Academic journal article Journal of Art Historiography

Pierre-Jean Mariette, Enlightened Art Connoisseur and Scholar of Art History

Academic journal article Journal of Art Historiography

Pierre-Jean Mariette, Enlightened Art Connoisseur and Scholar of Art History

Article excerpt

Pierre-Jean Mariette, enlightened art connoisseur and scholar of art history Review of: Mariette and the Science of the Connoisseur in Eighteenth-Century Europe by Kristel Smentek, Farnham: Ashgate, 2014, 303 pp., 20 col. plates, 39 b. & w. illus., £75.00, ISBN 978 1 4724 3802 7

One of the outstanding public acknowledgements Pierre-Jean Mariette (1694-1774) received as an art dealer, collector, scholar and antiquarian of European renown was by means of a monumental pastel portrait of the Marquise de Pompadour by Maurice-Quentin de la Tour (Musée du Louvre, Paris). Fashioned as a philosophe with an interest for the arts and sciences Pompadour had the portrait put up on public display on the Paris Salon of 1755. Mariette's book on gem engraving, the Traité des pierres gravées (1750), is depicted by her side on the table; one of its illustrations showing the art of gem engraving hangs prominently over the edge of the table.1 As one of a range of attributes highlighting Pompadour's intellectual and artistic interests it features among volume IV of the Encyclopédie, Montesquieu's De ¡'esprit du lois, Voltaire's Henriade, Guarini's Il Pastor Fido and further objects illustrating the arts of music, painting, printmaking and gem engraving. Although some critics attacked the inappropriate distraction that Pompadour seems to express in the portrait, others believed that the attributes were a fully justified indication of her interests.2

In Mariette and the Science of the Connoisseur in Eighteenth-Century Europe (2014) Kristel Smentek creates a contrast between the famous portrait of Pompadour and the now hardly known Traité of Mariette to highlight what was in effect his 'most substantial scholarly achievement'. In this way Smentek effectively draws attention to aspects of Mariette's career that have largely been dominated by his achievements as a drawing collector and connoisseur.3 She not only thoroughly analyses the scholarly interests he developed in connection to engraved gems, but also the various business activities he employed in the print and book trade, and brings them together with his refined practices as a drawing collector and connoisseur. By doing this she also makes a convincing case of Mariette's ambitions to improve his social position. He gave up a successful print business that had been built up by several generations of the Mariettes and interchanged his life of a little appreciated merchant for that of a higly respected gentleman-scholar at leisure. The great value of Smentek's book lies in this rich correction of a persistent one-sided picture of the capital figure of Mariette in the eighteenth-century art world.

Moreover, more than merely presenting a biographical array of Mariette's different activities, Smentek discusses them in the methodological perspective of what she calls the science of the connoisseur. In the book she 'investigate^] the specific eighteenth-century institutional and economic conditions in which the connoisseur emerged as a social type and art history's distinctive forms of analysis'.4 For that matter she underscores the often collaborative business, collecting and scholarly practices of Mariette with discussions of still extant parts of his print and drawing collections, (illustrated) publications in which he participated, contemporary theories of connoisseurship (by De Piles, Richardson, Caylus) and philosophies of the senses that were passed on to the field of art scholarship through the natural sciences (Locke). Thus, by analyzing the multi-faceted career of Mariette, Smentek admirably unravels the different ways in which connoisseurship - grounded in the empirical observation of art works - contributed to the emergence of a new kind of art history as a distinct field of scientific knowledge in the eighteenth century. Yet, where she extrapolates from Mariette and his circle to art connoisseurs in Europe, more research is needed to determine the extent to which his practices impacted art history. …

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