New Historicism

801 Words4 Pages
One of the approaches that have helped in the reassessment of the methodologies employed for knowledge gathering in art history has been the literary theory of New Historicism. New Historicism is based on the idea that literature should be studied and interpreted within the context of both the history of the author and the history of the critic, because both the author and the critic are guided by the conventions of his time in which they are working. One of the key texts that introduced New Historicism to art history was Michel Foucault’s essay on Diego Velazquez’s Las Meninas (1656), which drove home the point of ‘representation’ in an art work. This essay provided a critique on the interpretative methods most commonly used in art history,…show more content…
One of such key readings has been that of art historian Svetlana Alpers. Svetlana Alpers starts by questioning as to why Las Meninas has not been given the detailed study it requires. She says that this painting has been studied from two perspectives: first, from the standpoint of the realistic composition within a large painting; and the second is about the description of the painting. Alpers conceedes that art history has been busy with providing narratives to art work and deriving meanings out of it, without paying attention to “pictorial representation”. Alpers next reaches to her most valid argument that there are bound to be some works which are meaningless, they are just realistic. But, what art history doesn’t question when it fails to find any explicit or implicit meanings is the kind of representation within a picture; why has it been represented like this? What does it mean to represent something? These are the questions which have been raised by not art historians but literary theorists have managed to pose and extract answers out of them. She states that neglect of the representation and an over dependence on text is due to iconography, emphasis on naturalism and a tendency to search for artist’s social…show more content…
17) as is the case in Las Meninas too. But Alpers disagrees with him at this point where she states that it is not the physically absent viewer but it is “opposing” (Alpers, p. 288) sides of the viewer and the composition of the picture. In Las Meninas is a painter who is inviting someone to view his work while he is offering himself with others in the painting. Here Alpers, argues that Velazquez while looking outside the frame becomes a viewer himself and then with his active engagement within the picture becomes the subject of the
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