Table of Contents
September 2011, Volume 93 Number 3
Standards of realism developed for the study of painting have long dominated the scholarship of Roman mosaic floors. Few have considered mosaics as horizontal surfaces underfoot, touched as they are seen and often experienced by a mobile observer. Large-scale labyrinth mosaics were especially popular in the baths of Roman North Africa, where the demands of their traversal and their peripatetic viewing prompted broader, metaphoric meanings to come into play. These pavements interact with both architecture and their spectators, deliberately eliding boundaries between life and myth for those who crossed their surfaces.
The emergence of the modern institution of art is often understood as the gradual secularization of the religious image. Yet if secularization is understood as the erosion of conventional subject matter, then the contribution of secular painting need not be disqualified. In Michelangelo’s cartoon for The Battle of Cascina (1504), for example, the compositional structure of the cartoon militates against an iconographic analysis, formerly thought to disclose political meaning. The breaking down of iconography, however, did not claim art’s pure autonomy here. Instead, the work demonstrated the social and political centrality of the new institution of art.
Portraiture dominated visual culture in France after 1789 because it addressed the central challenge of the Revolution: how to turn subjects into citizens. Women, however, were rarely included in Revolutionary definitions of citizenship. Jean-Louis Laneuville’s 1796 portrait of Thérésia Cabarrus, better known as Mme Tallien, negotiates female subjectivity and political participation in radically new ways, inserting its sitter into debates about the place of women in the new republic. The ambitions and failures of Cabarrus’s likeness speak to the ambitions and failures of French portraiture after 1789.
The year 1907 was an important one for John Sloan, as he executed a substantial body of paintings in preparation for a major exhibition the following year. In key works from that period, Sloan peopled the urban scenes for which he is best known with figures and objects that refer back to the medium of painting. These motifs are given added meaning in their relation both to the urban crowd and to newly emergent entertainments like the moving pictures. Insight into the broader aims of Sloan’s artistic project is drawn from his commercial illustration work as well.