The Work of Art in an Age of Chemical Reproduction
This chapter examines the work of entrepreneurs and industrialists from the mid-1770s through the 1790s who competed for supremacy in developing chemical techniques by which to replicate chemically unstable academic paintings. Highlighting the involvements of many chemical replicators with radical politics, the chapter places lithography (the best known of the period’s chemical-imaging innovations), encaustic, and enamel painting in relation to the chemical scandal of the “Venetian Secret” as made public in 1797. Therein, Benjamin West and other leading Academicians had pursued a fraudulent compilation of painting techniques purportedly used by Titian and other Venetian masters. The chapter expands to consider a host of lesser known chemical technics including “pollaplasiasmos,” James Watt’s copying machine and the interventions into the philosophy of time advanced by Thomas Wedgwood, purported “first inventor” of photography. The chapter argues against the familiar identification of Thomas Wedgwood’s chemical research with photography.
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