For example, many ancient works of art that have long been destroyed survive only in lines of poetry, and likewise lost poems survive in the foreign tongue of form and color. Mirroring or translating ideas has been crucial to arts preservation. Even if the original exists, sometimes ekphrasis gives the piece a new lustre. For example, I often find I prefer a Titian ‘translation’ of Catullus more than the original Catullus, or Rilke’s take on a Cezanne painting more than the Cezanne itself. That’s the impetus behind my essay “Ambidextrous Poesie: Ekphrasis in the Venetian Renaissance,” a finalist spotlight essay in Eclectica.
Here’s a snippet:
“In relative isolation in northeast Italy, Venetians developed a unique conversation with literature and artwork of the distant past, collaborating on projects spanning hundreds of years. Plato, predating Horace and his ut pictura poesie by hundreds of years, concluded that “the real artist…would be interested in realities, not imitations.” His theory of forms is elucidated by the idea of ‘bedness’: a god-like being creates a perfect idea of a bed, a carpenter creates a three-dimensional copy of the idea, and the artist creates an imitation of the carpenter’s imitation, which is twice removed from the truth of the ideal bed. In his sweeping denigration of art as artifice, Plato paves the way for Aristotle’s pendulant shift from asceticism to aestheticism.
Horace’s maxim Ut pictura poesie may have evolved from Aristotle’s The Poetics: “Imitation is natural to man from childhood…And it is also natural for all to delight in works of imitation.” I’ll be focusing on two types of poesie paintings that were birthed of ekphrasis: the pastoral and the mythological: Bellini’s Sacred Allegory, Georgione’s (or Titian’s) Pastoral Symphony, Titian’s Death of Actaeon, and lastly, a Titian encore: Bacchus and Ariadne. Conservative appraisals of ekphrasis’ usefulness straddled the Renaissance; Plato’s stern remonstrances five hundred years beforehand, and Lessing’s a couple of hundred years after. Between them, a liberal, and literal, orgy of the senses rioted in Venice beneath the brushes of Bellini, Titian, and Giorgione – an ambidextrous synasthesia that blurred the lines between poets and painters and gave birth to ‘poesie’ paintings that did not emulate poetry, as such, but interpreted and embellished it.”