September 21, 2023


How Art Works

96/ Antoine WATTEAU (1684-1721), the pacifist painter: a quantitative method

4 min read

The historical past of music, opera and ballet is a charming topic and really related to artwork historical past as its sister-arts. The music knowledgeable Georgia Cowart wrote a paper ‘Watteau’s “Pilgrimage to Cythera” and the Subversive Utopia of the Opera-Ballet’ (1) the place she helps the view of Antoine WATTEAU (1684-1721) as a political subversive. She argues that he was impressed by the ‘opera-ballet’, an anti-absolutist type of pleasure and public leisure, in distinction to the previous patriarchal and imperialist imagery of the ‘court-ballet’ in the course of the reign of Louis XIV. It “espoused a political ‘libertinage d’esprit’ foreshadowing the revolutionary considered the eighteenth-century Enlightenment”. Can this thesis be supported by way of a quantitative method, unbiased of interpretation?

And is there an anti-thesis? Actually, not all artists in WATTEAU’s time have been political subversive. The determine beneath is a network-visualization of French artists – with just a few photos of their works – within the interval 1700-1749: on the left aspect, the circle of artists round WATTEAU’s ‘Cythère’ and, on the appropriate aspect, artists who depicted across the identical time the story of ‘Enée’ (Aeneas), a ‘militarist’ matter, highly regarded among the many ruling class, i.e. the aristocracy in Europe.

Fig. 1 Community visualization of French artists energetic in interval 1700-1749 
and impressed by the tales of ‘Cythère’ or ‘Enée’ (2)
UPDATE see COMMENT nr2 beneath

The principal supply for this quantitative comparability is the Topical Catalogue ‘The French Venus’ the place artworks and their artists are listed chronologically, in Subject 2.2 ‘Temple of Venus’ with  key phrase ‘Cythere’ ,  and in Subject 15.1 the place ‘Venus requests arms for Aeneas from Vulcan’ and Subjects 7.2C & 7.2D the place ‘Venus delivers arms to Aeneas’and ‘Aeneas is deified’ (3). Further sources for the circle round WATTEAU’s ‘Cythère’ are The Oxford Information to Classical Mythology within the arts, 1300-Nineties (4, pp.152-153), Claudia Denk in ‘Faszination Venus, Bilder einer Göttin von Cranach bis Cabanel‘ (5, pp.160-171) and the web site ‘Watteau and His Circle’ of Martin Eidelberg (6).

In earlier posts a ‘connectivity’-map (Fig.2) of WATTEAU’s creations and its predecessors and successors has been introduced (7) in addition to a cumulative time-frequency distribution (Fig.3) of the ‘Cythere’– artworks (8).


Fig.2 Connectivity – map of WATTEAU’s masterworks and its predecessors and successors (7)

Fig.3 Cumulative time-frequency distribution of ‘Cythère’ – artworks (8)

The story of Aeneas, son of Venus, hero of Troye, conqueror of Latium and founding father of Rome, allegorical image for a lot of patrons of artists, was additionally explored in a former submit (9). Its exceptional recognition was demonstrated in ‘Distant Viewing: Love, Battle and Propaganda’ (10).

Fig.4 Reputation of the ‘Aeneas Venus Vulcan’ – story in 5 European areas (10)

Fig.4 reveals that 70 artworks have been created for the Subjects 15.1, 7.2C & 7.2D within the Topical Catalogues in the course of the interval 1700 -1749 by 26 French artists, visualized above in Fig.1.   

Is the quantitative comparability adequate to help Cowart’s thesis? Solely two artists are discovered simultaneous in each teams: Louis DESPLACES and Nicolas TARDIEU, each engravers of authentic work. Meals for sociologists…

The train is anyhow instance concerning the revolutionary potential of Digital Artwork Historical past as has been debated by Hubertus Kohle and Max Marmor in 2016 (11). Their two first arguments: 1) the applying of quantitative strategies 2) the invention of artwork historic correlations have been utilized.



(1) Georgia J Cowart is professor of music at Case Western ReserveUniversity . She research music, the humanities, and cultural politics in early trendy France. ‘Watteau’s “Pilgrimage to Cythera” and the Subversive Utopia of the Opera-Ballet’ in The Art Bulletin, Vol. 83, No. 3 Sep., 2001, pp. 461-478.
(2) The determine has been made with VOSviewermodel 1.6.11, a free software program instrument developed by Leiden College. 
(3) See submit of December 5, 2020 ‘Work in progress: The French Venus model 2.1.2’ 
(4) Jane Davidson Reid : The Oxford Information to Classical Mythology within the arts, 1300-Nineties. 2 Volumes. New York, Oxford College Press, 1993. That is, sadly, the one catalogue combining the details about sister-arts. 
(5) Ekkehard Mai / Ursula Weber-Woelk (Hg.) Faszination Venus, Bilder einer Göttin von Cranach bis Cabanel‘, Ausstellungskatalog Köln, Antwerpen 2000-2001. Snoeck Ducaju, Gent. 
(6) Watteau and His Circle web site of Martin Eidelberg.

(7) See webpage “WATTEAU’s Embarquement pour Cythère” For a full account about  the worship of Aphrodite and her temple in Kythera, see  Chapter VIII (p.217-226) in ‘L’Aphrodite grecque’ by Vinciane Pirenne-Delforge, Centre Worldwide d’Etude de la Faith Grecque Vintage, Athènes-Liège, 1994.

(8) Put up of August 13,2012 ‘Cybernetics and artwork historical past: an odd relation?’

(9) See submit of November 4, 2013 ‘Extra concerning the Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite’

(10) Put up of December 11, 2016 ‘Distant Viewing (5): Love, Battle and Propaganda’

(11) See submit of August 19, 2016 ‘Digital Artwork Historical past 4 years later: the controversy and PHAROS, a key initiative’


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