Collections > Electronic Theses and Dissertations > Pleasure and the Body: The Bath in Eighteenth-Century French Art and Architecture

This dissertation examines the eighteenth-century French interest in the bath from the perspective of the arts, evaluating a wide range of material, including paintings, sculptures, printed images, and architectural interiors. The primary period under review (circa 1715-1785) saw a revival of bathing practices in France after nearly two centuries of decline; concurrently, artists and patrons increasingly turned to the contemporary--rather than classical or biblical--bather as a subject of art, and specialized suites for bathing were incorporated into private residences with greater frequency than ever before. I investigate the relationship between these related developments in the social practice of bathing and the arts, tending to the ways in which representations of and architectural spaces for bathing both reflected and helped to shape period attitudes towards the bath. The significance of the visual material, however, extends beyond illustrating an increasingly promoted activity. Bathing was, I contend, an ideal subject through which eighteenth-century artists and architects might engage with new understandings of the body. Of particular interest is the association of the bath with various sensory (and at times, sensual) pleasures, a connection present in a variety of eighteenth-century texts, including personal writings and architectural treatises. Throughout the study, I examine the ways in which pleasure is central to both the works of art and architecture themselves and the viewer's reception of them, focusing on the role of gender within this process. Further supporting my analysis with medical guides, philosophical texts, and literary works, I explore the complex interconnections between bathing and emerging discourses on aesthetics, pleasure, sensation, and physical health in eighteenth-century France, producing new interpretations for a corpus of visual material that has been only superficially understood.