Life drawing and the crisis of historia in French eighteenth-century painting
© 2016 Association of Art Historians. By the 1730s a new generation of French painters had developed a renewed understanding of history painting. This reconceptualization undermined the foundations of Albertian historia and the underpinnings it had for so long provided for the practice and theory of French grand genre. Representing fi gures defi ned by dramatic actions and narrative relationships between them was replaced by a mode of presenting fi gures in quieter states of bodily and psychological introspection. This naturally recalls Michael Frieds notion of absorption, used to defi ne a pictorial aesthetic that emerged in the mid-eighteenth century. This essay maps the earlier appearance of such absorptive states, where the valorization of inner mental activities coincided with a growing singularization of the fi gures within a composition. This phenomenon, it is argued, was the result of an evolution in the academic practice of life drawing. This led to an even-greater attention to the fi guration of the human body in painting as the manifestation of an interior state, becoming the central organizing principle of history painting.
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