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Beyond the Mirror of Nature: Plato’s Ethics of Visual Form

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Part of the Philosophers in Depth book series (PID)

Abstract

The figurative arts, above all painting, constitute an almost ever-present paradigm and point of reference for ancient discussions of mimesis. While poetry may be the artform that commands the most attention, painting and sculpture are seldom far from view: the affinities of poetic and visual mimesis are reflected in the numerous references to visual works of art in texts concerned primarily with literature. The tradition of such appeals goes back beyond Aristotle’s Poetics, in which painting is cited as a parallel to poetry on a total of eight occasions, and even beyond Plato’s own frequent comparisons of the two arts, not least in the momentous conjunction of painting and poetry in Republic Book X.2 The aesthetic association of poetry and painting is at least as old as the poet Simonides, who near the end of the sixth century B.C. famously described poetry as ‘speaking painting’ or ‘painting with a voice’ (zōigraphia phtheggomenē/lalousa), painting as ‘silent poetry’.3 In doing so he provided some impetus to a line of thought that, via a long and influential tradition conventionally summed up by Horace’s phrase ‘ut pictura poesis’, descends all the way to Lessing’s Laokoon of 1766 and, beyond it, to continuing modern debates about the affinities and contrasts between various species of art.4 Lessing’s treatise begins with an explicit protest against the exaggerated influence of Simonides’ aphorism, though not, significantly, against the aphorism itself.

Keywords

  • Mirror Theory
  • Mirror Motif
  • Platonic Dialogue
  • Mirror Analogy
  • Momentous Conjunction

These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

La peinture est l’art d’aller à l’âme par l’entremise des yeux.

(Diderot)1

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© 2012 Stephen Halliwell

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Halliwell, S. (2012). Beyond the Mirror of Nature: Plato’s Ethics of Visual Form. In: Denham, A.E. (eds) Plato on Art and Beauty. Philosophers in Depth. Palgrave Macmillan, London. https://doi.org/10.1057/9780230368187_9

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