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Alberti on Apelles: Word and Image in "De Pictura"

James A. W. Heffernan
International Journal of the Classical Tradition
Vol. 2, No. 3 (Winter, 1996), pp. 345-359
Published by: Springer
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/30222219
Page Count: 15
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Alberti on Apelles: Word and Image in
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Abstract

Alberti's De Pictura (1435)-his seminal treatise on the art of painting-is subtly but unmistakeably riven by a fundamental contradiction. Though he aims to show that painting can move the beholder just as powerfully as speech can, that its silent rhetoric of gesture and expression can signify a whole inner world of thoughts and feelings, Alberti cannot sustain the would-be natural link between painted visible sign and invisible signified. Straining as the argument proceeds, the link breaks altogether when Alberti tries to illustrate the power of invention in art with a pointedly edited version of Lucian's description of an allegorical painting by Apelles. Here the expressive power of painting gives way to the regulative, determining power of words. In spite of himself, Alberti at last makes the rhetoric of painting depend on the rhetoric of speech.

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