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The maiden fair: Nineteenth-century medievalist art and the gendered aesthetics of whiteness in HBO’s Game of Thrones

Abstract

This essay explores diachronic processes of gendered white racial formation, taking HBO’s Game of Thrones (2007-) as a central example of the persistence of the nineteenth century’s aesthetic vision of women in contemporary medievalist television. The series portrays the essential medievalist female body as a white body – clothed or unclothed – reproducing an aesthetic gaze that draws heavily on pre-Raphaelite forms, while orientalism provides the dominant model for a female body coded racially ‘Other.’ Whiteness and medievalist nostalgia coalesce to prioritise white female bodies at the same time as they are made the objects of violent desire, while non-white female bodies are repeatedly displaced or marginalized even as they are stripped bare. Reading the visual program of the HBO series alongside examples from nineteenth-century art, the article shows that the racial coding of women in Game of Thrones reproduces an aesthetic treatment of women’s bodies popularized during the Victorian era.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    See Painter (2010, chapters 4 and 5).

  2. 2.

    See Painter (2010) and Dyer (1997).

  3. 3.

    See, e.g., Geary (2002).

  4. 4.

    See Ganim (2005).

  5. 5.

    See Hardy (2015).

  6. 6.

    See Kaufman (2014).

  7. 7.

    See, e.g., Carretero-Gonzalez (2015, 49–50); Carroll (2018, 9).

  8. 8.

    See, e.g., Poniewozik (2011).

  9. 9.

    See Young (2008).

  10. 10.

    See Carroll (2018); Young 2015a (chapter 3).

  11. 11.

    It is worth noting that this pattern of lighting cannot be discerned in images of heterosexual couples from the eighteenth century. These are relatively rare outside the realms of family portraiture and do not tend to represent sexual desire openly, even if the offspring born of endogamous reproduction are typically included.

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Downes, S., Young, H. The maiden fair: Nineteenth-century medievalist art and the gendered aesthetics of whiteness in HBO’s Game of Thrones. Postmedieval 10, 219–235 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41280-019-00124-0

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