CIHA 2016 in Beijing

34th World Congress of Art History

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LEIGH, Allison
“Investing the Body: Self Made Other in 18th-Century Russian Portraiture” Allison Leigh

Session 14 The Other and the Foreign: Contact, Curiosity, and Creative Exchange

The Cooper Union, Faculty of Humanities & Social Sciences


In 1700, Tsar Peter I issued a decree that Russian citizens were to discard their traditional Slavic dress and adopt European styles of clothing and comportment. This decree marked a moment of acute contact between Eastern and Western Europe and the shift that took place as a result was evinced in the portraits that survive from the eighteenth century. By forcing elite men and women to exist as performative manifestations with dual cultural identities, Peter heightened the contrast in Russia between the upper and lower classes as well as between conceptions of the foreign and the native.  The cultural philosopher Jean Baudrillard has theorized that these kinds of managed appropriations demonstrate how the body can be “invested in order to produce a yield.” In Russia’s case, the painted body was evidence of the profitability of contact and exchange, and the dressed body became a tool managed by the State for maximum profitability. It was the image of a modern Russia which was being sold ideologically and portrait painters were employed in the transmission of this cultural capital – one in which self was made other and a new society of simulation and consumption was born.


LEIGH, Allison

Allison Leigh is an Assistant Professor of Art History in the Department of Visual Arts at the University of Louisiana. She received her Ph.D. in Art History from Rutgers University, where she also served as a Curatorial Fellow in the Department of Russian Art at the Zimmerli Art Museum. A recipient of numerous fellowships, she formerly taught as a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art in New York City.  Her primary research interests include the history of modern and contemporary art and the nexus of art theory and intellectual history in the modern era. She is working on her first book, an interdisciplinary and cross-cultural study of modernity which focuses on the role that alienation played in men's lives during the nineteenth century.