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Inside a Parish Church: Art & Religion in 18th-Century Paris

Talk by

Dr. Hannah Williams
Leverhulme Early Career Research Fellow
Queen Mary University of London

Religion has become the blindspot of eighteenth-century art history. From Watteau’s fêtes galantes, to Boucher’s rococo nudes, or David’s neoclassical political dramas, the canonical images defining our discipline’s chapters on the late ancien régime are resolutely secular. But the period itself was not. In eighteenth-century Paris, religion was everywhere and so was religious art. This paper is a response to this art-historical conundrum of why eighteenth-century religious art, so important in its time, has since been so consistently overlooked. Drawn from a larger book project exploring the art and material culture of Paris’s parish churches, this paper focuses on a single parish – Saint-Merry – to discover the story behind its eighteenth-century embellishments. From the reasons that prompted new commissions, to the people involved in its productions, and the inventive ways of paying for it, this study looks at the role that artists played in the development of Paris’s churches, but also the role that religion played in the lives of the city’s artists.

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SAH thanks The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Fund at The Chicago Community Foundation for its operating support.
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