rococo (rəkōˈkō, rō–) [key], style in architecture, especially in interiors and the decorative arts, which originated in France and was widely used in Europe in the 18th cent. The term may be derived from the French words rocaille and coquille (rock and shell), natural forms prominent in the Italian baroque decorations of interiors and gardens. The first expression of the rococo was the transitional régence style. In contrast with the heavy baroque plasticity and grandiloquence, the rococo was an art of exquisite refinement and linearity. Through their engravings, Juste Aurèle Meissonier and Nicholas Pineau helped spread the style throughout Europe. The Parisian tapestry weavers, cabinetmakers, and bronze workers followed the trend and arranged motifs such as arabesque elements, shells, scrolls, branches of leaves, flowers, and bamboo stems into ingenious and engaging compositions. The fashionable enthusiasm for Chinese art added to the style the whole bizarre vocabulary of chinoiserie motifs. In France, major exponents of the rococo were the painters Watteau, Boucher, and Fragonard and the architects Robert de Cotte, Gilles Marie Oppenord, and later Jacques Ange Gabriel. The rococo vogue spread to Germany and Austria, where François de Cuvilliès was the pioneer. Italian rococo, particularly that of Venice, was brilliantly decorative, exemplified in the paintings of Tiepolo. The furniture of Thomas Chippendale manifested its influence in England. During the 1660s and 1670s, the rococo competed with a more severely classical form of architecture, which triumphed with the accession of Louis XVI.
See F. Kimball, The Creation of the Rococo (1943); A. Schönberger and H. Soehner, The Rococo Age (tr. 1960); H. A. Millon, Baroque and Rococo Architecture (1961); G. Bazin, Baroque and Rococco (tr. 1964); H. Hitchcock, German Rococco (1970).