Collections > Electronic Theses and Dissertations > Living Together: Representations of Animals and the Performance of Elite Identities in French Spaces of Sociability, 1700-1789
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This dissertation analyzes the complex bonds between humans and animals as they were represented in eighteenth-century French art and material culture. I argue that despite scientific, philosophic, and social efforts to firmly separate the categories of human and animal, the creatures that elites encountered on a daily basis were intimately entwined with expressions of refined, cultivated identities. As a result, visual depictions of animals – associated with nature and the natural world – became integral to the understanding and expression of the human, cultural world. Indeed, the distinction between humans and animals was positively blurred in the visual arts. In my analysis of the muddled categories, I explore four iterations of the animal form: (1) animals as compagnie (company), (2) animals as cuisine (food), (3) animals as couture (clothing) and (4) animals as conseillers (guides). Aristocrats would regularly encounter these forms of animals in spaces of sociability (such as the dining room, salon, and boudoir), locations that proved central to performances of identity and expressions of the most astute forms of culture. Turning to works of art by well-known (such as Jean-Honoré Fragonard, François Boucher, and Jean-Siméon Chardin), understudied (such as François-Pierre Brain de Sainte Marie), and unknown artists, I analyze how the visual landscape represented an alternative view of the world described and catalogued in Enlightenment texts. My study combines art historical analysis with both a close attention to eighteenth-century discourses on nature and insights drawn from the field of animal studies. This project reveals the profound cultural work performed by representations of animals, argues that eighteenth-century animal encounters were not limited to interactions with living creatures, and introduces an alternative understanding of the French Enlightenment’s interpretation of animals.