This book examines how eighteenth-century prints and drawings of the architecture of antiquity operated as potent representations of thought with their own syntactical, linguistic and cultural qualities. Original archival material is interrogated using the trope of ekphrasis to pinpoint debates about verbal and visual descriptions that continue to influence semiotics and critical theory. This novel approach makes a timely intervention in current debates about how we interpret the visual. Beginning with the notion that the spatial world of the image and the temporal world of the text share common ground as embodiments of human thought, this study questions how these are brought to bear on the spatial and temporal aspects of the architecture of antiquity as evident in prints and drawings made of it. The book considers the idea of the past in the period, especially how it was discovered and described, and investigates the ways in which space and time inform the visual ekphrasis of architecture. The idea of embodiment is used to explore the various methods of describing architecture – including graphic techniques, measurement and perspective, all of which demonstrate choices about, and the gendered implications of, different modes of description or ekphrasis.
Ekphrasis/exscription: Jean-Luc Nancy on
thinking and touching art
The central paradox of ekphrasis, at least if we approach it in what W. J. T.
Mitchell calls the indifferent mode, is that writing a visual image into language
is also writing it out.1 In the incorporation into language, the work of visual art
is evoked, made present in a transposed, translated, re-processed form, but in its
visual essence it is also excluded. The visual image becomes an absence around
which another system – that of language – temporarily organizes itself. Indeed
be at odds with the architecture or spaces they attempt to describe. What, then, does a visual description reveal, allow or release that a verbal one cannot? Does it, for example, tell us something about gender in relation to the representation and experience of the architecture of antiquity?
The linguistic qualities of images
With these caveats in mind, I want to begin with the concept of ekphrasis – the verbal description of a work of art or, indeed, its re-creation through language. The roots of this process in the literature of classical antiquity need not
a keen interest in perspective, a point I shall return to later. 6 Indeed, the richness of the text and the references to writings of Horace and Cicero emphasise the connection between Alberti’s treatise for the visual depiction of the world and the classical linguistic trope of ekphrasis. 7 Moreover, the palpable struggle Alberti has in finding suitable vocabulary to express his ideas about the visual in both the Latin and Italian versions makes this work germane to our study. As Creighton Gilbert remarks: ‘he [Alberti] was breaking new ground and seeking
buildings, the physical processes of producing a print or drawing and in the nature of human perception, where the usually perceived binaries of ‘visual’ or ‘tactile’ are seen to elide. In this way, my enquiry has moved beyond the established boundaries of ekphrasis and artistic production in Europe, to consider how the phenomenological experience of descriptions of architecture in terms of how they are both created and read inflect on our understanding. A substantial evidence base, including familiar theorists and artists, lesser-known eighteenth-century figures as well
verbal ekphrasis, as they can respond/represent in ways that offer another kind of realism. Indeed, Freud’s evocation of the imaginary image of Rome rests within certain linguistic constraints of verbal ekphrasis.
We might think that space or a city cannot have two different simultaneous contents and consequently that histories of the same geographical location must be juxtaposed. Yet this simultaneity is precisely the experience of visiting Rome – the compression of different temporalities – the ability to experience the past and the present at the same time. The
page. But what we see, that is to say the lines on the page, is not the three-dimensional space that we know to be there.
I would like to pause to think about the relationships between resemblance and representation and description and ekphrasis. 14 I begin with the somewhat obvious observation that an image is an artificial likeness or picture of an object that requires our senses, usually sight, to be perceived. In turn this percept relies on and is sustained by a mental picture held in the memory that gives us indirect knowledge of that which is represented
This book offers a comprehensive reassessment of ekphrasis: the verbal representation of visual art. In the past twenty-five years numerous books and articles have appeared covering different aspects of ekphrasis, with scholars arguing that it is a fundamental means by which literary artists have explored the nature of aesthetic experience. However, many critics continue to rely upon the traditional conception of ekphrasis as a form of paragone (competition) between word and image. This interdisciplinary collection seeks to complicate this critical paradigm, and proposes a more reciprocal model of ekphrasis that involves an encounter or exchange between visual and textual cultures. This critical and theoretical shift demands a new form of ekphrastic poetics, which is less concerned with representational and institutional struggles, and more concerned with ideas of ethics, affect, and intersubjectivity. The book brings together leading scholars working in the fields of literary studies, art history, modern languages, and comparative literature, and offers a fresh exploration of ekphrastic texts from the Renaissance to the present day. The chapters in the book are critically and methodologically wide-ranging; yet they share an interest in challenging the paragonal model of ekphrasis that has been prevalent since the early 1990s, and establishing a new set of theoretical frameworks for exploring the ekphrastic encounter.
Ekphrasis and historical materiality in Shakespeare’s The Rape of Lucrece
‘Lamentable objects’: ekphrasis and
historical materiality in Shakespeare’s
The Rape of Lucrece
Behold the angel Gabriel in Pietro Aretino’s 1537 ekphrasis of Titian’s (now
lost) painting of the annunciation:
He, filling everything with light and shining in the inn with a marvelous new
radiance, bows so sweetly with a gesture of reverence that we are forced to believe
that he presented himself before Mary in this way. He has heavenly majesty in his
face and his cheeks tremble in the tenderness composed of milk and blood, which
Ekphrastic encounters in Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy
early modern ‘metadrama’, and celebrated for its visually striking dramatic emblems, the play is
also noteworthy for its interest in ekphrasis, and thus offers an especially fruitful case study for reconsidering the relationship between narrative, dramatic,
and pictorial art.3
Kyd’s interest in mimetic interplay is extended in the so-called ‘Painter scene’
that appears in the 1602 quarto. This is the most obviously ekphrastic moment
in the play, in which its protagonist, Hieronimo, encounters a Painter and commissions a visual artwork based on his plight. Critics of