Published online by Cambridge University Press: 28 October 2021
The first chapter situates Philippe de Loutherbourg’s work in relation to animal magnetism. It reveals how his art dramatized the exact structural characteristics of animal magnetism that made it both enormously popular and widely discredited – namely, its twin claims to possess significant control over the body and to lie beyond the reach of conventional scientific forms of apprehension or measurement. Revisiting several of de Loutherbourg’s major British and Swiss paintings, it argues that they cultivated effects of profound perceptual ambiguity and in doing so illuminated the epistemological fault lines along which animal magnetism was positioned. When London critics subsequently described his paintings as “magnetic,” they, in turn, drew on that science to articulate – even to conceptualize – their experience of looking at art.