ProjectsSignum and Simulacrum – A Book Project on Close-up, Marble, and Photography: French 18th-Century Sculpture
Eighteenth-Century French Marble Sculpture from a Geological Perspective: Associations, Expertise, Forms
During the eighteenth century, a new empirical approach to nature grew in strength and influence in France. This had consequences for marble, which was both a material used by artists and an object of study among geologists. New, scientific knowledge about marble not only specified its taxonomy and development in the history of the earth but also changed its semantic qualities such as its historicity and topographical connotations. The aim of this research project is to construct a framework for how we might regard marble’s materiality in sculpture during the dynamic eighteenth-century debates concerning geology.
The basic hypothesis of the study is that new geological discourses also had effects on the attitude of sculptors and the viewers towards stone—and in particular, marble—as it was used in sculpture. The study will inquire into 1) discourses on marble in art literature and treatises on geology; 2) sculptors’ theoretical and practical knowledge of marble; and 3) overlapping interests among sculptors and geologists. By connecting research on sculpture with the history of geology, this study will examine the state of knowledge of marble possessed by both sculptors and viewers alike during the eighteenth century.
The project will follow three different tracks to examine intertwining aspects of the materiality of marble in eighteenth-century French sculpture. First, it starts with established discourses on marble in art literature while taking into account how the history of geology was reconceptualized. With the second field of interest, the focus shifts to sculptors dealing with workshop conditions and their confrontation with the actual stone. The third track asks on what occasions could interested sculptors and geologists have met, and offers examples of sculptors’ forms of critical engagement with the materiality of the stone.
The study will contribute to research on marble in relation to eighteenth-century French sculpture. In the history of sculpture, marble was one of the primary material sources for figural expression. Thus, it is important to understand the underlying historical concepts of marble’s materiality in order to consider the two conditions of a work of visual art: that is, its form and
its material. The study’s approach allows for a concrete, transdisciplinary step to be taken between the humanities and the sciences by considering concepts of materiality as an aesthetic as well as a scientific category. For example, the concept of “metamorphosis” now referred not only to Ovid but at the same time to a theory of marble’s actual formation. As such, the interpretive scope for the materiality of marble was expanded in the eighteenth century.
Upcoming Talks and Conferences
Paper on French white marble in the 18th century
Seminar “Moving Monuments: Imperial Aesthetics, Public Memory and Other Unresolved Issues” (Part of the research project: Moving Monuments. The Material Lives of Sculpture from the Danish Colonial Era)
University of Copenhagen, Denmark
29 September 2022