Photo of Professor Melissa Percival

Professor Melissa Percival

Associate Dean of Global, Professor (French, Art History and Visual Culture)


Extension: 4210

Telephone: 01392 724210


Academic background

Melissa Percival did her undergraduate degree in French and German at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge. She returned to Cambridge to write an interdisciplinary PhD on facial expression in the Enlightenment period. She was appointed Lecturer at the University of Exeter in 1996 and promoted to a Personal Chair in 2017. In the course of her career she has held visiting positions at the University of Tübingen, the Ecole Normale Supérieure, Paris, and the University of California Santa Barbara, and the University of Toulouse Jean-Jaurès. She has held Fellowships of the Leverhulme Trust and the Clark Art Institute, Williamstown. Among her research grants she has received awards from the British Academy and the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art.



A specialist in art, literature and history of ideas of the French eighteenth century, Melissa Percival's publications include: Physiognomy and Facial Expression in Eighteenth-Century France (1999), Physiognomy in Profile: Lavater's Impact on European Culture (2005), and Fragonard and the Fantasy Figure: Painting the Imagination (2012). In 2015-16 she co-curated the exhibition 'Ceci n'est pas un portrait': figures de fantaisie de Murillo, Fragonard, Tiepolo at the Musée des Augustins, Toulouse. Her book, Fancy in European Visual Culture, coedited with Muriel Adrien, is forthcoming in 2020 with Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment. Current research involves costume, anecdote and unorthodox forms of self-presentation in portraiture.



Melissa Percival teaches on Exeter's undergraduate degree programmes in both Modern Languages and Art History and Visual Culture. She offers a variety of interdisciplinary and research-led modules, for example on 'the face' and on private life in the eighteenth century, as well as contributing to core French language teaching.

She supervises PhD students on topics connected with the eighteenth-century and also French painting and visual culture. She would be happy to talk to any prospective research students who are interested in working in these areas.