Dr. Polistena presented a paper, “The Romantic Impulse for Scenes of The Passion and the Collective Ambition of the Bourgeoisie” at the ASCHA Symposium History, Continuity, and Rupture, held at the Pavé d’Orsay, Paris in June 2010.  Dr. Polistena is featured on their website: www.christianityarthistory.org

Prof. Polistena

During our stay in Paris, the Symposium organizers arranged a unique tour of The Institut de France for the speakers. This was exceptional look into the chambers of the august society of French Academicians – usually, invited guests are Presidents and Popes. It was possible only because one of the panelists at the symposium, Dr. Brent Seales, University of Kentucky, had been invited to present his research about digital restoration of ancient documents. Professor Seales and one of his French colleagues at the Institut made this connection for us.

The Institut de France is comprised of five academies –including the Academy of Fine Arts. Established in 1635 by Cardinal Richelieu with a small council of humanists; it was chartered under Cardinal Mazarin in 1661 to create a learned society. In 1805 the Institut moved to its present location on the Quai Conti under the direction of Napoleon I.

We had a guided tour of the Institut’s main lecture hall under the magnificent cupola, the private (members only) Bibliothéque de l’nstitut as well as the Mazarine Library (open to the public for pre-approved research projects); Cardinal Mazarin’s tomb, and the sumptuous long gallery. The highlight was certainly the visit to the private meeting rooms of the academicians who refer to themselves as “les immortels” (the immortals). However, to remind themselves that their bodies are not immortal, only their words, there is a painting of Richelieu on his death bed located inside a cupboard at the left of the standing portrait that is opened before each meeting. Vanitas vanitatem.

Photos by Natasha Seaman