After the philosophical and intellectual Renaissance and the robust Baroque with its bulb shaped cupolas and curves, there was bound to appear something that would soften the heavy and pompous style. It was as if some important architect said that everything should be used in moderation and that there has been enough of that serious roundness of heavy Baroque. It was as if he said - let’s lighten up. What came out of it was a playful Rococo period that was soon to be followed by Classicism, sometimes referred to as Empire. Not that there would be less curves, on the contrary, curls, frills, bows, ribbons etc. were everywhere. The more that Baroque was dignified and religious, the more Rococo was frivolous. Gone were heavy dresses and high-necked collars, heavy furniture and robust buildings. Rococo is mainly a game – light, shadow, theatre, decoration, mask, lightness and playfulness. Hence also the choice of colours: white, gold, cream, light blue, soft pink…Subsequently, Empire, that drew inspiration from the ancient world, brought even more lightness.
Late Baroque, Rococo and Classicism blended together and many buildings made between 1740 and 1880 are a mixture of these styles. There aren’t many pure Rococo buildings in Prague. One of the examples of this playful style is Chateau Libeň that acquired its Rococo appearance during the conversion that was lead by master builder Jan Josef Prachner. Nowadays it is the seat of the Municipal Office for Prague 8. There are many others conversions and modifications of outer and interior parts of palaces and houses and smaller details. Many can be found at Prague Castle: Rococo portico leading to Spanish Hall from the garden Na baště or salons in the south wing of the Castle (twelve altogether) that have Rococo or Classicist decoration. All this was designed by the emperor’s architect N. F. Leonhardo Paccassini who was a leading Austrian architect of Teresian era. He used Rococo decoration especially in interiors and is also a designer of Prague Castle skyline. On one hand he destroyed the historically fragmented skyline, however, he finished and united the palace front and thus highlighted the monumentality of later to be finished St Vitus Cathedral and created the famous Castle skyline as we currently know it. (Morávek, J. - Wirth, Zd.:Prague Castle in Renaissance and Baroque. Prague 1947).
Another object with Rococo features is Small Černín Palace n.155 in Valdštejnska Street that has a beautiful garden with alcoves, staircases and Sala Terrena that is known as Ledebur Gardens. Designer of the gardens is Jan Nepomuk Ignác Palliardi, who started as a Barogue builder and later developed towards Classicism. In this period was built also Library of Strahov Monastery in Prague, so called Philosophical Hal in Lewis XIV style or conversion of Kolowrat Palace n.154 in Valdštejnska Street.
Rococo futures can be found also in the Archbishop Palace in Hradčany with outstanding interior decoration consisting of wood carving and Rococo stucco.
Other Rococo conversions:
Bretfeld Palace n.33 that is located on the corner of Jansky hill. Originally Baroque townhouse called Summer and Winter was for Josef of Bretfeldu converted in 1765 by architect Jan Josef Wirch. The owner held banquets and balls in the house, among guests were Giovanni Casanova and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
At the Red Eagle n.6 is from 15 century. Baroque conversion of Renaissance house was carried around 1700. Renaissance stone portal was preserved. Current Rococo facade is from the third quarter of 18th century. On the front there is a Baroque house sign with two angels holding a picture.
Švábov House n.10 is a Barogue palace style house with Renaissance façade that was decorated by its owner at the end of 16th century, a famous painter Bartoloměj Spranger painted pictures of Greek Gods on the facade. Grömling Palace – House U kamenného stolu (At a stone table), Lesser Town café
Original Palace originated through the conversion of five townhouses. Between 1764 and 1785 lawyer Karel of Grömling became an owner of all houses and the palace was designed by architect Josef Jäger in 1786. The Palace was originally named after one of the original houses (At stone table) and later it was re-named after it s owner to Grömling or Kremlink, The Palace is on of the most significant houses of Rococo architecture.
St Lazarus Chapel, in U Vojtěšky Street, is a Rococo graveyard sanctuary, consecrated in 1762 and extended in 1778.
St Matthew church, in Šárecká Street, is a late Baroque building built on the place where there originally stood a Romanesque church. It has got internal Rococo design.
Church of Assumption of Virgin Mary Prague – Třeboradice, Na Zlaté Street, originally a gothic church from the first half of 14th century with a preserved ribbed vault in chancel. It was turned into Baroque style in the third quarter of 18th century. It is a one aisle church with square shaped presbytery. Facades are divided by lisenas. The interior is done in Rococo style.
Art and literature
Light, shadow, pastel colours, natural motives (happy shepherdess and playful youths, animals set in dreamlike landscape) , all are features of Rococo. Mansions were rebuilt, decorated and changed as were outdoor areas, mainly chateau parks. Their strict geometrical design was enlivened by small buildings such as alcoves, summerhouses, artificial caves (grottos), ruins, waterfalls and fountains. All this should have led to creating a harmonious paradise on earth. “Discovery” of the countryside is also apparent in painting, namely in fresco decoration, vedutas and in paintings. In the Czech Republic this style is represented by painters V. V. Reiner, J. P. Molitor, A. Kern, F. A. Hartmann jng., N. Grund or F. X. Palka.
Also music is full of lightness. Rococo music gained on popularity is ringing like champagne that has just been poured in a glass. Gone were the times of Baroque organs, violins and piano. Italian became the language of opera, its main representatives were J. Mysliveček, J. Haydn and of course W. A. Mozart.
Literature was on one hand full of lightness and gallantries with love poems being composed and read (popular was for example Ovidius). On the other hand philosophers were gaining in importance and they accentuated primarily the power of the intellect (era of enlightenment).
It must have been very difficult to sit in Rococo skirt; however, it was somehow possible. Skirts were reinforced with the help of iron hoop and made out of lighter fabrics (for the rich, mainly from silk). The change in fashion had started already in the so called regent era which was between Baroque and Rococo. Details became softer, dresses more coquettish and at the same time more civil. Significantly were two changes: different suits started to be worn for different occasions and fashionable ladies and gentlemen sported powdered wigs. Even today there are many jokes about insufficient hygiene that was covered by layers of make-up, powder and heavy perfumes.
Women in Rococo
In any case wigs weren’t very healthy. In Rococo, hair were decorated with various hair pieces, some of them were very big. Apart from flowers, feathers and ribbons, often quite unusual items were made part of hair styles such as sailboats or water mills. It is surprising that they didn’t break their necks. Dress bodices had very low necks. It could be almost said that there was a monumental skirt one side and even more monumental hair style one the other side. Between them was stringent body with bosoms lifted up to the neck. Dresses had narrow sleeves with laces. Necessary accessories were fans, a small bag on long stripes called pompadour (after French king’s lover madam de Pompadour), gloves and a muff. Lastly was a typical beauty spot – either on the lower neck, or face, or a black plaster of various shapes on intimate parts of the body.
Men in Rococo
Men didn’t stay behind. Their suits were as over decorated as ladies ones. Satin cloths were very popular among both sexes as were wigs, originally with curls but later plaited in braid. An interesting accessory worn by men and women were stockings – white (for men), silk, embroidered with gold or laced. It was like artwork. Gentlemen wore short trousers that ended below the knees and a long doublet that hid almost all trousers. Much later, in 18th century male suit becomes different from the female one; it loses its decorativeness and gradually changes into tail coat and long trousers that are typical for the nineteen century.
Kubíček, A.: Pražské paláce, (Prague places)
Obrazová encyklopedie módy (Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Fashion)