Art, image(s) and society

The Art, image(s) and society research group (ArtIS) brings together specialists in the history of art within the LARHRA research centre from both Lyon and Grenoble, as well as other researchers from the research centre who share an interest in the history of the arts, images and visual culture since the sixteenth century.



The name “Art, image(s) and society” (ArtIS) reflects the principal research interests of this research group. “Art” is taken here to mean both a subject of academic inquiry and an aesthetic issue, and relates in a complex fashion to the study of images – the plural form reflecting the diversity of contexts studied. The similarity between the two terms echoes recent epistemological developments in the field; from the invention of the notion of “art” in the Renaissance period, to postmodern conceptions of the visual. The presence of the word “society” indicates what it is that links art to its historical context – in so far as art can be pinned down to a particular context – and opens the way to comparisons with artistic developments outside Europe.

The work of the ArtIS research group aims to contribute in particular to four areas within the field:

  • The portrait
  • Collecting and the history of taste
  • Art and visual culture
  • Architectural techniques and materials


Research projects

The research carried out by the members of ArtIS approaches the subject from three interlocking perspectives:


I. The portrait and its mediatisation

The academic study of the portrait has changed substantially during the last thirty years, and the research undertaken by the members of the LARHRA reflects the diversity and complexity of current practice in the field. Taking on board those developments, the group has chosen to focus in particular on the diffusion of art and its mediatisation.


1. The portrait: sources and issues
Building on ArtIS’s previous work, the group continues to develop its research on the early modern period, and on the nineteenth century. Specific projects will be looking at portraiture in sculpture; portraiture and sculpture in the public and private sphere; the portrait, gender and antiquity; and images, the body and dress.


2. The artist: representation, status and space
The history of the status of the artist represents a new development compared with the traditional concerns of the field, which tended to centre on an anecdotal and mythologised study of artists’ biographies. This project involves studying the images of artists in order to relate the sociological study of artistic status to an analysis of visual representation.



II. Collection, display and the history of taste

This project brings together researchers interested in the material and commercial aspects of works of art. Although the history of collecting and taste are well-established fields of research, they have benefited recently from the emergence of a new focus both on the display of works of art in museums and temporary exhibitions and on the art market. The study of these topics makes it possible to analyse shifts in taste with regard to the role of institutional, aesthetic, economic and social factors. The study of the circulation of art works, of art networks and of the art market aims to contribute to this wide-ranging field.


1. The history of collections
In recent years, the history of collecting and collections has paid greater attention to the study of the visual aspects of the subject, with the concept of display. Research in this field extends to the institutional study of museums, which, until the dominance of the “white cube” dogma, placed considerable importance on the mise en scène of works of art. Current practice in exhibiting is the subject of an ongoing seminar, in collaboration with Le Magasin in Grenoble.


2. Circulation and networks: markets and tastes
This theme is approached in the context of two research projects studying the period of the French Revolution: (1) Artists and territories; and (2) The art market during the French Revolution.





III. From work to image: the history of art and visual culture

The growing importance of visual studies has meant that works of art may be approached from new perspectives, allowing art to be seen as one part of a wider economy of the image. In particular, this involves analysing how shifts in the hierarchies of the visual have been profoundly shaken up since the middle of the twentieth century; looking at visual regimes since the Renaissance; and thinking about the epistemologies of the visual.

1. Hierarchies
When considering the image in its broader societal context, the status of the work of art needs to be looked at afresh. Shifts in the hierarchies of the image are studied with regard to the insights offered by a cultural studies framework. This involves a study of processes of “de-hierarchisation” at work in artistic production during the second half of the twentieth century, notably with regard to the culture of the object.


2. Visual regimes
The historical specificity of different visual regimes is studied here in relation to the changing representation of history and memory. In addition, the study of satire brings a social, political and anthropological dimension to the study of visual culture.


3. The epistemology and historiography of the visual
The history of art is a relatively recent field, and has developed its methods by borrowing from neighbouring disciplines, both old and new, while at the same time establishing for itself a distinctive identity. This research project involves reflection on the boundaries of the field and its epistemological borrowings, and examines the role of the visual in historiographical terms. This project is composed of two distinct but inter-related strands:
“Art as nature, medicine as art” examines the question of the visible and the emotional in relation to the history of occultism and hermetism;
“Epistemologies of the history of form” studies the way in which antiquarians and historians of art have considered visually the representation of the history of form by borrowing from other disciplines, notably philosophy and the history of nature.


IV. The question of technique in architecture

During the last twenty years, the study of architectural techniques has developed substantially, thanks both to contributions from the history of construction, and to the growing importance of the concept of material culture. This has enabled researchers to look afresh at a number of architectural projects previously discussed uniquely from the point of view of the construction process. These insights have also cast new light on well-known buildings, through new approaches to the study of the conditions of their construction and the constraints involved. This project aims to establish the bases for a new history of architectural technique, extending the field to a consideration of the relationship – lived or imagined – between humankind and the materials and techniques with which men and women have constructed their built environment. This project focuses on the period from 1750 to 1950, and looks in particular at the role of ductile and malleable materials; mainly, but not exclusively, in the context of the study of historically-important buildings from different regions.