The Poetics of Mind and Matter: Some Remarks on Ancient Images and Imagination
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Discussing two recent monographs (STIJN BUSSELS, The Animated Image: Roman Theory on Naturalism, Vividness and Divine Power, and ANNE SHEPPARD, The Poetics of Phantasia: Imagination in Ancient Aesthetics), the review essay develops some salient points made by both authors, especially regarding the relation of images, material and mental alike, to the power and activity of imagination. It suggests that ancient authors tend to connect the much-discussed issue of the animated images to precisely this activity, which typically operates on the borderlines between the sensible world and its intellectual reﬂection. The latter need not acquire the shape of a theory: it can as well, perhaps better, translate back into the imaginative activity of the arts themselves. To show in more detail how this imaginative process works, the essay choses one text that speaks about painting, and another that treats sculpture. In the ﬁrst case (which elaborates upon Bussels’ book), the focus is on Pliny’s Historia naturalis XXXV and its discourse on how the origins of art that will become painting consist in constructing an absent life, be it one imprinted in the ancestral portraits (imagines), or one evoked through a subtly traced silhouette. In the second case (which ﬁnds its point of departure in Sheppard’s book), the essay revisits Flavius Philostratus’ Life of Apollonius of Tyana and its discourse on phantasia, with a special concern for Phidias’ statue of Zeus at Olympia. It concludes that, pace Sheppard and others, Philostratus’ dealing with imagination and the arts need not assume the Neoplatonic ﬁliation. In its conclusions, the essay submits that both material images and verbally induced visualizations reveal themselves as images only if we recognize their power to animate our consciousness of not only the world, but ourselves as human beings.
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