Fancy in Eighteenth-Century European Visual Culture

BookFancy in Eighteenth-Century European Visual Culture

Fancy in Eighteenth-Century European Visual Culture

Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment, 2020:04


April 13th, 2020



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Fancy in the eighteenth century was part of a rich semantic network, connecting wit, whimsicality, erotic desire, spontaneity, deviation from norms and triviality. It was also a contentious term, signifying excess, oddness and irrationality, liable to offend taste, reason and morals. This collection of essays foregrounds fancy – and its close synonym, caprice – as a distinct strand of the imagination in the period. As a prevalent, coherent and enduring concept in aesthetics and visual culture, it deserves a more prominent place in scholarly understanding than it has hitherto occupied. Fancy is here understood as a type of creative output that deviated from rules and relished artistic freedom. It was also a mode of audience response, entailing a high degree of imaginative engagement with playful, quirky artworks, generating pleasure, desire or anxiety. Emphasizing commonalities between visual productions in different media from diverse locations, the authors interrogate and celebrate the expressive freedom of fancy in European visual culture. Topics include: the seductive fictions of the fancy picture, Fragonard and galanterie, fancy in drawing manuals, pattern books and popular prints, fans and fancy goods, chinoiserie, excess and virtuality in garden design, Canaletto's British 'capricci', urban design in Madrid, and Goya's 'Caprichos'.

Author Information

Melissa Percival is Professor of French, Art History and Visual Culture at the University of Exeter. She has published widely on theories of facial expression, fantasy figures and portraits, with particular reference to eighteenth-century France; these include a monograph on Fragonard’s fantasy figures. Muriel Adrien is Associate Professor of art history and visual culture within the English Department at the University of Toulouse. She has published numerous articles on 18th and 19th-century British and American art, especially as related to scientific context. She is chief editor of the online scholarly journal Miranda (