Visual Mediations of Mourning and Melancholia in France, 1790 - 1830 Public Deposited

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  • March 19, 2019
  • Hafera, Alison
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Art and Art History, Art History
  • This dissertation investigates the ways artists and patrons in early-nineteenth-century France used portraits, gardens, prints, and material objects to mitigate and publicly express experiences of loss, deep sorrow, and remembrance. By interpreting art objects alongside a range of textual materials, including popular novels, medical treatises, memoires, and art theory, I uncover the ways images of mourning and melancholia were linked to the cult of the individual while also expressing Romantic sensibilities about the psyche, imagination, and death itself. I trace evolving perceptions about melancholia, mourning, and death from the decades immediately following the French Revolution until the exile and death of Napoleon Bonaparte through case studies of specific objects. I argue that melancholia, death, and mourning rituals reflect the centrality of the post-revolutionary self and constitute a critical aspect of the social and visual climate of nineteenth-century France. Scholarship on the Romantic Period typically has focused on England and Germany where landscape painting expressed national identity and the artist's subjective experience. I distinguish a particular strain of French Romanticism that expresses loss and melancholia through the relationship between figures and spaces, arguing that Romanticism, an arts movement that emphasized emotion over reason and captured subjective sentimental experiences, is particularly suited to conveying personal responses to the period's events in France. Scholarship on mourning and melancholia in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in France has centered on the increased secularization of ideas associated with death and mourning. My research shows the limitations of this approach by demonstrating the complex, varied, and nuanced ways mourning objects were linked not only to religious practices but also to political and social events, Romanticism, and concepts of selfhood.
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Rights statement
  • In Copyright
  • Sheriff, Mary D.
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Graduate School
Graduation year
  • 2015
Place of publication
  • Chapel Hill, NC
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