Review of the conference ‘Rococo across borders: designers & makers’

This was a symposium held jointly by the Furniture History Society and the French Porcelain Society on 24th and 25th  March 2023 in the V & A. It comprised sixteen papers, some of which are not mentioned here only because they had less application to frames, or to carved giltwood, than the others. Although frames as a discrete genre were hardly referred to (strangely), save in the case of altarpieces, the discussion of ornament, peripatetic craftsmen, the teaching of drawing in the 18th century and the diffusion of the Rococo around the world are all relevant to framemaking. It was altogether a fascinating and absorbing event, in its unravelling of the back-and-forth connections between countries separated perhaps only by a land border and perhaps by half the circumference of the globe.

The first speaker was John Whitehead, with a paper entitled  ‘Form v. function: the Rococo contradiction & its application to French C18 decorative arts’.


He set the scene, as it were, in a survey of the evolution of the Rococo in France and the ways in which it was employed for various furnishings, decoration and luxe objects.

Pierre Patte after Charles-François Ribart, cross-section elephant monument from Architecture singulière, l’éléphant triomphal, grand kiosque à la gloire du Roi, P. Patte, 1758, hand-coloured etching. Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, AA2597 R35

This had the great advantage of introducing Ribart’s proposed elephant monument to Louis XV, designed for the Place de l’Étoile and complete with ballroom, indoor garden and fountain gushing from its trunk. The various chambers of the elephant would have been decorated with boiseries, framed panels (probably holding painted fêtes galantes), ornamental columns and festoons, and would have offered, as well as dancing and banquets, the possibility of climbing the internal spiral of the central tower to the plinth occupied by Louis XV’s statue, and looking out over the whole of Paris. This was a sad loss to the world – although the means of keeping all those trees alive with so little light might have proved a problem.

Claude Audran III (1658-1734), arabesque panel in the salon, Château de Reveillon

Claude Audran III (1658-1734), 1 of 2 shaped allegorical arabesque panels (+ a 3rd rectangular), o/c, gold ground, 132 x 80 cm., Leclere Paris, 27 May 2019, Lot 49

The path from earlier Baroque styles to the full-blown Rococo elephant was followed from the arabesques of, for example, Claude Audran. His designs were at first presented in a Baroque ‘frame’, robust and architectural with a strong contrast of light and shade; the arabesques then move out from the frame, which is discarded, and are supplemented by rocailles.

During the flowering of the Rococo, from the 1730s to the 1760s, craftsmen like Audran, rather than architects, become the designers of decorative work; for example, the silversmith Thomas Germain, whose work contained elements of the flamboyant high Rococo style from an early period.

Thomas Germain (1673-1748), silver wine cooler of 1731-32, State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg

His wine coolers, for instance, meld classicism with what appears to be an extreme example of rocaille ornament, in which the inner soberly ‘basket’-shaped container seems to be engulfed, and about to be consumed, by the billowing outer shell.

Christiaen van Vianen (fl. 1600-67), The Dolphin Basin, 1635, silver, V&A

However, it might have been pointed out that this is strongly reminiscent of work by the Van Vianens and Johannes Lutma in the first half of the 17th century; their Auricular silverware included melting, rippling and morphing forms which are only a plash away from the watery areas of the Rococo, and connect it with 16th century Italian Mannerist grottoes. Auricular ornament, by artists such as Goltzius and Lutma, was diffused by engraved prints and pattern books, helping to spread it very widely through a variety of applications, and perhaps giving inspiration to later periods.

Cornelis Jonson van Ceulen I, Portrait of Jasper Schade, Utrecht, 1654, o/c, 113.5 x 91 cm., unknown framemaker, Auricular giltwood frame, 1654; Rijksmuseum Twenthe, Enschede

Auricular frames too, of course, shared in this liquid quality (somehow a more astounding achievement in hard carved wood, which is never anything but solid, than in metal, which can be liquified and moulded), but for much of their most fashionable period Rococo frames tended more towards shells and pierced shelly bands than to water.

Antoine-Robert Gaudreaus (1680-1746) & Jacques Caffieri (1678-1755), commode, 1739, after design (BNF, 1738-39) by Sebastien-Antoine Slodtz for Versailles; Wallace Collection

In contrast, furniture was guided by its practical function into a structurally more subtle version of the style; it was in the ormolu mounts and fittings that the imagination of the makers ran asymmetrically wild. This chest of drawers for Louis XV’s bedroom at Versailles had first been drawn in colour by Slodtz, sculptor to the King, but was altered slightly by Gaudreaus, master cabinetmaker and supplier to the Garde-Meuble de la Couronne, who actually made the piece. His interpretation – thickening and shortening the legs – enabled the commode to function properly; this was often the task of the craftsman, in the face of impractically fragile designs.

François Roumier (1701-48), corner of a frame, engraved ornament, V & A

François Roumier (1701-48), Livre de plusieurs Desseins de pieds de Tables en Console, Paris, 1750, pl. 8, BNF Gallica

François Roumier, a master carver for the Bâtiments du Roi, moved from producing Régence ornament in the early 1720s to asymmetric consoles in the 1730s. His book of designs for consoles was only published after his death, but his work exerted considerable influence.

François Roumier (by or after; 1701-48), console table, one of a pair, 1735-40, carved giltwood, 80.3 x 138.4 cm., Metropolitan Museum, New York

The designs were, however, like Slodtz’s drawing for Louis XV’s commode, softened into practicality when realized in wood, Roumier’s designs being more the direct output of his imagination than recipes for pieces of furniture which had to be realizable in oak wood, to stand up, and to bear weight.

Charles Cressent (1685-1768), pendule en cartel, clock by Jean Godde l’ainé (c.1668-1748/49), c1740-45, gilt bronze, oal, tortoiseshell on brass marquetry on oak, Metropolitan Museum NY

The most flamboyant and asymmetrical Rococo objects were clocks – for instance, those by Cressent – which, like picture frames, were removed a step from pure function. This kind of clock was wall-hung, adding a decorative flourish to the panel which might have framed it, and echoing ormolu candle sconces as well as the frames of paintings and looking-glasses: helping to furnish the walls of the Rococo room with a display of choreographed gilded ornament.

Nicolas-Quinibert Foliot (1706-76), pair of armchairs for Louis XV, 1762, polished beechwood, Getty Museum

The fashion had begun to cool by the late 1750s, by which point Nicolas-Quinibert Foliot was producing Transitional style furniture (skeletons of the Rococo, as it were, without the decorative and asymmetric accretions), and frames were also beginning to adopt more classical architectural ornaments, symmetry and a rectilinear sight edge, on their route towards NeoClassicism.


The next paper was given by Marie-Laure Buku Pongo: ‘Rocaille and politics: the diplomatic gifts of Louis XV’.


This topic was introduced in her abstract by a quotation from the Registre des Présents du Roi of 1753:

‘A Madame la Comtesse Sedlinski: une tabatière d’or avec le portrait du Roi et entourage de diamans: 5100 livres’ [To the Comtesse Sedlinski: a gold snuffbox with a portrait of the King, bordered with diamonds: roughly between £222 and £380 sterling, at 18th century values]. Note in the margin: ‘Cette Dame avait alors la confiance du Cardinal de Bavière, Evêque de Liège [This lady had the trust (the ear?) of the Cardinal of Bavaria, Bishop of Liège]’

Between 1715 and 1744 Louis XV sent out around seven hundred presents, to recipients in Europe, but also in the Ottoman empire, Africa, China, and North America. A large number of them were snuffboxes, but there were also gifts of medals and weapons; porcelain, jewellery, tapestries and carpets; clocks; furniture and wine; 2% were paintings. Gifts such as these from a monarch might be used to ratify or set the seal on a peace treaty, an agreement of alliance or marriage, or more indirectly to achieve greater power through obligation and flattery. The giving of presents was part of the ceremony of diplomacy and a way to smooth the paths of trade; it also had the benefit of diffusing a fashionable national style far beyond the borders of the home country.

Assiettes à petites palmes from the service presented by Louis XV to King Frederick V of Denmark in March 1758, Vincennes Porcelain Manufactory, 1756, from a set of 72 plates and 164 hollow ware pieces, the cost was 34.542 livres; State Hermitage Museum

Altogether there were about a thousand recipients who were presented with diplomatic gifts. Groups of presents were sent to, for example, St Petersburg; others went to embassies, such as those concerned in the War of the Spanish Succession – and all these gifts helped to spread the Rococo style outside France: sometimes a long way outside.

Jean-Claude Duplessis (c.1695-1774), one of a pair of gilt-bronze braziers, 1742, Topkapi Palace Museum

For example, in 1742 Jean-Claude Duplessis produced a staggeringly dynamic pair of gilt-bronze braziers, in Rococo style but made after a traditional Turkish pattern; they  cost 24,982 livres, or well over £1,000 sterling. These were presented by Louis XV to Mehmed Said Pasha, Ottoman ambassador to France, who passed them on to Mahmud I, Sultan of the Ottoman empire;  sadly only one of them survives.

Ange-Jacques Gabriel (1698-1782), design for pair of gilt-bronze looking-glass frames made by Jacques Caffieri, 1742, collotype on paper after lost drawing, ill. in Alfred de Champeaux, ed., Portefeuille des arts décoratifs, 1888-98 [1]

At the same time Jacques Caffieri made two large and extremely important gilt-bronze looking-glass frames (which might have been mentioned in this paper) after a design by the architect Ange-Jacques Gabriel; these were diplomatic gifts from the king directly to the Sultan himself. Both have now vanished, as has the original drawing – although the print (above) gives a good idea of their decorative appearance, and the way in which the French design accommodated the Turkish emblem of the crescent moon. Mahmud I (r.1730-54) was a connoisseur of French Baroque and Rococo objets d’art, and decorated his palace in western style to display his collection in appropriate interiors.

Jean-François de Troy (1679-1752), Le déjeuner d’huîtres, 1734, Musée Condé, Château de Chantilly

De Troy’s painting of The oyster dinner contains the first appearance in a picture of a bottle of champagne, many of which were also sent out as presents.  One of the recipients of these was the  Empress Marie-Thérèse of Austria, the mother of Louis XV’s daughter-in-law, Marie-Antoinette.


The next speaker was Stéphane Castellucio: ‘From Cathay to Paris: trade with Asia, its actors and its influence on the arts in Paris in the C18’.


Trade with Asia in the 17th century was effected through the East India Company; it led to a diffusion of oriental objects and created a craze for them. In 1600, there were 112 marchands-merciers in Paris; by 1690, there were over 4,000, mainly concentrated around the rue Saint-Honoré; and in 1772, there were 172 dealers in ceramics alone. They were supplied for the most part by the Dutch East India Company, via Rotterdam and Rouen.

Watteau (1684-1721), L’enseigne de Gersaint, 1720, o/c, 163 x 308 cm., Schloss Charlottenburg, Berlin; and a reconstruction of the Enseigne’s position on the shopfront depicted in the painting. © Chromelight Studio, Roubaix; CREHS, Université d’Artois; LARHRA, Université Lyon 2, CNRS; LISIC, ULCO

One of the best-known marchands-merciers is of course Edme-François Gersaint, the picture dealer used by Watteau, whose painting, L’enseigne de Gersaint, was both an image of Gersaint’s shop in action, and (temporarily) the shop sign itself.

The advertisement by ‘Sieur Gersaint’ in the Mercure de France, October 1739, pp. 2440-41, notes that – as well as paintings – he sells,

‘Pagodas and other antique porcelain items from Japan, of rare beauty; Indian pictures, full of movement or otherwise, idiosyncratic and of admirable design. / Two screens of Indian fabric, with figures, landscapes, terraces and animals done in relief; a thing unique of its kind, and suitable for decorating a room in the most ornamental and unusual way’.

These imported items, besides being collectable in themselves, provided a large and continually renewed pattern-book of exotic ornament for French craftsmen, and inspired their purchasers to create interiors in complementary taste to receive them.

Pair of commodes en vernis Martin, by Mathieu Criaerd (1689-1776), painted by Alexis Peyrotte, stamped by Charles Chevalier (1703-71), 1742, Frank Partridge

Mathieu Criaerd (workshop; 1689-1776), commode en vernis Martin, 1742 for Mme de Mailly-Nesle’s Salon Bleue, Château de Choisy, wood & silvered bronze, Musée du Louvre

In the 17th century copies of blue and white porcelain had been made for the French market, but by the 18th century collectors only wanted authentic Asian blue porcelain. Louis XV commissioned a room for his mistress, Marie Anne de Mailly-Nesle, which was decorated in blue as a background for this porcelain, and with the Rococo furniture painted blue and white. After the mid-18th century, other colours were preferred, notably green and rose. Fabrics and wallpapers in brilliant colours were imported, contributing to the characteristic decoration of 18th century interiors.

Early Louis XV japanned chinoiserie bureau en pente, c.1720-30, parcel-gilt & blue, Christie’s, 8 July 2021, Lot 2

An earlier example of blue chinoiserie furniture is this bureau en pente, one of a group of five surviving from different makers, japanned in blue with parcel gilding, and decoration reproducing authentic lacquerware scenes from known oriental pieces. Another, later set was supplied to Mme de Pompadour, c.1750-51, now Musée des Arts Décoratifs.

English wallpaper, late 17th century, woodblock print, c.40 x 50 cm., V & A

Chinese wallpaper, 1725-75, ink & watercolour on paper, one of ten panels from Eltham Lodge, 279 x 164 cm., V & A

British imitation ‘Print Room’ wallpaper from Doddington Hall, Lincs, c.1760, colour woodblock print on paper, 81.6 x 54.3 cm., V & A

Early European wallpapers were only made in pieces of c. 50 x 40 cm., inhibiting adventurous designs, but the importation of pieces from China, created for western markets in the 18th century, inspired the production of much larger pieces in emulation. They also promoted the use of internal perspective, and the designing of grand scenes in several parts. The custom of creating print rooms, often by the lady of the house gluing her collection of single prints in a faux hang on the walls of an ante-room or small parlour, was partly overtaken (or at least vied with) by these much larger pieces of wallpaper, which could hold whole sections of a ‘print room’ with ready-framed images.

Real giltwood frames were not touched on here, although the chinoiserie frames of looking-glasses expressed both the avid enthusiasm for everything in the Chinese taste, as well as the most extravagantly decorative style of the high Rococo phase; for example:

Matthias Lock (c.1710-65), design for a chimneypiece with chinoiserie looking-glass, 1740, print, pl. 15 from A collection of ornamental designs, ed. of c. 1835, RIBA

Thomas Johnson (after; 1723-99), chinoiserie looking-glass, 1750-60, from Halnaby Hall, Yorkshire, V & A

British Rococo designers (here, again, craftsmen themselves), such as Matthias Lock and Thomas Johnson, constructed fragile palaces of pierced and slender giltwood, where little plants and saplings grew upwards and watery cascades fell down, and furnished them with Chinese pavilions, pagodas, ho-ho birds, Chinese figures and exotic-looking heads. These would be the perfect accompaniment to chinoiserie furniture, lacquered objects, painted panels and boiseries, allowing a whole room to be decorated in the same style:

…for example, one similar to the fantasy which is the Chinese Room at Claydon House.

Henry Clay (?), japanned tea caddy, c. 1770s, private collection via Christie’s; Henry Clay, japanned tea caddy, c.1780-90, Freshfords Antiques

As the 18th century interest in collecting lacquered items grew, Stéphane Castellucio  noted that cheaper forms such as japanned tinware were produced to supply the demand; this particular substitute was used for furniture, or parts of furniture, urns, and smaller objects such as watchcases. True Asian lacquerware was not produced in Europe, due to the lack of ingredients; in the same way, eastern architecture was never copied – save for the odd ornamental pagoda.

Vase chinois, two views of one of a pair, Sèvres Manufactory, decorated by Louis-François L’Écot (fl. 1763-1802), 1791, porcelain decorated in black enamel, platinum, gold, gilt metal, 38.4 x 14 cm., Metropolitan Museum, New York


The fourth paper was given by Sarah Coffin: ‘The Rococo diaspora: wandering craftsmen, objects, patronage and diplomacy’.


Cellini (1500-71), salt, 1540-43, gold, enamel, ivory, ebony, 28.5 x 21.5 x 26.3 cm., Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

As noted previously, the Rococo is not limited to one short period; it has roots both in the Auricular and in Italian Mannerism. It encompasses objects which are, as Sarah Coffin put it, ‘ornamental, sinuous and sensuous’, and – like Cellini’s salt-cellar – it involves a playfulness which is absent from classicism.

Filippo Juvarra (1678-1736), a shell and the model for a cornice, 1735, pen & ink & watercolour, Palazzo Madama, Turin

There were also practitioners of a proto-Rococo style working outside France: men such as the architect and goldsmith Filippo Juvarra, who was employed by the House of Savoy, and produced drawings which are pure rocailles before Meissonnier did, as in this drawing of a shell, and in his designs of the 1710s.

Juste-Aurèle Meissonnier (after; 1695-1750), silver centrepiece & tureens for Duke of Kingston, c.1735-37, Gabriel Huquier (1695-1772), etching, Cleveland Museum of Art

Juste-Aurèle Meissonnier (1695–1750), Pierre-François Bonnestrenne, Henry Adnet (1745), covered tureen on stand (pot-à-oille), 1735–38,  silver, c.  36.9 x 38.4 x 31.8 cm., Cleveland Museum of Art

Craftsmen travelled widely, just as the diplomatic and other gifts did, ensuring the diffusion of pattern and design. The two silver tureens designed by Meissonnier and recorded in Huquier’s etching went to Russia; although today they are separated, one in the Cleveland Museum of Art and the other in a private collection.

Jean-François de Troy (1679-1752), Le déjeuner d’huîtres, 1734, Musée Condé, Château de Chantilly

Filippo Juvarra (1678-1736), Chinese Cabinet, Palazzo Reale, Turin. Photo: Ambra75

Juste-Aurèle Meissonnier (1695–1750), Cabinet de Mr le Comte Bielenski, Grand Maréchal de la Couronne de Pologne, 1734, lithograph, c.1833, British Museum 1949,1011.87

The Rococo was a style which was not functional, but simply luxurious, as expressed in De Troy’s painting (top); in the Palazzo Reale in Turin by Juvarra, and in Meissonnier’s interiors.

Charles Kandler (fl.1727-50), silver tea-kettle, lamp-stand and salver, c.1730-32, 33.6 x 22.9 cm., V & A

Charles Kandler (1727-50), one of four silver salad dishes, 1751-52, Ickworth NT

Paolo Antonio Paroletto, one of two tea tables, c.1756, silver, 84.1 x 58.1 cm., made in Turin, Ickworth NT

Charles Frederick Kandler came to London from Saxony in Germany, continuing the diffusion of styles, although his presence in Germany is at present untraceable [2]. The first evidence of Kandler in London occurs through works with his marks in 1727. He produced items for Lord Hervey, 2nd Earl of Bristol, who besides these also commissioned silverware when he was ambassador in Turin. Kandler’s style ranges from the relatively subdued but inventive Rococo of his Ickworth salad dishes, to the extravagant marine decoration of the kettle and stand in the V & A.

18th century girandoles, Palazzo Madama, Turin

Italian Rococo console table, mid-18th century, Ickworth NT

Lord Hervey also acquired Rococo furniture when he was in Turin, adding further ripples of international variety to British versions of the style.

Antoine Pesne (1683-1757), Frederick II when Crown Prince, c.1736, o/c, 71 x 56.5 cm., Stadtmuseum, Berlin

Snuffbox made for Frederick the Great, Berlin, c.1765, mother-o’-pearl mounted à cage in gold set with hardstones and diamonds, 5.2 x 10 x 8.1 cm., V & A

Frederick the Great was a particularly lavish patron of Rococo arts; a large group of snuffboxes was produced to his commission – made in Germany, but drawing on French and Italian motifs. He also employed a number of well-known carvers for the boiseries and frames in his palace of Sanssouci, made in a style which was so identified with his own taste that it became known as Friderizianisches Rokoko [3]. These included Johann August Nahl, Johann Melchior Kambly, Johann Christian and Johann Michael Hoppenhaupt.

Antoine Pesne (school of; 1683-1757), Friederike Sophie Wilhelmine, Princess of Brandenburg and Margravine of Bayreuth, location unknown

Frederick’s sister, Friederike of Brandenburg, was likewise an important patron in her married home, making Bayreuth a centre of Rococo architecture.

Jean Lamour (1698-1771), gilded ironwork gate, 1752-56, Place Stanilaus, Nancy

Another notable patron of the arts and philosophy was Stanisław Leszczyński, variously king of Poland, Duc de Lorraine and Grand Duke of Lithuania. He was the father-in-law of Louis XV, and helped in his turn to spread the style still further afield, especially through his court at Nancy – another centre of Rococo architecture. Jean Lamour’s ironwork was of impressive importance here.

Juste-Aurèle Meissonier (after; 1695-1750), Six designs for snuffboxes, Plate 50 in L’Oeuvre de Juste-Aurèle Meissonier, Gabriel Huquier (1695-1772), etching, 1742-48, British Museum

Meissonier was another designer who produced drawings for snuffboxes amongst his varied output (as Rococo in their form as Frederick the Great’s were in their ornament); items made after his designs were produced in London, where the presence and influence of Hubert-François  Gravelot was a catalyst.

Hubert-François Gravelot (1699-1773), An ornamental border for the general chart in John Pine’s ‘Tapestry hangings in the House of Lords’, c.1739, ink on paper, 37.5 x 60.9 cm., Cooper Hewitt Museum

Gravelot was responsible, with Hogarth, for forming the St Martin’s Lane Academy, where  he taught drawing; he produced very influential engraved ornamental designs featuring rocailles, as well as book illustrations.

French silk chasuble panel, c.1730-40, with gold & silver thread, 98 x 63 cm., Chiswick Auctions, 12 December 2019, Lot 64

18th century Italian fragment of embroidered silk damask, 10 x 13 ½ ins, V & A

As well as engraved designs, French and Italian (particularly Venetian) silks were a major route for the diffusion of Rococo patterns, although London was the global centre for silk-weaving for most of the 18th century [4]. This branch of the decorative arts was especially important for both imports and exports – the raw materials moving across the world to centres of weaving, and the finished products moving outwards, in different directions.


The next speaker was Jenny Saunt; her subject was ‘ “A peculiarity in the lines”: Drawing and carving Rococo in mid-18th century England‘.


The 18th century saw a new mode of drawing instruction, as well as the use of prints. The St Martin’s Lane Drawing School was of major importance in bringing together and inspiring a group of craftsmen, artists and designers, and changing the way in which drawing was taught.

                 John Bates, The Mysteries of Nature & Art, 1634; 1654, 3rd ed., The Wellcome Collection, London

Previously, drawing had been seen more as a method of reproduction than of spontaneous creation. For example, the third part of John Bates’s Mysteries of Nature and Art, published in 1634, was a ‘Tretise’ on ‘Drawing, Colouring, Limming, Paynting, Engraving and Etching’, where his drawing instruction was based on outline only, and on transfer by squaring up (designs for furniture were also produced at that time on a grid form).

By the 1740s, when Matthias Lock published The principles of ornament, drawing instruction used a new method, teaching a knowledge of form from the inside and creating an understanding of the object. Referring to Johnson’s Dictionary gives the meanings understood at the time by the terms used: ‘principle’ = ‘Element, constituent part; primordial substance… Original cause… Fundamental truth…’.

‘…all spring with natural freedom from the first, or principal sweep…’

Matthias Lock (c.1710-65), The principles of ornament, or the youth’s guide to the drawing of foliage, pub. Robert Sayer, c. 1765, Metropolitan Museum, New York

Lock teaches how foliage grows, rather than relying on reproducing a stiff an artificial outline: ‘…bring[ing] the whole into its proper form…’

Ince & Mayhew, The universal system of houshold [sic] furniture…, 1762, V & A

Similarly, in Ince & Mayhew’s Universal system… of 1762, which includes drawing instruction, the illustrations accord with Lock’s method of drawing; the idea is for the hand to be free – to start with a centre line, e.g. the main vein of a leaf, but then to rely on the freedom of the hand.

George Bickham (1684-1758), The universal penman, 1733-41, p. 182

George Bickham’s Universal penman was another example of an instruction manual which reveals the importance of the freedom of the hand, following from knowledge of form and line.

William Hogarth, Analysis of Beauty, 1753, Plate I

All these examples informed Hogarth’s Analysis of Beauty, in which he introduces the ‘serpentine line’ or ‘line of beauty’ as an S-shaped line of varying thickness, providing animation, variety and liveliness, in opposition to the static nature of straight lines and angles:
the serpentine line,

‘…by its waving and winding at the same time different ways, leads the eye in a pleasing manner along with the continuity of its variety.’

Like the other manuals, this was meant for practical application, explaining the nature of lines, and how it was necessary to view the whole form from within. Instruction in drawing had by now become teaching in three dimensions, very differently from how it was conveyed in the 17th century, and the student was taught how to draw with light and shade.

Giltwood console table, detail of front centre, pinewood with polychrome and black marble top, c.1750, 30 x 39 x 20 ins, V & A; on loan to 1 Royal Crescent, Bath


The next paper was Reinier Baarsen’sDesigning or making: on the rôle of craftsmen as designers’.


J.L.Th. Baijer, drawing of two secretaires, c.1760-65, pen & brush on paper, 18.3 x 29.2 cm., RP-T-2017-3-7 Rijksmuseum

A mid-18th century designer called J.L.Th. Baijer has left behind him a series of drawings for marquetry furniture in the style of Louis XV; they are rare, fascinating, and raise a great many questions about the rôle of the designer-craftsman… and yet hardly anything is known about Baijer.

Jean-François Oeben (1721-63), finished by Jean-Henri Reisener (1734-1806), bronze fittings by Jean-Claude Duplessis (1730-83), Bureau du Roi, secrétaire à cylindre,1760s, marquetry, veneer, gilt bronze, porcelain, enamel, glass, Château de Versailles

In contrast, a great deal is known about Oeben and Reisener, who between them constructed the Bureau du roi as part of the refurbishment of Louis XV’s corner cabinet. The design and finishing of this spectacular desk were so complex that it took nine years to complete; Oeben, who had begun it in 1760, died in 1763, leaving to his pupil, J-H Reisener, to complete it.

Reisener, Bureau du Roi, inside of marquetry panel at side of desk, revealed during conservation

The form and structure of the desk was Oeben’s, and the marquetry was designed by Reisener. Before the desk was begun, a wax model of it was made, and a full-scale wooden version produced; the marquetry was carefully laid out in a series of coloured drawings.  Oeben and Reisener must have been great draughtsmen, and this must be the key to their success.

Antoine Vestier (1740-1824), Portrait of Jean-Henri Riesener, 1786, Château de Versailles

In Reisener’s portrait by Vestier in 1786 he has chosen to be depicted as a gentleman, and occupied by drawing or designing rather than as a craftsman working with wood, in this way seeking to elevate his employment. However, very few of his drawings – or really any designs for French furniture – have survived, compared, for example, with the oeuvre of the Roman Valadier.

Luigi Valadier (1726-85), drawing for a chandelier, c.1764, pen-&-ink, Rijksmuseum; and chandelier of silver and gilt bronze, Cathedral of Santiago da Compostela

An example is the chandelier for Santiago da Compostela, which, as can be seen, was executed very precisely after Valadier’s drawing. The collection of his designs include sketches of more mundane objects, all of which are from Valadier’s own hand. See Baarsen’s Process: design drawings from the Rijksmuseum, 1500-1900, 2023, with exhibition opening at ’s Herzogenbosch, and currently at Fondation Custodia (Feb.-May 2023).

In Germany, furniture-makers who wished to join a guild had to present a drawing of their proposed design and have it accepted before even beginning to make the piece itself; there is one of these drawings in the Rijksmuseum collection.

J.L.Th. Baijer, drawing of two secretaires, c.1760-65, pen & brush on paper, 18.3 x 29.2 cm., RP-T-2017-3-7 Rijksmuseum

The collection also includes the drawing with two views of a cabinet by J.L. Baijer, at the head of this paper. He was probably related to the German-born ébéniste François Bayer, who was elected master in 1764; in the Residenz in Ansbach, there is a table attributed to this maker with a marquetry top for which a drawing by our Baijer survives.

François Bayer (fl.1764-75), Marquetry writing table, 1765-70, V & A

The V & A has a table stamped by François Bayer: did he design just the marquetry, or the whole piece of furniture?

The collection at Waddesdon includes the drawing of a dressing-table which is an artisan’s version of Oeben’s work; similarly, the V & A has a desk which is not grand and integrated, but slightly fussy, and must probably be the design of the craftsman who executed it.


Wim Nys was the next speaker, with: ‘Rococo silver in the Netherlands: a virtuoso kaleidoscope?


His paper concerned ‘silversmiths in the Land van Waas, a region between Antwerp, Brussels and Ghent, and 18th century ornament prints’, in a look at a little-studied region, and at the imported pieces and patterns which inspired local craftsmen.

Antoine-Constant de Bettignies, Holy water stoup, Mons, 1765, Coll. City of Antwerp

Franciscus Nijs, Altar ornament, 1765, Church of St. Laurent Lokeren, Temse

Franz Xaver Habermann & Johann Georg Hertel, Pl. 4 of series no 145, Augsburg, c.1747-60, National Galleries, Scotland

His paper included reference to silversmiths such as Jean-Henry Liénard, Petrus Simon Hoffinger and Jean-Baptiste Verberckt in Antwerp, Lambertus Millé in Brussels, Franciscus Nijs in Temse and Antoine-Constant de Bettignies in Mons; designs by ‘the royal sculptor Jacques Verberckt’ and the ‘architect-sculptor Jan Pieter van Baurscheit’; prints by Thomas Germain, Meissonnier, Habermann, and the engravers Heylbrouck and Fruijtiers; also the ‘À la Mode de Paris’ shop in Antwerp.

Abraham Delfos, Vignet, 1758, Leiden; Ludovicus Fruijtiers, book plate: ‘Ex-libris Ludovicus Bosch’, 1750-64, Antwerp

The holy water stoup by Antoine-Constant de Bettignies bears a close relationship to the corner and centre flourishes of Rococo frames, emphasizing the versatility of drawn and printed designs in different areas of creation, and the exchange of ideas and motifs between craftsmen operating in those different areas. Jacques Verberckt, as well as being a source of patterns for silverware, produced designs for frames and executed them; besides much of the panelling at Versailles,  for instance, he was responsible for specific pieces such as the frame of Veronese’s Eliézer et Rebecca.[5]

Veronese (1528-88), Eliézer et Rebecca, 366 x 240 cm., frame by Jacques Verberckt, and detail; Salon d’Hercule, Château de Versailles


Michael Yonan next gave an intriguing paper on: ‘The prints of Carl Pier (b.1717): Visions and potentialities in Southern German Rococo designs’.


Carl Pier (b. 1717), plate from Ausbauten aus Muschelwerk mit Kindern, c.1745, Metropolitan Museum, New York

Carl Pier (b. 1717; also called Puër, Bier, Bihr and Bühr) is

‘…a little-known designer in southern Germany,  whose work survives in only two commissions, both in the German town of Ellwangen. His reputation rests on his prints, made in the 1740s, which are some of the most experimental and unusual produced in eighteenth- century Bavaria’.

They provoke the question as to why an artist in this provincial region of southern Germany should create such exaggerated and surreal designs, and how his prints might have been used by the craftsmen who saw them.

His prints are known to us from a set made in Augsburg in the 1740s. He was attacked by critics, including Johann Friedrich Reiffenstein (1719-93), a guide on the Grand Tour and advisor on classical art; the latter published an essay on the Rococo (which he saw as in opposition to the antique) in 1746. He singled out Pier’s work, criticizing his poor understanding of space and framing, ascribed to French influence; his skewed perspectives, which contradict human perception; and his superfluous decorations. He objected to Pier apparently failing to use the Albertian formula of the image as a window onto an illusionistic world.

Carl Pier, lion-head corbels, Ellwangen Rathaus, Baden-Württemberg

The only completed objects ascribed to Pier are the corbels of the balcony of the Ellwangen Rathaus; but he designed pulpits, candelabra, ceilings and cartouches. These prints were not necessarily designed to be used as models for actual objects, but as a stimulus to the imagination – suggesting motifs which could be recombined, as in music: they are templates for the generation of Rococo ideas.

His prints are not made in emulation of French Rococo: he has been compared with Jacques de Lajoüe II, but the work of the latter is much more two dimensional. German artists were interested in the spatial qualities of rocaille-work, and its development from grotteschi.

Interior of the Pilgrim Church (Wieskirche), 1745-54, Steingaden

The Rococo style gave German craftsmen opportunities which were otherwise not open to them. In Southern Germany the cities were linked with large abbeys, which commissioned various forms of work. Pier introduced an artistic imagination from outside, as against the rigid social structures within. The imagination became a theme in German writing, and in art theories: the freedom to invent.

Carl Pier (b. 1717), pl. 4 from an untitled series of design for pulpits, printed c.1750-56, Metropolitan Museum, New York


Henriette Graf followed, with: ‘Custom-made for the King: Frederician furniture in Berlin and Potsdam’.


Johann Melchior Kambly (1718-84), desk made for Frederick II, c.1768, tortoiseshell and silvered bronze,  Neues Palais, Potsdam

The Rococo style was the personal taste of the King, who signed all the documents concerned in the creation of his various projects. It therefore remained the principal style in Germany until the King’s death in 1786, so that NeoClassicism never took root there in the 1760s, as in France. He sponsored the building of many palaces, the enlarging of others, and the furnishing of them all, in a style usually referred to as ‘Frederician Rococo’. He used some of his parents’ cabinetmakers, such as Martin Böhme (fl. 1723-57), who was inspired by the English Thomas Johnson, and Johann Schilansky (fl. 1745-before 1763).

Boiseries and frames by Johann August Nahl in an interior scene by Eduard Gaertner (1801-77), Concert Room, the palace of Sanssouci, Potsdam, 1852, watercolour, 6 15/16 x 10 3/3 ins (17.7 x 26.4 cm.), Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, Smithsonian Institution

Johann August Nahl (1710-81), design for a chimneypiece with overmantel frame, 1745, pen, ink & wash, Cooper-Hewitt Collection, Smithsonian Design Museum

Johann Nahl was one of the master carvers and designers working at Potsdam, creating decorations, furnishings and panelling (these indications of his looking-glass and picture frames have been added). He had international experience, having worked in Strasbourg, Paris and Rome before returning to Berlin; however, he was not paid for his work for the King, and eventually fled to Switzerland.

Johann August Nahl (attrib.; 1710-81), silvered oak Rococo chair, c.1744-46, probably for Stadtschloss, Potsdam, Sotheby’s, 6 July 2016, Lot 22

Pierre-Edmé Babel (after; 1720-75), design for Rococo chair, 1752, V & A

Nahl designed furniture in Rococo style; chairs like the silvered oak example (above) sold by Sotheby’s – pierced, and with idiosyncratically curved scrolling arms which were influenced by Brunetti’s designs of 1736, and by those of Babel. He worked with the cabinetmaker Johann Heinrich Hülsmann (c.1688-1760), who came to Potsdam in 1734: they made two commodes for Frederick the Great in 1746, which were influenced by Nahl’s boiseries for the concert chamber in the palace of Sanssouci (above).

Johann Michael Hoppenhaupt (1709-69), looking-glass, c.1755-60, pine and limewood, parcel-gilt and polychrome, 145 x 90 cm., Metropolitan Museum, New York

Johann Christian Hoppenhaupt worked together with his brother Johann Michael as a decorative sculptor for Frederick II of Prussia and succeeded Nahl as Directeur des ornements at Frederick’s court in 1746. He is considered the main master craftsman of the later Frederician Rococo, and designed writing cabinets or chests with Rococo mounts which were executed by Johann Schilansky (one of these is in Tullgarn Slott, Sweden). He also produced notable frames, which deserved to have been mentioned, such as this one, above.

Johann Melchior Kambly (1718-84), desk made for Frederick II, c.1768, tortoiseshell and silvered bronze,  Neues Palais, Potsdam

Melchior Kambly, who made the writing desk for the King’s study at Potsdam, founded a French bronze-casting factory there in 1752 (run by French bronziers), and introduced the technique of using tortoiseshell veneer. The desk, shown above, uses shell with silvered mounts and was made c. 1768, but two more versions were also produced, in different woods and using gilt mounts.

Heinrich Wilhelm Spindler (1738-88), ‘Three Graces’ oak commode, 1769, veneered in tortoiseshell, ivory and horn, with silvered bronze mounts, Upper Music Room, Neues Palais, Potsdam

The Spindler brothers from Bayreuth together became court ébénistes to Frederick II; they introduced the technique of marquetry to Potsdam, executing a number of inlaid commodes and desks, as well as the Marquetry Chamber (Schloss Fantaisie). Heinrich, the younger brother, also made the so-called ‘Three Graces’ commode, above, in tortoiseshell with silvered mounts (1769; the Graces are probably later additions).

Johann Friedrich (1726-93) & Heinrich Wilhelm (1738-88) Spindler, Rococo commode, c.1760-70, veneered with jacaranda, amaranth, beech, boxwood and maple, silvered and gilt bronze mounts, 80.3 x 120 x 61.5 cm., Kunsthandel Peter Mühlbauer


The next paper was Conor Lucey’sThe Englishness of Irish Rococo: the Dublin School of stucco workers’.


Lafranchini stucco panel of Athena, 9 St Stephens Green, Dublin

The ‘Dublin School’ of stuccoists flourished in the 1760s-early 1770s; they are mostly not known by name, and it is generally thought that the Rococo elements and motifs which characterize their work were acquired from migrant Italian and Flemish stuccatori, such as Paolo and Filippo Lafranchini in the 1730s and Barthelemij Cramillion in the 1750s.

However, academic publications concerning silverware, furniture and other decorative art objects in Ireland have established that London, and London fashions, were the main source of style for Dublin. Printed designs and pattern-books from England by, for example, John Crunden and N. Wallis, were very important for the flowering of stuccowork on Dublin walls and ceilings.

‘Given that interiors in Ireland share with Britain what Peter Thornton has described as ‘a Rococo veneer’ over an essentially Palladian architectural framework – as opposed to the more fully integrated interiors of their European counterparts – this is an argument for the designs and productions of the Dublin School as being properly a constituent of a British Rococo taste.’

Robert West, the stair hall, 1758, at 20 Dominick Street Lower, Dublin

 James Byrne, 12 Merrion Square, Dublin

The drawing schools which taught ornament, &c., were seen as of French derivation: Robert West (a different Robert West from the Dominick Street stuccoist) was in charge of the main Dublin school, and had been trained in France, but in the second half of the 18th century British influence was important – through, for instance, silverware. Surprisingly, Bristol had more Rococo plasterwork than Bath. The stuccowork in Dublin was associated, not with grand houses, but with speculative building, as was the case in Bristol, where Joseph Thomas executed stuccowork at no 15 Orchard Street, Bristol, in the 1740s. His work is very similar to stucco in Dublin, and pre-dates the Irish examples.

Poussin (after; 1594-1665), Truth rescuing Time, c.1640, and the dining-room ceiling of c.1740 at Riverstown, Cork

Prints were an important source for figurative scenes in stucco; for example, Poussin’s paintings, as in the c.1740 ceiling at Riverstown, Cork.

56 St Stephen’s Green, Dublin

In the stuccowork at 56 St Stephen’s Green, prints by Audran and Boucher were reproduced, as well as arabesque decoration with no figural focus, whilst Rococo festoons appear alongside classical cornices.

Robert West, stucco ceiling roundels of the Annunciation and Resurrection (the coloured grounds were added later), St James’s Church, 1752-53, Whitehaven, Cumbria

Robert West of Dublin travelled to Britain, where he worked on St James’s Church, Cumbria; the stuccoists were always moving about for work, just as Thomas Johnson worked in both Liverpool and Ireland. In fact, movements like these may have influenced the architect of St James’s, Christopher Myers, to move from England to Ireland after he finished the Whitehaven church in 1753.

John Crunden (c.1745-1835), Convenient and ornamental architecture…, 1797, pp. 56 & 61

The British architect, John Crunden, published a series of forty-eight designs in 1765, in what became the most popular pattern book of its period; it includes interior elevations decorated with stucco wall panels with festoons and drops. It went through a number of editions, including a revision in 1797 and a reprint in 1805. Crunden entered the competition to decorate the Royal Exchange, Dublin – a blend of Palladian and Rococo style.

In conclusion, stuccowork in Ireland was artisanal rather than the result of integrated architectural design – but this was also true of Britain as a whole in the 1750s-60s.  Both countries had a shared culture of design [6].

Stuccowork, Newman House, 86 St Stephens Green, Dublin


Turner Edwards then gave a paper on: ‘Pineau le Russe: a French sculptor in service to the Tsars’.


Nicolas Pineau (1684-1754), Project for a stone pediment, c.1735, Musée des Arts Décoratifs, inv. CD 1471

Although around 30 when he arrived in Russia in 1716, Pineau was already a mature artist whose work, in Louis XIV and Régence style, was known through his drawings and prints, and which had further developed into an early Rococo manner. By the time he came back, in 1728, this had evolved into a similar maturity, helped by the contacts and relationships which Pineau made (and kept) with both Russian and other European craftsmen. He produced a large body of designs: there are about 650 drawings in the Musée des Arts décoratifs, which were left with Pineau’s son and then his grandson, remaining together until the end of the 19th century, when they were published as the work of the instigator of the Rococo style, along with designers such as Lajoüe.

Nicolas Pineau (1684-1754), from Desseins de cheminées, 5 engraved plates, late 17th century, Art mart

Pineau was born in the Gobelins, where his father worked, using a stiff form of classical and Baroque styles. Pineau’s own drawings, as early as 1707-09, were already very much in Rococo style, as indicated; he was at that point working for the Bâtiments du roi.

In 1714-15 he produced designs for a series of frame borders, and in 1716 he signed a contract to go to Russia for five years, to carve chimneypieces, frames and furniture for Peter the Great. Jean-Baptiste Le Blond was one of the group of French artists who went at the same time as Pineau. They were required to present a finished drawing before undertaking each project, and part of the job was to train local craftsmen to carry on in the French tradition and the Rococo style after they returned to France.

Bureau de Pierre le Grand (Oak Cabinet), Peterhof Palace; detail of panel carved by Nicolas Pineau

The Oak Cabinet of Peter the Great in the Peterhof Palace is a surviving example of Pineau’s work; he carved all the decorative panels with trophies. They reveal how he developed his Rococo designs whilst in Russia.

Nicolas Pineau (1684-1754), photogravure of a drawing of a frame made for portrait by Nattier of Mme de Pompadour, ‘collection of Comte Polovtzoff, Minister of State for the Czar’, Les Pineau: Sculpteurs dessinateurs du Cabinet du Roy, 1891, p.210

The posthumous sale of Nicolas Pineau’s son, Dominique’s, furniture and effects took place on 28 March 1786, and the catalogue reveals something of Pineau’s work for the Russian court, as do the Pineaus’ own inventories and notes on their work [7]. The drawing of the frame above (which might surely have been referred to) is reproduced between pp.164 and 165 of Les Pineau…, and on p. 165, beneath the text on the frame, is a note referring to other work by Pineau in Russia:

‘Pineau a dessiné un surtout de table et plusieurs pièces d’orfeverie ornés de l’aigle impérial de la Russie. Un nombre important de ses dessins faits à St Petersburg fait actuellement partie de la collection Emile Biais. On y remarque des panneaux pour la ‘salle des festins’, des lanternes d’escalier, des mausolées, des rampes, des projets de statues: la Justice, l’Amour de la Patrie, la Paix, la Concorde, la Clémence, la Prudence, la Vertue héroïque, la Religion, &c.

Parmis ses croquis, des fontaines, des pièces d’eau avec cascades, des obélisques, des arcs de triomphe, des monuments divers. – Ex. pour Saint-Pétersbourg.’

Pineau designed a table centerpiece and several pieces of jewellery adorned with the imperial eagle of Russia. A significant number of his drawings made in St Petersburg are currently part of the Émile Biais collection. There are panels for a ‘banqueting-hall’, lanterns for staircases, mausoleums, ramps, projects for statues: Justice, Love of Country, Peace, Concorde, Mercy, Prudence, heroic Virtue, Religion, &c.

Amongst his sketches are fountains, ornamental lakes with waterfalls, obelisks, triumphal arches, and various monuments. – executed for St Petersburg.

Nicolas Pineau (1684-1754), Allegorical panel with frame, drawn in St Petersburg [8]

Nicolas Pineau (1684-1754), Study for a decorative panel in the ‘Salle des Eléments’, St Petersburg [9]


The next paper was given by Philippe Halbert: ‘Persistence, resistance, and Canadian Rococo furniture’.


Philippe Halbert began his abstract for this piece with a quotation from the English-language Quebec Mercury of October 1806, in which the editor, Thomas Cary, noted that Lower Canada, now Quebec, was torn between its French roots and English rule.

‘ “This province is already too much a French province for an English colony”, he opined before declaring that “to unfrenchify it, as much as possible … should be a primary object, particularly at these times”.’

Mannerism survived in Canada until the 19th century, and the French Rococo style only took hold in the country after 1763 and the fall of New France to Britain. It became politicized – a way for French Canadians to assert their identity, even though in France itself NeoClassicism was the avant-garde fashion. This applied to craftsmen as much as to their clients; the Musée de la Civilisation in Quebec contains modest furniture by unidentified makers, produced into the 19th century, and still designed and decorated in the style which had been the height of fashion decades earlier in France.

Artisanal armoire, 1780s-1800, walnut with scrolled and rocaille decoration, 161 x 134 cm., Musée de la Civilisation, Quebec

Artisanal commode, second half 18th century, pine and birchwood, ‘claw-&-ball’ style feet, 84 x 107.8 cm., Musée de la Civilisation, Quebec

Commodes were produced with serpentine or ‘crossbow’ fronts made from indigenous woods, such as butternut, maple, and pine; the example above demonstrates how a Rococo silhouette might be used with a distinctive local variation of the Chippendale ball and claw foot. This localized version of vernacular tradition married to elements of a once highly fashionable style produced a ‘Canadian Rococo’, which became current in those American states with a large French population, from Quebec all the way south to Louisiana. In the second half of the 18th century chairs were being stamped with their maker’s name, like the estampilles used in France. Rococo-style furniture, especially tables, was often painted, as was also pine panelling – for example, the boiseries in the Maison Antoine-Vanfelson, 11 rue des Jardins, Quebec.

Louis Quévillon (1749-1823), Altar table, c.1815, polychrome pine and limewood, 113.3 x 314.3 x 122.5 cm., National Gallery of Canada

The growth of the style was aided by the patronage of the Roman Catholic church, which had a strong and powerful presence in Canada. Craftsmen like Louis Quévillon produced altarpieces, credenzas and reliquaries well into the 19th century, all of which used curvaceous forms, rocaille ornaments and floral rinceaux.

Jean-Baptiste-Antoine & François-Noël Levasseur, giltwood tabernacle, 1757-58, and detail, Musée de la Civilisation, Quebec

The Levasseur brothers ran one of the earliest and largest workshops in the area of ‘New France’, and executed six versions of this tabernacle. It has a completely classical structure, and all the many panels of ornament are covered with scrolling flourishes of rocailles, foliage and florets.

Jean-Baptiste (1731-post-76) & Pierre (1737-post-72) Hardy, Eucharistic altar tabernacle, c.1765, limewood, parcel-gilt and painted white, 162 x 186 cm., and detail, Church of Saint-Léon-le-Grand, Mauricie, Quebec province

The altar tabernacle above stands on the left-hand side of the church. The right-hand altar tabernacle was also made by the Hardy brothers, both for an earlier wooden church. The Hardys were joiners and carvers from Quebec, who settled in Yamachiche after 1759, and together and separately executed church interiors and liturgical fittings (Jean-Baptiste also produced decorative work for the Hôtel-Dieu hospital of Montreal).

Georges (1747-1839) & Louis-Daniel (1791-1849) Finisterer, boiseries, Church of Sainte-Marguerite-de-Blairfindie, L’Arcadie, Quebec

The Bavarian Finisterers, father and son, produced carved parcel-gilt and painted panelling in the church of St Marguerite, L’Arcadie, as well as the wooden vault and the liturgical furniture. They worked on the church from 1800-20, but everything they made is still in full Rococo style.

This was a paper which opened a window onto an intriguing area with a chronology and political undertow of its own in relation to European Rococo.


Mei Mei Rado then gave a paper on: ‘Ornaments from the Western Ocean: Rococo as a Qing Imperial style in the decorative arts’.


Porcelain vase, Qianlong mark, mid-18th century, Palace Museum, Beijing

18th century China, as well as exporting to the West, imported many European objects; and the style, techniques and ornament of these grand luxe items – even painted genres like the fête galante – were adopted by craftsmen in the Qing imperial workshops. From the 1720s to the 1770s, the Rococo style dominated, with scrolling and curving lines, foliage and rocailles mingling with the current indigenous vocabulary to produce a style characteristic of the Qing court and its art. Painted porcelain, furniture, tapestries, silks and items such as clocks from Europe all inspired the court artists and artisans to produce their own versions, using what court documents refer to as ‘ornaments from the Western Ocean’.

James Cox (c.1723-1800), clock with musical box, 1765, and detail, Palace Museum, Beijing

For example, European snuffboxes with gold and ormolu mounts and English clocks were popular imports, and both their form and ornament influenced the style of Qing court decorative arts. Rococo patterns from European silks and tapestries also influenced Chinese textiles directly, via imported fabrics (engraved prints appear not to have been used as a source of reference for the imperial workshops). As well as objects and patterns like chinoiseries (in a reverse borrowing), 18th century China adopted Western styles of art, and genres such as painted pastorals. Carved furniture in Rococo style was also popular.

As in Europe, the Rococo style of interior decoration underwent a revival in the 19th century, towards the end of the Qing dynasty (in 1912). In this case, it reflected the personal taste of the Dowager Empress Cixi, but also had a political and diplomatic element.

Anna Maria Garthwaite (1690-1763), design for Spitalfields silk, 1752-53, w’colour on paper, V & A

Brocaded satin, Western floral pattern, late 19th century, 585 x 62 cm., Palace Museum Beijing

Textiles such as the Spitalfields silks designed by Anna Maria Garthwaite (above, and MFA Boston), were exported to China, and influenced the Qing imperial textile production of the mid- to late- 18th century. This was also true of tapestries, where the figural scenes and integral frames of French pieces had an effect on the design of Qing dynasty tapestries: see (below) comparative examples at the Cleveland Museum of Art.

Gobelins Manufactory (Audran), Month of May, 1723-74, tapestry: linen, wool & silk, 312.4 x 452 cm., Cleveland Museum of Art

Qing dynasty, Family gathering, late 1760s, tapestry: silk & wool, 257.8 x 377.8 cm., Cleveland Museum of Art


Dennis Carr gave the final paper which this review covers: ‘The French Rococo style in Latin America’.


The War of the Spanish Succession (1701–15) had seen a decade and a half-long struggle between the heirs of Charles II of Spain – the French Philip of Anjou and the Austrian Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI – for control of the sprawling Spanish Empire. This included Flanders, southern Italy, and much of North and South America, so the war was for high stakes and involved all of the great powers.  Eventually Philip of Anjou was declared king of Spain, and – although he was forced to renounce his interest in the French throne, and although France itself made relatively no gains from Philip’s success – the ascendancy of the French Bourbons over the Austrian Habsburgs affected the movement of artistic styles as much as the changing political situation.

The Baroque held sway in Latin America for much of the 18th century, but the addition of French Rococo techniques and ornament expanded and lightened the stylistic range of the decorative arts, often mingling with indigenous styles and materials to produce idiosyncratic local characteristics.

Diego Durán Berruecos, Church of Santa Prisca and San Sebastian, 1751-59, Taxco de Alarcón, Mexico. Photo: Felipe huerta hdez

Gauvin Bailey’s book, The spiritual Rococo: décor and divinity from the salons of Paris to the missions of Patagonia, records the changing art and furnishings in the churches of Latin America. A Baroque vocabulary continued to be used – for example, in the church of Santa Prisca and San Sebastian in  Taxco de Alarcón, Mexico, which was built between 1751-59 in the Churrigueresque style; and in La Ensanaza, Mexico City, built from 1767-78 in ultra-Baroque style.

The church of San Jeronimo, 1678 onwards, Asillo, Peru

Isidro Lorea (fl. 1782-d.1807), high altar, 1785, Metropolitan Cathedral of Buenos Aires, Brazil. Photo: Fulviusbsas

However, the church of San Jeronimo, Asillo, Peru, uses Rococo elements mixed with indigenous arts, motifs and imagery, and the high altar of Buenos Aires cathedral is designed in full Rococo mode. The latter was carved and gilded in 1785 by a Spanish sculptor from Biscay, Isidro Lorea, whilst the two pulpits were finished five years later in Transitional style by another Spaniard, Juan Hernández.

Isidro Lorea (fl. 1782-d.1807), pulpit, 1770-83, parcel gilt and polychrome, San Francisco, Buenos Aires

Lorea was responsible for another Rococo pulpit, in the church of San Francisco, Buenos Aires; he carved the altarpiece as well, but this was later destroyed by an irritated mob. Lorea was a cabinetmaker as well as carver, and ran a workshop in Buenos Aires for a quarter of a century, making both secular and liturgical furniture. Brazil was the Latin American country where the Rococo had the greatest impact, possibly because it had been trading with the Philippines since the 16th century.

In Venezuela the Rococo style was introduced, rather than by architects, by the artists and craftsmen practising it. These were, most notably,  Domingo Gutiérrez from the Canaries, a carver who produced furniture and frames, and Juan Pedro López, painter, restorer, decorative artist, sculptor and gilder, whose parents had come from Tenerife to Latin America. The Canary Islands had been conquered by Castile in the 15th century, and their position meant that they were to become a stepping-stone for Spanish migrants on their way to the New World [10].

Juan Pedro López (1724-87) and Domingo Gutiérrez, Our Lady of Guidance, c.1765-70, 48 x 33 ins, Thoma Foundation

The frame of López’s Madonna of Guidance is in high Rococo style, carved and gilded by Gutiérrez, with shaped inner and outer contours, asymmetric, and edged at the bottom corners and top centre with a rocaille frill which breaks, at the top corners, into larger, flamelike, pierced tongues of rocaille. The frieze is similarly carved into very shallow relief rocailles, and undulating acanthus leaves grow up the sides, ending at the height of the Madonna’s chin and the top of Christ’s head in two roses, the attribute of the Virgin. In the painting she stands in a shell-headed niche with rocaille spandrels, and a painted rocaille-framed cabochon at the base of her plinth reflects the carved ornament immediately beneath. This reflection of interior and exterior style defines the best-integrated altarpieces, and occurs more rarely when the idiom used is the Rococo; possibly because there were proportionately fewer sacred paintings in Europe (save in Germany and Austria) which were given such outright rocaille settings, or because it was perhaps seen there as a more of secular style.

Juan Pedro López (1724-87) and Domingo Gutiérrez, Triptych of the Evangelists with Crucifix, 1770, Venezuelan Association of Friends of Colonial Art, Museo de Arte Colonial, Caracas

Juan Pedro López (1724-87) and Domingo Gutiérrez, Nuestra Señora del Rosario, wall sconce, 27 x 23 cm., Museo de Arte Colonial, Caracas

Gutiérrez and López collaborated again: for instance on the Triptych of the Evangelists with Crucifix in 1770, which has pierced and scrolling Rococo inner frames, and again on the Madonna and Child wall sconce, above, with its ruffle of carved rocailles.

Their work must have helped to disperse the ornamental vocabulary which they had brought with them from Spain via the Canaries, and also helped it to become a provincial, as well as an urban style. Cristobal López Carpintes’s painting of the Madonna in the Capilla del Vecino, Tlaxcala, Mexico, has a Rococo frame which looks towards the same genre of shaped contours and rocaille ornament, but which was made by an indigenous craftsman. It hangs beside the polychrome pulpit, on the right-hand side of the high altar.

Andrés Solano (fl. 18th century), Ana Josepha de Castañeda y de la Reguera, 1776, 283/16 x 2115/16 ins., Thoma Foundation

Frames of this kind for sacred works led in turn to related frames for secular subjects, as can be seen in the collection of the Thoma Foundation – the execution of the carving and gilding sometimes being incontestably superior to that of the painting.

Secular furniture with the same vocabulary was naturally also produced, and here the indigenous Mexican painter José Manuel de la Cerda was important in the development of decorative lacquered furniture in Latin America. He combined elements of contemporary Spanish and (particularly) French chinoiseries which were imported across the Atlantic, with lacquerware which had travelled in the opposite direction, across the Pacific from Asia; thus achieving a synthesis of both worlds which was symbolic, as well as expressive, of Mexico’s trading position between the two. The French influences in his work also reflect the increasingly important cultural and artistic part taken by France in the New World of the 18th century.

José Manuel de la Cerda (fl. mid-18th century), writing desk on a stand, c.1760s, lacquered & polychrome wood, 155 x 102 x 61 cm., Patzcuaro, Mexico, Hispanic Society, New York 

De la Cerda’s lacquered desk and stand is painted with scenes of battle between the Moors and Christians, but in contemporary European dress, in a striking example of indigenous artists using a variety of locally-made lacquer, and imitating both imported Asian lacquered objects and transatlantic fashions.  It is also possible that Stalker’s and Parker’s British work, A treatise of japaning and varnishing… (Oxford, 1688) was being used in the production of Mexican lacquer, in another form of European connection.

José Manuel de la Cerda (fl. mid-18th century), batea with scene from the Aeneid, c.1764, wood, parcel-gilt polychrome lacquer, 106.7 cm. diam., Metropolitan Museum, New York

As well as decorating furniture, De la Cerda is noted for painting the round trays known as ‘bateas’: the example above features a little-reproduced scene from the Aeneid which deals with Aeneas provoking Turnus into war. Again, its decoration is influenced both by East Asian lacquerware and European chinoiseries. Objects like these were commissioned by the Viceroy and Vicereine of Mexico City.

Anon. craftsman, Mexican secrétaire, outside with marquetry in wood and bone, inside with lacquer, gold and polychrome, 221 x 104.1 x 67.3 cm., MFA Boston, shown closed and open

Rococo decoration might appear in much less likely guises. This secrétaire (one of a pair) is made outwardly in Mudéjar fashion, the Spanish Moorish style which was popular in Mexico in the 18th century. However, the inside has been painted by an indigenous artist with chinoiseries in gold on a red ground, in a spirit of playfulness which echoes the strange yoking of seemingly disparate visions.

Antonio Francisco Lisboa (Aleijadinho; c.1730/38-1814), Church of St Francis of Assisi, 1766 onwards, Ouro Preto, Brazil

The most prolific Brazilian architect working in a Rococo style was the mixed-race son of a Portuguese architect, Antonio Francisco Lisboa, or Aleijadinho. He was responsible, for instance, for the church of St Francis of Assisi in Ouro Preto, begun in 1766, for which he designed both the building itself and the interior decoration, although the latter was only finished in the 19th century. This church is also considered to contain his major sculptural work, in the altarpiece, above, with its integral frame and crest with the Holy Trinity.


This last paper was perhaps the most interesting of the whole conference, illustrating as it did so strikingly the title, ‘Rococo across borders’, in its revelation of imports from Asia and Europe meeting in the New World and being remade through the further intervention of indigenous craftsmen, techniques and materials (also true of the discussion of Canadian Rococo). The paper on the Rococo in Latin America also included far more images of frames, for altarpieces, sacred and secular works, than any of the others; this is quite surprising, in that the Rococo frame – in the form of picture frame, looking-glass frame, or, of course, altarpiece – is the most immediately eye-catching, focal point of any interior, before whatever item of furniture or bibelot may be present, and because every designer in the style produced drawings for frames of some kind.

Nicolas Lancret (1690-1743), Le leçon de musique, 1743, o/c, 89 x 90 cm.; frame attrib. to Nicolas Pineau; Musée du Louvre

The absence of any examples of Pineau’s frames (such as the example above, one of a pair attributed to him) was particularly surprising – apart from a single mention of his series of frame borders, produced just before he left for Russia and not illustrated. His designs were extremely influential, and the surviving body of his drawings, split between the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris and the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg, must have inspired many other craftsmen: in the case of the Russian collection, creating a body of reference for the Rococo which had great effect (although unfortunately many of the most splendid 18th century frames were lost during the 1917 revolution and World War II [11]).

Reinier Baarsen’s contribution on the rôle of craftsmen as designers was important in its highlighting of the fact that more modest makers – just as much as the celebrated names – were designers of their own productions, and not merely journeymen who slavishly followed established models. In the same way, the illuminating of Carl Pier’s prints as a source of imaginative stimulation for the physical work of others expanded this consideration of the production of Rococo work in other directions beyond national borders – and touched, besides, on German Rococo as it was used in church interiors and for altarpieces.

A scalloped oval glass in a palm leaf garland frame, one of a pair, c.1750-55, for Russborough House, hung in the drawing-room in a wall cartouche with Baroque stucco frame, probably by the Lafranchini brothers

Irish stuccowork and Frederician Rococo are both closely concerned with the frame designs which accompanied (and were part of) both; and Jenny Saunt’s paper on the changing style of drawing and the teaching of drawing, within the world of artists, designers and craftsmen in 18th century England, was especially fascinating in its exploration of how something as three-dimensional as Rococo carving might be passed on.

Sarah Coffin’s consideration of ‘The Rococo diaspora…’ was particularly wide-ranging, cramming in so many designers and craftsmen, in so many different materials, and in so many countries, that she could have been listened to very happily for four times as long. She was also the one speaker who produced  an example from a much earlier period – Cellini’s salt – as a comparative in playfulness, sensuousness and in the ornamental to Rococo objects. She noted movements of craftsmen, commissions, gifts, prints, and exports; all of them carrying variations and refinements of design back and forth across Europe and into Russia. She also highlighted the importance of Juvarra and the court of Turin as perhaps of almost equal importance for the development and diffusion of the style as the French court and the Bâtiments du roi.

The papers given by Stéphane Castellucio and Marie-Laure Buku Pongo similarly highlighted the part played by diplomatic gifts, and the influence of objects and techniques imported from Asia. The conference as a whole was extremely useful in its panoramic view of what is often considered to be an essentially  French style taken up and adopted in Britain and Germany, and with minor fallout in Italy, the Netherlands and Spain. The Rococo turns out to be a global style in which currents flowed busily back and forth, mingling with and enlarging and altering other streams of influence, and introducing churchgoers, provincial craftsmen and the purchasers of luxury (and even more mundane) items to decorative possibilities from countries far beyond their own homes.

It could have done with more frames, though, and images of these have been introduced wherever it seemed helpful.


[1] See Unver Rustem, Ottoman Baroque, 2019, pp. 99-100

[2] Kandler may have been related to Johann Joachim Kändler (1706-75), chief modeller at the Meissen porcelain manufactory

[3] See ‘Reviving Rococo: an interview with master carver Bernhard Lankers by Mark Alexander

[4] William Farrell, Silk and globalisation in eighteenth-century London: commodities, people and connections c.1720-1800, PhD thesis, 2014, University of London, p.12

[5] See Bruno Pons, ‘18th century French frames and their ornamentation’, a translation of ‘Les cadres francais du XVIII siècle et leurs ornaments’ of 1987

[6] See also ‘An introduction to Irish frames – Part 2: Baroque & Rococo to modern

[7] Émile Biais, Les Pineau : sculpteurs, dessinateurs des bâtiments du roy, graveurs, architectes (1652-1886) : d’après les documents inédits, contenant des renseignements nouveaux sur J. Hardouin-Mansard, les Prault, imprimeurs-libraires des fermes du roy, Jean-Michel Moreau le jeune, les Feuillet, sculpteur & bibliothécaire, les Vernet, &c., 1891; with grateful thanks to Olafur Thorvaldsson

[8] Ibid., p. 22

[9] Ibid., p. 8

[10] See Kathryn Santner & Lauren Kilroy-Ewbank, ‘Juan Pedro López, Our Lady of Guidance’, Smarthistory, 7 February 2023 

[11] See ‘Russian frames: an interview with Oksana Lysenko’