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The Aesthetics of Politics: Picturing the Victorian State


  • Credit value: 30 credits at Level 6
  • Convenors: Zoe Opacic, Robert Maniura
  • Tutor: Sean Wilcock
  • Assessment: two 2500-word essays and a three-hour examination (BA) or two 2500-word essays and a 2500-word research exercise (Graduate Certificate) (33.3% each)

Module description

This module introduces you to the aesthetics of politics during the Victorian era. It explores the various ways in which painting, architecture, photography and the wood engravings of the illustrated press shaped Victorian political consciousness. Image-making both aided and undermined the functioning of modern statecraft in Britain and its imperial territories. We will discuss how aesthetic theory and practice helped to mould conceptions of citizenship while responding to evolving issues of class, race, and gender. The work of major painters like Sir John Everett Millais, Sir George Hayter and Franz Xaver Winterhalter will be considered along with a diverse political visual culture encompassing the caricatures of Punch, government architecture and emergent forms of documentary photography. 

Indicative module syllabus

  • Representing the Crowd: Chartism and the Radical Spectacle
  • Aesthetic Theory and Political Economy: Reading Ruskin and Bagehot
  • The Political Portrait: MPs in Oil and Ink
  • Picturing the Polity: The Art of Victorian Reform
  • State Surveillance: Photography and Social Control
  • The Illustrated Press: Visualising National Crises
  • World Building: Consumption and Citizenship at the Great Exhibition
  • Photography, Class, and Citizenship
  • The Aesthetics of Race and Empire I and II
  • Architecture and Politics I and II
  • A Spectacle of Justice: Consuming Crime and Punishment
  • War Art: Patriotism and Protest
  • Identity: National Style at the Royal Academy
  • The Art of Diplomacy: Visual Culture and International Relations
  • Documentary Photography and Political Protest
  • Punch and Visual Satire
  • Representing Gender in Private and Public Life

Learning objectives

By the end of this module, you will have:

  • a detailed knowledge of aspects of the visual culture of politics during the Victorian era
  • the ability to observe, identify and analyse works of visual culture
  • a critical awareness of the functions of such works within the social and cultural contexts of their production and reception
  • become familiar with current debates and approaches to the subject
  • the ability to analyse and interpret critically historical evidence.