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Word Processing in the Italian Renaissance: Action and Reaction with Pen and Paintbrush

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This article investigates the extent to which painters in Renaissance Italy attempted to render literally the textual sources they illustrated, and writers tried to describe accurately the pictures they saw. It argues that both painters and writers consciously aimed at a depiction/description that was not an accurate, neutral rendition, but rather a creative response in their own, specific medium. It focuses on some examples of "chain reactions," where a text is creatively visualized by a painter, whose painting is subsequently described in just as creative a way by a writer. The examples discussed are all taken from the realm of classical mythology and history: Titian's painting of Venus and Adonis (Madrid, Prado) and Lodovico Dolce's response to it; Jacopo Ripanda's scenes from early Roman history (Rome, Conservators' Palace) and Caius Silvanus Germanicus' long poetic description of them; and Andrea Mantegna's painting of Parnassus (Paris, Louvre) and Battista Fieri's poem alluding to it. The article concludes with some observations on the decreasing appreciation of similar creative renditions in the course of the sixteenth century after the Council of Trent had called for a literal rendering of biblical texts. In practice, this call also seems to have affected the rendition of mythological and historical themes.
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