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Responding to obviously persisting concerns regarding the venerability of icons in the post-Iconoclastic era, some of the empire’s leading theologians made the novel claim that it is not human artistry, but divine inspiration that ultimately ensures the icon’s authenticity – its resemblance to its prototype. Just as with Christian literature, the divine inspiration of material images guarantees their faithfulness, and it is divine inspiration that also releases the work of art from the realm of ‘dead’ matter, enlivening it with the divine pneuma.
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.
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