Alexander Pope and 'Ut Pictura Poesis'

Robert W. Williams


The critical and aesthetic theory Ut Pictura Poesis (or, as Simonides expressed it: "a poem is a speaking picture, a picture is a silent poem") was a source of lively argument among literary and art theorists of the entire seventeenth and much of the eighteenth century. Its history as a painting theory has been excellently displayed in an essay by Rensselaer W. Lee, while its pertinence to the study of the poetry of the first half of the eighteenth century has been dealt with extensively in Ralph Cohen's detailed study of James Thomson's The Seasons. Its possible relevance to the poetry of Alexander Pope has been considered at some length in Jean H. Hagstrom's The Sister Arts and Morris R. Brownell's Alexander Pope and the Arts of Georgian England. That Pope knew of the theory is certain: it is expressed to a greater or lesser degree in most of the French literary critics of the seventeenth century, in Dryden's "A Parallel between Poetry and Painting", in the writings of Pope's friend Jonathan Richardson the elder, and reaches the heights of absurdity in Joseph Spence's Polymetis (1747).

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