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The history of portraiture, in both literature and the graphic arts, reaches back to antiquity. This art was perhaps most highly developed in seventeenth-century France, where the form branched out in numerous directions. In the social sphere, verbal portraiture became the basis of a fashionable salon game. Diplomatic portraits were widely employed in political dealings. The popularity of painted portraits was widespread, and gave rise to such trends as the portrait-miniature and the depiction of individuals as mythological figures. In the domain of literature, the development of portrait forms was especially rich. The use of the portrait in the novel gradually gained ground throughout the century, reaching a peak in Madeleine de Scudéry's Le Grand Cyrus (1649-53) and Clélie (1654-61). Portrait collections were in vogue as well: 1659 saw the publication of the Divers Portraits (associated with Mlle de Montpensier) and the two competing editions of the Recueil des Portraits et Eloges. In the years that followed, the portrait appeared in virtually all of the diverse written forms that the seventeenth century invented. Concurrently, written portraits were a frequent object of parody, satire, and criticism. In the final years of the century, after gradually waning in popularity, the portrait returned in a somewhat different form in La Bruyère's Caractères.


Rosenberg & Sellier

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Studi Francesi