‘Beauty in Search of Knowledge’: from fashion doll to the world of print

Oxford University Press
Publication Type:
Fashioning the Early Modern Dress, Textiles, and Innovation in Europe, 1500-1800, 2017, First
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In a rnezzotint published in London rn t78z (Illustration 8.r), an elegantly dressed young woman walks past the neoclassical doorcase of I circulating library. As she circulates, she carries a book and fingers a new, fashionable accessory, the parasol' In the shop's windows Ieather-bound books take their place alongside loose topographical, portrait, theatrical, and satirical prints. Although the principal joke of this gentle caricature of contemporary life is that the lady is about to indulge in reading a lightweight, fashionable novel from which she will gain little real knowledge, there are deeper levels of meaning at work' The window resembles the premises of printsellers more generally, and therefore also comments on the increasing access to printed materials, not simply by the 'middling' sorts of London, but also their peers in the towns of England and across western Europe. It connects the image to a whole series of 'print-shop window' caricatures that comment on the circularity of viewers and representations, and the wider democratization of printed materials in the second half of the eighteenth century. The prints in the window are both images and relatively affordable ,populuxe' artefacts in themselves.l Does she hope to see herself mirrored back in what is displayed there? Prints such as this might have been consumed individually or in imaginative groupings about which more is yet to be uncovered. Print here holds the capacity to integrate beauty together with knowledge'
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