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Revolutionary Prints as Spectacle

Research project 2008-2012

Dr Katherine Astbury, in conjunction with the curators of Waddesdon Manor, successfully bid for an AHRC Collaborative doctoral programme award which was intended to encourage and develop collaboration between the University of Warwick and a non-academic organisation, in this case, the historic house Waddesdon Manor. The project aimed to enhance our knowledge and understanding of the notion of spectacle in French Revolutionary prints and their role in the cultural production of the 1790s. In particular it examined the interrelationship of theatre, politics and visual images during the Revolution. It also led to a catalogue of prints held at Waddesdon, thus enabling further research by other scholars. The catalogue is freely accessible on the Waddesdon website here:

Waddesdon Manor

Waddesdon Manor is a historic house open to the public belonging to the National Trust but managed on the Trust’s behalf by a charitable trust (The Alice Trust) under the chairmanship of Lord Rothschild. It is home to a pre-eminent collection of 18th-century art and decorative art, including English portraits, French furniture, paintings and porcelain, textiles and metalwork but also including 17th-century Dutch Golden Age painting, medieval illuminated manuscripts, 17th and 18th-century books and bindings and a large collection of works on paper including drawings and ephemera. The collection was largely created by Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild who built the Manor in the 1870s, but it was added to by subsequent generations. The collection is managed by a small curatorial team, full and part-time, whose various research interests relate to aspects of the collection and to the history of 19th-century collecting in general and the history of the Rothschilds in particular.

The PhD studentship

The Collaborative research studentship provided an outstanding opportunity for the successful doctoral student, Claire Trévien, to gain first hand experience of work outside an academic environment. The support provided by both an academic and non-academic supervisor enhancesd the employment-related skills and training a research student gains during the course of their award. See Claire's e-portfolio here.

The Project

The project aimed to investigate the notion of spectacle and theatricality within the visual culture of the French Revolutionary decade through research focussed on contemporary prints, highlighting the complex interrelations of politics, theatre and imagery in France in the 1790s. Theresearch was initially based on the four bound volumes of some 500 Revolutionary prints which comprise Waddesdon Manor’s Tableaux de la Révolution française. Work on the Tableaux (including digitisation and cataloguing) and on Waddesdon’s extensive 18th-century collections were focussed in years 1 and 3 of the award, with year 2 spent in Paris deepening analytical skills and extending the thesis’s source-base. The PhD resulting from this project draws on current debates on print culture and Revolutionary theatricality but apply them to visual imagery during the period, linking the politics of the Revolution to the notion of the tableau in order to assess the place and role of spectacle in revolutionary propaganda and the social, political and intellectual life of the French Revolution.

You can read an online article about Hunting the Hidden Silhouettes of the French Revolution by Claire Trévien on the Warwick Knowledge Centre pages:

Extending the project impact

In addition to the online database, Katherine Astbury and Claire Trévien developed teaching resources to use in schools and for widening participation events at the University.


La Mort Du Patriote Marat

Image credit: Waddesdon, The Rothschild Collection (The National Trust), Photo: Imaging Services Bodleian Library © The National Trust, Waddesdon Manor.