Writing and filming the painting: ekphrasis in literature and film



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This dissertation compares literary texts and films in which with works of art play a mayor role. Literary texts about works of art are today called “ekphrasis.” However, the concept has not yet been applied to films about art. Comparing filmic treatments of paintings by three well-known painters (Goya, Rembrandt, and Vermeer) with ekphrases in literary texts, I examine how the medium of ekphrasis (i.e. literary or filmic) affects the representation of the visual arts in order to show what the differences imply about issues such as gender roles, and the function of art for the construction of a personal and/or social identity. After developing a framework of four types of ekphrasis with increasing degrees of complexity, which I call attributive, depictive, interpretive, and dramatic ekphrasis, I apply my expanded definition of ekphrasis as an interpretive tool, in order to demonstrate how different genres in either modality influence the way the reader or viewer reconstructs the implications of a work of art. In so doing, I show that literary and filmic ekphrases have a similar underlying agenda – they are both closely connected to the paragone, the rivalry of the arts – but often different social dynamics: While the literary texts tend to use ekphrasis to underscore the personal function of art, the films generally emphasize art’s involvement in socio-political contexts. In other words, in both the texts and the films, ekphrasis is formally linked to the competition between the arts; yet, thematically the literary texts generally focus more on identity issues, whereas the films tend to be more interested in how art is related to the social, public roles of individuals. In my conclusion, I discuss the audience-related function of ekphrasis in film, as either cerebral or affective, which distinguished it from literary ekphrasis.