Multiples, Authorship and the Eighteenth-Century Portrait Bust’s Aura
PDF, 24 pages
Using the example of the portrait bust as a genre, this paper will explore the ambiguous and problematic relationship between aura and the multiple in the eighteenth century. During this period the portrait bust emerged as an ambitious mode of representation, assuming close attention on the part of the viewer and increasingly recognized as the work of a particular, named sculptor. In sculpture, as in other categories of cultural production, a more refined notion of authorship was linked with a process of aestheticisation. At the same time, however, the portrait bust was a commodity, made available in plaster multiples of various sizes for consumption within a growing luxury market. In some cases, the sculptors themselves, despite their enhanced status as authors, produced and sold such multiples. In addition, replicatory processes could also be involved in the making of the »original« bust. Taking as a case study the various portrait busts displayed around 1750 at Trinity, College Cambridge (and in particular the Wren Library there), I shall be arguing that in the eighteenth century this genre of the portrait bust was inextricably linked with multiple production and consumption, in all its variety. The use of the genre in this context at the same time tellingly illustrates the contingent and period-specific nature of concepts such as aura, original and reproduction.
In the last years replicated objects have gained an increasingly central position in the discourse about ancient, medieval and early modern art. ›Multiples‹, we are often told, lack uniqueness, invention, autonomy, and sometimes even authorship. Indeed, ›multiples‹ can be powerful multipliers – in that they enhance the ›aura of the originals‹ that they replicate – but they remain secondary indexes pointing to an ›original‹ imbued with significance. Yet, what happens if ›multiples‹ do not refer to other artifacts at all, or if they are associated with other ›multiples‹ rather than with a first version in the mind of their owners? What happened when serially-made ›multiples‹ were not quite identical to each other, as was the rule with pre-modern artifacts? What shaped their identity and the perception of them as identical?
This collection of essays explores different forms of interaction between the making of artifacts in more than one specimen and their reception before the nineteenth century. It addresses media such as metal, wax, plaster, terracotta, textiles, marble, ivory, porcelain, canvases and tables in an attempt to re-assess the current identification of the mediality of prints with that of pre-modern ›multiples‹ in general.