Theses Doctoral

Boucher's Bijoux: Luxury Reproduction in the Age of Enlightenment

Wager, Susan Michele

This dissertation examines the translation of paintings and drawings by François Boucher (1703–1770) into luxury media. Eighteenth-century collectors expended small fortunes on precious objects that reproduced Boucher’s work: cameos, intaglios, enamel-painted porcelain vessels, gold boxes, biscuit porcelain figurines, wool and silk tapestries, and furniture upholstery. Existing studies of eighteenth-century reproduction have tended to focus on innovations in printmaking that enabled the production of inexpensive and extremely faithful facsimiles of works of art. Luxury reproductions, by contrast, were expensive, scarce, and materially assertive, often calling attention to their mediums, and to the act of mediation itself. Through an investigation of the morphological, material, and temporal stakes of these intermedial translations, I show that luxury copies were not derivative substitutes for absent originals, but rather were generative tools of social, artistic, and political identity construction.

A central figure in this story is the royal mistress Madame de Pompadour (1721–1764), who was an avid collector of Boucher’s work (and of reproductions after his work), and who reproduced his cameos and intaglios in a limited-edition set of engravings. Through her engravings and decorative installations, Pompadour demonstrated a keen interest in the material processes of transmission and the agency of media. I examine Pompadour’s work and patronage in relation to her political identity as a mediator between the court and the king. Boucher was the perfect collaborator in Pompadour’s project; the material processes of intermedial translation often became the very subject of his work. Boucher’s and Pompadour’s deep investment in the materiality of mediation demands that we revise our understanding of the Rococo “unity of the arts,” which too often is attributed to a dematerialized mobility.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Art History and Archaeology
Thesis Advisors
Higonnet, Anne
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
May 7, 2015