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Seznec, Jean

    Full Name: Seznec, Jean

    Other Names:

    • Jean Seznec

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 1905

    Date Died: 1983

    Place Born: Morlaix, Brittany, France

    Place Died: Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire, UK

    Home Country/ies: France


    French historian of art and literature. Seznec’s parents were both schoolteachers. He studied at the École Normale Supérieure. In 1929 became a fellow at the Académie de France in Rome, studying under Émile Mâle, whose methodology he revered. He lectured at Cambridge University between 1930-33 in French literature before accepting a position at the Lycéen Thiers in Marseilles in 1934. He joined the French Institute in Florence as an assistant director, becoming director in 1938. At the entrance of France in World War II, Seznec returned home to fight as an infantry officer in the French army. In 1940, he published La Survivance des dieux antiques, an intellectual tour-de-force tracing how medieval and renaissance artists represented classical mythology according to their understanding. Seznec was influenced by the work of Warburg scholars Fritz Saxl, Erwin Panofsky and Aby M. Warburg himself. Seznec expanded the scope of their work, writing a broad view of the transmission of classical representation in Western Art. He was awarded the Prix Fould from the Academies des Inscriptions et des Belles Lettres in for the work in 1948. Seznec had accepted a position at Harvard University after the war in the department of Romance Languages and Literatures; he was made chair of that department in 1949. There, too, he identified a group of Fragonard drawings, editing a catalog with Elizabeth Mongan and Philip Hofer, which became an exhibition at the National Gallery of Art. In 1950 he was named Marshal Foch Professor of French Literature at Oxford University, succeeding Gustav Rudler (1872-1957) remaining until 1972. His second marriage in 1954 was to Simone Lee. At Oxford he held a special affinity with the first chair of art history, Edgar Wind, a fellow Warburgian. In 1957, Seznec, together with Jean Adhémar began issuing their four-volume edition of Denis Diderot’s Paris Salon criticism, which Diderot had written between 1759-81. Seznec the literary scholar and Adhémar the prints specialist assembled a critical text of Diderot and the images about which he wrote. The work, largely an effort of careful assemblage and commentary, transformed eighteenth-century scholarship by providing a reliable primary source for scholars and students. His son, Alain Seznec, was a professor at Cornell University. Seznec and André Chastel, whom he influenced, were the first French scholars to incorporate methodologies of the Warburg Institute into the art history of France.

    Selected Bibliography

    La survivance des dieux antiques; essai sur le rôle de la tradition mythologique dans l’humanisme et dans l’art de la Renaissance. London: Warburg Institute, 1940, English, The Survival of the Pagan Gods: the Mythological Tradition and its Place in Renaissance Humanism and Art. New York: Pantheon Books, 1953; Mongan, Elizabeth, and Hofer, Philip. Fragonard Drawings for Ariosto. New York: Pantheon Books, 1945; Essais sur Diderot et l’Antiquité. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1957; edited, and Adhémar, Jean. Diderot, Denis. Salons. 4 vols. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1957-1966, 2nd ed. 3 vols. 1975-1983.


    Adhémar, Jean. “A Personal Postscript.” The Artist and the Writer in France: Essays in Honor of Jean Seznec. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1974, pp. 173-77; John, Richard. “Jean Seznec.” Dictionary of Art; [obituaries:] “Professor Jean Seznec.” The Times (London) Nov 22, 1983, p. 14; Levi, A. H. T., and Haskell, Francis. “Jean Joseph Seznec.” Proceedings of the Brit.ish Academy 73 (1987): 643-56.

    Contributors: Lee Sorensen


    Lee Sorensen. "Seznec, Jean." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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