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Title: Wars of Seeing : Suffering and Sentiment in Joseph Wright’s The Dead Soldier
Authors: Shaw, Philip John
First Published: 30-Nov-2012
Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan
Citation: Shaw, P. J., Wars of Seeing : Suffering and Sentiment in Joseph Wright’s The Dead Soldier, ed. Kennedy, C; McCormack, M, 'Soldiering in Britain and Ireland 1750-1850 : Men of Arms', Palgrave Macmillan, 2012, pp. 76-98
Abstract: In eighteenth-century British culture, military painting can be roughly divided into two distinct forms: portraits and battle scenes. Portraits, such as Sir Joshua Reynold’s Portrait of John, Marquis of Granby in the uniform of Col. of Royal Regiment of Horse Guards (c.1770), helped to establish an image of the man at arms as noble, beneficent and fiercely loyal, while battle scenes, which focussed typically on victories rather than defeats, were prized for their topographical and historical accuracy, and for their ability to instil a sense of national pride. For all their sublime ambitions, battle scenes painted in Britain in this period fail, on the whole to match the aesthetic heights established by Uccello in The Battle of San Romano (1438-40), or by Rubens in Henry IV at the Battle of Ivry (1627-1630).1 Similarly, of the numerous military portraits produced in this century only a handful could be described as distinguished in any genuine artistic sense. Notable examples would include, in addition to Reynolds’s innovative portrayals of Granby and Colonel Tarleton (1782), John Singleton Copley’s The Death of Major Peirson, 6 January 1781 (1783), and, perhaps most notably, Benjamin West’s The Death of General Wolfe (1770). West’s and Copley’s portraits are remarkable for two reasons. First, from a stylistic point of view, both paintings overturn the conventions of history painting, which dictated that historical figures should be clothed in classical attire. Both Wolfe and Peirson, together with their attendants, are shown in modern, military dress, thus imbuing the timelessness of the scene with documentary significance. Second, in both cases, the allusion to the Medieval and Renaissance pietà tradition, in which the dead or dying Christ is shown cradled in the arms of Mary, helps to establish an impression of noble sacrifice: the officer-hero is Christ-like insofar as he gives his life so that we, the nation, might be free. [opening paragraph]
Series/Report no.: War, Culture and Society, 1750-1850;
ISBN: 9781137270870
Version: Post-print
Status: Peer-reviewed
Type: Chapter
Rights: Copyright © Palgrave Macmillan, 2012. Shaw P, Wars of Seeing: Suffering and Sentiment in Joseph Wright’s The Dead Soldier, 2012, © Macmillan Publishers Ltd, reproduced with permission of Palgrave Macmillan. This extract is taken from the author's original manuscript and has not been edited. The definitive, published, version of record is available here: . Deposited in accordance with the Publisher's archiving policy, available at
Appears in Collections:Books & Book Chapters, Dept. of English

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