, Volume 92, Issue 2, pp 177-192

The Paradox of Paragone: Painters and Poets in Constantijn Huygens’ Ooghen-Troost

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Abstract

In this contribution, we focus on two apparently unspectacular (though␣often misread) extracts from the Dutch poet Constantijn Huygens’ poem Ooghen-troost. In these passages the author relates the binary framework of his poem to the paragone between the ‹sister’ arts of poetry and painting in an interesting way. We suggest that, in these passages, Huygens forges an opposition between two forms of seeing that are central to his conception of the paragone and that inform much of his other writings on the visual arts: the seeing that involves the mere looking at a painting (the gaze at a marvellous image that remains mere superficiality) and the reading of a text that involves a more valid (and more valuable) way of perceiving that hinges upon—and literally looks through—the distinction between surface and depth, external appearance and inward truth. Central to our analysis of Huygens’ discussion of the paragone is the poet’s use of the prototypically Christian motif of Nature as ‹the second book of God’. Books are there to be read, not to be gazed at in blind awe—Nature is, after all, not a divine painting that can be taken at face-value, but a text whose meaning only becomes clear for a reader who has carefully and profoundly thought through and interiorized what lies beyond that which is to be seen.