R EVIEWS EDITED BY SEAN P. HARVEY AND LUCIA McMAHON Citizen Spectator: Art, Illusion, and Visual Perception in Early National America. By Wendy Bellion. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2011. Pp. 351. Cloth, $45.00.) Reviewed by Justin Clark From the trompe l'oeil paintings of Charles Willson Peale to P. T. Barnum's Feejee Mermaid, commercial illusions meant more than entertainment to nineteenth-century Americans. As James Cook and Michael Leja have demonstrated, these playful exercises in deception helped Americans confront the more serious financial and social frauds of the age. In focusing her discerning gaze on the ``optical culture of pleasure, play and deceit'' of early national Philadelphia, Wendy Bellion reveals another important use for commercial illusions: the formation of ``citizen spectators,'' vigilant for political impostures that might threaten the new republic (4). Metaphors of vision dominated political rhetoric during and after the Revolution. Just as Patriot pamphleteers urged the public to keep a sharp eye out for closet Loyalists, so Federalists and anti-Federalists accused one another of plotting to deceive the public. Bellion seamlessly weaves contemporary political rhetoric into insightful chapter-length analyses of sensory illusions such as Peale's famous Staircase Group and the Invisible Lady. Collectively, these
Journal of the Early Republic – University of Pennsylvania Press
Published: Aug 18, 2015
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