Reanimating the Renaissance: Aesthetes and Art History, 1873-1914
This thesis examines responses to the Italian Renaissance by aesthetes in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. It argues that aesthetes ‘reanimated’ the renaissance across diverse genres and media by negotiating the boundaries between art and life. Moving away from a discourse-centred approach, the thesis concentrates on the experience of historical work, often as it took place outside of textual accounts. In doing so, it proposes a new story of renaissance reception centred around surprising claims for its enlivenment, revealing the unstable borders between amateur and expert, scholar and enthusiast in the period. Looking at a range of sources including performance, fashion, and fiction, the thesis suggests that a reconsideration of these imaginative and embodied historiographies sheds new light on the making of art history at the end of the nineteenth century. By centring the work of ‘non-experts’ such as Vernon Lee, Natalie Barney, and Isadora Duncan, women are shown to have had an active role in the recovery of the renaissance. Considering the role of historical desire, the thesis underscores the significance of the Italian renaissance for queer and trans subjectivity in the life and work of figures including Michael Field, Olive Custance, Alexander Sacharoff, and J. A. Symonds. At the same time, the thesis shows how the desire for, and fear of, an animated renaissance was situated within contemporary concerns over heredity, degeneration, and atavism.