Lo sguardo a picco: Sul sublime in Filostrato

Studi di Estetica 26:147-170 (2002)


This paper is dedicated to the Εἰκόνες of the two Philostrati and to the Ἐκφράσεις of Callistratus, that is to say to three Greek works that bear important witness to the genre of art criticism in Antiquity and which concern both literary history and the history of art. The first series of Εἰκόνες is the work of Philostratus the Elder (2nd-3rd century AD) and comprises sixty-five descriptions of paintings with mythological subjects, which the author assures us he has seen in a gallery in Naples. Another Philostratus, who claims to be the grandson of the former, and who is traditionally referred to as Philostratus the Younger, wrote a second, shorter series of Εἰκόνες, which describes seventeen paintings. Finally, a certain Callistratus, who probably dates from the 4th century AD, is the author of the Ἐκφράσεις, which group together fourteen descriptions of statues in marble and bronze.1 Ecphrasis is a subject that is often the focus of contemporary research. Perhaps its importance stems from the fact that we live in a civilization dominated by images, and we feel the need to control the visual imagery that surrounds us, to govern it and to make sense of it through language. The attention given to literary theory, rhetoric and sophistry today also helps to explain the success of this subject. The present book is situated in this field of research. The "La Licorne" series in which it is published specializes in the study of ancient and modern literature, a specialization to which this volume corresponds. This volume has two points of focus: (1) the literary form of description and the complex relationships between word and image, between the oral and the visual (hence the title Le défi de l'art, which signifies, among other things, that the art of the painter and of the sculptor challenges the sophist, who tries to describe works of art with words); (2) the Nachleben of ancient texts, because Philostratus and Callistratus were well-known to posterity, particularly during the Renaissance.

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