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WORDS FOR ART : The rise of a terminology in Europe (1600-1750)

Final Report Summary - LEXART (WORDS FOR ART : The rise of a terminology in Europe (1600-1750))

The challenge of the project LexArt-Words for art: the rise of a terminology in Europe North of the Alps (1600-1750) was to study artistic terminology as it appeared in theoretical writings, published in France, England, the Netherlands and Germany, then developed and changed in relation to artistic practices. From the perspective of the analysis of the mutations of the artistic vocabulary, our research field extends in various directions: relationships between the terms and the contexts of the sources in which they are used, dissemination of the vocabulary throughout Europe, adaptation to an audience of artists and amateurs.
Thinking out the project in an European dimension, from a comparative perspective, is the first methodological innovation, breaking up a system that would have been linear if based on two countries, or a unilateral movement from a particular centre towards a periphery. This approach has changed our conception on circulation of terms and concepts and of intellectual networks of transfers and exchanges.
Approaching the texts, through the word, starting from a large panel of terms in use, rather than from concepts is the second innovative methodology. This is all the more important as the vocabulary is not yet precisely defined, and many terms describe similar concepts, or on the contrary the same terms are used to define opposite concepts. It was therefore important to take into account the diversity of the vocabulary in use.
The third innovative feature concerns the research tools produced as part of the project.. Concieved as a coherent whole, their objectives are clearly differentiated:
1. The volume Terminologie artistique: formes, usages et enjeux dans l'Europe moderne gives an overall conceptual framework in three directions. It is important to first question the book as a lexical laboratory, a space in which theorists create a language both technical and aesthetic, accessible and useful to painters and amateurs. The vocabulary, its development, its variability and the importance of lexical networks for understanding its subtlety is the second focus. The circulation of notions is the third focus, emphasizing their polysemy that adapts to the various linguistic and intellectual contexts.
2. The dictionary LexArt. Les mots de la peinture (France, Allemagne, pays-Bas, Angleterre, 1600-1750) summarizes the different notions, and bring together diverse concepts studied as separate entities, but which form together a coherent whole, highlighting the equivalence of terms that do not have the same meaning, or, on the contrary the links or breaks of meaning. The stakes of uses are thus placed in different contexts in time and space, in a confrontation of ways of thinking, painting and looking.
3. The database ( is an innovative research tool both documentary and conceptual, and gathers more than 15.000 citations gathered from nearly 5.000 terms, in more than a hundred books presented with critical apparatus, bibliography, references to authors, painters and works of art (500 images).
The combination of these three complementary tools makes it possible to renew considerably our vision of the theory of art, and open new fields of research in art history and, in a broader way, in other disciplines. In fact, behind all LexArt publications is a new reading of the paintings based on sources that trace the artist's creative work and reveal the spectator's gaze. Behind the words, the eye appears, testifying to the mental, intellectual and visual universe that allows for a better understanding of the work of art. More broadly, the LexArt project shows the importance of the contemporary discourse to better read paintings, appreciate them through the eye of a 17th or 18th century spectator, and thus constitute a critical synchronous apparatus with the artistic production itself.