Encountering the Niobe’s children: Vernon Lee’s queer formalism, empathy and the ethics of sculpture
KeywordsBF0038 Philosophy. Relation to other topics
BF0692 Psychology of sex. Sexual behavior
N0061 Theory. Philosophy. Aesthetics of the visual arts
Full recordShow full item record
AbstractSculpture occupied a primary position in Lee’s aesthetic imagination based on the position that this medium traditionally occupied for evolutionary approaches in art historiography during the nineteenth century. Thanks to her collaboration with her lover Clementina Anstruther-Thomson, Lee was able to develop a theory of embodiment based on German psychological empathy theories which was reliant on gallery rather than laboratory experiments. Although many scholars have interpreted the intellectual collaboration between the two women as a transposition of their lesbian desire, this essay turns away from biographical readings in order to focus on the reception of their work within the psychological circles of the time. Lee’s dialogue with Karl Groos around the concept of “inner mimicry” is essential to examine how sculpture allowed her to explore sexuality plastically. Originating in late-Victorian discourses around formalism, Lee’s aesthetic programme about sculpture proposed an ethics of embodiment that resonated with modern theories of sexuality.
Ventrella, Francesco Encountering the Niobe’s children: Vernon Lee’s queer formalism, empathy and the ethics of sculpture. In: Funke, Jana and Grove, Jen (eds.) Sculpture, Sexuality and History: Sculptural Encounters in Literature, Culture and the Arts from the Eighteenth Century to the Present. Palgrave MacMillan. (Accepted)