Idealizing the Prima Donna in Mid-Victorian London<sup>1</sup>

Roberta Montemorra Marvin

in The Arts of the Prima Donna in the Long Nineteenth Century

Published in print June 2012 | ISBN: 9780195365870
Published online September 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199932054 | DOI:
Idealizing the Prima Donna in Mid-Victorian London1

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Chapter 2 explores the visual culture of nineteenth-century British spectatorship by examining images of prima donnas that were published in one of the principal English newspapers, the Illustrated London News. Dress, ornament, posture, and physiognomy were each subtle codes through which aspects of personality were communicated, and newspaper editors and illustrators were adept at manipulating these codes to specific ends. In some cases these can be seen working against what the readers’ prior impressions of a prima donna might have been, based on reports of her irregular private life and moral transgressions. This revealing case study offers insights into ideologies of gender that literally shaped the image and the public’s perception of Italian opera stars in the years before newspapers moved over from engravings to photography.

Keywords: visual culture; image; Illustrated London News; dress; physiognomy; engravings; prima donnas; newspapers

Chapter.  9018 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Opera

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