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The Physiognomy of a Collection: Architectural Legibility and Historical Expression at the Musée des monuments français, 1795-1816

Donnelly, Jennifer Erin (2018) The Physiognomy of a Collection: Architectural Legibility and Historical Expression at the Musée des monuments français, 1795-1816. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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The Musée des monuments français (1795-1816) began as a depot for newly nationalized property during the first years of the French Revolution. The depot rapidly filled with tomb monuments, sculptures, and architectural fragments from the former churches and palaces of the ancien régime in Paris and its environs. The growing cache of historic artifacts and art objects inspired Alexandre Lenoir to shape the storehouse into a collection for public display. The Musée des monuments français subsequently developed into a site of historical discourse. Previous scholarship has predominately framed the museum as an institution central to the growth of ideas about French patrimony in the nineteenth century. My dissertation traces the development of Lenoir's complex system of art and architectural classification and examines the theoretical implications of the museum within contemporaneous dialogues about architectural legibility and historical interpretation. Lenoir integrated physiognomy, formal artistic analysis, and the theoretical potential of the body to navigate uncertain meanings in a period of political and social upheaval. Each gallery of the Musée des monuments français engaged the visitor in a new and different relationship with time and history. The Introduction Hall presented a hieroglyphic overview of French art, the five century rooms temporalized the ancien régime into a historical taxonomy based on the body of the king, the three courtyards revealed a history of architecture that transcended the vocabulary of the legible body, and the garden, called the Élysée, celebrated universal human virtue and genius. In the Élysée, Lenoir buried the remains of the honored dead where their presence activated the senses of the living. The sequence of spaces presented competing interpretations of the relationship between history, material culture, and the individual in which no single historical system dominated. Museum visitors judged the progress of artistic achievements, admired the clarity of scientific classification, mused over the tangible remains of distant centuries, and even conversed with the dead. The Musée des monuments français engaged the sensation and judgment of an emerging museum-going public in the practice of coding temporal and historical relationships onto objects, architectural spaces, and historical bodies.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Donnelly, Jennifer Erinjed82@pitt.edujed82
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairArmstrong, Christopher Drewcda68@pitt.educda68
Committee MemberHoock, Holgerhoock@pitt.eduhoock
Committee MemberSavage, Kirkksa@pitt.eduksa
Committee MemberSmith, Terrytes2@pitt.edutes2
Date: 27 September 2018
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 4 April 2018
Approval Date: 27 September 2018
Submission Date: 2 July 2018
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 524
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > History of Art and Architecture
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: Eighteenth-century France, Nineteenth-century France, Architectural History, Museum Studies, French Revolution
Date Deposited: 27 Sep 2018 15:02
Last Modified: 27 Sep 2018 15:02


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