Pitfalls and Nodes
This chapter discusses the systematical categorization of paintings on the basis of their subject matter. The more highly valued category addressed themes such as biblical stories, classical mythology, the lives of the saints, and secular history, while all other subject matter was consigned to a second and clearly subordinate category. In eighteenth-century France these two types became known as peinture d'histore and peinture de genre, respectively. The concept of “genre,” which initially referred to still life, landscapes, and portraits, subsequently became more narrowly specified. “Genre painting is devoted to the depiction of normal life as opposed to the depiction of religious, heroic, and other elevated moments, which constitute the subject of historical painting,” as an early definition puts it. This distinction thus draws a clear boundary between normal, everyday life and the elevated sphere of history.
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