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Jennifer Davis Taylor (Warburg Institute): 'A Fairy Tale Defense of Women: The Iconography of Charles Perrault'

Charles Perrault is perhaps best known as a writer of fairy tales such as Cinderella and Puss in Boots, but he was also a member of the Académie Française and a civil servant for the King’s Buildings under Louis XIV. As a designer, he was skilled in developing themes through the interplay of word and image and combined various art disciplines to explore art, metaphysics, human nature, politics, and gender roles. Many of his designs were lost in a fire at the Bibliothèque du Louvre in 1871, but a treatise on the art of the device, or motto, has recently been rediscovered. In this presentation, I will first discuss the device Perrault created for the manuscript of his Contes as a way of introducing the art form that was paradigmatic to Perrault's larger works. This device served as a portrait for the recipient, Princess Elizabeth Charlotte D'Orleans. Moreover, the manuscript form and its painted decoration underscore a position on women that was consistent across Perrault's works. I will then discuss the iconographic programs for a garden and an interior: the Labyrinthe de Versailles (that Perrault used as a means to compare men and women) and Le Cabinet des Beaux Arts which was a series of paintings that decorated Perrault's personal cabinet. Both works are set within an Edenic space that defines the place of women in a perfectly ordered world.

Jennifer Davis Taylor studied at the Warburg Institute in London where she specialised in Art and Intellectual History of 17th-century France. In her PhD project, she demonstrated a completely new way of reading Charles Perrault's works: as though they are the polished output of a designer and iconographer whose themes are revealed typologically and through the interdependence of word and image, and whose skill in relating word and image transferred easily into the designing of grand iconographic programs for interiors and gardens. Since February 2024 she has been designing Art History curriculum for the International School of Greenville, a private school accredited by the French Ministry of Education. In June, she will present her talk, "Art, Politics, and Quantum Mechanics" at the Cognitive Futures Conference in Catania, Italy.

This event is part of the series A Material World: Gender, which brings together academics and heritage professionals from a wide range of disciplines to discuss issues concerning historical objects, their materials, forms, and functions, as well as their conservation, presentation, display, and reconstruction.

Organisers: Rembrandt Duits (Deputy Curator, The Photographic Collection, The Warburg Institute) and Louisa McKenzie (The Warburg Institute).

All sessions during 2023-2024 will be delivered online.


image: photograph ©️ Gordon Plumb