Refiguring the Real: Picture and Modernity in Word and Image, 1400-1700

Refiguring the Real: Picture and Modernity in Word and Image, 1400-1700

Copyright Date: 1993
Pages: 336
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    Refiguring the Real: Picture and Modernity in Word and Image, 1400-1700
    Book Description:

    In a major analysis of pictorial forms from the late Middle Ages to the Enlightenment, Christopher Braider argues that the painted image provides a metaphor and model for all other modes of expression in Western culture-particularly literature, philosophy, religion, and science. Because critics have conventionally explained visual images in terms of verbal texts (Scripture, heroic poetry, and myth), they have undervalued the impact of the pictorial naturalism practiced by painters from the fifteenth century onward and the fundamentally new conception of reality it conveys. By reinterpreting modern Western experience in light of northern "descriptive art," the author enriches our understanding of how both painted and written cultural texts shape our perceptions of the world at large. Throughout Braider draws on works by such painters as van der Weyden, Bruegel the Elder, Steen, Vermeer, Rembrandt, and Poussin, and addresses such topics as the Incarnation of the Word in Christ, the elegiac foundations of Enlightenment aesthetics, and the rivalry between northern and southern art. His goal is not only to reexamine important aesthetic issues but also to offer a new perspective on the general intellectual and cultural history of the modern West.

    Originally published in 1992.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-7275-6
    Subjects: Art & Art History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. xiii-2)
  5. INTRODUCTION Ut pictura poesis: Image and Text in Postmedieval Writing and Art
    (pp. 3-19)

    A unique feature of Western culture from thevia modernaof the later Middle Ages down to the wellsprings of our own experience of modernity in the final decades of the seventeenth century is its deep and pervasive commitment to forms of picturing. The aim of this book is to explain both the nature of these forms taken for themselves and their contribution to postmedieval culture as a whole.

    The ideal with reference to which pictorial form affirmed its peculiar authority and scope was chiefly supplied by painting. To this is traced painting’s promotion, on the threshold of the modern...

  6. 1 Una più grassa Minerva: The Origins of Perspective and the Aesthetics of the Incarnation in Alberti’s Della pittura
    (pp. 20-36)

    Threading a path through the labyrinthine history of representation from the crystallization of the pictural ideal in the early fifteenth to itsremise en questionin the late seventeenth century demands some sort of clue. The Introduction suggests that a suitable candidate is the evolution of pictorial naturalism as illumined by its chief formal expression, the invention, or as some argue “reinvention,”¹ of one-point or direct linear perspective. An effect of naturalism may not be a given artist’s primary purpose, and to start with, naturalism was emphatically not viewed as an end in itself. Nevertheless, in accordance with a dialectic...

  7. 2 La vérité en peinture: Space, Place, and Truth in Rogier van der Weyden’s St. Ivo
    (pp. 37-70)

    Anticipating objections to its Dream allegory (“Maintes gens dient que en songes / N’a se fables non et mençonges”: Many say that dreams contain only fables and lies) (1-2), theRoman de la Rose¹ opens by scurrying for the covert of authenticating precedent in Macrobills’sCommentary on the Dream of Scipio. Macrobius was important to medieval writers for many reasons, and not least because he offered a model for moralizing authoritative pagan writings like theCommentaryitself. In showing how Cicero’s account of Scipio’s dream (De re publica6.9-26) possesses a latent content exceeding the limits of its manifest sense,...

  8. Color Plates
    (pp. None)
  9. 3 Landscape with the Fall of Icarus: The Death of Allegory and the Discovery of the World in the Elder Pieter Bruegel
    (pp. 71-99)

    With the naturalism brought to triumphant perfection in thears novaof the Rogierian North, painting discovers a certain truth: in place of allegorical “histories” illumining Holy Writ, the realm of carnal appearances conceived as a source of energy and experience challenging the hegemonic narratives that remain its official inspiration. But what impact did this more concretely have on the day-to-day practice of pictural art? And what above all did it mean both for the development of pictural art itself and for its contribution to the evolving character of postmedieval culture as a whole? Let us move forward from the...

  10. 4 A Double-Silvered Glass: Christian Imitation and the “Curious Perspective” in Cervantes’s Don Quijote
    (pp. 100-128)

    Rogier van der Weyden’sSt. Ivodiscovers an image of its own truth as painting in the visual world glimpsed through a window in its background. In Bruegel’sIcarusthe background moves to the fore, displacing its allegorical subject toward the rear where it is literally swallowed up by a sweep of sea curving toward a distant alpine horizon. Both painters illustrate at different stages in its progress the dynamic transformation overtaking pictural art on the threshold of the modern era, redefining not only the means at its disposal but the ends to which it is put. But while both...

  11. 5 Idols of the Mind: Baroque Illusion, Theatrical Persuasion, and the Aesthetics of Iconoclasm in Jan Steen
    (pp. 129-173)

    The curious perspective survives the epoch with which it is most intimately associated, the transition between High Renaissance and baroque:¹ like the related vogue of lapidary writing,² anamorphic emblems keep appearing well into the nineteenth century, and in gestalt drawings like Wittgenstein’s duck-rabbit as late as the twentieth. But by the Enlightenment they undergo a telling change in character.

    Hogarth’s ingeniously compendiousPerspectival Absurdities(fig. 38) orchestrates a series of errors in perspective to create a topsy-turvy world in which sheep get bigger the further away they move while a man on a distant hilltop leans across the landscape to...

  12. 6 The Denuded Muse: The Unmasking of Point of View in the Cartesian Cogito and Vermeer’s The Art of Painting
    (pp. 174-198)

    And yet like the Enlightenment Steen embodies only one response to the problematic “look” of the early modern image: the one inscribed in what, adapting a term from Norman Bryson, we may call the Gaze of Baconian empiricism and the critical “interpretation” of the real. For there is another, taking the quite different form that Bryson calls the Glance: a mode of vision aimed less at “interpreting” the world-reducing it to the causal mechanisms for which it is, in the Hobbesian phrase, “a quantity every way determined”—than at entering the fluent field of undetermined appearances that is the world...

  13. 7 The Art of Mis/Reading Art: Text, Image, and Modernity in Rembrandt’s Philosopher
    (pp. 199-220)

    We open here where the last chapter left off, with the problem of meaning in the visual arts, of iconography:¹ that mode of writing (graphia) set forth in or assuming the character of an icon, image, or idol (eidolon, “likeness”). Our aim is to address that dimension of painting in particular by which it most expressly, if agonistically, participates in the more inclusive form of the Text. Yet it is essential to what I will say about iconography, as to the light collaterally shed on other issues bearing on the nature of allegory and on the curiously related category of...

  14. 8 Et in Arcadia Ego: The End of Ut Pictura and the Invention of the Aesthetic in Nicolas Poussin
    (pp. 221-248)

    For reasons set out in the Introduction the humanist doctrineut pictura poesishas not played the role normally conceded it in studies of this kind: our basic terms of reference have not been those dictated by the great exponents of the humanist theory of art; nor have our chief examples come from the usual sources in Italian painting and the work of more or less strongly ltalianized French and English poets. Yet peripheral as its contribution has been,ut picturastill defines the boundaries of the period covered in this book. Chapter¹ focused on the first major monument of...

  15. CONCLUSION The Poetry of Absorption and the Ontology of the Modern in Lessing, Greuze, and Kant
    (pp. 249-266)

    With the publication of Lessing’sLaokoonin 1766, asserting once and for all the unbridgeable ontological rift between the spatial art of the image and the temporal art of verse,ut pictura’s long reign as the dominant principle of Western art theory reaches an official close.

    There is of course a sense in which, as a matter of practice rather than theory,ut picturahad already come to an end long before: leaving the worldly irreverence of the iconoclastically “descriptive” Dutch Golden Age apart, we note that, with the demise of the baroque and the eerily valedictory sublimities of Poussin’s...

  16. NOTES
    (pp. 267-296)
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 297-314)