Photograph of Rococo Furniture Copyright © 2007 Sotheby’s

Rococo was an answer to the oppressively formal baroque style. Much like French ruler Louis XIV — whose reign is synonymous with it — the baroque aesthetic was austere and rigid. But with newfound freedoms under adolescent king Louis XV, French tastes turned to a modern, lighter, and more flamboyant style.

The term rococo is derived from the French rocaille, which refers to the carved elements in classical architecture. It developed as a furniture style in the early 1700s and was characterized by delicate, natural forms and asymmetrical curves. The prolific use of carved surfaces — often gilt in gold — further defines the style. Also known as Louis XV, rococo first won favor with the French aristocracy before being adopted by the Englishman Thomas Chippendale, who featured it heavily in his famous design book.

Eventually, it was derided by critics as being a frivolous reflection of a corrupt social system and suffered the same fate as its bourgeois patrons.