Mute Poetry, Speaking Pictures: (Essays in the Arts)
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Why do painters sometimes wish they were poets--and why do poets sometimes wish they were painters? What happens when Rembrandt spells out Hebrew in the sky or Poussin spells out Latin on a tombstone? What happens when Virgil, Ovid, or Shakespeare suspend their plots to describe a fictitious painting? In Mute Poetry, Speaking Pictures, Leonard Barkan explores such questions as he examines the deliciously ambiguous history of the relationship between words and pictures, focusing on the period from antiquity to the Renaissance but offering insights that also have much to say about modern art and literature.
The idea that a poem is like a picture has been a commonplace since at least ancient Greece, and writers and artists have frequently discussed poetry by discussing painting, and vice versa, but their efforts raise more questions than they answer. From Plutarch ("painting is mute poetry, poetry a speaking picture") to Horace ("as a picture, so a poem"), apparent clarity quickly leads to confusion about, for example, what qualities of pictures are being urged upon poets or how pictorial properties can be converted into poetical ones.
The history of comparing and contrasting painting and poetry turns out to be partly a story of attempts to promote one medium at the expense of the other. At the same time, analogies between word and image have enabled writers and painters to think about and practice their craft. Ultimately, Barkan argues, this dialogue is an expression of desire: the painter longs for the rich signification of language while the poet yearns for the direct sensuousness of painting.
instantaneously on frenzied impulse. (1:274) Vasari recombines the elements of the analogy by introducing a Platonic strand from the Ion and the Phaedrus, which he turns into his own ut poesis pictura. That is, he appropriates the highly valorized category of poetic frenzy for the visual artist. But it is no coincidence that Vasari should draw Horatian-style analogies to poetry when he is speaking of the distances from which art objects are seen. The invention of perspective has by Vasari’s time
Aphrodite, leaving the Cnidians with only the naked version of the goddess that remained unsold in the showroom. The benighted citizens of Cos, wishing to act in a manner that is casta and severa, choose the Aphrodite that is, by virtue of her clothing, casta and severa. The joke is on them: their statue and their town are virtually forgotten, while the Cnidians, forced to purchase the more sexually explicit reject, find themselves in possession of the most admired art object in the world. Pliny
the whole Narcissus-Pygmalion dilemma by postulating a beloved who really does require the poet-lover in order to make her beautiful. By those economies, the poet is no longer a narcissist (at least if we omit the other object of desire in the Sonnets, the young man, in whose respect the poet abundantly takes up the self-love theme), and his praise for the lady is no longer a fetishistic act of gilding the lily. Or of staining the statue. Shakespeare’s (partial) escape serves to illustrate,
known as Lo Zuccone (Big Head): 1.4 Caravaggio, Matthew and the Angel (1602). Formerly in Staatliche Museen, Berlin (destroyed). (Bildarchiv Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Berlin/Art Resource NY.) 1.5 Caravaggio, Matthew and the Angel (1602). Contarini Chapel, S. Luigi dei Francesi, Rome. (Scala/Art Resource, NY.) 1.6 Donatello, Habbakuk (Lo Zuccone) (ca. 1430). Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, Florence. (Scala/Art Resource, NY.) [L]a quale per essere tenuta cosa rarissima e bella quanto nessuna che
Charles Martindale, 271–81. Cambridge, 1997. Barkan, Leonard. The Gods Made Flesh: Metamorphosis and the Pursuit of Paganism. New Haven, CT, 1986. ———. “Living Sculptures: Ovid, Michelangelo, and The Winter’s Tale.” ELH 48 (1981): 639–67. ———. “Making Pictures Speak: Italian Art, Elizabethan Literature, Modern Scholarship.” Renaissance Quarterly 48 (1995): 326–51. ———. Michelangelo: A Life on Paper. Princeton, NJ, 2010. ———. Transuming Passion: Ganymede and the Erotics of Humanism. Stanford,