Art, Illusion, and Social Mobility in Eighteenth-Century France: Hyacinthe Rigaud and the Making of the Marquis de Gueidan Public Deposited

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  • March 22, 2019
  • Currie, Christopher John
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Art and Art History
  • Cultural capital was essential to social mobility in eighteenth-century France. Rising through the nobility required more than economic and social capital; one was also required to demonstrate familiarity with discourses on the arts and to show through one's appearance and behavior that one had internalized qualities associated with literature, rhetoric, music, dance, and painting. This dissertation examines the role of cultural capital in the social ascendancy of Gaspard de Gueidan (1688-1767), the great-grandson of a merchant who, through his career in the Parlement de Provence, the publication of his writings, and the collecting and commissioning of works of art, became a notable figure in the society of Aix-en-Provence. Aside from the publication of his Discours, Gueidan's most significant engagement with the arts was his commissioning of three portraits of himself from the most sought-after portraitist of his day, Hyacinthe Rigaud (1659-1743). Gueidan also published a false genealogy of his family, claiming that their nobility derived from service to the crown in the crusades, and he commissioned a mausoleum to his fictional forbears from the Provencal sculptor Jean-Pancrace Chastel (1726-1793). Gueidan's campaign of social ascendancy was in many respects very effective, and yet he was also harshly criticized by certain of his contemporaries, notably his nephew Pierre-Cesar de Charleval and the author of the Virelay en vers provencaux, a poem ridiculing Gueidan that circulated in manuscript among the nobility of Aix-en-Provence. The works Gueidan produced and commissioned fashion images of him as inherently noble, as naturally possessing noble qualities such as grace, moderation, and nonchalance, as well as a sense of duty and a zeal for filling his role within the social order. This dissertation examines the means by which these qualities were given visual forms and the ways in which those forms were used to fashion elite identities. Essential to these processes is the concept of decorum (la bienseance); it is the ideal to which artists hoped not only their portraits but all of their works would conform and it is the standard by which individuals and works of art were judged.
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  • In Copyright
  • Sheriff, Mary D.
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Graduation year
  • 2012

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