Marc Fumaroli

2001 Balzan Prize for Literary History and Criticism (post 1500)

For his research on rhetoric from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century, which has thoroughly renewed our understanding of European culture in the fields of literature, painting, and the art of living.

Marc Fumaroli (*1932–†2020) was born in Marseilles in 1932. Fellow of Collège de France and a member of the Académie française, Fumaroli is a major historian and critic of literature and civilisation, not only French, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries which are the subjects of his landmark studies L’Âge de l’éloquence (1980/1994), Héros et orateurs (1990), L’École du silence (1994), Trois institutions littéraires (1995). As well as being the leading authority on eighteenth-century rhetoric, Fumaroli is also responsible for the position this discipline currently enjoys in contemporary thought and practice. General Editor of the recent, monumental Histoire de la rhétorique dans l’Europe modene, 1450-1950, (2000), Fumaroli is also a lively and provocative polemicist ever since, in L’État culturel (1991), he criticised the State as “guiding star of Culture” and culture itself as “the religion of modernity”.

Marc Fumaroli’s lifetime’s work has been devoted to the study of the European literary tradition. He focused at first on the History of Rhetoric, extending our knowledge of this subject in novel ways. He later showed how this art of pleasing, instructing and moving by means of the spoken word encompassed both the fields of Literature and that of the Visual Arts. By fully highlighting the sources and teachings which shaped writers and artists, Marc Fumaroli’s research has provided links between the various European expressions of the same “Italianate and Roman culture”, which, in the seventeenth century, was not merely a vast repertoire of images, but the inspiration for a whole way of life.

Marc Fumaroli’s books, originating from the same master plan, form a substantial whole of extraordinary cohesiveness. The starting point is L’Age de l’éloquence (1980), a masterly analysis of the “arts of the word” in the Renaissance. Carrying on from this work, Héros et orateurs (1990) studies the plays of Pierre Corneille, while L’Ecole du silence (1994) brings forth documents and reflections on the spread of images in the seventeenth century and especially on the work of the painters Guido Reni and Nicolas Poussin. His scope of research widens further still in La Diplomatie de l’esprit (1994), in which are collected studies ranging from Montaigne to Charles Perrault. Marc Fumaroli pays great attention to institutions – the art of conversation, cultivated leisure, the Académie – where learned French society created its own image during its golden age (Trois institutions littéraires, 1994). A renowned book, Le poète et le roi. Jean de La Fontaine en son siècle (1997), traces back in masterly touches the conflict between a free spirit and the new monarchical absolutism. Marc Fumaroli’s latest work does not only come to grips with the crisis which transformed the cultural landscape at the beginning of the eighteenth century (la querelle des anciens et des modernes), but also with the political crisis which led to the fall of the ancien régime. This decisive moment is the backdrop of a book on Chateaubriand which will be coming out shortly.

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