- Museum number
The Academy of Sciences and Fine Arts
Pen and black and grey ink, with grey wash, over red chalk, on two joined pieces of paper, with many smaller pieces inlaid and overlaid
- Production date
- 1698 (circa)
Height: 228 millimetres
Width: 371 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- A preparatory study for Leclerc's etching of 1698 'L'Académie des Sciences et des Beaux-Arts' (IFF 859). An earlier stage in the development of the composition is recorded in a pen-and-wash study in the École des Beaux-Arts, Paris (1169; illustrated by Stein on p. 97).
Lit.: P. Rosenberg, 'Il seicento francese', Milan, 1971, pl. XXXIII; H. Kurita and M. Koshikawa, in exhib.cat., Nagoya, Aichi Prefectural Museum of Art and Tokyo, National Museum of Western Art, 'French drawings from the British Museum: from Fontainebleau to Versailles', 2002, no.55; P. Stein, in exhib.cat., New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, and London, BM, 'French Drawings from Clouet to Seurat', 2005, no.20 (with previous literature); I. Seligman, 'Lines of Thought', London, 2016, no. 74, p. 119.
Sebastien Leclerc was primarily a printmaker, producing over 3,000 etchings, many of his own design. He was also accomplished in geometry and perspective and taught these subjects at the `Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture`. At the same time, although not a member, he was closely associated with the `Académie des Sciences` where the precision of his work brought him numerous commissions illustrating zoological or botanical works. Leclerc celebrated the rarefied world of learning and scientific progress centred around these recently formed Academies in his most ambitious and admired print, `The Academy of Sciences and Fine Arts` (fig.1),(n.1) for which the BM drawing is a study. In a close reading of the iconography M. Préaud has interpreted the print as Leclerc's graphic testament, alluding not just to his interest in the arts and sciences, but to his contribution to these fields as well. As such, Préaud situates the imagery in the tradition of the scientific vanitas, concerned with the scientist's intellectual legacy.(n.2)
Published with a dedication to the king in 1698, the Academy of Sciences and Vine Arts drew inspiration from Raphael's famous fresco, `The School of Athens` (1511). It presents Leclerc's vision of an imaginary or ideal academy where many subjects are taught and studied within the indoor and outdoor spaces of a vast classical building. In addition to the sciences and plastic arts, Leclerc included representations of the liberal arts. Rhetoric is represented by an orator in the background, framed by an archway in the colonnade, arithmetic by a group in the left foreground studying trigonometry, and music by a group of musicians seated on the stone wall in the background, to the left. Spheres and diagrams to the left represent the study of astronomy. Although they have equal prominence in the title, the fine arts are relegated to the background in the print and scarcely indicated in the present preparatory study (save for a lone draughtsman at the entrance to the peristyle). In addition to these generalized allegories, Leclerc has throughout his composition inserted instructional diagrams and images borrowed from his own graphic oeuvre.(n.3) If these references were meant to point to Leclerc's personal contribution to the scientific fields represented, then the array of scientific instruments can be seen as self-referential as well, for Leclerc had formed a large collection of them.(n.4) In a print that remained unfinished at the artist's death, but may have been intended as a retroactive pendant, Leclerc depicted himself standing in an airy cabinet filled with a great variety of scientific instruments and showing an object to a group of erudite visitors.(n.5)
An earlier stage in the evolution of the composition, quite different from the BM version, survives in a pen and wash drawing in the École des Beaux-Arts, Paris (fig.2). Here, the academy of arts is more prominent, with a crowded room of young artists drawing from a live model seen through an arched doorway. Missing, though, from this early conception is the figure of the chiromancer reading the palm of a young man. Bearded and old, practising an art more magic than science, he is used, according to Préaud, as a foil against which to extol the progress of science under the Sun King.
Text by P. Stein, 2005 as cited above
Fig.1 SEBASTIEN LECLERC I, `The Academy of Sciences and Fine Arts`, etching, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (62.598.300).
Fig.2 SEBASTIEN LECLERC I, `The Academy of Sciences and Fine Arts`, pen and black ink, brush and grey and brown wash, École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts, Paris (inv.1169).
1 M. Préaud, `Inventaire du fonds français, Graveurs du XVIIe siècle, vol. 8: Sébastien Leclerc I`, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris, 1980, pp.235-8, no.859.
2 M. Préaud, '"L'Académie des sciences et des beaux-arts": le testament graphique de Sébastien Leclerc', Racar, X, no.i (1983), pp.73-81.
4 Ibid., p.74 note 7.
5 Préaud, 1980, op.cit., pp.334-5, 337, no.1309. Leclerc's self-referential tendencies are further evident in the preparatory drawing for the unfinished print of the cabinet in the École des Beaux-Arts, Paris (inv.1168), in which a rudimentary sketch of `The Academy of Sciences and Fine Arts` appears as a framed image on the wall, just below the window on the left. See exhib.cat., Hotel de la Monnaie, Paris, `Colbert, 1619-1683`, 1983, pp.371-2, no.525 (entry by F. Magny).
6 Pen and black ink, brush, and grey and brown wash, 204 x 354 mm (inv.1159). See `Colbert, 1619-1683`, 1983, op.cit., pp.368-70, no.524 (entry by F. Magny). Two other drawings have been associated with the composition. A red chalk drawing in the Ecole des Beaux-Arts was considered by Préaud as an initial idea for the composition, but its use of an allegorical female figure and a group of putti instead of savants and students, as well as obvious differences in setting and format, leave this suggestion in the realm of hypothesis. See B. Brejon de Lavergnée, exhib.cat., Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts, Paris, `Maîtres français 1550-1800, Dessins de la donation Mathias Polakovits à l'Ecole des Beaux-Arts`, 1989, pp.124-5, no.42 (entry by M. Préaud). A drawing in the Staedelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt (inv.1105), mentioned in `Colbert, 1619-1683`, 1983, op. cit., p.368, under no.524 and in the subsequent literature as a preparatory work, appears from the photograph to be so close to the print as to be done after it. Moreover, it includes numerous details that do not appear in the early states of the print, but were only all added by the seventh state. Martin Sonnabend of the Graphische Sammlung has kindly examined the drawing and concurs with this judgement (correspondence, 10 October 2003). For a description of the states, see `Inventaire du fonds français`, op. cit., pp.235
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
2002 April-June, Nagoya, Aichi Prefectural Mus of Art, 'French Drawings from the BM'
2002 July-Sep, Tokyo, NM of Western Art, 'French Drawings from the BM'
2005/6 Nov-Jan, New York, Met Mus of Art, Clouet to Seurat/BM, no. 34
2006 June-Oct, BM, Clouet to Seurat/BM, no. 34
2016 3 Sep - 6 Nov, Poole Museum, 'Lines of thought: Drawing from Michelangelo to now', no. 74
2017 1 Jan - 25 Feb, The Brynmor Jones Library Art Gallery, University of Hull, 'Lines of thought: Drawing from Michelangelo to now', no. 74
2017 12 Mar - 5 May, Ulster Museum, Belfast, 'Lines of thought: Drawing from Michelangelo to now', no. 74
2017 May - Sep, New Mexico Museum of Art, Santa Fe, 'Lines of thought: Drawing from Michelangelo to now', no. 74
2017-2018 Oct - Jan, RISD Museum, Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, 'Lines of thought: Drawing from Michelangelo to now', no. 74
- Acquisition date
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number