Photography in the Victorian age acquired its status also through interart and intermedial dialectics. While developing its own rhetoric and techniques, it affected the expressive modes and the aesthetic canon of painting and literature. Photographers’ antagonism with painters and writers aroused a debate on rendition of reality founded on mimesis. Focusing on photography in the second half of the nineteenth century thus involves examining changing notions of visual perception and, subsequently, highlighting how interart confrontation gave rise to a re-conceptualisation of reality and representation. As Lindsay Smith persuasively argues in Victorian Photography, Painting and Poetry. Enigma of Visibility in Ruskin, Morris and the Pre-Raphaelites (1995), John Ruskin’s aesthetic theory, William Morris’s early poetry, Pre-Raphaelite painting, and specific photographic techniques testify to a mid-nineteenth-century pervasive desire for a literal understanding of the process of seeing and perceiving. Further enquiries into successive quests for and disentanglements from referentiality reveal the coexistence of contrasting notions: the camera was heralded as the tool most suited to capture reality, and photography was praised as the fulfilment of truth-likeness, or, it was valued because it expressed its autonomy and originality by means of transposition and transmutation, not reproduction. The pursuit of reciprocity and distinctiveness engendered by interart dialectics can be gauged by examining how visual imagination in literature was rendered in painting and photography, and by exploring how photography intervened in the painter’s act of representation. If poems like Enid (1856) or Gareth and Lynette (1870) from Tennyson’s Idylls of the King (1859-1873) are vivid literary expressions of medievalism, paintings like The Brave Geraint (Geraint and Enid) (1860) by Arthur Hughes testify to a will to visually magnify the Victorian penchant for idealizations of history, while Julia Margaret Cameron’s queer photographs of knights and ladies such as Gareth and Lynette (1874) and And Enid Sang (1874), though existing only in literature, are constructed as realistic. While visualising a fictional medieval epoch as if it were a historical reconstruction, Cameron’s art produces disquieting effects of mise en abyme. Words possess evocative power, as Tennyson’s Middle Ages reveals, and paintings, by visually ‘re-creating’ verbal creations, enhance it; photographs can also create the illusion that they existed, by representing fiction as reality and reality as fiction. Photography functioned as a mediator between reality and painting when artists began to use photographs as studies for their works, thus multiplying the planes of representation. Dante Gabriele Rossetti’s depictions of Jane Morris, for which he drew inspiration from both sittings and photographs taken by John Robert Parsons in 1865, reveal how portraits can metamorphose into artworks that bear the signs of another medium. Painterly ‘replications’ of the photographed image are disquieting doubles, and the creative dialectics between Rossetti and Parsons raise the issue of the icon as expression of authenticity, distortion, or mystification. Instead, Rossetti’s Study for Found (1858), in which Fanny Cornforth features as the model for his unfinished Found (1851-1881), and her 1863 photograph by William and Daniel Downey, testify to the creative process that presides over visual perception of a real person as an artistic subject. While claiming to outdo painting as a mimetic art, not only did photography disrupt, and surpass, mimesis, but it also induced the other arts to explore new figurative dimensions. Moreover, it changed the relationships between literature and painting because, when visualising fictional worlds, it produced a clash between their imaginary nature and quasi-realistic appearance. Instead of achieving the apex of realism in representation, photography disclosed otherness.
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|Titolo:||Arts of Representation: Interart Dynamics in Victorian Photography, Painting, and Literature|
|Autori interni:||SPINOZZI, Paola|
|Data di pubblicazione:||2008|
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