An Overture to the Text

An Overture to the Text
An Overture to the Text
An Overture to the Text
An Overture to the Text

Exhibition Details

Narrative paintings and illustrated novels flourished in mid-19th-century Britain. In an age of social upheaval and industrial expansion, illustrated stories focusing on the imagined historical past provided an increasingly literate, leisure-seeking society with an imaginative outlet for melancholic longings of pre-industrial civilisations and a way to mediate concerns of the present. Ancient Greek dramatic tragedies were particularly popular during this time and it was thought that the dramatic stories of love, death, virtue and vice in Greek mythology could inspire a reappraisal of 19th-century morality, politics and religion. This exhibition examines Frederic Leighton’s illustrations for George Eliot’s novel Romola within this context. 

Set in 15th-century Florence, the novel interweaves narratives and imagery sourced from ancient Greece and the Renaissance to create moral parables for the 19th-century reader.  Leighton’s illustrations complement and enrich these references by conveying his artistic interpretation of the novel and the historical past. Romola’s illustrations are a meeting point of text, image and the imagined past, creating a rich space of multi-layered narratives between the etched lines. 

Image credits

Frederic Leighton, Joseph Swain, Studio of Swain
Drifting Away 1863
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, gift of the relatives of Mr T V Gulliver, 1939

Antonio Salamanca, Marco Dente
Amor, God of Love, On the Sea late 16th century
Mackelvie Trust Collection, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki

Frederic Leighton, Joseph Swain, Studio of Swain
Coming Home 1863
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, gift of the relatives of Mr T V Gulliver, 1939

Henry Fuseli
Ixion and Nephele 1809
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, purchased 1965

Date
Curated by
Emma Jameson
Location
Mezzanine level
Cost
Free entry

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Credit line
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Credit line
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Credit line
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Credit line
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