Etienne Jollet

Etienne Jollet

Professor art history of the early modern period
Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne


Oktober 2018 – Januar 2019


« The cause of the work. Representation and causality in French art of the 17th and 18th centuries »

The causal approach to the works of art is often considered as old-fashioned, as far as epistemology is concerned: too linear ; too teleological ; too daring, at an age where the idea of a multiplicity of factors, parameters, conditions, network variables is preferred. Yet the notion of cause might still be very relevant to study the visual productions of a period (notably the 17th and 18th centuries) of European history where it is a current issue, and an important one : dealing with no less than with the question of the creator (or Creator, God) ; explaining the « why » born from the art of hiding truth in the very heart of what is shown ; where the picture or the sculpture are not passive objects for an active subject defining the reasons of their being the way they are, but contain « props », supports for questioning the causes of the representation. The cause of the work/the cause in the work : such is the topic which will be studied, as it directly deals with the notion of evidence as obviousness (as the origin of it) and evidence as testimony (since it corresponds to the movement from the work backwards to what determined it). It also belongs to a « popular » epistemology of the world which is at stake during the early modern period, with the growing separation between low and high culture. It also belongs to a conception of a world where there are rational ways to explain the world – and obliges to question the issue of « secularization ». Finally, dealing with the old notion of « cause » is a way to say that studying the work of art itself is still a « cause », a legitimate fight. In a nutshell : in « art history », it is an invitation to stress the tension between « history » and its explicit or implicit reference to causality and « art », precisely what, thanks to its evidence as presence, challenges causality.


  • Art and knowledge during the early modern period
  • The spatialization of power during the early modern period (the notion of « ground »)
  • Modalization in the visual arts (potentiality, virtuality)
  • Historiography and methodology of art history


Jean and François Clouet, Londres, Thames and Hudson, 1997

Figures de la pesanteur. Fragonard, Newton et les plaisirs de l’escarpolette, Nîmes, Editions Jacqueline Chambon, 1998

La Nature morte et la place des choses. L’objet et son lieu dans l’art occidental, Paris, Hazan, 2007

With Claude Massu : Les Images du monument de la Renaissance à nos jours, Aix-en-Provence, Publications de l’Université de Provence, 2012

With Andreas Beyer & Markus Rath (dir.), Wiederholung. Répétition.Wiederkehr, Variation und Übersetzung in der Kunst, Munich, Deutscher Kunstverlag, 2017

E. Jollet (ed.), Temporalité et potentialité dans les arts visuels de la Renaissance à nos jours (forthcoming, Presses universitaires de Rennes)

La Figure et le Fond. Le monument royal et l’espace public en France (XVIIe-XVIIIe siècle) (forthcoming, Droz, Geneva, collection « Ars longa »)


Etienne Jollet

Kolleg-Forschergruppe BildEvidenz

Arnimallee 10
14195 Berlin