The 18th Century Rise & Fall of the Rococo Style in Spain

In this class
will look at the historical transformations that gave rise to the Rococo style in 18th century Spain. We will analyze the characteristics of the Rococo style and where in Spain it can still be seen today. Explored will be the materials used to achieve its stylish designs, found both in architecture and interiors and also what ornamental themes were popular. We will also examine the shift in colour palettes, themes and painting materials used to achieve the distinction derived in Rococo artworks.

INTRODUCTION by Karla Darocas

Under the new French crown, Spain began its transformation with the reign of Felipe V (1700-1746). This first Bourbon King decided to take some small steps towards engaging in the Enlightenment movement. 

In Spain however, the ideas concerning God, reason, nature, and humanity were slow to synthesize into a worldview due to the hold of the church and it’s superstitions and inquisitions, and the Royals' need for absolute power. 

Nevertheless, there were a few revolutionary developments in the arts such as the founding of the Royal Tapestry in 1720 by Felipe V. 

The Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando was officially born in 1752 thanks to the wishes of King Fernando VI. 

Carlos III arrived on the throne in 1760 and he was known for his enthusiasm for architecture and the other arts. In 1783, he published a Royal Order by which the professions of the Noble Arts of Drawing, Painting, Sculpture, Architecture and Engraving were declared free. Artists could practice their trade without the need to be part of a guild. With this, the "Academy" became the only body authorized to issue "degrees". This was their way of rationalising learning the arts and controlling the orientation of artistic production, rewarding students with paid sponsorships to study in Rome.

Also created during his reign were numerous royal manufactures such as the Royal Laboratory of Mosaics and Hard Stones of Buen Retiro (1759), the Royal Porcelain Factory of  Buen Retiro (1759), the Royal Silver Factory (1778) and the Royal Watch Factory (1788).

When it comes to differentiating between Rococo and Spanish Baroque, it is important to note that Rococo was aimed at the tastes of the bourgeoisie and the aristocracy, while on the contrary, Baroque was at the service of ecclesiastical or absolutist cause. Hence, Rococo freed art from its propagandist role. Art no longer had to be the vehicle of a "truth", nor did it need to be serious.

The term rococo comes from the French word "rocaille" (stone) and "coquille" (shell), elements that repeat themselves in Rococo interior decoration.

In architecture and design, exteriors remained fairly austere, however vibrant interiors are created employing ornamental motifs such as the acanthus leaf, curved or serpentine lines, oriental art, nature and mythology.

Stylistically, Rococo interiors and paintings were characterized by opulence, elaborate ornamentation, asymmetrical values, bright pastel colour palette, which contrasts with the hyperrealism and darkness of the Baroque.

Rococo art begins to reflect the roles of women in social circles since they become the main organizer of meetings, dances and games. They also host “salons” where they can discuss literature and politics. Rococo art tries to reproduce the feelings and concerns that existed in aristocratic life with artworks of rich people having fun. However, with a taste for humour, archaic social norms are also highlighted like the idiocy of arranged marriages and the absurd number of servants controlled by nobles. 

Rococo's Royal patronage came crashing down when in 1761 Carlos III brought to Spain the neo classical artist Anton Raphael Mengs from Aussig, Bohemia. His orders were to faithfully follow the King, who granted him all the honors imaginable creating an authentic artistic dictatorship that influenced the formation of Spanish painters. Mengs made decorations for some of the vaults of the Palace, prevailing in all of them a precise drawing and a lack of expressiveness.