Documenting Art, Writing Biography

  • Construction of the Silvestre Family History, 1660–1868
  • Dena Goodman, Emily Talbot
  • Journal of Family History, June 2015, SAGE Publications
  • DOI: 10.1177/0363199015587076

Long history (1660-1868) of a family of French artists viewed through their art collection

What is it about?

This article concerns six generations of the Silvestre family: a succession of artists, royal drawing masters, and art collectors whose social ascent began in the late seventeenth century in parallel with the Bourbon Monarchy and continued after its fall. In this paper we show how the Silvestres legitimized a path of social mobility from seventeenth-century artisans to nineteenth-century aristocrats by narrating and documenting the family’s history in three texts—two catalogues raisonnés that recorded the Silvestre art collections, and a family biography that traced the dynasty through the French Revolution. By establishing and advancing the family’s reputation or crédit, the Silvestres built a narrative bridge that carried them across the revolutionary divide.

Why is it important?

This article sheds new light on art collecting and social mobility in France from the age of Louis XIV through age of revolutions in the nineteenth by looking closely at one extraordinary family.

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The following have contributed to this page: Professor Dena Goodman