Michelangelo-The Delphic Sybil
Sistine Chapel, Vatican City
Always best to consult the oracle on these matters, yes? But we don’t need to tell the future for the styles of chairs, we simply need to remember which one is which, with clues from the past!
I hope to detail the main characteristics of Louis XIV or Louis Quatorze, Louis XV or Louis Quinze, and finally, Louis XVI or Louis Seize. All this to provide you with a quick memory aid to the period styles.
The first thing to note is that all the “Louis” styles are versions of art and design that start with the classical orders, based upon symmetry and balance. Artists explored the newly “discovered” classics and were using all the elements such as columns, temples and other buildings from ancient Greece and Rome. Art and sculptures from the classical period were being studied and admired.
Louis XVI – “The Sun King” and builder of Versailles
Impossible to forget this man with his elaborate robes, high heeled shoes and long curly wig! The style of furniture to which Louis XIV gave his name is the epitome of the “over the top” Baroque style. In the decorative arts it is typified by heavy gold decoration, strong curves and weighty strength.
Baroque – Louis XIV – Louis Quatorze
Baroque came to English from a French word meaning “irregularly shaped.” Eventually, it came to describe an extravagant style of art characterized by curving lines, gilt, and gold. This type of art was sometimes considered to be excessively decorated and overly complicated. The classical rules were being stretched and taken to extremes. It makes sense, therefore, that the meaning of the word baroque has broadened to include anything that seems excessively ornate or elaborate. Saint Peter’s in Rome is a Baroque extravaganza.
Saint Peter’s – Bernini sculptures – NOTHING delicate or lightweight here!
Once you have seen these examples of Baroque art and sculpture, it is easy to see relationships in the furniture. Louis XVI chairs and other furniture pieces are strong, heavily ornate, carved and gilded.
Carved walnut Louis XIV armchair
Throne-like, gilded and tasseled
Louis XIV was king of France for an incredible 72 years. He outlived both his son and his grandsons, and his successor was his great-grandson, Louis XV. The Sun King was the shining star and force of nature of his era…the most perfect illustration of the style that bears his name. Strong, powerful, ornate and over the top with mirrors and gilding and carving.
Rococo – Louis XV – Louis Quinze
Louis XV style era was typified by a lighter, more feminine, ornate-ness. Also called Rococo, it is still quite elaborately carved, often gilded, but it is typically asymmetrical and quite free-formed. The classical image of this period is of the overly romantic and prettified art of Fragonard and Boucher – and the muse of the era is Madame du Pompadour.
Boucher- Madame du Pompadour
Absolutely everything about this painting is typical of the Rococo or Louis XV style of art and design. Garlands of flowers, light and delicate cabriole legs on the little table, gilt ormolu and carving on every corner. Ruffles and flourishes abound! Ribbons, bows, and garlands of roses run riot.
Gilt Settee with petite point needlepoint upholstery
Rococo bombe’ chest with bronze ormolu
Fragonard – “Blindman’s Buff”
Neoclassical – Louis XVI – Louis Seize
Louis XVI style, also called Louis Seize, is the visual and decorative arts produced in during the reign (1774–93) of Louis XVI, which was actually both a last phase of Rococo and a first phase of . We see the elements of chairs and furniture becoming straight and fluted like columns, and while gilding is still prevalent, we are starting to see less formal finishes as well. The period is known for the French Revolution and stylistically it was a reaction to the overly ornate styles that had gone before. Marie Antoinette’s early portraits are in the older rococo style and in a later image we see the style change.
Marie Antoinette – 1767 – (the Austrian princess, aged 12)
In this portrait, you can see the similarities to Madame du Pompadour above
Marie Antoinette – Vigee Le Brun 1783
Shown in the “new” style of muslin dress, at the time shocking for its lack of formality –
You can just catch a glimpse of the corner of that table and already you can tell it is not all sinuous curves and is reflecting the straight lines of the neoclassic.
White and gilt Fauteuil
Neoclassical Commode with bronze mounts and fluted legs
The new romantic classical painting was not about garlands of flowers and racy trysts in the woodland, but classical allegories. Chaste goddesses, not stolen kisses! Compare the painting by Vien below to the Fragonard shown above and you have a visual rendition of rococo versus neoclassical.
So I began with a classical, baroque artist – Michelangelo…..strong, muscular, yet true to the classical ideal. And, we end with a lighter, more delicate and romantic version of a classical scene. We have traveled from 1630 to 1789 and still kept within the classical framework that influenced all the art and design of the period.
I hope that the next time you ask yourself “What Louis is that ________? you will see the details that will answer the question, and you will also know what would be the perfect piece to enhance the design of your room!