11 May 2021

Ephemeral Monuments, the Modern French State, and the Parisian Public, 1789-1848

University of California, Santa Barbara

Respondents: Niki Kogkelli (NTUAthens), Demetra Vogiatzaki (Harvard GSD)

Between 1789 and 1848, French revolutionaries and post-revolutionary sovereigns held public ceremonies designed by the period’s leading architects to inaugurate their regimes and celebrate civic milestones or political heroes. While influenced by early modern monarchal traditions, the function of the public festival was transformed during the French Revolution into a site for affirming the new democratic body politic. Under Napoleon, the genre was repurposed once again to reestablish authority over and manufacture consensus within the public. Napoleon’s coronation inaugurated a pattern whereby stately ceremonies attempted to establish the desired relationship between a new, insecure regime and a politically engaged Parisian public. Following these events, the sumptuous decoration and ephemeral architecture that adorned these fêtes were recorded and disseminated via print media to ensure their significance and affect reached the whole of the national public.

This research examines the way ephemeral monuments, decorative schemes, and print mediations of these (post-)revolutionary state-sponsored festivals in Paris were deployed to legitimize political dynasties on the public stage. Their ephemeral materiality and anticipated demolition allowed authorities to make bold claims that could be effaced soon after, save for their subsequent immortalization in print, which often recontextualized the initial architectural iteration. While the permanent monuments by which these regimes represented themselves are more famous, this project establishes public ephemerality as a privileged terrain for investigating how sovereigns sought to perpetuate older forms of rulership in a new political time and space, in which the past and present were disaggregated, and public space collapsed, by growing historical consciousness and expanding infrastructures of impersonal communication.

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