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François de Cuvilliés and German Rococo

François de Cuvilliés and German Rococo

In the beginning of the eighteenth century, German art that hitherto had modeled itself on Italy came increasingly under French influence. It was from France that central European art, with its tendency toward ponderousness, acquired the lighter, more graceful rococo style. Yet, freed from the French preoccupation with theory, the German rococo was able to exercise greater influence than its French counterpart, percolating from courtly interiors to religious and popular architecture. Restricted in France to interior decoration and subordinate to the architectural order, rocaille started to appear on German facades, reaching its greatest refinement at the Bavarian and Prussian courts. In Bavaria in particular, the rococo took root as an expression of the local artistic identity more so than elsewhere in Europe.

With his work on the Residenz in Munich, François de Cuvilliés (1695–1768) was the first to introduce the rococo style to Germany. He originally entered the service of Maximilian II Emanuel, the Elector of Bavaria (ruled 1679–1726), as a court dwarf at the age of eleven. The elector became fond of Cuvilliés and, taking note of his talents, provided him opportunities to become educated in mathematics and engineering, later sending him to Paris to study architecture under François Blondel the Younger (1705–1774). In Paris, Cuvilliés became steeped in the emerging rococo style. Upon his return to Munich, he became the court architect, gaining fame for his interior designs of palaces, including the suite of state rooms at the Residenz and the small Amalienburg pavilion, a masterpiece of rococo interior design.

As Cuvilliés worked for the Bavarian court, his designs became less French and acquired more relaxed, dynamic forms inflected by the Bavarian taste for abundance and gaiety. Soon, however, the rococo fell out of fashion, and Cuvilliés’s Residenz theater, a masterpiece of Bavarian rococo, was criticized upon its completion. Between 1738 and 1756, Cuvilliés produced dozens of books of designs comprising buildings, interior decoration, boiseries, ceilings, furniture, wrought-iron work, and other ornamentation. While these engravings were a significant contribution to the dissemination of the rococo style throughout Europe, they were also instrumental in asserting the distinct character of the German rococo.

In Morceaux de caprice a divers usages, Cuvilliés’s fertile imagination is apparent in the depictions of fanciful garden ornaments.

 

Image from: Cuvilliés, François de. Morceaux de caprice a divers usages. Paris: Chez l’auteur et chez Poilly, 1745.

 

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