Ekphrasis as a shield: Ekphrasis and the mimetic tradition

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In his preface to a special issue dedicated to ekphrasis, Mario Klarer observes that this term has gained wider currency in recent years due to the increasing number of writings that ‘focus on ekphrasis as a phenomenon in interart studies.’1 Authors like Murray Krieger, James Haffernan, John Hollander, and W. J. T. Mitchell tend to omit diverse features of classical ekphrasis and ‘focus primarily on instances of double representations produced by literary descriptions of pieces of visual art.’2 Ruth Webb supports this view in her discussion of classic vs. modern interpretations of the term.3 Webb locates the modern invention of ekphrasis as a discrete genre, focusing on a special description of art objects, in the second half of the nineteenth century.4 Since then, she argues, the term ‘ekphrasis’ has been gradually redefined so as to conform with the contemporary intellectual and esthetic state of mind,5 culminating in the current debate on ekphrasis that reflects the ongoing theoretical concern with issues of representation. ‘Because it verbally represents visual art, ekphrasis stages a contest between rival modes of representation,’ states Heffernan, reaffrrming the present interest in the ancient term.6 Indeed, the contemporary use of the term implies intimate relationships between ‘the sister arts,’ reflecting the long tradition of ‘ut pictura poesis’: ‘Something like the Renaissance notion of ut pictura poesis and the sisterhood of the arts is always with us’, Mitchell tells us: ‘The history of culture is in part the story of a protracted struggle for dominance between pictorial and linguistic signs, each claiming for itself certain proprietary rights on a “nature” to which only it has access.’7.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)372-378
Number of pages7
JournalWord and Image
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2006

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Visual Arts and Performing Arts
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Literature and Literary Theory


Dive into the research topics of 'Ekphrasis as a shield: Ekphrasis and the mimetic tradition'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this