This female connoisseur holds her lorgnette at the ready, poised to prove her aesthetic sensibility and fashionable taste. Yet her own body is composed of the very miniatures, prints and portraits upon which she would train her quizzical gaze. On her broad skirts hang an assortment of landscapes, cameo portraits, popular prints of romantic figures such as Byron and Napoleon, and animal paintings, while she is crowned with a number of intimate miniatures in place of a hat. Even her feet appear to have been replaced by prints.
The image plays light-heartedly with ideas of what it means to be an individual, and about the power of things to represent the self. Teasingly, the paintings bestow meaning and animation on the connoisseur even as she pretends to define their own worth. They make up her identity; without the art there would, quite literally, be no connoisseur.
A composite picture, ‘The connoisseur’ lies in the tradition of Giuseppe Arcimboldi (1527-1593), the Italian painter best known for his curious portraits composed entirely from fantastical arrangements of vegetables, fruit, fish and beasts. Designed by George Spratt, she belongs to a series of whimsical lithographs called ‘Twelve original designs’, published c. 1830 by Charles Tilt (1797-1861). Her unusual companions include, amongst others, an ‘Antiquarian’, his body made up of medieval fragments and pieces of stained-glass window, a ‘Conchologist’ composed from her collection of rare and beautiful seashells, a ‘Mineralogist’ constructed from a selection of polished crystals, marbles and other minerals, and an ‘Entomologist’ with limbs formed from a living tangle of beetles, butterflies and grasshoppers. – Amanda Flynn
The connoisseur. John Johnson Shelfmark: Trade in Prints and Scraps 2 (1). ProQuest durable URL
Copyright © 2009 Bodleian Library, University of Oxford. Reproduced with the permission of ProQuest. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.
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