Susan Sontag, in her now-classic “Notes on Camp” (1964), traces the origins of camp to the eighteenth century (13, 14, 33). And although it is precisely the baroque and rococo art movements against which Winckelmann rebelled that Sontag identifies as camp, it is worth reflecting on whether the notion of imitation that is central to both movements – imitation of ancient works in the case of neoclassicism, and imitation as parody in the case of camp (Meyer 7) – might not bring the two closer. Once the conceptual chasm separating neoclassicism and camp has begun to be bridged, we can push our enquiry further and ask to what extent camp can be read into the neoclassical movement.
The endeavour might seem anachronistic since the word “camp” only made its appearance in the English dictionary at the beginning of the twentieth century. To paraphrase the English literature scholar Devoney Looser in her study of “Jane Austen Camp,” I am not asking if camp is “there” in the development of neoclassicism. What I am doing is asking what aspects of neoclassicism (if any) can be read differently if we look at this moment through a campy lens. To do so, I propose to consider two series of spectacles that Sir William Hamilton, the British ambassador to Naples from 1764 to 1800, presented to his guests, the many European aristocrats, diplomats, Grand Tourists, artists, and other travellers who made their way to Naples in their search for the unique classical experience provided by a visit to Pompeii and Herculaneum. One was of his wife Emma Hamilton’s famous Attitudes; the other was the less well-known display he organized of adolescent boys splashing in the waters in what might be thought to have approximated ancient gymnopaedias.
camp, neoclassicism, Emma Hamilton, Naples, Grand Tour, antiquity
"Neoclassicism and Camp in Sir William Hamilton’s Naples,"
ABO: Interactive Journal for Women in the Arts, 1640-1830: Vol.9: Iss.1, Article 3.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.usf.edu/abo/vol9/iss1/3