Social History of Art

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18th 1700-1775

Reynolds, Upper Class Women Dressing up as Cottagers, 1788, Detroit

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Reynolds, Upper Class Women Dressing up as Cottagers, 1788, Detroit
Pastoral clothing was fashionable among the aristocracy since the early he early seventeenth century when books of ladies fashion appeared entirely devoted to shepherdess outfits. Needless to say, this trend expanded in the 18th century, especially after 1760 when Rousseau's pastoral novels allowed aristocratic and bourgeois women to project themselves into a virtuous and innocent rustic world. Although men also took up this trend, they were less likely to dress as shepherds. Gender also informs the idea of compassionate projection and domesticity, both of which appear in Reynolds' portrait. None of this sympathy undermined clear demarcations of class as seen in Falciatore's "Concert in a Garden" (one slide up inn this album) where social elites converse politely and play court music while an anonymous gardener passes quietly in the distance. At a time when Historical Portraiture in mythological or historical guise was fashionable among courtly elites (as seen in the work of Reynolds himself), this portrait of upper class woman as cottagers offers an unusual alternative, seemingly repudiating all grandiose self-images. At the same time, we should note that Historical Portraiture in the 18th century generally eschewed traditional absolutist role playing in which nobles appeared as conquering heroes, gods. and emperors. After 1700, male rulers preferred to appear as themselves. Female Historical Portraiture continued in large part because the traditional roles favored were already largely innocent and pastoral (Venus, Diana, Muses, Nymphs).
Posted by Robert Baldwin on June 28, 2012 Full Size| Slideshow