Cochin’s Handkerchiefs

Cochin’s Handerkerchiefs

Katie Scott

In his essay ‘What is an author?’, Michel Foucault puts into question the relationship between the ‘author’ and his or her work by asking how it is that we define the ‘work’ to which authorship can legitimately and meaningfully be ascribed. By way of illustration of the conventional and historical difficulties of delimiting an œuvre he asks hypothetically of Nietzsche ‘What if, within a workbook filled with aphorisms, one finds a reference, the notation of a meeting or of an address, or a laundry list: is it a work, or not?’  Phrased somewhat differently, what is the relation between the author and the proper name or the realms of the extraordinary and the everyday?

The present paper aims to explore these questions with respect not so much to a laundry list but to the handkerchiefs that might have been on it with a view to articulating some provisional propositions about the interrelations of art history and material culture in early modern France. The handkerchiefs in question belonged to the draftsman, printmaker and art theorist Charles-Nicolas Cochin the younger and were the object of extended discussion and transaction with fellow painter Jean-Baptiste Descamps in the 1780s. Points of intersection are identified in the body, homo-sociality and the law.

This paper was presented in the Inaugural Early Modern Symposium at the Courtauld Institute of Art on 21 November 2009:

Everyday Objects:

Art and Experience in Early Modern Europe

Organised by: Edward Payne and Hannah Williams

Through a focus on the everyday object, this one-day symposium explores both the experience of visual culture in everyday life and the phenomenon of the everyday in visual culture. Drawing on theories of the everyday from such fields as anthropology, phenomenology and sociology, papers will examine the seemingly banal things that formed the culture of daily life, asking: what constitutes an everyday object? How were everyday objects experienced, represented or collected? And how does their study enhance our understanding of the cultural history of early modernity?

Papers by established and emerging scholars will explore the theme of the everyday object in a variety of media, including sculpture, painting, dress, furniture and the graphic arts. Presentations will investigate ephemeral objects, quotidian spaces and habitual activities – from the social rituals of marriage, food consumption and waste disposal, to overlooked ‘things’ like taxidermy, miniature furniture and clothing accessories.