Reviewed: ‘Regulating the Académie’

Posted in books, reviews by Editor on November 4, 2010

Recently added to caa.reviews:

Reed Benhamou, Regulating the Académie: Art, Rules and Power in “ancien régime” France (Oxford: Voltaire Foundation, 2009), 308 pages, ISBN: 9780729409728, $100.

Reviewed by Elizabeth C. Mansfield, Department of Art History, New York University; posted 27 October 2010.

Few institutions have influenced the course of European art or the writing of art history as decisively as the French Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture. Its pulse animated the visual extravagance of Versailles, the popularity of public art exhibitions, the emergence of art criticism, and the codification of an approach to arts instruction that persists to this day. The Academy’s legacy extends even to the enduring assumption that a centralized system of arts administration distinguishes a functioning nation-state. It is no surprise, then, that the Academy should cast a strong shadow in so many histories of post-Renaissance European art. Yet, for all this, art historians rarely allow the Academy to assume more than a vaguely adumbrated role as a monolithic force bent on enforcing conservative artistic values and practices. To be sure, some scholars have succeeded in bringing to life the Academy’s complex institutional operation. Thomas Crow’s ‘Painters and Public Life in Eighteenth-Century Paris’ (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985) and ‘Emulation: Making Artists for Revolutionary France’ (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995), for instance, exemplify the capacity for subtle institutional analysis to yield compelling art-historical interpretations. Reed Benhamou’s ‘Regulating the Académie: Art, Rules and Power in ancien régime France‘ offers both a prompt and an aid to scholars who seek to engage in a similarly careful study of the French Royal Academy. Drawing from archival as well as published sources, Benhamou has crafted a satisfyingly detailed account of the administrative history of the Academy. . . .

For the full review, click here» (CAA membership required)

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