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To See and To Be Seen: Beauty in the Early Modern London Street

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This article discusses physical beauty and its presence in early modern London streets. Based mainly on the evidence of sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century printed literature, it concentrates on how good looks, visibility, and gender were thought to interact in encounters between gazers and the gazed at. Treating the street as both physical space and a metaphor for visibility, it suggests three perspectives through which the relationship between beauty and gender could be approached: firstly, men looking at beauty and reacting to it; secondly, women as spectacle; and thirdly, women's active participation in these exchanges in the streets. Beauty narratives informed the early modern gaze when it confronted the urban scene, assigned affective content to these visual encounters, and inscribed both the seer and the seen with cultural meaning. Viewed as an active process of communication and interpretation, beauty becomes a fundamental category for understanding the cultural history of the street.

Affiliations: 1: University of Helsinki


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