Die Haut der Bilder. Oberfläche und Geschlecht in der Kunst des 18. Jahrhunderts

  • Marianne Koos


Marianne Koos:

The Skin of Pictures. Surface and Gender in Eighteenth-Century Art

Using the example of the Genevan-born cosmopolitan painter Jean-Étienne Liotard (1702–1789), the article explores the relationship between surface and gender in eighteenth-century art. In his treatise on the principles and rules of painting (1781), Liotard explains his ideal of closed, stainless, and delicate surfaces by comparing the touches in painting with the ugly traces of smallpox distorting female beauty. With this bodily metaphor concerning (female) skin, Liotard draws the attention to the material, skin-like surface of painted female subject. As a consequence of the sustained focus on the paintings’ (humanistic) content, this is an aspect that was long neglected in the discipline of art history. Recent studies point to the fundamental analytic shift that occurs by exploring the material quality of art. However, even these studies often fail to reflect the gendered, cultural, ethnic, and ethical metaphors that charge (pictorial) surfaces with meaning. The article argues that the methodology of gender studies is particularly able to contribute to a more critical perspective on the semantics of pictorial surfaces.