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Making pictures speak: Renaissance art, Elizabethan literature, modern scholarship.

Some often quoted lines from Sidney's Apology for Poetry can stand both as a piece of literary history in themselves and as a methodological guide for the study of that history: "Poesy therefore is an art of imitation: for so Aristotle termeth it in the word mimesis, that is to say, a representing, counterfeiting, or figuring forth - to speak metaphorically, a speaking picture."(1) It is one of the most famous of all definitions of poetry, and like many other such definitions - Plato's in the Republic, Horace's in the Arts Poetica(1) - it arrives at saliency by drawing an analogy to the visual. More succinctly even than his predecessors, Sidney demonstrates just how difficult it is to unpack the concept of mimesis as he ranges through a sequence of functional descriptions (representing, counterfeiting, figuring forth), none of which quite does the trick, until he arrives at a metaphor that names itself as such. One might say that a metaphor is itself a speaking picture and therefore Sidney's memorable phrase is a self-confirming artifact. But let us shy away from such metaformulations and content ourselves with a sense of just how felicitous the expression "speaking picture" turns out to be. I mean this felicity quite specifically: that is, the phrase permits Sidney to evade the complexities of explaining the relation of poetry to reality and instead enables him to wrap things up in what we can only call an image. In turn, he will try to anchor the inevitable waywardness of such a metaphor by fixing at least the destination of poetry as he sees it: "with this end, to teach and delight," which still leaves poetry's mimetic origins unspecified.

The "speaking picture," then, whatever it lacks in clarity, it more than makes up for in imaginative force. To move from poetry to mimesis to speaking picture is to promise something like a totalizing experience, one that embraces both eyes and ears, one that combines the discursive force of language with the sensuous power of real experience (figured as visual), one that unites doctrine with aesthetics - in short, "with this end, to teach and delight." At this time I am not so much concerned whether this claim about poetry is justified; nor do I plan to pursue a historical or rhetorical analysis of how the claim came to be. Where I do wish to begin, however, is with a recognition that the "speaking picture" stands as the emblem of a kind of utopian poetics, a dream that poetry can do just about anything.

Now the speaking picture is also, if we shift ground from Sidney to ourselves, an emblem of those kinds of historical and theoretical study that focus on the interrelations between the visual arts and literature. For not such different reasons, this may also function as a utopian project. If one proposes a sort of evolutionary ladder of scholarly approaches that relate poems and paintings or words and images, one might begin at the naive end with notions that sonnets are really rather like cupolas.(3) It's easy to laugh, but I think it is more valuable to recognize in such expressions the scholar's desire to look beyond the formal taxonomy of each art object into an underlying field of artistic intention, like Alois Riegl's Kunstwollen or, in Gombrich's not entirely friendly translation, the "will-to-form."(4) Closely related are all those approaches that work out from terms like Baroque and Mannerist - themselves often of complicated literary and visual origins.(5) In the process of defining or theorizing these categories and applying them to productions in a variety of artistic media, these scholars express their wish to attribute to particular past cultures a unity of aesthetic impulses and thus to nail down period style.

Roughly speaking, the utopian aspect of these approaches is located in the scholars themselves: they are seeking to demonstrate a unifying insight that transcends medium, form, and the contingencies of historical moment while also confirming the enduring validity of those categories. But for another set of interdisciplinary approaches, we might better locate the utopia in the historical period under study. Particularly when the period in question is the Renaissance, the most enduring cross-disciplinary methods are those that have to do with iconography.(6) We have recently been reminded by some fine work in the history of the relevant disciplines - I am thinking, for instance, of Michael Ann Holly's book on Panofsky and Gombrich's biography of Warburg - that the origins of the Warburgian project are to be found in the Hegelian and post-Hegelian projects of philosophizing history, indeed the world from which Kunstwollen and "will-to-form" also emerge.(7)

But iconography and iconology as actually practiced over the last half-century have tended to operate in a smaller compass: relating artistic images to pre-existing verbal formulations and, conversely, seeing poetic works as composed of pre-existing motifs deriving from the same nexus of poetic and pictorial traditions. What such approaches provide (in addition to sources and interpretations of specific art works) is an awareness that past cultural communities like the Renaissance might have been environments in which those who made words and pictures, as well as the patrons and connoisseurs of such enterprises, were themselves interconnected. Cross-disciplinary study, in other words, becomes a way of reinvoking, say, the environment in which Ficino, Poliziano, and Botticelli collaborated and perhaps of hitching our own scholarly project to their star. Once we have made this leap, we can better appreciate the Sidneyan assumption that each individual aesthetic object forms part of a larger and interrelated text whose totality satisfies eye, ear, and mind.

Yet many of the more current interdisciplinary approaches recognize that it is not enough to assume a general realm of congruence and analogy between word and image. Rather the fundamental job is to understand in theoretical and/or historical terms the actual point of contact between the word and the image and to face up to all the unanswered questions and unhomogenized oppositions that characterize a discourse that takes the parallels between the arts for granted and proceeds from there to do its own heuristic or hermeneutic or formalist work. I take as consummate model Michael Baxandall's Giotto and the Orators. With a time-frame that spans from Cicero to Alberti, the author demonstrates how humanistic culture and language have shaped and reciprocally been shaped by artistic images, with the consequence that speech and image, making become interrelated exercises in rhetoric and figurality. Artistic images, in other words, are made partly in order that they may generate certain patterns of verbal response.

If this approach circles around the term "rhetoric," another, perhaps even more influential, approach circles around the concept of representation. The redefinitions offered by Gombrich's Art and Illusion in regard to what counts as mimesis, combined with more radical studies of Renaissance perspective, demonstrated how "reality" as figured in words or images might be heavily contingent. The study of any one of these objects would then depend on more abstract principles - say, psychological or ideological - that underlay linguistic and visual representation alike. Closely related is a semiotic approach that begins with an attempt to see linguistic or discursive structures as fundamental to image-making.(8)

My purpose in all this is to bring us back to an awareness of what kind of things we may be doing when we study the interrelations of the arts or use the materials traditionally connected with one medium to illuminate the other. Once we have left behind the making of casual analogies as more opportunistic than revelatory, we are left with a small number of possible undertakings; in fact the usual suspects: theory and history. We may understand that the rhetorical or aesthetic or ideological principles behind words and images are inseparably interwoven; or, we may observe that the practice of the arts in a given historical period - say, the Renaissance - was inseparably interconnected. A complete account of these relations must in the end map the authentic historical crossings of literary and visual production with an awareness of the transhistorical issues that unite and divide the discourses.

What this all adds up to is that in regard to picture and word we have needed to redefine both sameness and difference. We have needed to question the assumption that a picture's caption or its verbal narrative exists in the same discursive space as the picture itself; on the other hand, we have also been forced to notice that even the most non-narrative images exist in a verbal nexus and that even the most non-pictorial poetry has been unable to define or theorize itself without analogies to the making of images. Such connections, whether historical or transhistorical, have - or ought to have - a clear impact on the study of works that emerge from a context where the practices of verbal and visual arts are experientially interrelated, say, when Petrarch writes sonnets about Simone Martini or Michelangelo composes poems about sculpture or Titian gets advertised by Lodovico Dolce.(9)

Yet Anglo-American scholars, at least, are steeped in a literary Renaissance - that of Elizabethan England - where such interrelations are the exception rather than the rule. To be sure, Sidney's definition of poetry as a "speaking picture" might serve as the keystone for a version of Elizabethan literary culture that is profoundly interconnected with the visual arts. Within Sidney's own life and work this makes a good deal of sense. He was an aristocrat with strong connections to continental Europeans who existed in a lively pictorial culture. Thanks to fine work from scholars such as Clark Hulse, Norman Farmer, and Katherine Duncan-Jones, we know quite a bit about Sidney's experience and expertise in the theory and practice of painting, for instance, his conversations with the Elizabethan miniaturist Isaac Hilliard and the possibility that he was familiar with certain mythological canvases of Titian.(10)

Nor is Sidney alone in offering the promise of interrelations between word and image. The canonical literary masterpieces of this period are among the most "pictorial" poetic works of all time: Sidney's own revised Arcadia, erotic epyllia by the likes of Marlowe, Shakespeare, and Marston with their extraordinary finesse in the art of ekphrasis, and of course Spenser's Faerie Queene, which, from the time of its earliest readers onwards, has been seen as above all a succession of sensuous pictures. Indeed the very application to the Elizabethan period of the term "Renaissance," though currently starting to go out of favor, testifies to an equation between what is assumed to be a historic highpoint of literature in England and a golden age in Italy (nearly a century earlier) that is defined not by poets like Poliziano and Ariosto but by artists like Michelangelo and Raphael.

Yet by any European - and not only Italian - standards, the real level of visual culture in Elizabethan England was astonishingly low. Portraiture and architecture were, to be sure, quite highly developed. But for the most part high prestige endeavors of the visual arts - painting, sculpture, grand religious and secular commissions - were rare and practiced mostly by foreigners. Art collecting was not a widespread activity among the wellborn. Arts generally viewed as lesser - emblems, miniatures, heraldic devices, even the proverbially anathematized arts of cosmetics - tended to be conflated with the so-called finer arts to the detriment of their reputation. The work of Lucy Gent has demonstrated the primitiveness of the Elizabethan vocabulary in regard to visual theory and practice.(11) Even fundamental terms such as "art" and "painting" did not develop a clear or canonical status, nor did translators have a consistent understanding of new notions from the continent like disegno or perspective. Not that there was any great rush to present Italian writings on art in English versions: most of the struggles with this vocabulary that we witness take place in translations of Italian works that are not about art but take visual experience for granted as part of their own culture's way of talking about politics or love. Finally, it is perhaps most telling that the commerce in engravings after painting and sculpture, which does so much to propagate the fame and forms of Italian Renaissance art north of the Alps, seems to have made no very great strides across the Channel.(12)

It is with an awareness of these gaps in visual literacy that we must revisit the enormous treasury of pictorialism that appears in Elizabethan writing. When Spenser declares in a letter to Gabriel Harvey that the images published with the Shepheardes Calender are "so singularly set forth, and portrayed, as if Michael Angelo were there, he could (I think) nor amende the best, nor reprehende the worst,"(13) we are left (even with maximum allowance for cultural relativism) to think that the author either had no clue what Michelangelo's work looked like or else had no taste in pictures or else was engaging in a grand hyperbole for which the name Michelangelo had only the most unspecific and mythical of significances. But the poetic literature of ekphrasis cannot be so readily dismissed. Granted, the scholarly days are over (and fortunately so) in which every lengthy description of a mythological painting in Elizabethan epyllia becomes the occasion for an editorial footnote concerning the poet's hitherto unchronicled journey to Italy or else the futile search for a precise equivalent in some English collection.(14) Even so, we remain all too willing to equate verbal pictures with those painted on canvas or plaster. Ekphrasis - however influenced by art works or influential upon them - is passed on in an inheritance more from Homer, Ovid, and Petrarch than from Zeuxis, the Domus Aurea, and Botticelli. It is not a visual figure so much as a figure of speech, and like all tropes it is a lie. The specific figural activity is akin to prosopopoeia, that is, the bestowing of a voice upon a mute object; arid the larger lie is that these pictures have a prior existence independent of the poet, who is ostensibly merely "describing" them.

Most of these descriptive passages in Elizabethan literature are extremely fuzzy when it comes to the particulars of visual expression. Marlowe's celebrated account of the Temple of Venus in Hero and Leander, with "the gods in sundry shapes,/Committing heady riots, incest, rapes" (lines 143-44), contains almost no visual description at all in the sense that a painter might recognize. If it is conventionally pictorial at all, it is by reference not to the techniques of the visual arts but to those of verbal rhetoric; in other words, what signifies picture is not so much the verbal rendering of ocular experience as the retelling of Ovidian material in quick, syntactically unconnected vignettes. The tapestries in Spenser's House of Busyrane do a brilliant job of this same form of narration, and once again most of what is narrated would not be readable in a real tapestry - for instance, the trembling of Europa's heart "when she saw the huge seas/Vnder her t'obay her seruaunts law" (3. 11. 30). Even more strikingly, it is clear that Spenser has no idea how to handle the possible interrelations of verbal time and visual space. He describes things rather in the temporal sequence of reading than in synchronic spatial relations. That is, narrative events on Busyrane's tapestry happen one after another and not one next to another.

Sidney's description of the art works at Kalander's garden house in the New Arcadia is a little more sensitive to the visual, as, for instance: "There was Diana when Actaeon saw her bathing, in whose cheeks the painter had set such a colour as was mixed between shame and disdain; and one of her foolish nymphs, who weeping and withal louring, one might see the workman meant to set forth tears of anger."(15) He grants a few details of painterly appearance but hastens on to logocentric meaning. It is Shakespeare, interestingly enough, who goes further in the Troy painting that occupies Lucrece's tormented thoughts; he actually refers to technical details, for instance in the depiction of a crowd scene:

Some high, some low - the painter was so nice. The scalps of many, almost hid behind, To jump up higher seemed, to mock the mind. Here one man's hand leaned on another's head, His nose being shadowed by his neighbor's ear; ... For much imaginary work was there; Conceit deceitful, so compact, so kind, That for Achilles' image stood his spear Griped in an armed hand; himself behind Was left unseen, save to the eye of mind: A hand, a foot, a face, a leg, a head Stood for the whole to be imagined.(16)

But such an awareness that the viewer's eye might be arrested by the mechanisms of pictorial representation - rather than just by the thing ultimately represented - is unusual.

Granted that the pictorialism of these ekphrases is something of an illusion, should we necessarily ascribe that to the limitations of Elizabethan visual culture? The answer is, not exactly. To be sure, in the whole history of words written about pictures, the Elizabethans were rank amateurs. But compare the ekphrases of poets from antiquity or the Italian Renaissance who did live in a culture of images; compare the accounts of pictures offered by artists or art historians; compare the vastly influential exercises in ekphrastic figura by the Philostratuses and their followers. One soon perceives that there are only so many ways that words can render pictures and that the "reality" of the picture outside the text is almost always suspect in some way. To take this last point first, the Alexandrian authors of the [Greek text omitted] seem to have invented most of the images they were rhetoricalizing;(17) the shield of Achilles has a quantity of matter represented on it unlike any shield that existed in Homeric times or could ever exist; and even Alberti, whom we might appeal to as an example of the professional artist writing theory, devotes much of his descriptive power in De Pictura to visual objects he has never seen and only knows about from other people's verbal accounts.(18)

The question of what it was possible to say about a picture - whether one had seen it or not - is more complicated. Leaving aside very technical accounts concerning how to carve stone or how to mix colors, the range of verbal possibilities is not so great as one might think. The image is comprised of certain shapes and colors; the image is very beautiful; the image is very real. These assertions come in a variety of formulaic shapes, which are not any the less significant for being conventional. What lies beyond them is perhaps an even more fundamental activity (and certainly an obvious one, when you come to think about it), namely, the rendering of the image into discourse: narrating the story, performing the thoughts or emotions of the human beings represented, interpreting the meaning of the scene - in short, making the picture speak.

This prosopopoeic function of ekphrasis depends in certain ways on the absolute transparency of the representation. One cannot verbalize the emotions of a pictorial Europa with dramatic clarity if one is at the same time declaring that she is a marvel of foreshortening or of bas-relief technique or of rococo realism - that is, if one is being distanced from the picture by a reminder of her status as art object. This may be why the most favored verbal formula of all in the descriptions of images is that they are so real. The principal activity of the ekphrast would be called into question if the potential for discourse were heavily mediated by the originating artist's own labor of representation. Though there is, of course, an alternative verbalizing tradition that fixed precisely upon the mediations of artistic technique, typically either as a means of praising the artist or else as a metaphor for the unreliable nature of sense perception.

If the art object that supposedly underlies poetic pictorialism is so transparent - in other words, almost non-existent - then it is legitimate to ask what is special about a culture like that of the Elizabethans which did not have many real art objects. The answer is first, that there is a heuristic value in focusing on a culture whose verbal pictures are so patently poetic creations; and second, that this culture distinguishes itself by being (potentially, at least) conscious of the gap between an imaginary picture and a fashioned word. I would like to suggest that pictorialism in English Renaissance literature is the site of a particular consciousness involving on the one hand absence or loss and on the other the possibility of inventing something out of nothing. In other words, we may learn more about the place of the visual arts in Elizabethan literature by focusing on absence than by focusing on presence. What is absent can take many forms: classical civilization, which is nearly always the material for these exercises in visuality; a culture of real-life statues and paintings and of active art theory; a universe of things, whether of art or nature, that the poet does not need to bring into being. The invention out of nothing is the literary response, a combination of inferiority complex and self-advertising, an awareness of being marginalized along with a potential for reinventing the world.

Which takes us back to Sidney's Apology: "There is no art delivered to mankind that hath not the works of nature for his principal object.... [But] only the poet ... lifted up with the vigor of his own invention, doth grow in effect another nature, in making things either better than nature bringeth forth, or quite anew, forms such as never were in nature.... Nature never set forth the earth in so rich tapestry as divers poets have done, neither with pleasant rivers, fruitful trees, sweet smelling flowers."(19) This is the very cornerstone of Sidney's argument on behalf of poets, that they exist in a unique relation to both nature and truth and that their special triumph is their capacity for invention. The official antagonists to the poets are historians and philosophers. He chooses these alternatives not just because each of them turns out to be missing exactly what the poet has got. Sidney is also working off the cultural prestige of the two alternative enterprises, presuming (correctly, it is generally supposed) that the discourses and professions of philosophy and history have a stamp of cultural approval that poetry lacks. Now this kind of argument is far more persistent in the whole history of theory than are the specific choices of what counts as the established profession and what counts as the underdog. One could, for instance, take several Platonic dialogues - the Ion, the Phaedrus, even the Republic - and see them as based on the competitive assumption that poetry was the established power that needed to be toppled.

What is most interesting for our purposes in the Sidney passage, however, is the competitor who is not mentioned, that is, the visual artist (unless you count the reference to "rich tapestry"). The capacity to make a newer or better nature is associationally appropriate to poets, but it is almost literally appropriate to painters. And by Sidney's time this claim had become the stock-in-trade of those defending the visual arts, whose status required at least as much promoting as poetry ever had. To choose a few apposite instances from very famous sources, first, Alberti: "The virtues of painting, therefore, are that its masters see their works admired and feel themselves to be almost like the Creator.... So I would venture to assert that whatever beauty there is in things has been derived from painting."(20) Or Leonardo: "If you, historians or poets or mathematicians, had not seen things through your eyes, you would only be able to report them feebly in your writings. And you, poet, should you wish to depict a story as if painting with your pen, the painter with his brush will more likely succeed.... The works of nature are far more worthy than words, which are the products of man, because there is the same relationship between the works of man and those of nature as between man and god. Therefore, it is nobler to imitate things in nature, which are in fact the real images, than to imitate, in words, the words and deeds of man."(21) And finally, Michelangelo (as reported in the dialogues of Francisco de Hollanda): "Whenever ... a great painter makes a work which seems to be artificial and false, this falseness is truth.... [To which Hollanda himself adds:] A painter is worthy of great praise if he paint an impossible thing which has never been seen with such art and skill that it seems alive and possible and causes men to wish that such things did actually exist."(22)

I offer this barrage of authorities to suggest the ways in which the home base of the claim for creating an alternative or more beautiful or truer nature was the visual arts. Indeed, as one glimpses from Leonardo's comments on words, there seems to be an awareness that artists of language are enjoying a kind of free ride when they exploit the concept of mimesis - when, in fact, it is the artists of image who really imitate. This, I suppose, is rather a long way about saying that Sidney's famous doctrine of the "other nature" is once again a combination of that which is absent and of an invention out of nothing to fill up the space. The absence is, to be sure, double: in the specific historical case Sidney does not have the lively pictorial culture out of which painterly claims get made; but in a more universal sense, the picture that is conjured up by words is always that many more words away from being "real." Making something out of nothing becomes the whole project of Sidney's poetics.

Sidney appropriates and then suppresses the visual artist(23) because he wants his poetry to make pictures but does not want the pictures to be real. The dubious title of a picture that really speaks he reserves for an aesthetic novelty that he places at a far remove from Renaissance poetry. For Sidney, the freakish picture that talks is the theater: "What child is there that, coming to a play, and seeing Thebes written in great letters upon an old door, doth believe that it is Thebes?"(24) Later, he will offer his famous denunciation of the contemporary stage plays, "where you shall have Asia of the one side [of the stage], and Afric of the other, and so many other under-kingdoms, that the player, when he cometh in, must ever begin with telling where he is, or else the tale will not be conceived."(25) And he continues with many more complaints. The problem for Sidney is that the theater is truly and literally a speaking picture. Which is why he construes it as a series of clumsy interactions between what gets produced in words - "Thebes" written on the door or the actors explaining where they are - and what is visible to the eye and the imagination. The doctrine of poetry as the speaking picture turns out to depend on the imaginary (in all senses of the word) qualities of the picture and on the "speech" being internal and private. It is no coincidence that for Sidney the theater suffers both from a literalization of his metaphor and from a social debasement of the mimetic function: when stage plays are shown to the masses, the literary act of imaging is at once made physically manifest and taken out of the hands - or minds, or eyes - of the privileged individual imaginer. But Sidney's strictures will not prevent a vigorous entry by the theater into the cultural arena where image and word combat and or complement each other, where poetic utopia and generic monstrosity both appear in the marketplace.

I want to claim that the theater is England's lively pictorial culture, the answer, the compensation, the supplement in the face of all the painting, sculpture, and art theory that was so fatuously alive in the European civilizations that Elizabethans dreamed about. It is a tempting proposition and perhaps simplistic. There is certainly a nice reciprocal relation between, say, sixteenth-century Rome ornate with fresco and marble but containing only a rather specialized and socially restricted kind of theatrical activity,(26) and (later) sixteenth-century London, drab to the eyes and yet crowded with half a dozen public theaters pulling in thousands of citizens every day. And one could even argue that theatrical metaphors (like those concerning player-kings and like Bacon's Idols of the Theater) infiltrate English discourse in much the way that experience and metaphor drawn from the visual arts characterizes the Hypnerotomachia or the Book of the Courtier. Not that history necessarily operates in such neat economies. What kinds of things can we mean by making an equation between Elizabethan theater and Italian pictures? Perhaps too many things. George Kernodle said fifty years ago, "It is time to recognize that the theater is one of the visual arts,"(27) but I am not sure that we have yet fully done so. Kernodle meant it in a relatively literal sense. He was writing a history of the way theaters and theatrical representations looked. In a quite different vein, Frances Yates helped teach us to see Elizabethan theatrical space as conceptual, conforming to intellectual notions about the architecture of the mind and the world.(28)

A middle course between the theater as a mechanism of visual composition and the theater as a signifier of loftier geometries would involve a recognition that both the theater and the visual arts are in this period coming to understand their own discourses and practices; the two media become interrelated as they attempt to define and promote themselves. To begin with, the word "theater" itself is not indissolubly wedded to public performances on a platform when it starts being applied to them in the second half of the sixteenth century. Its historical prestige as a term has more to do with Vitruvius than with Seneca - that is, with a text creating antiquity's visual glories rather than its dramatic literature.(29) And even as it becomes the name for a place of public performance, it is also the buzzword for a kind of book that sets out aspects of the world in a grand visual display.(30) Indebtedness works in the other direction as well. It is not always recollected that the famous episode of Zeuxis and Parrhasius, with the painting of the grapes that deceives the birds, is set by Pliny in the theater.(31) That suggests ways in which the whole visual aesthetic of verisimilitude - all those famous painted images in the history of art that are said to be mistaken for the real thing - owes its definition in part to that other realm - the theater - in which the deceptiveness of representations is both glorious and suspect, as witness the many nervous Platonic reflections on the complete absorption of actors in their roles and of audiences in the performances they are watching.(32)

As for the Elizabethans, Sir Henry Wotton, probably the most sophisticated of them all in regard to the contemporary visual culture of Italy,(33) constructs an elaborate schema for painting, beginning with design and color and arriving eventually at what he calls affection. Though it is one of the properties of color, affection is related to the conveying of emotion and probably derives from an often quoted passage in Pliny concerning the artist Aristides, who "was the first ever to paint the soul and expressed those human feelings that the Greeks call [Greek Text Omitted], as well as the emotions."(34) On the face of it, there is an enormous gap between the formal properties of a visual composition and the experiencing of empathetic emotions. To leap across it, Sir Henry has recourse to another arena in which the seeing of a narrative composition leads to an emotional response from the viewer: "Affection is the Liuely Representment of any passion whatsoeuer, as if the Figures stood not vpon a Cloth or Boorde, but as if they were acting vpon a Stage; And heere, I must remember, in truth with much marueile, a note, which I have receiued, from excellent Artizans, that though Gladnesse, and Griefe, be opposites in Nature; yet they are such Neighbours and Confiners in Arte, that the least touch of a Pensill, will translate a Crying into a Laughing Face."(35) The theater is an emblem of both visual three-dimensionality and emotional variety. The stage is a place where figures are seen in all their fullness, which is not the case with tapestries or panel-paintings ("vpon a Cloth or Boorde"), whether that fullness is physical or emotional. And, of course, the crying vs. the laughing face, between which painters can slide so easily, also constitutes the very symbol of the theater, deriving from the attributes of the comic and tragic muses, which in this context is not so surprising, since actors are even more proverbial for their ability to slide among emotional opposites.

If we hazard, then, to make the trial substitution of theater for visual arts culture, I think we may come to understand something about both entities. On this subject S. K. Heninger has written very interestingly, suggesting that Sidney's "speaking picture" becomes a sort of enabling device to ground and justify the ensuing development of the English stage.(36) That the theater needed ground and justification is undoubtedly the case: Sidney himself and Gosson before him and Jonas Barish after him all testify to the shaky status of public playmaking. And, as I have already suggested, the bid for prestige is one of the primary modalities of theoretical thinking about any cultural enterprise from Plato onwards. Heninger goes on very revealingly to construe the theater as a kind of mimesis-in-action which relates to the whole rhetorical history of [Greek Text Omitted] - that is, the making of things real via words - and to the influence of Aristotle's Poetics as promoting what he calls an "incipiently empiricist esthetic."

Yet the denunciation of theater in Sidney's own text seems to me to belie the building of this kind of progressive and positivist bridge between the different enterprises. Mimesis is by its very nature a discourse of competition - or, at the very least, of comparison. The agonistic relations it establishes between representation and thing represented give rise to a similar set of contrasts - or contests - among different media of representation. So I would see the interrelations between visual arts and stage as focusing on the frictions in all these ways of analogical thinking. The indecorousness that Sidney finds in the theater is a discomfort with the speech that is accompanied by real-life pictures and the pictures that really speak. Real-life pictures are all too much like those of "the meaner sort of painters (who counterfeit only such faces as are set before them)" (20); they are the equivalent of the plays that include all the times and places in the whole lives of their characters, thus following the laws of history and not of poetry. For all of this, Sidney's solution is to have more speech and less picture, that is, to have messengers or other (often marginal) characters recount the episodes that cannot be shown. But if some are deligitimizing the theater on the grounds of its mixed breed status, then others are celebrating and dramatizing this hybrid condition. In that sense, the theater enters into the history of pictorial discourse because it enacts the millennial contests concerning the relative power of picture and word in capturing mimesis.

How does the theater "stage" these conflicts? The Shakespearean answer is, in essence, a very simple one. He celebrates the drama as speaking picture by selectively withholding speech from picture and picture from speech. I quote from the moment in The Winter's Tale when we first hear that Hermione, presumed dead, still exists but in another form. We are told that her daughter Perdita hears "of her mother's statue, which is in the keeping of Paulina - a piece many years in doing and now newly performed by that rare Italian master, Julio Romano, who, had he himself eternity and could put breath into his work, would beguile Nature of her custom, so pertom, so perfectly is he her ape: he so near to Hermione hath done Hermione that they say one would speak to her and stand in hope of answer."(37) The parallel between theater and sculpture is all but explicit. To call the statue "a piece many years in doing and now newly performed" is to render it in a quite familiar language referring to stageplays (indeed the language by which they were hyped). Yet what these ambiguities really refer to is neither statue nor play but real person, that is, the Hermione who has taken these years to be performed in the sense of perfected. But she cannot be perfected so long as one can only speak to her but not receive an answer in response, so long, in other words, as she is only a statue. In that sense, the event becomes theater only when, simultaneously, the statue moves and speaks, or when word and picture are joined. It is at that moment that the central dream of all ekphrasis can finally be realized, that is, that the work of art is so real it could almost come to life. Theater removes the almost.

For this effect it is crucial that all this information - not to mention the whole reconciliation scene involving the father and daughter and the two best friends - comes in the form of almost ludicrously unpictorial (not to say untheatrical) speech, as the gossip among three gentlemen who narrate everything. In that sense, the presence of the visual art object is signaled by deprivation: the statue of Hermione is first introduced as something we cannot see but can only have ekphrastically reported; and the deprivation extends in parallel fashion to the full components of theater, which are also, at least momentarily, denied to us.

Cymbeline will also turn upon a work of art whose sight we are not permitted. The crisis of the play is set in motion when Iachimo, having wagered with Posthumus that he can seduce Imogen and failing to do so by persuasion, has himself delivered to her bedroom in a trunk, from which he exits, observes her sleeping, and is thus able to steal her bracelet and report on all he has seen of the heroine's intimate surroundings. As he watches, he declares, "I will write all down," referring to the pictures on the walls, the tapestry hangings on the bed, and, as he says, "the contents of the story," though he doesn't tell us what they are. From this he goes on to the description of Imogen's body. We hear nothing more about the pictures in the room until two scenes later when Iachimo is making his report to Posthumus:

First, her bedchamber - ... it was hanged With tapestry of silk and silver; the story Proud Cleopatra, when she met her Roman.

... a piece of work So bravely done, so rich, that it did strive In workmanship and value; which I wondered Could be so rarely and exactly wrought....

The chimney-piece Chaste Dian bathing. Never saw I figures So likely to report themselves. The cutter Was as another Nature, dumb; outwent her, Motion and breath left out.(38)

"Never saw I figures/So likely to report themselves." But they do not report themselves. Shakespeare's theater teases us with their absence. His audience sits in London watching a bare stage and hears a verbal description of classical pictures in words while, as a perfect complement, Posthumus sits in Rome and is treated to an ekphrastic rendering of the art work decorating Imogen's bedroom back in Britain. In effect, Shakespeare is staging the drama of cultural absence and poetic recuperation in the spaces that separate picture from word and Italy from England.

Much of Cymbeline is in the ekphrastic mode, as images are shipped back and forth in fallible or mendacious words between Italy and England. And while Shakespeare's own theatricality offers to overcome the limiting economies of word and image by presenting the visual experience - and the characters - in three dimensions (not as "vpon a Cloth or Boorde"), he once again, as in The Winter's Tale, withholds a complete union of the spoken and the seen. The play's conclusion, with some twenty-five separate recognition episodes in each of which past events have to be narrated or renarrated, turns out to be the last word on the conventions of the verbal nuntius. This, as one may recall, was Sidney's answer to the problematic of the theatrical speaking picture. In his distaste for those plays that dramatize their whole narrative history instead of rendering it via messengers, he recommends the example of Euripides' Hecuba, in which the long sequence of earlier events is recounted by the spirit of the murdered Polydorus rather than being presented on stage from his childhood onwards. What happens when Shakespeare takes this advice and pursues the Sidneyan option of more speech and less picture? The ghost comes back from the dead and recounts his story. But on top of that it is staged. Not only staged but neatly divided into the staging by picture and staging by word: "Enter a KING and a QUEEN very lovingly, the QUEEN embracing him, and he her. She kneels; and makes show of protestation unto him. He takes her up, and declines his head upon her neck. He lies him down upon a bank of flowers. She, seeing him asleep, leaves him. Anon come in another man: takes off his crown, kisses it, pours poison in the sleeper's ears, and leaves him. The QUEEN returns, finds the KING dead, makes passionate action. The POISONER, with some Three or Four come in again, seem to condole with her. The dead body is carried away. The POISONER WOOS the QUEEN with gifts; she seems harsh awhile but in the end accepts love."(39) These words are not spoken in the theater, of course: they describe a silent pictorial enactment of the "Murder of Gonzago." In fact, it is the perfect visual narrative ekphrastically rendered, scrupulously worded so as to betray no information but what a silent picture would convey. "King" and "Queen" are evidently rendered with crowns according to simple conventions of semiotics, while the third character is identifiable only through the action he performs in the tableau. More complicated bits of narrative are rendered indirectly via "seems" and "makes show of," which are quite precise ways to describe wordless visual communication. It is a story told in separate tableaux, like the painted panels of a saint's life: a scene of embracing, then another of protestation, then a sleep scene, a poisoning scene, a scene of mourning, a condolence scene, a wooing scene, a winning scene.

Judging only from these glimpses, we have no way of knowing what the connections are between the panels. Freud, after all, drew the analogy of dreams to pictures because both are desyntacticalized: neither narrative paintings nor dumb shows (nor dreams) have an easy time with "if," "then," "because," and so forth;(40) and along with those terms comes a critical imprecision about the flow of time. Now Hamlet's particular moving picture doesn't seem to need these connectives because it forms the middle term in a fully (even excessively) syntacticalized sequence that begins with a set of events that are unseen but much spoken of - that is, the "real" murder - and continues with a set of events that are visual and verbal simultaneously - that is, the rest of the "Murder of Gonzago." We know, in other words, how to connect the protestation, the sleep, the poisoning, and the wooing. But for the onstage audience the viewing of this picture has a much more dynamic relation to the hearing of the words. To anyone from Claudius at one extreme to, say, Ophelia at the other, it is precisely the things the picture cannot tell which are most important. As a consequence, the act of interpretation will be staged in the movement from pictures to pictures-and-words.

One of these acts is the issue upon which both the drama of words and pictures and the drama of Hamlet explode. The spoken "Murder of Gonzago" proceeds relatively smoothly, though it is worth noting that it is as wordy as the Dumb Show was silent. Until an actor appears who does apparently seek to tell the story without words via what one cruel reviewer will refer to as "damnable faces." That is when Hamlet names the poisoner as "one Lucianus, nephew to the King." In one instant, with the expected "brother" replaced by "nephew," everything in the plot and in the relations between the protagonists changes. And suddenly representation is itself represented with a difference. There is no painter's sign for "nephew," no visual representation, whether iconic, symbolic, or indexical, in just the same way as there can be no visual representation of syntax. This makes perfect sense since both are in the fullest and most literal sense relational.

And upon those invisible relations - syntactical and familial - everything depends. When the actor-who-poisons is shockingly glossed as "nephew" rather than "brother," the whole drama pivots on the discovery that the relation between images and words may be radically unstable. Claudius turns out to defend himself better at his eyes than at his ears. He reacts to the spoken play but not to the Dumb Show because Hamlet has stolen his mental image from him, staged it, and given it different words. Shakespeare, meanwhile, has staged individual subjectivity as the Other of language in the way that painting has been historically the Other of poetry, that is, as both more real and more unstable. The struggle between Hamlet and Claudius becomes a struggle for ownership of the mimetic - or representational - faculty, with the picture and the word as the inevitable and ancient counters in the game. Just as they are, of course, the counters in the theater game. To capture mimesis is to master the relations between word and image, and the theater, in the person and play of Hamlet, sets itself the task of putting the speaking picture back together and making it real.

1 Sidney, 1970, 18. For an interesting argument based on the repunctuating of this sentence, see Heninger, 1982.

2 For the Republic, see the argument in Book 10 by which Socrates "proves" poets to be mere imitators by drawing the analogy to painters, who produce neither the idea of a couch nor the couch itself but merely the appearance of a couch. Horace in the Ars Poetica is, of course, the author of the famous "ut pictura poesis" (lines 361-65); equally significant is the opening of the epistle where Horace attacks poetic indecorousness by comparing it to a painting of a grotesque misshapen body.

3 I refer (with some exaggeration) to the analogies drawn by Praz, 87, among various circular forms, including the smile of the Mona Lisa, the cupola, the ottava rima with its concluding rhymed couplet, and the sonnet with its concluding tercets. In fact, Praz himself urges some restraint about overenthusiastic analogizing and goes on to slightly more cautious comparisons, e.g., between verbal rhetoric and the mannerist linea serpentinata.

4 For Riegl, see bibliography. Pacht makes a particularly lucid defense of the Kunstwollen. See Gombrich's attack, 1960, 18-22, in which he translates Kunstwollen as "will-to-form"; see also Gombrich, 1963, 1-11.

5 See, for instance, Sypher, Mirollo, and Hauser. An elegant corrective is offered in Wellek, 69-127.

6 See Panofsky, 1939; Saxl; Seznec; and Wind.

7 See Gombrich, 1970, especially 24-37; and Holly, 1984, especially 21-35. See also Ferretti.

8 Among those who have responded to An and Illusion or worked in related areas, I would single out Svetlana Alpers, 1983; Baxandall, 1985; White; Summers, 1991; and Wollheim, 1970, 1987, and 1991. For (quite different) semiotic approaches, see Goodman; and Bryson, 1981, 1983, and 1991. On ideology and representation, see Mitchell, 1986.

9 The Petrarch sonnets on a portrait of Laura by Simone Martini are Rime sparse 77 ("Per mirar Policleto a provar fiso") and 78 ("Quando giunse a Simon l'alto concetto"). The most celebrated of Michelangelo's poems using the imagery of artistic creation, already the subject of dose analysis in the author's lifetime, is "Non ha l'ottimo artista alcun concetto." For Dolce on Titian, see Roskill.

10 Hulse, 1990, especially 115-56; Farmer, 1-18; Duncan-Jones, 1-11. See also Evett, who makes an attempt to map the English literary and artistic terrain of the period in terms of some traditional art-historical categories that he somewhat reshapes in the light of recent history.

11 Gent, 1981; for more directly art historical discussions of the period, see Buxton.

12 Gent, 1981, 66-86, offers an invaluable discussion and catalogue of books on art and art theory that were available in England; on the subject of prints, see her useful note on 32.

13 Spenser, 612. The example is, once again, Gent's.

14 The classic instance is the search for an "original" of the Troy picture in Lucrece. See Colvin; and Fairchild, 139-47.

15 Sidney, 1977, 74.

16 Lucrece, lines 1412-28.

17 So far as I can tell, no names of artists are ever mentioned in the collection of Imagines by the Philostratuses and Callistratus, while the literary sources are frequently cited. See Fairbanks's introduction, xvii, and Philostratus the Elder's own disclaimer of interest in the identities or biographies of the artists, 5.

18 Alberti uses a variety of passives and impersonals to introduce works of art that he will describe, e.g., "Laudatur apud Romam historia in qua..." ("They praise a 'historia' in Rome in which..."), and his most extensive ekphrasis of all is the so-called Calumny of Apelles, which he explicitly credits to Lucian's literary account. See Alberti, 1972, 74-75, 95-97.

19 Sidney, 1970, 13-15.

20 Alberti, 1972, 61.

21 Leonardo, 20-21.

22 Hollanda, 61, 63.

23 He is following Horace's "ut pictura poesis" and, more proximately, the repeated use of the analogy in Scaliger, e.g., 1.1.6, and 4.1.401.

24 Sidney, 1970, 57.

25 Ibid., 75.

26 Theater was a significant architectural subject in papal Rome, with various projects for the building of large Vitruvian spaces in the Vatican palace. In addition there was considerable attention given to the revival of classical Roman drama from the later fifteenth century onwards and some performance of newly written comedies like Bibbiena's Calandria. But it was not a theater of wide public access; even the dramatic events associated with the carnival season were mostly confined to the papal court. See Attolini; see also Cruciani and Seragnoli.

27 Kernodle, 2.

28 See Yates, 1966, 1969.

29 For Vitruvius, see 5.3, 5.6-9. The significance of the theater as a building is confirmed and diffused through Renaissance culture by Alberti, for which see Alberti, 1988, 8.7. See also Klein; and Zerner.

30 Examples include the Theatre for Voluptuous Worldlings of Jan van der Noot, published in Dutch, French, and English in London in the 1560s, including, in the English version, Spenser's first works in print. Compare also Theatrum poeticum atque historicum of Ioannes Textor and the Theatrum universalis naturae of Jean Bodin. See Ong. I am indebted to my student William West for his work in elucidating these relations between theater and encyclopedia.

31 See Pliny, Natural History, 35.65. On the relations between painterly realism and stage settings, see the very useful note in Pliny, ed. Croisille, Livre 35, 145-46.

32 For Plato, see the Ion, in which the title character, a rhapsode who performs Homeric verse, is understood by Socrates to experience ecstatic transport; see also the Republic, especially 3.395a, where Socrates expresses his anxiety about the ability of actors to imitate many different things. On actors in antiquity, see Pickard-Cambridge; and Slater. Two very fine works concerned with the powers and dangers of the actor in the later Renaissance are Worthen, esp. 10-69; and Roach.

33 See Smith. Wotton lived from 1568 to 1639. His elder brother was a close friend of Sidney's, and his own circle of acquaintance stretched from the Earl of Essex to Bacon to Milton. He spent most of his life on the continent pursuing (roughly) Protestant politics in Italy. He was a serious collector of and commentator upon the later period of Italian Renaissance art, particularly of the Venetian school. Author of a book on architecture (for which see note 35), the latter part of which includes the outlines for a treatise on painting. His letters concerning the acquisition of paintings reveal a sophisticated, even witty, sense of aesthetics, as when he writes of the pictures he has lined up for the Duke of Buckingham in 1622, including a Titian and a Palma Giovane: "With them I have been bold to send a dish of grapes to your noble sister, the Countess of Denbigh, presenting them first to your Lordship's view, that you may be pleased to pass your censure, whether Italians can make fruits as well as Flemings.... I have [also] sent the choicest melon seeds of all kinds." (Smith, 2.257-58) In the context of classical art theory, bunches of grapes are hardly a casually chosen subject, particularly when the context is somewhat coy as to whether they are real or painted and when they are juxtaposed with melon seeds, which are (presumably) not painted.

34 Natural History, 35.98: "Is omnium primus animum pinxit et sensus hominis expressit, quae vocant Graeci [Greek Text Omitted], item perturbationes."

35 Wotton, 88. In the margin of the facsimile edition there is next to this quotation a presumably authorial "note omitted in the Presse" which connects this quality of pictorial representation to the rhetorical device of oxymoron. Referring to Iliad, 6.483-84, the author writes, "This coincidence of extreame affections I observe represented by Homer in the person of Hector's wife, as Painters and Poets have alwaies had a kinde of congenialitie."

36 See Heninger, 1989.

37 The Winter's Tale, 5.2.96-104.

38 Cymbeline, 2.4.67-85.

39 Hamlet, 3.2. 138 s.d.

40 See Freud, Standard Edition, 4:312-14.


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Author:Barkan, Leonard
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Date:Jun 22, 1995
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