Lemoyne’s Sword & Saint-Aubin’s Joke Book

Artists’ Things:

Lemoyne’s Sword and Saint-Aubin’s Joke Book

Katie Scott and Hannah Williams

In this presentation, we each examine an object that once belonged to an eighteenth-century artist: the sword that François Lemoyne (1688-1737) used to commit suicide, and a joke book, known as the Livre de caricature, composed over several decades by Charles-Germain de Saint-Aubin (1721-1786) and other members of his artistic family. Through analyses that focus on the objects’ materiality and above all on how they were used, we explore what the lives of these objects can tell us about the lives of the people who owned them. The selection of these particular objects also raises questions about the limits and possibilities of a ‘material’ cultural history, because while the joke book remains intact, the sword is lost. How can we retrieve the material history of an object that no longer exists? Do lost objects fall outside the field of inquiry, or does the study of material culture have to accommodate those things that are now immaterial?

This paper was written for and presented in the Material Life of Things Symposium on 18 March 2011:

Materiality and Life Metaphors: Three Dialogues

Organised by: Dr Francesco Lucchini and Dr Kathryn Gerry

Speakers: Tarnya Cooper (National Portrait Gallery) and Pip Laurenson (Tate); Hanna Barbara Hölling (University of Amsterdam)and Angela Matyssek (Philipps-Universität Marburg); Katie Scott (The Courtauld Institute of Art) and Hannah Williams (St John’s College Oxford)

Bringing together the work of art historians, conservators, and curators, the papers presented in this symposium explored the relationships between what we call ‘art’ and the material substances by which it is transmitted. In a series of paired papers presented in conversation with one other, the speakers discussed issues of conservation of works in traditional and time-based media, and the relationship of medium to value; the study of things owned and used by artists in the past, with attention to questions raised by the role of now-lost objects in material culture studies; and the continuing development of individual works of art after their initial creation, with a focus on two works of contemporary art.