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'Invisibles et présentes par-tout': Re-viewing women from the ancient past in late eighteenth-century French art

Govier, LJ; (1999) 'Invisibles et présentes par-tout': Re-viewing women from the ancient past in late eighteenth-century French art. Doctoral thesis (Ph.D), UCL (University College London). Green open access

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Abstract

This project examines late eighteenth-century French visual representations of selected women from ancient and classical history, with a particular interest in those produced and viewed during the Revolution of 1789-1799. It is clear from the records of Salon exhibitions, and from extant works, that women such as Lucretia, Cornelia, Sappho and the Sabines were a constant presence in art during this period. Depictions of them form a substantial body of work; however, this has not so far been the subject of a sustained study in itself General surveys mention the most well-known works, and some individual women have been examined in isolation, but overall they remain marginalised, obscured or only partially revealed in art historical discourse. The principal aim of this thesis is to arrive at a better understanding of what these women represented for artists and spectators (both male and female). How did images of them function in social and political terms, particularly during the Revolution? From an initial survey of over forty women from the ancient past, I have selected four contrasting 'types' and focused on key representatives of each: Cornelia the good republican mother (Chapter One); the Sabine women, who take interventionary action through public protest (Chapter Two); Sappho and Aspasia, examples of intellectual and influential women (Chapter Three); and Lucretia, one of several women in whose narrative sex, death, and politics converge (Chapter Four). My work challenges existing assumptions about what this imagery signified, developing counter-readings and analysing ambiguities and polysemy that have not so far been discussed. It also imagines previously unconsidered interpretive communities of spectators with their own agendas, focusing on the largely lost voices of female viewers. Overall, visual representations of women from the ancient past are shown to be complex, vital components in political, cultural and social debate about the role of women in Revolutionary France.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Qualification: Ph.D
Title: 'Invisibles et présentes par-tout': Re-viewing women from the ancient past in late eighteenth-century French art
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10123338
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