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Title: Pictorial sign and social order : L'Académie Royale de Peinture et Sculpture 1638-1752
Author: Mirzoeff, Nicholas
Awarding Body: University of Warwick
Current Institution: University of Warwick
Date of Award: 1990
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In my doctorate, I have sought to question the establishment of the Academy in France along two particular lines of enquiry. I considered why the government established a state institution for the arts and how and why it sought to influence artistic production. Under Richelieu, artistic initiatives were subordinated to the requirements of factional court politics. But after the upheavals of the Fronde (1648-53), the monarchy created the Absolutist court in which aesthetics were politics. In the phrase used by the logicians of Port-Royal: Le portrait du Cesar, c'est Cesar". The increased political importance of the image coincided with a radical re-evaluation of sight and its representation in the visual image, following the work of Descartes. I therefore set out to analyse the debates in and around the Academy concerning theories of vision and their implication for the artist. I found the Academy resisted Cartesian and perspectival theory and expelled its first Professor of Perspective, Abraham Bosse, in a dispute which sheds much light on its institutional and theoretical base. Far from being an easy Academic victory, the dispute required the intervention of Colbert himself. Insteadof the Desarguian perspective championed by Bosse, the Academy's theorist, Gregoire Huret sought to control the pictorial sign through gender difference. But his theory contained too many prohibitions to be of practical use to artists. It was not until the Academy was pushed by the government into accepting the Modern theories of Roger de Piles that a gap opened between nature and its representation in which artists could operate. These two histories were closely linked, for it was not until the Academy found a means of representing its theory in the work of Watteau and the fête galante artists, that it achieved institutional security. The final chapter of my thesis analyses Watteau's work as a resolution of the long-standing theoretical uncertainty in the Academy over the status of the visual image. In an epilogue, the rapid death of the fete galante as a genre is shown to mark the end of this chapter of Academic history. In elucidating the often complex artistic theories in early modern France, I have made use of the methodology and theory of contemporary French thinkers such as Louis Mann, Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida. Their insights have helped me appreciate the complexity and vitality of Academic thought which has so often been readily dismissed as sterile scholasticism. The painters of the Academy were also theorists. In that sense, we have much to learn from them.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: DC France ; N Visual arts (General) For photography, see TR