Notebook, 1993-

Ut Pictura Poesis - Lee, Rensselaer W. Ut Pictura Poesis, The Humanistic Theory of Painting. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., Inc. 1967 - Introduction

Notes [to the Introduction]

1. In preparing this study I have been particularly indebted to Professor Erwin Panofsky for valuable advice and criticism. Professor Frank J. Mather, Jr., Professor Walter Friedlaender, and Professor Samuel H. Monk of the Department of English, Southwestern College, have also given useful suggestions. Mr. Helmut von Erffa, Miss Margot Cutter, Mrs. Katherarine Pediconi, and my wife have given generous assistance in various ways.

2. Giovanni Paolo Lamazzo, Trattato dell'arte della pittura, scultura, et architettura, Milan, 1585, VI, 65, p. 486: "Considerando la cagione onde sia nato quel detto antico tanta esser la comformità della Poesia con la pittura, che quasi nate ad un parto l'una pittura loquace e l'altra poesia mutola s'appellarono"; cf. Leonardo da Vinci, Trattato della pittura, ed. H . Ludwig, Vienna, 1872, I, 21, and see note 6.

3. This was also the opinion of antiquity: cf. Aristotle Poetics I-II. See also Plutarch De gloria Atheniensium III. 346€-347c, in which occurs the famous aphorism of Simonides that painting is mute poetry, poetry a speaking picture.

4. Ars poetica 361; see note 15 for the entire passage.

5. Charles du Fresnoy in his seventeenth-century poem De arte graphica, Paris, 1667, 1-8, so enjoins in a passage that remains the best single text for the entire doctrine based on ut pictura poesis, citing as it does both the Horatian simile and the saying of Simonides, and declaring in effect that painting, since unworthy subject matter concerns it no more than it does poetry, has an equal status with poetry as a liberal art:

6. Dialogo della pittura intitolato l'Aretino, Forence, 1735 (first ed. Venice, 1557), p. 116. Dolce quotes as authority for his statement Petrarch's designation of Homer as "Primo pittor de le memorie antiche," and he explains what he means in another passage (pp. 106 ff.), when after stating that "il Pittore è intento a imitar per via di linee, e di colori . . . tutto quello che si dimostra all'occhio," he says that "il Poeta col mezzo delle parole var imitando non solo ciò che si dimostra all'occhio (here Dolce means he is like the painter), ma che ancora si rappresenta all'intelletto. Laonde essi in questo sono differenti, ma simili in tante altre parti, che si possono dir quasi fratelli." It was, then, in the imitation through the medium of words of that which the eye perceives in external nature that Dolce considered the poet to be like the painter whose media of imitation are lines and colors, though he legitimately added another province of the poet's art, the imitation of that "which is also represented to the intellect"--intellectual concepts and processes of thought--in which the painter does not share (see p. 60 and note 282). The concept allied to Dolce's that the poet, or for that matter the historian, is a painter in the sense that his descriptions have clearness or distinctness, is found in antiquity. Plutarch (loc. cit.) mentions this quality ( Greek text) in Thucydides, and quotes from one of the historian's accounts of a battle to show that it is found both in the arrangement ( Greek text) of the scene and in the writer's power of vivid description ( Greek text). Lucian ( Greek text 8), anticipating Petrarch, calls Homer "the best of painters ( greek text) even if Euphranor and Apelles are present," and suggests that the painter who would add color to the statue of ideal womanhood that he is imagining, remember Homer's description of Menelaus' thighs as ivory tinged with crimson, and his epithets of laughter-lovng, white-armed, and rosy--fingered, all of which produce visual images in the mind's eye. On the antiquity of the concept of the poet as painter, and on the Renaissance and Baroque habit of calling poets painters and vice versa, see also the comments and citations in K. Borinski, Die Antike in Poetik and Kunstheorie, Leipzig, 1914, I, 183 ff. For the Renaissance conception of the poet as pictorial imagist see also the well-known passage in the second dialogue of Francisco de Hollanda (ed. J. de Vasconcellos, Vienna, 1899, p. 67) wherein Lattanzio remarks that "it would seen indeed that the poets had no other aim than to teach the excellence of painting . . . since one thing of which they are most studious is to paint well and imitate good painting." He then comments on the "paintings" of Virgil and observes that you may read all Virgil and discover nothing else therein but the art of a Michelangelo. It is Virgil's pictorial imagery that he has in mind--pastoral landscape, the harbor of Carthage surrounded by hills and woods, the burning of Troy, etc. Incidentally these Virgilian pictures that he cites are about as remote as possible from the painting of Michelangelo.

An interesting example, and more entertaining than most, of the habit common from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century of referring to poets as painters occurs in the painter Antoine Coypel's remark that Molière knew so well how to paint the chracters of men that indviduals have taken for their own portraits those that he made after general nature. Although there is here, no doubt, a certain confusion in Coypel's mind as to the capacities and limitations of painting and poetry, it is certainly Molière's abililty to delineate character with objective vividness that leads Coypel to liken him to a painter. Coypel had previously remarked in a way that recalls Dolce that all which imitates nature is called painting, and that one is always calling Homer and Virgil great painters. No one who has read through much of the critical literature of the period will be inclined to disagree with this latter statement (see Coypel's discourses before the Academie Royale published in 1721, in H. Jouin, Conférences e l'Académie Royale de Peinture, Paris, 1883, p. 258). It is not difficult to see how this association of poetry with the painter's objective or vivid imitation of external nature could be put to bad uses in encouragng descriptive poetry. For some remarks on the influence of ut pictura poesis on the history of literature, see note 29.

7. Op. cit., VI, 2, p. 282.

8. Discourses VIII and XIV. His fifteen Discourses were delivered before the Royal Academy from 1768 to 1790.

9. See note 6.

10. Op. cit., p. 178.

11. Laokoön, XX.

12. Poetics II. I: [" Greek text"] --"since artists imitate men doing or experiencing something." Aristotle goes on to say that both poets and painters imitate men as better or worse than ourselves or much as we are. Polygnotus depicting them as better, Pauson as worse, and Dionysius like ourselves (cf. XXV. 26-28). This fundamental passage, often quoted or remembered by Renaissance and Baroque critics (cf. notes 41 and 64), was brought very much up to date in the early eighteenth century by Antoine Coypel who applied it not only to French classic drama (Corneille had made men better than they are, Racine as they are) but to the Florentine, Venetian, and Flemish schools of painting: Michelangelo and Raphael painted men better than they are "par la grandeur de leur goût et l'élévation de leurs idées" (one detects here the growing Longinian influence), Titian as they are; but the Flemings and Dutch "les ont fait plus méchants, c'est à dire par la brassesse de sujets et leurs petit goût de dessin" (see Jouin, op. cit., p. 249). Cf. note 52.

13. Op. cit. VI. 19-21: [" Greek text"]

14. Ars poetica 1-13:

As early as the thirteenth century Durandus with Horace in mind had already sanctioned the painter's freedom of imagination. Cennini in his Libro dell-arte (ed. Milanesi, Florence, 1859, p. 2) had compared poet and painter in a manner similar to Horace. Speaking of painting as coming next in honor after science, he remarks: "E con ragione merita metterla a sedere in secondo grado alla scienza, e coronarla di poesia. La ragione è questa: che il poeta, con la scienza prima che ha, il fa degno e libero di poter comporre e legare insieme si e no come gli piace, secondo sua volontà. Per lo simile al dipentore dato è libertà potere comporre una figura ritta, a sedere, mezzo uomo, mezzo covallo, si come gli piace, secondo sua fatasia." But with the grotesquerie of medieval art behind him, Cennini does not include Horace's deprecation of art that is "velut aegri somnia." For Durandus and Cennini see Borinski, op. cit., I, 96-97. Cennini's coupling of painting with poetry on grounds of imaginative freedom is an interesting anticipation of many passages in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century criticism. See notes 145, 171.

15. Ibid. 361-365:

16. For Leonardo's comparsion of painting with poetry see his Trattato della pittura, I, 2, 14-28, 46. These passages are brought toegether and translated in J. P. Richter, The Literary Works of Leonardo da Vinci, 2nd ed. London, 1939, I, 52-68.

17. See the chapter on the theory of art in the period of Mannerism in J. Schlosser-Magnino, La letteratura artistica, Florence, 1939, pp. 332-51.

18. For Lomazzo this knowledge was not only the technical and scientific knowledge that concerned proportion, movement, color, light, and perspective--the subjects of the first five books of the Trattato--but also the knowledge based on ancient and modern literature and the history of painting and sculpture that would help to insure an expressive and appropriate composition for a vast variety of subjects (book VI); and the knowledge of iconography in the narrower sense--attributes of the Trinity, saints, pagan gods, etc. (book VII). See especially Trattato, "Proemio," pp. 11-16; dcf. Gio. Battista Armenini, De'veri precetti della pittura, Pisa, 1821 (first ed. Ravenna, 1587), I, I, pp. 13 ff.; cf. also the second paragraph in Appendix I.

19. See Lomazzo, op. cit., VI, 64, p. 481.

20. Roger de Piles in his comparison of painting and poetry (Cours de peinture, Paris, 1708, pp. 420 ff.) was well aware of the fact that little valuable criticism of painting and little painting of value had survived from antiquity, and he regarded it as prejudicial to the esteem in which painting was held by many sensible people of his day--people who obviously set great store by the prestige afforded by antique models. See Appendix I, "On the Lack of Ancient Criticism of Painting."

21. Plutarch, for instance, says that painters and poets represent the same subjects, and that the underlying purpose of both is the same (De gloria Atheniensium III. 347z); the elder Philostratus finds painting and poetry equally the repositories of wisdom (Imagines I. 294k); the younger Philostratus emphasizes the power of painting to express character and emotion and finds a certain element of imagination [ greek text] common to painting and dramatic poetry (Imagines, Proœmium, 390k).

22. Pliny's famous account of painting in antiquity (Historia naturalis XXXV) upon which the sixteenth-century critics drew so heavily in their desire to proclaim the time-honored dignity of the art, although it occasionally adumbrates theories of art, is not a theoretical work.

23. Della pittura, 1436. See the standard edition of Janitschek, L. B. Alberti's kleinere kunsttheoretische Schriften, Vienna, 1877, pp. 143 ff. Cf. Cicero De inventione II. I, I; Orator and Brutum II. 7 ff., where the theory of ideal imitation has a strongly Platonic rather than Aristotelian character; Pliny op. cit. 62-64; notes 50, 69, 74, 97. Aristotle's Poetics was not well known until the sixteenth century. The first reliable Latin translation, that of Girogio valla, appeared in 1498; the first commentary, Robortelli's, in 1548; the first Italian translation, Segni's in 1549. Both Robortelli and Segni remark on the long neglect of the book. See J. E. Spingarn, A History of Literary Criticism in the Renaissance, 7th impression, New York, 1938, pp. 16 ff.

24. In his admonition to the painter "to be solitary and consider what he sees and discuss with himself, choosing the most excellent parts of the species of whatever he sees." "If he does this," Leonardo adds, "he will appear to be a second nature." See Trattato, I, 58a.

25. Ibid., 122, 483, etc.

26. See note 13. Cicero (Orator XIX. 65) had compared the Sophists' use of words to a painter's arrangement of colors. Plutarch in a curious passage (Moralia 16c) compares color which "is more stimulating than line drawing because it is life-like and creates as illusion" with plausible fiction; line is by implication compared with a work of literature that lacks the illusion of life, even though it be elaborate in meter and diction. This is a very unusual parallel and does not recur, so far as I know, in later criticism. It would have pleased the "Rubenistes" at the close of the seventeenth century. Df. note 41.

27. John Dryden, for instance, for whom in the usual manner plot equals design and "Expression, and all that belongs to Words, is that in a Poem, which Colouring is in a picture," after making some remarks on design and color in the ancient poets (e.g. Virgil's design is inferior to Homer's, but his coloring better) goes on to say that lights and shadows are like tropes and figures. The whole comparision, which extends for several pages, is absurdly elaborate (see his Parallel between Painting and Poetry, the preface to his translation of Du Fresnoy, London, 1716, p. 11 FF; first ed. 1695).

The Abbé Batteaux remarks that "les measures et l'harmonie" constitute the coloring of poetry, imitation its design (Les Beaux arts réduits à un même principe, Paris, 1746, pp. 138, 140). Elsewhere in the same essay he says what amounts to the same thing when he equates "desseing" with "fable," "coloris" with "versification" (p. 247). When Minturno in the sixteenth century differentiates the means of imitation in poetry from those in painting, he is not concerned as Dryden and Batteaux were, in establishing formal correspondences between them (see note 41).

28. See pp. 62 ff. below.

29. For the effect of the doctrine ut pictura poesis on literature during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries see pp. 3-57 of the late Professor Irving Babbitt's essay The New Laokoön, Boston and New York, 1910, which deserves to be better known among historians of art. Babbitt shows clearly how the formal confusion of the arts engendered by ut pictura poesis led first in the seventeenth century, under the influence of the pseudo-Aristotelian doctrine of the Renaissance that it was better to imitate the ancients than real life, to the use of "poetical diction"--that stock of traditional words, elegant phrases, figures of speech and the like, known as the poetical colors (as opposed to choice of subject and mode of treatment which were compared to design in the sense of an outline drawing or sketch) that the poet was supposed to lay on from the outiside like pigments. Such a theory of poetry could only result in that extreme artificialilty of language against which the Romantic poets revolted in the name of spontaneous and sincere expression.

The school of descriptive poetry that arose in the first half of the eighteenth century as a result of the growng interest in external nature and found in ThomsonÍs Seasons its finest and most influential example, showed a new capacity on the part of the poets for writing with their eyes on the object, rather than on literary models, although even the best of them are never free from the influfences of poetical diction. This school was quick to enlist under the banner of ut pictura poesis in order to justify its own kind of poetical pictures: descriptions, often exhaustive, of landscape, rustic life, still-life including farm equipment, etc.; and it was against this school, strongly represented in Germany by Brockes, Haller, and Kleist, that Lessing revolted both as a humanist and as an aesthetician, believing as he did that the medium of poetry is fundamentally adapted to the rendering of human action, not to description; for words that follow one another in time can only produce, in the successive addition of details in a description, a blurred and confused image, whereas the painter can render these details as they coexist in space and produce a clear image that can be apprehended in a single moment of time (Laokoön, XVI-XX). For a useful and fairly complete summary of critical opinions concerning the relationship between painting and poetry up to Lessing's time, see W. G. Howard's introduction to his edition of the Laokoön, New York, 1910; for a more extended, though not very concl usive, study of how the critics of painting interpreted this relationship, see his "Ut pictura poesis" in Publ. of the Mod. Lang. Assn. of America, XXIV, 1909, 40-123. Howard has availed himself of the leaned introduction and commentary in Hugo Blümmer's monumental edition of the Laokoön, Berlin, 1880.

30. Conte du Tableau. Various writers have called attention to La Fontaine's anticipation of Lessing.

* Symbol for the phonetic accent in this word not available on the computer.

[Lee, Rensselaer W. Ut Pictura Poesis, The Humanistic Theory of Painting. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., Inc. 1967.]



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