All ETDs from UAB

Advisory Committee Chair

Heather McPherson

Advisory Committee Members

Tanja Jones

Cathy Pagani

Document Type

Thesis

Date of Award

2012

Degree Name by School

Master of Arts (MA) College of Arts and Sciences

Abstract

During the early nineteenth century, Neoclassical artists depicted scenes of antiquity, both real and imagined, by exemplifying their nobility and idealism. The first artist to break the walls around this infallible representation was the caricaturist Honoré Daumier (1808-79). Daumier explored the myths and legends of antiquity minus the trappings of a classical education. The result was Histoire ancienne, a series of fifty prints published in Le Charivari between December 1841 and January 1843 that ridiculed the same subjects that artists such as Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (1780-1867) and Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825) exalted. In 1857, critic Charles Baudelaire said of Histoire ancienne, "Daumier came down very brutally on antiquity--false antiquity, that is, for no one has a better feeling than he for the grandeurs of antiquity... It was a very amusing bit of blasphemy, and one that had its usefulness." No one before Daumier had dared represent the deities and heroes of antiquity in such a satirical manner. Bringing an historical subject into the modern age was pivotal to the transition from classicism to modernity in art. In spite of its being one of the most well-known and admired of Daumier's series, Histoire ancienne has not received the attention that its significance merits. This thesis provides a thorough critical analysis and contextualized reading of this series and the aspects that made it so crucial to nineteenth-century modernity. It analyzes the presence of established works of literature in Daumier's imagery and his treatment of classical texts; addresses Daumier's rather perverse portrayals of heroism and wisdom and sardonic treatment of classical love and romance; discusses the individual prints in this series in the context of the works of Daumier's contemporaries; and explores the importance of the series's captions and how they contribute to its "blasphemy." While Histoire ancienne is currently viewed as an important facet of classical French caricature, here its importance in the development of modernity is analyzed through its unorthodox portrayal of a class of subjects that had until this point remained static, a key component of representation in the art of the modern age.

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