The Shakespearean subject matter of James Barry's King Lear weeping over the Body of Cordelia (1786-87) has insulated it from readings that might expose its assault on political sensibilities: the painting offers a "patriot" narrative about a monarch's fall and the emergence of a fraternal, republican order. This argument emerges not through plot but through contrasting styles. Barry deposits Lear, whose contorted body and extravagant white hair derive from the mannerist figures of Michelangelo, in a painting devoted to the antique. This stylistic competition characterizes Lear as an obsolete and impertinent intrusion into a world organized according to new principles: the stylistic triumph of the antique figures of Edgar and Albany, who occupy the painting's center, spills over to the political scene playing out such that, irrespective of Shakespeare's plot, this painting celebrates the new order that has naturally and inevitably replaced the outmoded monarchy embodied by Lear.


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pp. 491-509
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