The Art of Edward Calvert and Neoplatonism in the Nineteenth Century

Martindale, Natalie T. (2019) The Art of Edward Calvert and Neoplatonism in the Nineteenth Century. Doctoral thesis, Anglia Ruskin University.

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This thesis investigates the Neoplatonic theory of art and its impact in the nineteenth century through a detailed study of Edward Calvert (1799-1883), an artist who is most well known for his early prints and his close association with William Blake and Samuel Palmer. This study analyses Calvert’s art in conjunction with his writings and letters, which show a marked interest in Neoplatonism, preserved in a memoir by his son. It demonstrates how this philosophy was utilised by Calvert and other artists and writers by examining the available sources of Neoplatonic art theory in the nineteenth century and identifying where its ideas appear. Calvert’s paintings of Pan are influenced by the god’s important role in Neoplatonic symbolism, and research into different conceptions of this deity over the course of the nineteenth century connects these artworks to Romantic and Victorian poetry. Calvert’s musical theory of colour also took shape under the influence of Neoplatonism, with its emphasis on an underlying unity behind beauty. This concept is found in contemporary books on colour and painting, which indicates that Calvert’s views were shared by others. His paintings of the female nude owe more to current mythography than to Neoplatonism, but his portrayals of nude couples are probably references to this philosophy. A number of Calvert’s paintings reveal an awareness of Aesthetic art through their composition, and this study argues that several Aesthetes and Symbolists were interested in Neoplatonism. This link between Calvert and his contemporaries situates him within the wider context of Victorian art and challenges old perceptions of this artist which characterise him as a recluse with eccentric pagan beliefs. It also helps to integrate English art with the art being produced in the rest of Europe, particularly in the second half of the century. This thesis argues that Neoplatonism’s transcendental theory of art, its conviction that immaterial essences exist beyond the material world, and its emphasis on an underlying unity were significant elements of Romanticism. It demonstrates that Neoplatonic ideas were developed and modified by artists until they later emerged as components of abstract art, and maintains that this philosophy should be recognised as a significant aspect of nineteenth-century art and culture.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Keywords: Calvert, Neoplatonism, Colour Theory, Romanticism, Aestheticism
Faculty: Theses from Anglia Ruskin University
Depositing User: Lisa Blanshard
Date Deposited: 19 May 2020 09:58
Last Modified: 09 Sep 2021 18:55

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