Jean-Jacques Rousseau; born in Geneva 300 years ago.

“The person who has lived the most is not the one with the most years but the one with the richest experiences.”

Jean-Jacques Rousseau

The Swiss are gluttons for their anniversaries! Just about every month there are fireworks or celebrations or parades in one Canton or another. But they really go to town with special anniversaries every year. I posted earlier about the 100 years of the Jungfrau Railway.

As one would expect, the city of Geneva decided that the birth of the philosopher and novelist, composer and major influence on the French Revolution Jean-Jacques Rousseau, in the city in 1712, must be worth a celebration.

40, Grand’rue, Geneva, birthplace of Jean-Jacques Rousseau

I don’t know whether there have been, or will be, fireworks let off in his name but there is no escaping his tricentenary in the city this summer. I only came across a little map which allows one to follow in the great philosopher’s footsteps on the last morning of my trip but I was immediately attracted by a lovely leaflet advertising a related exhibition at the Musée Rath whilst waiting to check in at my hotel on arrival. I knew that JJR’s birthplace was in the Old Town (3 pictures above) and a fellow member of our party told me about the Île Rousseau statue (top). I visited the Bodmer Foundation to see the display “During his life and after death he always worried them: Rousseau’s friends and enemies” (my translation) but got carried away by the breadth of the permanent collection and the fact that there were no English translations at all.

With so much to choose from here is what I managed to follow up in the name of Rousseau in the short amount of time available to me.

Île Rousseau

On the island straddling the River Rhone accessed from the footbridge Pont Des Bergues is a statue of the great philosopher (top picture), created by James Pradier and erected on the island in 1835. This is the heart of the Rousseau commemoration and there’s an information pavilion with large boards, video screens (all in French) telling about the life and works of Rousseau. I also picked up some free postcards.

The Martin Bodmer Foundation

I wrote about my visit to the MBF in the previous post. The small Rousseau exhibit was just a few display cases (no photography allowed) showing printed and manuscript examples of Rousseau’s work and that of his contemporaries during the Age of Enlightenment. The backdrop of toile du jouy (a fabric particularly associated with an idealised vision of the countryside and Rousseau’s work) and the subtle use of lighting made this a very visually satisfying display – but all the notes, including the guide handed out for free were in French and thus too time-consuming to study closely.

There’s an interesting cube installation dedicated to Rousseau in the garden of the Bodmer Library.

The Musée Rath

Amidst the sounds of birdsong and  tinkling cow bells I viewed the ‘rooms’ of the exhibition “Landscape’s Enchantment in the Age of Jean-Jacques Rousseau” at The Musée Rath. There was lots for me to enjoy here as the programme is also available in English and landscape history is a bit of an interest of mine.

“Throughout his life Rousseau never stopped travelling. All his travel diaries share the same intense attention to natural elements, the climate, the landscape and the emotions they elicit. This feeling for nature pervades his theoretical texts as well as his autobiographical and fictional writing.” (From the Exhibition Guide)

The eighteenth century saw the growing popularity of the Grand Tour – a journey to Italy to inspect (and often remove) ancient monuments. Passing through the Alps was seen as necessary but they were considered as objects of fear and loathing. As the century moved on mountains and landscapes in general became more interesting and less feared and the representation of landscapes in art became more and more respectable.

“The exhibition illustrates this new perception of landscape that developed during the second half of the 18th century in Switzerland and throughout Europe. It offers a thematic stroll through the four elements, with some 320 works on paper, prints, drawings and books. The visitor can follow his fancy and tour the countryside (IN NATURE’S GARDEN), the mountains (SUBLIME SUMMITS), expanses of water (ON THE WATER) and aerial views with changing atmospheres (ETHERS AND ATMOSPHERES).”  (From the Exhibition Guide)

In addition there was a Short History of Landscape – the two major models were idealised and real; a Dreams of Italy section and In The Engraver’s Workshop where the engraving process is demonstrated.

Some British artists featured for example John Robert Cozens (1752-1797) with his portraits of trees and George Robertson with his views of Coalbrookdale.


Jean-Jacques Rousseau died in 1778 at Ermenonville (28 miles northeast of Paris). He is now interred in The Pantheon in Paris.


2 comments on “Jean-Jacques Rousseau; born in Geneva 300 years ago.

  1. Nilly says:

    Is it possible to be a Romantic AND a fan of the Age of Enlightenment? If so, I am. And wouldn’t it be a good idea for children to study philosophy in school?
    I envy your interesting trip!

  2. I don’t see why not. And yes, definitely philosophy should replace some of the present curriculum. Thanks again, Nilly.

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