I was chatting with a journalist friend about the rococo style the other day. It is amazing how a few pointed questions can tie the tongue in knots. “How good is this mirror and why is it so good?” The first part of this question is easy to answer, because I have looked at thousands of rococo mirrors, but the second part is much more difficult. My reference points are to pieces that I have seen, but it isn’t just that they were in a museum or country house, it was because they were beautiful which is a function of design and execution.
Years ago, I had a rococo mirror dating circa 1755 that was very simple. It had the usual rocaille and trees with leaves and flowers and was extremely elegant. I liked the mirror a great deal, but it most certainly was not the best of the best, because the carver clearly had reservations about how much depth to give all these elements. In other words, the design was beautiful and superbly drawn, but the carving, as far as dimension was concerned, was flat. That is not to say that details weren’t well carved because they were.
The rococo is particularly thorny in this regard because the philosophy behind the style is at moments whimsical and at other moments, heavily sculptural and full of drama. Sometimes there is a story and sometimes there isn’t, just a play on the understanding of another culture or age. Hence, trying to rate a mirror or table as being the best is close to pointless. What is much more interesting is to try and divine exactly what the carver/designer was trying to get across. This is not so easy, but it is rewarding and will make the style far more accessible to being understood.