Art and politics in the Austrian Netherlands: Count Charles Cobenzl (1712–70) and his collection of drawings

Phillips, Catherine Victoria (2013) Art and politics in the Austrian Netherlands: Count Charles Cobenzl (1712–70) and his collection of drawings. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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The Cabinet of Count Charles Cobenzl lies at the heart of the Hermitage Museum, forming the core of the collection of Old Master Drawings. Yet despite perpetual references to him as ‘grand collectionneur’, no study of Cobenzl’s collecting has ever been undertaken. Nor, in the absence of prosopographical studies of art production or collecting in the Austrian Netherlands in the middle of the eighteenth century, or indeed of other individual collectors, has it been possible to set him in a ‘collecting context’.
Bringing together the works of art themselves and Cobenzl’s abundant correspondence, this thesis assesses what he owned, how and why he acquired it, the political and intellectual framework for his collecting and how he perceived the objects in his possession. Looking at Cobenzl’s roles as public figure and private collector, it shows how the latter fits into the context of the former, his collecting rooted firmly in his ambition to revive the economy and the arts of the Austrian Netherlands, in his own ambiguous status and his conflicts with the Governor, Charles de Lorraine. The battle for both real and perceived superiority was played out in many different parts of Cobenzl’s professional and private life, and he used display – the adornment of his home and his person and his collecting – as part of a play for social prestige. Cobenzl used objects as a discrete assertion of both intellectual and aesthetic superiority.
This thesis proposes that Cobenzl’s transformation into a collector of drawings was an example of his perspicacious identification of emerging trends that could be turned to advantage, economic or prestigious, public or personal. He was drawn by the status of drawings, perceived as accessible only to those of greater refinement and understanding, as something elite, less accessible than the collecting of paintings. The direct and specific stimulus for his emergence as a collector of drawings lay in the provenance of two large groups of works he was offered, which permitted him to assert a very specific link to the past. It suggests that Cobenzl adopted not only the drawings, but also their histories, to negotiate social position and identity, within the context of his pragmatic utilitarianism.
This egocentric study also provides the foundation for a preliminary attempt to create a context for Cobenzl’s collecting of drawings, within his circle, in the Austrian Netherlands overall, and, through analysis of his collecting practices, in the wider European context.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Drawings, collecting, Cobenzl, Belgium, eighteenth century
Subjects: D History General and Old World > DH Netherlands (The Low Countries)
N Fine Arts > NC Drawing Design Illustration
N Fine Arts > ND Painting
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts & Humanities > School of Culture and Creative Arts > History of Art
Supervisor's Name: Warwick, Dr. Genevieve
Date of Award: 2013
Depositing User: Ms Catherine V Phillips
Unique ID: glathesis:2013-4049
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 13 Mar 2013 12:34
Last Modified: 29 Feb 2016 10:03

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