Theses Doctoral

Manufactories of Virtù: Classicism, Commerce, and Authorship in Georgian Britain, c. 1759-1800

von Preussen, Brigid

This dissertation examines the confluence of ideas about classicism, commerce, and authorship in Britain in the final decades of the eighteenth century, when the commercial potential of classical forms and, conversely, the artistic potential of ‘mechanical’ forms of production both seemed greater, and yet more vulnerable, than they had ever been. While classical antiquity was a crucial source of artistic authority in this period, the emergence of a model of individual, inwardly generated, original authorship provided a different opportunity for commercial classicists to distinguish themselves in a crowded and competitive marketplace. In successive chapters of the dissertation, I discuss four makers whose works were produced in the context of competing models of authorship and authority: the architect, Robert Adam; the potter and manufacturer, Josiah Wedgwood; the painter and printmaker, Angelica Kauffman; and the sculptor and designer, John Flaxman. Each of these authors straddled the worlds of the mechanical and liberal arts, using a self-consciously classical artistic vocabulary in conjunction with highly commercial production and marketing strategies. They increasingly shaped and presented their works and style as their own proprietary creations, capitalising on emerging concepts of original genius and individual authorship: the very concepts that seem to be at odds both with academic classicism and with reproductive practices. Adam, Wedgwood, Kauffman, and Flaxman demonstrate how classicism, the idea of genius, and commercial, industrial modernity were mutually constitutive, resulting in the creation of artistic styles that are still associated with their authors today.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Art History and Archaeology
Thesis Advisors
Higonnet, Anne
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
October 19, 2020