February 01: vive l’académie!
2012/02/01 § Leave a comment
On this day in 1648, the Académie royale de peinture et de sculpture sprang into action with the delivery of its very first art class.
The Academy was organized by politician Jean-Baptiste Colbert and artist/theorist Charles Le Brun, an eminently gifted painter who presented this first-ever class at the French Royal Academy. Neither Europe’s (nor even Paris’) first art school, the Académie was modeled on the established Accademia di San Luca in Rome (where Le Brun had studied). Its program formalized art training based on a study of ancient principles in a specific French vein; the model of Imperial Rome was adopted in service to the French state. The strict organization of education and system of advancement through competitions was adopted into its later offspring, the Académie royale d’architecture. Founded 30 December 1671, again by Colbert and architect-engineer François Blondel, this Académie would soon witness the famous Querelle between Blondel and scientist/architect Claude Perrault; it prepared the soil from which the École des Beaux-Arts would sprout, providing the world’s greatest architecture school, through which the Classical tradition blossomed worldwide.
Much of these academic efforts were made with the express purpose of elevating the state of France, and most specifically celebrating King Louis XIV through art and architecture. Even more specifically, that meant decorating his digs, especially the new and sprawling mass at Versailles. This particular focus on the palatial gilded symbol of oppression does not immediately strike one as something to celebrate, unless one is an absolute glutton for excessive application of crystal, gilt run out by the yard, and photoreceptor- numbing displays of, well, everything. But: (1) the codification of art education practices that would last for centuries, (2) the institution of the theoretical debate that is one of the most pertinent in architectural theory, and (3) ultimate foundation of the school that would educate such luminaries as Richard Morris Hunt, Henry Hobson Richardson, Daniel Burnham, Paul Philippe Cret, Cass Gilbert, Raymond Hood, Charles Follen McKim, John Russell Pope and Stanford White. That is not bad for a day’s work.
image: interior of Versailles (Clio’s picture)