French Heritage Society fosters the education of tomorrow’s preservationists from the US and France. Education has always been a central focus of its activities. Special programs of interest to art historians, architects, artisans, students and the public are offered. FHS and its chapters also sponsor an annual roster of lectures, excursions, museum visits, and other activities.
In the summer of 2012 Andrei Pesic, an American PhD candidate in history at Princeton University was able to take part, thanks to a scholarship from French Heritage Society, in an International Seminar organized by the Research Center at Versailles. French Heritage Society was pleased to collaborate with the Centre de Recherche du Château de Versailles for the program of study on "Art and Society in France in the 17th and 18th Centuries".
The seminar brought together specialized scholars from France, Europe and the United States to enhance their knowledge and research while collaborating with distinguished academics and fellow PhD candidates in their field. It allowed them to create a network of fellow scholars and advance their future careers through personal contacts and exchanges of perspectives. In his own words, Andrei Pesic shares his experiences from this exceptional seminar.
"I am writing to thank you for supporting my participation in the Séminaire International de Recherche de Versailles (SIRV) this summer. The seminar was both intellectually stimulating and personally rewarding. It gave me new insights into my period of study and allowed me to learn from French researchers whom I would not otherwise have had the opportunity to meet.
The white and gold décor of the former apartments of the Comte de Pontchartrain in the Château de Versailles is surely the most elegant setting imaginable for an academic seminar ... what a reward it was every day to walk up the boulevard with the château looming ahead, all gilt and marble under the ciel gris. Having the seminar take place inside the château was much more than a visual pleasure: it was an important part of the pedagogy of the program.
By walking across the courtyard, we could discuss the different phases of the architecture with the foremost experts on its construction, or visit the Petite Écurie to see the restoration studio where Girardon's statue of Apollo and the nymphs is being cleaned and studied. Having spent nearly six weeks in the château, my understanding of the buildings, social relations, artworks, and rituals that constituted the court of Versailles are completely transformed.
The seminar itself was very intensive, with six hours of meetings per day, four times per week. It was a terrific privilege to be able to have intimate classes with France's most eminent historians of art and literature, who in their usual university lectures speak in front of overflowing lecture halls. The fact that the seminar took place entirely in academic French was also a terrific exercise for my spoken French, which will serve me well in the years to come.
I am a PhD candidate in history at Princeton, where I am writing a dissertation that reexamines the birth of the public concert in France and other European countries during the eighteenth century. The broad focus of the Séminaire International de Recherche de Versailles on "Society and the Arts in the seventeenth and eighteenth century" helped me think about the implications of my work beyond the history of music.
The session on the history of architecture with Alexandre Gady, one of the world's experts on the French architectural heritage, showed us how to read architectural plans to learn the uses of spaces and the changing requirements in the hôtels particuliers of Paris. Mathieu da Vinha, the head of the research center at the Château de Versailles, walked us through a day in the life of the king, moving beyond popular myths (it is now thought that the descriptions of the filth of the château may not be entirely accurate) to share some of his incredibly detailed knowledge of the complex political machinations of the period.
Patrick Michel brought to life the mentalities of eighteenth-century art collectors – he reminded us that the taste for different genres of paintings was substantially different than it is today (the eighteenth century was the first time that Northern paintings were so thoroughly in fashion in France), and he helped me to think about how religious artworks were displayed in the new secular spaces of the Salon and private houses.
We moved to Paris for several sessions, where we were lucky enough to visit the Louvre's sculpture department on a day when the museum was closed; the head of the European sculpture department, Guilhem Scherf, conducted a terrific tour of the sculpted portraits in the collection."