Keren Rosa Hammerschlag's Frederic Leighton: Death, Mortality, Resurrection offers a timely reexamination of the art of the late Victorian period's most institutionally powerful artist, Frederic Lord Leighton (1830-1896). As President of the Royal Academy from 1878 to 1896, Leighton was committed to the pursuit of beauty in art through the depiction of classical subjects, executed according to an academic working-method. But as this book reveals, Leighton's art and discourse were beset by the realisation that academic art would likely die with him. Rather than achieving classical perfection, Hammerschlag argues, Leighton's figures hover in transitional states between realism and idealism, flesh and marble, life and death, as gothic distortions of the classical ideal. The author undertakes close readings of key paintings, sculptures, frescos and drawings in Leighton's oeuvre, and situates them in the context of contemporaneous debates about death and resurrection in theology, archaeology and medicine. The outcome is a pleasurably macabre counter-biography that reconfigures what it meant to be not just a late-Victorian neoclassicist and royal academician, but President of the Victorian Royal Academy.
Keren Rosa Hammerschlag is a Postdoctoral Research Assistant Professor in the Department of Art and Art History and the Women's and Gender Studies Program at Georgetown University in Washington DC.
'This book offers a compelling and highly original interpretation of Frederic Leighton's art by arguing for a gothic impulse in the work of this quintessential exponent of Victorian classicism. In her nuanced account, revealing the body as a site of deep ambivalence in Leighton's work, Hammerschlag connects his preoccupation with themes of death, resurrection and revivification to contemporaneous social anxieties about modernity. Deftly interweaving social and cultural history, this book demonstrates why Leighton mattered in his own time and how he continues to do so in ours. Smart, timely and engagingly written, this book is essential reading for those interested in British art, cultural histories of the nineteenth-century and contemporary aesthetic debates.' Mary Roberts, University of Sydney, Australia
'Keren Hammerschlag's enterprising and sympathetic new interpretation of the work of Frederic Leighton reveals the full complexity and resonance of many compositions that have been little discussed. By drawing attention to the ever-present themes of death and mortality, and by placing those concerns in the wider context of Victorian culture, she reveals a hitherto overlooked and significant aspect of his oeuvre. Leighton's religious paintings, too, finally receive the attention they deserve.' Tim Barringer, Yale University, USA