At the Center of the Globe: Empiricism and Empire in Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux's Fontaine des Quatres-Parties-du-monde


In 1874,  Jean-Baptiste  Carpeaux’s  (1827-1875) Les  Quatre  Parties du monde soutenant la sphère céleste (The Four Parts of the World Supporting the Celestial Sphere), also referred to as the Fontaine des quatre-parties-du-monde (Fountain of the Four Parts of the World), was installed at the southern end of the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris (Figure 1). By interrogating the Fontaine’s site and iconography vis-à-vis the Second French Empire, this paper demonstrates that the monument  celebrated  science  as  constitutive  of  French  statecraft  and  empire-building  and  signaled  the  institutional  relationship of science and politics that justified and support-ed French colonialism. Thus, the Fontaine reveals itself to be a powerful  expression  and  agent  of  Napoléon  III’s  regime, as well as an embodiment of its contradictions; beneath the façade of objective and unbiased scientific empiricism, the Second Empire outwardly championed progressive ideals as it built and sustained itself on imperial and racial conservatism.
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