Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2016

Access Restrictions

Access restricted until 07/03/2020

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Art History

First Advisor

Johnson, Dorothy

First Committee Member

Longfellow, Brenda

Second Committee Member

Adcock, Craig E.

Third Committee Member

Tomasini, Wallace J.

Fourth Committee Member

Ketterer, Robert


Scholarship on the British neoclassical sculptor and draughtsman John Flaxman (1755-1826) focuses predominantly on his artistic style, namely, his use of a contour to define forms. This technique of using an outline to create figures was a common practice for late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century artists who wanted to emulate the style they thought characterized ancient Greek and Roman art. Contour is an important aspect of his oeuvre. In fact, Flaxman’s outline drawings for classical texts such as Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey established his reputation throughout Europe and inspired many neoclassical and even Romantic artists. But the scholarly emphasis on Flaxman’s formal elements downplays the fact that his works represent narratives taken from ancient literature. There has yet to be an in-depth study of his subject matter. How Flaxman represented the narratives that he interpreted from classical texts is the focus of my study.

The presentation of narrative is central to his artistic practice. A thorough understanding of the textual source shaped how he portrayed the episode. So, Flaxman’s engagement with his literary sources goes beyond simply looking to them for subject matter. Since he consulted the sources in their original language whenever possible, Flaxman’s compositions are more than simple artistic depictions. I consider his work to be visual translations of texts; he translates words into images. This interpretation especially holds true for his contour drawings of the Iliad, the Odyssey, and Aeschylus’s tragedies, which were not meant to accompany any text. The images replace the written word.

To compose his narratives, Flaxman engaged with many contemporary European cultural discourses. His exposure to classical scholarship developed his understanding of the ancient world. Flaxman utilized the expressive potential of the human body, a renewed subject of interest in the second half of the eighteenth century, to help him convey his stories. Since he visualized episodes from written texts, Flaxman engaged with an important discourse of the period that debated the relationship between poetry and art. The interaction of text, image, and social context in my study treats Flaxman’s works as products of complex historical and intellectual interactions.

My study has a broader objective than expanding understanding of Flaxman’s oeuvre. Exploring how neoclassical artists interacted with their written sources can nuance understanding of how late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century European artists looked to the past for inspiration at the same time they created works that embodied contemporary cultural ideas.


492 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages ).


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Copyright © 2016 Joshua David Hainy

Available for download on Friday, July 03, 2020