Mute Poetry, Speaking Pictures

Leonard Barkan. Princeton Univ., $22.95 (232p) ISBN 978-0-691-14183-1
Ever since Plato banished poets and painters from his ideal republic, artists, poets, philosophers, and critics have struggled to sort out the relationship between word (poetry) and image (painting). In this dense and complex set of reflections on poetry and painting, Princeton comparative literature professor Barkan (Michelangelo: A Life on Paper) fruitfully illustrates that “word and image, poetry and painting, language and visuality are the oppositions upon which artistic theory and practice have been stretched.” Barkan’s splendid meditations take us from Plutarch, who believed that “painting is mute poetry, poetry a speaking picture,” through Horace, examining to the art and poetry of early modern Europe. For Barkan, the Italian sonneteer Petrarch illustrates ideally the confluence of word and image because the poet “scripted a lifelong romance... around episodes that blurred the distinction between book and picture.” In his rich and detailed musings on this ongoing debate in the history of ideas, Barkan concludes, as Shakespeare does, that “even when we insist that poetry and painting lie separately, it turns out they lie together.” 40 halftones. (Dec.)
Reviewed on: 10/01/2012
Release date: 11/01/2012
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