Dialogue Between Nature and the Two Arts, Painting and Sculpture, to contest and judge which of the two should have preeminence. Dedicated to the practitioners and theorists of these arts.
SCULPTURE: O, venerable mistress
of the Arts, learned and able,
since we are both your daughters,
it is good for you to correct and judge
between us in our difference.
In short, Painting wants,
being but shadows and vanity,
to take the honour and nobility.
PAINTING: Sculpture has much going for her
if we are talking about quantity.
But you should not judge as honourable
that she works material things:
for a better qualifying action
is to make something from nothing:
the unusual action of the painter.
SCULPTURE: Your humble genealogy
Might encourage you to shut up.
PAINTING: Well yours doesn’t overawe me.
SCULPTURE: You had your beginnings in the shadows.
PAINTING: And you yours in idolatry.
NATURE: According to my nature,
the low birth of a father
does not offend his noble son;
rather nobility that is earned
is doubly counted noble.
PAINTING: And so, by its pure industry,
has my painting been illustrated;
and it is a more honourable custom
to take light out from the shadows
than to take dark shadows from light.
SCULPTURE: Also if my vain origin
was some profane idol,
now my chisels imitate
the Triune God, the human God,
with a thousand faithful likenesses.
I am bulk and body
and you, false appearance;
and so my science exceeds yours
to the same extent that
being exceeds seeing.
PAINTING: With that false reasoning
your honours are badly increased:
because both the one imitation and the other
are not concerned with what they are
but the thing they represent.
Art can hardly form
the very being of the thing.
SCULPTURE: That is just trying to equal me.
PAINTING: Whether sculpting or painting
it must be necessary to make fictions.
And since they must be imitated thus
-both the painted and the sculpted object-
the one that should really be more prized
is the one that imitates relief
and improves it with colour.
SCULPTURE: My relief is no fiction.
PAINTING: No; but the essential art
is to imitate things naturally;
and your works are always
some marble or metal.
I, with my soft tints,
decieve the gaze and unveil;
try and deceive, if you know how,
the birds with a bunch of grapes,
or Zeus with another veil.
SCULPTURE: My chisel dares more,
my uncoloured relief,
when it looks like the living,
by its perfection of form
moves the emotions on its own;
so much so that hard stone
has set the fire of tender love
with the power of my sculpture;
a power which, for painting,
there is no writer to tell such a tale.
PAINTING: My fame will be offended:
More than one gentleman and lady,
never having know each other or met,
have been lit up by Love’s flame
just looking at a portrait.
SCULPTURE: That is so; but if you think about it
The one who lights the flame there,
is not the painted portrait;
because love is only directed
at the absent and painted person;
and when he embraced
the simulacrum he loved,
all his loving feeling
was given to the marble,
without thinking of another object.
PAINTING: He who came to those extremes,
you see, was only paying attention
to weak and lascivious ardour;
but he did not really believe for all that
that the simulacrum was alive.
I, with a different vigour,
convince the human gaze,
which judges on seeing me present,
to be a breathing, feeling body
what is just a flat surface.
Therefore, your bulk is vain
beside a colouring that deceives the eye:
let Titian and Corregio speak
or El Mudo, the Spanish painter.
SCULPTURE: So, in short, a man who can’t talk
has to praise your paintbrushes?
PAINTING: Yes; for in each canvas and panel
his painting speaks out loud,
and elegantly, for him.
NATURE: In such a profession he could well
be, although mute, so able:
and there is no more learned master
than the actions of a mute
in this your exercise:
for, as he declares
his intentions with his actions,
so, he who paints others,
can, in succinct painting,
paint different reasons.-
And if Homer composed
his great melodious painting
without eyes, a mute also could
form with no sounding tongue
This is the first of a two part blog entry. Juan de Jaureguí published this Dialogue in Seville in 1618. He was a member of the intellectual circle around Francisco Pacheco, the master of Diego Velázquez, and the author of a Treatise on Painting that also deals with the theme of the nobility of painting. For painters it was more than a scholarly debate: they were locked into traditional guild structures and to liberate themselves from these constraints and declare their art noble would have been a dramatic improvement in social status.
The style of argumentation reminds me of seventeenth-century English poetry: almost lawyerly in its presentation of cases and evidence. You might not pick up on these if you are not well-versed in the classics. Sculpture talks about someone falling in love with a statue. This is Pythagoras, who in the Greek myth sculpted a virgin made that was so life-like he fell in love with his own creation. Painting replies with two familiar topics from classical accounts of the great masters of ancient painting, Parhassius and Zeuxis: the grapes painted by Zeuxis deceive the birds who try to peck at them, and the painted veil by Parhassius is so real that Zeuxis tries to pull it back. (Pliny the Elder, Natural History).
Juan Fernández de Navarrete “el Mudo” was a deaf-mute painter who worked on the Escorial . He died in 1579.
If you follow my blog you will know that I am interested in Spanish painter-poets. The seventeenth-century seems to be a fertile and fascinating period in the consideration of both these arts.