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  • El ingenio del arte: la pintura en la poesía de Quevedo by Adrián J. Sáez
  • Matthew Ancell (bio)
Adrián J. Sáez. El ingenio del arte: la pintura en la poesía de Quevedo. Madrid: Visor, 2015. HB. 182 pp. ISBN: 978-84-9895-162-2.

In El ingenio del arte: la pintura en la poesía de Quevedo, Adrián Sáez offers the most extensive study to date of Quevedo's relationship to painting. The work examines three tendencies in the dialogue between painting and poetry: similarities in Quevedo's verse and certain painters, the function of the poet's techniques of portraiture, and the ekphrastic transformation of a painting into words (28). Sáez argues that Quevedo's poetics draws upon art as much as literature—a forceful claim considering the poet's literary erudition. The case is strong, however, and Sáez offers careful readings of the poetry, informed by its connections to painting as an interpretive key regarding the meaning and operations of painting in Quevedo's poetry within the larger political and artistic court environment.

After an introduction that lays out the biographical and critical context for the study, and which establishes the court connections with Velázquez and Calderón, for example, chapter two engages with the subtleties inherent in ekphrastic activity. Saéz is attuned to the distinction between visual description as a general poetic technique and the pictorial-poetic proper as a category that transcends ekphrasis, at least as it is commonly understood. Through an examination of the specular qualities of several retratos poéticos, particularly those that treat the theme of a lady's beauty, Saéz observes how both mimetic desire and disillusionment work together to foreground the difficulty and limits of representation in poetic and pictorial practice. As a counterpart to that dynamic, an analysis of elegiac political poetry follows, demonstrating that, in the careful game of praise and criticism typical of court lyric, Quevedo draws upon the visual rhetoric of royal portraiture by various old masters such as Rubens, Moro, and Titian. One of the most important texts Saéz discusses is "El pincel," a silva in which Quevedo reveals his painterly influences. Among the "Pictorial Parnassus" of painters that [End Page 235] populate the poem, many of them fellow Spaniards—as well as Raphael, Michaelangelo, and Caravaggio—it is Titian, ultimately, that interests Quevedo the most, as chapter three argues.

No discussion of these themes would be complete without treating the debate regarding the status of the painter in the seventeenth century. "El pincel," while not initially written as a polemic, emerges in the midst of the arguments of 1625 that asserted painting as a liberal art. This tribute to painting can be seen alongside not only Calderón de la Barca's famous much later Deposición of 1677, but poems by Lope that conjure "El pincel" in more explicit attempt to elevate the status of the artist. Here, in chapter four, as in other sections of the book, Saéz goes beyond the obvious candidates for analysis, and draws upon his extensive bibliographic knowledge of both period sources and, especially, current criticism. This compendious knowledge is one of the greatest strengths of the work, as the book sometimes functions as a lively written annotated bibliography. There are moments when sources seem to be included for the sake of inclusion rather than to provide evidence or further the argument. The methodology is essentially philological, but there are some nods to helpful theorists such as Umberto Eco.

Vibrantly argued and well-produced, with a few black and white illustrations, this book is essential for specialists in Quevedo, and should be of interest to scholars in Golden Age poetry broadly. More than anything, this is an important contribution to interdisciplinary studies and reminds us that in the early modern period these disciplines were not parsed as they are in the academy today. The picture of Quevedo's work that emerges is much fuller and detailed than any before, resembling the Archimboldo painting on the book's cover: a portrait of a man composed of books, and one complex enough to always...


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