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  • Troubled Resemblances:Portrait and Poetics in Breitinger's Critische Dichtkunst, Wieland's Don Sylvio, Burke's Philosophical Enquiry and Radcliffe's Castle of Udolpho
  • Nicola Gess

Whom do I see, who here looks at me too?Did Nature make it, Herr Strobel, or did you?Picture! No picture! To see this smile, this blush,This throat, neck, and mouth—can it come from a brush?

Where, then, does the spirit dwell? The visage is all I seeLet the soul be where it will, the being stands with me:It lives! Or something animate has given its bond—Are you image or human life? Won't you respond?

[Wem seh' ich, oder wer sieht mir vom Bilde zu?Hats die Natur gemacht, Herr Strobel, oder du?O Bild! O nicht ein Bild! Dieß lieblich seh'n, dieß Lachen,Den Hals, dieß Haar, den Mund, kann dieß der Pinsel machen?

Wo bleibet dann der Geist? Das Antlitz ist allhier;Der Geist sey wo er will, das Mensch steht doch bey mir:Es lebet!, oder muß ja etwas in ihm leben.Bistu Bild, oder Mensch? Willstu nicht Antwort geben?]

(Opitz 495; Breitinger 305)1 [End Page 1277]

Opitz's poem "An eben jhn / vber seine Abildung eines Frawenzimmers" ("To the Artist: On His Painting of a Lady," ca. 1628) extols a picture by the artist Bartholomäus Strobel. The verses raise a number of questions concerning the relationship between poetic language, pictorial representation, and the lyrical I. Enlisting a topos of the literary tradition of ekphrasis,2 Opitz observes that the image seems to be alive. Although the observer knows he is looking at a painting, the woman strikes him as if she were flesh and blood: "Picture! No picture!" Initially, the poem names two possible creators of the image: Nature—which amounts to denying the artifact—or the artist, who has imitated Nature well enough to fool the human eye. That said, the second line—"Did Nature make it, Herr Strobel, or did you?"—opens another possibility. If "Herr Strobel" has ursurped the place of Nature, the picture may also be understood as the product of a fertile (artistic) imagination. The question in the concluding line ("or did you") could be addressed to the portrait itself; in this case, the image is autonomous. Or else Opitz's words signal that the image depends on the observer and his literary ekphrasis: its qualities come to light only insofar as it is viewed and discussed. Finally, the poem confronts the lyrical I with an uncanny reciprocity: the observer can no longer be certain whether he is looking at the picture or if the picture is also looking at him.3

Questions of this kind recur throughout what follows. My article discusses the role of the portrait, especially the painted miniature, in German and English prose fiction between 1760 and 1800.4 Pertinent examples include Wieland's Die Abenteuer des Don Sylvio von Rosalva (1764), Walpole's Castle of Otranto (1764), Radcliffe's The Mysteries of [End Page 1278] Udolpho (1794), Matthew's The Monk (1796), Radcliffe's The Italian (1797), and Tieck's Franz Sternbalds Wanderungen (1798) to name but a few. In all of these works, the portrait serves as both a pillar and motor of plot.5 The most prevalent scheme, best known through Mozart's Zauberflöte (1791), goes as follows: a young man finds a miniature likeness; he falls in love with the woman depicted and sets off on a quest to find her; in the best case, a happy union results; in the worst case, he goes mad in a labyrinth of revenants and doppelganger. A frequent variant includes a genealogical (sub)plot, wherein the observer/pursuer is drawn into the abysses of his unknown family history. To name just one example: In Tieck's Franz Sternbald (1798), the poet Rudolph tells the story of the young Ferdinand, who finds a miniature portrait in the woods, falls in love with the woman he sees, sets out to find her, and, in the course of events, also discovers his future wife's long lost family. This embedded narrative provides the model for the life story of Franz Sternbald, a...


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