Conference paper “Imagining leadership – the impact of 18th-century visual culture on political identity”

In November 2014, scholars from several universities in Western and Eastern Europe will meet at the University of Konstanz, Germany, to discuss the visualisation of power, resistance and punishment in early modern times.

The overall aim of our conference is to uncover cross-cultural links as well as sources of conflict and misunderstanding in the respective visual traditions and their socio-political contexts.

Monika Barget (University of Konstanz) will tackle the long-term development of 18th-century political imagery and discuss the impact of visualisation on shifting concepts of leadership and good governance.

In her PhD project, Monika deals with the 18th-century pluralisation of the body politic and the expansion political space, which was strongly influenced by the experience of riots, rebellions and revolutions.

English Atlas of Geography 1733

Abstract: Visualisation has always been an important way to embody abstract ideas, represent absent rulers or unite political agents in a common cause. After the major technical inventions and genre developments of the 15th to 17th centuries, however, 18th-century visual culture brought already existing forms to a new artistic level and generated unprecedented self-reflexivity on the part of artists, patrons and recipients alike. Especially in conflict-ridden Great Britain, an intense debate on the authenticity and decorum of visually represented power relations took off. Both the reduced symbolism of American patriot publishing and the subversive self-representation of leadership in John Wilkes’s oppositional printing challenged long-standing conventions. In the long run, the 18th-century British-American media controversy inspired ever more simplified and dialogue-oriented modes of government communication, which included an altered usage of elite portraits and scenes of state violence. Nevertheless, competing traditions of aristocratic heroism persisted and even gathered momentum when “Gallic despotism” posed a threat to the British and American constitutions. The paper therefore traces four important stages of visualisation from Jacobite and Hanoverian portraiture to the revival of monarchical representations in the 1790s.

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