This weekend, I spent Sunday afternoon experimenting with solutions for historical mapping with Mia Ridge, a digital humanist and doyenne of hack days. We staged our own mini hack day to work through some of the challenges involved with the mapping side of my project on Parisian parishes, a major component of which involves geolocating demographic data to map the neighbourhoods in which artists lived in 18th-century Paris.
Over the past few years I’ve done the archival digging to come up with the data and now I’m at the stage of looking for the best ways to visualise it, both for research purposes (i.e. for me to use while thinking through and writing up the results) and for publication (i.e. how do you get copyright to publish a map in a book or journal article when you’ve built it on a commercial service like Google Maps?). Today we were mainly focusing on the first problem as it seemed the easier of the two, but ideally there’ll be a single solution for both.
I experimented with two websites, Georeferencer and Hypercities, both of which I’ve used in the past, but today I was hoping to explore some more of their features. In the end, however, while both have some useful functionalities, neither was perfectly suited to my requirements (though it must be said that Hypercities seemed to have a bug that was preventing data from being saved so it was difficult to explore far). As you can see from the screenshot of my results with Georeferencer, I successfully georeferenced a fragment of an 18th-century map on Google Maps… but there was no way to geolocate historical data on it.
Mia experimented with Metacarter and Mapwarper, and has written up her results and experiences over at Open Objects. I have a major problem with sites like Metacarter because everything you produce is publicly visible, which obviously makes it very difficult when you’re working with unpublished data. Most sites allow the option of keeping the maps you make restricted and that makes more sense for academics using these sites for research purposes. I’m excited to share my research when it’s complete, but I’d like to have control over what happens in the meantime.
|Administrative map of Paris, 1890 (Uni of Chicago Library)|
So all-in-all I didn’t discover the ideal open-access resource in a single afternoon (shock-horror) and for now I’ll just have to keep going with the methods I’ve been using. But I have been able to pinpoint more accurately what it is that I’m looking for and what challenges I face in finding it. And as a happy bi-product we also discovered lots of wonderful sites providing access to historical maps that I hadn’t encountered before, like the David Rumsey Map Collection and a great collection of 19th-century maps of Paris at the University of Chicago Library (most in high resolution with zoomify for getting into the detail of street level, as you can see in the screenshot).
Katie Scott and I have been taking Artists’ Things out and about with two presentations already this year and another booked in. Our formula for these dual presentations seems to be working quite well – the feedback so far has been great and we’ve had some dynamic discussions and really useful leads. Each paper begins with one of us giving an introduction with a conceptual frame that sets up the themes that will emerge from the interventions to come – then we each take one object from our collection and present them in dialogue, one after the other.
For the CRASSH ’18th Century Things’ series in Cambridge, we explored the materiality of artistic practice through two professional tools – Fragonard’s colour box and Houdon’s modelling stand, and for AAH2012 at the Open University we looked at everyday life in the French Royal Academy through two institutional objects – the secretary’s document box and the concierge’s register of funeral invitations. The next stop for us is going to be Lyon for the Luxury and Trade Conference this November, where we will be talking about (you guessed it) artists’ luxury possessions. Through Boucher’s shell collection and Coypel’s gold watch, instead of the more conventional image of the artist as a producer of luxury goods, we will explore the artist’s role as a consumer.
If you’re interested, you can listen to our CRASSH presentation in the 18th Century Things audio archive, where you’ll also find lots of other stimulating papers on 18th-century ‘stuff’. Abstracts for the papers can be found on the Artists’ Things website.
With a couple of hours to spare in Paris on a research trip last month, I went to Comédie Française s’expose at the Petit Palais. The exhibition recounts the history of the Comédie Française through its visual and material remains, tracing the life of the company from its beginnings under Molière in the 17th-century to its revered state today. All is presented through a chronological arrangement of objects including props and costumes; set designs (a whole room of them); theatre buildings; a manuscript ledger – Extraict des Receptes et des affaires de la Comédie depuis de l’année 1659 – recording the daily business of the company; and a jeton probably used as a voting token in company meetings. There were also many portraits of Comédie Française actors and playwrights forming a who’s who of French theatre through the ages.
Perhaps the most direct (and certainly the most poignant) connection to the company’s past was to be found in the personal objects that once belonged to the company’s founder. One of the first rooms in the exhibition was devoted to Molière – with low lighting and spotlit displays, the experience here was of a sacred space dedicated to this patron (and the mostly French exhibition goers were indeed observing appropriately hushed tones). Along with his effigy in a series of portraits and the company ledger open to the page recording his death, there was a trio of reliquaries (seen in my blurry photo): his armchair (first used in the production of the Malade Imaginaire in 1673 and later as a seat in Company meetings), his watch, and his bonnet.
Being in Paris on the hunt for artists’ things for the Artists’ Things project (see earlier post) and having spent days scouring museums and archives for the merest material trace of 18th-century artists, I was particularly struck by the survival of so many of the 17th-century playwright’s possessions. Molière as an individual reached an iconic status that no single 18th-century French artist did, but nevertheless, I found myself wondering why there is comparatively much more interest in collecting, preserving and revering the things that once belonged to writers than those that belonged to artists. Indeed, a large-scale replica of Molière’s armchair once became a piece of public sculpture outside the Théâtre de la Comédie Française, and Voltaire’s personally customised armchair is on permanent display at the Musée Carnavalet. In the context of museum display, maybe writers’ personal objects are more visually engaging than a page of manuscript, or maybe it’s just a French thing about armchairs.
As we’re discovering, 18th-century artists’ things do survive (armchairs among them), but they’re usually lying forgotten in museum store rooms or in the corner of a room. Obviously art works make for much more visually exciting encounters in museums than tatty old domestic objects, but wouldn’t people want to see, for instance, the brush that created the canvas? Is Shakespeare’s quill really more exciting than Michelangelo’s chisel? It left me thinking about how personal possessions survive in the first place, and what role the cult of personality plays in preservation and display.
I’m presenting my research on François Lemoyne’s suicide for the Edgar Wind Society in Oxford this week. I think their event poster has definitely captured the spirit of the thing!
For more on the Edgar Wind Society, you can find information about previous and upcoming events on their website.
We also have an email address – so if you have any comments or if you want to suggest any eighteenth-century artists’ things that should be included, please get in touch at – email@example.com.
This is a photo from a Fête-Dieu procession that I took when I was in Paris in June this year. As part of my research on eighteenth-century religious art in Parisian parishes, I’ve been looking into the history of these processions during the early modern period and so was keen to get some sense of the experience even at this historical remove. The traditionalist parish of Saint-Nicolas-du-Chardonnet is now one of the only parishes left in the city that still performs the ritual.
Fête-Dieu (or Corpus Christi) is a moveable feast of the Roman Catholic Church (and some other Christian churches) celebrated annually in the week after Trinity Sunday (usually falling in May or June). The feast originated as a practice in the thirteenth century, and liturgically it commemorates the ritual of the Eucharist.
By the eighteenth-century, however, the feast day was not only theologically significant, but had also become a key community event in the urban calendar. One of the key rituals associated with the feast is the procession in which the consecrated Host is carried out of the church and into the streets of the parish so that all the community could witness and celebrate the Body of Christ. Each parish had its own procession in which the clergy and congregation would walk through and around the parish, marking its boundaries, and thus celebrating (or at least demarcating) the spaces encompassed by the local community.
|Place Dauphine on Turgot’s 1739 map of Paris|
Fête-Dieu holds significance for art historians of eighteenth-century France because of the material and visual impact of these processions. During this feast, the church was, to a certain extent, turned inside out, as the streets were decorated with banners and paintings to honour the passing Host. Moreover, until the Académie’s Salon exhibitions were inaugurated in 1737, Fête-Dieu was also the occasion for the city’s only public art exhibition at Place Dauphine, an annual display where artists exhibited their works outside in the square (seen here on Turgot’s map at the end of what is now the Île de la Cité).
|Contemporary Fête-Dieu Procession route (base map from Google)|
As I said at the start, Saint-Nicolas-du-Chardonnet is now the only parish in Paris that still celebrates the feast. I was expecting the route of the procession to mark out the parish boundaries as it did in the eighteenth century, but it seems the procession is no longer a strictly local event. As you can see from the route that I mapped as we walked (left), the Saint-Nicolas-du-Chardonnet procession is far from confined to the 5th arrondissement. It begins at the church, but then makes its way to the Seine, crossing onto the Île de la Cité and then onto the Right Bank. Proceeding along the Quai de l’Hôtel de Ville, it then crosses back onto the Île Saint Louis, stopping briefly at a temporary altar on the Pont de la Tournelle where the host is elevated (with the Cathedral of Notre-Dame as a backdrop – as you can see in the photo below), before the procession moves back into the 5th arrondissement and returns to the church. With hundreds of participants walking and chanting, while altar boys swing incense from thuribles, and little children sprinkle flower petals, the procession, not surprisingly, causes a significant interruption to city life. Stopping traffic as it moves along occupying the full width of streets (for nearly two hours in total), the whole event is controlled by the police with patrol cars and metal barricades strategically placed along the route.
|Temporary altar on procession route with Notre-Dame in the background|
It was fascinating to witness how this medieval ritual has survived and yet how much it has clearly evolved, not just since the Middle Ages, but since the eighteenth-century… from a local community event in which neighbourhoods came together to celebrate… to a city-wide proclamation of traditionalist Roman Catholic belief which most Parisians now seem to greet with impatience.
I’m doing the AAH’s Art History in the Pub this month, which means I get another chance to talk about François Lemoyne’s suicide. This has come out of the research I’ve been doing with Katie Scott (Courtauld Institute of Art) on Artists’ Things (website launching soon!) and the material culture of artists in eighteenth-century France. This time I’m focusing a little bit less on the sword itself, and a little bit more on the suicide… and maybe this time, in true CSI:18thC Paris style, the mystery will be solved!
Art History in the Pub is free and open to all. It’s at 7:30 on 26th September at The Monarch in Camden. The abstract is below and further details are available on the AAH website.
|18th-C French Sword – Photo: V&A|
Paris, 4 June 1737: the celebrated artist François Lemoyne commits suicide. It started as an ordinary day. Lemoyne had been to his studio to give a lesson to his students and taken a meal with his cousin. But then events took a macabre turn. Lemoyne retired to his bedroom, carefully locked the door, took up his sword, and proceeded to inflict upon his body multiple fatal stab wounds, before dropping to the floor and dying in a pool of blood.
Lemoyne’s death shocked and horrified his family and colleagues, and it has since presented something of a mystery for art historians. Why should this incredibly successful artist – first painter to Louis XV – have wanted to kill himself only months after completing what is now considered his magnum opus: the ceiling of the Apotheosis of Hercules at the Château de Versailles? Was it over money? Professional jealousy? A madness induced by lack of recognition? Could it have been murder? Or if it really was suicide, then how did Lemoyne complete his gruesome task?
With most of the clues now lost deep in the past, some art-historical sleuthing is necessary in order to retrieve the traces. In this paper, I attempt to solve these perplexing mysteries through a forensic and art-historical analysis of the object responsible: Lemoyne’s sword. Using police reports, autopsies, and witness statements, I piece together the final hours of Lemoyne’s life and offer a material reconstruction of the now lost fatal weapon, exploring what Lemoyne’s sword looked like, what he did with it, and what it meant to him. Drawn from a larger study investigating what artists’ personal possessions reveal about their everyday lives, this case explores the limits and possibilities of object-biography, and presents an exercise in recovering the material history of an object when that object no longer materially exists.
|The Monarch – Photo Source: Qype|
Proceedings kick off at 7:30 and the pub is The Monarch (40-42 Chalk Farm Road, Camden, London, NW1 8BG). Entry is free.
At the end of the month I’m going to Austria for the 13th International Congress of ISECS (International Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies), also known as SIEDS in France (Société internationale d’étude du XVIIIe siècle). The Society has a large conference every four years – like the Olympics for eighteenth-centuryists! – which brings together scholars from all sorts of fields (history, literature, philosophy, art history, language studies) working in all kinds of thematic and geographic areas, who share the one common trait of being eighteenth-century-centric.
This year the conference is being held in Graz (25-29 July 2011) and most of the sessions are related to two main themes: 1) Time in the Age of Enlightenment: Situating the Present, Imagining the Future; and 2) Central and Eastern Europe in the Age of Enlightenment. I’m going to be giving a paper in a session organised by Heather McPherson on Portraiture and Time. Here’s a short abstract to give a sense of what it’s about:
|Jean-Marc Nattier, Self-Portrait with his Family, 1762 (Source: Wikigallery.org)|
Painting Against Time: Alternative Temporalities in the Portraits of Jean-Marc Nattier and Louis Tocqué
This paper explores the suspension of time in portraits by Jean-Marc Nattier and Louis Tocqué, two of the most celebrated portraitists of eighteenth-century France, who were also, at different times in their lives: master and student, colleagues at the Académie Royale, and father- and son-in-law. Through an analysis of the portraits that Nattier and Tocqué painted of themselves and each other across their lives, I explore how these artists played with time to negotiate their changing professional and personal relationships. Tocqué was only ten years younger than his master and father-in-law, but in the pictorial realm, time could be suspended to visualise a more appropriate age gap which had never existed in life. I argue that in Nattier and Tocqué’s portraits and self-portraits, we encounter efforts to construct alternative temporalities in which their relationships were normalised. Through close visual analysis of these objects that marked, commemorated and reinforced professional and familial relationships, this paper reveals how portraiture permitted a temporal fluidity that allowed the objects’ makers to play with reality: to go back in time, to distort the fabric of time, to slow down, to speed up, to preserve moments or even invent them.
I’m organising a session with my colleague Keren Hammerschlag exploring new histories of Europe’s art academies at the 2012 Association of Art Historians (AAH) conference, which is going to be held next March at the Open University in Milton Keynes.
|Courtauld Gallery’s ‘Art on the Line’ Royal Academy exhibition in 2001 (Photo: Courtauld Gallery)|
Our aim is to re-interpret the place of academies in the early modern art world, and to start re-conceptualising the histories that have been constructed of these institutions in art history. Here’s the call for papers (submissions due by 7 November 2011):
For centuries, institutions like the Royal Academy in London, the Académie Royale (later the Académie des Beaux Arts) in Paris, and the Accademia di San Luca in Rome were the epicentres of European art practice, theory and education. For artists, having the letters ‘RA’ after their name, or the opportunity to show works at the Salons or the Summer Exhibitions promised elevated social standing and commercial success. As institutions, Academies developed principles and ideals that dominated artistic production throughout the period. In art history, however, the ‘Academy’ has been variously recast as staid, kitsch and archaic. According to critics, ‘academic’ art represents the inert centre against which avant-garde innovation and originality was pitted. But in their time, Europe’s Academies were anything but static or homogenous. Established by groups of artists resisting under-developed or conservative attitudes to art, these communities often began as innovative alternatives; they were home to radical new approaches, and became sites of heated debate in response to political, theoretical and social shifts.
This session seeks a re-evaluation of art’s insiders. What did it mean to be at the centre of these powerful institutions? And how can we effectively revisit the Academy without falling into the trap of reviving dead, white, male, bourgeois artists? We invite proposals for papers that take a new look at the ‘Academy’ and academicians in the period 1600 to 1900. Papers might address issues of gender, social networks, individual and collective identity, educational practices, centre and periphery (eg. regional academies), in-groups and rivalries, competition and emulation, successes and failures. In particular we invite papers informed by sociological, anthropological and cultural theory approaches, which take art objects as their focus.