This work is a reprise of an earlier attempt at a similar question which was sadly never finished as I worked on it under a spell of sickness which led to a writing process influenced by cough syrup and other lovely drug combinations in a desperate attempt at functionality. Nevertheless, someone with authority at the time (I am discounting my friends all of whom have either read it or heard of it) had the displeasure of reading the few poorly cobbled together paragraphs I wrote at the time. Professor Caroline Van Eck had the unwarranted entertainment of reading about Madonna and Marie-Antoinette in the same stroke of ink while also looking into an array of connecting ideas none of which received enough structure or words to properly develop, land and connect. She was also treated to a lovely coughing fit during the ensuing supervision in which I still firmly believe Diderot was trying to choke me to avoid my lengthy discourse on the aforementioned Queen’s horological collection. I was then treated by Professor Van Eck to a glass of water and a packet of what I believe to have been Fisherman’s Friend, suffice to say there were quite a few surrealist events surrounding this work.

Alas I return to it once again to untangle the mess left behind by my younger addled mind (because one year gives a hell of a growth spurt in synapses), and hope it will be to your enjoyment. 

To Professor Van Eck, thank you for a wonderful year of teaching and allow me to apologise for the late delivery of this work (1 year and a half after the fact).

To those curious about the train wreck you may observe it over here (once I put it up).

Let us dive into the complex politics to be found within art patronage and collecting as perceived through the lenses of gender, family and class issues in eighteenth century France. 

It would be easy to look at the formulation of the topic and jump right into the ship of womanhood  in the eighteenth century and the limitations and strategies utilised by women to circumvent a fundamentally patriarchal society. This was the original approach I presented, however, as my lengthy and dispersed introduction attempts to make clear, these oppressive narratives should be taken with a grain of salt. Indeed, depending on class and family many were participants of this oppressive system and played it to their own benefit. That is not to say that these structures were not inherently hostile towards women, but it is naive to consider them so far removed that they always stood diametrically opposite to them. At present this article will concern itself with a handful of public figures of eighteenth century France all whom were in one way or another connected and through whose relationships we can come to a clearer illustration of what was the experience of art patronage and collecting from the differing perspectives mentioned above. These individuals are: Christina of Sweden (1626-1689), Louis XIV (1638-1715), Philippe II, Duc d’Orléans (1674-1723) , Comtesse de Verrue (1670-1736), Antoine Watteau (1684-1721), Edmé-François Gersaint (1694-1750), Comte de Jullienne (1686-1766), Comte de Caylus (1692-1765), Louis XV (1710-1774), Mme de Pompadour (1721-1764), Mme Geoffrin (1699-1777), and Denis Diderot (1713-1784).

As you can see from the dates proposed we are working through the second half of the seventeenth century into almost the entirety of the eighteenth century. France during this period is particularly intertwined with the shadow of Louis XIV, first in life and later in death, which is closely paired with the mounting struggle between discourses surrounding the origin of power. The latter makes reference to the opposition between born nobles and the rising bourgeoisie which often surpassed in riches the aforementioned. Our cast is somewhat primed to explore these intricacies and how they played out in the world of the arts. To unveil slowly but steadily these we will be looking at three specific questions: Who in the art world is worthy of purchase? Who is worthy of remembrance? And lastly: in which context is either permitted by circumstance?

In view of answering each and every one of these questions, and forgive me for my abuse of the theatre analogy, we will set up a series of scenes for our cast that illustrate their merit (of these questions) and the variety of resolutions that could be enacted. The first seeks to answer the question of right of purchase which we will illustrate with the Imperiali Collection and its chase by Christina of Sweden and Louis XIV, this first act will be complimented with a look into the later purchase of Christina of Sweden’s collection by Louis XIV’s nephew, the Regent, Philippe II, Duc d’Orléans. The second act will delve into the right to remembrance looking at those around the artist Antoine Watteau and the writings that his life inspired in his patrons, Comtesse de la Verrue, Pierre Crozat, dealers, Edmé-François Gersaint, Sirois, and connoisseurs, Jean de Jullienne, Comte de Caylus. The third and last act will concern itself with the very specific issue of public and private, through the contentious positions occupied by Mme de Pompadour and Mme Geoffrin in relation to each other and to the politic and social status they sought to uphold through their collections and patronage in the art world. The latter will put in perspective the social and political factors that can be said to hold influence in achieving either one of the actions aforementioned (purchase and remembrance). The specific reason for these casting choices is to emphasise the simultaneous nature of these events, attitudes and exchanges.

Despite my desire to write this out as a fully fledged work, after finishing my answer for the first question I had to acknowledge that the size might be far to large for the comfortable digestion of online content. As such I have decided to publish each part separately so that the reader may enjoy each at their leisure. Once all parts are published it will be available to either enjoy in a modular manner or as a continuum at your discretion.

The right to purchase – Part I of “Collecting and Patronage in Eighteenth century France”

The right to remembrance – Part II of “Collecting and Patronage in Eighteenth century France”

Title TBD – Part III of “Collecting and Patronage in Eighteenth century France”

Collecting and Patronage in eighteenth century France by Chiara Selene Ferrari Braun is licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0

Illustration of a bird flying.


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