Howard and the Paparazzi: Painting Penal Reform in the Eighteenth Century

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Abstract

In March 1998, an ink drawing by George Romney was sold at Agnew's for £17,500. In the catalogue it bore the title 'Torment - Scene in a Lazaretto' and that title recalls a number of other scenes by Romney executed in the 1790s, many of which are held in the Fitzwilliam Museum Cambridge. The picture, whatever it may in reality depict, attracted my attention and not simply because of its powerful, dramatic composition showing three figures bent over another prostrate upon a rock. It was the word 'Lazaretto' which particularly interested me, suggesting implicitly as other drawings in the Fitzwilliam depict explicitly, the work of the great eighteenth century penal reformer John Howard. Yet Howard's relationship with the visual artists of his time was an ambiguous one. On the one hand he sought to avoid their attentions in life, whilst on the other an understanding of the significance of the representation of Howard, which one penal historian has likened to religious iconography, will shed light on both the impact of Howard's achievement and the machinery of the transmission of his legend after his death. These themes will be explored in this paper.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)55-62
Number of pages8
JournalArt Antiquity and Law
Volume4
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1999

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