I would present you now with curious Plate
Of Noremberg, or Turky: Hang your Rooms
Not with the Arras, but the Persian Looms:
I would, if Price, or Prayer could them get,
Send in, what or Romano, Tintaret,
Titian, or Raphael, Michael Angelo
Have left in Fame to equal, or out-go
The Old Greek Hands in Picture, or in Stone.
This I would do, could I know Weston, one
Catch'd with these Arts, wherein the Judge is wise,
As far as Sense, and only by the Eyes.
But you, I know, my Lord; and know you can
Discern between a Statue and a Man:
Can do the things that Statues do deserve,
And act the business, which they paint, or carve.
What you have studied, are the arts of Life;
To compose Men, and Manners; stint the strife
Of murmuring Subjects; make the Nations know
What Worlds of Blessings to good Kings they owe:
And mightiest Monarchs feel what large increase
Of Sweets, and Safeties, they possess by Peace.
These I look up at with a reverend Eye,
And strike Religion in the standers-by:
Which though I cannot, as an Architect,
In glorious Piles, or Pyramids erect
Unto your Honour: I can tune in Song
Aloud: and (happ'ly) it may last as long.
--Ben Jonson, Underwoods
At least Shakespeare was in good company when Jonson trashed him and his 'ignorant' audiences in that Janus-faced First Folio encomium and ridiculous Droeshout figure.
Shakespeare's many-headed multitude:
Jonson, Staple of News, Prologue for the Court
John Beaumont , Jonsonus Virbius
Aretino and Michelangelo, Dolce and Titian: Femmina, Masculo, Grazia
Fredrika H. Jacobs
Non so che, that indefinable something associated with aesthetic grace (grazia) and charming elegance (leggiadria), was the acknowledged essence of love and beauty. In I libri della famiglia Alberti describes non so che as a "certain something... which attracts men and makes them love one person more than another." Many later critics and theorists, including Lodovico Dolce, agreed. As Cropper, Sohm and other scholars have noted, Dolce's use of non so che may be understood as the ineffable beauty of Petrarch's Laura. Indeed, the indeterminate and unbounded nature of sensible beauty that is part and parcel of non so che is implicit in the term vaghezza, which is related to vagare, meaning to wander or move about without a specific destination. Equicola captures the essence of the allusive indeterminacy in his discussion of the visual apprehension of grazia.
He begins by repeating the often noted observation that perfect beauty cannot be found in one place: "la singular grazia in una non ritrovarse." It is scattered and, therefore, must be collected and combined or reconstituted.
Because la perfetta bellezza cannot be found in one place, a man of total perfection ("uomo in tutta perfezzione") is a composite whole made of diverst parts. Danti explained the preferred compositional method advocated by Renaissance writers. Seeking the assistance of nature, the artist should "make use of various men, in each of whom some particular beauty is to be seen. And having taken this and that from this and from that man, they have composed their figures with more perfection than is possible in [nature].
Painter, you are come, but may be gone,
Now I have better thought thereon,
This work I can perform alone;
And give you reason more than one.
Not, that your art I do refuse:
But here I may no colours use.
Beside, your hand will never hit,
To draw a thing that cannot sit.
You could make shift to paint an eye,
An eagle towering in the sky,
The sun, a sea, or soundless pit;
But these are like a mind, not it
‘Ut Pictura Poesis’: Jonson and the Painted Subject
Early Modern corporeality has lately become a
prominent field of study within the larger topic of early
modern subjectivity, particularly in the works of Gail
Kern Paster, Jonathan Sawday and Michael Schoenfeldt.
Such work has re-focused the critical lens on how
representations of the body and its attendant disciplines,
anatomy and physiology, might have informed early
modern theories of subjectivity. In this paper, I argue that
Ben Jonson complicates materialist views of the body by
using the trope of the portrait in order to construct selves
that are comprised of both interior, ineffable qualities as
well as external physical characteristics. Jonson argues
that because of its very status as a mere imitation of
Nature, a portrait can only gesture to the innate qualities
possessed by the body that it represents rather then
accurately render them. Unlike painting, poetry,
according to Jonson, can render both the physical
appearance and the inward character of the person
whom it describes because it can imitate humanity more
perfectly than any other artistic medium.
For Jonson, the portrait and its attendant effects are to be
regarded with suspicion, particularly since he often
juxtaposes the discipline of painting with the practice of
poetry in order to assert poetry’s superiority when it
comes to rendering often elusive emotional and
psychological states. Jonson often argues that a portrait
can only render the exterior lineaments of its subject
because a painter was chiefly concerned with
reproducing certain visual effects that rely solely upon
representations of surface qualities such as color, and
light and shadow. The painters of Jonson’s day, however,
reject this view. In his Treatise on the Arte of Limning,
Nicholas Hilliard claims that rendering the likeness of a
person consists in three points, the most important of
which is “the grace in countenance, by which the
affections apeare, which can neither be well ussed nor
well judged of but the wisser sort.”1 For Hilliard, the
most important aspect of rendering a body on canvas is
to paint the face in such a manner that the “affections”
appear. This is, of course, a concern consonant with any
artistic medium; how can one manipulate language,
paint or marble in order to render effectively the
“affections”? Significantly, Hilliard recognizes that the
materiality of the medium in which he was working was
distinctly different from the “affections” he was
attempting to render.