Submission deadline:

September 30, 2023

The “Professional Worlds” of Architectural Ornament: Actors and Practices from the 18th Century to the Present Day

March 13-14, 2024

At the crossroads of art history and architecture, the study of ornament nowadays constitutes a specific field of research. Although studies had already been devoted to this question from the 1980s onwards (Hamburger, Thiebault, 1983; Durant, 1986), ornament was the subject of renewed interest during the 1990s and at the turn of the 21st century, thanks to collective publications often stemming from large-scale scientific events (Grabar, 1992; Collomb, Raulet, 1992; Ceccarini et al., 2000). More recently, France saw a remarkable revival in this field of research. Without claiming to draw up an exhaustive historiographical assessment of the question, one could for instance think of the numerous journal issues devoted to the question of ornament in the early 2010s–Perspective in 2010, Images Re-Vues in 2012 or Livraisons d’Histoires de l’architecture in 2015. Several events were also organized during that period, such as the symposium ‘Questionner l’ornement’ (questioning ornament) which took place at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs (Paris) in 2011, or the series of public lectures organized at the École de Chaillot in 2014. In recent years, essential studies on ornament have been published (Picon, 2016; Necipoglu, Payne, 2016), sometimes tackling more definite topics: theoretical considerations (Varela Braga, 2017; Thibault, 2020); the use of certain materials (Dobraszczyk, 2014); or the roles and functions of ornaments on specific surfaces or in specific building types, such as farms (Ripatti, 2019) or tenements (Violette, 2019).

Far from being limited to the contemporary period, the interest in ornament is also evident in publications and events relating to the Renaissance, such as the colloquia organized in Azay-le-Rideau (2014) or Lausanne (2017, 2022). Concomitantly, a significant amount of research has been devoted to the organization of professions and the relationships between professional groups in the field of architecture and construction. In this field, several historical studies also draw on sociological perspectives that can be borrowed from both functionalism and interactionism, in a context in which the sociology of professions has itself undergone noteworthy renewal (Vézinat, 2010).
Recent publications have thus questioned the evolution of architects’ status and practices, particularly in the context of their public missions (Bruant, Callais, Lambert, 2022). The concrete organization of their work has also been the subject of several studies, focusing on construction sites (Nègre, 2018), or more recently on the architectural firm (Cahiers de la recherche architecturale, urbaine et paysagère, 2020; Livraisons d’histoire de l’architecture, 2021). Such questions also raise issues related to the relationships between professions and to professional strategies (Prina, 2020). These studies echo broader research undertakings, focusing on sectors of activity such as expertise (ANR research programme ‘Experts’) or on the issue of architectural education (Lucan, 2009; Diener, 2022; ANR research programme ‘EnsArchi’).

Despite their common dynamism, these two fields of study–the history of ornament and the history of professions related to architecture –have so far rarely been connected to one another. The ambition of this colloquium is therefore to foster such a dialogue, to move towards a better understanding of the ‘professional worlds’ of ornament. The interdependence with architecture being a crucial question here, papers should thus focus on ornaments directly linked to architectural surfaces. However, resolutely positioned on the side of the actors and professional practices, this colloquium does not have the vocation to give a strict definition of what ornament is. It will thus look at a wide range of productions, from ornamental sculpture to mosaic, mural painting, and up to parquetry, marble features, or stained glass: in short, any finishes helping to develop sensibility to architecture. Issues related to the forms, functions and uses of ornaments, especially in a world increasingly marked by the imperatives of sobriety and sustainability (Körner, 2020), could be addressed in a subsidiary way but should not constitute the heart of the presentations.

Practical details
Paper proposals should be sent before 30 September 2023, along with a brief CV, to Justine Gain (justine.gain@, Elsa Jamet (, and Lucie Prohin (
The symposium will take place at Institut national d’histoire de l’art (Galerie Colbert, Paris) on 13 and 14 March 2024.
Papers may be presented in English or French and will last 25 minutes.
Financial support is available for speakers whose home institution would be unable to cover travel expenses.

More information can be found in the full call for papers here.

Share this post

News from the field

Media and Objects of the Home since 1700

Histories of the modern home can be written through the transformations of its material components: architectural elements, such as the door, the window or the chimney, but also furniture, like desks and sofas, appliances and electronics from sinks to televisions, and...