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Misery, alienation and "The Delinquent Gypsy" in the art of Isidre Nonell and his Spanish contemporaries

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Title: Misery, alienation and "The Delinquent Gypsy" in the art of Isidre Nonell and his Spanish contemporaries
Author(s): Dorofeeva, Maria
Advisor(s): Vázquez, Oscar E.
Department / Program: Art & Design
Discipline: Art History
Degree Granting Institution: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Degree: M.A.
Genre: Thesis
Subject(s): Isidre Nonell Catalan Modernisme gitano gypsy representation in Spanish turn-of-the-century painting Dolores nineteenth-century criminology Cesare Lombroso Rafael Salillas Santiago Rusiñol Zuloaga Anglada-Camarasa Cretíns de Boi, Noucentisme.
Abstract: For centuries Roma people, popularly known as “Gypsies,” an ethnic group without a national territory of its own, faced persecution in Europe which contributed to the transient and “delinquent gypsy” myth, used to justify the harsh social measures against the Roma. Fin-de-siècle Spain presents a unique opportunity to trace the very origins of gypsy stereotypes and their function within the much larger context of national debates of identity. This thesis offers a socio-historical analysis of the contradictory modes of gypsy representation in turn-of-the-century Spanish painting, and within the context of the nineteenth century European fascination with all aspects of the imaginary “gypsy” culture. Further, nineteenth-century criminology, firmly rooted in the discourse of degeneration, turned to the gypsy as the ultimate atavistic agent of destruction. The rich cultural tradition associated with the Spanish gypsy, combined with contemporary social theories of the socially unacceptable nomadic lifestyle of the gypsies, made the Gitano one of the iconic subjects of turn-of-the-century Spanish painters, such as Ignacio Zuloaga, Julio Romero de Torres, Hermenegildo Anglada-Camarasa and Isidre Nonell. This thesis focuses on the works of Isidre Nonell (1872-1911), whose approach to Caló (Spanish Roma) culture, acted in direct opposition to a romanticized flamenquismo (that is, influenced by visions of southern Spain’s Andalusian Gitanos) represented by the three aforementioned artists. The emphasis in Nonell’s art was not on the entertainment value of the gypsy, but on the degrading social reality of Caló in his native Barcelona, restricted to poverty-stricken neighborhoods on the outskirts of the city. Whereas the Andalusian Gitano was privileged as “the aristocrat of gypsies” in Europe, finding expression in a variety of visual media, Gitano communities prominent in Barcelona were left out of the narrative because their depiction severely problematized understandings of the city as a seat of progress. In this thesis I argue that Nonell’s career, despite its promising beginnings in Parisian salons and galleries, was marked by continuous failure with a European public because his painting worked to unsettle the established gypsy mythology. By stripping his Caló protagonists of their colorful costumes and depriving them agency in his works, Nonell rejected their traditional roles of entertainers, and instead drew his viewers’ attention to the physical and social state of Caló in Barcelona. The impact of the visual arts on the formation and, in Nonell’s case, the deconstruction of “the gypsy myth” cannot be fully appreciated without turning to nineteenth-century-criminology, represented by Cesare Lombroso, his Spanish follower Rafael Salillas, and the way they constructed “the delinquent gypsy.” One of Nonell’s critics explicitly connected the artist’s work to Lombroso, claiming that Nonell’s paintings were, in fact, “Lombroso hecho un cuadro.” If, as Homi Bhabha, Sander Gilman and others have shown, the stereotype is assigned a function of normalizing the differences that interfere with the fantasy of racial purity, then Nonell’s paintings functioned as a frustrating disruption in the public’s perception of Caló. This work attempts to restore Nonell’s subjects back to his works, almost exclusively studied as exercises in personal expression, and situating his “gitana paintings” within the context of social art of the period.
Issue Date: 2012-05-22
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/2142/31210
Rights Information: Copyright 2012 Maria Dorofeeva
Date Available in IDEALS: 2012-05-22
Date Deposited: 2012-05
 

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