Artist/theorist Henry Fuseli (1741-1825) explored body/mind and subject/object dichotomies at the margins of human experience. In a collection of erotic drawings, he depicts objects as emblems of oppression, violence, sexuality and power. My research will consider the ways in which these objects serve as emblems for specific subject/object relations, to better understand how Fuseli’s erotic drawings might be representative of a greater interest in the power of things in late eighteenth and early nineteenth-century Britain.
Expanding into material culture studies and challenging disciplinary boundaries between gender, sexuality and art, this project will investigate the production and distribution of erotic material among an exclusive group of libertine intellectuals. This research will demonstrate that anxieties about sex and gender shaped discourse on cultural evolution and progress in the formative period between 1760 and 1810.
My project will argue that Fuseli and other members of the intellectual elite used eroticism to intervene in a perceived culture of decline: to explore the emasculating tendencies of polite refinement, the emergence of the political woman, the rising power and affluence of the middle class and the presence of new viewing publics.