Arresting Beauty: The Perfectionist Impulse of Peale's Butterflies, Heade's Hummingbirds, Blaschka's Flowers, and Sandow's Body


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships


History of Art


The pursuit of perfection pervades 19th-Century American art and culture. While historical interpretations of this era posit a binary opposition of competing desires—an embrace of progress and new technologies versus anti-modernist nostalgia—this work identifies and analyzes a previously unstudied phenomenon: the desire to stop time at a “perfect moment,” pausing the cycle of growth, decay, and rebirth to arrest and preserve a perfect state that forestalls decay or death. Four case studies in diverse visual media illuminate this notion of the perfect moment: Titian Peale’s Lepidoptera portfolios and specimen cases; Martin Johnson Heade’s “Gems of Brazil” hummingbird paintings; films, photographs, and sculptures of bodybuilder Eugen Sandow; and Harvard’s collection of glass botanical models created by Leopold & Rudolf Blaschka.