Matter of Taste

wieskirche_rococo_interior.jpg Vierzehnheiligen B. Neuman Amalienburg French Rococo in Munich

Rococo, la rocaille– is it an acquired taste? Most people who find out that I love this stuff, and all the decorative arts from this period, recoil in disgust. Have we lost our taste for ornament, one of the most elemental aesthetic delights? Are we all children of the machine age, the Bauhaus, Richard Meier?


People seem to feel that rococo is somehow unclean, revolting, immoral in its exuberance. Such puritanism!

These examples are all Bavarian, one region that saw the light and imported the style from France with a gusto. The Wies Church is sober and clean on the exterior, sitting isolated in a rural landscape, but inside – an explosion! The space in Vierzehnheiligen practically writhes and pulsates with life, with faith, sensuality…ecstasy! The pavillion in the Nymphenburg palace known as the Amalienburg is an exquisite candybox jewel of a French interior.

I like Meier, Wiener Workstatte, Stickley, Sullivan – all that modern, craft, honesty-sincerity-functionality stuff, but can’t we have a little fun? Of course, the feminization of interior space is wonderful too…

I can’t resist posting this bit of over-the-top (tongue in cheek?) ranting by one of the great anti-ornamentists of the modern period, Adolf Loos (Ornament and Crime):

The Papuan tattoos his skin, his boat, his oars, in short, everthing within his reach. He is no criminal. The modern man who tattoos himself is a criminal or a degenerate. There are prisons in which eighty percent of the prisoners are tattooed. The tattooed men who are not in prison are latent criminals or degenerate aristocrats. If a tattooed man dies in freedom, then he has died just a few years before committing a murder. Man’s urge to ornament his face and everthing within his reach is the prime origin of the fine arts. It is the babblings of painting. All art is erotic.

Since the ornament is no longer organically connected with our culture, it is therfore no longer the expression of our culture…I have come to realize the following, which I have bestowed upon the world: evolution of cuture is equivalent to removing the ornament form the product…” The ornament created today had no connection with us, has no human connections at all, no connection with the world order. It is incapapble of development…The modern ornamenter, however, is a straggler or a pathological phenomenon. He himself rejects his own products after a scant three years. People of culture find them intolerable right away…

The ornamenter knows this well, and the Austrian ornamenters are attempting to take advantage of this situaltion. They say: “A consumer who finds his furnishings intolerable after ten years, and is thus forced to refurnish every ten years, is preferable to us than one who buys a new article when the old one is worn out. Industry demands this. Millions of people find employment as a result of this rapid change.”

~~~~~~~~ P.S. ~~~~~~~~~~~

Here is the Tony Millionare comic I mention in a comment below:

P.P.S.  A new note on matters of taste, here.

8 Responses to Matter of Taste

  1. pancime says:

    Hooray for rococo! And the wildest excesses of art nouveau. Thanks for your blog, I like your random thoughts.

  2. lichanos says:

    Pancime – thanks for your comments! I hope there is some method to the “madness” of my random thoughts.

  3. cadoro says:

    Yes, I’m a great fan of rococo myself. Clean white surfaces and straight edges are well and good, satisfy the inner need for clarity , but they can be just so clinical-and boring. Rococo is uplifting and exuberant, rejoicing in life. Who cares if tight-minded critics dislike it?

  4. lichanos says:

    I just read a funny comic by Tony millionaire on this topic. It shows Louis XIV approached by two 20th century guys who travelled to his court in a time machine. They take him back to the 20th century to get his advice on the geopolitical situation. The next to last panel shows him in a bare office, box skyscrapers visible in the window, and he sitting at the desk in his baroque finery. Finally, he roars, “Get me the heads of Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier!!”

    I have added the comic above (L: 10/17/08)

  5. Man of Roma says:

    Allow this rant on things I don’t know much about. I like to associate things, or at least try.

    Of course it is a matter of taste, and taste is a part of a wider culture!

    Puritanism – it is an American problem, not ours.
    Bavaria, so linked to our culture in some ways. When you go to churches there it seems you are in Rome, not in Raethia and Noricum 🙂 [sounds imperialistic, doesn’t it – well, it is]

    Baroque and classical – it’s all around these 2 concepts., which can function as abstract categories in some way, although they are derived from history.

    Bauhaus, modernism, are children of classical rationalism, which started with the pure beauty of the Greek temple, such marvellous and perfect geometry. It seems clear that neoclassical architecture couldn’t but be a reaction to the ornamentation of Rococo.

    I like rationalism in art. I’ll quote a small poem of mine:

    it is so simple
    as simple and beautiful
    as a Greek temple

    But I also like Baroque – how could I not, living in Rome?

    Not that I don’t like ornamentation or rococo, but to my Italian taste beauty reached through classical simplicity is more satisfying.

    A sense of grace, elegant beauty and formal perfection together with a preference for simplicity over complexity have often been among the components of the Italian attitude in Arts (Palladio, Italian music – vs the German one – and Italian opera etc.)

    Ok, the Catholic church has somewhat created the Baroque style. But I consider it a moment of distraction, an instant of folly, ah ah ah, due to minds produced by the counter reformation, twisted in their desperate effort to stop the darn protestants 🙂

    I do love and respect other cultures, Lichanos, such as the Arabic, the Jewish or the Indian, which, I might be wrong, reach beauty through complexity instead, and where ornamentation thrives.

  6. lichanos says:

    Just one point, one that was brought home to me by this book, and which I didn’t clearly understand before:

    Baroque is for the Age of Magnificance – pomp, splendor, overwhelm the viewer and assert political power. Versailles is the exemplar.

    You mention,

    “…Bauhaus, modernism, are children of classical rationalism, which started with the pure beauty of the Greek temple, such marvellous and perfect geometry.”

    There is a complex and tangled lineage here! True, the modernists liked to assert their connection to the rational, classical tradition, but they also liked to shade their aesthetic rationalism with functionalism, a new sort of rationale in architecture that arose in the 19th century with skyscrapers, industry, and archaeology (Viollet le Duc.)

    One point of this book, although she does not emphasize it because she is not an architectural historian, is that the Age of Comfort introduced a NEW sort of rationalism, never seen before in domestic architecture or design. A rationalism based on design that fulfills human needs, not those of political or feudal show, or maintenance of religious cults and ceremony. This sort of rationalism was picked up later in the 19th century by William Morris, Art Nouveau, and their heirs, who sought to design the Total House, in which all design elements would have a common aesthetic, be beautiful, and fulfill their function well.

    Look at furniture and tablewares of the Baroque age. Often you will react with – “Fantastic, but how could they use it, wear it, sit in it, eat off it, carry it…etc?”

  7. Man of Roma says:

    Yes, I understand your point very well. And the pleasure of life and of the Age of comfort, the frivolity, ah, this ‘doux et intelligent savoir vivre’ I adore so much together with other things of the delightful French culture, although destiny has brought me more in contact with the Anglo-Saxons – which I admire but cannot but love a bit less.

    Allow me though to say that the Baroque (of which rococo is a later development) saw its birth in catholic Rome, with its immense grandeur (it suffice to look at the majestic colonnade of Piazza San Pietro).

    Mais, of course, le Grand siècle, avec Versailles etc., c’est le grand siècle parbleu.

    Damn, my sister has stolen ALL the French book my father had on ce siècle and its literature.

    If only I knew more on art history and you more on music (at least you once you told me this, if I remember well) … but this is a way of discovering new territories in any case.

    • lichanos says:


      I know a little music history, and I can always learn more, but I cannot read music (or just barely), don’t play an intrument, and music theory makes about as much sense to me as electrical circuits! One day…

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