‘Des Esseintes’ of Brussels: Artifice of the Villa Khnopff

by Maria Golovteeva, University of St Andrews

Belgian artist Fernand Khnopff erected his extravagant villa in Brussels at number 41, Avenue des Courses in Brussels, at its intersection with Avenue Jeanne, on the edge of the greenery of the Bois de la Cambre. It was a result of collaboration with Belgian architect Edouard Pelseneer. The first steps to create the house were most likely taken in October 1899; the plans were drawn in March 1900, and the residence was finished in 1902.[i] The villa is now only known from eyewitness accounts and photographs published in contemporary periodicals, as it was demolished in 1938 – 1940 to build a block of flats.[ii] It is still to be determined who took the photographs depicting empty rooms and corridors of the Villa Khnopff and one view of the dwelling from the outside, but their reproductions first appeared as illustrations in the article ‘Das Heim eines Symbolisten’ by writer and journalist Wolfram Waldschmidt in the Dekorative Kunst in 1906.

Facade of the Villa Khnopff
Facade of the Villa Khnopff. © Musées royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Bruxelles/ AACB.

Some of these photographic evocations were reproduced in the artist’s first biography published by his friend Louis Dumont-Wilden in 1907, which provides an insight into the Villa Khnopff too.[iii] Several reproductions also appeared in Hélène Laillet’s 1912 article ‘The Home of an artist: M. Fernand Khnopff’s Villa at Brussels’ for The Studio. Contemporaries that were invited to visit the magnificent building, designed in the Secessionist style that highlighted eccentric designs and superficial atmosphere, called it ‘la chapelle votive d’une esthétique personnelle et compliquée’ or ‘le Castel du rêve.’[iv] Dumont-Wilden, who visited the villa numerous times, recalls des Esseintes, the main character of Huysmans’ novel A Rebours, who decorated his house with rare, strange and beautiful things to establish an artificial environment to correspond with his overly sophisticated idiosyncratic personality. Indeed, artificiality was one of the main characteristics of the Villa Khnopff.

Just like the Goncourt’s ‘maison d’art’ at Auteuil, which its owners transformed into a proto-Symbolist work of art, the image of the Villa Khnopff was circulated in textual and photographic reproductions.[v] Photographic evocations of the house are of particular interest, as they provide visual depictions of the dwelling and perhaps less subjective descriptions than written testimonials. They characterise the self-documenting ability of the photography that gave the artist an opportunity to construct, preserve and project not only his vision of his house, but also of his artistic identity. At the same time, these photographs demonstrate the documentary capacity of the medium, which Khnopff considered to be one of its most important and valuable qualities. This creates an interesting reciprocity between his life and photographs and a certain ambiguity of these photographic representations. On the one hand, they provide a supposedly objective view of the villa; on the other, they exude an air of constructed reality and carefully controlled affectation. For instance, the photographs do not document the villa entirely: they depict only several areas probably chosen by the artist excluding the sleeping quarters of the dwelling. Khnopff’s avoidance of showing more utilitarian spaces in his house, whether it was common for that time or not, represents his meticulous control over his art as well as his personal image. This contributes to Khnopff’s intention to design an artificial aura of an intellectual and dandy around himself and mythologise his œuvre. Thus, the artificiality of the Villa Khnopff, which was also an continuation of the artist’s eccentric personality, extended even in its photographic depictions, which as a result of a technical process represent an opposition to everything natural.

Dumont-Wilden’s comparison of Khnopff to des Esseintes is even more detailed: he dubs the artist “un des Esseintes qui n’a pas subi l’éducation romantique, et n’a jamais fréquenté le grenier d’Auteuil.”[vi] The biographer thus contrasts the Villa Khnopff not only with des Esseintes’ residence, but also with the Goncourt’s aestheticised house. Dumont-Wilden most likely implies the stylistic differences between two dwellings, as in other aspects they shared certain similarities. The villa in Brussels represented a projection of the life of the artist into a living environment and explored the potential of interior rearrangements of art objects and artificial settings that would transform a domestic home into ‘an “artistic” retreat just like the house at Auteuil.[vii] However, while the Goncourts decorated their residence according to their main ‘collecting, literary, and aesthetic interests … in French eighteenth-century art, Gavarni and Romantic literature, near and far-eastern “objets d’art” ‘, Khnopff fashioned his villa in a completely different manner.[viii] He combined his preference for the laconic Secessionist architecture with his fascination with the Pre-Raphaelite art and the classical past.

Khnopff praised the Secessionist style and Viennese architects deriving inspiration for his residence from their works. He was impressed with Josef Hoffmann’s buildings and galleries already in 1898 while he was exhibiting in Vienna.[ix] This was visible in the white facades of the villa (see above) dominated by rigorous straight lines. Such architectural preference was not coincidental on Khnopff’s part: the concepts of straight and curved lines had certain aesthetic and philosophical meaning to the intellectuals of that time. Unsurprisingly, in the manner of his idealistic and spiritual art Khnopff predominantly preferred the supposed intellectualism and morality of straight lines to the sensuality and materiality of curved lines, as well as unelaborate ornamentation to heavy embellishment, both in the exterior and interior of the villa. Indeed, the facades were decorated only with black lines, golden circles, and black monograms on a golden background with Khnopff’s typical “cold yet noble aestheticism”. [x] The building exuded such an “air of reserve, almost of disdain” that passers-by sometimes mistook the austere exterior of the villa for one of a chapel or a vault.[xi] Khnopff used the colour black only for the exteriors together with gold, blue, and white, which he employed for decoration throughout his villa.[xii]

Even after such a laconic exterior, visitors were still struck by austerity of the interior. Khnopff emphasises in his 1904 article ‘Mein Haus’ for Die Zeit that from the beginning the dwelling was as uninviting as possible.[xiii] This statement borders on self-criticism, but not for Khnopff: for him as for an aesthete, the comfort and coziness of his residence is not of a high priority. What was more significant for him is projecting his desire to gather precious collectables and create a specific decadent and artistic setting, which was evident in the first room of the house – a small antechamber with white walls of polished stucco.

The Antechamber
The Antechambre. © Musées royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Bruxelles/ AACB.

Already this little room showed the touch of the artist, as it was inhabited by several emblems of Khnopff’s private symbolism. Those were symbols important for Khnopff and his art: a small laurel tree in the corner, a stuffed Indian peacock, a small Greek statue on a blue column and his work Blanc, Noir et Or (1901) with the word “Soi” (self) inscribed above it.[xiv]

Blanc, Noir et Or
Fernand Khnopff, Blanc, Noir et Or, 1901. Musées royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Brussels.

The antechamber was followed by a long white corridor that ran through the villa.

The Corridor
The Corridor. © Musées royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Bruxelles/ AACB.

Like the antechamber, it was decorated with works of art. Among other paintings hanging on its walls was Khnopff’s work Arum Lily (1895)  that depicted his sister Marguerite with the strong features of a Pre-Raphaelite beauty and the portrait of Elisabeth of Austria  executed by Khnopff.[xv]

Arum Lily
Fernand Khnopff, Arum Lily, 1895. Photographic reproduction executed by Alexandre and reworked by Khnopff. © Le Cabinet des Estampes, Bibliothèque royale de Belgique.

Elisabeth d’Autriche
Fernand Khnopff, Elisabeth d’Autriche.

A copy of a Greek sculpture of Hope from the Munich Glyptothek was placed on a windowsill. The latter corresponded with the motto written on the walls: ‘Everything comes to him who waits’. The corridor continued the idea of the immersion into the personality of the artist and his private symbols, his art and sources of his inspiration introduced in the antechamber. In fact, Khnopff’s collection of his own works and of the works of others constituted an important part of his villa.

The space was lit with high windows glazed with Tiffany glass to control the light and reduce the distractions of the nature just as many windows around the house were heavily draped to minimise outside noise and reduce the distractions of the city. The confrontation between the carefully constructed artificial atmosphere of the villa and the outside world was noticed by the visitors: Dumont-Wilden called the house ‘le temple du Moi, … la forteresse d’une individualité en perpétuelle défense contre le Monde et la Vie.’ Hélène Laillet  described it as ‘the expression of his [Khnopff’s] own personality which he [Khnopff] has built for his own satisfaction; it is his immutable ‘Self’ which he has raised in defiance of a troubled and changing world.’[xvi] Khnopff’s dwelling conveyed an impression that the artist fenced himself, his artistic self, from the world in this perpetual defense. Thus, like des Esseintes, Khnopff strived to maintain an artificial environment in his dwelling. After all, he shared with the fictional aesthete from Huysmans’ novel his reclusiveness and eccentricity. At the same time, Dumont-Wilden characterises Khnopff as ‘un des Esseintes méthodique, épris, d’ordonnance harmonieuse beaucoup plus que de singularité.’[xvii] Indeed, Khnopff’s residence, in its austerity, did not share the opulence of des Esseintes’ house.

The austerity of the interiors was specifically evident in the White room on the ground floor, which almost no one could recognise as a dining room, as the space always struck guests with its severity and coldness.[xviii]

The White Room (Dining Room)
The White Room (Dining Room). © Musées royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Bruxelles/ AACB.

According to Laillet’s description, the doorway was curtained with pale blue satin, the windows were glazed with blue and gold glass forming in combination ‘flames and fantastic figures’, which demonstrates the artist’s intention to create an artificial interior.[xix] The walls were decorated with Khnopff’s most known works and a reproduction of Edward Burne-Jones’s Wheel of Fortune. The overall impression of the room was ‘vague and uneasy’, chairs did not ‘invite repose’, and a small table was ‘just big enough to hold a vase’.[xx] The miniature dining table would be brought in for every meal and quickly taken away afterwards. This again represents how the functionality and comfort of the living space was sacrificed for the sake of decadent perfectionism and aesthetic unity, the tension between the real and the ideal, the material and the immaterial, or as contemporaries put it, ‘the struggle between the ideal and the material’.[xxi] At the same, by sacrificing the domestic the artist reaches his main goal – to bedazzle the public, as pointed out by French journalist, critic and novelist Albert Flament, who wrote under a pseudonym Sparklet for L’écho de Paris: ‘Ah! l’intérieur de M. Khnopff, son vestibule aux dalles blanches, aux murs blanches, sa galerie blanche, sa sale à manger pareille, avec sa table pour deux, et son petit canapé pour unique siege, triomphe du ripolin, couloirs de sucre vernissé où s’ébaubissent les snobs de la Cambre!’.[xxii]

The artificiality of the Villa Khnopff was partly related to the cult of the artist as a thinker and a priest of art in the nineteenth century. The sacred nature of artists’ work was foremost promoted by the poet and novelist Joséphine Péladan, who addressed artists with the following call: ‘Artiste, tu es prêtre: l’Art est le grand mystère, et lorsque ton effort about it au chef-d’œuvre, un rayon du divin descend comme sur un autel.’[xxiii] In 1892 he founded an artistic group dedicated to spirituality and the aesthetics of mystery – the Salon de la Rose+Croix. Khnopff not only exhibited at the Salon de la Rose+Croix in Paris, but also to a certain extent followed Péladan’a dogmas. Indeed, Khnopff turned his living and working space into a temple of art by creating a religious, almost supernatural atmosphere in his villa and elevating his art and artistic process almost to the status of a cult, which he attempted to transmit in the photographs of the villa.

Several altars dedicated to the most important emblems in Khnopff’s art and scattered around the house contributed to this atmosphere of the artistic cult. On the ground floor, opposite the staircase leading to the upper floors, was a blue niche containing the first altar of the house.

The Altar
The altar to Imagination in the blue niche. © Musées royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Bruxelles/ AACB.

It was a shrine to Imagination and comprised Khnopff’s sculpture of a winged mask executed in ivory, enamel and bronze on a thin blue column.[xxiv] The installation was placed against a Japanese embroidery with a crane on a blue background. The winged mask was a recurrent emblem of the artist’s private symbolism: it existed in several versions, including a sculpture in a polychrome plaster and appeared in Secret-Reflet (1902).


Another altar, dedicated to Hypnos, was placed in the most important part of the house – the artist’s studio upstairs. It comprised a copy of the bronze head of Hypnos from the British Museum, which dates back to the fourth century B.C., a Byzantine medallion, a case of clear glass, gilded bronze sphinxes and a base of Tiffany glass.[xxv] The motto ‘On n’a que soi’ inscribed behind the altar again invited to the exploration of the inner world of the self.


There were in fact two studios separated by draperies, and the second, smaller, altar to Hypnos. One was for completed works, and the other one held works in progress and numerous costume and set designs for the Théâtre de la Monnaie. Only the main studio, with finished works, was ever photographed. First Maria Biermé and later Laillet provided the evocations of the second studio in contemporary periodicals.[xxvi] And the idea of the artist as a Symbolist priest creating art effortlessly is evident in the photograph of Khnopff in his studio.

Fernand Khnopff in his studio.
Fernand Khnopff in his studio.

The artist is posing in front of a painting on the easel as if working on it, but the painting is already framed, which indicates that it is a finished work. The relaxed pose of Khnopff wearing fashionable suit instead of working clothes suggests the staged composition and addresses an image of the artist as a dandy. The similar artificial image is created in the photograph of Khnopff in front of the altar to Hypnos in the main studio, which Günter Metken characterises in the 1980 exhibition catalogue as following: ‘[i]l [Khnopff] se faisait photographier en dandy ou en prêtre symboliste, devant son autel à Hypnos.’ [xxvii]

Thus, following the contemporary fashion, Khnopff created a cult of his own enigmatic artistic personality reflected in the artificial and thoroughly constructed environment of the villa. This was supported by mysterious rituals that the artist was believed to perform in his dwelling. For instance, Khnopff was thought to stand in a golden circle inscribed on the mosaic floor of his studio underneath another circle on the ceiling with the constellation of Libra in the middle to find his inspiration.[xxviii] The effect of such meditation was enhanced by a whisper of a shallow fountain (see above image of main studio) with rose petals floating on its surface placed in the studio.[xxix] And during the guest visits to his house, Khnopff supported and developed the idea of himself as a mysterious artistic genius in his temple of art whose inspiration comes straight from above. As the Viennese painter Josef Engelhart reported, to enter the main studio, the visitors had to participate in a special ritual. The artist would rush into his working space, while a butler would lower a thick bar in front of guests preventing them from entering the studio.[xxx] It would be lifted up after some time, and the visitors would proceed inside greeted by the artist, his works resting on easels and the altar to Hypnos placed exactly opposite the entrance. According to Khnopff, this ritual was necessary for the guests to collect themselves before meeting with his art. Therefore, like the Goncourt house the Villa Khnopff received an aesthetic extension in performances interacting with the interior spaces of the dwelling. Moreover, this demonstrates that the concept of artificiality dominated not only the interiors of the villa and the artist’s establishment of his artistic image, but also the extensions of the dwelling in photography and performance.

Artificiality of the Villa Khnopff was partly linked to a unified aesthetic experience, which was promoted by Wagnerian ideas. Indeed, the artist’s residence brought together architecture, interior designs, sculpture, painting, and even music, which all worked collectively. This was most evident in the Blue Room located above the studio.

The Blue Room
The Blue Room.© Musées royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Bruxelles/ AACB.

It contained works by other artists, including a drawing by Burne-Jones of a woman’s head personally inscribed to Khnopff and an engraving made after Gustave Moreau’s David.[xxxi] The names of these two artists, who influenced Khnopff’s art and whom he held in a very high regard, were set in two gold rings on the wall separated by a small cast of Lord Leighton’s sculpture The Sluggard (1886).[xxxii] Moreau was one of the artists collected by des Esseintes. Khnopff’s portrait of his sister Marguerite (1887), who was his favourite model and his muse, crowned an altar dedicated to her. This familial shrine included a vase with flowers and a tennis racquet that referenced Khnopff’s first widely acknowledged work Memories (1889), which featured Marguerite in seven different poses. Khnopff would retire to this blue sanctuary at the end of the day to dream, contemplate and plan new works, surrounded by paintings and sculptures, while listening to the music coming through a large window from the studio downstairs.[xxxiii]

Fernand Khnopff, Memories (Du lawn tennis), 1889. Musées royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Brussels.

This granted him a full aesthetic experience of the Gesamtkunstwerk. Like in other rooms of the house, the furnishing was rather scarce, represented only by a blue divan and a table in this case.[xxxiv] This signifies that Khnopff preferred the theatricality and realisation of his artistic vision to his own comfort. Again, in this respect his villa resembles the artificiality of des Esseintes’ dwelling, but distinguishes from it with its austerity of interiors.

Thus, every room of the villa was defined by Khnopff’s collection of art, the emblems of his private symbolism, his celebration of everything unnatural and his pursuit of aesthetic pleasures even in small everyday domestic things. So much so that Waldschmidt noticed than even the flowers in the garden behind the villa looked like the background of a Quattrocento painting.[xxxv] And Khnopff emphasised this link between art and life in his photographic portraits taken in his residence. The artist occupies a rather insignificant place in these depictions as if he wants to hide among his artworks, to immerse and dissolve in his œuvre. He wants to be identified with his works or maybe even become a work of art in the spirit of the Marchesa Luisa Casati (1881-1957), who stated that she would want to be a living work of art.[xxxvi] At the same time, Khnopff elegantly poses in his dwelling harmoniously blending in with the interiors. It was probably his requirement as a sitter to be portrayed either contemplating in front of the altar to Hypnos and surrounded by his art or as if working in his studio. In the Symbolist world of Fernand Khnopff life and art were closely entwined.

Fernand Khnopff in front of his works.
Fernand Khnopff in front of his works.

As can be seen, the comparison of Khnopff to des Esseintes was very appropriate, as they both represented aesthetes withdrawn into their private artificial world. And the photographs of the Villa Khnopff closely reflect the artist’s celebration of everything that is unnatural as well as his carefully constructed artistic image. However, as Jeffery Howe points out in his book on Fernand Khnopff, this praise of artificiality and emulation of the main character of Huysmans’s novel sometimes bordered on self-parody.[xxxvii] A vivid example of that was a tortoise that des Esseintes decorated with precious stones and it eventually died. Khnopff had a living tortoise, which he considered too noisy and put it in the garden, and when he found it dead, he had it bronzed and kept it in his studio calling ‘My remorse’ (fig. 6: bottom right, next to Des Caresses).[xxxviii] Thus, artificiality in the artist’s life and perhaps art, though signified intellectualism and decadence, bore a mark of sadness and regret.


[i] Michel Draguet, Khnopff ou l’ambigu poétique (Ghent: Snoeck-Ducaju & Zoon, 1995), p. 337.

[ii] Wolfram Waldschmidt, ‘Das Heim eines Symbolisten’, Dekorative Kunst, Vol. XIV, 1906, pp. 158-166; Maria Biermé, ‘Fernand Khnopff’, La Belgique Artistique et Littéraire, July-September 1907, pp. 96 – 113; Louis Dumont-Wilden, George Garnir, Léon Souguenet, ‘L’Atelier de Fernand Khnopff, avenue des Courses’, Pourquoi pas?, December 15, 1910; Hélène Laillet, ‘The Home of an artist: M. Fernand Khnopff’s Villa at Brussels’, The Studio, Vol. LVII, No. 237, December 1912, pp. 201-207.

[iii] Louis Dumont-Wilden, Fernand Khnopff (Brussels: G. van Oest & Cie, 1907).

[iv] Dumont-Wilden, Fernand Khnopff, p. 26; Biermé, ‘Fernand Khnopff’, p. 97.

[v] For more information on the Goncourt’s ‘maison d’art’, see Juliet Simpson, ‘Edmond de Goncourt’s Décors – Towards the Symbolist Maison d’art’, Romance Studies, Vol. 29, No. 1, January 2011, pp. 1-18.

[vi] Dumont-Wilden, Fernand Khnopff, p. 30.

[vii] Simpson, ‘Edmond de Goncourt’s Décors’, p. 2.

[viii] Ibid.

[ix] Michel Draguet, Khnopff ou l’ambigu poétique (Ghent: Snoeck-Ducaju & Zoon, 1995), pp. 339-341.

[x] Laillet, ‘The Home of an artist’, p. 201.

[xi] Ibid.

[xii] Biermé, ‘Fernand Khnopff’, p. 102.

[xiii] Fernand Khnopff, ‘Mein Haus’, Die Zeit, 37-38, 2 Dezember 1904, No. 483, p. 9.

[xiv] Jeffery W. Howe, The symbolist art of Fernand Khnopff (Ann Arbor: UMI Research, 1979, 1982), p. 147. Though most of these details could be found in contemporary descriptions of the villa, according to Howe, he has enriched his overview of the house with the information obtained during his conversations with Khnopff’s former pupil in 1918-1920 M. Marcel Baugniet.

[xv] Howe, The symbolist art, p. 147.

[xvi] Dumont-Wilden, Fernand Khnopff, p. 26; Laillet, ‘The Home of an artist’, p. 201.

[xvii] Dumont-Wilden, Fernand Khnopff, p. 30.

[xviii] Laillet, ‘The Home of an artist’, p. 202.

[xix] Ibid.

[xx] Ibid.

[xxi] Ibid., p. 204.

[xxii] Sparklet [Albert Flament], ‘Le Trottoir roulant. Mardi 1er décembre’, L’écho de Paris, 6 December 1903, p. 1.

[xxiii] Sâr Péladan, “Préface au catalogue du pemier Salon de la Rose+Croix”, in Le Salon de la Rose+Croix: 1892-1897, Jean da Silva (Paris: Syros-Alternatives, 1991), p. 117.

[xxiv] Laillet, ‘The Home of an artist’, p. 202.

[xxv] Howe, The symbolist art, p. 148.


[xxvi] Biermé, ‘Fernand Khnopff’, pp. 103-104; Laillet, ‘The Home of an artist’, p. 205.

[xxvii] Günter Metken, “Fernand Khnopff et la modernité”, in Fernand Khnopff 1858-1921, Frans Boenders et al., (Brussels: Ministère de la communauté française de Belgique, Service de la diffusion des arts, 1980), p. 44.

[xxviii] Josef Engelhart, Ein Wiener Maler erzählt… Mein Leben und meine Modelle (Vienna, 1943), p. 89.

[xxix] Howe, The symbolist art, p. 148.

[xxx] Engelhart, Ein Wiener Maler erzählt…, p. 88.

[xxxi] Howe, The symbolist art, p. 149.

[xxxii] Ibid.

[xxxiii] Biermé, ‘Fernand Khnopff’, p. 112: “… sur l’atelier, de larges baies vitrées, car c’est dans cette chambre bleue que Fernand Khnopff se retire pour venir écouter religieusement la musique que des artistes exécutent dans son atelier”.

[xxxiv] Howe, The symbolist art, p. 149.

[xxxv] Waldschmidt, ‘Das Heim eines Symbolisten’, p. 166.

[xxxvi] Scot D. Ryersson and Michael Orlando Yaccarino, Infinite Variety: The Life and Legend of the Marchesa Casati (New York: Viridian Books, 1999), p. 1.

[xxxvii] Howe, The symbolist art, p. 145.

[xxxviii] Laillet, ‘The Home of an artist’, p. 204.

[i] Michel Draguet, Khnopff ou l’ambigu poétique (Ghent: Snoeck-Ducaju & Zoon, 1995), p. 337.

[ii] Wolfram Waldschmidt, ‘Das Heim eines Symbolisten’, Dekorative Kunst, Vol. XIV, 1906, pp. 158-166; Maria Biermé, ‘Fernand Khnopff’, La Belgique Artistique et Littéraire, July-September 1907, pp. 96 – 113; Louis Dumont-Wilden, George Garnir, Léon Souguenet, ‘L’Atelier de Fernand Khnopff, avenue des Courses’, Pourquoi pas?, December 15, 1910; Hélène Laillet, ‘The Home of an artist: M. Fernand Khnopff’s Villa at Brussels’, The Studio, Vol. LVII, No. 237, December 1912, pp. 201-207.

To Each His (or Her) Own: Piero di Cosimo’s Bacchanals for the Palazzo Vespucci

by Bryn Schockmel, Boston University

Piero di Cosimo’s The Discovery of Honey and The Misfortunes of Silenus are two of the only works by the artist with a firm provenance. Completed around 1500, the pair of spalliera paintings were commissioned by a member of the Vespucci family to celebrate a marriage. As the paintings’ original location is known, the Palazzo Vespucci, it is possible to develop theories regarding the significance these material objects would have held for the original intended audience, the bride and groom. It is my assertion that the paintings held one set of specific meanings for the husband and his male guests, while concurrently impacting the young wife in a very different manner.

Piero di Lorenzo di Piero d’Antonio was born January 2, 1462, most likely in Florence, to a blacksmith father.  Little is known about his life, and most of his artwork remains undocumented.  Giorgio Vasari paints a colorful picture of the artist, though many of his anecdotes are likely fantastical exaggerations.  It is known that Piero studied under Cosimo Rosselli, from whom he took his surname.  Vasari writes that Piero travelled with his master to Rome to assist with the frescoes on the walls of the Sistine Chapel, stating that Piero painted the landscape background in the Sermon on the Mount.[i]  It is unclear whether or not this particular story is true. Many modern scholars doubt its authenticity; if the account is factual it would be the only documented time that Piero left his native Florence.[ii]  Throughout his life, Piero di Cosimo appears to have been a prominent, and sought-after, artist in Florence, fulfilling contracts for the Strozzi, Pugliese, and Vespucci families. Piero was known for his professionalism, always completing his commissions.[iii]  Vasari, however, describes Piero as a somewhat crazy recluse.  Though Vasari’s stories about Piero do not seem to be based in fact, they persisted well into the twentieth century, with Erwin Panofsky similarly stating that Piero preferred to live by himself and was a bit mad.  Panofsky goes so far as to praise Vasari’s “convincing psychological portrait” of the artist.[iv]  Piero di Cosimo died in 1522, at the age of 60, seemingly of the plague.[v]

Piero di Cosimo, The Discovery of Honey by Bacchus, c.1499, oil on panel, Worcester Art Museum, Worcester, MA


Piero di Cosimo appears to have had a preference for painting on panels rather than frescoes.  The majority of his works are either commissions of religious subjects for private devotion or secular paintings for domestic settings.[vi]  Of the 50 or so paintings attributable to Piero di Cosimo, 18 have secular subjects, with the majority of those drawing their material from Classical mythology.[vii]  Ovid was certainly a font of inspiration for a number of Piero’s paintings; Lucretius may also have served as source.[viii]  In these domestic paintings, with their relatively limited exposure compared to large-scale public monuments, Piero had the freedom to be more adventurous, in terms of both subject matter and style.[ix]  At times, his works are even quite playful and comedic, as is certainly the case in the Bacchanals, which shall be the main focus of this paper.[x]

Piero di Cosimo, The Misfortunes of Silenus, c.1500, oil on panel, Harvard Art Museum, Cambridge, MA.

The storie baccanarie paintings, as they are called by Vasari, are comprised of The Discovery of Honey and The Misfortunes of Silenus, today in the Worcester Art Museum and Harvard Art Museums, respectively.[xi]  These two works are among the only paintings in Piero’s oeuvre that can be firmly linked to a specific patron:  the two spalliera paintings were almost certainly commissioned by a member of the Vespucci family, around the year 1500.  They would have been displayed in the Palazzo Vespucci in Florence, likely in the camera (bedroom).  The textual source behind the subject matter, as first noted by Panofsky, is Book III of Ovid’s Fasti.[xii]  The imagery closely follows the text, though Piero made some changes and added certain embellishments.

In the first of the pair, The Discovery of Honey, which dates from circa 1500, we find Bacchus and his entourage discovering (or perhaps more accurately, actively searching for) honey.[xiii]  As Ovid recounts the story, Bacchus and his satyr and nymph followers were walking along, clanging cymbals and other instruments, to rouse the bees and thus lead them to the honey.  Here the musical instruments are replaced with domestic household items, but with a similar effect:  the bees swarm out of their honeycomb attached to the tree in the center of the painting, revealing the honey to Bacchus and the others.[xiv] The main identifiable figures are Bacchus and Ariadne at the right, and Silenus, approaching the tree, riding a donkey.

In The Misfortunes of Silenus, Silenus takes center stage as he attempts to find honey on his own, but instead discovers a nest of wasps.  Here we have a true narrative, with the figure of Silenus repeated three times.  In the center, Silenus searches for honey in the old tree, only to be stung by a number of wasps, resulting in a fall from his donkey.  At the right satyrs attempt to help Silenus to his feet.  On the left the story continues, as they apply mud to help soothe his stings.  Here, too, the tale has been borrowed from Ovid’s Fasti.  This work is in a much worse state of repair than its pendant:  it was possibly left unfinished, and certainly heavily restored to remove the original rather explicit states of arousal of a number of the satyrs.[xv]  Like The Discovery of Honey, The Misfortunes of Silenus was painted around 1500 and is of a similar size.

Setting aside the dominant tree in the center of each work, the backgrounds are replete with landscape features.  Piero was known for his original and detailed landscapes, with the landscape itself frequently determining the layout of a painting.[xvi]  Many of these landscapes are quite different from those produced in Venice and other parts of Italy in the early sixteenth century, and seem to have more of a Flemish quality, like those of Hugo van der Goes.  Hugo’s famed Portinari Altarpiece arrived in Florence in May 1483 and had a profound affect on many Florentine artists—a function not only of his mastery of oil paint, but also his impressive and highly detailed landscapes.  Piero may very well have been influenced by the Portinari Altarpiece or other Northern works.[xvii]  The landscapes in his Bacchanals also have general connections to agriculture.  Bacchus, in addition to being the god of wine, was the god of grapes, and thus of vineyards and farming.  In Virgil’s Georgics, the author discusses the cultivation of bees, another type of agriculture.[xviii]

Tritons and Nereids
Piero di Cosmio, Tritons and Nereids, c.1505-1507, tempera on panel, Private Collection.

Two other works by Piero di Cosimo, each now in a private collection, are worth mentioning in relation to the Bacchanals.  Piero painted a pair of Tritons and Nereids, both long and thin, that may have been executed at the same time as the Bacchanals or, more likely, at a slightly later time, around 1505 or 1507.[xix]  The pair depict nereids (sea nymphs), satyrs, and tritons—classical creatures with the upper bodies of men, the tails of a fish or dolphin, and, occasionally, horse legs.  The two works are more of a frieze of characters than a true narrative.  They are relevant to a discussion of the Bacchanals as they, too, were displayed in the Vespucci Palace, likely alongside the Bacchanals.  They would have made for an intriguing grouping, with the terrestrial bacchanal thiasos contrasting with the marine thiasos found in the Tritons and Nereids. The inclusion of satyrs in the marine processional, an innovation on Piero’s part, would have further linked the two sets of paintings.[xx]


Tritons and Nereids4
Piero di Cosimo, Tritons and Nereids, c.1505-1507, tempera on panel, Private Collection.


Over the past century scholars have discerned a number of different meanings in Piero di Cosimo’s Bacchanals which are worth briefly examining here.  In a 1936/1937 article on The Discovery of Honey, Panofsky observed the distinct landscapes and features on either side of the large tree in the center of the composition.  He posited that to the right of the tree, with its dark and foreboding landscape, grey clouds, and twisting path up a treacherous hill, one finds man in his savage state, climbing trees, unrestrained.  On the left side of the tree one discerns a more civilized man:  an innocent pastoral scene, with a simple town in the background, the sun shining, and people processing in a neat, orderly fashion.  Panofsky coined the term “paysage moralisé” to refer to this kind of landscape.  He argued that, in this painting, honey is allegorical of a civilizing force, and that the scene reveals the advancement of mankind through small steps.[xxi]

More recent scholarship finds some trouble with Panofsky’s argument.  As a number of authors note, unlike the discovery of fire, for example, the discovery of honey is hardly a great civilizing achievement.[xxii]  Instead of interpreting the panels as moralizing works with great insight into humankind, some art historians simply view the paintings as playful, comedic entertainment.  There was certainly a taste for vulgar comedy among Renaissance Florentines, who would have enjoyed Silenus’ failed attempts to copy Bacchus and find honey on his own in The Misfortunes of Silenus.[xxiii]  That the paintings are humorous does not make them less intellectual or suitable for a humanist audience.  There are many examples of comedy and parody in Classical texts.[xxiv]  As entertaining works of art, the paintings still had the ability to provoke and challenge viewers.[xxv]  Piero has taken an ancient pastoral tale about the divine discovery of honey, and turned into something a bit more mischievous.[xxvi]

Though Panofsky’s reading has its merits, the more recent scholarship that focuses on the humor of the pieces, and what role they would have played for male viewers, in my opinion, perhaps comes closer to the artist’s original intent.  This is only part of the story, however.  To completely understand the function of the Bacchanals one must take into account where they were displayed, and the audience for whom they were intended, both male and female.  To do so, it is necessary to examine the patrons of the works—the Vespucci family.

The Vespucci were a prominent Florentine family in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and great patrons of the arts.  The family arrived in Florence from nearby Peretola.  The earliest Vespucci in Florence were wine sellers, not a particularly lofty profession.  By the late fourteenth century the Vespucci had risen to prominence:  Simone Vespucci, a silk manufacturer, was the first member of the family to gain wealth and status.  From 1434 onwards, the Vespucci regularly held office in Florence and had close ties with the Medici.[xxvii]  Amerigo Vespucci (1454 to 1512), an explorer for whom the Americas were named, is perhaps the most well-known member of the family.

In the second half of the fifteenth century, Guidantonio di Giovanni Vespucci (1436 to 1501) was a respected statesman, diplomat, and man of letters.  With his nephew, Amerigo, Guidantonio travelled to France as ambassador to King Louis XI.[xxviii]  After his return to Italy, Guidantonio served as the Florentine ambassador to the pope on multiple occasions in the 1480s and as ambassador to Charles VIII in Milan in the 1490s.[xxix]  On March 5, 1499, Guidantonio purchased the house on the Via de’ Servi where Piero di Cosimo’s Bacchanals were displayed.  The house had previously belonged to Lorenzo the Magnificent, with Guidantonio acquiring the property from the Arte del Cambio (the Guild of Bankers).  In 1533, the house was sold to Piero Salviati.[xxx]

Less is known about Guidantonio’s son, Giovanni di Guidantonio Vespucci (1476 to 1549).  He is described as a “letterato e latinista,” so perhaps took after his father, who was known to be a very learned man.[xxxi]  In 1500, Giovanni married Namiciana di Benedetto Nerli, and most scholars agree that Piero’s Bacchanals were commissioned around the time of the marriage.[xxxii]  Vasari states that it was Giovanni who hired Piero to create the Bacchanals.[xxxiii]  More recent art historical scholarship suggests that it is likely that the father, Guidantonio, was the one who commissioned the works.[xxxiv]  Whether father or son ordered the paintings from Piero di Cosimo, The Discovery of Honey and The Misfortunes of Silenus were almost certainly installed in the Palazzo Vespucci around the time of the Vespucci-Nerli marriage in 1500.  As a wedding gift for the bride and groom, the paintings would most likely have been displayed in the couple’s camera, or bedroom, within the Palazzo Vespucci.[xxxv]

Returning to the Bacchanals themselves, the panels are examples of spalliera painting, a type of material object that became part of the décor of a room.  The word spalliera can be quite difficult to define.  The root of spalliera comes from the Italian word for “shoulder,” conveying that spalliera were typically displayed at shoulder-level.  While the term spalliera could refer not just to paintings but also to decorative wooden wainscoting or even textiles, this paper shall concern itself solely with spalliera paintings.[xxxvi]  This type of art was used to decorate patrician homes during the Renaissance, most commonly from 1470 to 1515.[xxxvii]  Spalliera paintings were often purchased at the time of marriage.  Typically a period of three to six months passed from betrothal to marriage, and spalliera and other decorative objects were frequently commissioned during this time.[xxxviii]  Wedding spalliera paintings were usually ordered by the groom’s family, to decorate the new couple’s bedroom within the house of the groom’s father (in this instance, the Palazzo Vespucci).[xxxix]  Spalliera panels could also be displayed in the sala or anti-camera.[xl]

Spalliera paintings were intended to be viewed sequentially, and often contained a continuous landscape throughout.  The paintings were set within wooden wall paneling, between decorative pilasters or entablatures, or attached to or above various objects of furniture.[xli]  Frustratingly, inventories of the time usually describe only the subject matter of the works, making difficult reconstruction of the manner in which spalliera paintings were displayed.[xlii]  Piero di Cosimo executed a number of spalliera paintings, where, as works intended for private, domestic contexts, he had a greater degree of freedom to explore interesting subjects and experiment with new styles.[xliii]  The subject matter for these works could be sacred or secular, with Classical scenes and pastoral landscapes both common themes.[xliv]  The images were intended not only to be entertaining, but also instructive.[xlv]  For men, this could mean paintings of bravery, duty, and virtue, to encourage the groom to be a good husband.  For women, the panels might display the bride’s role as a loving wife, mother, and caretaker.[xlvi]

To understand the specific meanings of The Discovery of Honey and The Misfortunes of Silenus we must consider the works as they would have been displayed as material objects in the Palazzo Vespucci, viewed by the new bride and groom.  The same pair of paintings, in my view, would have held vastly different meanings for the wife and the husband.  For Giovanni, the images emphasized his Vespucci lineage, his standing in society, and his general intellect and culture.  One of the main reasons the subject matter was chosen was the pun of the Vespucci family name. Vespa is the Italian word for wasp and the Vespucci coat of arms incorporated wasps.[xlvii]  In The Misfortunes of Silenus, Silenus attempts to find honey, but discovers a nest of wasps instead.[xlviii]  Clearly the wasp-related subject matter is meant to highlight Giovanni’s place in the Vespucci family and his pride in his lineage.  Bacchus may also be a reference to the first Vespucci in Florence, who were wine sellers.  Certain scholars have opined that The Discovery of Honey relates to the great discoveries made by Amerigo Vespucci.  As Amerigo’s accounts of his travels were not published until 1504 and 1505, this would suggest that the paintings were not commissioned at the time of Giovanni’s wedding—an unlikely scenario.[xlix]  However, the Tritons and Nereids paintings, with their nautical theme, may indirectly refer to Amerigo and his voyages.  These paintings, which appear to have been displayed with the Bacchanals, were commissioned at a slightly later date, around 1505 or 1507.  Regardless of whether the imagery makes reference to a specific Vespucci—Amerigo—it certainly, through the wasps, refers to the Vespucci family, and Giovanni’s lineage, in general.

Beyond highlighting his ancestry, the paintings would have served other functions for the groom as well.  That Giovanni (or perhaps his father, Guidantonio) could afford to commission such works of art comments on his status and wealth.[l]  It is important to remember that the camera, during the Renaissance, was not a private space as bedrooms are today.  The camera could have been a site of social functions and was a place where business was frequently conducted.[li]  Many visitors to the Palazzo Vespucci would have entered the camera and have seen Piero’s paintings.  The works were a symbol of luxury, and would have served to impress guests.

In addition to being a symbol of wealth and standing, the paintings would have displayed Giovanni’s intelligence and culture.  They were intended for sophisticated, curious, and wealthy guests—works that would entertain and perhaps enlighten.  The paintings highlight Giovanni’s humanist education, and would have afforded visitors an opportunity to expound on Ovid’s stories.  In The Misfortunes of Silenus in particular, only clever viewers would have understood that Ovid’s story had been told out of order (if one reads the work from left to right).  The paintings were conversation pieces, challenging the viewer, and reflecting positively on the intelligence of the host.[lii]  Notably, the room within the palace that contained Piero di Cosimo’s paintings was highly praised throughout the sixteenth century.[liii]

Turning to Namiciana, the bride, the same pair of paintings would have functioned in an entirely different manner.  On a basic level, the paintings would have been a form of escapism, a glimpse of an entertaining outside world for a woman who would have rarely been allowed to leave her husband’s home.[liv]  More significantly, the two paintings emphasized the roles that Namiciana was intended to fulfil:  that of loving wife and mother, and of caretaker and overseer of domestic affairs.  As Thomas Matthews first observed, much of the imagery in The Discovery of Honey relates to themes of love, marriage, and fertility.  At the right we have Bacchus and his wife, Ariadne, a figure who is not necessary for the story.  After wine, Bacchus’ secondary interest was love.  To the right sits Pan, holding an onion, an ancient aphrodisiac.  At the left are nymphs, creatures regarded as guardians of marriage, with other pairs of lovers nearby.[lv]  The entire scene could be read not simply as a quest for honey, but as a marriage processional, celebrating the love of Bacchus and Ariadne.

In addition to imagery of love and marriage, both paintings contain a number of scenes referencing the other new role Namiciana would be expected to embrace:  motherhood.  In The Discovery of Honey, at the left one finds a female satyr nursing a child.[lvi]  In The Misfortunes of Silenus, children are at play in the foreground.  In the first painting, the landscape in general is incredibly fertile, with lush vegetation and animals (bears, monkeys, a lion, a boar) in the background.  The dominant tree in the center of the composition, with its womb-shaped opening, seems to almost be birthing a young satyr.[lvii]  Piero utilizes the tree as the link between honey and love, two things that have been connected since antiquity and the writings of Sappho.  The artist may be wishing that the bride and groom have a married life that is fruitful and as sweet as honey.[lviii]  At the same time, however, when paired with The Misfortunes of Silenus, the artist conveys that love, though sweet as honey, is occasionally painful, like the sting of the wasp.[lix]

All of these details would remind Namiciana, in a playful but still instructive manner, of her role as wife and mother.  Another detail in The Discovery of Honey may emphasize an additional role she would have taken on as a married woman, that of overseer of domestic affairs in her husband’s home.  In Ovid’s telling of the story, Bacchus’ followers clang cymbals and other instruments to stir up the bees and alert them to the presence of honey.  Piero has deliberately deviated from the text, replacing musical instruments with pots and pans and other household items.[lx]  The fifth figure from the left holds a type of waffle iron that was used, among other purposes, to create wedding waffles.[lxi]  Piero has perhaps included these domestic items to instill in Namiciana her new role as caretaker and overseer in the Palazzo Vespucci.

In The Discovery of Honey and The Misfortunes of Silenus, Piero di Cosimo succeeds in imbuing the paintings with two distinct sets of meanings.  In my conceptualization, for Giovanni, the paintings highlighted the groom’s Vespucci family lineage, emphasized his wealth and status, and provided a form of entertainment for Giovanni and his guests, allowing the men to assert their intelligence and humanist educations.  For the young bride, Namiciana, the spalliera paintings served a different function.  On the most basic level, the works would have offered a glimpse of an outside world that Namiciana would have had little opportunity to experience first-hand.  Perhaps more importantly, The Discovery of Honey and The Misfortunes of Silenus both provided, in a light-hearted yet still instructive manner, models of the new roles Namiciana would be taking on:  wife, mother, and manager of domestic affairs.  Piero di Cosimo succeeds brilliantly in creating a pair of paintings that at first glance appear to be playful and amusing, and yet on a deeper level, served very specific and distinct purposes for the bride and groom.


[i] Giorgio Vasari, Lives of the Painters, Sculptors and Architects, trans. Gaston du C. de Vere (New York:  Alfred A. Knopf, 1996), 651.

[ii] Dennis Geronimus, Piero di Cosimo: Visions Beautiful and Strange (New Haven:  Yale University Press, 2006), 14.

[iii] Geronimus, Piero di Cosimo: Visions, 26.  None of Piero’s extant works were left unfinished, with the possible exception of The Misfortunes of Silenus, one of the subjects of this paper.

[iv] Erwin Panofsky, “The Early History of Man in a Cycle of Paintings by Piero di Cosimo,” Journal of the Warburg Institute Vol. 1, No. 1 (July, 1937):  29.

[v] Geronimus, Piero di Cosimo: Visions, 18.

[vi] Sharon Fermor, Piero di Cosimo: Fiction, Invention and Fantasìa (London:  Reaktion Books, 1993), 16.

[vii] Fermor, Piero di Cosimo: Fiction, 41.

[viii] Alison Brown, “Lucretius and the Epicureans in the Social and Political Context of Renaissance Florence.” I Tatti Studies in the Italian Renaissance Vol. 9 (2001):  20.

[ix] Geronimus, Piero di Cosimo: Visions, 78.

[x] Paul Barolsky, Infinite Jest: Wit and Humor in Italian Renaissance Art (Columbia:  University of Missouri Press, 1978), 46.

[xi] Vasari uses the word “some” to describe the paintings, implying that originally the series may have consisted of more than two works. See John Miller, “Piero Di Cosimo’s Ovidian Diptych,” Arion Vol. 15, No. 2 (Fall, 2007):  7.

[xii] Patricia Emison, “The Paysage Moralisé,” Artibus et Historiae Vol. 16, No. 31 (1995):  131.

[xiii] The medium for the painting has alternatively been listed as oil on panel, tempera with oil glaze, and tempera and oil on panel. The most recent scholarship categorizes the painting as oil on panel.  See Gretchen Hirschauer and Dennis Geronimus, Piero di Cosimo: The Poetry of Painting in Renaissance Florence (Washington, D.C.:  National Gallery of Art, 2015), 144.

[xiv] Geronimus, Piero di Cosimo: Visions, 103.

[xv] Geronimus, Piero di Cosimo: Visions, 101.  Some of this censoring seems to have been done by Piero himself, perhaps because the imagery was deemed inappropriate for the young bride (and groom) for whom the paintings were created. See Hirschauer, Piero di Cosimo: Poetry, 144.

[xvi] Fermor, Piero di Cosimo: Fiction, 106 and 163.

[xvii] Hirschauer, Piero di Cosimo: Poetry, 8 and Fermor, Piero di Cosimo: Fiction, 175.

[xviii] Paul Barolsky, “As in Ovid, So in Renaissance Art,” Renaissance Quarterly Vol. 51, No. 2 (Summer, 1998):  465.  Another sign that the landscape is perhaps more tamed than originally appears is the large central tree in The Discovery of Honey.  This tree is not uncultivated but has, in fact, been pollarded, or trimmed, to allow for bushier growth.  See Geronimus, Piero di Cosimo: Visions, 21.

[xix] Hirschauer, Piero di Cosimo: Poetry, 151.

[xx] Emison, “Paysage Moralisé,” 204.

[xxi] For Panofsky’s complete analysis, see Erwin Panofsky, “The “Discovery of Honey” by Piero di Cosimo,” Worcester Art Museum Annual Report II (1936-1937):  32-43.  See also R. Langton Douglas, Piero di Cosimo (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1946), 63.

[xxii] Thomas Matthews, “Piero di Cosimo’s Discovery of Honey,” The Art Bulletin Vol. 45, No. 4 (December, 1963):  358-359.

[xxiii] Barolsky, Infinite Jest, 48.

[xxiv] Fermor, Piero di Cosimo: Fiction, 85.

[xxv] Hirschauer, Piero di Cosimo: Poetry, 18.

[xxvi] Geronimus, Piero di Cosimo: Visions, 102.

[xxvii] Gene Brucker, Renaissance Florence (Los Angeles:  University of California Press, 1969), 95.

[xxviii] Andreas Höfele and Werner von Koppenfels, eds., Renaissance Go-Betweens: Cultural Exchange in Early Modern Europe (Berlin:  Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co., 2005), 126.

[xxix] Frederick Pohl, Amerigo Vespucci: Pilot Major (London:  Frank Cass and Company, 1944), 26.

[xxx] Geronimus, Piero di Cosimo: Visions, 100.

[xxxi] Geronimus, Piero di Cosimo: Visions, 82.

[xxxii] Anne Barriault, Spalliera Paintings of Renaissance Tuscany: Fables of Poets for Patrician Homes (University Park:  Pennsylvania State University Press, 1994), 152 and Geronimus, Piero di Cosimo: Visions, 100.

[xxxiii] Vasari, Lives, 657.

[xxxiv] R. Langton Douglas, “The Fall of Man by Piero di Cosimo,” The Burlington Magazine Vol. 86, No. 507 (June, 1945):  134, note 2 and Louisa Dresser, ed., European Paintings in the Collection of the Worcester Art Museum (Worcester:  Worcester Art Museum, 1974), 437.

[xxxv] Hirschauer, Piero di Cosimo: Poetry, 144.

[xxxvi] Barriault, Spalliera, 11-13.

[xxxvii] Peta Motture and Luke Syson, “Art in the casa,” in At Home in Renaissance Italy, eds. Marta Ajmar-Wollheim and Flora Dennis (London:  V&A Publications, 2006), 274.  Painted spalliera panels replaced in popularity painted cassoni (chests), which had been a dominant domestic decoration earlier in the fifteenth century.

[xxxviii] Geronimus, Piero di Cosimo: Visions, 80.

[xxxix] Barriault, Spalliera, 5 and 108.

[xl] Geronimus, Piero di Cosimo: Visions, 80.

[xli] Barriault, Spalliera, 2.

[xlii] Cosimo Rosselli’s painting of the Last Supper in the Sistine Chapel provides a suggestion of how these panels would have looked in situ.  See Barriault, Spalliera, 10 and 20.

[xliii] Fermor, Piero di Cosimo: Fiction, 41.

[xliv] Barriault, Spalliera, 5 and 61 and James Lindow, The Renaissance Palace in Florence: Magnificence and Splendour in Fifteenth-Century Italy (Burlington:  Ashgate, 2007), 166.

[xlv] Motture, “Art in the casa,” 276.

[xlvi] Barriault, Spalliera, 6.

[xlvii] Patrons were often directly involved in the selection of the subject, so it may very well have been Guidantonio or Giovanni who proposed the clever pun with the family name. See Geronimus, Piero di Cosimo: Visions, 78.

[xlviii] Similarly, Botticelli’s Venus and Mars, also commissioned by the Vespucci, has a wasp’s nest in the upper right hand corner.  See Geronimus, Piero di Cosimo: Visions, 100.

[xlix] Höfele, Renaissance Go-Betweens, 126.

[l] Geronimus, Piero di Cosimo: Visions, 78. 

[li] Lindow, Renaissance Palace, 129 and 131.

[lii] Geronimus, Piero di Cosimo: Visions, 81-82.

[liii] Everett Fahy, Jr., “Some later works of Piero di Cosimo,” Gazette des Beaux Arts Vol. 65 (April, 1965):  203.

[liv] Barriault, Spalliera, 5-6.

[lv] Matthews, “Discovery of Honey,” 359.

[lvi] Matthews, “Discovery of Honey,” 359.

[lvii] Hirschauer, Piero di Cosimo: Poetry, 145.

[lviii] Matthews, “Discovery of Honey,” 360.

[lix] Hirschauer, Piero di Cosimo: Poetry, 144.

[lx] Geronimus, Piero di Cosimo: Visions, 102-103.

[lxi] Hirschauer, Piero di Cosimo: Poetry, 148.



Barolsky, Paul. “As in Ovid, So in Renaissance Art.” Renaissance Quarterly Vol. 51, No. 2 (Summer, 1998):  451-474.

———. Infinite Jest: Wit and Humor in Italian Renaissance Art.  Columbia:  University of Missouri Press, 1978.

Barriault, Anne. Spalliera Paintings of Renaissance Tuscany: Fables of Poets for Patrician Homes.  University Park:  Pennsylvania State University Press, 1994.

Brown, Alison. “Lucretius and the Epicureans in the Social and Political Context of Renaissance Florence.” I Tatti Studies in the Italian Renaissance Vol. 9 (2001):  11-62.

Brucker, Gene. Renaissance Florence.  Los Angeles:  University of California Press, 1969.

Douglas, R. Langton. “The Fall of Man by Piero di Cosimo.” The Burlington Magazine Vol. 86, No. 507 (June, 1945):  134-139.

———. Piero di Cosimo.  Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1946.

Dresser, Louisa, editor. European Paintings in the Collection of the Worcester Art Museum.  Worcester:  Worcester Art Museum, 1974.

Emison, Patricia. “The Paysage Moralisé.” Artibus et Historiae Vol. 16, No. 31 (1995): 125-137.

Fahy, Everett, Jr. “Some later works of Piero di Cosimo.”  Gazette des Beaux Arts Vol. 65 (April, 1965): 201-212.

Fermor, Sharon. Piero di Cosimo: Fiction, Invention and Fantasìa.  London:  Reaktion Books, 1993.

Geronimus, Dennis. Piero di Cosimo: Visions Beautiful and Strange.  New Haven:  Yale University Press, 2006.

Hirschauer, Gretchen and Dennis Geronimus. Piero di Cosimo: The Poetry of Painting in Renaissance Florence.  Washington, D.C.:  National Gallery of Art, 2015.

Höfele, Andreas and Werner von Koppenfels, editors. Renaissance Go-Betweens: Cultural Exchange in Early Modern Europe.  Berlin:  Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co., 2005.

Lindow, James. The Renaissance Palace in Florence: Magnificence and Splendour in Fifteenth-Century Italy.  Burlington:  Ashgate, 2007.

Matthews, Thomas. “Piero di Cosimo’s Discovery of Honey.” The Art Bulletin Vol. 45, No. 4 (December, 1963):  357-360.

Miller, John. “Piero Di Cosimo’s Ovidian Diptych.” Arion Vol. 15, No. 2 (Fall, 2007):  1-14.

Motture, Peta and Luke Syson. “Art in the casa.”  In At Home in Renaissance Italy, edited by Marta Ajmar-Wollheim and Flora Dennis, 268-283.  London:  V&A Publications, 2006.

Panofsky, Erwin. “The “Discovery of Honey” by Piero di Cosimo.” Worcester Art Museum Annual Report II (1936-1937):  32-43.

———. “The Early History of Man in a Cycle of Paintings by Piero di Cosimo.” Journal of the Warburg Institute Vol. 1, No. 1 (July, 1937):  12-30.

Pohl, Frederick. Amerigo Vespucci: Pilot Major.  London:  Frank Cass and Company, 1944.

Vasari, Giorgio. Lives of the Painters, Sculptors and Architects.  Translated by Gaston du C. de Vere.  New York:  Alfred A. Knopf, 1996.

Fabricating Innocence and Fashioning Sexuality: The Material Culture of the Female Child in Nineteenth Century British and French Art

by Sophie Handler,  Durham University

Throughout medieval Europe, the most prevailing opinion of the state of children was their inherent sinfulness. The belief in the notion of Original Sin at home in the child, only to be cleansed away on one’s journey to adulthood through a positive, dutiful and pious life, was strong and widespread, such was the power and influence of the Church. The infiltration of Enlightenment philosophy from the eighteenth century onwards turned the world of established European thought on its head. The Middle Ages’ view of the young was characterised by “the temptation to equate the child with the savage”.[i] As close to basic physical and sexual urges as animals, children had to learn to become civilised in order to be considered human, for “childhood [was] merely the life of a beast”.[ii] However, by the eighteenth century, empirical thought had made considerable headway in chipping away at the cultural cornerstone of Europe that was religion, and began replacing it with a more sceptical attitude that declared man responsible for the corruption of an otherwise innocent and pure child. Accordingly, eroticism was no longer seen as something innate within a child, but acquired through exposure to the evil of the adult world; “crucial to the modern conception of childhood as a state of innocence was the notion that sexuality is dormant, or even non-existent, in the prepubescent body”.[iii] This attestation generated a sense of urgency on the part of social thinkers and philosophers of the period to protect the innocence of the young for as long as possible. In complete contrast to the tolerance of the unruly, carnal child of the medieval era, the Enlightenment period saw every effort imaginable to shield infants from the immorality of the world, perhaps to such a degree, according to some, that most anything besides the overtly pure and innocuous was considered a taboo subject, regardless of its natural roots: “Foucault contends that during the Enlightenment people became deprived of certain ways of speaking about sex”.[iv]

It is unsurprising, then, that by the nineteenth century, attitudes to the moral fibre of the child, particularly in relation to sexuality, were muddled and varied at best. Linda Pollock accurately summarised the perplexity of the situation thus: “The mingling of sexuality and purity, freedom and restraint, material indulgence and corporal punishment, in attitudes to and treatment of children in the nineteenth century indicates both the legacy of the past and the increased anxiety of Victorian society with respect to the new emphasis on the responsibilities of parents and educators”.[v] Social reform in Europe in the nineteenth century had launched parents especially into the spotlight of public scrutiny with regards to appropriate care and education of children, which had consequently intensified anxieties over the place of sexuality in the lives of children.[vi] Far from a sensible and considered approach being established, the pressure of the modern age appeared to merely conflate the issue, most often resulting in the projection of two very polarised images of the child, reflecting the paradoxical combination of innocence and sexuality at play: “in nineteenth-century Europe the diffusion and sentimental glorification of the cult of childhood coincided exactly with an unprecedented industrial exploitation of children”.[vii]

Correspondingly, this paper shall investigate the ways in which these two conflicting ideas of the child were represented in the visual culture of nineteenth century Britain and France, focusing on the depiction of the female child. This focus upon girls invites an issue that is something of a crux to the paper; that is to say, the identities, roles and manifestations assumed by children in these examples of visual culture are invariably a construct of adult design, a physical or symbolic ideal or concession to support popular and material culture of the epoch. The significance of the female child arises from the fact that this commodification of the image of the child is intensified tenfold in the case of little girls, who, from a very young age are “prepared to be looked at by another”, serving as a constant reminder that “the feminine body is constructed for display”.[viii] [ix] The ineffectualness of the child becomes enhanced yet further when that child is female, for her powerlessness does not dissipate gradually on the pathway through adolescence to adulthood as it does for boys. She will remain similarly objectified and manipulated throughout her life, having been prepared and worked upon for this very purpose from an early age. Given that childhood in general has been “primarily a cultural invention and a site of emotional projection by adults”, the subject of the female child becomes all the more loaded, meaning that “representing them visually can project adult questions and assumptions about the social order and can place [female] children in a political (and often sexual) economy that is greater than the contingency of the individual child”. [x] [xi] In order to investigate this issue, this paper will explore and discuss various examples of revealing visual culture of the period, including the work of Impressionist artist Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919), the fairy paintings of British artists John Simmons (1823-1876) and Robert Huskisson (1820-1861), the photography of writer Lewis Carroll (1832-1898), and relevant advertising artwork of the period. By turning to some of the most prevalent yet simultaneously controversial artwork of this era from either side of the Channel, this paper can arguably obtain the most accurate gauge of how the female child was viewed and presented, both in terms of the extremes of artistic license and the representativeness, acceptance and popularity of such artwork amongst the general public.

Whilst in most art historical accounts, Impressionism is hailed as a deliciously treasonous movement, brashly subverting the established style and subject matter of the academic art world, its presentation of girlhood is all too often obedient and supportive of the status quo. [xii] Instead of concentrating on the blotchy, heavily stylised landscapes that gave Impressionism its name and renown, and which were so popular with key artists of the movement like Claude Monet (1840-1926) and Alfred Sisley (1839-1899), Renoir became arguably the most prolific producer of Impressionist artwork in which the focus was people in everyday scenes. From sisters collecting flowers and dreamy boat trips to intimate dancing couples and busy café scenes, Renoir became the purveyor of the simple bourgeois social scene for the Impressionist movement. Indeed, for although his style was decidedly neglectful of traditionally accepted techniques as supported by the Salon, conversely, his compositions often buttressed the approved lifestyle of the conforming middle classes. This is perhaps particularly evident in his idyllic family arrangements of mothers, daughters and sisters, whose leisurely role in the home “emphasises this cyclical reproduction of ideal feminine domesticity” at the heart of bourgeois culture. Consider, for example, Renoir’s Children’s Afternoon at Wargemont (1884), in which three sisters of varying ages are depicted partaking in activities appropriate to their delicately domestic upbringing and future, such as reading and sewing. [xiii]

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Children’s Afternoon at Wargemont, 1884, oil on canvas, Alte Nationalgalerie, Berlin, Germany.

These pastimes are peaceful and require little or no supervision; Renoir enhances the quiet insignificance of these girls and their activities by carefully blending them into their surroundings. The girl on the left in particular almost becomes part of the furniture; dressed in shades of blue and white and holding a blue book, she becomes camouflaged in the settee upon which she is seated, her chambray skirt fanning out into the navy stripes of the upholstery, which in turn fades into the blues of the wall behind. Similarly, though not to the same extent, the girl on the right, dressed in reds and with a plait of auburn hair is placed before a predominantly russet background. Far from individuals in their own right, these girls, engrossed in their pastimes, are a decorative feature of a blissful middle class home. Subject to the voyeuristic gaze of the adult viewer, they are “put on display as a commodity of bourgeois culture, signifying wealth, leisure and domesticity”, neither their activities nor appearance disturbing the idyll. [xiv]

It is perhaps the youngest girl in the centre of the composition who is most interesting, however. Unlike her sisters, her dress contrasts with the fabrics immediately surrounding her, and she is not wholly engaged with an activity, instead stood slightly nonchalantly, looking out of the artwork and in the general direction of the viewer, possibly meeting his gaze in a more confident, perhaps coquettish manner. Significantly, she is holding a doll, whose general appearance and countenance is strikingly similar to her own; that is to say, Renoir has seemingly painted the child’s face in much the same way as the doll’s, supporting the notion that in nineteenth-century Europe, “dolls had a powerful influence in helping to internalise, on an unprecedented scale, stereotyped role models”.[xv] In order to compete with the enormously successful German toy market, French company Jumeau, founded in the early 1840s, began designing and manufacturing high quality bisque dolls, whose soaring popularity with the middle and upper classes resulted in an explosion in doll sales by the latter decades of the nineteenth century.

Example of a Jumeau doll.

Far from an innocuous plaything, the Jumeau dolls became a powerful tool by which adults could project their ideals onto children, for these immaculate miniatures embodied the tiny ladies to which these little girls ought to aspire; “the dolls were as placid and perfect as the parent wished the child to be”.[xvi] Spotlessly manicured, stylishly clad, with engaging and unflinching eyes, sweet mutism and reassuring stillness, the Jumeau doll provided the perfect example of feminine decoration and domesticity from which the obedient and dutiful bourgeois girl could learn, and which Renoir’s portrayal of girls eagerly conflated. The ivory complexion, soft rosy cheeks and bright glassy eyes of Renoir’s infant subjects, combined with their idle and somewhat ornamental positioning in the home supported the aesthetic and behavioural ideal for the little bourgeois girl: “the prevalence of the doll type as a visual standard of children shows that children – girls especially – were being commodified as an essential element of bourgeois spectacle”.[xvii]

To explicate this issue yet further, it is important to understand the potential inferences that can be drawn from the name Jumeau, which translates from French to mean ‘twin’, and thus carries a sense of novelty appealing to a materialistic audience or buyer. This is perhaps best explored by looking to another of Renoir’s paintings, Pink and Blue (1881), a portrait of Alice and Elisabeth, the daughters of Jewish French banker Louis Raphaël Cahen d’Anvers.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Pink and Blue, 1881, oil on canvas, Sau Paulo Museum of Art, Sau Paulo, Brazil.

Although not twins, Elisabeth was just fourteen months older than Alice, and the resemblance is palpable, further expounded by their outfits. The sisters, like a pair of little Jumeau dolls, are positioned before the viewer in matching outfits, separable only by the pink or blue embellishments, as if to offer the consumer a choice of colour, or indeed the complete set of two: “these children are like commodities on a store shelf, the shiniest of many luxury goods”.[xviii]

Reflective of the paradoxical projection of both innocence and sexuality upon the female child in this period, Renoir’s presentation of little girls fittingly corresponds to both characterisations. On the one hand, she embodies the pure innocence of childhood, partaking in simple, harmless activities, seemingly unaware of the adult surveillance to which she is subject; on the other, she has been prepared for viewing, trained from an early age to perform the appealing and perversely alluring role laid out for her, and which she is thus far unable to fully comprehend. Perhaps then, she personifies the “infantile stage of sexual ignorance (not innocence)”, for she is simply unaware, or at least does not wholly appreciate, the sexual economy into which she has been forced from an early age as an unavoidable rite of passage to womanhood. [xix] This is conflated and muddied yet further by the contention that in some cyclical twist, it is from the very innocence and purity of the female child that her sexual appeal is derived. Given that women of nineteenth century Europe had few, if any, rights beyond those of a child, it is unsurprising that the traditional male voyeur gleaned some sexual intrigue if not satisfaction from the same basic sense of innocence and powerless which characterises the perceived role and image of both women and little girls. [xx]  The traditional social expectation of women in this era, namely that they should be “pious, modest, virtuous and chaste” could equally be applied to one’s anticipations of a little girl, a comparison that becomes all the more poignant when coupled with the fact that in nineteenth century France at least, a married woman was considered a minor. [xxi] [xxii] In both life and culture, “young girls and adult men are the preferred couple”, and being that “rich men turned young and beautiful women into ‘trophy wives’ [who were] pampered, indulged and well-dressed, but […] uneducated, led pointless lives, and were little more than rich men’s playthings and status symbols”, it is scarcely remarkable that this deep preoccupation of innocence extended yet further to those most innocent and thus with the most potential for modulation, control and even initiation. [xxiii] [xxiv]

The nineteenth century saw a disconcerting shift in its symbolic figurehead, the middle class adult male. Whilst originally a protective authority, albeit an increasingly curious “voyeur of puberty”, the middle class man was transforming instead into an individual of considerable means and power dangerously captivated by the notion of “childhood innocence sullied by adult intrusion”. [xxv] [xxvi] It was Victorian Britain especially in which morbid and perverse fascination of all sorts flourished, and indeed where “the child-woman came into vogue [as] one yearned for unripeness”, and so the popularity of the bizarrely tantalising art form of fairy painting soared. [xxvii] The combination of the erotic and the supernatural in the art world was not new to the nineteenth century. Consider Henry Fuseli’s (1741-1825) 1781 painting The Nightmare, which, whilst ostensibly depicting a sleeping woman and the demonic manifestation of her nightmare, has overtly sexual motifs running through it, including connotations of violent male libido, conquest and rape of a virgin, and female orgasm. This mingling of the supernatural with taboo aspects of sexuality reached a climax of sorts in Victorian fairy paintings, which offered its viewers an acceptable and accessible way of exploring “a mixture of childish innocence and ripening eroticism”.[xxviii] Once again, the female child is “on passive display, an object of visual pleasure”, and now, instead of a doll, fills the role of a sweet little fairy, disturbingly similar to the ones found in her storybooks, thus partaking in the dangerous, though carefully otherworldly, game of mystical sexual initiation. [xxix] Against a backdrop of advancing awareness of the potentiality of the sexual life of the child, especially in light of “the Victorian era’s cultural fascination with fallenness and prostitution” and the wavering ambivalence towards the eroticising powers of the male gaze, fairy paintings offered an escape into the harmless, fictional land of guilty pleasures: “it often seems as if pictorial fairies overtly acted out what humans only covertly expressed in literature and kept under wraps in varying degrees in real life”. [xxx] [xxxi] By equating the little girl to a fairy, a chaste and miniature being belonging to a fictional universe, she is both protected by the reaffirmation of her innocence and unobtainability in the real world, and eroticised as a sexually appealing commodity to be viewed and sought, instead of appreciated and understood as a person.

John Simmons’ watercolour painting of 1872, entitled There Titania Lies, is just one example of his extensive work on Shakespeare’s fairy queen Titania. In the centre middle ground of the piece lies Titania, the reclining, erotic yet unknowing nude illuminated by her ethereal fairy bedchamber, sleepy, if not sleeping, and angelic. She is surrounded, in the foreground, by a collection of similarly delicate and unconscious fairies, one of whom, in the centre of this protective ring of supernaturalism, is clearly a small fairy child, huddled in the foetal position, the purest of the pure. The dusky background features the vague figure of an adult male approaching; whilst we may assume this is Oberon, Shakespeare’s king of the fairies, this is unclear, and could just as easily be some sort of threatening imposter suggestive of “rather orgiastic undertones, […] of male desire and possession” as he makes his way towards the collection of virginal girl fairies. [xxxii]

Robert Huskisson, The MIdsummer Night’s Fairies, 1847, oil on mahogany, Tate, London, United Kingdom.

A strikingly similar scene is replicated in Robert Huskisson’s painting The Midsummer Night’s Fairies (1847), in which the figure of Titania lies limp and unaware in the light of her purity, whilst a strong and virile knight approaches her from the opaque darkness behind, his white helmet plume aloft as he surveys this diminutive yet invitingly voluptuous child-woman, Huskisson’s use of chiaroscuro emphasising their moral polarity: “sleeping, recumbent, and vulnerable, she is visited by an erect […] youth with a shield […] who has entered her private boudoir”.[xxxiii] The secondary scene in the foreground is a violent one, featuring muscular male fairies battling one another, their lances raised and threatening, perhaps indicative of the all too frequent “sinister spectre of rape or assault [who] lurks in many corners” of the Victorian fairy world of lust, aggression, and prepubescent erotic investiture. [xxxiv] Ultimately, the fixation with fairy paintings points to a need for an outlet through which sexual taboos of the period (which included concepts of bestiality and gender non-conformity as well as the exploitation of young girls) could be safely explored and even enjoyed. Both virtuous and enticing, whilst maintaining a crucial level of fiction and thus separation from the human world, fairies served as the perfect fantasy, the personification of “the ubiquitous fetishisation of girlhood which is at once innocent and erotic”.[xxxv]

More worrying perhaps is the fact that such fetishisation and commodification of little girls, particularly on a paradoxical see-saw combining innocence and sexuality, extended beyond the fictional world and emerged into the human one. Charles Dodgson, better known by his pen name Lewis Carroll, is most renowned for his works about Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865 onwards), but it is his photographs of little girls, in particular a little girl named Alice Liddell, the reported inspiration behind his eponymous character, which is of particular interest to this paper. Carroll spent a considerable amount of time and often photographed the daughters of friends and acquaintances, (consider for example, his controversial child-nudes featuring sisters Beatrice and Evelyn Hatch), frequently terming the infantile muses his ‘child friends’. Whilst Carroll sought and cultivated “the friendship of many little girls”, it was arguably Alice Liddell to whom he was most firmly attached. [xxxvi] The daughter of Henry Liddell, a long-established friend of Carroll’s from the University of Oxford, Alice became something of a muse to the young writer, manifesting herself in a series of photographs, which have, in more modern times, come under significant scrutiny for their paedophilic undertones.

Lewis Carroll, Open your mouth, and shut your eyes, 1858, photograph, Princeton University Library.

Consider as a prime example, Carroll’s 1858 photograph Open your mouth, and shut your eyes, in which Alice is pictured alongside her sisters Lorina and Edith, one sister dangling a pair of cherries before another who waits with closed eyes and open mouth, whilst the third sister watches. On the one hand, it is simply a portrait of three young sisters, wearing their white Sunday dresses. On the other, of course, it is overtly sexual; from the title of the photograph, suggestive of tactile and sensory games, to the poignant use of the cherries, a symbol of virginity and the relinquishment thereof, in the hands of Carroll as a practiced coercer. Perhaps an insight into the largely secretive and thus controversial relationship between Carroll and Alice, the image of cherry bobbing, just like “an adult male playing with a little girl, carries erotic connotations of sexual initiation”.[xxxvii] Reinforced by the third sister who coquettishly observes the scene, this is an acting-out of feminine, infantile sexuality to a captive audience, a “performance of childhood for the adult”.[xxxviii] Encouraging the little girl to come out and play on this intimate stage is metaphorical of the “titillating attractions of the young girl becoming a sexually mature adult”.[xxxix]

Stretching beyond the realm of art and entertainment, the power of the fetishised girl carried economic sway, allowing the materialistic and greedy heart of nineteenth century Europe to maximise upon her potential: female “childhood was elaborately capitalised”.[xl] Interestingly adopting a similar focus on the heavily loaded symbol of the cherry, British soap company Pears made use, from the early 1900s onwards, of John Everett Millais’ (1829-1896) 1879 work Cherry Ripe.

John Everett Millais, Cherry Ripe, 1879, oil on canvas, Private Collection.

Originally commissioned by the editor of Victorian newspaper The Graphic, the image proved immensely popular. Featuring a young girl sat beside a bundle of cherries, she is dressed in eighteenth century garb, a nostalgically unreachable image of yesteryear. Her tiny hands pressed together in black fingerless gloves and her ankles are exposed as her skirts bunch around her thighs and hips, suggestive of the curves which will develop beneath the fabric. As she gazes out to the viewer, half smiling, the inference here is that the little girl is ripening just like the cherries. However, her smile is unfounded, for like the other dolls and fairy girls to which she can be compared, her role and appearance is a construct that in itself feeds off its own ignorance: “girl children in particular must not be seen to explore sexual knowledge on their own terms […] they must perform childishness as if unaware of their sexual appeal”.[xli] Once again buttressing the juxtaposition of innocence and sexualisation in which the little girl is passively embroiled, this coy child is unknowingly harnessed for her pubescent sexual appeal in order to sell a product solely for the purposes of cleansing, cleanliness and purity.

A doll, a fairy, or a nostalgic ideal of the past or even one’s own youth, the female child is constructed in a contradictory manner that reflects her lack of natural place in nineteenth century Europe. Her absence of personal or cultural identity as formed on an independent basis conflates her role as harnessed by the beholders of the male gaze. As the miniature version of the already commodified woman, even more ineffectual than her adult counterpart, her existence and image renders her all the more useful to the unbending culture of materiality into which she has been tossed. Perplexed and unnerved by an unfathomable array of historical and philosophical accounts and teachings on the role and morality of the female child, the powerful male populace of nineteenth century Britain and France manipulated this situation, as they did with many others, in order to benefit from the material gains that their influence of careful modulation could afford. Little girls, like dolls and fairies, quite literally became constructions, not so much formed of bisque, fabric and painted magic, as of greed, enterprise and power.


[i] Colin, Heywood, Growing Up in France: From the Ancien Régime to the Third Republic (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 286.

[ii] Ibid, 1.

[iii] Jennifer Milam, “Sex education and the child: gendering erotic response in eighteenth-century France”, in Picturing Children: Constructions of childhood between Rousseau and Freud, ed. Marilyn R. Brown. (Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing Company, 2002), 45.

[iv] Ibid, 49.

[v] Linda A. Pollock, foreword to Picturing Children: Constructions of childhood between Rousseau and Freud, by Marilyn R. Brown (Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing Company, 2002),  xix.

[vi] For example, the loi sur la déchéance de la puissance paternelle (‘law on the forfeiture of parental power’), which was passed in France in 1889 and essentially dictated that parents would lose their rights as such if convicted of “crimes committed against ‘the person or persons of their children’”. Sylvia Schafer, Children in Moral Danger and the Problem of Government in Third Republic France. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997), 19.

[vii] Brown, Picturing Children , 3.

[viii] Patricia Holland, Picturing Childhood: The myth of the child in popular imagery (London: I.B Tauris & Co Ltd, 2006), 188.

[ix] Ibid, 188.

[x] Brown, Picturing Children , 1.

[xi] Ibid , 2.

[xii] Renowned figure of the nineteenth century Parisian art scene, Louis Leroy (1812-1885) famously coined the term ‘impressionist’ by way of scathingly satirising Claude Monet’s artwork in a review for Le Charivari in 1874. John Rewald. The History of Impressionism. (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1973), 323. In more contemporary times, the National Gallery (London), for example, defines Impressionism as a “radical breakaway movement”. http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/learn-about-art/guide-to-impressionism/guide-to-impressionism

[xiii] Greg M. Thomas, “Impressionist Dolls: on the commodification of girlhood in Impressionist painting” in Picturing Children: Constructions of childhood between Rousseau and Freud, ed. Marilyn R. Brown. (Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing Company, 2002), 105.

[xiv] Thomas, “Impressionist Dolls”, 107.

[xv] Ibid, 105.

[xvi] King, Constance Eileen King, Jumeau (Atiglen: Schiffer Publishing, 1983), 92.

[xvii] Thomas, “Impressionist Dolls”, 104.

[xviii] Ibid, 108.

[xix] Milam, “Sex education”, 47.

[xx] In the French Third Republic, for example, a married woman was considered a minor, over 40% of French women were illiterate and therefore excluded from education, and those who found employment had to settle for unskilled work for which they were paid less than half of their male counterparts. William Fortescue. The Third Republic in France 1870-1940: Conflicts and Continuities. (London: Routledge, 2000), 83-96.

[xxi] Fortescue. The Third Republic, 80.

[xxii] Ibid, 83.

[xxiii] Valerie Walkerdine. Daddy’s Girl: Young Girls and Popular Culture. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1997), 140.

[xxiv] Fortescue, The Third Republic, 96.

[xxv] Alessandra Comini, “Toys in Freud’s attic; torment and taboo in the child and adolescent themes of Vienna’s image-makers” in Picturing Children: Constructions of childhood between Rousseau and Freud, ed. Marilyn R. Brown. (Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing Company, 2002), 174.

[xxvi] Walkerdine, Daddy’s Girl, 174.

[xxvii] Comini, “Toys in Freud’s attic”, 175.

[xxviii] Walkerdine, Daddy’s Girl, 140.

[xxix] Thomas, “Impressionist Dolls”, 109.

[xxx] Susan P. Casteras, “Winged fantasies: constructions of childhood, innocence, adolescence, and sexuality in Victorian fairy painting” in Picturing Children: Constructions of childhood between Rousseau and Freud, ed. Marilyn R. Brown. (Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing Company, 2002), 129.

[xxxi] Ibid, 127.

[xxxii] Ibid, 130.

[xxxiii] Ibid, 132.

[xxxiv] Ibid, 131.

[xxxv] Walkerdine, Daddy’s Girl, 9.

[xxxvi] Iain Mclean. Classics of Social Choice. (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1995), 52.

[xxxvii] Diane Waggoner, “Photographing childhood – Lewis Carroll and Alice” in Picturing Children: Constructions of childhood between Rousseau and Freud, ed. Marilyn R. Brown. (Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing Company, 2002), 152.

[xxxviii] Ibid, 158.

[xxxix] Ibid, 153.

[xl] Carol Mavor, “Introduction: the unmaking of children” in Picturing Children: Constructions of childhood between Rousseau and Freud, ed. Marilyn R. Brown. (Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing Company, 2002), 27.

[xli] Holland, Picturing Childhood, 180.



Brown, Marilyn R. ed. Picturing Children: Constructions of childhood between Rousseau and Freud. Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing Company, 2002.

Fortescue, William. The Third Republic in France 1870-1940: Conflicts and Continuities. London: Routledge, 2000.

Heywood, Colin. Growing Up in France: From the Ancien Régime to the Third Republic. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

Holland, Patricia. Picturing Childhood: The myth of the child in popular imagery. London: I.B Tauris & Co Ltd, 2006.

King, Constance Eileen. Jumeau. Atiglen: Schiffer Publishing, 1983.

Mclean, Iain. Classics of Social Choice. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1995.

‘The National Gallery’. www.nationalgallery.org.uk (accessed 1st March 2016).

Rewald, John. The History of Impressionism. New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1973.

Schafer, Sylvia. Children in Moral Danger and the Problem of Government in Third Republic France. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997.

Walkerdine, Valerie. Daddy’s Girl: Young Girls and Popular Culture. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1997.