Theses Doctoral

The Symbolic, the Lithic and the Legible: Simon-Claude Constant-Dufeux and Mid-Nineteenth-Century Architectural Eclecticism

Ghoche, Ralph

This dissertation traces the career of Simon-Claude Constant-Dufeux (1801-1871), an important, yet little-studied, architect and educator who played a central role in mid-nineteenth-century architectural culture and pedagogy in France. In his writings, his designs, and his teachings at the École des Beaux-Arts and in the private atelier established in 1836, Constant-Dufeux presented architecture as a discipline primarily concerned with symbolic expression and communication. Constant-Dufeux played a key role in determining what would later be called, the Néo-Grec façade. Moreover, his influential teachings on the unity of the arts, his attention to the burgeoning field of aesthetics, and his interest in ornamental design, left a lasting imprint on the subsequent generation of architects and decorative artists.

The dissertation is organized in two parts. Structured as an intellectual history, the first part charts the discourse on symbolic representation as developed by philologists, philosophers, archeologists and architects in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. Here, I explore two parallel developments that were consequential in the way the symbol was understood by Constant-Dufeux: the migration of German Romantic theories of the symbol into France, and the emergence of a "symbolic interpretation" of origins in the architectural discourse of the late eighteen and early nineteenth centuries that challenged neoclassical accounts based on imitation.

The second part traces the social, political and aesthetic philosophy of Constant-Dufeux from his early formation in the administration of the Ponts et Chaussée and in the atelier of François Debret at the École des Beaux-Arts, through his decisive experience in Italy as a recipient of the Grand Prix in 1829, to his professional career in Paris. I provide close readings of the architect's chief works: the fifth-year envoi from Rome for a Chamber of Deputies, the façade for the École Gratuite de Dessin de Paris on the rue Racine, the design of a medal for the Société Centrale des Architectes, and his most ambitious and multi- layered work: the tomb for the rear-admiral Dumont d'Urville in the Montparnasse Cemetery. In addition, I assess more fully the architect's larger vision and theory in light of the reigning eclecticism of the epoch. The architect's eclecticism is read through the lens of Ludovic Vitet, César Daly and Victor Cousin, and I demonstrate that far from being a undirected mélange of competing historical styles, it was intended as a purposeful, even utopian strategy of provoking a yet unseen modern architectural form.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
McLeod, Mary
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
May 7, 2015