'A L’Immortalité': Power, Propaganda, and the Académie royale des sciences under the Sun King

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Friday, October 29th, 2021

Friday, October 29, 20214:00PM - 5:30PMOnline Event, Online Event
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How did images function within the early Académie royale des sciences? During the Academy’s formative period, from its inauguration in 1666 to the death of King Louis XIV in 1715, the Academy produced a wealth of images in the form of drawings, prints, medallions, and paintings. Like England’s Royal Society, the Academy was pivotal in the development of early modern natural philosophy as one of the first and best-funded scientific institutions in Europe.
This talk will examine how the images produced by and for the Academy fit into the larger image production machine of Louis XIV. The King’s ministers strategically crafted his public image throughout his reign to promote various messages of his sovereignty, power, and gloire. After the creation of the Academy in 1666, natural philosophy became another source of state power and consistently appeared in various manifestations of royal imagery. I argue that the Academy’s images—produced by both the Academy and state ministers—functioned politically by conflating the power of science and state. Through an analysis of prints, paintings, and medals, I show that, across all media, the Academy and its achievements were depicted as monumental events in the reign of the Sun King, on par with military and political triumphs. Similarly, the repeated visual depiction of the monarch with the Academy reminded viewers that the King was responsible for these scientific victories and, indeed, harnessed their power.

Katherine M. Reinhart is a fellow at the Institute for Research in the Humanities at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. A historian of art and science in early modernity, her publications span various aspects of scientific visual culture, and she is the co-editor (with Margaret Carlyle) of a forthcoming special issue of KNOW: A Journal on the Formation of Knowledge on anatomical material culture.


Katherine Reinhart
IRH Fellow, University of Wisconsin

Eric Jennings
Distinguished Professor, University of Toronto

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