The choice of a title is a procedure constitutive of any creative work; if the author acknowledges that the artwork can be epitomised, even condensed, by a name, he will inscribe the nomination within a frame of referentiality dictated by specific conventions; or, he can endeavour to radically criticize common assumptions and to subvert expectations about the discretional quality of the name assigned. Titling can thus be regarded as a composite aesthetic act the artwork must bear; the name-giving aims to the designation of the work’s ontological status as well as to the attribution of a label with hermeneutical value. While literature and titles use the same logos, non-verbal forms like music or the figurative arts require multiple artistic mediations since titling must develop through the interplay of at least two different media. The last decades of the nineteenth century reveal that the ideal of the “the mutual illumination of the arts”, though still prompted by the pursuit of intimate interart correspondences, was leading to less intelligible, less perceptible forms of mediation. Even though G.F. Watts extensively portrayed perspicuous allegorical scenes dominated by personifications, from the late 1870s he developed a mystical view of art expressed in highly symbolic representations of man’s viewing of the inside. The new, yet untitled painting Watts showed his friends in 1886 is indicative of his evolution towards symbolism. The uncertainty regarding the title was still puzzling the artist when the painting was submitted for exhibition; interestingly enough, The Souls’ Prism was wrongly referred to on The Atheneum as The Souls’ Prison. My hypothesis is that the mis-spelling is a case of wrong reception caused by a problem of mis-nomination and, as such, it raises crucial aesthetical implications. As it fails its essential function of defining the painting’s ontological status, the verbal medium through which the title is expressed also leads any hermeneutical capability astray. As a matter of fact, Watts was unable to re-name his painting until ten years after his completion, in 1896, when it finally appeared as The Dweller in the Innermost: the elaborate inter-semiotic act of nomination and subsequent misreading of Watts’s painting reveals to an unsolved conflict between medium and meaning. The painting emblematically testifies to the redrawing of the aims of representation on the verge of modern art. The clash between a visual representation and the inadequacy to represent it – or parts of it – synthetically by a verbal code is a major matter of investigation in inter-art studies and is here particularly indicative of the turn-of-the-century growing sense of uneasiness towards the scope of representational art. For the unnamed objet d’art Walter Crane composed a sonnet he left unnamed. Inspired by a picture with no title, the sonnet actually provided none and as itself untitled it was presented by Crane to Watts. As the poem was never kept separate from the sonnet but intentionally displayed with it, my aim is to question their relation as twin artworks: by focusing on the reception of the two as a whole, their unity can be considered either as mutually illuminating or as conditioning and disturbing. The multi-facetedness of Crane’s ekphrasis is that, as it addresses Watts’s painting in verbal terms, it enacts a hermeneutic process; however, neither descriptive nor illustrative, the sonnet speaks for itself and does not need its visual source to be appreciated as a work of art. The status of ekphrasis is elusive because, if it geminates as a secondary aesthetic object, it also generates its own aesthetics in its own medium. Here, in particular, not only does it present itself like a de-scriptio which draws from a visual source and writes (on) it, but it also directly participates in the process of nomination of the artwork; it attributes a de-nominatio by means of the fourteen verses of a sonnet.

As Yet Untitled. A Sonnet by Walter Crane for a Painting by G.F. Watts: Ekphrasis as Nomination

SPINOZZI, Paola
1999

Abstract

The choice of a title is a procedure constitutive of any creative work; if the author acknowledges that the artwork can be epitomised, even condensed, by a name, he will inscribe the nomination within a frame of referentiality dictated by specific conventions; or, he can endeavour to radically criticize common assumptions and to subvert expectations about the discretional quality of the name assigned. Titling can thus be regarded as a composite aesthetic act the artwork must bear; the name-giving aims to the designation of the work’s ontological status as well as to the attribution of a label with hermeneutical value. While literature and titles use the same logos, non-verbal forms like music or the figurative arts require multiple artistic mediations since titling must develop through the interplay of at least two different media. The last decades of the nineteenth century reveal that the ideal of the “the mutual illumination of the arts”, though still prompted by the pursuit of intimate interart correspondences, was leading to less intelligible, less perceptible forms of mediation. Even though G.F. Watts extensively portrayed perspicuous allegorical scenes dominated by personifications, from the late 1870s he developed a mystical view of art expressed in highly symbolic representations of man’s viewing of the inside. The new, yet untitled painting Watts showed his friends in 1886 is indicative of his evolution towards symbolism. The uncertainty regarding the title was still puzzling the artist when the painting was submitted for exhibition; interestingly enough, The Souls’ Prism was wrongly referred to on The Atheneum as The Souls’ Prison. My hypothesis is that the mis-spelling is a case of wrong reception caused by a problem of mis-nomination and, as such, it raises crucial aesthetical implications. As it fails its essential function of defining the painting’s ontological status, the verbal medium through which the title is expressed also leads any hermeneutical capability astray. As a matter of fact, Watts was unable to re-name his painting until ten years after his completion, in 1896, when it finally appeared as The Dweller in the Innermost: the elaborate inter-semiotic act of nomination and subsequent misreading of Watts’s painting reveals to an unsolved conflict between medium and meaning. The painting emblematically testifies to the redrawing of the aims of representation on the verge of modern art. The clash between a visual representation and the inadequacy to represent it – or parts of it – synthetically by a verbal code is a major matter of investigation in inter-art studies and is here particularly indicative of the turn-of-the-century growing sense of uneasiness towards the scope of representational art. For the unnamed objet d’art Walter Crane composed a sonnet he left unnamed. Inspired by a picture with no title, the sonnet actually provided none and as itself untitled it was presented by Crane to Watts. As the poem was never kept separate from the sonnet but intentionally displayed with it, my aim is to question their relation as twin artworks: by focusing on the reception of the two as a whole, their unity can be considered either as mutually illuminating or as conditioning and disturbing. The multi-facetedness of Crane’s ekphrasis is that, as it addresses Watts’s painting in verbal terms, it enacts a hermeneutic process; however, neither descriptive nor illustrative, the sonnet speaks for itself and does not need its visual source to be appreciated as a work of art. The status of ekphrasis is elusive because, if it geminates as a secondary aesthetic object, it also generates its own aesthetics in its own medium. Here, in particular, not only does it present itself like a de-scriptio which draws from a visual source and writes (on) it, but it also directly participates in the process of nomination of the artwork; it attributes a de-nominatio by means of the fourteen verses of a sonnet.
Spinozzi, Paola
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Utilizza questo identificativo per citare o creare un link a questo documento: https://hdl.handle.net/11392/1209479
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