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Graduate Studies

Graduate Course Descriptions: Summer Session I 2007

Literatures in Spanish

HISP-S695 Hispanic Colloquium (3 credits)

Prof. Steven Wagschal

HISP-S695  #5468 12:00P-2:05P   MWR  BH 208  

Ekphrasis, Aesthetics and Art in Early Modern Spain
“Literature and Art in the Age of Cervantes”

It is perhaps no coincidence that battle armor serves as one of the earliest examples of ekphrasis, that is, the literary description of an art work in literature. Ekphrasis is often the poet’s weapon of choice in literary battle. The most well-known example is Achilles’ shield from Book XVIII of Homer’s Odyssey, one that goes beyond the capacity of Bronze Age metalurgy, but which John Flaxman did his best to recreate visually in the nineteenth century (Figure 1). Virgil’s twelve books of the Aeneid compete with Homer’s twenty-four, and the Roman’s ekphrases of the Trojan War are considered a specific site of literary competition, mirroring the depicted battle between Greeks and Trojans. Ekphrasis, additionally, can be a site of contest between the arts, as when, for instance, Philostratus the Elder seems to compete with the artwork he describes. In Imagine 15 on Pasiphae and the Minotaur, he describes the painting in glowing terms but ultimately reveals its dependence on literature, what might be termed its ontological inferiority.

This interdisciplinary course explores instances of inter-generic competition in Renaissance and Baroque Spanish literature and European art. While the theoretical relationship between art and literature dates back to Classical times—when Simonides of Ceos wrote that “paintings are mute poetry, and poems are paintings that speak,”—the paragone between the textual and the visual arts heightened in the Renaissance, both in terms of practice and theory. Indeed, according to Leonard Barkan, in Renaissance Italy and Spain, visual and textual media were conceived of as “inextricably interconnected.” This interconnectedness of word and image is the basis for what the eminent art historian Erwin Panofsky labeled his own approach to art history: iconography, a method that has become the foundation of much Renaissance and Baroque art historical inquiry. Yet literary critics have not paid sufficient attention to art works in their interpretations of written texts, privileging the written over the visual in the identification of sources. Nonetheless, a growing body of criticism in the last few decades is uncovering the important reciprocal relationship between the visual arts and literary creation in early modern Europe.

Not only is Spanish literature brewing with myriad examples of ekphrasis, but also, the Hapsburg rulers, from Charles V through Philip IV, were among—in the words of art historian Jonathan Brown—“the greatest art collectors of all time.” Spanish writers competed not just with each other but with Spanish and foreign painters for royal and court patronage. Additionally, artists and poets formed alliances in Spain, such as the one between Lope de Vega and Vicente Carducho, in which the writer argued on behalf of the painter that painting should be considered one of the liberal arts (and thus receive a special dispensation not to be taxed). In turn, Carducho praised Lope de Vega in his treatise as one of the luminaries of all the arts.

The class will study Spanish poetry, prose fiction and drama, and a broad selection of works drawn from Italian, Spanish and Netherlandish painting and architecture. Visual materials will be examined in most or all class meetings. Course materials will include:

1. Literary texts (e.g. Góngora's Polifemo and sonnets by Garcilaso, Herrera, Góngora, Lope, Quevedo and Sor Juana; selections from Don Quijote; Lope´s Peribáñez, among others);

2. Artworks (e.g. by Michaelangelo, Parmigianino, Pereda, Carracci, El Greco, Velázquez ,etc.);

3. Sixteenth- and seventeenth-century theories of art and literature (e.g. by Vicente Carducho, Francisco Pacheco, El Pinciano, Gracián);

4. Related art and literary criticism, and visual theory.

The course will be conducted primarily in Spanish.

Course grade will be based on a combination of short papers (4-5 pages each), active class participation, and a final research paper that is 12-15 pages in length.

Note: This HISP-S695 class will meet jointly with our HISP-S495 class.