Resonance of the Republic: England 1660 and France 1831
This paper explores an exhibition and an accompanying book, shown and published at the Musee des Beaux Art in Nimes in November 2007. This was a museological/artistic ‘intervention’ around Delaroche’s painting, Cromwell contemplating the beheaded corpse of Charles 1st in his coffin, of 1831. This paper argues a case for a contemporary historiographic art practice. Focussing on this exhibition, the paper explores the history of Cromwell’s head disinterred in 1660, preserved as a curiosity and exhibited in 1799, reburied in 1960, and attempts to address issues of memory, personal reminiscence, and the ghosts and disturbances of childhood stories and myths in the construction of history. It connects contemporaneous myth making such as a pamphlet of 1720 recycling a story of how Cromwell sold his soul to the devil with more recent 20th century versions such as Cromwell as a baby being carried off by the household’s pet monkey! Delaroche’s painting holds a prime place in the Musée at Nimes for a number of reasons, which the paper explores. Fictional reconstruction in the writing and rewriting of history and the visualisation of exhibition making are thus brought together as a mechanism to reveal contemporary meaning about Britain’s republican past. The images and texts created for the exhibition are explored in the paper, including a video of Cromwell’s head twitching into ghostly life against Delaroche’s famous painting of Cromwell viewing the consequences of what the French refer to as the ‘razor!’ It therefore brings together an interest in the periods 1649, 1660, 1799, 1830/1, 1960, blending historiography and contemporary art practice/curatorship.
Keywords: Historiography, Art Practice, Museology, Intervention
Reader in Arts Practice and Historiography and Director of the Arts Practices and Performance Research Institute, School of Arts and Communication, University of Brighton