The prison-made object in the French Revolution

2016-12-05T05:32:16Z (GMT) by Matthiesson, Sophie Louise
This is the first comprehensive study to be undertaken on art made in the political prisons of the French Revolution between 1793 and 1795. Using a flexible definition of ‘the artist’ to encompass the wide spectrum of artistic producers in the eighteenth century, this research demonstrates that the imprisonment of artists took place on a much greater scale than has ever been realised. Hundreds of works of art were produced in political prisons and a significant proportion of these were sold and exchanged. Many have survived, but until now no framework has existed for their interpretation. This thesis examines a cross-sample of prison-made imagery, reconstructing the context of individual paintings, drawings and sculptures to propose possible meanings and functions of a unique oeuvre that has long been enigmatic to scholars. It demonstrates how and why works of art were made in prison and examines the circumstances of their exchange. Importantly, it offers detailed evidence to show how new functions for art evolved in response to changing political circumstances, as they affected both prisons and the people inside them. The new political prison system created in France during 1793, in the midst of a national crisis, is a poorly-understood phenomenon today, but it was also poorly understood by the people who entered and experienced it. Images offered one means of describing the nature and meaning of these new institutions for the people who were confined in them. This study harnesses an important and under-utilised body of prison-made images to shed light on the political prison as an institutional setting for the production and consumption of works of art. Broadly chronological in structure, this investigation into the art of the French revolutionary prison consists of a series of closely contextualised readings of individual works of art, aimed at recovering the original meaning that these images had for incarcerated communities at specific junctures in the Terror and the Thermidorian Reaction. Underpinning this analysis are two discrete empirical studies contained in volume II, a ‘political dictionary of artists in the French Revolution’ (Appendix X) and an ‘annotated catalogue of prison-made works of art’ (Appendix XI). These documents bring together, in a usable format, the totality of archival evidence and prison-made works of art discovered in the course of the present survey. They are accompanied by a set of analytical tables, designed to yield accurate data for some of the central questions that this study has posed, and to provide a foundation for further research on this critical facet of French revolutionary art.

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