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De Armas, Frederick A., ed.: Ekphrasis in the Age of Cervantes.

De Armas, Frederick A., ed. Ekphrasis in the Age of Cervantes. Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell UP, 2005. 241 pp.

This new collection of illuminating essays edited by Frederick de Armas is a fitting companion to his earlier edition, Writing for the Eyes in the Spanish Golden Age (2004), which addresses the complex interconnections between the verbal and the visual in early modern Spain. This volume, which grew out of a National Endowment for the Humanities seminar held at the University of Chicago in the summer of 2003--"Recapturing the Renaissance: Cervantes and Italian Art"--focuses on one such interconnection, ekphrasis, in the period roughly between the 1530s to the 1650s in poetry, drama, and prose fiction. The volume highlights how Spain's political and cultural ties with Italy and the Low Countries continually nourished Spanish writers and opened to them new ways of exploring visual writing.

In his intelligent prefatory essay, "Simple Magic: Ekphrasis from Antiquity to the Age of Cervantes," de Armas defines the various types of ekphrases, distinguishing actual ekphrasis from other forms, notably notional ekphrasis (a description of an imagined work of art) and the more esoteric collectionist ekphrasis, which constitutes a "gallery or museum within a text" (23). In an imaginative move, he pauses on what he calls "Ur-ekphrasis," the moment when don Quixote, in transforming windmills into giants, configures stones into "statues" to create an instant of "simple magic" in which the knight, like an artist, reinvents and reconfigures the reality around him. De Armas proposes the "Age of Cervantes" for the period in question in recognition of the author's vital innovations within the novelistic enterprise, including his masterful use of ekphrasis. In the second prefatory essay, "Ekphrastic Treatments of Salviati's Paintings and Imprese," Deborah Cibelli engages Francesco Salviati's frescoes and imprese in the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, which privilege paintings of unearthed antique statuary at Roman sites that were interpreted allegorically in ekphrastic renditions in Vasari's Lives, in Paolo Giovio's emblems, and in Torquato Tasso's epic poetry. A learned reading links Salviati's art to the political aspirations of his patrons, the Medici in Florence and the Farnese in Rome. Cibelli's analysis of an impresa of the moth and flame in a sonnet by Gongora, recalling Salviati and Tasso, leads into the essays dealing directly with Spain.

The second part of the volume opens with Kathleen Bollard's "Ekphrasis and the Renaissance Student: Classical versus Biblical Authority in Villalon's El Scholastico." Bollard studies actual and notional ekphrases of paintings and sculptures inspired by Old Testament narratives and classical texts in Cristobal de Villalon's dialogic work. Her careful analysis shows how Villalon's privileging of classical sculptures in the gardens of the duke of Alba's palace exposes an academician's pedagogical objectives. In his original "Eucharistic Conjunction: Emblems, Illustrations, and Calderon's Autos," John Slater connects the symbolism of botanical imagery in Calderon's sacramental plays to emblems and illustrations. In effect, the coupling of word and image functions as an allegory for the consecration of the Eucharist enacted in the autos, in which materia and forma, Bread and Word, are conjoined. Steven Wagschal's sensitive "From Parmigianino to Pereda: Luis de Gongora on Beautiful Women and Vanitas" engages Gongora's highly visual sonnet "Mientras por competir con tu cabello," which is read in connection to paintings of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Wagschal privileges Gongora's use of the multivalent term "cristal" for the woman's neck, an icon of beauty and death implicitly linked to Parmigianino's delicate and fragile "crystal vase" in his "Madonna of the Long Neck" and to the "skull mirror" in Jacques de Gheyn's "Vanitas Still Life." Gongora's inspired veiled ekphrases, Wagschal argues, ultimately play a substantial role in the iconographic vanitas tradition.

In the third section, innovative essays examine ekphrases in Cervantes's Don Quixote. Ana Maria Laguna's "Ekphrasis in the Prologue to Don Quijote I: Urganda 'the Unknowable' and the Mirrors of Fiction" proposes a reading strategy involving "two tempos" (mirrored visually through enargeia and trompe l'oeil) as the key to unravel the play of voices and textual authority in Don Quixote's prologue. William Worden's "The First Illustrator of Don Quixote: Miguel de Cervantes" defines the novel's visual portrayal of don Quixote battling the Basque as a complex notional ekphrasis that initiates a tradition of illustrations of the novel, Cervantes being in essence the first illustrator of his own work. For Worden, that famous incident poses central issues of the text itself: distinctions between "being" and "seeming," the interplay between history and fiction, and the power of the written word versus pictorial representation. Cristina Muller's "Individuation, Ekphrasis, and Death in Don Quixote" is a case study in the failure of ekphrasis: the inability to connect the visual with the verbal, to capture the image of Dulcinea in words, reflects her elusive presence in the text.

The volume's last section deals with "Cervantes's Other Ekphrastic Texts." Eric C. Graf's stimulating "Heliodorus, Cervantes, La Fayette: Ekphrasis and the Feminist Origins of the Modern Novel" examines fictional painted portraits in Heliodorus's Aethiopica, Cervantes's Persiles, and Marie de La Fayette's La Princesse de Cleves to argue for the existence of a feminist undercurrent in the evolution of the novel. In these ekphrastic moments, the interlocking themes of sexual desire, the gaze, and male rivalry conjure up a political critique of male dominance and a commentary on the status of women. In "A Portrait of a Lady: Representations of Sigismunda/Auristela in Cervantes's Persiles," Ignacio Lopez Alemany compares skillfully paintings of the female protagonist, in which the actual portraits of the woman in her beauty rival Persiles's image created in his mind; an image inscribed through time and the memory of shared moments becomes more real than the actual image preserved on canvas. In this contest, Persiles's mnemonic image of Sigismunda, capturing a "reciprocal and matrimonial" love, triumphs over Auristela, the painted Petrarchan lady. Frederick de Armas concludes the volume with his elegant "Painting with Blood and Dance: Titian's Salome and Cervantes's El retablo de las maravillas." De Armas defines this retablo as a magical "theater of memory" in which the alluring figure of Heroides/Salome is related to two paintings by Titian of Salome holding the decapitated head of John the Baptist. This collectionist ekphrasis links "reality and illusion, eros and treachery, prejudice and fear, human credulity and social satire" (217). Anamorphosis and visual disjunction, in Titian's paintings and Cervantes's text, forcefully capture and problematize these concerns. Finally, Cervantes's mnemonic images, de Armas argues, serve to satirize Giulio Camillo's cosmic theater and Lope de Vega's works.

The singular achievement of this volume is to underscore the pervasive presence of ekphrasis in the literature of early modern Spain, a device that in its various modes accomplishes multiple ends: decorative and didactic, mnemonic and symbolic, illustrative and emblematic, political and pedagogical. It reminds us how powerfully connected the verbal was to the visual, and it invites us to probe further into the yet uncharted interconnections between image and text.


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Author:Barnard, Mary E.
Date:Jan 1, 2008
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