ARTH 540
In Vinculus Invictus: Portraits in Prison Fall 2019
Division I

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Among all the portraits produced during the modern period, some have been painted or, more recently, photographed in prison. Portraits in prison exist at a crossroad of politics, law, and identity; they offer a great opportunity to think about art and society. Artists themselves have made self-portraits during their own imprisonments, or sometimes a portrait of one of their fellow prisoners. More often it was the prisoners or their relatives who commissioned an artistic record of their detention. The idea of commemorating such a moment, or to evoke it as a claim to fame, seems surprising at best, outrageous and provocative at worst. But there has been, since the 16th century, an enduring tradition of portraiture in prison with its masterpieces and its pantheon, a tradition that fits into the wider pictorial attention to the prison itself. With the French Revolution, the nature of prison changed. It became a tragic symbol of political “debates.” Within a few years, a terrifying series of portraits appeared that would nurture Western political thought and visual culture until now. Since the 18th century, these portraits have become more concerned with ideas that stretch beyond the individual and into the realm of social justice, mass incarceration, and the prison-industrialization complex.
The Class: Type: seminar
Limit: 16
Expected: 12
Class#: 1954
Grading: no pass/fail option, no fifth course option
Requirements/Evaluation: oral and written assignments
Prerequisites: none
Enrollment Preferences: graduate students, then upper level undergraduate Art History majors
Distributions: Division I

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