Ut pictura poesis  

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"That poetry is like the arts of painting, cooking, and cosmetics in its ability to express every sensation of sweetness or bitterness, of beatitude or horror, by coupling a certain noun with a certain adjective, in analogy or contrast" --unpublished preface to The Flowers of Evil, tr. Marthiel and Jackson Mathews [...]

This page Ut pictura poesis is part of the medium specificity series.  Illustration: Laocoön and His Sons ("Clamores horrendos" detail), photo by Marie-Lan Nguyen.
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This page Ut pictura poesis is part of the medium specificity series.
Illustration: Laocoön and His Sons ("Clamores horrendos" detail), photo by Marie-Lan Nguyen.

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Ut pictura poesis (English: "as is painting so is poetry," or "painting is like poetry") is a Latin dictum first recorded in Horace's Ars Poetica, near the end:

A poem is like a picture : one strikes your fancy more, the nearer you stand ; another, the farther away. This courts the shade, that will wish to be seen in the light, and dreads not the critic insight of the judge. This pleased but once ; that, though ten times called for, will always please. --[...]

Horace meant that poetry (in its widest sense, "imaginative texts") merited the same careful interpretation that was, in Horace's day, reserved for painting. Horace's formula, equating the "sister arts," has proved more often a stimulus for dissent than for any useful theorizing on the resemblance between images and texts.

Lessing opens the Laocoön (1766) by observing that "the first who compared painting with poetry [Simonides] was a man of fine feeling," though, Lessing makes it clear, not a critic or philosopher. Lessing argues that painting is a synchronic, visual phenomenon, one of space that is immediately in its entirety understood and appreciated, while poetry (again, in its widest sense) is a diachronic art of the ear, one that depends on time to unfold itself for the reader's appreciation. He recommends that poetry and painting should not be confused, and that they are best practiced and appreciated “as two equitable and friendly neighbors.”

W. J. T. Mitchell trenchantly observed that "We tend to think that to compare poetry with painting is to make a metaphor, while to differentiate poetry from painting is to state a literal truth."

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