Étienne-Maurice Falconet and the Matter of Sculpture: Marble, Porcelain, and Sugar in Eighteenth-Century Paris

Author: ORCID icon orcid.org/0000-0001-9953-4843
Caticha, Alicia, History of Art and Architecture - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Betzer, Sarah, University of Virginia

In 1757, the Academic sculptor Étienne-Maurice Falconet (1716-1791) was appointed the director of the sculpture atelier at the Sèvres Porcelain Manufactory. Taking advantage of the material similarities between marble and unglazed soft-paste porcelain, Falconet reproduced his salon successes en masse. These porcelain figures quickly became ubiquitous in domestic interiors and were put side by side expensive sugar sculpture as the centerpieces of elite dining tables. My dissertation shall investigate the diverse body of sculptural production exemplified by the career of Étienne-Maurice Falconet—ranging from marble sculpture, porcelain figurines, and sugar sculpture—with the goal of expanding the operative boundaries of sculpture beyond the fine arts, to include the decorative arts and ephemeral objects. These distinct materials, and their web of formal and iconographic similarities, complicate issues of copying, reproduction, and the revered status of the original. The emulation of the whiteness of marble, the primary characteristic unifying the three materials, is evidence of the prevailing importance of Academic sculpture and the explicit antique connotations of marble. In addition, the replication of marble in porcelain and sugar dramatically shifts the nexus of meaning while further expanding the centers of production beyond Europe’s boarders to include Asia, Africa, and the Americas. The replication of canonical white marble forms in these global materials alludes to a deeper political and social ideology of a society attempting to assert ideas of racial difference and hierarchy while simultaneously representing the expanding purview of eighteenth-century Europe.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Eighteenth-Century Art, Sèvres Porcelain, Étienne-Maurice Falconet, Race, Sugar Sculpture, Denis Diderot, Marble, French Sculpture, Saint-Domingue, Whiteness
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