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    Modern mistresses on the old masters: women and the writing of art history, 1860–1915

    Alambritis, Maria (2020) Modern mistresses on the old masters: women and the writing of art history, 1860–1915. PhD thesis, Birkbeck, University of London.

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    Abstract

    This thesis examines the role and contribution of women to the writing of art history in Britain between1860and 1915. To date, mainstream historiography of the discipline bears little witness to women’s vital and wide-ranging critical, historical, and connoisseurial contributions. Feminist scholarship, particularly over the last twenty years, has highlighted this neglect, establishing the irrefutable presence of women as interpreters, critics, historians and taste-makers, especially in relation to early nineteenth-century writers and the Italian Primitives. It is in this currently evolving field of scholarship that my own work is positioned. Beginning in 1860, with the death of the ‘first professional English art historian’ Anna Jameson, this thesis charts the subsequent generations of women, examining their contribution, influence, and networks. The focus of my research is on women still relatively unexplored to date, such as Julia Cartwright; presents fresh insight into figures attracting recent scholarly attention like Maud Cruttwell; and makes the case for several writers —among them Ethel Halsey, Edith Coulson James, and Jean Carlyle Graham Speakman —examined here for the first time. Pursuing an interdisciplinary approach, this thesis approaches the work of these women through attention to genre and geography. Each chapter focuses on a particular form of publication or means of disseminating art historical knowledge —periodical articles, monographs, guidebooks, public lectures —contextualised through the place where it was written and the particular moment of development for the discipline. Drawing on a wealth of previously untapped archival material in the UK and Italy, this thesis traces the experiences of women as they positioned themselves as authoritative voices in the field, illuminating the processes of professionalisation that both enabled, and excluded, their contributions. Acknowledging the social and gendered restrictions women faced, this thesis seeks to complicate a binary reading of them as disadvantaged interlopers into a male-dominated field. Women writers actively participated in the development of knowledge regarding western European art history during the period 1860to 1915, broadening the canon through the attention they gave to artists who were seen to fall outside the category of the ‘great’ master. The value and impact of women’s work both in their own time and for our present-day practice is explored through their innovative contributions to the way such art was thought about and discussed. At a moment of unprecedented interest in and visibility of Italian old master art, women were crucial figures for the disciplinary development of art history during its formative years.

    Metadata

    Item Type: Thesis
    Copyright Holders: The copyright of this thesis rests with the author, who asserts his/her right to be known as such according to the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988. No dealing with the thesis contrary to the copyright or moral rights of the author is permitted.
    Depositing User: Acquisitions And Metadata
    Date Deposited: 23 Sep 2021 15:51
    Last Modified: 23 Sep 2021 15:51
    URI: https://eprints.bbk.ac.uk/id/eprint/46089

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