Ekphrasis or "ecphrasis" is the graphic, often dramatic description of a visual work of art. In ancient times it referred to a description of any thing, person, or experience. The word comes from the Greek "ek" and "phrasis", 'out' and 'speak' respectively, verb "ekphrazein", to proclaim or call an inanimate object by name.

What is ekphrasis?

Ekphrasis has been considered generally to be a rhetorical device in which one medium of art tries to relate to another medium by defining and describing its essence and form, and in doing so, relate more directly to the audience, through its illuminative liveliness.A descriptive work of prose or poetry, a film, or even a photograph may thus highlight through its "rhetorical" vividness what is happening, or what is shown in, say, any of the visual arts, and in doing so, may enhance the original art and so take on a life of its own through its brilliant description. One example is a painting of a sculpture: the painting is "telling the story of" the sculpture, and so becoming a storyteller, as well as a story (work of art) itself. Virtually any type of artistic media may be the actor of, or subject of ekphrasis. One may not always be able, for example, to make an accurate sculpture of a book to retell the story in an authentic way; yet if it's the spirit of the book that we are more concerned about, it certainly can be conveyed by virtually any medium – which in itself is challenging and interesting – and thereby enhance the artistic impact of the original book through synergy.

What are the arts represented by ekphrasis?

In this way, a painting may re-present a sculpture, and vice versa; a poem portray a picture; a sculpture depict a heroine of a novel; in fact, given the right circumstances, any art may describe any other art, especially if a "rhetorical element", standing for the sentiments of the artist when he created his work, is present. For instance, the distorted faces in a crowd in a painting depicting an original work of art, a sullen countenance on the face of a sculpture representing a historical figure, or a film showing particularly dark aspects of neo-Gothic architecture, are all examples of ekphrasis.

Ekphrasis may be encountered as early as the days of Aphthonius' Progymnasmata, his textbook of style, in Vergil's Aeneid when he describes what Aeneas sees engraved on the doors of Carthage's temple of Juno, or Homer's going to great lengths in the Iliad, Book 18, describing the Shield of Achilles, exactly how Hephaestus made it as well as its completed shape.

Ekphrasis flourished in the Romantic era and again among the pre-Raphaelite poets, but is still commonly practiced.

Notional ekphrasis

Notional ekphrasis may describe mental processes such as dreams, thoughts and whimsies of the imagination. It may also be one art describing or depicting another work of art which as yet is still in an inchoate state of creation, in that the work described may still be resting in the imagination of the artist before he has begun his creative work. The expression may also be applied to an art describing the origin of another art, how it came to be made and the circumstances of its being created. Finally it may describe an entirely imaginary and non-existing work of art, as though it were factual and existed in reality.

Plato's Forms (the "bedness" analogy), the beginning of ekphrasis

Plato discusses forms in the "Republic", Book X, by using real things, such as a bed, for example, and calls each way a bed has been made, a "bedness". He commences with the original form of a bed, one of a variety of ways a bed may have been constructed by a craftsman and compares that form with an ideal form of a bed, of a perfect archetype or image in the form of which beds ought to be made, in short the epitome of bedness.

In his analogy one bedness form shares its own bedness - with all its shortcomings - with that of the ideal form, or template. A third bedness, too, may share the ideal form. He continues with the fourth form also containing elements of the ideal template/archetype which in this way remains an ever-present and invisible ideal version with which the craftsman compares his work. As bedness after bedness shares the ideal form and template of all creation of beds, and each bedness is associated with another ad infinitum, it is called an "infinite regress of forms".

From form to ekphrasis

It was this epitome, this template of the ideal form, that a craftsman or later an artist would try to reconstruct in his attempt to achieve perfection in his work, that was to manifest itself in ekphrasis at a later stage.
Artists began to use their own literary and artistic genre of art to work and reflect on another art to illuminate what the eye might not see in the original, to elevate it and possibly even surpass it.

ocrates and Aristotle

In Socrates (and Aristotle), it is not so much the form of each bed but the mimetic stages or removes at which beds may be viewed, that defines bedness [] :
# a bed as a physical entity is a mere form of bed
# any view from whichever perspective, be it a side elevation, a full plan from above, or looking at a bed end-on is at a second remove
# a full picture, characterising the whole bed is at a third remove
# ekphrasis of a bed in another art form is at a fourth remove

Plato and Phaedrus

In another instance Plato talks about ekphrasis to Phaedrus thus:
"You know Phaedrus, that is the strange thing about writing,which makes it truly correspond to painting.
The painter's products stand before us as though they were alive,
but if you question them, they maintain a most majestic silence.
It is the same with written words; they seem to talk
to you as if they were intelligent, but if you ask them anything
about what they say, from a desire to be instructed,
they go on telling you just the same thing forever".


* Frederick Alfred de Armas: "Ekphrasis in the age of Cervantes". Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press, 2005. ISBN 0838756247
* Andrew Sprague Becker: "The Shield of Achilles and the Poetics of Ekphrasis". Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 1995. ISBN 0847679985
* Emilie Bergman: "Art Inscribed: Essays on Ekphrasis in Spanish Golden Age Poetry". Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1979. ISBN 0674048059
* Gottfried Boehm and Helmut Pfotenhauer: "Beschreibungskunst, Kunstbeschreibung: Ekphrasis von der Antike bis zur Gegenwart". München: W. Fink, 1995. ISBN 3770529669
* Siglind Bruhn: "Musical Ekphrasis: Composers Responding to Poetry and Painting". Hillsdale, NY: Pendragon Press, 2000. ISBN 1-57642-036-9
* Siglind Bruhn: "Musical Ekphrasis in Rilke’s Marienleben". Amsterdam/Atlanta: Rodopi, 2000. ISBN 90-420-0800-8
* Siglind Bruhn: "A Concert of Paintings: ‘Musical Ekphrasis’ in the Twentieth Century," in "Poetics Today" 22:3 (Herbst 2001): 551-605. ISSN 0333-5372
* Siglind Bruhn: "Das tönende Museum: Musik interpretiert Werke bildender Kunst". Waldkirch: Gorz, 2004. ISBN 3-938095-00-8
* Siglind Bruhn: "Vers une méthodologie de l’ekphrasis musical," in "Sens et signification en musique", ed. by Márta Grabócz and Danièle Piston. Paris: Hermann, 2007, 155-176. ISBN 978-2705666828
* Hermann Diels: "Über die von Prokop beschriebene Kunstuhr von Gaza, mit einem Anhang enthaltend Text und Übersetzung der Ekphrasis horologiou de Prokopius von Gaza". Berlin, G. Reimer, 1917.
* Barbara K Fischer: "Museum Mediations: Reframing Ekphrasis in Contemporary American Poetry". New York: Routledge, 2006. ISBN 978-0-415975346
* Claude Gandelman: "Reading Pictures, Viewing Texts". Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991. ISBN 0-253-32532-3
* Jean H. Hagstrum: "The Sister Arts: The Tradtition of Literary Pictorialism and English Poetry from Dryden to Gray". Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1958.
* James Heffernan: "Museum of Words: The Poetics of Ekphrasis from Homer to Ashbery". Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993. ISBN 0-226-32313-7
* John Hollander: "The Gazer’s Spirit: Poems Speaking to Silent Works of Art". Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995. ISBN 0-226-34949-7
* Gayana Jurkevich: "In pursuit of the natural sign: Azorín and the poetics of Ekphrasis". Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press, 1999. ISBN 0838754139
* Mario Klarer: "Ekphrasis: Bildbeschreibung als Repräsentationstheorie bei Spenser, Sidney, Lyly und Shakespeare". Tübingen: Niemeyer, 2001. ISBN 3-484-42135-5
* Gisbert Kranz: "Das Bildgedicht: Theorie, Lexikon, Bibliographie", 3 Bände. Köln: Böhlau, 1981-87. ISBN 3-412-04581-0
* Gisbert Kranz: "Meisterwerke in Bildgedichten: Rezeption von Kunst in der Poesie". Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 1986. ISBN 3-8204-9091-4
* Gisbert Kranz: "Das Architekturgedicht". Köln: Böhlau, 1988. ISBN 3-412-06387-8
* Gisbert Kranz: "Das Bildgedicht in Europa: Zur Theorie und Geschichte einer literarischen Gattung". Paderborn: Schöningh, 1973. ISBN 3-506-74813-0
* Norman Land: "The Viewer as Poet: The Renaissance Response to Art. College Part Pennsylvania State UP, 1994 ISBN 0-0271010045-10
* Murray Krieger: "Ekphrasis: The Illusion of the Natural Sign". Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992. ISBN 0-8018-4266-2
* Hans Lund: "Text as Picture: Studies in the Literary Transformation of Pictures". Lewiston, NY: E. Mellen Press, 1992 (originally published in Swedish as "Texten som tavla", Lund 1982). ISBN 0-7734-9449-9
* Michaela J. Marek: "Ekphrasis und Herrscherallegorie: Antike Bildbeschreibungen im Werk Tizians und Leonardos". Worms: Werner’sche Verlagsgesellschaft, 1985. ISBN 3-88462-025-5
* Hugo Méndez-Ramírez: "Neruda’s Ekphrastic Experience: Mural Art and Canto general". Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press, 1999. ISBN 0838753981
* W.J. Thomas Mitchell: "Picture Theory: Essays on Verbal and Visual Representation". Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994. ISBN 0-226-53231-3
* Margaret Helen Persin: "Getting the Picture: The Ekphrastic Principle in Twentieth-century Spanish Poetry". Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press, 1997. ISBN 0838753353
* Michael C J Putnam: "Virgil's Epic Designs: Ekphrasis in the Aeneid". New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998. ISBN 0-300-07353-4
* Christine Ratkowitsch: "Die poetische Ekphrasis von Kunstwerken: eine literarische Tradition der Grossdichtung in Antike, Mittelalter und früher Neuzeit". Wien: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 2006. ISBN 9783700134800
* Valerie Robillard and Els Jongeneel (eds.): "Pictures into Words: Theoretical and Desciptive Approaches to Ekphrasis". Amsterdam: VU University Press, 1998. ISBN 90-5383-595-4
* Maria Rubins: "Crossroad of Arts, Crossroad of Cultures: Ekphrasis in Russian and French Poetry". New York: Palgrave, 2000. ISBN 0312229518
* Grant Scott: "The Sculpted Word: Keats, Ekphrasis, and the Visual Arts". Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 1994. ISBN 0-87451-679-X
* Mack Smith: "Literary Realism and the Ekphrastic Tradition". University Park: Pennsylvania State U Press, 1995. ISBN 0-271-01329-X
* Leo Spitzer: “The ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’, or Content vs. Metagrammar,” in "Comparative Literature" 7. Eugene, OR: University of Oregon Press, 1955, 203-225.
* Peter Wagner: "Icons, Texts, Iconotexts: Essays on Ekphrasis and Intermediality". Berlin, New York: W. de Gruyter, 1996. ISBN 3110142910
* Haiko Wandhoff: "Ekphrasis: Kunstbeschreibungen und virtuelle Räume in der Literatur des Mittelalters". Berlin, New York: De Gruyter, 2003. ISBN 9783110179385
* Robert Wynne: "Imaginary Ekphrasis". Columbus, OH: Pudding House Publications, 2005. ISBN 1589983351
* Tamar Yacobi, "The Ekphrastic Figure of Speech," in Martin Heusser et al. (eds.), "Text and Visuality. Word and Image Interactions 3," Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1999, ISBN 9042007265.
* Tamar Yacobi, "Verbal Frames and Ekphrastic Figuration," in Ulla-Britta Lagerroth, Hans Lund and Erik Hedling (eds.), "Interart Poetics. Essays on the Interrelations of the Arts and Media," Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1997, ISBN 9042002026.

External links

* [,1,ART Discussion of Form]
* [ Essay on musical ekphrasis]

External links to examples of works of Ekphrasis

* [ Hephaestus Starts Achilles' Shield]
* [ John Keats Ode on a Grecian Urn]
* [ Rilke's Archaic Torso of Apollo]
* [ Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror, Ashbery]
* [ Jared Carter on Laredo Taft's Solitude of the Soul]
* [ Three styles of ekphrasis in short poetic form]

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