BATTEUX Charles—theologian, theoretician of art, aesthetician, professor of literature, rhetoric, and philosophy, b. May 7, 1713 in Alland’huy (near Reims), d. July 14, 1780 in Paris.
In Reims he studied theology and was ordained to the priesthood. He was a professor of literature and rhetoric in the Colleges of Lisieux and Navarre in Paris, then of Greek and Latin philosophy in the Royal College. In 1761 he became a member of the French Academy.
Batteux’s major works: Les beaux art réduits à un même principe (P 1746); Cours de belles-lettres (I–II, P 1747–1748); La morale d’Epicure tirée de ses propres écrits (P 1758); Histoire des causes premières (P 1769); De gustu veterum in studiis litterarum (P 1775)—the inaugural lecture for lectures in the Collège de France.
In his best known work, Les beaux arts réduit à un même principe he presented his theory of art. Batteux’s aesthetics is regarded as the most coherent and clearest theory of art in the eighteenth century. Drawing on the Cartesian conception of art, Batteux derives most of the artistic rules from one leading principle, the clear and distinct principle of the imitation of nature. Batteux’s aesthetics is based primarily on two laws: (1) the artist should not imitate nature such as it is presented, but should select its most beautiful elements and make a perfect synthesis, which—as natural—exceeds nature in its perfection; (2) the artist’s creativity should never consist in creating, but in imitating nature’s perfection. The artist’s task is to reproduce nature with its features and rules in the objects he produces (words, sounds, lines, colors). These objects are artificial constructs and therefore art is a fiction, a game, a constant deception. Yet it has features of verisimilitude that constitute the chief rule of art. The artist is not obliged to imitate strictly existing things, but may also imitate imagined things. Genius and taste characterize the artist’s activity and are the criterion for evaluating his works. Genius is a kind of enthusiasm that accompanies the artist’s imitative activity. Taste is an ability to allows him to appraise whether nature has been imitated according to the rules of art. For the enthusiasm of genius, which is a construct of the senses, to be in accord with reason, it is regulated by taste. The universality of taste finds its foundation in the eternal and immutable rules of nature, which genius should follow. Batteux divides art into two kinds: fine and useful. Utility is a feature of the mechanical arts, while beauty is the aim of the fine arts; utility and beauty are aims of the decorative arts. Unfortunately, Batteux did not provide strict definitions of the particular arts, or if he did so, it was not completely precise, but he is regarded as a precursor of modern aesthetics in France.
L. Dupuy, Mémoires et éloges de M. l’abbé B., P 1793; E. von Danckelmann, Charles B., sein Leben und sein ästhetisches Lehrgebande, Rostock 1902; M. Schenker, Charles B. und seinse Nachahmungstheorie in Deutschland, L 1909; E. Escallier, Un disciple oublié de Gassendi: l’abbé B., professeur au Collège Royal, in: Tricentenaire de P. Gassendi, P 1957, 163–172; E. Migliorini, Studi sul pensiero estetico del Settecento. Crousaz, Du Bos, André, B. Diderot, Fi 1966; E. Fubini, EF I 763–764; I. von der Lühe, Natur und Nachahmung. Untersuchung zur B.-Rezeption in Deutschland, Bo 1979; S. Branca-Rosoff, La leçon de lecture. Textes de l’abbé B., P 1990.
Paweł P. Furdzik