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Paris c. 1750, the Birth of the Modern Art World


Admission requirements

See MA Arts and Culture programme guide and Exam regulations.


Walter Benjamin claimed that Paris was the capital of the 19th century. In the 18th century, the city could with equal right claim to be the capital that witnessed the birth of the modern art world, because several developments came together there c. 1750 that would define it:

  • the birth of the public art gallery

  • the birth of academic art history and classical archaeology as academic disciplines

  • the rise of a new, articulate middle class public of art lovers

  • the development of new venues to discuss art, such as the Salons, and new media to disseminate art

In this seminar we will investigate how these developments interacted to make Paris around 1750 the place where the modern art world was born; more in particular, we will consider how these, often conflicting, developments manifested themselves around a series of public debates, from the disputes caused by the rediscovery of Paestum and Pompeï, which led to radical new assessments of the value of classical art for the present, to the design of the church of Sainte Genenviève, subsequently the Panthéon; or the debates that surrounded the transformation of Royal art collections at the Palais-Royal into the Louvre; the new artists and audiences that met in the Salons; or the debates caused by the publication of Winckelmann’s Geschichte der Kunst des Altertums.

During the seminar students will choose art works, texts or artefacts in the collections of the University Library or Museum of Antiquities as the focus of their research. The seminar will also include an excursion to Paris.

Course objectives

  • Students will have a firm grasp of the main events, artistic, theoretical and historiographical developments contributing to Paris becoming the centre of the modern art world in the 1750s;

  • They will master the existing literature, and will identify new avenues of research;

  • They will be able to give a close visual analysis of an art work or artefact, and demonstrate how it relates to the developments studied in the seminar.


See the timetable on the website.

N.B. Classes two times a week (only block 3): one session in the Lipsius building and one in the University Library.

Mode of instruction

  • Research seminar, consisting of a combination of lectures by the tutors, presentations by the students in which they report on their progress and present their analysis of their work of art, text or artefact of choice.

  • Excursion to Paris.

Attendance is compulsory. Students are allowed to miss a maximum of two seminars.

Assessment method

  • Short oral presentations in Leiden and Paris (25% of grade)

  • Short outline of the research questions, argument, methods and sources for the final paper of this seminar (25%)

  • Research paper (50%)


Blackboard will be used to post assignments, the required reading list, powerpoints used in the lectures, and relevant events.

Reading list

T.b.a. in first session.


Students are requested to register through uSis, the registration system of Leiden University for this course. General information about uSis is available in English and Dutch.
Exchange and Study Abroad students, please see the Study in Leiden website for information on how to apply.

Students who are not in the MA Arts and Culture programme, but who would like to take this course as an optional course, please contact the Co-ordinator of studies.

Registration A la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable

Contact/ information

Prof. dr C.A. van Eck, Huizinga Building Room 131, 071 527 2693


This course can be followed for the MA Arts and Culture specialisations:

  • Architecture

  • Early Modern and Late Medieval Art

  • The course can also be followed as a specialist course for the MA Arts and Culture free component (10 EC) of any other specialisation or MA program of Leiden University.