Dead Soldiers: Suffering in British Military Art, 1783–1789

TitleDead Soldiers: Suffering in British Military Art, 1783–1789
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2005
AuthorsShaw, Philip

In a moving intervention into Romantic-era depictions of the dead and wounded, this study focuses on the neglected figure of the common soldier. How suffering and sentiment were portrayed in a variety of visual and verbal media is the author's particular concern, as he examines a wide range of print and visual media, from paintings to sketches to political prose and anti-war poetry, and from writings on culture and aesthetics to graphic satires and early photographs. Whilst classical portraiture and history painting certainly conspired with official ideologies to deflect attention from the true costs of war, other works of art, literary as well as visual, proffered representations that countered the view that suffering on and off the battlefield is noble or heroic. The author uncovers a history of changing attitudes towards suffering, from mid-eighteenth century ambivalence to late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century concepts of moral sentiment. Thus, the author's story is one of how images of death and wounding facilitated and queried these shifts in the perception of war, qualifying as well as consolidating ideas of individual and national unanimity. 

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