The Period Eye

Notes on Early Modern Visual Culture

January 1, 2021
by tlarkin
Comments Off on In Search of Marie-Antoinette

In Search of Marie-Antoinette

Monograph release: Spring 2019

Now available on

In Search of Marie-Antoinette in the 1930s: Stefan Zweig, Irving Thalberg, and Norma Shearer is a scholarly monograph published by Palgrave Macmillan that follows Austrian biographer Stefan Zweig, American producer Irving Thalberg, and Canadian-American actress Norma Shearer as they attempt to uncover personal aspects of Marie-Antoinette’s life at the French court in the late eighteenth century and to dramatize them in biography, cinema, and performance for public consumption during the 1930s. The first chapter establishes the core subject as an inquiry into the respective contributions of Zweig, Thalberg, and Shearer in formulating an “objective” or “authentic” image of “Marie-Antoinette.” The three chapters that follow examine in some detail how Zweig pursued research and drafted the psychological biography at his Salzburg home, Thalberg acquired film rights to the best-selling book and fought the censors to preserve the more sensational aspects of the screenplay at the Culver City studio, and Shearer worked closely with a new producer to give the script a strong romantic angle and to perform the character of the queen on the sound stage. The professionals’ research standards and strategic objectives are weighed in the formulation of a new myth at once sensitive to the historical record and suited to the leisure market. The author’s painstaking research makes it clear that all three protagonists strove for historical precision in their characterizations of the eighteenth-century queen and her court, though with different degrees of self-awareness as shapers of a potent twentieth-century myth of “Marie-Antoinette.”

Stefan Zweig, author of the best-selling biography Marie Antoinette: The Portrait of an Average Woman (1932), and Claudine West, contributor to the adapted screenplay Marie Antoinette (1934-1936) (Stefan Zweig Center, Salzburg and Margaret Herrick Library, Los Angeles).

Table of Contents

Introduction: In Search of Marie-Antoinette: The Inscrutable Life Worth Scrutinizing

Scholarship to Date

  • The Myth of “Marie-Antoinette”
  • “Objectivity” in the Writing of History, “Authenticity” in the Production of Film
  • Zweig, Thalberg and Shearer in Documents and Biographies

Structure and Method of the Argument

Part I: Stefan Zweig’s Clinical Biography, 1930-1932

Western European Approaches to Illustrated Biography in the 1920s

Zweig’s Approach to Psychological Biography

Zweig’s Approach to the French Revolution

Merging Dominant Interpretations of Marie-Antoinette 

Structure of the Argument

Marie-Antoinette’s Psychological Transformation: Cause, Manifestations, and Cure

Marie-Antoinette’s Spiritual Transformation: Awakening, Resistance and Acceptance

Writing Historical Biography as an “Interested” Undertaking

Zweig on Film Adaptations of Historical Biographies

Part II: Irving Thalberg’s Film Production, 1934-1936

European and American Approaches to Historical Film in the 1920s

Thalberg’s Approach to Biographical Film

Thalberg’s Introduction to the Zweig Property

Sorting Rival Interpretations of Marie-Antoinette

In Conference: Establishing Character Motivations, Scenarios, and Continuity

The Two Earliest “Temporary Complete Screenplays”

Indicating Louis’ Phimosis, or How Ineffectual Lovemaking Leads to lackluster Leadership

Indicating the Revolutionaries, or How to Generate Sympathy for Monarchs in Spite of Their Ineffectualness

Producing Biographical Film as an “interested” Undertaking

Thalberg on Playing a Historical Character

Part III: Norma Shearer’s Dramatic Performance, 1937-1938

Euro-American Approaches to Historical Roles in the 1930s

Shearer’s Approach to Historical Characterizations

Shearer’s Recommitment to the Marie-Antoinette Role

The “Final Okayed Screenplay”

Inter-Dependence of Screenplay, Cast, Costumes, and Sets

Before and Behind the Cameras: Shearer’s Acting Technique and Production Oversight

The Two Faces of Marie-Antoinette, or How to Sell Sin and Atonement

To make Marie-Antoinette Live Again: The Art of Rendering Clear and Mixed Passions

Acting a Historical Part as an “Interested” Undertaking

Shearer on Public Response to Her Performance



“Marie-Antoinette” in Myth

“Objectivity” in Biography, “Authenticity” in Film

Time Travel Today


Design by Emma Hardy

Todd Larkin during the writing of In Search of Marie-Antoinette, August 2016


“This is an important book for our library!”

– Eva Alteneder, Stefan Zweig Center Salzburg

“This gets my award for best reception history book of the year! It is simply fabulous!” and “It’s a great piece of research underpinned by a strong idea. It reads as an archaeology of film. I thoroughly enjoyed it and learned loads.”

– Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones, University of Cardiff

“T. Lawrence Larkin’s In Search of Marie-Antoinette in the 1930s is a game changer. He builds upon his considerable expertise in art history—the representation of the dubious queen in oil painting—as a framework for exploring a particular classical Hollywood biopic, MGM’s Marie-Antoinette (1938). Not only does the book give reason to attend more carefully to the bio-pic in late 1930s Hollywood, it also provides a sterling guide for how to do production studies at its most sophisticated level. Larkin’s attention to literary studies (the author Stefan Zweig), film studies (the producer Irving Thalberg), and performance studies (the actress Norma Shearer) provides a beacon for what the humanities should look like in the twenty-first century, interdisciplinary and brazenly expansive in its scope. The age of academic disciplinary boundaries is coming to an end, and Larkin’s book hammers a significant nail into its coffin.”

– Walter Metz, Southern Illinois University

“Like everything Professor Larkin has written about Marie-Antoinette and her image (how she related to her own image, how she contributed to shaping it, or—like here—how the queen’s image and character have been explored on screen and in literature), this book is excellent reading and very thoroughly researched. I warmly recommend it to those with an interest in the fascinating dialogue historical figures keep having with movie makers and intellectuals turned biographers….Many useless and repetitive books are written about Marie-Antoinette. This original way of exploring how she has fascinated so many—and keeps doing so—will appeal to many. A great book!”

– Jean François Carric, Metamark UK Limited

Norma Shearer as Marie-Antoinette, MGM publicity postcard, ca. 1938.

December 31, 2020
by tlarkin
Comments Off on Politics & Portraits

Politics & Portraits

Anthology release: Spring 2019

Now available on

Politics & Portraits in the United States & France during the Age of Revolution is an anthology of essays prepared by portrait scholars from the United States, Canada, France, and Germany and published by the Smithsonian Institution Scholarly Press to mark the bicentennial of the burning of the federal buildings and the loss of national treasures at Washington, D.C., on the night of 24-25 August 1814. It explores the way portraits intersected with politics during the Revolutionary and Imperial Eras in The United States and France. Between the War of Independence of 1776 and the War of 1812, the United States maintained a complicated and tense political relationship with Britain and France, affecting patterns of trade and diplomacy, cultural representation, and consumption on both sides of the Atlantic. The transition from monarchical to republican forms of government was accompanied by a shift from aristocrats to citizens as the primary patrons, artists, subjects, and viewers of portraits. For this reason, images of heads if state, delegates, and their families often reveal an uneasy integration of old aristocratic forms and new republican values. The essays in this book examine representations of major figures such as Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, George Washington, Napoleon Bonaparte, and James Madison, among others. They also explore how artists portrayed royal, republican, and imperial heads of state to promote authority; national, state, and provincial delegates to express the values of a faction, constituency, or class; and prominent merchants to depict the burgeoning influence of the citizen.

Session “Republicanism and the Politician’s Portrait,” part of the “Political Portraiture” conference at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C., August 2014.

Table of Contents

Preface   T. Lawrence Larkin

Introduction   T. Lawrence Larkin


Part I Introduction   T. Lawrence Larkin

The U.S. Congress’s State Portraits of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette: The Politics of Display and Displacement at the Capitol, 1800-1814   T. Lawrence Larkin

Bonaparte as a Republican   David O’Brien

Man + Horse: Repurposing the Equestrian Portrait in the Post-Revolutionary Era   Heather McPherson


Part II Introduction   Brandon Brame Fortune

Gilbert Stuart’s “Lansdowne” Portrait of George Washington: From Diplomatic Gift to State Portrait   Ellen G. Miles

Portraits for Diplomacy: Gilbert Stuart’s Pendant Portraits of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison   Gaye S. Wilson

Rivalries and Dissensions within the Maison de l’Empereur: Napoleon’s Portraitists and the Production of Diplomatic Gifts   Cyril Lécosse


Part III Introduction   Philippe Bordes

Faces of the Nation: Physionotrace Portraits and the Invention of Political Modernity   Guillaume Mazeau

Representing the Representatives: Portraiture and Sovereignty in Revolutionary France, 1789-1795   Gerrit Walczak

Signs of Power: Bonaparte and the Concordat of 1801  Kathryn Calley Galitz


Part IV Introduction  Amy Freund

Woman on a Wire: How Marie-Antoinette, d’Angiviller, and Vigée Le Brun Confounded Critics by Balancing Majesty and Maternity at the Salon of 1787   T. Lawrence Larkin

Architectural Portraits: Mount Vernon, Monticello, and La Grange   Kevin D. Murphy

Politicizing Portraiture: Family Portraits and Visual Rhetoric in Revolutionary France   Marlen Schneider


Part V Introduction   Margaretta M. Lovell

Urban Portraits, Two Centuries Ago: Faces, Bodies, and Footprints   Jeffrey A. Cohen

From Portrait to Plan: Mapping Capital Cities in France and the United States   Min Kyung Lee


About the Contributors


Design by Julie Allred of BW&A Books

Todd Larkin in Washington, D.C., to carry out research on the old north wing of the Capitol (painted by William Birch ca. 1800) at the Architect of the Capitol’s Office and to consult with the Smithsonian Institution Scholarly Press (Ginger Strader, Editor-in-Chief).

Early assessments:

“The essays…are all extremely accessible but also substantial in scholarship and argument….A fair number of the essays are about closing down on the subject—explaining and resolving it fully (e.g. Miles, Larkin)—so it was good to have an example of an essay (Cohen) that opened everything up and left the subject unresolved….There is a larger audience built into the book because it addresses both Americanists and French modernists, art and architectural historians, and cultural historians of the period.”

            – E. Bruce Robertson, University of California

“The book’s introduction by Larkin provides historical context and discusses the purpose and structure of the book….The subjects of the portraits in the essays range from kings and queens to generals, politicians, and presidents, in addition to equestrian, family, and group portraits. Portraits of Napoleon Bonaparte and George Washington dominate. Interestingly, parts four and five present architecture and urban planning as a form of portraiture, with Mount Vernon, Monticello, and La Grange as reflective of their owners’ politics, and with ‘political portraiture…as a powerful metaphor to describe urban space’.…The documentation of the book is strong, with two to three pages of endnotes following each essay….Some of the plates are repeated in later chapters, which is helpful in allowing the essays to stand on their own without the need to flip back or forth to look for relevant plates….Overall it is an impressive work of scholarship and is a fine addition to the study of portraits and politics in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries in the United States and France.”

            – Virginia Feher, University of North Georgia

Montana State University graduate student assistants Katrin Cottingham and Laurence Alexander preparing to film Philippe Bordes discussing Jacques-Louis David’s Napoleon in His Study (1812), National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., August 2014.

December 30, 2020
by tlarkin
Comments Off on Baroque Impressions

Baroque Impressions

Catalog release: December 2018; revised ed. August 2019

Now available on

Baroque Impressions: Reproductive Engravings after Rubens and Van Dyck Paintings ca. 1620-1860 is a catalog published by the School of Art to accompany the ground-breaking exhibition that was held in the Dean’s Gallery of the College of Arts and Architecture at Montana State University from 2 November to 28 December 2018. It is edited by T. Lawrence Larkin, Associate Professor of Seventeenth- to Nineteenth-Century European Art, and comprised of essays written by Kearstin Jacobson and Dani Huvaere, and object entries written by Larkin, Jacobson, Huvaere, Audrey Moss, Robin Anderson, and Stormy DuBois. This publication explores the historicizing impulse behind thematic displays of Rubens and Van Dyck paintings and discusses important images by reproductive printmakers—from Lucas Vorsterman, Hans Witdoeck, and Jonas Suyderhoef in the seventeenth century to William Sharp, Ferdinand Joubert, and David Desvachez in the nineteenth century. Copiously illustrated, this volume is intended to stimulate discussion about the formal and conceptual relationship between paintings and engravings, invoking issues of artistic originality and variation, market developments, and thematic collecting.

Entry to the exhibition, with Jacob Pitau’s Heavenly Concert (1654-1661) after a painting by Anthony Van Dyck

Table of Contents

Forward Vaughan Judge

Acknowledgements T. Lawrence Larkin

Introduction T. Lawrence Larkin

Catalog nos. 1-2

Unexpected Innovation in Reproductive Prints after Rubens Kearstin Jacobson

Catalog nos. 3-16

Unusual Freedom in Reproductive Prints after Van Dyck Dani Huvaere

Catalog nos. 17-33

Printmaking Techniques Stormy DuBois and Robin Anderson


With Art Direction by Bruce Barnhart and Design by Audrey Moss

Exhibition / Catalog contributors, from left to right: Todd Larkin, Stormy DuBois, Kearstin Jacobson, Audrey Moss, Robin Anderson, and Dani Huvaere, November 2018.


“The participation of these print dealers and scholars has demonstrated that the construction of a ‘baroque picture gallery’ from ‘ephemeral print media’ is a real possibility in the present age, bringing rare and far-flung cultural resources to communities in the Northern Rockies and facilitating collaborative research among faculty, independent scholars, and graduate students.”

  • Todd Larkin, Baroque Impressions

“Larkin decided to focus on reproductive etchings and engravings after the major master works of Rubens and Van Dyck. He reached out to print dealers in New York and Belgium, who collaboratively negotiated to allow Larkin to obtain the right components for an exhibition with ‘wonderful thematic coherence.’”

  • Quincy Balius, The MSU Exponent

“[Reproductive engravings] could…be sold for a price that, while still out of budget for the average worker, would have been accessible to those who depend on it for their own livelihood. ‘An artist would have seen it as indispensable to his progress,’ said Todd Larkin…The prints would be used to disseminate art news, to brag about collections or for artistic study. ‘Engravers democratize the image,’ Larkin said. ‘More people saw them through the engraving than the original painting.’”

  • Rachel Hergett, Bozeman Daily Chronicle

“Splendid pieces.” “Beautifully displayed!” “Incredible and educational.” “This show touches me.” “Wow, Fall of the Damned really is intense. What a print!” “I’d love to have the opportunity for more exhibits such as this!”

  • Selected visitor comments, Gallery Guest Book
Bruce and Carol Ready from Billings, Montana, standing next to Christian Mayer’s Boreas Abducting Oreithyia (1835-1845) after a painting by Peter Paul Rubens, on opening night, November 2018.