Current Institutional Affiliation
Senior Lecturer, Art History, University of St Andrews

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2012
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Art History/Architecture, Columbia University
Bodies of Knowledge: Girodet, Fuseli, and Spectatorship at the Turn of the Nineteenth Century

When the British writer Horace Walpole first saw Henry Fuseli’s "The Nightmare" exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1782, he used just one word to describe it: “shocking.” Although Walpole was referring to the salacious content of the painting, his description gestures to a much larger reconfiguration of spectatorship at the turn of the nineteenth century, in which shock and other forms of embodied responsiveness transformed popular spectatorial practices. This project contends that certain features Enlightenment epistemology, aesthetics, and entertainment give rise to a particular kind of spectatorial body—a body that is fundamentally incompatible with the structures of knowledge that produce it. Far from being able to isolate a rarified mode of aesthetic experience in this period, we must consider how the parameters of spectatorship in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries are negotiated in multiple, heterogeneous discourses, spaces, and practices. This spectatorial body, characterized by its responsiveness, its disarticulation of semiotic structures, and its vulnerability to manipulation, will give rise to a set of assumptions and anxieties about the body that will trouble much of nineteenth-century thought. Although my narrative will privilege the work of two artists, Henry Fuseli working in Britain and Anne-Louis Girodet in France between 1780 and 1810, I will be drawing upon a network of professional and commercial exchanges throughout continental Europe. Fuseli and Girodet furnish us with images that self-consciously invoke the relationship between representation and the body through representations of that body, often allegorizing conditions of spectatorship within the works themselves. This project will consider the ways in which a diverse range of discourses and practices informed the relationship between these works and their viewers and will examine how this shift is articulated in the parameters of representation itself.