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III Artists’ Geographies D 147 Introduction RICHARD WILL The Enlightenment always had a dark side. This is not news; after two centuries of critique, no one would claim that its big thinkers were infallibly progressive, nor that the societies they inhabited lacked injustice and human misery. Reminders are everywhere, not least at the University of Virginia, where this volume originated. A neoclassical temple of learning conceived by a quintessentially fallible thinker, the university was built with slave labor and long open only to white men. The essays in this section examine some comparably discomfiting subjects, as captured in visual representations of the Enlightenment’s global effects. Katelyn Crawford focuses on Sea Captains Carousing in Surinam, painted by the Bostonian John Greenwood during a midcentury sojourn in the Dutch West Indies. A tavern scene in the vein of Hogarth’s Midnight Modern Conversation, the painting has been interpreted along similar lines, as a critique of the dissolute behavior fostered by the spoils of empire. Greenwood puts those spoils on display, chief among them African slaves who serve the card-playing, drinking, and puking captains. But Crawford demonstrates that he also conveys the formidable subtleties of the eighteenth-century transatlantic world. Like the painter himself, the sea captains hail from New England, and one of them evidently commissioned the work to illustrate his success on the trade routes between New World ports. Meanwhile, Greenwood capitalized on another trade route, between Surinam and Holland, to collect prints by Rembrandt and other Dutch artists that were readily available in the colony. Their painterly technique and long-standing traditions of tavern scenes exert their own influence on his work. In Crawford’s account, Sea Captains is as much commercial promotion and aesthetic experiment as social critique, reminding us that no two points in the imperial nexus were the same. The focus of Sheriff’s essay, Watteau’s Pèlerinage à l’île de Cythère, would seem to be anything but social criticism. In my own field of music history, the painting has long been used to reference a world of frivolous escapism, Richard Will 148 aristocratic and amorous, that shaped the development of opera and domestic chamber music. The connection runs both ways: as Sheriff notes, many art historians regard the painting as itself indebted to contemporary trends in opera and the fair theaters. She proposes a new reading in light of different sources, namely, earlier French representations of Cythera, from a figurative map to Fénelon’s popular Aventures de Télémaque. They depict the isle of love as an amusement park of decidedly perilous attractions, among them debauchery, a village called Inquiétude, ill-intentioned satyrs, and boredom. “The realm of Cythera,” writes Sheriff, “was not always the happy land of happy endings represented on stage.” Reviewing several versions of Watteau’s painting, she spots some jarring images amid all the rococo prettiness : a damaged sculpture of Venus, a siren, figures who seem trapped in pointless stasis, even a potential love child. The last suggests an even more disquieting connection, to a second painting by Watteau depicting France’s notorious practice of deporting social undesirables to Louisiana. At the head of the departure queue stands a pregnant woman being bid adieu by her galant lover. No less than Greenwood’s Sea Captains, Watteau’s Pèlerinage registers the moral price of the privilege it represents—not to mention the looming presence of the transatlantic network, which left no corner of eighteenth-century life untouched. Even in paradise, shadows lurked. ...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780813940762
MARC Record
OCLC
1020790707
Pages
316
Launched on MUSE
2018-05-16
Language
English
Open Access
N
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