Artist as Original Genius [The]: Shakespeare's 'Fine Frenzy' in Late-Eighteenth-Century British Art

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1st Edition

285 x 230 mm. 240pp 120 b&w illustrations.... [In stock in Australia, for immediate delivery]

This book examines the first generation of artists in Britain to define themselves as history painters, attempting what then was considered to be art's most exalted category. These ambitious artists, a group that included John Hamilton Mortimer, Henry Fuseli, Alexander and John Runciman, James Barry, James Jeffreys, George Romney, John Flaxman, and William Blake, most of whom were born in the 1740s and 1750s, were presented with the challenge of how best to compete with such continental old masters as Raphael and Michelangelo, Rubens and Poussin, when they had only an impoverished native tradition on which to build.

While Reynolds in his Discourses preached the necessity of imitating the old masters, these artists attempted to strike out on a new path. Seizing on the new critical discourse of original genius as championed in new books such as Edward Young's Conjectures on Original Composition of 1759, they rejected tradition in favour of looking to 'the god within'. In reconfiguring the nature of history painting, they went on to redefine the role of the artist as well. In doing so, they heralded the beginnings of the Romantic movement.

At the core of this identity formation was the artists' perception of William Shakespeare, whom they recast as the original genius incarnate. They strove to accomplish in art what he had accomplished in literature, hoping to establish a school of history painters that could embody this 'native' sensibility in opposition to the 'foreign' conventions imposed by the more rational (and in their estimation less imaginative) academic tradition of Italy and France. These artists were all too willing to misread Theseus's lines in A Midsummer Night's Dream as the Elizabethan playwright's personal artistic manifesto: 'The poet's eye, in a fine frenzy rolling,/doth glance from heaven to earth from earth to heaven' (V.i.12-13). Under the banner of Shakespeare's fine frenzy, they interjected a new intensity and vitality into the increasingly moribund academic tradition that they had inherited from the Continent.

This richly illustrated book displays the author's extensive knowledge of the imagery of this period. It explores the works in depth, often providing new interpretations along with new textual and visual sources. Even a print as well-known as Blake's Albion Rose is placed within an entirely new context. This book also pays special attention to these artists' self-portraits in which they proclaim their new identity, one which emphasises the impassioned and extravagant nature of their personal vision and their claims to original genius.

William L. Pressly is a Professor in the Department of Art History and Archaeology at the University of Maryland.
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SKU 9780874139853
Barcode # 9780874139853
Artist / Author William L. PRESSLY

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