Hannah Williams will deliver a Françoise and Georges Selz Lecture on Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century French Decorative Arts and Culture on Tuesday, March 3, at 6 pm. Her talk is entitled “Inside Paris’s Churches: Rethinking France’s Religious Enlightenment.”

In 1766, a papal nuncio reporting on Paris remarked that there was no other city in the world where one found “such sound, true, and robust piety” and “so many persons putting religion into practice.” As testament to such devout ways, religious art and objects were produced in abundance throughout the century, filling the churches of Paris and adorning the homes of Parisians. Yet in art history, these objects have been perplexingly ignored. Religion has become a problematic blindspot in our understanding of the period, as canonical approaches to eighteenth-century France have created a skewed vision in which predominantly secular art was being created for a progressively secularizing society. But, as a reconsideration of Paris’s under-studied religious objects and spaces reveals, this was far from the lived experience at the time.

This lecture challenges the secularizing narratives that have dominated art histories of this period. Going inside sacred spaces including the churches of Saint-Sulpice, Saint-Roch, and Sainte-Marguerite, this talk reveals the affective, playful, and spiritual aesthetic that developed through collaborations between Paris’s artists, architects, clergy, and parish councils. Drawn from a larger investigation of the social and material histories of Paris’s parish churches in the eighteenth century, this lecture emphasizes the crucial role of art and material culture in understanding France’s religious Enlightenment.


Hannah Williams is Lecturer in the History of Art at Queen Mary University of London. An art historian of early modern France, she received her PhD from the Courtauld Institute of Art and has held research fellowships at the University of Oxford, Queen Mary University of London, Deutsches Forum für Kunstgeschichte in Paris, and most recently at the École normale supérieure and the Centre de recherche et de restauration des musées de France. Employing approaches informed by anthropology, social and cultural history, and material studies, her research explores issues of community and materiality in the Paris art world, with special attention to cultural institutions (e.g., the Académie royale de peinture et de sculpture and the Louvre), religious art, portraiture, and artist’s studios and materials. She is the author of Académie Royale: A History in Portraits (Routledge 2015) and director of the digital project www.artistsinparis.org and has published widely in journals including Art History, Oxford Art Journal, French History, and Urban History. She is currently writing a book on Art and Religion in Eighteenth-Century Paris and co-writing, with Katie Scott, a book on Artists’ Things: Lost Property from Eighteenth-Century France (forthcoming with Getty Publications). She is founding co-editor of Journal18, a digital journal devoted to art and culture of the long eighteenth century.


This event will be livestreamed. Please check back the day of the event for a link to the video. To watch videos of past events please visit our YouTube page.