The essay presents a model of “queer family romance” (adapted from Freud's concept of family romance) in historical practices of collecting visual culture in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Though queer collections of visual culture and queer family romance are independent variables, the essay addresses their intersection. The first part briefly outlines how queer collections, regardless of the stylistic and iconographic affiliations of particular objects, are constituted in “family resemblances” among objects that tend, overall, to inflect the entire array in terms of nonstandard sexualities and erotic attractions. The second part considers how Freud handled the question of family romance in his most notable treatment of a famous historical artist, Leonardo da Vinci, and suggests that a concept of queer family romance, though overlooked by Freud, might extend and improve the Freudian account of Leonardo's sexual subjectivity (as well as his subjectivity as an artist) and go some way toward explaining why Leonardo's art played a paradigmatic role in later collections of queer visual culture and why Leonardo occupied a major place in later family romances of artistic subjectivity. The third section considers an example of the intersection of queer family romance and the collection of visual culture, namely, the collection of paintings, objets d'art, and other items of visual and material culture gathered and exhibited by William Beckford at Fonthill Abbey from about 1795 to about 1820. The essay concludes by suggesting that queer family romance in collecting visual and material culture constitutes a possible matrix of queer bonding that might supplement, or even provide an alternative to, the social relations of juridical kin or real biological family; because queer families constituted extrabiologically (i.e., in activities of generating cultural forms) can function psychically and socially as family in the fullest sense, they deserve more attention in contemporary debates about the legal-political status—even the very identity—of nontraditional family structures.
Whitney Davis; Queer Family Romance in Collecting Visual Culture. GLQ 1 June 2011; 17 (2-3): 309–329. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10642684-1163418
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