Visiting Scholar Jean-François Bédard examines an extraordinary sketchbook of ornament designs by the French architect Gilles-Marie Oppenord (1672-1742) kept in the Prints and Drawings Collection at the CCA.

Directeur général des bâtiments of the duc d’Orléans, the Regent, Oppenord was at the center of French architectural practice of his time. As made evident by this sketchbook, his consummate draftsmanship, praised by his contemporaries and coveted by collectors, exceeded by far the practical demands usually required of architects. On a copy of the first French edition of Cesare Ripa’s Iconologia, published by Jean Baudoin in 1636 with engravings by Jacques de Bié, Oppenord drew vignettes, head and tail pieces, borders and other ornamental motifs. This unique object sheds light on the practice of ornament design in early eighteenth-century France, a period famous for its inventiveness in interior decoration. These experiments, called by contemporaries the “goût moderne,” are known today, somewhat reductively, as the Rococo.

Today’s reassembled and rebound album of sixty sheets, however, bears little resemblance to Oppenord’s original copy. A later owner – probably Oppenord’s engraver Gabriel Huquier (1695-1772) – cut out the individual drawings, most often drawn in the margins and isolated whole pages when those were fully ornamented. He then discarded the text and regrouped individual drawings, many onto the same page, without respecting their original sequence. A bibliographic analysis of the Ripa-Baudoin book, based on a copy kept at the Bibliothèque nationale de France, and confirmed by a previously unnoticed numbering by Oppenord, guided my reconstitution. In lieu of a haphazard succession of sketches, it revealed Oppenord’s fascinating interplay between text, engraved and drawn images. This seminar examines the Oppenord sketchbook and, more broadly, the architect’s interior decoration and ornament designs, in the context contemporary mondain culture. Historians of literature have long identified the goût mondain as a prime force in French literary culture of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. As demonstrated by Rémy Saisselin, Jean-Pierre Dens, Thomas Crow and particularly Mary Vidal and Katie Scott, the ideals of honnêteté and the culture of polite conversation that mondain circles favored also had a profound impact on the visual arts of this time.

Jean-François Bédard holds a doctoral degree from Columbia University, a master’s degree in the History and Theory of Architecture at McGill University and a professional degree in architecture from the same institution. His dissertation centered on the domestic architecture and the patronage of the French architect Gilles-Marie Oppenord (1672-1742). His research concentrates on how architectural and decorative practices intersected concerns for social distinction during the French Ancien Régime, from both the patron’s and the architect’s perspectives. In this subject he published the book Decorative games : ornament, rhetoric, and noble culture in the work of Gilles-Marie Oppenord (1672-1742).
After a few years of professional practice, Bédard became a curator in the Department of Prints and Drawings at the CCA. In this capacity, he curated in 1994 an exhibition on the work of the American architect Peter Eisenman for which he edited the catalogue Cities of Artificial Excavation: Works by Peter Eisenman, 1978-1988.

Jean-François Bédard was a Visiting Scholar at the CCA in 2005.


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