Marie-Thérèse Rodet Geoffrin was a French salon holder, or salonnière, who hosted many influential philosophes and encyclopédistes of her time. She earned international recognition for her association with several prominent dignitaries and public figures from different countries of Europe. She is also famous for her patronage and dedication to talented artists and philosophical men of letters that frequented her house.
Geoffrin had qualities such as politeness and civility that stimulated and regulated intellectual discussions with great naturality. Her actions as a Parisian salonnière (her salon was placed at Rue Saint-Honoré) exemplify several of the most important characteristics of Enlightenment sociability.
Madame Geoffrin has been referred to as one of the leading female figures in the French Enlightenment, however, she didn’t receive a formalised education, since the notion of female education in 18th century France was quite contentious. It has been suggested that the salon itself was to her as a schoolhouse, or a place where not only her, but the others salonnières too could train. According to Dena Goodman “the salon was socially acceptable substitute for a formal education” which was denied to any woman.
Her popularity came in a time when the centre of social life was moving away from the French court toward the salons of Paris. Instead of what happened in the high nobility salons of 17th century, Geoffrin’s salon wasn’t a noble, leisure institution, it was more like an institution of the Enlightenment. There she acted as a mentor and a model for other salonnières, assuming the role of protector and guide of artists and philosophers who frequented her dinners. In this way she can be considered as the responsible and inventor of the Enlightenment salon. She held dinners twice weekly, one day was specifically for the artists and the other to the men of letters. Madame Geofrfrin is the perfect example of the politeness and other qualities that were required for the participation in French high society. She devoted herself completely to the organization and management of her salon and of the patrons that frequented it.
It is important to note that not all historians agreed that the salon was a place for intellectual life, actually there is a good number of researches that define the salons as the “realm of anti-intellectual socialites”. They say that with no education or remarkable mental gifts that leave permanent traces, Madame Geoffrin was the best representative of the women of her time who held their place in the world by organizing and conducting a salon. According to Denise Yim, women like Geoffrin, considered themselves as the nurturers, disseminators and the guardians of the taste in the belle letters, in the fine arts and in the music, while their own art consisted only in pleasing, or at least in knowing how to please.
She was born on this day in 1699.
- Geoffrin was considered by many of her contemporaries as one of the most influential patrons of art. She supported and commissioned several works.
- There is a debate surrounding her role as patron of the arts and it’s centred around the gender divisions and sociability in 18th century. According to Dena Goodman, Geoffrin was able to control the egos of male artists without imposing her own upon them, but this theory of Goodman has been criticised and questioned.