The Epistemic Lives of Pictures and Visualisations
Et In Arcadia Ego: Poussin and early modern visual historía
To associate the French painter Nicolas Poussin (1594–1665) with seventeenth-century discourses of knowledge is not a particularly new approach. This was the approach of Poussin’s contemporary biographers, his advocates at the French Academy, and it was also the approach of twentieth-century art historical studies on Poussin by scholars as different as Anthony Blunt, Erwin Panofsky, and Louis Marin. To what extent the modern idea of theoretical knowledge as something verbal, literary and mathematical, rather than visual, has worked as what Gaston Bachelard called an “epistemological obstacle” has so far not been a major focus in the discussion.1 However, this lack of interest in the visual as a form of knowledge actually contradicts the early modern view of painting: Already in the fifteenth century men like Alberti and Leonardo described painting as a visual form of knowledge (arte del disegno) in analogy with the medieval artes liberales.2 Marin has pointed out that Panofsky disregarded this tradition completely in his obsession with Poussin as a master of istoria.3 In his interpretation of Poussin, Panofsky understood istoria as the verbal composition involved in the preparation of an historical painting. There can be no question, of course, that from the fifteenth through to the seventeenth century istoria had a lot to do with how painters told stories. By investigating the premodern archaeology of the concept istoria, however, I aim to show that in the same period it was also closely related to the ancient view of historía (in Latin and...
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