1 : 2 : 3 : 4 : 5 : 6 : 7 : 8 : 9 : 10 : 11
- Much nineteenth-century
aesthetic theory values the visual imagination
of the writer. The emphasis on the writer's
eye creates a particularly close relationship
between painting and poetry. How do poems
which represent paintings draw attention
to both the power and the limitations of
language in relation to visual art? To what
extent are poems about paintings also — or
instead — poems about language?
vision is the dominant sense in nineteenth-century
aesthetic theory, it is not the only sense
to be mentioned in this topic or in Robert
Browning's poems on artists, Fra Lippo
Lippi (NAEL 8, 2.1271) and Andrea
del Sarto (NAEL 8, 2.1280).
- Where do you see the power of the other senses acknowledged or invoked?
- Paintings offer to the eye what they withold from the touch. How does
this idea relate to the experience of desire presented in the poems?
- While reading
a poem is a process that takes time, a picture
presents itself to the eye all at once. Poetry
and painting thus bear different relationships
to time. Consider this phenomenon in relation
to any of the paired literary and visual
representations in this topic.
- How does each mode try to achieve the effect natural to the other?
That is, how do visual representations encourage viewers to experience
them as a process, and how do literary representations seek to provide
a unified experience?
- Does the relation between visual and the literary representations seem
one of cooperation or competition? How does considering the two together
make you more aware of the strengths and limitations of each mode?
- In his review On
Some of the Characteristics of Modern Poetry, Arthur
Henry Hallam uses the term "picturesque" to
describe Tennyson's poetry.
- How useful is the term "picturesque" in defining the character
of Tennyson's poetry? Does it apply equally to his early and late
- To what extent is it a useful way of thinking about nineteenth-century
poetry more generally?
- Along with
the sublime and the beautiful, the picturesque
had been the focus of Romantic aesthetic
theory and poetic practice. See for instance
. . . Relative Chiefly to Picturesque
Beauty and Sir Uvedale Price's On
the Picturesque (listed under Electronic
- Where do Hallam's ideas of the picturesque
seem derived from Price's? Where do they differ?
- Although Hallam considers Tennyson a picturesque poet, he also sees
him as seeking beauty. Price's distinction between the beautiful
and the picturesque seems no longer to hold. Why do you think this distinction
disappeared? What is gained and what is lost by this collapsing of categories?
- Hallam praises
Tennyson for "his valid, picturesque
delineation of objects, and the peculiar
skill with which he holds all of them fused,
to borrow a metaphor from science, in a medium
of strong emotion." The poetic practice
praised here would later be condemned by
Ruskin as the "Pathetic Fallacy" (NAEL
- How does an early work of Tennyson's like Mariana (NAEL
8, 2.1112) illustrate the practice described by Hallam and by Ruskin?
- Ruskin himself distinguishes between those pathetic fallacies that
have "some beauty" and "no discord" and those that "set
our teeth on edge." Into which category do you think the fallacies
in Mariana fit? How do the other terms of Hallam's praise
help you to make that judgment?
- This topic
is dominated by men's paintings of women
and by men's poems about those paintings.
The power to represent is presented as a
masculine prerogative to which women must
submit. Yet almost all of the poems attribute
a certain power to the women in the paintings.
What is the nature of this power? How is
this effect conveyed in the language of the
poems? What social and/or aesthetic anxieties
does it reveal?
- While not
himself a painter like Rossetti, Robert Browning
was the author of Fra Lippo Lippi (NAEL
8, 2.1271) and Andrea del Sarto (NAEL
8, 2.1280), dramatic monologues in
which painters muse to themselves about their
paintings. By contrast, My Last Duchess (NAEL
8, 2.1255) and The Bishop Orders
His Tomb at St. Praxed's Church (NAEL
8, 2.1259) represent the point of view
not of artists but of collectors and patrons,
whose power and money influence artists' work.
Browning Hypermedia Archive will allow
you to read some of these poems while viewing
the artworks they describe.
- What image of the visual artist emerges from Browning's poetry?
How does the artist in these poems relate to society in general, and
to patrons in particular?
- While Browning embeds his artists in a social world, Rossetti tends
to focus exclusively on the artist's relation to the model. To what
extent can Rossetti's poems also be described as "dramatic"?
Rossetti's sonnet In an Artist's
Studio (NAEL 8, 2.1463) explicitly concerns
itself with the relationship between the
male artist and the female model.
- What problems, both personal and aesthetic, characterize this relationship?
- Is it possible to determine the speaker's final judgment about
the "truth" of the painter's works? If so, what is it?
- Ruskin praised
Slave Ship (NAEL 8, 2.1321)
as a masterpiece, yet he sold the painting
because he found it "too painful to
- To what extent does Ruskin segregate his different responses from each
other? Is the painfulness of the painting part of its aesthetic power
as Ruskin describes it?
- How does Olaudah Equiano's description of life aboard a slave ship
(NAEL 8, 1.2851–59) change your response to Turner's painting,
if at all?
- W. H. Auden's Musée
des Beaux Arts (NAEL 8, 2.2428) is a twentieth-century
poem about a sixteenth-century painting, Brueghel's Icarus. Compare Auden's poem to
some of the works in this topic, particularly
as regards the textual description of visual
art, and the relation between poet and