Thursday, September 27, 2012

Rethinking Rococo and Romanticism

François Boucher Portrait of the Marquise de Pompadour, 1756
If you asked me about Rococo and Romanticism back in college when I studied art history, I probably would've rolled my eyes. They weren't my favorite periods, and I clearly hadn't developed an appreciation. Boucher and Fragonard are the painters I remember most from the Rococo period, because their work is really over the top.

Jean-Honoré Fragonard, The Swing, 1767
In a lot of ways, Rococo and Romanticism seemed like Marshmallow Fluff with whipped cream on top- it was decadent, sickly sweet, and lacked substance. It was terribly sappy. If there was a romantic period in quiltmaking, the Broderie Perse applique tradition would be it. Broderie Perse, French for Persian embroidery, was popular in Europe in the 17th century and in America in the mid to late 18th century to the first half of the 19th century. These are the quilts I once called "too girly" because of their elaborate, decorative floral motifs.

Broderie Perse Applique Chintz Medallion, c. 1820, Baltimore
Now that I have an amazing example of Broderie Perse, it's given me good reason to rethink Rococo and Romanticism. Barbara Brackman, in her 1812 War and Piecing blog, posted an entry about Rococo style in Broderie Perse applique, specifically looking at the Achsah Goodwin Wilkins medallions. In some ways, the Romantic period revisited the whimsy of the Rococo period. It was the perfect style for affluent homes, which were often furnished with elaborate, ornate objects. Achsah Wilkins's designs are iconic representations of Romanticism, made in the Romantic period.

A fancy, Broderie Perse bedspread is exactly the type of thing I would expect to see in the home of the most affluent families in Baltimore in the 1820s. Not just any family could afford to make such a thing. It's an elegant object, and I think the word "elegant" is the key to rethinking Rococo and Romanticism. In my younger days, it was all was just a little too frilly, "too girly" and hard to take seriously. Today I'm beginning to see it as elegant, refined, and whimsical. There may be something to it after all. 


  1. Lucky you.....if I had gone to college, that's what I would have studied....Art History. And I'm so drawn to the amazing detail in that period of's so overly decadent! Wouldn't you just love to have that side table with the inkwell drawer? Or that red velvet, tufted swing seat in the garden filled with cherub statuary? Holy cow.....that's awesome! lol So is the quilt! :o)

    1. It's taken me some time to develop an appreciation for the style, and I find it amusing that it took a quilt to do that. :)

  2. "The Swing" by Fragonard was originally titled "Happy Accidents of the Swing" The happy accident is the fact that the man is able to look up the woman's dress as she swings forward.

  3. After living in Southern England I developed an appreciation for that your "new" quilt!

  4. I love the original title...and the back story!! Sometimes little boys never grow up from their playground days!