CFP: Decor and Architecture in the 17th and 18th Centuries (Lausanne, 24-25 November 2016)

Décor and Architecture in the 17th and 18th Centuries: Between Adherence and Autonomy
University of Lausanne, November 24 – 25, 2016
Deadline: May 30, 2016
During the Early Modern Period, décor was considered to be one of the most fundamental elements of architecture. Thanks to décor,
architecture could elevate itself beyond simple masonry and claim a superior status. Décor was thus defined as a necessary prerequisite for architecture, rather than a marginal component. However, despite its privileged status, many authors mistrusted it, fearing the harmful
effect which an uncontrollable proliferation of ornament would surely have on architecture. This conference aims to question how the
relations between décor and architecture were defined and implemented in Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Our perception of these relations has often been informed by teleological approaches: indeed, the radical ideas conveyed by certain
20th-century texts, which define décor as an unnecessary bi-product of architecture, have acted as a distorting prism. History of art, for its
part, has often separated décor-related studies from architecture-related ones, suggesting a de facto rupture between these
fields and potentially biasing our understanding of the artistic production of the Early Modern Period by reducing its scope. As various
case studies have shown, the conditions to which the invention of a décor was subjected varied greatly from one building to another. The
architects’ prerogatives differed according to the circumstances and constraints imposed on them: while some were largely involved in the
invention of the décor, others delegated its conception to artists or workmen.
The following questions – as well as many other similar ones – may be used as a framework for the presentations:
– The term “décor” defines a vast field with no distinct boundaries, potentially covering everything from sculptures, stucco work,
paintings, panelling, mirrors and furniture to architectural orders. How did theorists, artists, connoisseurs and patrons define the
relations between décor and architecture? In what circumstances was it felt that décor had exceeded its mandate and thus presented a threat to
architecture? Were all excesses systematically condemned?
To this discussion of theory can be added several practice-related
– Who was in charge of the invention of a décor and what consequences could a possible sharing of tasks have on the architectural project? To what extent were theoretical principles implemented on the building site? Case studies focusing on architects, artists or workmen could question their part in the creation of a décor.
Finally, historiography raises its own issues:
– How have the discourses developed in the 17th and 18th centuries been understood and interpreted in later times? How has the reception of
these discourses biased our perception of the relations between décor and architecture in the 17th and 18th centuries?
Paper proposals which exceed the set chronological limits may be taken into account by the scientific board, if they shed pertinent light on
the questions raised in the conference.
Practical details:
Papers will be 30 to 40 minutes long, followed by 15- to 20-minute discussions. Paper proposals of up to 300 words – accompanied by a
brief résumé and list of publications – should be sent to Matthieu Lett ( and Carl Magnusson (
before 30th May 2016.

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