Smell and Stereotype in 18th- and 19th-Century Visual Culture

Association for Art History Annual Conference – Birmingham, 14-17 April 2021

DEADLINE FOR SUBMISSIONS: Monday 19 October 2020

Ersy Contogouris, University of Montreal,

Érika Wicky, Université Lumière Lyon 2 / LARHRA,

In the 18th and 19th centuries, the ‘olfactory revolution’ that reoriented conceptions of smell led to renewed meanings and functions of this sense in social life. The epistemological shift that strongly linked olfaction with the nervous system, the development of hygiene as a science, and the flourishing of the perfume industry contributed to transforming the significance of smell. The act of smelling thus became involved in many identity constructions such as nation, race, gender and class. Olfaction came to be gendered; for instance, as specific smells became associated with women, the act of smelling was seen as pertaining to the feminine by means of objects such as scent bottles that performed women’s supposed extra-sensitivity to smells, and perfume was increasingly used to bolster the association between women and flowers. At the level of nations, the high proportion of Italian and French perfumers in England contributed to the construction of national stereotypes.            

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