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MARIE-GUILLEMINE BENOIST’S INNOCENCE BETWEEN VIRTUE AND VICE: REVOLUTIONARY FEMINISM IN 1791

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posted on 2023-09-07, 05:13 authored by Emily Starr Roberson

This thesis proposes a feminist reading of Marie-Guillemine Benoist’s (née Laroux-Delaville; 1768-1825) Innocence Between Virtue and Vice. Benoist successfully submitted Innocence, along with another history painting, Psyche Bidding her Family Farewell, to the Paris Salon in 1791—her Salon debut, and the first such exhibition to take place after the 1789 Revolution. Though that Salon was a watershed in terms of female participation, Benoist was the only woman to submit history paintings to the Salon, the most prestigious genre in the academic hierarchy. Unusually for neoclassical history paintings, Benoist’s Innocence centered on a female allegorical figure—that of Innocence—who escapes the clutches of a male figure (Vice) and aligns herself with another woman (Virtue). Through the iconography of this painting, and through the act of submitting such an ambitious painting to the Salon, Benoist advocated for women’s greater participation in public life, in parallel with the feminist political movement that gained steam in the early years of the 1789 Revolution. The first chapter examines the unusual subject matter and iconography of Innocence Between Virtue and Vice. Adapting the formula for history painting that she learned under Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825), which centered on the male hero, Benoist activated the two female allegorical figures in her composition. Perhaps in tacit acknowledgment of this risky choice, Benoist emphatically cast her female figures as virtuous, thus upholding traditional expectations placed on female behavior. The second chapter shifts to focus on the context of the work, framing the Salon of 1791 in relation to both the new revolutionary culture and the growing feminist movement that demanded liberty and equality for women as well as men. However, the critical response to Benoist’s work suggests that male viewers may not have been ready to welcome women (either real or represented) into the public sphere. Their preoccupation with the male figure of Vice, and their half-hearted, condescending compliments about Benoist’s style, evidence great ambivalence about the prospect of female equality.

History

Publisher

American University

Notes

Degree Awarded: M.A. Art. American University

Handle

http://hdl.handle.net/1961/auislandora:97486

Degree grantor

American University. Department of Art

Degree level

  • Masters

Submission ID

11851

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