Stephen Copley Award Report

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By Emily Paterson-Morgan

This report is by Jonathan Taylor (University of Surrey), a recipient of the Stephen Copley Research grant.

My Stephen Copley Research Award funded a trip to Edinburgh to consult the National Records of Scotland’s and Scottish National Gallery’s collections of letters and drawings by the painter Alexander Runciman (1736-85).

What interests me about Runciman — who is best known as the creator of the first (now sadly lost) decorative scheme based on James Macpherson’s Ossian epics — is his heroic treatment of female characters from the epic tradition. Whereas other late eighteenth-century artists (most notably Angelica Kauffman) had pioneered painters’ treatment of women as heroic subjects, they also tended to circumscribe the heroism of female epic characters, such as Andromache and Penelope, to passive acts of suffering and endurance. In several instances, Runciman
went a step further, representing the suffering of female epic heroes not as something in which they have no agency, but something that they bravely elect to undergo. This is most obviously the case in Runciman’s depiction of Corgan Carglâ, a hunter from Macpherson’s Ossian, who chooses to be imprisoned in a cave for life
rather than submit to her husband’s murderer.

Before my research trip, I thought I had discerned …read more