In current and past art-historical studies, there has been almost no consideration of the haptic qualities of rocaille ornamentation. By considering the agency of this type of ornamentation, the potential affect it has on its participants and the relations created between it and its viewers, this essay presents a materialist reading of 18th-century rocaille ornament in which a bodily form of knowledge is recuperated. Describing the type of matter depicted in the ornaments as one of heterogeneous organic shapes and analysing how these forms create visual networks that incorporate the participant, it is argued that boundaries between such a binary as subject-object are rendered fluid and that the conception of separate entities, such as furniture-viewer, disintegrate. Using Merleau-Ponty’s notion of flesh, the essay advances that rococo ornamentation can be considered both radical and also thought of as prosthetics extending the notions of a circumscribed body and self.
Keywords: ornament, rococo, rocaille, mirrors, 18th-century visual culture, François-Thomas Mondon, Juste-Aurèle Meissonnier, Jean-François Bastide, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, affect
Full text: OAJ_issue7_Boivin_07 (PDF 17 MB).
Julie Boivin holds a Ph.D. in art history from the University of Toronto. Her thesis addressed ornamentation, particularly of 18th-century French rococo visual and material culture as viewed through the lens of contemporary body-horror visual culture. She has written articles and catalogues on contemporary art and is interested in the ontology of ornament, relations between space, identity, and perception.