Research Publication Title

Presentation and Privacy: the Hôtel de Soubise as a Case Study of Problems in Eighteenth-Century French Domestic Architecture

Major

Art concentration Art History and History concentration Public History

Faculty Mentor(s)

Dr. Elissa Auerbach

Keywords

architecture, eighteenth-century, France, Hotel de Soubise, hotel particulier

Abstract

Most architectural commissions in France in the centuries leading up to the eighteenth century observed the theory of covenance in which the design of a building is indicative of its utility in defending the social position of the patron. Covenance was often manifest in grandiose, monumental plans for palaces and public buildings. Yet at the beginning of the eighteenth century, as the aristocracy left the court of Versailles for new homes in Paris and elsewhere, architects and their patrons encountered the challenge of designing urban mansions, called hôtels, with both covenance and innovation in mind. In Paris, The Hôtel de Soubise, built in 1700 by Pierre-Alexis Delamair, provides a useful case study for this problem. While many scholars have analyzed the Hôtel de Soubise as an example of the cutting-edge Rococo style and introduction of private, domestic spaces, little attention has been paid to its engagement with covenance theory. Scholars have noted that Parisian hôtels demonstrate a newfound desire for privacy, which was previously inhibited by the lofty plans of grand, public structures. I will argue in this paper that although the architecture of the Hôtel de Soubise cultivates privacy, it also furthers the tradition of covenance in its public display of the elite status of its patron, the Prince of Soubise. I will investigate the fusion of covenance and privacy in the Hôtel de Soubise through formal analysis in comparison to other hôtels, including Hôtel de Rohan-Strasbourg and Hôtel d’Évreux, and examination of architectural theories published by leaders of the Academie royale d’architecture. The merging of covenance and privacy in Parisian hôtels ultimately demonstrates the desire among the elite to achieve progress while at the same time preserving notions of tradition, which signify the tensions of modernity and the Enlightenment in eighteenth-century France.

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Presentation and Privacy: the Hôtel de Soubise as a Case Study of Problems in Eighteenth-Century French Domestic Architecture

Most architectural commissions in France in the centuries leading up to the eighteenth century observed the theory of covenance in which the design of a building is indicative of its utility in defending the social position of the patron. Covenance was often manifest in grandiose, monumental plans for palaces and public buildings. Yet at the beginning of the eighteenth century, as the aristocracy left the court of Versailles for new homes in Paris and elsewhere, architects and their patrons encountered the challenge of designing urban mansions, called hôtels, with both covenance and innovation in mind. In Paris, The Hôtel de Soubise, built in 1700 by Pierre-Alexis Delamair, provides a useful case study for this problem. While many scholars have analyzed the Hôtel de Soubise as an example of the cutting-edge Rococo style and introduction of private, domestic spaces, little attention has been paid to its engagement with covenance theory. Scholars have noted that Parisian hôtels demonstrate a newfound desire for privacy, which was previously inhibited by the lofty plans of grand, public structures. I will argue in this paper that although the architecture of the Hôtel de Soubise cultivates privacy, it also furthers the tradition of covenance in its public display of the elite status of its patron, the Prince of Soubise. I will investigate the fusion of covenance and privacy in the Hôtel de Soubise through formal analysis in comparison to other hôtels, including Hôtel de Rohan-Strasbourg and Hôtel d’Évreux, and examination of architectural theories published by leaders of the Academie royale d’architecture. The merging of covenance and privacy in Parisian hôtels ultimately demonstrates the desire among the elite to achieve progress while at the same time preserving notions of tradition, which signify the tensions of modernity and the Enlightenment in eighteenth-century France.