The LexArt project | Words for Art: The Rise of a Terminology (1600-1750), led by Michèle-Caroline Heck and hosted by the University Paul-Valéry of Montpellier is one of the six French research projects selected in 2012 by the European Research Council in the field of humanities (ERC - Advanced Grant 323761).

It focuses on the study of the artistic vocabulary as it develops in the seventeenth century and transforms in the first half of the eighteenth century among European theorists in France, Germany, Netherlands and England. The ambition of the project is to establish the conceptual tools necessary to stimulate new research on art theory in Europe, and to grasp artistic productions of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries by means of a synchronous and critical apparatus.

The research leads to a number of results: first, a digital and on-line tool that brings together definitions of terms and concepts used by theorists of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and allows researchers to confront the different texts and meanings. Secondly, a series of articles and studies dealing with methodological and thematic issues were published. Lastly, the research results in a dictionary of artistic terminology structured in multilingual entries and organized synthetically.

The project's primary investigator, Michèle-Caroline Heck, professor of Early Modern Art, leads a team of a dozen European researchers, doctoral or post-doctoral students in Art History. A scientific committee consisting of international university professors and senior researchers, has been formed and partnerships with several universities and research institutes in Europe and in the United States have also been established.

LexArt received financial support from the ERC for a period of five years, starting April 2013.

Scientific Issues & purpose


The LexArt project - Words for Art proposes to examine the emergence of the artistic vocabulary in the seventeenth century and its development in the early eighteenth century North of the Alps. It favours a transversal approach of writings on art and a comprehensive and fundamental study of all publications in art theory between 1600 and 1750 in France, Germany, Netherlands and England (Van Mander, Félibien, De Piles, Goeree, Sandrart , Hoogstraten, Richardson, Coypel, Dolce, Turnbull, etc.) from a synchronic as well as a diachronic perspective. The study is not only philological, but based on the changing dimension of words and meanings, focusing on definitions within their proper context of use and in relation with the artistic practice. Moreover, it addresses their evolution in the long term, taking the artistic changes of the seventeenth century and the Enlightenment, as well as their geographical adaptation into account.

The aim of this research is twofold: to study the terms within the context of the sources in which they were developed and to investigate the agency of these terms in the intellectual activity of theoreticians as well as the artistic practice. This dual approach opens up new perspectives: it allows us to deepen our knowledge on manners and styles, broadening the scope of our thinking on the analysis of works of art, and redefine criteria to apprehend the creative process within its own semantic, mental and social universe.


Although deeply rooted in the field of art history, this transdisciplinary research includes a linguistic, literary and historical dimension. Its purpose is threefold. The first is to highlight artistic relations through the circulation of concepts and practices in Europe, considered as an area of scholarly interaction. The second is to show the specificity of certain terms and concepts with regard to their own language, and in relation to other languages and relevant networks, in order to identify the shifting boundaries of universality and identity in a diverse geographical area. The third goal is to show how scholars and theorists of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries developed a common language across artistic communities in Early Modern Europe, allowing us to define the multiple artistic expressions that characterize modern Europe's diversity.


The objective of the project is to provide to the academic community innovative tools, both documentary and reflexive, to consider artistic production of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Three components have thus been planned and all published in Open Access:

- A series of studies dealing with methodological and specific issues or themes (e.g. the notion of drawing, manner or likelihood) that were discussed during our seminars and symposia.

- A dictionary of terms and concepts, organized in multilingual entries with Latin, French, Dutch, German and English cross-references. Its purpose is not to deal with contemporaneous translations and interpretations, but to offer a comparative synthesis, including bibliographies and references to art works. This dictionary will provide a diachronic (evolution of the artistic terminology between 1600 and 1750) and synchronic (related artistic practices in France, Germany, Netherlands and England) perspective on art theory.

- A digital tool that brings together all meaningful definitions or evocations of terms and concepts retrieved from art theory texts and transcribed in their original language, with translations for rare languages ​​(Dutch). This tool makes it possible to follow the evolution of the meaning of one specific term, as well as its dissemination in time and place (Europe above the Alps). A digital library gives direct and on-line access to all the texts of our corpus.

Our partners2

The LexArt project is funded by the European Research Council for a five-year period (2013-2018). The project is hosted by the University Paul-Valéry of Montpellier and more specifically within the C.R.I.S.E.S research center (Centre de Recherches Interdisciplinaires en Sciences humaines et Sociales – E.A. 4424).
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