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Writing the Lives of Artists: Biography and the Construction of Artistic Identity in Britain (ca. 1760 - 1810)

English title Writing the Lives of Artists: Biography and the Construction of Artistic Identity in Britain (ca. 1760 - 1810)
Applicant Junod Karen
Number 102700
Funding scheme Fellowships for prospective researchers
Research institution University of Oxford Lincoln College
Institution of higher education Institution abroad - IACH
Main discipline German and English languages and literature
Start/End 01.10.2003 - 31.03.2005
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All Disciplines (2)

German and English languages and literature
Visual arts and Art history

Keywords (11)

Eighteenth century; Romanticism; English literature and art history; biography; historiography; early nineteenth century; British; literature and art history; aesthetics; literary genres; cultural studies

Lay Summary (English)

Lay summary
My thesis stands astride literary and art history, and explores theorigins and emergence of biographies of artists in eighteenth- and earlynineteenth-century Britain. More precisely, it examines how theart-historiographical model which Giorgio Vasari established insixteenth-century Italy - with his "Vite de più eccellenti architetti,pittori et scultori" (Florence, 1550 and 1658) - was transformed byBritish biographers during the Romantic period. My work seeks to answertwo different, yet related questions: why did this literary genre appearand flourish at that time, and how did it develop? By focusing on avariety of different biographical texts, including Horace Walpole’sfour-volume "Anecdotes of Painting in England" (1762-1780), WilliamBeckford’s satiric "Biographical Memoirs of Extraordinary Painters"(1780), or the biographies of William Hogarth, Thomas Gainsborough, SirJoshua Reynolds, John Opie, and George Morland, I seek to show that arthistoriography in Britain very much differed from that produced on theContinent. For instance, I show that most British biographers at that timefocused on single artists and rarely composed biographical compendia ofthe type of Vasari’s "Vite". The coherence of a national (or regional)aesthetic, framed in one single work, was replaced in Britain by amultiplication of individual aesthetics conveyed through the personal -and separately published - Lives of the most eminent painters, sculptorsand architects. Moreover, in contrast to most continental art historiesshaped after Vasari’s paradigmatic text, British artists’ biographiesoffered a much more diverse literary palette: they consisted not only of‘Lives’ but also, inter alia, of ‘Essays’, ‘Anecdotes’, ‘Memoirs’, orSketches’. The development of these literary forms in the realm of arthistory went hand in hand with the exploration and experimentation of thesame genres in literature.
Rarely have artistic biographies been approached and analysed from aliterary and generic angle. It is the purpose of this study to do so andhence to provide an original contribution to our understanding of thisimportant period of British literature and art history. Above all, myproject seeks to show that literary and biographical structures did not(and do) exist in isolation from social ones but, on the contrary, thatgenres and historiography were (and are) closely connected to social andcultural identity.
Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 21.02.2013

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