Velvet Curtains and Gilded Frames

The Art of Early European Cinema

Vito Adriaensens

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Analyzes the visual and cultural context of Europe’s first feature films from 19th century painting to pictorial photography

  • Sheds new light on the late 19th and early 20th century’s cultural context
  • Innovatively brings together different media, their artistic traditions, and their respective theoretical and discursive paradigms
  • Presents an alternative history of early European cinema by analyzing it from an inclusive art historical perspective
  • Thoroughly explores the first European feature films’ cinematic form and function

Velvet Curtains and Gilded Frames explores the intermedial context of early cinema. It tackles the first European feature films’ intricate relationship with its sister arts to reveal that the period referred to by historians as the "long nineteenth century" was one in which Bourgeois Realism reigned supreme. The nineteenth-century rise of the middle class coincided with realism becoming the dominant artistic mode in both form and content, leading to a revival of genre painting in the art academies; the supremacy of the social melodrama on the stage; and the advent of Pictorialism in photography. In its quest for artistic legitimacy, European filmmakers sought to win over middle-class audiences with films based on popular works of art - the first "art films" - by employing similar visual and narrative strategies as its artistic counterparts.

List of Figures


Introduction: History, Intermediality and Early European Cinema

  1. The Birth of a Sixth Art: The Art Film and the Film-as-Art Discourse
  2. Behind the Velvet Curtain: The Cultural Communion between Stage and Screen
  3. An Actress for Our Age: Betty Nansen, Modern Media Icon
  4. In Another Light: Academic Painting, Pictorial Photography, Bourgeois Cinema
  5. Old Masters Endure: Victor Sjöström’s Netherlandish Tableaux

Conclusion: Towards a Cultural Poetics of Early European Cinema

Bibliography and Filmography

About the Author


Historiographically informed and buttressed by archival sources, Vito Adriaensens’ intermedial investigation of silent European cinema from the 1910s sheds new light on underexplored producers of the era, primarily Gaumont and Nordisk. The cultural poetics approach anchoring Velvet Curtains and Gilded Frames reminds us that we still have much to learn about this key period.

Charlie Keil, University of Toronto
Vito Adriaensens is a scholar and filmmaker. He is currently Assistant Professor of Experimental Film and Media at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts.

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