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Speaker: Elisabeth Gernerd (De Montford University)

In the mid-1780s, as Neoclassicism and an interest in the antique were saturating the art, architecture and public imagination of Britain, the fashionable woman’s body resembled nothing of her ancient Grecian or Roman counterpart. The silhouette was at its height of serpentine artificiality, constructed through the underwear worn below a gown and the accessories worn above.  In particular, the bust was enhanced by a delicate muslin handkerchief, puffed out and amplified, which acted as a counterbalance to the swelling volume worn behind.  Though numerous muslin handkerchiefs survive in museum collections, our understanding of how the handkerchief was worn is reliant on contemporary descriptions and visual portrayals.  While some portraits carefully delineate the sculpted volume of the delicate, transparent textile, an abundance of depictions survive not on canvas, but on the printed page. This seminar probes the relationship between fashion and graphic satire, asking why we favour the construction of the portrait over that of the satirical print.  It explores how satirical prints, and print culture more broadly, were not only reflective or reactive to fashionable change, but were also instigators and active players in the construction of eighteenth-century fashionability.  

IHR Seminar SeriesBritish History in the Long 18th Century

The Breast of Venus: Fashion and Satirical Prints in the Late Eighteenth Century