Visual Culture in Victorian England

Art History 3009-001

History 3995-001


Spring 2004

Falvey 105,  T., Th. 1-2:15


Dr. RuthAnn McNamara

Dr. Seth Koven


Dr. Ruth Ann McNamara  
LAC 084 
519-6000 (x81937)     
Office Hours:   M, 1:45 -2:45 
and by appointment  

Dr. Seth Koven
LAC 432

Office Hours: T, 11-12; Th. 10-11
and by appointment



This syllabus will be updated throughout the semester and is hyperlinked.  Students should bookmark this hyperlink for ready access to it.


Course Description


This team-taught interdisciplinary class examines the culture of Victorian Britain through close study of visual images ranging across a variety of genres (portraiture, landscape painting, etc), from oil paintings to photographs to cartoons from the periodical press.  The class will combine formal analysis of the images with study of the various historical contexts that then – and now – continue to inform and shape their meanings.  Just as we seek to recover how Victorians responded to and used these images, so too we aim to impart in students both the knowledge and skills needed to enjoy and understand these images as social products and aesthetic objects. Thus we seek to elucidate the ways in which these images functioned as visual narratives, moral guides, expressions of and vehicles for transforming social and cultural values, objects of desire, bearers of economic and cultural capital. We encourage students to develop skills as readers of written and visual texts and to see the ways in which these various ways of reading complement each other.


Readings will include extensive primary source materials as well as selected secondary sources drawn from art history, history, literature and gender studies.



Course Requirements and Expectations


Because this class encourages participation and builds upon students’ insights to generate our collective intellectual agenda, class attendance is mandatory.  Students are expected to complete readings in advance of class and be prepared to ask and answers questions, offer criticisms, and apply the knowledge they have gained from readings/lectures to the texts and images we are studying.  Students are expected to engage with one another and with the faculty in a way that demonstrates mutual respect for one another’s ideas.  This sometimes entails learning to disagree with one another and to build on the comments of other members of the class.


Students must select one visual text about which they will write a ten (10) double spaced research paper.  This paper will draw on at least six published sources – three secondary sources and three primary sources.  Students will be expected to submit an initial proposal, preliminary bibliography, etc. at dates to be announced in class.


Students will be expected to hand in one page response essays and other short assignments.


Each week a student will circulate a list of terms collected from the previous week using the class distribution list:   AND 


Students must regularly check their emails and the syllabus for information about the course.


There will be two (2) in-class one hour examinations and a final examination.

Late papers will drop one half grade for every day they are late.

There will be no make-up examinations.


Cheating will not be tolerated and will be dealt with according to the procedures outlined in the student handbook.



Readings:  Students may purchase and read Eric Evans, The Forging of the Modern State, Early Industrial Britain.  This textbook provides superb timelines and an unbroken chronological narrative of political, economic and social developments in 19th century Britain.  It also provides astute and concise summaries of significant scholarly debates interpreting major issues in Victorian history.  This text is intended to supplement lectures and discussions but will not itself provide the basis for any class periods.  All other readings for this course will be available in three different formats.  A substantial number of readings are available at no cost through hyperlinked websites.  Students must download, print,  read and bring to class these materials. Because the server at Villanova can be unreliable, we urge students to plan in advance and print out materials for future use.  Each instructor will also assemble a course pack of photocopied materials for students to purchase.   Finally, several readings are available on course-reserve in Falvey Library.


Due Dates


First Hour Examination:  February  17

Second Hour Examination:  March 23

Final Paper Due:  April 20




Class Preparation, Participation, Short Assignments:  25%

Hour Examinations:  25%

Final Examination:  25%

Final Paper:  25%


Note:  Class participation consists of several components:   attendance, preparation, quality and regularity of contributions to discussion.  Unexcused absences from class will result in a lower overall grade for the course.  Five unexcused absences constitutes an automatic failure of the course.


Calendar of Topics/Texts


Note:  Each topic centers on a handful of visual images that we will then supplement with a range of other visual and written texts.  Depending on the interests of students, we may add new topics and omit others.




Topic One     The Paradoxes of Early Victorian Britain:  Landed Society and Industrial Capitalism


Visual Texts:  Constable, The Haywain (1821);  Turner, The Fighting Temeraire (1839) and Rain, Steam and Speed (The Great Western Railroad) (1845);  Slavers Throwing the Dead and Dying Overboard with a Typhoon Coming On  (1840); detail of Slavers


Reading: (optional)  An Act for the Abolition of Slavery throughout the British Colonies; for promoting the Industry of the
manumitted Slaves; and for compensating the Persons hitherto entitled to the Services of such Slaves. (28 August 1833)


An Act for the Suppression of the Slave Trade (1839)


Topic Two     Representing High Politics:  The Great Reform Bill


Visual Texts:  John Doyle, Political Cartoons (1831) in Rare Book Room, Falvey Library

Reading:  Lord John Russell on Reform;  Duke of Wellington, Document One and Document Two on Reform; Bristol Reform Act RiotsMacaulay on Reform; Lord Palmerston on Parliamentary Reform;


Topic Three     Ruins and Romanticism:  Images of Empire


Visual Text:  Horace H. Wilson:  Rajastan, Ruins at Deig (1841);  Constable, Hadleigh Castle

Reading:  “Constable’s Hadleigh Castle and British Romantic Painting,” Art Bulletin, Vol. 65, No. 3, Sept. 1983, pp.455-470.  (JSTOR)

Macaulay on Education and Empire in India

William Jones, Selected Poems and Writings

Benjamin Disraeli, Sybil, Or the Two Nations, Book Two, Chapter Five  (1845)


Images of the Sublime:  Turner, Calais Pier; Burning of the Houses of Parliament


Topic Four    Art and Commodity Culture:  Exposing the Great Exhibition


Visual Texts:   Selected Images of Great Exhibition:  Exterior and Interior Views; Political Cartoons; Floor Plans


Reading:  Carol Breckinridge, "The Aesthetics and Politics of Collecting: India at World Fairs",   Comparative Studies in Society and History (1989), esp. pp.200-207.


George Clayton, Sermons on the Great Exhibition


Images of the Great Exhibition  (peruse, no need to print out)


Submit one paragraph proposal for Final Paper


Topic Five    Sin and Salvation


Visual Texts:  Holman Hunt, Awakening Conscience (1853) and Light of the World (1851-3)


additional images used in lecture:  John Everett Millais, Isabella; Abraham Solomon, First Class, the Meeting, (revised version, 1855); original version;   Edward Landseer, Monarch of the Glen (1851);  Julia Cameron's photographic portrait of Holman Hunt in Arab garb; Elizabeth Siddal, The Lady of Shalott, 1853


Sources of the Awakening Conscience:  the Arnolfini Wedding


Light of the World as icon of Keble College, Oxford


Reading:  Hancher, Michael. “Hunt’s Awakening Conscience.”  Journal of Pre-Raphaelite Studies, 1995, vol. 4, pp. 27-49

Grieve, Alistair.  “The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and the Anglican High Church.”  Burlington Magazine, Vol.III, No. 794, (May 1969), pp.292-295.


Selections from The Germ (1850): D.G. Rossetti,  "Hand and Soul" and Alexander Tupper, "The Subject in Art,"  Part One and Part Two

The Marriage Market; Women of England (1839); James Greenwood on Prostitution; Dr.Acton on Prostitution, Doc. 1

Topic Six     Photographic Realities?  Art, Science, and Social Science


Visual Texts: 

Examples of Fox Talbot's Calotypes

Images from the Munby Archive:  contrasting images of Hannah Munby; Hannah scrubbing the front steps

Oscar Rejlander, Two Ways of Life, 1857;  Selected photographs

Lewis Carroll, Alice as a Young Beggar  (1859)

Julia Margaret Cameron,  The Anniversary, 1865; Darwin; King Arthur Lying Wounded; The Echo, 1868; Faith

       See Cameron's illustrations of Tennyson's Idylls of the King

Thomas John Barnardo, Out of the Depths, 1875; Once a Little Vagrant (1875)

Thomas Annan, Glasgow Close (1878)

John Thomson, Black Jack, The Crawlers and Workers on the Silent Highway from Street Life in London (1877)

Royal Photographic Society:  enjoy this amazing website that introduces the history of photography in 19th century Britain and includes individual photographers as well as information about photographic processes and themes.



Henry Snelling, The History and Practice of the Art of Photography (1849), ch. 1, "A  Brief History of of the Art"

Julia Margaret Cameron's Autobiography, selection

Excerpt from 1839 Bill from French Minster of Interior proposing pension for Daguerre and Niecpe; Fox Talbot, The Pencil of Nature (1844), excerpt (hand out in class)

Arthur Munby, "The Serving Maid"


Topic Seven    Representing Liberal Manhood 


Visual Text:  John Everett Millais, Gladstone


Other images of Gladstone: The Grand Old Man Chopping Wood  (1877), carbon cabinet print,  Photograph byWilliam Curry;  commemorative print of Gladstone's career; 3/4 view

Other portraits used by way of contrast and comparison: Matthew Arnold

Millais's portraits of politicians:  Disraeli


Reading:  Selected speeches of W.E. Gladstone: Gladstone on his first administration (1871);  Gladstone on Ireland, (1886); Karl Marx on Gladstone's Irish Policy (1869)


Topic Eight  Faith and Doubt


Visual Texts:  Watts, Sower of Systems;  Millais, Christ in the House of his Parents  (1849)

Other images:  D.G. Rossetti, Ecce Ancilla Domine (1850)
Fra Angelico, Annunciation, 1347
Hogarth, Gin Lane
Bellini, Altar piece, Church of San Zaccaria, "Sacra Conversazione"  (1505)


Reading:  Morris, Edward.  “The Subject of Millais’s Christ in the House of His Parents,’”  Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, Vol. 33 (1970) pp.343-345 (JSTOR)


Essays and Reviews (1860); Frank Turner:  Religion versus Science; Debating Darwin; Tennyson, In Memoriam



Submit Bibliography of six published sources (3 primary, 3 secondary)


Topic Nine    Odd Man Out:  James McNeill Whistler


Visual Texts:  The Peacock Room; Nocturnes:  Blue and Gold, the Rocket; The Little White Girl; The White Girl; Westminster Bridge; The Balcony


Reading:  Spencer, Robin, “Whistler’s ‘The White Girl’:  Painting, Poetry and Meaning,”  Burlington Magazine, Vol. 140, No1142 (May 1998), pp.300-311. (JSTOR)

“Color and tone in Whistler’s ‘nocturnes’ and ‘harmonies,’1871-1872.  Burlington Magazine, Vol. 136, No. 1099, (Oct. 1994) pp.695-699.


Topic Ten     Art, Artists, and the Social Question


Visual Texts:  Luke Fildes, Applicants for Admission to the Casual Ward; William Powell Frith, Poverty and Wealth; Hubert Von Herkomer, On Strike Hard Times; Frederick Walker, The Vagrants


Architectural plans: Sampson Kempthorne, architect,  Workhouse, 1835

Reading:  Casual Ward Primary Sources ; Making of New Poor Law Redivivus Debate over New Poor Law Redivivus
Vagrancy and the New Poor Law in Late-Victorian England ;Penny Paper on Casual Wards (Feb. 1866)


Topic Eleven    Art, Socialism, and Interior Design


Visual Texts:  William Morris, Liberty Prints; C.R. Ashbee, craft objects


Reading:  Selections from John Ruskin and William Morris

Walter Crane; William Morris, Arts and Crafts



Topic Twelve   The (In)Discreet Charms of the Bourgeoisie


Visual Texts:  James Tissot, selected oil paintings;  selected advertisements of consumer goods from contemporary print media  

Photograph:  "Tea"


Reading:  Coventry Patmore, Angel in the House


Topic Thirteen   Decadence


Visual Texts: Mort d'Arthur (woodcut);


Reading:  “Aubrey Beardsley’s Salome: the daughter of too many mothers’ sons.”  Rutgers-Arts-Review 2001, Vol. 19, pp.25-36.


Reading:  Walter Pater, “Preface” and “Leonardo da Vinci” from The Renaissance:  Studies in Art and Poetry  ;

Oscar Wilde, The Artist as Critic; Edward Carpenter, The Intermediate Sex, selected chapter.



Images analyzed by students:  Ford Maddox Brown, Work; Whistler, Nocturne in Blue and Gold, St. Mark's; Beardsley, Salome, the Climax, first version, second version