Rococo is a style of 18th-century painting and decoration characterized by lightness, delicacy, and elaborate ornamentation. The rococo period corresponded roughly to the reign (1715-74) of King Louis XV of France. Its exact origins are obscure, but it appears to have begun with the work of the French designer Pierre Lepautre, who introduced arabesques and curves into the interior architecture of the royal residence at Marly, and with the paintings of Jean-Antoine Watteau, whose delicate, color-drenched canvases of lords and ladies in idyllic surroundings broke with the heroic Louis XIV style.
The term rococo comes from the French rocaille, "rock-work," and hallmarks of the full-fledged style are architectural decoration based on arabesques, shells, elaborate curves, and asymmetry; iridescent pastel colors; and, in painting, light-hearted rather than weighty subject matter. The outstanding rococo painters were François Boucher, best known for his boudoir scenes with plump, pink nudes, and Jean Honoré Fragonard, renowned for his scenes of coy assignations in leafy glades and curtained alcoves. In decoration, the rococo style reached its peak in the Hôtel de Soubise in Paris begun in 1732, and worked on by a number of artists and decorators, most notably Gabriel Germain Boffrant and René Alexis Delamaire.
Rococo spread quickly to other European countries, particularly Germany and Austria, where it was grafted onto the then popular baroque modes to create a style of incredible lavishness and profusion, especially in churches and sacred places. It culminated in the work of the Flemish-born Bavarian architect and designer François de Cuvilliés, particularly the Amalienburg Pavilion (1734-1739) near Munich, the interiors of which resemble jewel boxes in their elaboration of mirrors, gold and silver filigree, and decorative plasterwork.
Rococo gave way to the austere neoclassical style late in the 18th century and disappeared completely and abruptly after the French Revolution in 1789.