Signs of power : iconoclasm in Paris, 1789-1795
This thesis is about iconoclasm in Paris, 1789-1795. Previous full-length studies on the subject have condemned revolutionary iconoclasm as 'vandalism' because, they claim, it showed barbaric disrespect for art's sacred, aesthetic and historical values. This thesis argues that such condemnations are anachronistic because they fail to recognise the variety of ways in which late eighteenth-century Parisians used art, assessed its value and established appropriate ways of treating it. For many eighteenth-century Parisians, religious and political art had a vital role to play in mediating struggles for meaning in the wider world. Many Parisians did not privilege the aesthetic and historical values of art, nor did they believe that such values offered necessary and sufficient grounds for automatically respecting art's physical integrity. This thesis explores the various ways in which different interest groups sought to preserve or destroy art for political and/or religious reasons, and the resulting tension between groups who did, or did not, believe that all art ought to be divorced from such struggles. The thesis draws on a wider range of manuscript and printed sources than have been used in previous studies, even the more recent articles that have avoided condemning iconoclasm. In order to explain the scale of official iconoclasm in Year II, this thesis also covers a longer period than most of the available literature on the subject. The methodology employed in this study focuses on fewer spaces than is usual in this field of research, establishing connections between specific iconoclastic events and local, as well as national, discourses. Close analysis of iconoclastic actions, and representations of them, are used to argue from the specific to the general, explaining iconoclasm and the development of iconoclastic and preservationist government policies. It is shown that iconoclasm occurred because art symbolically mediated contested power relations during the revolution.