The Spiritual Rococo: Decor and Divinity from the Salons of Paris to the Missions of Patagonia, 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

The Spiritual Rococo

Decor and Divinity from the Salons of Paris to the Missions of Patagonia, 1st Edition

By Gauvin Alexander Bailey


454 pages

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A groundbreaking approach to Rococo religious décor and spirituality in Europe and South America, The Spiritual Rococo addresses three basic conundrums that impede our understanding of eighteenth-century aesthetics and culture. Why did the Rococo, ostensibly the least spiritual style in the pre-Modern canon, transform into one of the world’s most important modes for adorning sacred spaces? And why is Rococo still treated as a decadent nemesis of the Enlightenment when the two had fundamental characteristics in common? This book seeks to answer these questions by treating Rococo as a global phenomenon for the first time and by exploring its moral and spiritual dimensions through the lens of populist French religious literature of the day-a body of work the author calls the ’Spiritual Rococo’ and which has never been applied directly to the arts. The book traces Rococo’s development from France through Central Europe, Portugal, Brazil, and South America by following a chain of interlocking case studies, whether artistic, literary, or ideological, and it also considers the parallel diffusion of the literature of the Spiritual Rococo in these same regions, placing particular emphasis on unpublished primary sources such as inventories. One of the ultimate goals of this study is to move beyond the cliché of Rococo’s frivolity and acknowledge its essential modernity. Thoroughly interdisciplinary, The Spiritual Rococo not only integrates different art historical fields in novel ways but also interacts with church and social history, literary and post-colonial studies, and anthropology, opening up new horizons in these fields.


'Bailey’s book expands upon our understanding of rococo art and architecture in two significant ways. It proposes that there was a spiritual component to the rococo from its inception, detectable even in its secular applications. It also reveals how spirituality enabled rococo design to become a global phenomenon, ranging beyond France to Germany, Brazil, and Argentina. This is a stimulating, provocative study that reveals how much the rococo mattered to eighteenth-century societies.' Michael Yonan, University of Missouri, Columbia, USA

'[This book is] wide-ranging and formidably well-researched … Bailey maps this process with breadth, depth and precision, and with plentiful, and telling illustrations. This is a brilliant, potentially game-changing book.' Art and Christianity

Table of Contents

Contents: Introduction; ’The dream of happiness’: the literature of the spiritual Rococo and the Christianity of reason; ’As bizarre a style as ever occurred’: Rococo in France; ’Bright shining as the stars’: spiritual Rococo in Central Europe; ’Irregular ornament in the finest French taste’: spiritual Rococo in Portugal and Brazil; ’O happy vision!’: spiritual Rococo in Spain and Spanish South America; Epilogue: ’Superfluous stucco and laughable decoration’: Rococo, religion, and the global enlightenment; Appendices; Bibliography; Index.

About the Author

Gauvin Alexander Bailey is Professor and Alfred and Isabel Bader Chair in Southern Baroque Art at Queen's University, Kingston, Canada.

About the Series

Visual Culture in Early Modernity

A forum for the critical inquiry of the visual arts in the early modern world, Visual Culture in Early Modernity promotes new models of inquiry and new narratives of early modern art and its history. We welcome proposals for both monographs and essay collections that consider the cultural production and reception of images and objects. The range of topics covered in this series includes, but is not limited to, painting, sculpture and architecture as well as material objects, such as domestic furnishings, religious and/or ritual accessories, costume, scientific/medical apparata, erotica, ephemera and printed matter. We seek innovative investigations of western and non-western visual culture produced between 1400 and 1800.


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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
ART / History / Renaissance
ART / History / Baroque & Rococo