Charles Garnier's Paris Opéra: architectural empathy and the renaissance of French classicism
Charles Garnier's Paris Opera (1861-1875) is one of the largest, most flamboyant, and most expensive monuments commissioned by the Second Empire of Napoleon III. For years scholars have recognized that the Opera is key to any understanding of nineteenth-century French architecture, yet questions of style that have surrounded the Opera since its inception have remained unresolved. By making systematic use of the mostly unpublished Opera Archive, Mead fills in the missing links to previous investigations and unlocks the significance of this seminal masterpiece.
Mead approaches the Opera through Garnier's life. In a careful analysis of the Second Empire's intellectual climate, he provides a new interpretation of the genesis of the Opera's style. Mead reconstructs in detail the social, political, intellectual, professional, and industrial circumstances of Garnier's career as they were expressed through the Opera's design and construction. He shows that with the Paris Opera, Charles Garnier revived French classicism by insisting on its necessary evolution to a modern expression of its time, and on its empathetic origins in the rich complexities of human experience.
Christopher Mead is Associate Professor in the Department of Art and Art History at the University of New Mexico.
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LibraryThing ReviewUser Review - LibraryThing
This is one of the best studies I have read of a single European building from the nineteenth century. Comprehensive and thoughtful, Mead has provided a resounding refutation of the facile treatments both of this building and of the larger Beaux-Arts tradition of its time that have marred so many accounts of modern architecture. His discussion of Garnier's position in relation to French and Renaissance classicism in the second half of the book is fully the equal of any of the best treatments of Renaissance architecture that have long been models of precision and analytical depth in architectural history. This book stands on equal footing with MOMA's catalog of their Beaux-Arts exhibition of 1975 and with Donald Egbert's and Robin Middleton's volumes on the subject. Only two problems from my point of view. First is the very frequent use of long quotations from the original French sources. While I appreciate the desire of historical writing to be documentary, it would have been much better to put the English translations in the main text and the originals in the endnotes, rather than the reverse as Mead has done. A few short quotes here and there in the original language is one thing, but the constant and lengthy quotes make it difficult to read by anyone not well-versed in French. Second is the sometimes convoluted discussion of French architectural theory, which, although sound and convincing overall, needed a better editor. The problem stems from both Mead's assumption of the reader's deep familiarity with Neoclassical and Beaux-Arts theory and his sometimes infelicitous writing. Two sentences from the start of chapter six should indicate the problem: "Garnier combined Vaudoyer's 'Renaissance' and 'Renouvellement' into the historically singular Renaissance of type based in imitation, and turned Vaudoyer's negative tracing of the Renaissance devolution to the seventeenth-century decadence into his positive appraisal of the entire Renaissance as the typically coherent and historically necessary ancestor to the principled creation of a nineteenth-century style: only an amimetic principle could produce a truly characteristic style of modern architecture. At least the progressive history of the classical tradition was clear, even if its principle remained elusive." If one can get beyond this contorted writing, which mercifully does not characterize the whole text, the book is amply rewarding.
Review: Charles Garnier's Paris Opera: Architectural Empathy and the Renaissance of French ClassicismUser Review - Goodreads
I read this as research for my novel, My Phantom: The Memoir of Christine Daaé. This is the definite work on Garnier's masterpiece.
The Opra Competitions
Le ThAAtre and Garniers
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Charles Garnier's Paris Opera - The MIT Press
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mitpress.mit.edu/ catalog/ item/ default.asp?ttype=2&
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CHARLES GARNIER'S PARIS OPERA AND THE RENAISSANCE OF CLASSICISM IN ...
CHARLES GARNIER'S PARIS OPERA AND THE RENAISSANCE OF CLASSICISM IN NINETEENTH-CENTURY FRENCH ARCHITECTURE (BEAUX-ARTS) ...
repository.upenn.edu/ dissertations/ AAI8614837/