Composing in Light and Dark: The Theory and Practice of Pictorial Composition in Eighteenth-Century Britain
My thesis explores concepts and practices of chiaroscuro in eighteenth-century and early nineteenth-century British art. It considers the role chiaroscuro played as an element of pictorial composition, examining the ways in which artists employed light and dark in order to structure their works and how this practice was reflected in contemporary theoretical writings. My thesis establishes chiaroscuro as a category of formal abstraction in which the distribution of light and dark in a picture came to be regarded as an abstract arrangement of form which operated independently from subject matter. I contend that this type of abstract chiaroscuro-composition marks a clear departure from early modern academic theories of art, which conceptualized artistic creation as an intellectual act and conceived of painting as an essentially textual art form. By contrast, chiaroscuro-composition helped formulate a modern conception of images that emphasized their own intrinsic logic of pictoriality, visual order, and form. My thesis traces the conceptual and practical history of chiaroscuro along five interconnected case studies on the writings and artistic practices of five canonical British artists: Alexander Cozens, Jonathan Richardson, William Gilpin, Joshua Reynolds, and John Constable.
My wider research interests include the theory of art and image-making, histories and methodologies of art history, including digital art history, and the inter-medial relationship between painting and printmaking.
I hold a BA in European Art History and Classical Archaeology from Ruprecht-Karls University Heidelberg and an MA in Art and Visual History from Humboldt University Berlin. Before undertaking my DPhil, I was the Joseph F. McCrindle Foundation Curatorial Intern in the Department of Modern Prints and Drawings at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC (2014/15), and the Anne Christopherson Fellow in the Department of Prints and Drawings at the British Museum, London (2016). I also worked as a research associate at Culture Collaboratory. My doctoral research is supported by the AHRC.