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Reviewed by:
Leonard Barkan, Mute Poetry, Speaking Pictures
(Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. 2013), 208 pp.

The Roman poet Horace, a man of singular worldly wisdom, declared that poetry was like painting: ut pictura poesis was the famous phrase by which he captured, with seeming precision, what turns out to be an exceedingly slippery idea. Those three simple words, freighted with meaning and ambiguity, have inspired and exasperated generations of poets, painters, scholars, and critics from the ancient world right into the twentieth century, but in many ways the two forms of creation [End Page 347] are, and remain, radically dissimilar. The art and literary historian Leonard Barkan has spent a long and fruitful career pondering the relationship between words and images, especially, though not exclusively, in the early modern world. In this short, pungent book he takes up the question of pictura, poesis, and their relationship with characteristic gusto and a wide range of marvelous examples of written-on paintings, poetic descriptions of artworks, and other hybrid creatures of the imagination, including the cover illustration, Caravaggio’s painting St. Matthew and the Angel, with its perfect Hebrew script, destroyed in the bombing of Berlin in World War II.

Ingrid D. Rowland

Ingrid D. Rowland, professor at the Rome campus of the University of Notre Dame School of Architecture, is the author of From Pompeii: The Afterlife of a Roman Town; The Culture of the High Renaissance: Ancients and Moderns in Sixteenth-Century Rome; The Scarith of Scornello: A Tale of Renaissance Forgery; Giordano Bruno: Philosopher/Heretic; The Ecstatic Journey: Athanasius Kircher in Baroque Rome; and From Heaven to Arcadia: The Sacred and the Profane in the Renaissance.

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