‘The Painter has made a finer Story than the Poet’
Jonathan Richardson’s ekphrastic ‘Dissertation’ on Poussin’s Tancred and Erminia
in Ekphrastic encounters
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This chapter considers Jonathan Richardson’s critical ‘Dissertation’ on Poussin’s painting Tancred and Erminia (c. 1633) as both analysis and ekphrastic representation. It focuses on Richardson’s keen interest in the artist’s visual interpretations of, and additions to, Tasso’s great Italian epic poem, Gerusalemme liberata (1581). It becomes clear that both the French painter and the English critic know the Italian poem well; it is far less certain, however, whether the intended English readership would have shared similar first-hand knowledge of either the picture or its literary source. Richardson’s paragone of the two forms is intended to emphasize Poussin’s ability ‘to make use of the Advantages This Art has over that of his Competitor’; problematically, however, the pre-eminence of the visual medium in this specific example can only be attested to by means of a sustained verbal comparison of the painting and its poetic source, which ultimately seems to imply a more complex, symbiotic relationship in the encounter between the visual and literary arts than Richardson initially admits.

Ekphrastic encounters

New interdisciplinary essays on literature and the visual arts


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