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Fleshing Out SurfacesSkin in French Art and Medicine, 1650-1850$
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Mechthild Fend

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780719087967

Published to Manchester Scholarship Online: May 2017

DOI: 10.7228/manchester/9780719087967.001.0001

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Nervous canvas

Nervous canvas

(p.65) 3 Nervous canvas
Fleshing Out Surfaces

Mechthild Fend

Manchester University Press

This chapter looks at skin, sensibility and touch in painterly practice and the art literature on the one hand, and in medical as well as philosophical discourse on the other. It argues that the new medical understanding of organic substances as textured joined a special attention to brushwork in mid-eighteenth-century French art practice and theory. This conjuncture prompted attempts to imitate the skin's tissue with an appropriate facture produced by the artist’s hand. The chapter takes the medical metaphorisation of skin as a ‘nervous canvas‘ in the 1765 article ‘sensibilité‘ of Diderot's and d'Alembert's Encyclopédie as its guide to discuss relations between artistic and medical visions of skin in mid-eighteenth-century France. It focuses on the so-called portraits de fantaise by Jean-Honoré Fragonard and argues that the carnations in these paintings are as much about flesh as they are about the materiality and vitality of skin. Pivotal for the analysis of the interconnections between the fields of medicine and the arts, are the writings by philosopher and art critic Denis Diderot as he thought about skin, flesh and the sense of touch his reviews of the Salon exhibitions, in his writings on physiology, as well as in his fictionalised account of the latest medical theories in his Rêve de d'Alembert.

Keywords:   brushwork, Encylopédie, portraits de fantaisie, portrait, sensibility, skin, touch, Dandré-Bardon, Michel-François, Diderot, Denis, Fragonard, Jean-Honoré

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