Jean-François Bédard delivered a Françoise and Georges Selz Lecture on Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century French Decorative Arts and Culture on Tuesday, November 15, 2016 at 6 pm. His talk was entitled “Between Construction and Invention: Theories of Ornament in Eighteenth-Century Architecture.”


Jean-François Bédard is Associate Professor at Syracuse University’s School of Architecture. He received his doctoral degree in the Department of Art History and Archeology at Columbia University. His research focuses on the architecture and the visual culture of court society in early modern France. His publications include Decorative Games: Ornament, Rhetoric, and Noble Culture in the Work of Gilles-Marie Oppenord (University of Delaware Press, 2011); “Political Renewal and Architectural Revival during the French Regency: Oppenord’s Palais-Royal,” in the Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians; “Huquier’s Prints after Oppenord’s Ripa,” in Print Quarterly; and “Beds and Thrones: Reforming Aulic Space in Late Eighteenth-Century France,” in the Journal of Art Historiography. Forthcoming essays will be included in the new edition of Sir Banister Fletcher’s History of Architecture (Batsford), in The Companion to Eighteenth-Century Architecture (Wiley-Blackwell), and in Journal 18. Fellowships and visiting scholarships from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the J. Paul Getty Foundation, the Kress Foundation, the Graham Foundation for the Visual Arts, the Canadian Centre for Architecture, and the Institut National d’Histoire de l’Art in Paris have supported his work.

In this talk, Bédard explored theories of ornament in eighteenth-century architecture. Far from a peripheral concern for eighteenth-century architects, ornament was at the center of the debates regarding the meaning of architectural form. In his Parere su l’architettura—a 1765 text championing the cause of Roman Imperial architecture over that of Periclean Athens—Giambattista Piranesi delineated the dispute. According to Piranesi, rationalists and traditionalists, on the one hand, advocated for strict guidelines in the ornamentation of buildings. These they grounded in the imitation of beautiful nature which, according to them, produced decorum (appropriateness), a paramount concern for architects. Proponents of invention, on the other hand, challenged decorum’s regulations. They supported instead unbridled ornamental invention that questioned the very boundaries of architecture as a discipline. From Claude Perrault to Piranesi, Jacques-François Blondel to Kant, Enlightenment thinking about ornament thus oscillated between reason and pleasure, and ultimately between mind and body. By the end of the century, it grounded the nascent discipline of aesthetics that ushered the modern regime of artistic value.