Gary He, Ph.D.
Ornaments of the Third Republic: Antonin Raguenet and the Matériaux et documents d’architecture et de sculpture
This dissertation, entitled “Ornaments of the Third Republic: Antonin Raguenet and the Matériaux et documents d’architecture et de sculpture” critically situates the primary project of Antonin Raguenet in the aesthetic and historiographic discourse of architecture in nineteenth-century Europe. Between 1872 and 1914, the architect Antonin Raguenet (1839-1920) directed from his studio at Rue Monsieur le Prince in Paris a vast project of architectural drawing which collected ornaments from buildings, plazas, monuments and cemeteries across the European continent. Published monthly in modest, eight-page lithographic serial pamphlets totaling over five hundred issues, the Matériaux et documents d’architecture et de sculpture ultimately contained over fourteen thousand drawings made over a forty-year period. Raguenet’s project is unique for both its vast geographic scope and empiricism of material. It is a Third Republic excavation of Second Empire architecture, an engagement of its ancient past as the new century rapidly approaches. The Matériaux et documents further distinguishes itself from other Beaux-Arts “style-books” of the period in its rootedness in the idea of an impending modern architecture – an architecture which departs from previously recognizable forms. Aided by the maturation of print technology, the passenger railroad industry, and the rise of amateur photography, the work is moreover a monument to the international production and reproduction of ornament literature during the Belle Époque.
The dissertation will trace Raguenet’s relationship with ornament and architectural publication to the French utopian thinker and chief editor of the Revue générale, César Daly, who was an immediate predecessor. I argue that Raguenet’s rendering of historical and contemporary ornament as aesthetic fragments, which he called motifs, was clearly influenced by Daly’s organicist theory of Motifs historiques as the driver of a Saint-Simonian notion of progressive epochal history. Daly and Raguenet were both in pursuit of a ‘new modern style’ – L’Art Nouveau – which played out in the pages of their respective publications. Here, Raguenet’s empiricism reveals the ideological content of romantic architectural historiography as his ornamental gaze moves seamlessly from Haussmann-era apartment buildings, to late-century universal expositions, to the facades of Lavirotte, Schoellkopf, and Guimard. Drawing on extensive original documentation of source material, this dissertation will present the Matériaux et documents as a historical and theoretical complication in the received framework of western ornament’s high period of ‘decadence.’ It will address especially the modern notion of ‘progress’ as essential to the discourse of ornament in the nineteenth-century, and invite reflection upon its renewed role in our own time.