Failure and Temporality in the Work of Antoine Watteau

Whittaker, Paul. 2005. Failure and Temporality in the Work of Antoine Watteau. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

Antoine Watteau's paintings have long been the subject of textual commentary. This relationship to text is conventionally sustained by interpretations that engage with the devices of representation: the semiotic. The aim of this thesis is to promote an alternative, less semiotic way of understanding Watteau's drawings and paintings.

For Walter Benjamin, the Trauerspiel or Baroque allegory is a completely temporal art form. It is not only ephemeral and transient but it constitutes a ruin because its relation with natural decay and the historical present is so close that it fails to establish itself resistant to change. Jules and Edmund de Goncourt, celebrated art critics of the eighteenth century, proffer a more conventional understanding of allegory when they determine that Watteau was a great poet and that his allegorical paintings convey messages concerned with ideals of love and beauty. Watteau's paintings can he considered more complex than the de Goncourt brothers would have us believe. For this reason, this thesis will work through the more sophisticated understanding of allegory and methodologies of allegory offered by Walter Benjamin so as to explore how failure and time recorded at a material level of Watteau's paintings might inform and affect a different awareness of Watteau's allegorical images. It will argue that temporality can be traced in Watteau's paintings. It will explore the possibility that Watteau's studio practice celebrates failure and that this practice of failure inscribes his images with time. It will also propose that the effect of Watteau's paintings is the result of the material and temporal condition of the sign and its failure to sustain eternal meaning.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Identification Number (DOI):

https://doi.org/10.25602/GOLD.00028696

Keywords:

Antoine Watteau, Walter Benjamin, allegory, failure

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

History

Date:

2005

Item ID:

28696

Date Deposited:

08 Jun 2020 14:22

Last Modified:

08 Jun 2020 14:22

URI:

http://research.gold.ac.uk/id/eprint/28696

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