Academic journal article Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America

Ut Pictura Non Poesis. Los Trabajos De Persiles Y Sigismunda and the Construction of Memory

Academic journal article Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America

Ut Pictura Non Poesis. Los Trabajos De Persiles Y Sigismunda and the Construction of Memory

Article excerpt

PAINTING AND LITERATURE IN Early Modern Spain were powerful tools used to educate the population in a theocratic and absolutist ideology. Although the resolutions of the Council of Trent did not create a new style, they did provide a corpus of rules that shaped the artistic and literary production of the Catholic nations. Among the most important consequences of these resolutions may have been the necessity of controlling the different expressions of human creativity in order to maintain the country's dominant ideology. The next logical step for art and literature was to break with the intellectual elitism of the Renaissance and Mannerism in order to become more appealing to the senses of the population (Portus 21). Spain, the champion of the Catholic Reformation, developed a theory of the art of painting based on its "usefulness" in narrating stories to the faithful using strategies such as compositio loci or in illustrating complicated concepts with the rhetorical help of the demonstratio ad oculos. The seductive power of images was considered key to teaching the appropriate behaviors. (1) Francisco Pacheco established this importance in his Arte de la pintura (1649), in which he considers the aim of the Christian painter to "persuadir al pueblo, y llevarlo, por medio de la pintura, a abrazar alguna cosa conveniente a la religion" (I, 11; 252).

Thus, decorum, became a major preoccupation of the authorities. During the Renaissance decorum referred to the sacrifice of accuracy regarding historical details to gain in effectiveness, but for theologians, men of letters, and the hierarchy of the Church, the meaning of decorum soon fell under the semantic influence of "decency." The artist and the writer were thus compelled to "amend" the so-called "errors" to which strict historical fidelity could fall prey, because it was accepted, art could--and should--perfect nature (Portus 27). If imitatio and inventio were not clearly distinguished in the early sixteenth-century theory of art, the influence of the moral concept of decency on the artistic dispositio could only complicate things even more. (2)

The artists, with their persuasive creations, would become an important instrument for the goals of the absolutist and theocraric society, with responsibilities centered around the purity of the religious and political dogma. But for the same reasons, the artists would become a potential danger to the society. The new political role of the artists, as Emily Bergmann has explained, reinforced their long-lasting claim for a position among the liberal arts that would let them "avoid paying taxes levied on the products of crafts, and to enable them to become members of the military orders" (24-25).

Sometimes the actual facts of history needed to be altered in the spirit of this new meaning of decorum. Knowing when and how to make the necessary arrangements required "good judgment" (buen juicio), and artists as well as writers were expected to exercise it to achieve their ideological mission. Vicenre Carducho would even write in his Dialogos de la pintura (1633) that it is a quality of the good artist to exceed the imitatio by "amending" the reality. Gabriel de Corral narrates a classical example of this in his prologue to the history of Don Juan de Austria by Lorenzo Van der Hamen. In the introduction to the life of Don Juan de Austria, painters are encouraged to avoid physical defects of authorities, such as a prince, in the same way historians can only narrate positive stories of their heroes: "... assi porque se atiende a que en la Historia solo se escriva lo que parece loable, como aquel Pintor, que retratando a un Principe, a quien faltava un ojo, le pinto por la parte del rostro que carecia de aquel defecto." (3)

In this article I will illustrate how events are changed, omitted or added according to the different purposes and narratives used in the Cervantine romance Los trabajos de Persiles y Sigismunda. …

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