Claiming Rome : Portraiture and Social Identity in the Eighteenth Century

University dissertation from Uppsala : Konstvetenskapliga institutionen

Abstract: This study examines two groups of European nobility, the Roman aristocracy and the British Grand Tour travellers, specifically, their attitudes towards Antiquity as expressed in portraits produced in eighteenth-century Rome. Antiquity in this study connotes Ancient Rome, particularly its political system, religious system and architecture, and assumes it to be the quintessence of a Western mythology that had supported the legitimation of the ruling classes since the Middle Ages. In the eighteenth century the realisations of this mythology became more diverse, as demonstrated by the two nobilities examined here. The papal nobility resided in Rome and owned not only collections of ancient sculpture but also many of the actual archaeological sites. The British nobility visited Rome during the second part of the eighteenth century through an institutionalised form of educational travel termed the Grand Tour, of which both viewing and posing for portraits were expected components. Using readings of different portrait settings, formulae, the study traces how apparently similar assimilations of the myth of Antiquity supported different social aims in different parts of Europe. Through interpretations of display criteria, as seen in analyses of inventories, documents and first-hand commentaries, this study emphasises the varied social functions of portraiture within the European élite cultures. The ultimate result of such a reading allows for a clearer picture of the multiple functions of the myth of Antiquity within the legitimation strategies of the eighteenth-century European nobility and gives a clearer view of the importance given to visualising social identity and status.

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