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“Consummate Too Too”: On the Logic of Iconotexts Satirizing the “Aesthetic Movement”

Abstract : Between the mid-1860s and the 1890s, what has commonly been referred to as the "Aesthetic Movement" was a general movement which affected literature, the fine arts, the crafts and decorative arts, and which is quite difficult to demarcate (see Lambourne). It was met with a proliferation of satirical iconotexts i-illustrations, cartoons, caricatures, cards, music sheet covers, etc.-which provide a particular reception of it and which, for that reason, now feature in catalogues or exhibitions on that movement. ii Many iconotexts of various kinds-from periodicals, billboards to all kinds of ephemera-were produced and circulated in the context of 19 th-century "marketplace" culture (Gagnier's expression), and among them these minor forms of art, which have aesthetic, didactic, humorous, and/or commercial ambitions. They raise questions of intermediality and intertextuality, and they point to the interaction between "higher" and "lower" art forms. These iconotexts require a double reading whereby image and text interact, but they also have to be analysed in relation to their context and respective medium. As such, each of these forms-illustrated books, music sheet covers or commercial artefacts-entails its particular mode of consumption, mostly a non-linear and intermittent reading practice in which the image plays an important part. The visual dimension of these products is indeed prominent: one first sees the image when one browses an illustrated book or a magazine, and this also applies to cards or covers. Still, it is the association of image and word which brings about the elucidation of the meaning: the humour of the nonverbal forms can only be fully understood thanks to language. In an iconotext, two semiological systems are juxtaposed inseparably-each, however, enjoying its separate status and logic. The relation between text and image intrinsically determines their effects. But what is at stake in iconotexts providing a reception of Aestheticism is that the image/text/recipient relation presupposes a mobilisation of images and texts precisely derived from it. Text and image establish a distinctive relationship with "high-Art" precedents in their respective medium-text echoing preceding texts and image repeating previous images-in order to mock the perceived category of "Aesthetic" people. iii It is therefore the purpose of this article to study the logic at work in a corpus of such iconotexts and to show how their unity, their meaning and their effectiveness depend on a dynamics which is not only internal but also external, with minor forms of culture and commercial productions recycling higher forms of art. A similar logic is at work in various music sheet covers, adverts, greeting cards or press cartoons iv : word and image are combined to poke fun at the "Aesthetes". As far as the visual is concerned, one way of exploiting the comical possibilities of the image was to resort to a graphic vocabulary of faces, poses and attitudes directly derived from "high-art" productions-mostly, the paintings associated to the "Aesthetic Movement". This is exemplified by the sheet cover for The High Art Maiden, a musical piece composed in 1881. v The anonymous illustrator has banked on the striking aura of the feminine icons depicted by artists like Rossetti. There is unmistakably a direct visual link between the maiden's three-quarter profile and paintings or photographs representing Jane Morris in the pose: one notes the same curved neck, brooding face, strong nose, and wavy hair; the woman also evokes Rossetti's variations on women leaning sideways or holding white lilies, often surrounded with blue and white china-like the representations of The Blessed Damozel, whose name is evoked by the word
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https://hal-normandie-univ.archives-ouvertes.fr/hal-02092882
Contributor : Anne-Florence Gillard-Estrada <>
Submitted on : Monday, April 8, 2019 - 3:10:25 PM
Last modification on : Wednesday, January 29, 2020 - 1:48:31 PM
Long-term archiving on: : Wednesday, July 10, 2019 - 12:39:10 PM

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Anne-Florence Gillard-Estrada. “Consummate Too Too”: On the Logic of Iconotexts Satirizing the “Aesthetic Movement”. Sillages Critiques, Presses de l'Université de Paris-Sorbonne, 2016, 21. ⟨hal-02092882⟩

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