Architectural Background And Methods Of Fixed Decoration

In the preparation of the fixed architectural or interior decorative backgrounds of the Louis Quinze or Rococo style of decoration, using the latter term in the sense previously explained, we find certain general characteristics common to all the phases that come under that comprehensive heading, whether or not we choose to attach to those phases the names Regence, Watteau, Boucher or Rocaille. These characteristics, which betokened an amazing fluidity of conception and manipulation in all the aforesaid varieties, were the studied avoidance of everything formal or ponderous; the neglect, or rather the deliberate defiance, of all strict Classical canons or rules; the elimination of deep shadows (Plates 37 and 39 A), the disuse of straight, especially of horizontally straight, lines and of right angles, and a consuming "delight in caprices and surprises, playful forms and piquant combinations." Everywhere was studied irregularity and complication of motifs and the whole system of decoration may be said to have been reduced to a fluid state and, occasionally, to a frenzy of anarchistic riot. After the rigidity of the Louis Quatorze period, everything was undergoing a process of mollification.

The architectural foundation upon which the Louis Quinze episodes of decoration were grafted was essentially symmetrical in its genius and so it remained. Even during the period of utmost license in decorative practice, the French mind had too sincere a perception of fundamental values and too profound a respect for constructive sanity to make any radical departures from the structural principles and usages of the preceding age. Booms, therefore, still retained their symmetry of form and were well proportioned in respect of their usually symmetrical disposition of doors, windows and other distinctly architectural features.

There was a tendency to accentuate the size of windows, and the window openings, in a great many cases extending all the way to the floor, had square- or arc-shaped heads or else terminated in either round-headed arches or arches very much flattened at the top. It was a common thing for the upper part of the windows to contain some heavy wooden tracery with curved flowing lines or else to be separated from the larger and lower part by an horizontal mullion or transome, and the small casements of the upper portion opened independently of the long casements under them. Door heads, like the tops of windows, were square, arc-shaped, round-arched, or flat-arched.

In some cases, by the manipulation of the interior trim, there was a tendency to bound even door and window openings, especially at their heads, not by lines of geometrical regularity that would indicate their limits as structural features, but by a succession of curves, retaining only the chief vertical lines. Such exaggerations of treatment, however, exaggerations that justified the accusation that the Rococo style was naught but a series of "tormented and broken lines," were to be found rather in extreme cases and were not the rule, as the limits of structural features were ordinarily clearly defined in a reasonable manner. The contours of mouldings and other members of door and window trims, in accordance with the prevailing practice, although frequently ornate and complicated in line, were almost invariably flattened (Plates 41 and 47 A) so that the openings did not assume the aspect of dominant features, as they often had done in preceding periods.

The treatment of walls in the Louis Quinze style was a matter of paramount concern. The Classic orders, which had hitherto played so conspicuous a part in the make-up of the architectural background, were now adjudged quite too formal as a dominant element in decoration and were either left out altogether or else so radically disguised by fantastic treatment that they could scarcely be recognised at all. In the wall scheme for important rooms, pilasters and rectangular architraves yielded place to elaborate framing and bordering of panels.