Carnegie Mellon University

Romantic Arts & Letters: British Print, Paint, and Engraving 1760-1830

Author: Thora Brylowe

Degree: Ph.D. in Literary and Cultural Studies, Carnegie Mellon University, 2008

This dissertation looks at crosscurrents between the literary and visual fields and their print media. Examining writings of poets, collectors, painters, engravers, and gallery showmen, this project studies the close relationship between painting, print technology, and poetry as they transformed the nature and scope of authorship and authority. Chapters on Blake's illuminated printing, Sir William Hamilton's art books, and John Boydell's Shakespeare Gallery analyze projects that aimed to unite painting with poetry through print. This project demonstrates that the sumptuous illustrated books of the late 18th century ironically signaled an endgame for the close connection of the traditionally defined sister arts. While British artists initially achieved a position of status by deploying both material and rhetorical strategies borrowed from literary authors and editors, they eschewed those very strategies as their professional world developed into a modern discipline. Although British artists became successful because they linked themselves to British poetry, as the fields of art and literary production congealed, Romantic notions of an inward gallery of the mind increasingly supplanted the demand for illustrated literary books. Ekphrastic Romantic poems like "Ode on a Grecian Urn" stressed visualization over actual seeing, while painters and poets alike saw print illustration as a vulgar commercialization of legitimate art. The word and picture were closely aligned at the time when British authorship took its contemporary form; this work shows how that alignment and the reactions against it explain the modern disciplinary division between literary history and art history, a division that took shape at a pivotal moment in the history of authorship and as massive changes in print technologies occurred.