Stubbs and the Politics of Nature

Posted in journal articles, Member News by Editor on May 26, 2010

Recently published in The Oxford Art Journal:

Douglas Fordham, “George Stubbs’s Zoon Politikon,” Oxford Art Journal 33 (March 2010): 1-23.

Abstract: Returning to Alex Potts’s assertion that Georgian animal paintings were conceived ‘as extensions of the social world’, this essay examines two unprecedented canvases that George Stubbs painted for the Second Marquess of Rockingham in the 1760s. I argue that the massive Lion Attacking a Stag and Lion Attacking a Horse are richly coded allegories, in the sense articulated by Walter Benjamin in The Origin of German Tragic Drama, which combine iconographic codes from heraldry, the aristocratic menagerie, thoroughbred breeding, oppositional satire, and Enlightenment science to produce a unique form of ‘heraldic naturalism’. Through a reconstruction of Rockingham’s politics as well as the room in his London townhouse where the paintings were displayed, this article attempts to recover the political implications of George Stubbs’s ‘natural order’ as well as its relation to Edmund Burke’s sublime aesthetic ideology. Ultimately, this article argues that the Rockingham lions
naturalize the claims of landed authority through an innovative response
to immediate domestic and imperial pressures.

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