A battle between arts. Narrativity, literarity and the paradox of representation in late antique literary responses to figurative art

Een strijd tussen kunsten. Narrativiteit, literariteit en de paradox van de uitbeelding in laat-antieke literaire reacties op figuratieve kunst
Start - End 
2019 - 2022 (ongoing)
Department of Literary Studies
Research Focus 



“Ut pictura poesis”! The comparison is older than Horace but the rivalry between different artistic media continues on the modern stage. The texts this project proposes to analyse embody an important facet of this discussion in which the limitations and particularities of literature and the visual arts are addressed. They are all independent literary responses to figurative art from Greco-Roman Late Antiquity. The exceptional popularity of this type of texts in this period can be related to socio-cultural factors and ongoing philosophical discussions but also to specifically literary developments. As literary texts, however, they remain an understudied domain.

This project aims to produce a first systematic literary study of this corpus of texts. It proposes to investigate the delicate relationship between these texts and their subjects. No matter how much praise they contain, an underlying rivalry between the arts is always implicitly present. My research will focus on four interrelated aspects: (1) how is this agonistic character reflected in the literary discourse? (2) How do these texts re-narrate the mostly narrative subjects of the art objects? (3) Given the primary relationship with a specific visual model, what is the role of the literary tradition in these texts? And, finally, (4) how and to what effect are the limits of visual representation addressed? Only one can be the victor in this battle: the poet or rhetorician on whose terrain the battle is being fought.