Strategies for Showing: Women, Possession, and Representation in English Visual Culture, 1665-1800

By Marcia Pointon | Go to book overview

6
Protestants and 'Fair Penitents': With Special Reference to St Cecilia

Antiquity, how poor thy Use!
A single Venus to produce?
Friend Eckhardt, antient story quit,
Nor mind whatever Pliny writ;
Let Felibien and Fresnoy declaim
Who talk of Raphael's matchless Fame,
Of Titian's Tints, Corregio's Grace,
And Carlo's each Madonna Face,
As if no Beauties now were made
But Nature had forgot to Trade . . .
In Britain's Isle observe the Fair,
And generous chuse your Models there;
Such Patterns as shall raise your Name
To rival sweet Corregio's Fame.1

IN this chapter, I shall consider how in England, in the period from the 1740s to around 1800, ideals of femininity were instrumental in the formation of national cultural identity. Through a self-consciously constructed frame of reference that drew upon the pleasures of Italian religious painting, pleasures that we both associated with aesthetic merit and also indelibly stamped with ideas of corruption, the female subject as saint offered to an audience of travelled and educated connoisseurs the possibility of a transgressive engagement with an object of desire whose otherness was mediated through a discursive practice of recognizing, collecting, appreciating, and describing. Roman Catholicism, the narratives of the lives of female saints, and the visual vocabularies of Italian art, not only of the admired sixteenthcentury masters but also of the late seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century baroque, provided a legitimizing network of cultural references.2 Anchored in gentlemanly pursuits and patrician spaces (libraries, galleries, clubs), the very questions of superstition and propriety in image-making that had exercised

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