Gothic and Eighteenth-Century Visual Art

Authored by: Martin Myrone

The Gothic World

Print publication date:  October  2013
Online publication date:  October  2013

Print ISBN: 9780415637442
eBook ISBN: 9780203490013
Adobe ISBN: 9781135053062


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The visuality of the Gothic is now a well-established critical theme. The Gothic is, ineradicably, an architectural term, and even if the Gothic novel and the revival of Gothic styles in architecture are “now very rarely discussed as parts of a whole cultural movement” (Charlesworth 2002: 5), the characteristic ornamental and spatial features of Gothic (and Gothic revival) architecture permeate many manifestations of the Gothic in other media — whether literally, decoratively, metaphorically or still more tangentially. However carefully delineated may be a specifically literary genealogy, however sharply differentiated this may be from the taste for Gothic forms and the polemics of Gothic revivalists, the towering spaces and pointed arches of medieval architecture are yet likely to resurface in our minds. In more general ways, the realization or frustration of visual experience seems to sit at the heart of Gothic literary conventions. And if the Gothic is allowed to have any application beyond a specific and defined arc of literary activity (classically, from Horace Walpole to Charles Maturin, so c. 1760–1820), we can admit that the translation of Gothic tropes into photography and fashion, and above all cinema, and onward into the digital age, has been generally fluent, even effortless. The Gothic in its multitude of trans-medial manifestations turns on the making visible of horror: the skeleton jumping out of a closet, the curtain drawn back, the flash-light that fleetingly illuminates an unspeakable scene of incest and/or cannibalism, the opened mouth revealing fangs or the scarred stump in place of a tongue. But even so, the traditional fine arts — painting, drawing, sculpture and engraving — have not figured largely in modern accounts of the Gothic, at least as the central object of analysis. Although a few iconic images — perhaps, above all, Philippe Jacques de Loutherbourg's A Philosopher in a Moonlit Churchyard (1790) (see Figure 28.2), Henry Fuseli's The Nightmare (1783) (see Figure 28.4) and certain of the etchings of dungeons by Piranesi (see Figure 28.5) — have been used repeatedly on dust covers and as incidental illustrations, they have only very rarely been addressed from within the literature on the Gothic as anything more than adjuncts.

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