Styles: The Curve of the Sea Shell

Every beachcomber knows that sea shells are beautiful, yet few know they are so beautiful that once their shape inspired a style that spread across half of Europe. During the 18th century, painters, sculptors, even candlestick makers all followed the curve of the sea shell. The style was called rococo—itself an onomatopoeic image of the art —from the French word rocaille, meaning fancywork in rocks and shells.

Profuse with C scrolls and S curves, rococo has often been labeled an interior decorator's art. In courtly architecture, such as Munich's dainty Amalienburg palace,...

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