In Fontainebleau this weekend, the former royal home is less stately than usual. The manicured lawns are freshly green, and the flowers are in full bloom. Even the bees are gracing the gardens with their busy buzzing.
Culture Minister Aurélie Filipetti opened the festival, organised by the French culture ministry, the National Institute of Art History (INHA) and the château, on Friday.
Paradoxically, this year’s festival theme is ephemerality.
“We think that these monuments are eternal, and that they’re invulnerable, but unfortunately history shows that they’re not," commented Filipetti. "Their need to be preserved and the special techniques required to do that are central to this notion of ephemerality which underlines this extreme fragility.”
Besides being a scholarly idea-exchanging event for academics and professionals – art historians, restorers, curators – students of art history from both sides of the Channel - Britain is the special guest-country this year -, the Festival of Art History is open to the general public.
Entry is free but for those itching to spend money, the organisers brought along art history publishers with their tempting works.
There were also guided tours of the château and its decorative art by students from the Ecole du Louvre and performance art by Robert Cantarella, Le Musée Vivant (The Living Museum). Actors tell a story commissioned from a well-known author - in French -, about a work of art – a painting, a film, a sculpture – chosen by the visitor. A sort of live audio-guide.
Not all the works are in the château, however.
The festival also offers cinema, including Peter Greenaway’s recent Goltzius and the Pelican Company, Yasujiro Ozu’s less recent Floating Grass and Derek Jarman’s not-so-old Caravaggio and plenty of lectures, debates on a wide range of subjects relating to art history and conservation.
The culture minister stressed the highly respected place culture occupies in France.
“This is an important festival as it helps people read the monuments and understand how they have been preserved, what they have been used for," she said. "It’s important democratically speaking, too, as it helps people, who may not have had the means at school to learn this history, to know that they can learn about it later on. It’s a richness which belongs to us all.”