Dangerous Portraits in the Early Modern World

Day: Saturday 7 April


Jennifer Germann (Ithaca College)
Melissa Percival (University of Exeter)

Session Abstract

Portraiture was a dynamic and, at times, disruptive artistic practice in the Early Modern period. Portraits could and did undermine, reconfigure, or otherwise step outside the bounds of social propriety. Rather than upholding or reinforcing existing hierarchies and/or maintaining the status quo, these portraits challenged the expectations of spectators and consumers. Dangerous portraits could disavow normative behavioural expectations, challenge the political order either openly or privately, or imagine and even generate new identities. How were social expectations engaged and subverted in portraits? Where and in what forms were dangerous portraits consumed or shared? How did artists, spectators, critics, and/or markets respond to these challenges?

This session considers Early Modern portraits that pushed beyond the bounds of social norms and expectations. It engages the theme ‘look out!’ by allowing for reflection on identities traditionally viewed as ‘outside’ the bounds of the normative or desirable in terms of gender, race, class, geography, etc., produced between 1500 and 1800.The label ‘dangerous’ can pertain variously to sitters, portraits’ formal characteristics, conditions of portrait production, possible consequences for artists, and gossip and scandal occurring ‘outside the frame’.

Speakers and Papers

Jennifer Van Horn (University of Delaware) Portraits of Enslaved Attendants in a New Nation

Nika Elder (American University) John Singleton Copley and the Perfidiousness of Colonial Portraiture

Sheila ffolliott (George Mason University) Portrait Discourses: Danger ahead

Kerstin Maria Pahl (Humboldt University Berlin / King’s College London) Depressing and Deadly. Portraiture’s ability
to hurt in long-18th-century England

Katherine Gazzard (University of East Anglia, National Maritime Museum and National Portrait Gallery) Mutinous Tars and Venerable Officers: Authority, rebellion and dangerous portraits in the Royal Navy in the late 1790s

Georgia Haseldine (Queen Mary, University of London, and National Portrait Gallery) Effigies and Caricatures of Britain’s
Radical Reform Movement

Samantha Chang (University of Toronto) Dangerous Domesticity: Portraits of maidservants in the Dutch Republic

James Hall (University of Southampton) The Power of Grimaces: The influence of Tommaso Campanella’s mimicry technique on Baroque portrait caricature and on Franz Xavier Messerschmidt’s ‘character heads’

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