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Title: Invisible friends : questioning the representation of the court dwarf in Hapsburg Spain
Author: Ravenscroft, Janet Lynn
Awarding Body: Birkbeck (University of London)
Current Institution: Birkbeck (University of London)
Date of Award: 2009
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More than 20 portraits of court dwarfs were created between the reigns of Charles V and Philip IV; in addition to these, there exist some half-a-dozen paintings of what I shall refer to as ’dwarf types’, that is, people whose exact status is not known but who are depicted in the manner of dwarfs. I draw upon all of these images in my interrogation of the complex relationship that existed between theological and social conceptualisations of the dwarf as monster and his or her lived experience at court. I challenge many standard interpretations of the cultural and symbolic significance of these marginal figures in representations that were created within the strictures of court portraiture. I also consider the extent to which painted representations actually do coalesce with ideas about dwarfs in early modern Europe in general and the Spanish Hapsburg courts in particular. The thesis therefore begins with an analysis of three subjects that are pertinent to my examination of the portraits: early modern conceptualisations of monstrosity and the ideal body; theories about court portraiture; and facts about the dwarfs’ situation in the social setting of the Hapsburg court. The function and meaning of the portraits are then interrogated in my two main analytical chapters. In these, I consider the ways in which visual representations from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries can act as a key to the dwarfs’ lives at court. The nature of the relationship that existed between dwarfs and members of the royal family is re-assessed in the light of documentary evidence and the construction of these figures on canvas. Throughout the thesis I highlight the self-referential character of the images and consider how they accumulate meaning through intertextuality. I suggest ways in which Diego Velazquez’s dwarf portraits can be reappraised in the light of my conclusions about paintings by lesser-known artists.
Supervisor: Fracchia, Carmen Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available