Panel 3: Image vs. Text

The Musician, Edwaert Collier (c.1640–c.1707) (attributed to). Laing Art Gallery.

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Chair: Dr Lisa Gee – Visiting Research Fellow at the Centre for Life-Writing Research at King’s College London

Sofya Dmitrieva

Art / Poétique: Genre in the Art Theory and Literary Criticism of Ancien Régime France

The analysis of Ancien Régime sources reveals a stark contrast between the functions of genre in the literature and painting theories of pre-revolutionary France. First, whereas genre was the chief factor in the categorisation of poetry and prose, the catalogues, histories and collections of painting were structured in accordance with national schools. Second, while literary genre classification encompassed all categories, embracing romance and vaudeville along with tragedy and epic poetry, art theory reduced the wide spectrum of painting genres to an opposition between history painting and all the other painterly phenomena denoted with the umbrella term ‘genre painting’. Finally, in literature, as the paradigmatic L’Art poétique (1674) by Nicolas Boileau testifies, genre was one of the key instruments of formal analysis. In art theory, meanwhile, owing to the ideologically charged distinction between the génie universel of the history painter and the talents particulieres of the artists specializing in other genres, it was used mainly for evaluation. These differences in the understanding of genre in the art theory and literary criticism of Ancien Régime France explain the present-day gap between the disciplines. Whereas in literature studies, genre has long been a major area of concern, in art history it is remarkably under-theorized. Although art historians appeal widely to genres, the discipline has not yet established a methodological framework that would explain the mechanisms of their development, the interrelation between the popularity of certain genres and their sociohistorical context, the role that genre plays in the commission of painting, etc. The aim of my paper is twofold: first, it will redefine the place of genre within French seventeenth- and eighteenth-century theories of painting and literature; second, it will suggest several possible ways of effectively applying the developments of literary and film genre theories in the field of art history.

Natasha Shoory

Marchandes and Revendeuses: Painting Luxury and Paintings as Luxury

The surge in both the production and consumption of goods over the course of the eighteenth century was accompanied by a proliferation of texts—by some estimates well over a hundred in France alone—which conceptualised ‘luxury’ through the social, cultural, and economic vices (or virtues) perceived to be affecting society, and the resulting societal decay (or progress). Despite research into the intellectual debate on luxury, and the social history of consumption, little attention has been paid thus far to how views of art and luxury became entwined in eighteenth-century France. In addition to shared anxieties—with controversy often centred on who was purchasing artworks, how, and why—art and luxury were further enmeshed as ‘images’ both acted as and instigated dialogue and exchanges.

This paper will examine François Boucher’s La Marchande de modes (1746), along with its 1755 engraving by René Gaillard which was circulated with added textual verse by ‘M. Moraine’, as a springboard for addressing these wider issues. Images like La Marchande de Modes can be seen as visual discourse not only symptomatic of but also contributing to the Luxury Debate: the original work’s subject matter of consumption of luxury goods, and being a highly-finished cabinet picture catered to contemporary market demands; the print as mass-produced object to be widely distributed; and the added verse which perhaps altered the work’s original meaning. Through analysing the relationships between these different media, and their audiences, it will be shown how art engaged with and expanded Luxury’s textual and conceptual borders.

Francesca Kaes

Against Intermediality: Alexander Cozens’s New Method and the Self-Assertive Image

Since the Renaissance, debates about the relationship between artistic media have occupied a central place in Western art theory. The paragone between painting and sculpture pitted artforms in competition, while Horace’s dictum ut pictura poesis postulated the similarity of painting and poetry. In both cases a surplus of creative potential was understood to arise from the interaction between artforms. However, over the course of the eighteenth century, this view was gradually blurred, with authors from De Piles to Lessing highlighting the intrinsic differences between media.

Against this background, and through an analysis of British landscape painter Alexander Cozens’s drawing manual A New Method of Assisting the Invention in Designing Original Compositions of Landscape (1785), this paper argues both against and for intermediality. On the one hand, the highly unusual technique of blotting presented in the New Method can be understood to spell the end of ut pictura poesis. Using this technique, the artist smudged black ink onto paper to create abstract inkblots, which he then reworked into landscape compositions. Unlike earlier landscapists who had relied on biblical or mythological narratives to structure their images, Cozens created abstract forms to which meaning was attributed only in a secondary, interpretive act. In the blots, I argue, we can discern a new and self-assertive pictoriality whereby images derive logic from visual form rather than from texts. On the other hand, this paper shows that both Cozens’s artistic practice and his writings can usefully be analyzed through the lens of intermediality. The New Method relied heavily on its 43 illustrations which lent argumentative force to an otherwise awkward text. What is more, Cozens’s conception of blotting developed alongside his engagement with single-sheet prints, and, as I will argue, the blots unfolded their creative potential only in the intermedial space between painting and printmaking.

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13 thoughts on “Panel 3: Image vs. Text”

  1. Dear Francesca,

    Thanks for a truly fascinating paper. The quotes you offered from Cozens’s New Method struck me as indebted to Joseph Addison’s comments on chance in his “Pleasures of the Imagination” essay (1712), where he writes of the “Delight” we take in “those accidental Landskips of Trees, Clouds and Cities, that are sometimes found in the Veins of Marble, in the curious Fretwork of Rocks and Grottos, and, in a Word, in any thing that hath such a Variety or Regularity as may seem the Effect of Design, in what we call the Works of Chance.” Cozens’s blot drawings seem to enact precisely this associational process. Addison’s essays were very widely read at the time, so Cozens likely knew them. Do you think he’s consciously engaging with Addison?

    There’s a still larger – and more interesting – question here. At least in eighteenth-century Britain, aesthetics was essentially anti-pictorial. W.J.T. Mitchell has shown this especially in the case of Burke, but it’s true of Addison, too. His discussion of the accidental landscape seen in the veins of marble is part of his distinction between the primary and secondary pleasures of the imagination. The first springs from what we actually see; the second from what we remember, or from fictions derived from compounds of remembered ideas/images. For Addison, though he avoids explicitly saying so, the secondary pleasures are really those of poetry. In this aesthetic tradition words carry an expansiveness, polysemy, and associational power that pictures cannot. I’m very much persuaded by your contention that Cozens’s development of the “self-assertive image” counters the ut pictura poesis tradition, but I wonder if you might go further: Is he challenging the very anti-pictorial basis of Enlightenment aesthetics?

    Apologies for the length of these questions. I’d be happy for them to be addressed in the live session. As you’re based in Oxford a hope we’ll be able to continue this conversation in person at some point!


    1. Dear David,

      Thank you for your great questions!

      We don’t have any evidence that Cozens consciously engaged with Addison, but I agree with you that he very likely was well acquainted with his ideas. On the topic of chance, Cozens references Leonardo, Horace, and Shakespeare: The title of the New Method is a direct quote from Leonardo’s fragmentary Treatise on Painting, which was published in English in 1721. In this text, Leonardo writes about the suggestive potential of stains in old walls, in which one can encounter landscapes, battle scenes, and all kinds of faces. “Images made by chance” was a well-established trope in art theory from Pliny onward. of course, but what’s new in Cozens is that he makes his blots on purpose and bases his entire practice of teaching and image-making on them. Another difference is that for writers like Leonardo stains or clouds were suggestive of specific iconographic elements (a figure, a house, a tree, etc.) without giving hints on any larger compositional arrangement. For Cozens, as I have outlined in my paper, the blot serves to fix the larger composition as well as the objects contained within it (though the latter remain somewhat precarious due to their polysemic nature). Cozens boldly declares that his New Method is an improvement on Leonardo’s ideas.

      Your second question is more difficult to answer with certainty, but I would offer a tentative Yes. Cozens was an adherent of the sublime (another link to Addison): the purpose of landscape painting, to him, was to evoke certain emotions in the viewer. This, however, was to be achieved not through the depiction of subject matter that was itself considered sublime but through the formal arrangement of a painting. The different types of pictorial composition and form he defined in the New Method corresponded to and were meant to evoke specific emotions.

      Perhaps another aspect to consider in this regard is that for Cozens the blot is intended to “draw forth” ideas that are acquired with experience and stored in the mind. Here, he engages with Lockean epistemology but it seems to me that we can also connect this aspect of the New Method to Addison insofar as Cozens describes the process of association as a matching and referencing between the blot and remembered visual ideas, which he recommends as a form of amusement in itself.

      Thank you again for these brilliant and thought-provoking questions! It would be great to chat more about this when I am back in Oxford in Michaelmas.


  2. Francesca – super paper. I think ‘The Blot Master General’ might be the quote of the conference! I was fascinated by the way in which Cozens creates meaning out of the abstract.

    Sofya – a really thought-provoking paper, thank you.
    Your discussion of genre got me thinking about the ways in which genre has been such a central concern of literary scholarship on the period in recent decades. True, there was a well-established sense of poetic genre in the period, but much scholarly energy (in the British context) has been spent of late in thinking through non-poetic generic developments, especially in relation to the novel. Your points about the lesser genres which help to constitute history painting seem very relevant to this. Where literary interest in ‘sub-genres’ like secret history, memoir, letters, etc., tended to arise from first thinking of these forms as ones that were component parts of a major genre like ‘the novel’, they are increasingly understood as genres in their own right, ones from which the novel borrowed heavily (so in that sense, they aren’t ‘sub’ at all).

    Natasha – I really enjoyed your paper. It struck me that the same contradictory stance found in the Boucher print (celebrating/condemning luxury as key to female beauty) is still at the heart of most women’s beauty magazines. They always seem to stress the importance and primacy of natural beauty but do so in a format dependent upon the consumption of luxury goods, and one targeted to sell products that will somehow deliver/enhance ‘natural’ beauty. I guess my question is that of whether ‘natural beauty’ in Western culture has always been artificial in some way, and to what extent is the Boucher print already conscious of this?

    Thank you all, and I look forward to hearing more,

    1. Dear Claudine,

      Thank you very much for your comment!

      Indeed, novel and ‘genre’ (in the eighteenth-century understanding of the term) had a very similar status in the corresponding disciplines. Susan Siegfried, for instance, contends, that both were ‘leftover categories […] into which everything that did not fit was put,’ whereas genre painting as we know it today was ‘the unsayable of a generic system’.*

      My claim is that whereas, although limited to the field of poetry, genre as a concept still existed and played a significant role in the discourse on literature, it was not yet developed in the theory of art at all.

      I hope it makes my argument clearer. If you have any other inquiries, it will be my pleasure to respond!


      *Siegfried, Susan L. ‘Femininity and the Hybridity of Genre Painting’, in French Genre Painting in the Eighteenth Century. Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts Symposium Papers XLIX, edited by Philip Conisbee (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2007), pp. 18, 34.

    2. Dear Claudine,

      Thank you for your question! Indeed, there are strong echoes of our own society. What is perhaps so interesting is that we tend to associate contemporary consumer behaviour with that borne from 19th century Capitalism. However, there are clear roots in Ancien Régime society.

      Much of the Luxury Debate did not concern actual, tangible “objects” fixed under the categories of Luxury and necessity. Luxury was rather a concept, and what was deemed necessity and luxury was very much dependant upon other factors such as the social standing of the consumer. On this thought, I find it tantamount criticisms directed at, say Marie Antoinette. She was criticised for her decadent fashions, and equally so when she wore her dresses more than once, or indeed when she opted for simple linen dresses in a pseudo-shepherdess style later in life (another criticism which is directed at celebrity women today!) The consumable object therefore seems to have little to do with the criticism, except to be a symbol or stand-in for another, deeper issue. In this same way, I think criticisms of women’s vanity has little to do with cosmetics and other consumables. With all “civilisation” is an element of artificiality, in the same way that Mandeville said pretty much everything is “luxury”.

  3. Hi Sofya, Natasha and Francesca
    Fascinating papers, all of which took me out of my comfort zone and got me thinking. So here are my initial questions…

    Sofya – I’m intrigued by your extended list of opposites, and am wondering to what extent (if at all) people thought of / categorised works by placing them at different points on scales/spectra between each pair of opposites. So, did they operate like analogue scales, or digital either/ors?

    Natasha – you mention that Boucher attracted critical disdain. Please can you expand on that a bit more? How did that intersect with/affect the popularity of his works?

    Francesca – What sparked you to coin the term “the self-assertive image”? I’m also intrigued by the emergent creativity evinced by the Blot Master General’s approach, in contrast with the pre-planning inherent in the other (theoretical) approaches to artistic imagination you and Soya discuss. And, finally (for now…), how influential was Cozens’s work in the long run? I am, of course, thinking about Rorschach…

    1. Dear Lisa,

      Thank you for your question! Perhaps Boucher’s most well-known and vocal critic was Denis Diderot. Diderot’s contempt for Boucher appears to mostly stem from the fact that Boucher represented everything perceived to be “wrong” with contemporary art. Diderot acknowledged Boucher’s talent, but lamented that he had been steered on the wrong course by patrons and society. Diderot lamented the lack of grand historical compositions in the Salon in general, and the trend for small, highly-finished cabinet pictures, and genre scenes. Even worse he detested portraits displayed in the Salon, another sign of contemporary vanity. Although Boucher was a history painter, he did not stick to the Academic conventions of Grand Manner history painting – namely his muted colour palette and lack of focal points in compositions with figures leading the eye in every direction (two features of the Rococo). Many of these criticisms were tied up with those of women, and the “effeminisation” of society and taste often perceived to be their influence. The work of Melissa Hyde on this subject is seminal.

      These criticisms did not seem to affect his popularity. Boucher was appointed Premier Peintre du Roi, and was adored by patrons and collectors, including Madame de Pompadour, the official mistress of Louis XV. My research on women patrons and collectors in Paris aims to explore their influence on art production and consumption compared with other actors such as critics and so I hope to expand on this even more in the future.

    2. Dear Lisa,

      Thank you for the great question!

      Cozens was a bit of an outsider in his time but his practice was influential in two ways. On the one hand, as a teacher of amateur artists, he shaped the tastes of generations of important collectors such as Sir George Beaumont, who studied with Cozens when he was at Eton and who continued his practice of blotting into old age. On the other hand, Cozens had a significant but yet under-appreciated impact on Romantic landscape painters like Turner and Constable. The latter in particular was a great student of Cozens’s work. He copied a number of his treatises (which he first encountered through Beaumont in 1823) and was particularly interested in Cozens’s cloud diagrams. In fact, we only know about the various emotions I mentioned in my answer to David’s question from notes in Constable’s papers.

      My title is a bit tongue-in-cheek, but I hope for it to invite us not only to consider how image and text interacted in the eighteenth century but also how they differed and how contemporaries considered these differences and employed them consciously.


      1. I love the Blot Master General! I imagine he was known to Justinus Kerner, the German Romantic who became known for his Klecksographien, accidental blots (like Rorschach images) to which he then attached poems conjured up imaginatively by the blots.

        1. Dear Catriona,
          Yes, Kerner is a great point of reference! Friedrich Weltzien has written about Kerner’s blots and traced them back to Cozens. The difference between the two, according to Weltzien, is that Cozens’s blots are reigned in by his system of 16 landscape types while Kerner’s Klecksographien activate the imagination more freely.

  4. Dear Sofya
    A wonderfully lucid and stimulating paper addressing an issue about which art historians have been surprisingly coy. You raise a central challenge to those of us working with texts and images, namely a lack of fit. One way in which your discussion might be extended is by considering sculpture where, in practice if not in theory, distinctions between genres are much more pertinent and even overt.
    Thank you again.

    1. Thank you very much for your kind words and a thought-provoking remark on sculptural genres, Malcolm!

      Kind regards,

  5. Dear Natasha,
    Thank you for this great paper! I was wondering if you could say a little bit about the production of the print: Was Boucher involved in its making? Did he sanction or even suggest the addition of the text, i.e. did he condone the interpretive frame the text imposes on his painting? My second question relates to media: did contemporaries draw similarities between the translational/reproductive print and its relationship to painting and the sale of second-hand luxury goods? Were prints considered to be more affordable options for those who would not be able to afford to acquire paintings – art attainable for the pastry cook rather than the marquise – and was this critiqued or perceived to be negatively impacting social hierarchies?

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