Student Research Projects

19th-Century Literary Genres and Shakespearean Paintings

Student Ember Jenison, '17
Faculty Mentor(s)
Department Art
Course Art History 232: Renaissance to 20th-Century Art


It is a common part of art history to tie period trends, beliefs or movements to the art created during that time. In my research, I have taken several different paintings created by various 19th-century artists and compared them to two popular literary genres during this time - melodrama and the gothic novel. Aside from being made during the same era, these paintings all also have Shakespearean content. This aspect of the paintings is what I initially focused on, but once seeing similarities between these pieces with certain visual and artistic elements, I began to delve for deeper common threads among them. I looked to melodrama and the gothic novel for that connection. Researching both of these genres led me to find that they both focus on portraying emotions and touching the emotions of the audience. In melodrama, one sees amplified and exaggerated emotions, plots, and characters. These exaggerations can be seen within the gothic novel too, but with more of a focus on darker emotions and the supernatural. Once I gained a deep enough knowledge of these two genres, I compared their elements and motifs to the visual form and content of the paintings. I found that there are indeed elements of both genres in these works, confirming that the two literary genres did impact the paintings. As for the Shakespearean aspect of these paintings, the idea that Shakespeare can be translated from its original form and restructured around different styles and time periods and still retain its original message is further proved here as well.