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    Gendering the margins of Gray: William Blake, classical visual culture, and the alternative bodies of Ann Flaxman’s book

    Calè, Luisa (2012) Gendering the margins of Gray: William Blake, classical visual culture, and the alternative bodies of Ann Flaxman’s book. In: Bruder, H. and Connolly, T.J. (eds.) Blake, Gender and Culture. The Body, Gender and Culture 10. London: Pickering and Chatto, pp. 133-143. ISBN 9781848933040.

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    This essay explores William Blake’s intervention on a copy of Thomas Gray's Poems, which he extra-illustrated for Ann Flaxman's library. I will concentrate on Blake’s titlepage illustration as an appeal to his addressee. Entitled ‘The Pindaric Genius recovering his lyre’, the illustration depicts Gray as a youthful Apollo Riding his Swan. The boxed titlepage tipped onto the illustration cuts away part of the figure, which as a result seems to be flying out from within the pages of the book. A figuration of lyric poetry, Apollo embodies a philological reference to the genre of the ode. However, the central figure of the youthful poet also evokes another riding youth, Ganimede on the Eagle, an alternative, homoerotic figure of rapture. In this essay I would like to look at the circulation of both subjects in eighteenth-century material culture (for instance in vase decoration, drawing on Sir William Hamilton's published collection of vases, Tischbein's Collection of Engravings [1793] and Thomas Hope’s collection). These classical figures embody prototypes of the human form that help work out, interrogate, and perhaps subvert the boundaries and divisions of labour between the sexes. Their iconography and material transformations across media flesh out a material aesthetic that brings classical forms closer to the pleasures of the domestic interior by way of prints and small size reproductions of classical statuary. Such transformations were at the core of the artistic economy of the Flaxmans' neoclassical Roman laboratory. The private visual economies enabled by the practice of the copy come across in Ann’s references to a copy of Hercules, the classical prototype of manly might, domesticated into her ‘cicisbeo’. Evidence from unpublished manuscript letters and diaries in the Flaxman Papers at the Fitzwilliam Museum and the British Library also show that classical figurations question the division of labour and the gendering of the beautiful and the sublime in the Flaxman’s household. My hypothesis is that this visual economy is inflected in the margins of the copy of Gray which Flaxman commissioned Blake to decorate for Ann’s Library. I propose to focus on the title-page as a particularly iconic site for the gendering of the book.


    Item Type: Book Section
    School: Birkbeck Faculties and Schools > Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences > School of Creative Arts, Culture and Communication
    Research Centres and Institutes: Nineteenth-Century Studies, Centre for
    Depositing User: Luisa Cale
    Date Deposited: 16 Nov 2012 16:42
    Last Modified: 09 Aug 2023 12:31


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