Upcoming Release: A Delicate Matter - Art, Fragility, and Consumption in Eighteenth-Century France

October 31 2023

Image of Upcoming Release: A Delicate Matter - Art, Fragility, and Consumption in Eighteenth-Century France

Picture: Penn State University Press

Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz:

Penn State University Press will be releasing a very intriguing book in January 2024. A Delicate Matter: Art, Fragility, and Consumption in Eighteenth-Century France is the latest publication to investigate the history of 'unstable' art.

According to the book's blurb:

Eighteenth-century France witnessed an unprecedented proliferation of materially unstable art, from oil paintings that cracked within years of their creation to enormous pastel portraits vulnerable to the slightest touch or vibration. In A Delicate Matter, Oliver Wunsch traces these artistic practices to the economic and social conditions that enabled them: an ascendant class of art collectors who embraced fragile objects as a means of showcasing their disposable wealth.

While studies of Rococo art have traditionally focused on style and subject matter, this book reveals how the physical construction of paintings and sculptures was central to the period’s reconceptualization of art. Drawing on sources ranging from eighteenth-century artists’ writings to twenty-first-century laboratory analyses, Wunsch demonstrates how the technical practices of eighteenth-century painters and sculptors provoked a broad transformation in the relationship between art, time, and money. Delicacy, which began the eighteenth century as a commodified extension of courtly sociability, was by century’s end reimagined as the irreducible essence of art’s autonomous value.

Innovative and original, A Delicate Matter is an important intervention in the growing body of scholarship on durability and conservation in eighteenth-century French art. It challenges the art historical tendency to see decay as little more than an impediment to research, instead showing how physical instability played a critical role in establishing art’s meaning and purpose.

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