Sunday, October 2, 2016

Shakespeare and Italy 22 - Perspective Art in Shakespeare

3. And since we've been on the subject of Shakespeare's acquaintance with art, another observation and argument has been made for his knowledge of perspective in art.

It’s mentioned or alluded to in several Shakespeare plays. The best article that I know of on the topic is by Michael Delahoyde, PhD, in his article Shakespeare’s Perspective Art, The Shakespeare Oxford Newsletter, Summer 2014. In his article Delahoyde discusses not just Shakespeare’s familiarity with Perspective paintings but with 3-dimensional and Optical Illusion Art in general. And perhaps most importantly he connects this particular interest to Shakespeare’s deep interest in illusionary drama.

As usual, I can just briefly cover the highlights for the sake of the argument.

We know that Shakespeare was somewhat familiar with the painter/sculptor/architect Giulio Romano (from The Winter’s Tale). From the Romano analysis in Magri’s book (mentioned earlier) we can conclude that the Shakespeare had more than a passing knowledge of his artistic skills. And if he gained this knowledge first-hand then in Mantua he could have seen instances of Romano’s art that employed perspective to an exciting degree in the Palazzo Te and elsewhere.

Here are some of the allusions in the plays”
“One face, one voice, one habit, and two persons; A natural perspective, that is, and is not!”
Twelfth Night 5.1.216-7

“Though he be painted one way like a Gorgon, The other way’s a Mars”
Antony and Cleopatra, 2.5.116-7
“Yes, my lord, you see them perspectively: the cities turn’d into a maid; for they are all girdled with maiden walls that war hath never ent’red”
Henry V, 5.2.316-323

Mine eye hath play’d the painter and hath steel’d
Thy beauty’s form in table of my heart;
My body is the frame wherein ‘tis held,
And perspective it is best painter’s art.
For through the painter must you see his skill…
Sonnet 24

And of course:
perspectives, which rightly gaz’d upon
Show nothing but confusion; ey’d awry
Distinguish form”
Richard II, 2.2.18-20

It is possible that a typical Elizabethan Londoner could have seen some perspective art. There was even the famous Hans Holbein painting The ambassadors in one of the palaces and conceivably could have been seen there by visiting actors. But the argument for the artistic knowledge of the author would be one of those in which the apparent degree of this knowledge is best matched by the degree of exposure to the subject. So someone that has spent time in the French and Italian courts, and some English great houses and as well had ample time for discussions with various artists, collectors, and art enthusiasts would be in the best position to account for the artistic knowledge displayed. Certainly the Earl of Oxford was so positioned. And Francis Bacon spent much time at the French court. And had his portrait done there by Nicholas Hilliard, who we know performed some perspective art. And other frequent visitor/candidates to these courts would be similarly positioned.
Here’s a nice short article on “Artists of the Tudor court”

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