Licentious Prints: The Persistence of the Rocaille and the Malleable Antique in French Ornament Prints and Interiors, 1736-1788

Boulden, Ashley, History of Art and Architecture - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Betzer, Sarah, University of Virginia

Taking up a body of prints produced in a wide range of formats and compilations by such figures as Gabriel Huquier (1695-1772), Charles-Germain de Saint-Aubin (1721-1786), and Jean-Charles Delafosse (1734-1789), “Licentious Prints: The Persistence of the 'Rocaille' and the Malleable Antique in French Ornament Prints and Interiors, 1736-1788” examines the circulation of eighteenth-century ornament prints in relation to the decorated Parisian residential interior. Bridging two accounts that are usually considered separately from one another—rococo and its dissemination in print, and the resurgence of the antique—this dissertation centers on a key set of publications that unsettle familiar narratives of stylistic rupture that have largely defined this period in art historical scholarship.
Anchored in the commercial circuits of Parisian print exchange, this dissertation approaches print as a connective thread that allows us to consider the interrelations between works on paper, painting, sculpture, and the residential interior more broadly. One of the central provocations of this dissertation is the assertion that print be considered as potential; rather than replicating other media, print offered variable, shifting possibilities in how objects could be conceived. Examining the deeply sensate and fragmentary perception facilitated by rococo ornament prints, this dissertation revitalizes the commercial circuits of the Parisian print trade as just as generative of ideas about making and engaging with decorative objects as they were reproductive. Tracing the circulation of ornament prints across Parisian topographies of commercial exchange and residential interiors, and the intermedial translations of their forms, my account uncovers a rocaille that subtly persisted in negotiating and conditioning taste from the 1730s through the final years of ancien régime. My dissertation thus situates engraved ornament as vital to a new understanding of eighteenth-century aesthetic debates.
In examining this ornament alongside the writings of architects and critics Jacques-François Blondel (1705-1774), Charles-Nicolas Cochin (1715-1790), and Nicolas Le Camus de Mézières (1721-1789), my dissertation uncovers the permeable spatial bounds of the decorated interior, and reveals ornament for the hôtel particulier as a vital means of navigating and shaping emerging theories of sensual architectural expression. Long overlooked in scholarship, it is by way of ornament prints that we may revitalize our understanding of style as experienced and beheld—and print as fertile terrain for experimentation, expression, and encounter among ornemanistes, publishers, architects, and clients in the eighteenth-century. Ornament prints make visible the emergence of architectural sensual expression, the activation of taste, and, together with allied works in architecture and decoration, reveal an increasingly intimate and expressive shaping of the decorated interior in the eighteenth century.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Eighteenth-Century Art, Prints, Ornament, Rococo, Gabriel Huquier, Nicolas Le Camus de Mézières
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