British Romanticism and Italian Renaissance art

McCue, Maureen Clare (2011) British Romanticism and Italian Renaissance art. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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This study examines British Romantic responses to Italian Renaissance art and argues that Italian art was a key force in shaping Romantic-period culture and aesthetic thought. Italian Renaissance art, which was at once familiar and unknown, provided an avenue through which Romantic writers could explore a wide range of issues. Napoleon’s looting of Italy made this art central to contemporary politics, but it also provided the British with their first real chance to own Italian Old Master art. The period’s interest in biography and genius led to the development of an aesthetic vocabulary that might be applied equally to literature and visual art. Chapter One discusses the place of Italian art in Post-Waterloo Britain and how the influx of Old Master art impacted on Britain’s exhibition and print culture. While Italian art was appropriated as a symbol of British national prestige, Catholic iconography could be difficult to reconcile with Protestant taste. Furthermore, Old Master art challenged both eighteenth-century aesthetic philosophy and the Royal Academy’s standing, while simultaneously creating opportunities for new viewers and new patrons to participate in the cultural discourse. Chapter Two builds on these ideas by exploring the idea of connoisseurship in the period. As art became increasingly democratized, a cacophony of voices competed to claim aesthetic authority. While the chapter examines a range of competing discourses, it culminates in a discussion of what I have termed the ‘Poetic Connoisseur’. Through a discussion of the work of Lord Byron, Percy Shelley and William Hazlitt, I argue that Romantic writers created an exclusive aristocracy of taste which demanded that the viewer be able to read the ‘poetry of painting’. Chapter Three focuses on the ways in which Romantic writers used art to produce literature rather than criticism. In this chapter, I argue that writers such as Byron, Shelley, Lady Morgan, Anna Jameson and Madame de Staël, created an imaginative vocabulary which lent itself equally to literature and visual art. Chapter Four uses Samuel Rogers’s Italy as a case study. It traces how the themes discussed in the previous chapters shaped the production of one of the nineteenth century’s most popular illustrated books, how British art began to appropriate Italian subjects and how deeply intertwined visual and literary culture were in the period. Finally, this discussion of Italy demonstrates how Romantic values were passed to a Victorian readership. Through an appreciation of how the Romantics understood Italian Renaissance art we can better understand their experience and understanding of Italy, British and European visual culture and the Imagination.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: British Romanticism, nineteenth-century responses to Old Master Italian art
Subjects: N Fine Arts > N Visual arts (General) For photography, see TR
P Language and Literature > PR English literature
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts & Humanities > School of Critical Studies > English Literature
Supervisor's Name: Cronin, Prof. Richard and Leask, Prof. Nigel
Date of Award: 2011
Embargo Date: 6 June 2014
Depositing User: Dr Maureen Clare McCue
Unique ID: glathesis:2011-2680
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 23 Jun 2011
Last Modified: 06 Jun 2014 13:43

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