Thomas Cooper Gotch or T.C. Gotch (1854–1931) is one of the few late Pre-Raphaelite artists whose work can be categorized as Symbolists. He first made paintings of natural, pastoral settings before immersing himself into allegorical subjects. Many of Gotch’s paintings are allegories of children, in which the idea of childhood is treated as something mystical. His daughter Phyllis was the model for The Child Enthroned, his best known work painted in 1894. The painting made a sensation at the time of its exhibition, and established Gotch’s reputation as an artist.
Contemporary critics are likely not to appreciate the symbolism in Gotch’s work due to a post-humanist reductionist view. Following the presumptions of Sigmund Freud, everything is reduced to sex. Even conservatives tend to appreciate only the technique of his work without recognizing the depth of the symbolism. C.G. Jung’s concept of the child archetype sheds much light on the content of Gotch’s paintings.
Jung understood archetypes as primordial images which exist in the subconscious. The archetypes are often represented in myths and fairy tales but Jung thought the symbols were not just the products of a culture but rather were part of a deep unconscious reservoir he called the collective unconscious. Jung gave an account of a father who showed him a handwritten booklet he had received as a Christmas present from his 10-year old daughter. The book contained a series of dreams of the young girl, Jung remarked, “They made up the weirdest series of dreams that I have ever seen.” The dreams were marked by religious concepts, many were allusions to destruction and restoration. One may assume that the child encountered the religious content from her environment but Jung stressed that “the girl’s family had no more than a superficial acquaintance with the Christian tradition.” Of course, Gotch had no knowledge of Jung’s discoveries but his paintings express a child’s inherent connection to the spiritual realm.
The child archetype is lesser known than the other Jungian archetypes, the anima , the shadow and the persona. The significance of the concept of the persona has much bearing today. The persona, is the social face the individual presented to the world, as Jung stated, “a kind of mask, designed on the one hand to make a definite impression upon others, and on the other to conceal the true nature of the individual”. Thus for Jung the result could be “the shallow, brittle, conformist kind of personality which is ‘all persona’, with its excessive concern for ‘what people think'”….. “unchildlike and artificial”. It seems that contemporary culture with its focus on career advancement tends to develop the persona more than it had been in earlier times. One’s over-identification with their own persona, which would turn an individual into a stereotype born of social expectations and ambition, Jung thought could be corrected by an association with the child archetype by “strengthening the individual’s link to their past by helping them recall childhood experiences and emotions.” The child is a bridge to the one’s true self, of what one was before they were imprisoned by the materialistic world. The expressions of the child archetype symbolized in Gotch’s work and other artists of the period are greatly needed today to counter the effects of the persona.
Gotch’s painting Innocence struck be because how different the dragon is from the dragons than are in contemporary fantasy. Modern dragons are aways black and evil, look as if they came from hell. In contrast, Gotch’s dragon is gold and blue which is rather beautiful. Apparently in the past, peace could be made with the manifestation of the shadow, the dragon. There has been a tragic alliance between the persona and the shadow, they seem to have exiled the redeeming influence of the anima and the child. The primordial ties expressed by the anima and child are rejected as unpractical and illusionary, in this vacuum, the shadow seems to define the culture. The contemporary preoccupation with horror and darkness reflects that the culture has little hope of finding the golden age. The values symbolism in the art of Gotch’s time I believe has solutions to the cultural crisis of our time.