The Opulent City and the Sylvan State: Art and Environmental Embodiment in Early National Philadelphia


Luce/ACLS Dissertation Fellowships in American Art


Art History, Tyler School of Art


This dissertation investigates the ways Philadelphia artists and architects visualized, comprehended, and reformed the city’s rapidly changing urban environment during the early national period. It argues that for Charles Willson Peale, William Rush, Benjamin Latrobe, and others, the human body served as a powerful metaphor in Philadelphia circa 1800, not only for understanding and representing natural processes in political or aesthetic terms, but also for framing critical public discourse about the city’s actual environmental conditions. The project reveals how this metaphorical framework produced a variety of effects in art and architecture of the period, sometimes facilitating and at other times obscuring proto-ecological understanding about the natural world as an arena of dynamic transformation.