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Ut Pictura Poesis

  Ut Pictura Poesis (Latin ‘as is painting, so is poetry’) is a tag from Horace\'s didactic poem Ars Poetica (‘The Art of Poetry’). Horace\'s intention was to point up a similarity between the arts of painting and poetry, especially with regard to imitation. They both not only represent the appearance of the world and the actions of beings in it, but also improve on Nature through the means of art. Its importance is primarily for fine art and rests principally on the justification it gives the painter on two points: (1) to be regarded as the practitioner of a liberal art (poetry was so considered by the ancient world); (2) to establish history painting, that is, painting which most closely resembles the subject matter of classical poetry, as the pre-eminent genre.

In the 16th to 18th centuries especially, the notion provided the principal starting point for discussion of the arts in Europe, notably in the 17th-century French Academy. A closer study leads one to suspect that part of the complexity is based on nothing more than semantic laxity. In the 18th century Gothold Lessing argued, in Laokoön, that the doctrine had caused unnecessary confusion in the arts—a point that was taken up in the 20th century by the modernist Clement Greenberg in Towards a Newer Laocoön, when he argued that each art should address concerns proper to it, and not those of another art form. MG PD



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