort, warmth, privacy and informality in contrast to the heavy Baroque style, that was also meant represent that God and the church were powerful.
According to DenGarden, the interior and its elements felt to be one organism to harmonize and create a unified effect. Custom made pieces were part of the effort to create interior décor that went together. Much planning went into furniture placement, the shapes of the pieces and the decorative features of the elements.
Rococo style also promoted a one story salon to promote intimacy and it was not as focused impressing guests, as was the Baroque era with its two-story rooms. This era also saw the rise of the boudoir, as well as rooms devoted to pleasures like games, music and reading. The chaise lounge was developed during this era.
Instead of starting over entirely, wealthy estate owners kept the baroque architecture of their homes, but renovated in the interiors with the plasterwork, murals, mirrors, furniture, and porcelain in a lighter, more feminine style.
When you look at Baroque and Rococo furniture, they seem quite similar. Both are heavily decorated, have curvaceous legs – sometimes animal legs — and feature intricate embellishments of scrolls, leaves and shells. But look closer and the differences start to emerge: Rococo furniture is more delicate and feminine and uses lighter shades of ivory, gold and pastel colors. Chairs legs that are thinner, seats that have an organic form, and wider arms. Moreover, symmetry is not critical. Upholstery in the Rococo style is similar to that of Baroque, but it includes brocatelle and flowered or painted silks.
Rococo interiors often highlight large candelabras, magnificent chandeliers and wall sconces, used to create a cozy space. Mirrors also feature prominently to intensify the feeling of open space. Their opulently gilded frames often hung on walls with floral carvings.
While both styles give prominence to the arts, Rococo art uses pastel colors, serpentine curves and features lighter topics such as romantic love and portraiture. Baroque art is darker, more dramatic and theatrical.
Rococo style started to decline in popularity by the 1750s. Critics in France attacked its triviality and excessive ornamentation, leading to the more austere Neoclassic movement in the 1760s.
Yes, each style has its own characteristics, but because Rococo grew out of the Baroque era, they have quite a few similarities. These commonalities make it easy to mix and match the pieces. Those who love the ornate nature of these styles may be happy to go full-on Baroque in a space. However, it’s quite acceptable to incorporate just a few pieces of Baroque and Rococo furniture into today’s modern interiors, so people who generally prefer cleaner lines can still inject some gilded whimsy into an interior.