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The University of Southampton
Humanities Graduate School

Elena Stevens

I completed my BA in History and English in 2012, and my MRes in History in 2013, both at the University of Southampton.

Elena Stevens

For my MRes dissertation, I focused upon the ‘attitudes’ performed by Emma Hamilton, wife of antiquarian William Hamilton and mistress of Lord Nelson. In a series of fluid poses, Emma Hamilton imitated figures from ancient mythology and classical art, inviting elite audiences to call out the names of the characters when they recognised them. I argued that Emma Hamilton, and not her husband, was ultimately responsible for shaping the style and format of the act, drawing upon a number of artistic, cultural and scientific sources. I started my PhD in History in 2013.

For my thesis I am examining the genre of variety entertainment known as tableaux vivants or ‘living pictures’, which involved male and female models posing in frozen imitation of ancient statues and contemporary artworks. The genre, which originated as a form of parlour charade in the 1780s, was particularly popular in nineteenth-century circuses, pleasure gardens and music halls, and I will be exploring the ways in which the tableaux were adapted according to audience and venue. Some of the most popular tableaux featured female models imitating the appearance of nudity with the use of flesh-coloured body stockings; the ancient statue ‘Venus de Milo’ was an important source of inspiration for tableaux directors, as were the nude paintings of Frederick Leighton and John Everett Millais. These tableaux were condemned by feminists and social purists, who argued that the genre exploited both the female models and the original artworks upon which the tableaux were based. I contend that the genre has much to tell us about nineteenth-century attitudes towards art, the ancient world and women. The tableaux phenomenon coincided with a period of increased freedom for women, as suffragists campaigned for the vote and women began to assert themselves in traditionally male-dominated professional fields. Female tableaux models, like women more generally, were poised on the brink of movement, and might break free of their Galatea-like immurement at any moment.

Key facts

Elena is supervised by Dr Jonathan Conlin and Dr Joan Tumblety

Email Elena here.

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