University of Leicester
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Art, empire and humanity: A sociological study of relationships between artistic style, social structure and cultural concepts of race in sixteenth century Portugal.

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posted on 2015-11-19, 08:54 authored by Peter Ian. Holmes
The study is a sociological investigation of links between the imperial activities of the Portuguese in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries (the Manueline period) - their aesthetic sensibilities, especially as revealed in the artworks produced during that time - and the nature of Portuguese race consciousness during the period. In its methodology and presentation of data, the study stresses the importance of "the visual" as a dimension of culture, as a means of making possible insights into relations between aesthetics and culturally constrained morphologies. The methodological focus of the work develops from a notion of 'iconology', which suggests that at a deep level there exists a relationship between culture, social structure and iconography. Iconology is shown to have an affinity with commodity fetishism, the two concepts jointly informing our appreciation of culture. The significance of race consciousness is considered within the context of conceptions of ideology. The importance of the aesthetic dimension is stressed. The historical circumstances underlying manueline Portuguese aesthetic and race consciousness are examined with special emphasis upon the perceived tendency for the development of egalitarian systems of human classification. Features of the manueline style in art are identified. These are related to the social, cultural and imperial circumstances of the Portuguese. Visual and pictorial data are considered for the light which they can shed upon the structure of Portuguese aesthetic and racial consciousness. The colour plates incorporated in the study are drawn from a unique collection compiled for the purposes of this research project. The anthropological implications of the manueline world view are considered. Its novelty is explored and its significance for our own appreciation of aesthetic sensibility and cultural domination is questioned. The theoretical orientation of the study informs an anti-foundational approach to the appreciation of the variety of human cultures.


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University of Leicester

Qualification level

  • Doctoral

Qualification name

  • PhD



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