Presentation Title

D-2 Physiognomy, Art, and Artifice in The Rape of Lucrece and The Devil’s Law-Case

Presenter Status

Department of English

Location

Buller Room 208

Start Date

1-11-2013 3:15 PM

End Date

1-11-2013 3:30 PM

Presentation Abstract

Critics have noted two predominant, competing attitudes toward art in the Renaissance. For some, art was problematic because its artifice obfuscated reality. For others, art elevated humankind by allowing artists to create, like God. Early modern artistic treatises, however, reveal that artists also valued art because of its physiognomic ability. In other words, they believed that art could communicate the painted individual’s true nature, attitude, and perhaps even secrets, especially through the face, a theory about art literary critics largely overlook. But even as artists acknowledged art’s epistemological power, they also faced the potential idealization undertaken in any artistic endeavor, especially portraits, works of art most likely to signify physiognomically. These varied approaches to and ideas about art also appear in Renaissance literature. While many texts consider the status of art, in William Shakespeare’s poem The Rape of Lucrece, the titular protagonist directly articulates and confronts the tension between art as physiognomic communicator and artificial epistemological obstructer, with a particular focus on the overlooked role of physiognomy and art. A similar interrogation of art’s illuminative vs. deceptive status occurs in John Webster’s drama The Devil’s Law-Case. Yet Webster’s text takes into account something Lucrece does not, the important role gender plays in both the creation and reception of art. Thus, by carefully considering the characterization of art in both The Rape of Lucrece and The Devil’s Law-Case, we can examine the importance of physiognomy and gender, respectively, to Renaissance art’s complicated status.

This document is currently not available here.

Share

COinS
 
Nov 1st, 3:15 PM Nov 1st, 3:30 PM

D-2 Physiognomy, Art, and Artifice in The Rape of Lucrece and The Devil’s Law-Case

Buller Room 208

Critics have noted two predominant, competing attitudes toward art in the Renaissance. For some, art was problematic because its artifice obfuscated reality. For others, art elevated humankind by allowing artists to create, like God. Early modern artistic treatises, however, reveal that artists also valued art because of its physiognomic ability. In other words, they believed that art could communicate the painted individual’s true nature, attitude, and perhaps even secrets, especially through the face, a theory about art literary critics largely overlook. But even as artists acknowledged art’s epistemological power, they also faced the potential idealization undertaken in any artistic endeavor, especially portraits, works of art most likely to signify physiognomically. These varied approaches to and ideas about art also appear in Renaissance literature. While many texts consider the status of art, in William Shakespeare’s poem The Rape of Lucrece, the titular protagonist directly articulates and confronts the tension between art as physiognomic communicator and artificial epistemological obstructer, with a particular focus on the overlooked role of physiognomy and art. A similar interrogation of art’s illuminative vs. deceptive status occurs in John Webster’s drama The Devil’s Law-Case. Yet Webster’s text takes into account something Lucrece does not, the important role gender plays in both the creation and reception of art. Thus, by carefully considering the characterization of art in both The Rape of Lucrece and The Devil’s Law-Case, we can examine the importance of physiognomy and gender, respectively, to Renaissance art’s complicated status.