Friday, April 26, 2013

Doctoral Dissertation Deposited

Last Friday, I had final meetings, got about a zillion signatures, went up and down floors over and over carrying more papers for signatures, and paid a few required bills, but after a few hours of all this work my dissertation was officially deposited with the CUNY Graduate Center. In other words, it's all done! And I couldn't be happier. I don't expect too many people to actually read my 301-page dissertation. However, I thought I would at least put on my blog the abstract for it, which is a 2-page summary of what I've completed. I now present this to you for your reading pleasure. The picture you see here is Gibson's Hunter and His Dog, made for the Earl of Yarborough in 1847, now in the collection of the Usher Gallery in Lincoln, England. (For more of my posts on Gibson, click here.)

Beyond Polychromy: John Gibson, the Roman School of Sculpture, and the Modern Classical Body
Roberto C. Ferrari, Ph.D.

This dissertation is a study of the life and career of the British sculptor John Gibson (1790-1866), whose Roman studio near the Piazza del Popolo was a frequently visited site for Grand Tourists during the nineteenth century.  I argue that, for Gibson, classicism was modern, and thus he developed new methods for creating and disseminating the modern classical body in nineteenth-century sculpture.  Gibson is considered by scholars to be the first nineteenth-century British artist to reintroduce polychromy in marble sculpture, as exemplified by his best-known work, the so-called Tinted Venus, 1851-53, which was displayed in London at the International Exhibition of 1862.  Because this tinted statue challenged sculpture’s purity of form, the subsequently negative historiography of this work has obfuscated Gibson’s numerous other accomplishments in the history of nineteenth-century art.  In this dissertation I discuss many of his other free-standing marble statues of modern classical subjects, such as Cupid Disguised as a Shepherd Boy, ca. 1830, a popular work commissioned in marble nine times for different patrons, and The Hunter and His Dog, 1840-41, a statue considered by his contemporaries to be his masterpiece for its balance of idealism with a close study of nature.  I also examine a selection of his portrait busts and monumental statues, bas-reliefs, drawings, and work in other media, such as porcelain statuettes and engravings, for a broader perspective of his exploration of the modern classical body.  Rather than ignore his polychrome sculptures, however, I offer new readings of them to show how they intersected with these other important aspects of his career.

Although I focus on one artist and use published and unpublished archival sources to discuss Gibson and his work, my methodology is pluralistic.  I engage biography with nineteenth-century exhibition history and critical art reviews, and I link patronage and art production to gender studies and queer theory.  I also engage with sculpture in its international context, as Gibson himself would have been exposed to it in the cosmopolitan art center that was Rome.  Thus, the work of Antonio Canova and Bertel Thorvaldsen, the two leading sculptors in the Roman school, are components of this dissertation, as are the works of native British sculptors such as John Flaxman and Joseph Nollekens to demonstrate what Gibson learned from his early teachers and how he evolved to craft his own version of the modern classic in Rome.  I contextualize his work with that of his contemporaries in Rome, such as the British sculptor Richard James Wyatt, the Dutch sculptor Mathieu Kessels, and the Italian sculptor Adamo Tadolini, for a better assessment of Gibson’s sculptural practices.  I also discuss his patronage by aristocrats like Queen Victoria and Czar Alexander II, politicians such as Sir Robert Peel, and bourgeois industrialists such as the Liverpool manufacturer Richard Vaughan Yates, as well as the global dissemination of his work during his lifetime, which was exhibited internationally throughout Europe, Russia, Australia, North America, and India.

In the introductory chapter, I establish my argument, that through a reexamination of Gibson’s life and career beyond his experiments with polychrome sculpture, one can better assess his importance to the history of sculpture itself by reconsidering how he redefined the modern classical body.  The second chapter is a biographical overview that demonstrates how Gibson’s roots in the British school of art influenced his ideas about classicism as a form of modernity.  Chapter three considers Gibson’s studio practice, from the close examination of his account books to his influence on his most famous pupil, the American sculptor Harriet Hosmer.  Chapter four focuses on the homoerotic male body in Gibson’s oeuvre.  An advocate of the writings of Johann Joachim Winckelmann,  Gibson created heroic and ephebic male nudes, such as Mars Restrained by Cupid, 1819-25, a work that suggests issues as diverse as homosocialism and queer subjectivity.  Chapter five discusses Gibson’s interest in reproductive media and how, in shifting his role from a hands-on sculptor to a designer, he explored reproductive technologies in cameo production, ceramics, and printmaking to disseminate images of the modern classical body to the rising bourgeoisie.  The final chapter explores Gibson’s legacy, including his influence on New Sculptors such as Hamo Thornycroft.  Ultimately, this dissertation argues that through a reexamination of the life and work of Gibson, one can begin to move past the pejorative sensibilities of Neoclassicism itself as merely historicist and reconsider classicism as a form of modern art in the nineteenth century.

1 comment: said...

oh, you must be ever so pleased to have handed in what surely has been the effort of some years of research and writing.
After researching the life and work of one Cuban exile artist I am now trying to find the best way to introduce both biographical details and give the catalog of works on paper,paintings, sculpture,poetry proper art historical consideration with the influence of four countries and decades of differing social and political influences/artistic styles and the need to ever shift his art to survive all in the framework of the thesis of the artist's life.