Journal Article

Harriet Hosmer and the Feminine Sublime

Gabrielle Gopinath

in Oxford Art Journal

Volume 28, issue 1, pages 61-81
Published in print March 2005 | ISSN: 0142-6540
Published online March 2005 | e-ISSN: 1741-7287 | DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.1093/oaj/kci013
Harriet Hosmer and the Feminine Sublime

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‘Harriet Hosmer and the Feminine Sublime’ argues that the mid-nineteenth century American sculptor Harriet Hosmer's sculptures contradict the Pygmalion ideal that guided the creation of much contemporaneous sculpture – namely, the wish to bring the inert block to life. Instead, in her portrait of historical heroines such as Zenobia (1859), Hosmer endeavoured to make the woman's body signify as the thick stone mass of marble from which it is carved. The formal peculiarities that ensue are linked to historical concerns via a variety of research agendas, including Hosmer's friend Nathaniel Hawthorne's fiction, Hosmer's own biography, and Johann Winckelmann's highly influential theories of sculpture. The historical context from which these sculptures emerge helps to demonstrate how for Hosmer, an ‘emancipated’ woman living in Rome, the denial of freedom and of movement might actually have constituted an ultimate form of feminine liberty. Following the lead of Winckelmann's theories, the inert marble block achieved a kind of feminine sublime by not provoking desire and by abdicating any claim to independent subjectivity. Both Hosmer and Hawthorne are drawn to repeatedly represent the transformation of living women into blocks of dead marble in their works.

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Subjects: Art Forms ; Art Styles ; Art Subjects and Themes ; History of Art ; Theory of Art

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