Aubrey Beardsley, Salome and satire
This thesis proposes that the illustrations produced by Aubrey Beardsley for the first English edition of Oscar Wilde's play Salome are primarily motivated by a strong satirical agenda. Whilst it has usually been acknowledged that this group of illustrations harbours some satirical elements, these have never before been regarded as anything other than isolated occurrences. The iconography of Beardsley's Salome illustrations has rarely been subjected to close visual analysis or lengthy explication. All early studies of Beardsley's work and the pioneering and monumental cataloguing work carried out in the 1960s inevitably contain a number of misconstructions and lacunae. Recent critical accounts of the Salomi illustrations, mostly theory-led and written from outside the discipline of art history, have on the one hand relied upon these interpretations, yet have on the other hand espoused various degrees of epistemological scepticism and historical relativism not calculated to provide new interpretations of these images in the light of their historical contexts. Countering this tendency, this thesis sets out to establish these contexts and to identify and explain the jokes which run throughout this sequence of illustrations. As a preliminary step to this analysis, my first chapter narrates a production history of the illustrations, and unravels the complex sequence of events relating to the commission. A second chapter surveys late nineteenth-century conventions of satire and literary and visual caricatures of Beardsley's principal target, Wilde. Following this, the body of the thesis is devoted to a detailed account of each image. These accounts explore the range of meanings at work within a broad context of contemporary visual culture, and offer a radical reinterpretation of the Salome illustrations.