Art and politics during the ‘First’ Directory: artists’ petitions and the quarrel over the confiscation of works of art from Italy in 1796

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This article examines the place of artists’ petitions in the quarrel over confiscating works of art. It argues that the dispute provided opportunities for its participants to advance a series of distinct agendas that reflected political and professional concerns rather than judgements about the art in question. By tracing the earliest stages of the quarrel and radically reinterpreting Quatremère's crucial contribution—his Letters on the Plan to Abduct the Monuments of Italy—as part of his reactionary politics, the article clarifies the meaning of the ensuing artists’ petitions. It argues that while Quatremère duped ‘insider’ artists into supporting the Papist cause by signing his petition questioning the confiscations, the artists themselves instead signed as a means to re-assert their status and right to patronage. The vituperative responses to his petition included a counter-petition supporting art confiscations; it was signed by ‘outsider’ artists, reluctant to let their more famous co-professionals monopolize the debate at their expense.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)53-78
Number of pages26
JournalFrench History
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2012

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