Hogarth and the aesthetics of nationalism

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Huntington Library Quarterly





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All commentary on Hogarth begins in want and ends in surfeit. His images filled the blank slate of modern consciousness to overflowing with their antic inventiveness, moral urgency, and keen humor. In substituting the precised elineation of individual character for the coded outline of Continental history painting, Hogarth aimed at nothing less than a national revolution in taste. At home the opposition was the taste of connoisseurs and collectors such the third earl of Shaftesbury, as Ronald Paulson and others have demonstrated.' The opposition abroad was the academic tradition upon which these preferences were largely based, and primarily the school of the Carracci. Not without humor, Hogarth characterized the vaunted disegno, or linear outline, advocated by the Carracci academy as the insincere expression of a dated aesthetic. He felt that the academic theory of painting had become overcharged with outworn beliefs, that it was no longer responsive to the demands of modern life. By reconfiguring the idealizing outline of history painting as a mark of realist beauty and expressiveness, he could revisit the shapes of traditional iconography and recast them anew through his own theory of the serpentine line of beauty. Some time ago Frederick Antal showed that Hogarth was a highly sophisticated student of other national styles, from Dutch genre painting to French rococo. Where the school of the Carracci is concerned, Hogarth looks abroad with a pointedly nationalist gaze, it seems to me, and with a determined independence reflected in theory and practice alike.


Aesthetics | Ancient, Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque Art and Architecture | Other Arts and Humanities | Theory and Criticism



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