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Title: Representing Difference: Painting and Performance in the Art of Jean-François Raffaëlli
Authors: Rosenberg-Miller, Carmen
Advisors: Alsdorf, Bridget
Contributors: Art and Archaeology Department
Keywords: Commune
Edmond de Goncourt
Jean-François Raffaëlli
Mary Cassatt
Subjects: Art history
European history
French literature
Issue Date: 2022
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: This dissertation is about one of the most basic but elusive objectives of art: the representation of others. Working in Third Republic France in the wake of a brutal civil war, the French artist Jean-François Raffaëlli (1850-1924) considered the empathetic representation of others among the most urgent problems of his time. His philosophy of art, caractérisme, was dedicated to making classes of people who had typically been neglected or stereotyped “aesthetically known” as individuals. He sought to determine a set of “moral and physical laws” for this practice based on a performative approach to representation drawn from literary and theatrical naturalism. Raffaëlli’s ragpicker paintings of the 1870s and 1880s exemplify his belief in the moral potential of art and his reimagining of the artist’s role. Tied to revolution, this subset of the urban poor was ideologically instrumentalized in the contentious political debates that unfolded in the aftermath of the Paris Commune (1871). Raffaëlli, who witnessed the Commune firsthand, sought to disentangle the ragpickers from the pernicious clichés that had come to typify them with a series of remarkably individualized portraits, informed by his personal experience and differentiated through a vast range of stylistic approaches. If Raffaëlli’s ragpicker paintings exemplified caractérisme, two later bodies of work tested its limits. A series of collaborations between Raffaëlli and Edmond de Goncourt (1822-1896) raised the problem of overidentification, offering examples of Raffaëlli’s struggle to grant aesthetic autonomy to his subject matter while maintaining his philosophical independence as an artist. Conversely, Raffaëlli’s paintings of women forced him to confront a difference that he felt was too great for him to bridge. Putting his work in dialogue with that of Mary Cassatt (1844-1926), this dissertation examines the strained sexual politics of Raffaëlli’s paintings of female models. Raffaëlli’s theorization of caractérisme coincided with the broader nineteenth-century preoccupation with codifying identity. Yet even as Raffaëlli engaged the formulas proposed by physiologies and sociological positivism, he also discerned their limitations. His work challenged these social categories at the moment of their formation and upheld the importance of intersubjective representation despite the differences that invariably separate us.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog:
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:Art and Archaeology

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