Art: Rococo Retrospective

Doomed to be thrust from power by the onrushing forces of history, the aristocracy of 18th century Europe elected to live out its autumn in a sort of perpetual costume party. It was an age of elaboration, in manners and art, essentially frivolous but with a concealed streak of autumnal sadness. Its curlicued style came to be called rococo.

Typical of the rococo was its enchantment with porcelain. Early in the 18th century, a German alchemist discovered the Oriental secret of making true hard-paste porcelain, and soon princes were avidly collecting the stuff. Many...

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