Event—Scholarly Seminars

Alicia Caticha, Northwestern University


Marble Landscapes, Sugared Gardens: Consuming Whiteness in the Hôtel Interior, 1730-1770, Alicia Caticha, Northwestern University

The spaces of the eighteenth-century French elite were awash with color and ornament. Gilded surfaces intermingled with pastel-hued textiles, wallpaper, and furniture. Fête galantes—paintings featuring elegantly dressed lovers, cupids, and lush green vegetation—hung on walls. Color, it would seem, had finally triumphed over form, a dialectic that had been introduced into the French context by the academician Roger de Piles in the second half of the seventeenth century. Yet amidst these spaces, in all their polychrome pastel glory, marble—more specifically, marble’s whiteness—was a recurring motif. Although white marble had long been the sculptural default, it was not until the eighteenth-century that the surface of marble became ontologically linked with a racialized epidermis in the western cultural conscious. Taking up French sculptural production from approximately 1730 to 1770, I posit that to understand the racialization of marble sculpture we must look to the popular trend for white, small-scale, often female statuettes that proliferated throughout the hôtels, chateaus, and spaces of eighteenth-century France.

In “Marble Landscapes, Sugared Gardens,” I take up this constellation of sculptural objects, made not just in marble, but also in porcelain and sugar. Moving through an eighteenth-century enfilade series of rooms, one would have been witness to the hegemonic presence of these white statuettes. Porcelain and marbles were placed on mantels and housed in cabinets. Sugar sculptures intermingled with unglazed porcelain figures on elaborate tablescapes. The sightlines of formal gardens, as viewed through strategically placed windows, were punctuated by marble groups that often replicated the interior decor on a larger, grander scale. By tracing the use, placement, and context of these objects across space, this chapter illustrates how the replication of sculptural forms across media was foundational to the confluence between sculpture, marble, and whiteness. With a specific focus on the relationship between sugar sculpture’s evocation of marble garden statuary, this chapter further introduces modes of sculptural replication that defined the material and mimetic relationships between the three media.