Painted Gladiatrices: Women, Art and the Eighteenth-Century Social Arena
39th Annual Association of Art Historians Conference and Bookfair
11-13 April 2013
University of Reading
In an oft-quoted letter from 29 July, 1782 to Fanny Burney, Edmund Burke comments on how he lives ‘in an age distinguished by producing extraordinary women.’ Burke has proved his powers of foresight, for it is difficult to speak of the eighteenth century without mention of at least one woman who made a significant impact on European history. How were so many women able to step beyond their conventional roles and cause those such as Burke to take notice? This session will explore the development/creation of women’s social images through art in the eighteenth century. What were the relationships between social and visual images of women? Of particular interest is how art conveyed women’s roles in the social spectrum. Recently, historians such as Robert Darnton and Nicholas Hammond have drawn attention to the importance, prevalence and power of gossip in this period, while recent exhibitions including Thomas Gainsborough and the Modern Woman (Cincinnati, 2010) have highlighted the importance of eighteenth-century women and art. This session considers women’s relationship with the fierce social arena of the eighteenth century and the role art played within it. Through the exploration of wide-ranging elements such as allegory, patronage, and royalty and civility we can begin to understand the complexities of women’s social image in art of the eighteenth century.