Keynote: Malcolm Baker

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Chair: Dr Claudine van Hensbergen -Associate Professor in Eighteenth-Century Literature at Northumbria University

Professor Malcolm Baker

The Poet’s Head: The Agency of the Authorial Portrait in the Eighteenth Century

Louis F. Roubiliac , marble bust of Alexander Pope (1741). Shipley Art Gallery.

Malcolm will be speaking about his ongoing research into the authorial portrait in the eighteenth century. Taking Roubiliac’s marble bust of Pope as a central focus, Malcolm will connect developments in the display of author portrait busts in libraries, and the production of frontispiece engravings to printed works, to show how the image of the author was one of the most versatile and reproduced forms of portraiture in the period.

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6 thoughts on “Keynote: Malcolm Baker”

  1. A PS to what I have said (I fear at too great a length!) in this talk. Claudine’s introduction was recorded after I recorded my contribution. Otherwise, I would have started by thanking her for her invitation and also for all her efforts in making this memorable event a reality.

  2. Thank you very much for your compelling talk about the forms of author portraits and showing the creative solutions to depict multiple authors in one image. At minute 14 or so (and again at minute 32 and 1:06), you mentioned 18th-century artists securing their rights for reproductions of their work, particularly prints and plaster casts. Are there references to this action you could point to? I’m interested in reading more about this topic. Also, could you share the source of the image of multiple Pope busts?

  3. Dear Malcolm,

    Thank you for your brilliant talk. Your analysis of portraits in different media raises different ways of thinking about intermediality as a play with the interval or space between media. The engraved bust of Orinda used as a frontispiece in the 1678 edition of Katherine Phillips’s Poems is dismissed as a ‘poor paper shadow of a statue made after a picture not very like her’. The text’s rejection of its frontispiece invites the reader to imagine a better sculptural object that would memorialize her lasting image. This is a trope, obviously, which can be read as a dismissal of visual representation, but it can also be read as an appeal to the knowledge of sculpture of the reader, who is invited to fashion an alternative virtual artifact. Vertue’s portrait of Milton uses intermediality in a different way. By placing busts of Homer and Virgil to the sides of the portrait of Milton he places different media in dialogue, he indicates that the medium of the modern author is an engraved portrait from a painting held in place by an architectural frame. But how do you interpret his use of scale? You showed us compositions in which a picture of the author is held up, suggesting the author’s apotheosis and perhaps integration into a canon in which sculpture is prominent, but what do you make of the diminutive size of the ancient busts in this case?

    Sorry this is rambling and long. Your talk gives us so much to think about. Thank you!

    All best,

    1. Thanks so much Luisa!
      The question of scale is interesting but I’m not sure that I have an obvious answer. However, does large scale signify significance? Small scale images can be ones that engaged with more intimately, by a reader who has them on the desk. Is the private / public issue involved here? Let me think more about this. I’m emailing you a piece about images and canons (Authorial connections and continuities) that appeared in the Wolfenbütel volume, Bildnispolitik der Autorschaft, available, of course, at any station bookstall or high street W H Smith (if these still exist)! More later, no doubt!
      All good wishes

      1. Scale is so interesting. I agree that the small can also be associated with preciousness and intimacy, for example in the case of porcelain busts that were very popular in Germany (e.g. Fürstenberg miniature busts of Winckelmann, Lessing, and classical figures, etc.) These also have antecedents in aristocratic table decor. Thank you for a wonderful talk.

  4. Thanks very much Nina.
    Sculptors followed printmakers in securing at least limited rights for their images through Garrard’s Act of 1798. There is more about this (and multiples) in Chapter 5 (Making Images) of my book, The Marble Index. The various images of the eight Pope busts together come from the exhibition I curated in 2014 for the Yale Center for British Art and Waddesdon Manor in 2014 (I wrote a catalogue, Fame and Friendshiop, to accompany the Waddesdon version.) The two earlier images with six of the bust were taken at the NPG at the time of Wimsatt’s exhibition: I found the one with the looming presence of Wimsatt among his papers at the Beinecke. (The Yale version of the show included a section on Wimsatt and Helen D. has subsequently written eloquently about this her recent article in Representations) I also included it in an earlier article I wrote about William Murray’s bust of Pope. I’ll email a pdf to you, along with a pdf of an article about frontispieces combining authors which I wrote for a volume produced by our Wolfenbüttel colleagues. Even though we now live mainly in London, rather than Pasadena, I hope we can continue a dialogue. One of the earliest pieces I wrote about Pope’s busts appeared in a Clark volume edited by Lorna Clymer!
    All good wishes

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