Alberti: Is a picture worth a 1000 words?

Alberti: Is a picture worth a 1000 words?

Shan Shan will be our leader for this article however, I don’t seem to be able to stay out of the water! Here are a few queries:

1. Alberti’s treatise On Painting was one of the most influential works of the Renaissance. He imbues the art of painting with amazing powers of persuasion….but can the rhetoric of painting hold its own against that of speech?
2. Why does Alberti use descriptions of ancient paintings to describe the power of art and particularly the historia? Just because this is the Renaissance…..
3. Does it necessarily follow that if words are the domain of the invisible, that painting is the realm of the visible? In other words, do you agree with the author’s position regarding Alberti’s “protesting too much” about the exclusivity of these two worlds?
4. What are Alberti’s expectations of his audience? Do you feel that he requires too much of the viewer?
5. Apelles’ Calumny intersected with both his and Alberti’s personal history. Do you think this influenced Alberti’s use of this work as a vehicle to explain the principles of painting in his treatise?
6. What does Marin wish to underscore in suggesting that historical painting erases the deictic circumstances of discourse—or the distinction between the painter and the beholder? What is Alberti’s position as the voice behind the curtain?
7. Is the intervention of words always necessary to save images from themselves?


4 responses

  1. I think that, in the Renaissance, text and image were often interdependent. Renaissance subjects, especially religious ones, would have been familiar to viewers because of things they had read or been told verbally. Therefore, a linguistic understanding is presupposed.

    One interesting idea that I had involving this article surrounds how music is interpreted. Instrumental music is often understood on an emotional and spiritual level because it does not have explicit textual associations. However, music with lyrics is more likely to evoke a concrete image. Is the same true for visual art? Is abstract art less tied to language and text than realistic art?

  2. Hannah, that is an interesting question that you pose….one idea that occurs to me is how linear language is versus how metaphorical visual art is. Where abstraction lies on that continuum seems to me more toward the metaphorical end of the spectrum.

  3. This was a difficult piece for me to read, probably because of my own distractions, but also because of how it explains Alberti’s argument. Yes there are nuances and wonderful secrets in painting, but there are the same types of mysteries in words. Reading into art like reading into speech can present a confounding trouble: no one knows exactly what the artist wants to do. Everything is relative to the viewer or listener, they take away and add what they will. In the case of these paintings, emotion can be painted into a picture, but those feelings only come alive when a viewer is brave enough to view them with an openness that doesn’t limit the chance of the painting speaking louder than the presupposed facial expression. I guess what I mean is, if we see an image of the Virgin for example and just think “oh, she’s sad” and go along, we’re missing the grey area of the nuances of sadness. She could be pondering, wondering, unsure, mournful, on and on and on but if we say the same thing about words – they too can be either read into or ignored. I don’t know if this comment is worth a grain of salt, but this is what I came up with after considering the first question.

  4. I have to agree with Sally here, the article was quite a challenging read. I reread it, but I still don’t grasp the article. I think part of it was that I would’ve liked more visual evidence directly correlating with the samples of Alberti’s text. I think that Alberti’s expectations for audiences is way too high. Every person looking at a work are going to see different things within it. I could not help but think about the Kuleshov Effect (yes its a film theory). Due to the complexity of the psyche, our minds make connections between separate images even if there is no connection. I attached a link to the experiment for anyone who’s interested.

    Anyways I digress, I was intrigued by the section of the essay discussing Agamemnon after his daughter’s sacrifice (not just because it’s classically related). This is a very emotional moment in myth as Agamemnon struggles to internalize his grief and regret, so as not to show weakness to his soldiers. The idea that we see Agamemnon’s emotional state through the reactions from those around him is quite thought provoking. I hope we can discuss this in class.

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