Académie royale de peinture et de sculpture

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The Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture (English: Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture ) was an artists' association approved by Louis XIV in 1648, which was closed by the National Convention during the French Revolution in 1793 . Her successor institution, the Académie des Beaux-Arts (German: Academy of Fine Arts), founded a few years later , still exists today.

The establishment of the “Académie royale” marks the end of art production as a purely manual activity. Since then, the visual arts have been recognized as "ars liberalis" (German: free art) - as an activity primarily of an intellectual nature.

The academy had a major impact on French art

  • the art school attached to it, the École Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture (English: Royal School of Painting and Sculpture), in which drawing and the basics of anatomy, geometry and perspective were taught,
  • the Académie de France à Rome , founded in 1666 , in which students awarded the Prix ​​de Rome (German: Rome Prize) were able to study the exemplary ancient and Italian art of the Renaissance thanks to a scholarship,
  • the conférences, debates of the members about recognized masterpieces - with the aim of establishing rules and principles for the production of perfect works of art, and
  • the salons , at first irregular, then from 1737 regular exhibitions of the current works of art of their members.


Before the academy was founded, the Parisian Communauté des maîtres peintres et sculpteurs de Paris (English: community of painters and sculptors from Paris) - Maîtrise for short - had the monopoly over art production. Within this guild, which had existed since 1391, medieval structures and laws still predominated in the 17th century: only a corresponding master was allowed to accept art commissions and offer works of art in Paris. The number of his workshop employees and apprentices was also prescribed. The training was carried out according to traditional rules, basically comprised only manual skills and technical knowledge and, all in all, aimed at training a copyist for the master who was training. In addition to a small number of “artists” in the modern sense, the maîtrise mainly included painters, employees of handicraft businesses and art dealers.

It was precisely this mixture of painters and dealers that modern artists found unworthy of them and a hindrance in order to be recognized by the educated classes such as scholars and writers as their equal. The only way to avoid the guild obligation and the associated taxation was to work as a court artist . As a so-called brevetaire, you belonged to the royal household and were therefore not under the jurisdiction of the guild. In addition, the court painters and sculptors were allowed to accept commissions outside the court, possibly even outside Paris, which represented an enormous competitive advantage. Although this group was not interested in an institutional improvement in the artist's position, because this could devalue their privileged position, they nevertheless contributed indirectly.


In 1647 the maîtrise enforced the limitation of the number of brevetaires and also made them subject to the guild laws: From now on they were only allowed to work outside the court with the permission of the guild or to incur high fines and ostracism. This brought the court painters and sculptors to the side of some young artists who - inspired by the ideal of a modern artist, as embodied by the great Italian masters - tried to break out of the guild compulsion.

Right at the front, the just 28-year-old Charles Le Brun . Returned from Rome in 1646, he was already highly regarded and was immediately appointed Peintre du Roi (German: painter to the king, royal court painter). In Rome he not only came into contact with ancient and Italian art, but also with prominent collectors, clients and masters such as Nicolas Poussin . In Paris he was sponsored by Chancellor Pierre Séguier , with whose family he was connected on his mother's side. Séguier gave him access to educated circles around the Cardinal de Bérulle and Madame Scudéry . The spokesman for the group before Cardinal Mazarin and Anna of Austria , who ruled on behalf of Louis XIV , who was still a minor , was State Councilor Martin de Charmois , who had come to know and appreciate the Accademia di San Luca in Rome . Under his chairmanship, the constituent meeting of the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture took place on February 1, 1648. Martin de Charmois became its first director (still called boss), Chancellor Séguier its first protecteur (German: patron). Nine painters and three sculptors, including Le Brun , Charles Errard and Sébastien Bourdon , were elected as the first twelve professors (still called Anciens) to the panel. Another fourteen artists belonged to the Corps from the very beginning.

Further development

In the first few years, however, the project did not run smoothly: the financing was uncertain and the sponsors were forced into exile by the Fronde . In addition, the Maîtrise had set up a rival academy in 1649, the Académie de Saint-Luc (English: Lukasakademie). As the rivalry soon became unbearable for those involved, the two institutions merged in 1651. After the defeat of the Fronde (1653), the opponents of the union pushed ahead with a reform and in 1655 achieved the following with the king: the confirmation of the founding regulations of 1648, the elevation of the art academy to the same rank as the Académie Française , the approval of an annual subsidy of 1000 livres , as well as from premises in the Louvre . Most important, however, was securing the monopoly on drawing lessons over models, which meant that the basis of any artistic training was now forbidden to all masters in all workshops. This meant the final break - and the independence of the still young academy. Le Brun should again take a leading role.

Jean-Baptiste Colbert (1619–1683)
Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825)

In 1664, Jean-Baptiste Colbert , finance minister and surintendant des Bâtiments (German: head of the state building inspectorate, ie a kind of minister for building) reformed the statutes of the academy, in particular he increased the state subsidy to 4,000 livres annually and forced the artists to work wavering between the academy and the maîtrise to join the academy. For Colbert, the institutionalization of art production was a state concern as part of his conception of absolutist rule: art should generate a gôut français (English: French taste) and thereby national identity, at the same time it should generate fame, glamor, power, in short: the show the French and all other Europeans the leading role of French royalty. Among other things, this objective explains the existence of the academy. In order to elevate the grand stil (German: representative style) to a doctrine there, Colbert was an ideal partner in Charles Le Brun . Both men should lead the art academy to its prime.

A turning point occurred with the subsidy cuts in 1694 - and a five-year struggle for survival began. In 1705 the monopoly fell on drawing lessons, a defeat compared to the maîtrise, which, however, was halfway made up for in 1714 with the granting of the royal printing privilege. Unexciting years followed, in which a competition among twelve history painters from the Academy (1727) was the most notable event.

In 1737, the building authority director Philibert Orry, who was otherwise not overly interested in art, reanimated the famous art exhibitions ( salons ) - and thus stimulated the artists' interest in the academy again. Ten years later, a new team declared that they wanted to “restore the academy to its former glory”: that of the mistress of Louis XV. , Marquise de Pompadour , sponsored banker Lenormant de Tournehem and the Premier peintre du Roi and Academy Director Charles Coypel . Their measures: the revitalization of the conférences and a stronger regulation of training. Your success: the restoration of the grand style .

France's participation in the Seven Years' War (1756–1763) meant that this luck did not last long either. In the following period, the new building authority director Marquis de Marigny ( Abel-François Poisson de Vandières ) at least obtained a permit for the use of the Apollongalerie (1764) and the increase in grants (1771). However, only his successor, who had just been enthroned Louis XVI, was allowed to really take measures . Charles Claude Flahaut de La Billarderie , who was close to him , met: regular orders for the academy artists (and their quick remuneration!) (1774), approval to build and rent sales boutiques on Pont Neuf (1774), the dissolution of the Luke Academy and the opening a second École du modèle under the care of the Royal Academy (1776) and a beautiful new entrance to the salon (1780/81).

Location & headquarters of the academy

The academy originally met in rue Taînée (now rue Rambuteau) in the Hallenviertel , then in the so-called Hôtel de Clisson in the nearby rue des Deux-Boules , moved to the Palais Brion near the Palais Royal in 1661 and finally got Anna's former apartments in 1692 provided by Austria in the Louvre . The Louvre was to house the art academy until it closed.

End and Succession

As an institution of the monarchy, the art academy was also affected by the events of the revolution : under the leadership of Jacques-Louis David , a petition was submitted to the national assembly as early as 1789, calling for more democracy in the structure of the academy - all members and not just the functionaries should be involved in decision-making processes. The reform of the academy was completed in March 1791. The group around David, however, demanded their dissolution and complete freedom for all artists. The first step, the opening of the salon to “all French and foreign artists, academy members or not”, was followed two years later, on August 8, 1793, by the dissolution of all Royal Academies by the National Convention. The Académie de France in Rome was not affected. However, the post of director was abolished and management of the facility was placed directly under the government.

As early as 1795, the revolutionary government took up the idea of ​​an art academy again and set up a department for literature and art within the Institut National . In 1803, art and literature were separated through the establishment of a separate fine arts department, which had 28 members: ten painters, six sculptors, six architects, three musicians and three engravers. During the Restoration (1814-1815) the number of members was increased to 40, with the painters traditionally making up the majority. The old name “academy” was also reintroduced. The Académie des Beaux-Arts (German: Academy of Fine Arts) took over most of the functions of the former Académie Royale: Announcement of competitions, including the one for the Rome Prize , management of the Académie de France in Rome, appreciation of artistic achievements in public meetings, selection the artist for the salons and compilation of an art dictionary.

Since the reforms of the Restoration period, there has been little change in the Academy's statutes. In 1985 the 50 members were divided into seven sections, including one for cinematography with four members. To date, women are not admitted as full members. However, the academy no longer has any influence on current French art production.


Administrative structure

The organization of the academy was based on the structure of the painters' guild: this included apprentices, journeymen and masters, those students, temporary members (French: agrées) and full members (French: académiciens).

The academy was headed by a protector from the courtly circles, who was mostly also surintendant des Bâtiments (German: Oberintendant des Bauwesens), so at the same time headed the architecture academy and represented the connection to the government. It was led by the director, who was mostly also Premier peintre du Roi (German: first court painter, personal painter of the king). He was subordinate to four rectors who were active in the organization, and twelve professors who were responsible for teaching. The rectors were supported by two assistants and the professors by eight, who had to represent them in the event of their absence - and who usually moved up to their position when their superiors resigned. There was also a chancellor to seal the documents (second function of director until 1683), a secretary (from 1705 secretary-historiographer) and a treasurer.


In order to become a member of the Academy, the candidate had to find the support of two full members and first submit an application (French: morceau d'agrément). If the secret vote was positive, he was accepted as a provisional member (French: agréé). Many artists left it at that because they had already escaped the guild obligation and could not afford the entry fee of 100 livres that had to be paid for full membership since 1660. The procedure also stipulated that the agréé had to deliver a recording piece (French: morceau de réception) within three years, the subject of which was posed by the academy director or chancellor. If this piece was judged positively, it was accepted as a full member (French: académicien) of the academy. To rule out fraud, applicants were soon instructed to make sketches under the supervision of an academician and later even to make the recordings themselves under supervision. Accepted recordings became the property of the academy - they served as representative wall decorations, testimony to the virtuosity of the members and illustrative material for teaching and the art debates (French: conférences). During the revolutionary years, the top-class collection was unfortunately dissolved and dispersed. The successor institution - the Académie des Beaux-Arts - did not require the production of a recording.

Although the Academie Royale basically saw itself as an association of history painters, painters of less respected genres were also accepted. As early as 1648, for example, the Le Nain brothers , who had specialized in genre scenes. In 1717 a special category was even set up to include Antoine Watteau as the painter of the so-called “fêtes galantes” (German: galant festivals). On the other hand, it could also happen that artists who had applied as history painters were downgraded - as happened in 1769 with Jean-Baptiste Greuze .

This high rank was also considered worth striving for for a second reason: the statutes stipulated that only a history painter (or sculptor) was allowed to exercise the function of a professor. This not only ensured the orientation of teaching towards history as the peak of artistic achievement, but also the continuity of this orientation, since the functionaries of the decision-making bodies were recruited from the teaching staff.

Art doctrine

In the 17th century, member debates (French: conférences) and teaching ensured the orthodoxy of academic doctrine. The periodic art exhibitions, the so-called salons , were an instrument for spreading this beyond the academy .


The conférences were monthly public discussions on art issues, most of which were carried out using concrete works of art as an example. Art amateurs (French: amateurs) were also allowed to participate as honorary members. Prominent amateurs were the art theorist André Félibien , who published the reports of the meeting, and Roger de Piles , who campaigned for the recognition of lay judgment and thus made modern art criticism possible. Colbert and Le Brun saw the conférences as a tool to propagate the “correct” painting, the gôut français. The conférences are today the most important source of French art theory of the 17th century.

The academic doctrine of the first hour was aimed at placing art - especially painting - in the rank of writing, which was valued as an intellectual activity, and thus to differentiate it from the merely manual craft as which it was traditionally viewed. In this way, the classification of history painting as the highest genre becomes understandable: In terms of content - like the tragedy of ancient poetics - it deals with noble human actions and formally includes all other subjects - portrait , genre , landscape and still life . The practice of history painting required a high level of education in many fields and universal mastery in technical aspects of painting. In the second place of the genre hierarchy follows the portrait, because it has people, the most perfect work of God, as its object, then the landscape as a representation of living objects and finally the still life as a representation of dead objects. Interestingly, Félibien, who is being paraphrased here, excluded the genre image.

In the conférences the bienséance (Eng .: appropriateness) of the composition was defined, questions of the appropriate representation of emotions and the proportions appropriate to the figures were discussed, as well as the correct use of color, light, etc. Henri Testelin , the secretary of the academy, summarized 1680 put the teaching together in tables, which were also published. They dealt with le trait (dt .: line, i.e. the drawing or - also in perspective - correct representation of the objects), l'expression (dt .: expression, i.e. the exhaustion of the emotional or content potential), les proportions (dt .: Proportions, ie the - not only anatomical - correctness or beauty of the drawing), le clair et l'obscur (German: light-dark, ie the use of light and shadow), l'ordonnance (German: arrangement, di the beauty or perfection of the composition) and la couleur (dt .: color, ie the correct coloring, the understanding of local colors).

Forced into such a tight corset, some artists rebelled. The central controversy was the question of whether color or line deserves priority in painting - which has become known as a dispute between Poussinists (supporters of the preference drawing - as an expression of the intellect) and Rubenists (supporters of the preference for color - as an expression of emotion) . Fundamental historical-philosophical and cultural-theoretical questions touched upon the debate about whether classical antiquity as a perfect model for the new art was binding in every respect or whether modernity could achieve art progress through innovations ( Querelle des Anciens et des Modernes ).

In art theory, more liberal principes ( Eng .: principles) took the place of the dogmatic préceptes ( Eng .: recipes) - propagated by Roger de Piles , who was made an honorary member of the Academy in 1699. After his death (1708), however, interest in the conférences subsided significantly. The contributions by Antoine Coypel (1708–1721) and Nicolas-Bernard Lépicié (1737–1743) as well as the remarks by the new director Charles Coypel († 1752), which was initiated in 1747 by the “Reflexions” of LaFont de Saint-Yenne, deserve mention. and his friend and amateur academy Anne-Claude-Philippe, Comte de Caylus (1692–1765).

Teaching company

Teaching is the central task of an academy. In Colbert's absolutist system and for Le Brun's aesthetic conception , the École Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture (Royal School of Painting and Sculpture) affiliated to the Academy was the most important instrument to achieve its goals. She passed the doctrine defined in the academy sessions on to the following generations. The teaching objective was to attract outstanding artists who implement this doctrine in their work, who represent the gôut français, thereby generating national identity and demonstrating the leading role of French royalty. As finance minister, Colbert certainly also had mercantilist aspects in mind: a respected art production brings foreign money into the country.

These goals were communicated by the professors in a clearly defined curriculum according to a monthly schedule. Since the students were expected to complete a painting apprenticeship with a master at the same time, only drawing was taught in practical lessons.

In order to be accepted as a student, the applicant had to show the recommendation of an academy teacher (French: billet de protection), which confirmed his talent. Initially, the students practiced by copying master works, then in plaster drawing (French: étude de la bosse), using casts, statues and reliefs as models. The next stage was drawing after a until the end of the 18th century. Natural nude (French: l'académie) limited to male models - first with charcoal, chalk or red chalk, then with a brush. Most recently, free composition drawing was taught. Theoretical compulsory subjects at the academy were anatomy, geometry and perspective as early as the 17th century; In the 18th century, history, mythology and geography were added. Progress in training and progress in the curriculum were determined and assessed in periodic competitions by the academy. Competition disciplines were, for example, drawing of a historical subject, expression head or study of nudes.

The most prestigious award - the annual Prix ​​de Rome - entitles the winner to a longer study visit at the Académie de France in Rome. There he was allowed to study works of antiquity and renaissance in the original for three years and at the same time received further instruction in mathematics, geometry, perspective, architecture, anatomy and life drawing according to a plan similar to the Parisian one. However, he was only allowed to study recognized works of art and not allowed to offer his own work or take part in Roman art life. Instead, he was obliged to make copies and his own creations, which were initially intended for furnishing the Palace of Versailles and later for provincial residences , or were used as study templates for the École Royale in Paris. Like the Académie de France (which still exists today), the Prix de Rome outlived the Royal Academies . It was held at the Académie des Beaux-Arts until 1968.


The Paris Salon of 1880

The periodic art exhibitions made the doctrine represented by the Académie Royale known to an interested public. The initially purely internal event, to which each member had to bring a work of art, was held for the first time in 1665. This was followed by the public expositions in 1667, 1669, 1671 and 1673 (possibly also in 1675) - then not again until 1699. After the meanwhile catastrophic financial situation, the new Protecteur Jules Hardouin-Mansart wanted to revive the exhibitions. However, there should only be a single repetition before definitive resuscitation (1704). The exhibitions under Colbert took place in the Palais Brion, a wing of the Palais Royal , and the later ones in the Grande Galerie of the Louvre.

In 1737, General Building Director Philibert Orry laid the foundation stone for a permanent establishment. The annual exhibition, named “ Salon ” after its location in the Salon carré des Louvre , quickly became an event for Parisians interested in art. With the hostilities in 1746 and 1747, the level of the works of art came to the test - with the result that the Salon was suspended in 1749 and only held every two years from 1751. During the revolutionary years, the artists who did not belong to the art academy pushed for permission to exhibit their works. Ultimately with success: since 1791 every artist - man or woman, French or foreigner - has been allowed to take part in the salon.


  • Wolf Burchard: The Sovereign Artist: Charles Le Brun and the Image of Louis XIV. Paul Holberton Publishing 2016, ISBN 1911300059 .
  • Alexandra Bettag: The Académie de Peinture et de Sculpture as Colbert's art-political instrument - aspiration and practice. In: Barbara Marx, Christoph Oliver Mayer (ed.): Academy and / or autonomy. Academic Discourses from the 16th to the 18th Century. Lang, Frankfurt am Main et al. 2009, ISBN 978-3-631-54127-2 , pp. 237-260.
  • Manfred Boos: French art literature on painting and sculpture 1648 and 1669. "The request of Martin der Charmois" (1648) and André Félibien's "Foreword" to his Conférences edition (1669). Munich 1966 (Munich, university, dissertation, 1964).
  • Albert Dresdner : The emergence of art criticism in the context of the history of European art life. Bruckmann, Munich 1968.
  • Paul Duro: The Academy and the Limits of Painting in Seventeenth-Century France. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1997, ISBN 0-521-49501-6 .
  • André Fontaine: Les Doctrines de l'art en France. Peintres, amateurs, critiques. De Poussin à Diderot. H. Laurens, Paris 1909.
  • Jutta Held: French art theory of the 17th century and the absolutist state. Le Brun and the first eight lectures at the Royal Academy. Reimer, Berlin 2001, ISBN 3-496-01233-1 .
  • Nikolaus Pevsner : Academies of Art. Past and Present. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1940.
    • in German: The history of the art academies. Translated from English by Roland Floerke. Mäander, Munich 1986, ISBN 3-88219-285-2 .
  • Gudrun Valerius: Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture 1648–1793. History. Organization. Members. Books on Demand, Norderstedt 2010, ISBN 978-3-8423-2717-7 . Emphasis .

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