Matthew Gin (Visiting Assistant Teaching Professor, School of Architecture) has received a Mary Vidal Memorial Award from the Historians of Eighteenth-Century Art & Architecture. Funds from the award will support the adaptation of his doctoral dissertation into a book, entitled Paper Monuments: The Politics of Ephemeral Festival Architecture in Enlightenment France.
The book is an expanded history of the temporary decorations built for royal festivals in France from the seventeenth century to the Revolution. Fabricated from less durable materials like plaster and canvas, ephemeral décor in the form of mountains or classical temples was a common feature of early modern festivals. These structures have long attracted the attention of historians interested in symbolic expressions of royal power. This investigation, though, moves beyond interpretations of political imagery to examine ephemeral festival architecture within the wider culture of the Enlightenment. In the absence of extant structures, the book relies on contracts, construction drawings, diplomatic records, treatises, and novels. The study uses these sources to reframe pageant decorations as discursive objects that animated debates about the bounds of architectural practice, as vital instruments of international statecraft, and as a kind of infrastructure whose processes of production systematically replicated key economic and artistic relationships. This book thus makes clear that festival architecture was political far beyond its function as a vehicle for royal imagery. More broadly, the book’s critical reassessment of temporary architecture invites designers to imagine anew the possibilities and potentials of the ephemeral.