DICTIONARY OF ART HISTORIANS
A Biographical Dictionary of Historic Scholars, Museum Professionals and Academic Historians of Art
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Denon, [Jean-Dominique] Vivant sometimes appearing "Vivant-Denon"
January 1, 1747
Givry, near Chalon-sur-Saône, France
January 1, 1825
Minister of Arts under Napoleon, developer and first director of the Louvre Museum; collector and engraver. Denon was born to a provincial noble family. He initially studied law in Paris in 1765, but switched to study painting under Noël Hallé (1711-1781). His first official appointment came as keeper of the collection of gems and medals left to the King by Madame de Pompadour. Beginning in 1772, he worked as an attaché to the French embassies in St Petersburg, Stockholm, Geneva and Naples, making engravings in addition to his diplomatic work. His commissions included those to Sir William Hamilton, the British ambassador in Naples. Denon's connections at the embassies allowed him to assemble paintings and antique sculpture including object from the sites at Pompeii and Herculaneum. Acting as an agent for Louis XVI, he bought Guercio's Resurrection of Lazarus. In 1782 he was appointed chargé-d?affaires in Naples. When Denon was discharged from his Naples assignment in 1785, he traveled to Rome securing work engraving paintings. He returned to France briefly in 1787, where he published his Voyage en Sicile in 1788, illustrated with his own drawings on the topic. The same year, Denon moved to Venice, teaching engraving to the wealthy members of Venetian society, documenting them through portraits and remaining safely out of reach of the French Revolution. In 1792 he returned to Paris, under the protection of Jacques-Louis David, a deputy of the National Convention. David exonerated Denon from charges that he fled France. David gave Denon commissions documenting various Revolutionary meetings. Denon also published the erotic engravings, L?Oeuvre priapique in 1793, illustrating the purported sexual mores of Pompeii.
Sources: Lelièvre, Pierre. Vivant Denon: homme des lumières "ministre des arts" de Napoléon. Paris: Picard, 1993; Sollers, Philippe. Le Cavalier du Louvre : Vivant Denon (1747-1825). Paris : Plon, 1995; Capasso, Mario. Come tele di ragno sgualcite: D.-V. Denon e J.-F. Champollion nell'Officina dei papiri ercolanesi. Naples: Eurocomp 2000; Chatelain, Jean. Dominique Vivant Denon et le Louvre de Napoléon. Paris: Librairie Académique Perrin, 1973; Ghali, Ibrahim Amin. Vivant Denon, ou, La conquêt du bonheur. Cairo: Institut Français d'archéologie orientale du Caire, 1986; J. Nowinski. Baron Dominique Vivant Denon (1747 1825): Hedonist and Scholar in a Period of Transition. Teanek, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1970; Barnes, Joanna. "Vivant Denon." Dictionary of Art; Toso Rodinis, Giuliana. Dominique Vivant Denon: i fiordalisi, il berretto frigio, la sfinge. Florence: L. S. Olschki, 1977; Dominique-Vivant Denon: l'oeil de Napoléon. Paris: Musée du Louvre/Réunion des musées nationaux, 1999; Gallo, Daniela. Les vies de Dominique-Vivant Denon: actes du colloque organisé au Musée du Louvre. 2 vols. Paris: la Documentation française, 2001; Kultermann, Udo. The History of Art History. New York: Abaris, 1993, p. 62.
Bibliography: Voyage en Sicile. Paris: Didot,1788, [new ed.] Paris: Le Promeneur, 1993; Original Journals of the Eighteen Campaigns of Napoleon Bonaparte: Comprising all Those in which he Personally Commanded in Chief. London: J. Davis, 1817?; Priapées et sujets divers gravés par Dominique-Vivan Denon. Paris: Réunion des Musées nationaux, 1999; Viaggio nel Basso ed Alto Egitto, illustrato dietro alle tracce e ai disegni, del Sig. Denon. 2 vols. Florence: Giuseppe Tofani, 1808; Voyage dans la basse et la haute Égypte pendant les campagnes du général Bonaparte. 5 vols. Paris: Imprimerie de P. Didot, 1802, English, Travels in Upper and Lower Egypt, during the Campaigns of General Bonaparte. London: B. Crosby, 1802;and Duval, Amaury. Monuments des arts du dessin chez les peuples tant anciens que modernes. Paris: B. Denon, 1829.