Call for Papers | British Country House at NACBS

Posted in Calls for Papers by Editor on January 24, 2013

I’m hoping to put together a panel for this year’s NACBS meeting in Portland. Please email me with any questions! -CH

Session on the British Country House at NACBS
North American Conference on British Studies, Portland, 8-10 November 2013

Proposals due by 18 February 2013

This session seeks to bring together scholars working on the full range of topics associated with country houses in British history – including architecture, the decorative arts, and gardens. Papers might address material aspects as well as larger contextual approaches that situate particular families and houses within narratives of power, patronage, the history of taste, and British identity. Please email a 200-word proposal and a CV to CraigAshleyHanson@gmail.com by 18 February 2013 (the complete panel will need to be submitted together in March).

Exhibition Review | Versailles and the Antique

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on January 24, 2013

Reviewed for Enfilade by Hélène Bremer

Versailles et l’Antique
Château de Versailles, 13 November 2012 — 17 March 2013

Curated by Alexandre Maral, Geneviève Bresc-Bautier, Jean-Luc Martinez, and Nicolas Milovanovic, with scenography by Pier Luigi Pizzi

Galerie de Pierre basse

Galerie de Pierre basse (Room 1) Versailles et l’Antique
© EPV / Th. Garnier

The entrance through the Gallerie de Pierre Basse (Room 1) of the Palace of Versailles has been changed dramatically for the exhibition Versailles and Antiquity. The public is usually barred from this part of the palace, allowed only to peek down a rather dark hallway containing a collection of sculpture dedicated to heroes of French history. Instead, for now, these statues are discretely draped with white tissue, and the public enters alongside a selection of masterpieces from Louis XIVth’s sculpture garden. The finest marble sculpture from the collections of the French court, now in the collections of the Louvre and the Palace of Versailles, suggest a new Rome, created at Versailles by the Sun King and presently revived by the exhibition curators. This exceptionally ambitious show brings together not only marbles, but also bronzes, tapestries, paintings, drawings, decorative and ephemeral objects to explore the relationship between Versailles and Antiquity.

Screen shot 2013-01-22 at 7.45.51 PMThe renowned opera-stage-designer Pier Luigi Pizzi is responsible for the scenography of the installation. He has described the exhibition as a play in which the works of art are the characters and the stage breathes the spirit of the seventeenth-century French court. The subject of the play is the taste of the insatiable collector, Louis XIV. Within the spaces of the palace, Pizzi has managed to accommodate these ‘actors’, which here communicate with each other and invite visitors to follow along, from one spectacular scene to the next (though I imagine many may fail to appreciate the full production with not a single explanatory panel to be found in the whole exhibition).

In early modern Europe, all important courts collected antiquities in order to suggest their magnificence. Materials like porphyry, marble, alabaster, and bronze enhanced the prestige of such collections while tapestries and paintings comparing sovereigns with Classical gods and goddesses symbolized the court’s power.

In France this mode of collecting began with François I. After he failed to acquire the Laöcoon group in 1515 (and again in 1520) from Pope Leo X, his agent Francesco Primaticcio finally gained permission to make casts from the work, and a bronze copy was made for the Palace at Fontainebleau. The French collection of antiques grew only slowly under Henry II, who received the sculpture of Diane chasseresse from Pope Paul IV in 1556 (it serves as the emblem of the exhibition), and subsequent sovereigns largely lost interest altogether. In the seventeenth century, however, cardinals Richelieu and Mazarin assembled large collections of antiquities, most of which eventually entered the collection of Louis XIV. While the king had long been interested in collecting antiquities (under the guidance of Mazarin), his ambitions were fueled by a remark made by Bernini in 1665 during the sculptor’s visit to France. After Louis XIV showed him the royal collection, Bernini judged that it consisted of “ornaments for ladies.” Embarrassed, the king hurried to improve the collection, adding important, large, masculine (read powerful) sculpture. At the time it was not necessary to display genuine antique marbles; but instead, reassembled works and contemporary sculpture inspired by the antique could do as well. Within a short time, the collection at Versailles grew steadily, and the newly built Hall of Mirrors was adorned with gods and goddesses in marble, vases in porphyry as well as with classically-themed ceiling and wall paintings. References to antiquity intensified among all art forms, with Versailles celebrated as the new Rome.

Salle du Maroc « Héros et héroïnes antiques » © EPV / Th. Garnier

Salle du Maroc (Room 3) Versailles et l’Antique
© EPV / Th. Garnier

This exhibition claims to reconstruct a Versailles not seen since the French Revolution. On offer is not, however, a display of antiquities as they appeared at the court of Louis XIV, but the creation of an ambiance. Walking from the sculpture garden in the Gallerie Basse up the stairs to the Salle de Constantine (Room 2) with its reconstructed Palais de Soleil would have been a rather different experience in the seventeenth century. The importance of antiquity is nonetheless clear from the enormous quantity of objects on display. Using the rooms of the palace instead of temporary exhibition spaces preserves the court’s atmosphere. One wanders from intimate cabinets (Rooms 4 and 5) filled with precious objects and paintings, into a light-filled sculpture gallery dedicated to the gardens of Marly (Room 6), to rooms containing mythological paintings (Rooms 7 and 8). The exhibition includes a historical sequence, and dixhuitièmists will be especially interested in the Quatrième Salle de Crimée (Room 8) dedicated to the persistence of antiquity in the eighteenth century. In particular, the room examines eighteenth-century taste through paintings by Nattier and Drouais of court ladies disguised as Diana or Flore, along with the changing relationship between politics and aesthetics.

Quatrième salle de Crimée « Permanence de l'Antique au XVIIIe siècle » © EPV / Th. Garnier

Quatrième salle de Crimée (Room 8) Versailles et l’Antique
© EPV / Th. Garnier

Near the show’s conclusion (Room 9), the presentation of the grand projet to reconstruct the palace during the eighteenth century is interesting for its references to the antique (especially to the monuments of Rome), but this architectural departure is probably a bit much for the average visitor at the close of such an extensive exhibition (180 of the 200 objects on display have already asked a lot of viewers’ attention). Showing this material in a separate venue may have helped insure it receives the attention it merits.

Finally, the Salle de la Smalah (Room 10), dedicated to the Fêtes à l’antique, displays an impressive table ornament in the form of a antique colonnade in front of a sculpture of Apollo, in turn flanked by an enormous barometer made for Louis XV and XVI. Rather, however, than providing a satisfying finale to the proposed play, this last installation left me feeling oddly alone on the middle of the stage, longing for a re-enactment.

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Alexandre Maral and Nicolas Milovanovic, eds., Versailles et l’Antique (Paris: Artlys, 2012), 336 pages, ISBN: 978-2854955125, 49€ / $95.

CatalogueVersailles was a new Rome in several ways: in its grandiose size, in its ambition to endure through the centuries, and in the many references to the great models of Antiquity. In the 17th century, Antiquity was an incomparable absolute, which the most ambitious sovereigns wished to rival: Louis XIV created Versailles as the seat of power to bring back the grandeur of Antiquity. The exhibition examines the presence of Antiquity in Versailles from two angles: the acquisition of antique fragments and commissions of copies by the kings, and the re-appropriation of antique models and figures by artists. It brings back to Versailles about fifty antiques that it possessed during the Ancien Régime. The interpretation of Antiquity and its mythology are evoked through about two hundred works from the principal French and foreign collections (the Louvre, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Musée des Beaux-Arts de Besançon, Uffizi Gallery of Florence, Archaeological Museum of Naples, etc.): sculptures, paintings, drawings, engravings,
tapestries, pieces of furniture, objets d’art.

Available from ArtBooks.com»

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The website of the Palace of Versailles provides additional information, including a series of videos. Full descriptions of each section of the exhibition are available as a PDF file here»

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