Veritable apollos: Aesthetics, evolution and enrico giglioli's photographs of indigenous Australians, 1867-1878

Jane Lydon

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2 Citations (Scopus)


Ideas about Aboriginal people have always been shaped by Eurocentric aesthetic judgements, however unstable: as the Italian Darwinist Enrico Giglioli wrote in 1875, we find some, like Pickering and Leichhardt, who assert that the aborigines are veritable Apollos, while others have depicted them as the most wretched of humans in their physical aspect. The mid-nineteenth century saw a visual revolution intersect with tremendous scientific ferment surrounding the origins and history of humankind. One of the more controversial implications of Darwin's theory of evolution was that aesthetic judgement and perceptions of beauty were relative, and a function of natural selection. However, scientists - including Darwin himself - found it difficult to abandon conventional western aesthetic criteria for defining other peoples. Giglioli's work on Australian Aboriginal people exemplifies the intense experimentation of this formative period, and the development both of ideas about Indigenous Australians and a new visual language to express them. Through an innovative visual comparative method, he sought to place Aboriginal Australians within an evolutionary racial taxonomy. Nonetheless, conventions of beauty focused on the antique classical ideal continued to structure perceptions of Aboriginal people, and continue to be implicated in arguments for intervention and colonization. Such analysis reveals the contingency of rival visual discourses in the past, and denaturalizes ways of seeing race in the present.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)72-96
Number of pages25
JournalInterventions: International journal of postcolonial studies
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jan 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Aboriginal
  • Australian
  • Colonial photography
  • Darwinism
  • Giglioli Enrico
  • People
  • Visual culture

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