Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Behold the Man: Eakins, the Human Body, and History

In 1886, shortly after his dismissal as director of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in a cloud of scandal, Thomas Eakins changed the title of his 1880 painting Crucifixion (shown above) to Ecce Homo, “Behold the Man,” the words Pilate used to announce Christ to the public that would call for his execution. In the eyes of Akela Reason in her Thomas Eakins and the Uses of History, the change represents how Eakins viewed and used history to his own ends. “Eakins’s new title not only reinforced the corporeal presence of the subject but also pointedly alluded to the injustice of Christ’s execution at the hands of an unruly mob,” Reason writes, “a situation that he may have believed, perhaps even unconsciously, paralleled his own.” According to Reason, Eakins used history to his own ends, stretching and altering it to support his view of the study of the human form as the centerpiece of all art—a humanism that touched not only upon religion, but also upon who would rise to the pantheon of art history, a goal Eakins never gave up even at his lowest moments. Please come over to Picture This at Big Think to read more of "Behold the Man."

[Many thanks to the University of Pennsylvania Press for providing me with a review copy of Akela Reason’s Thomas Eakins and the Uses of History.]

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