Academic journal article Bulletin of Hispanic Studies

Food for Thought: The Fruit Still Life in Góngora's Polifemo

Academic journal article Bulletin of Hispanic Studies

Food for Thought: The Fruit Still Life in Góngora's Polifemo

Article excerpt

Still life painting began to bloom in the late sixteenth century and finally became one of the paradigmatic genres of Baroque art. In Spain, the bodegón became well established in the hands of painters such as Blas de Prado (c. 1545-1599), Juan Sánchez Cotán (1560-1627), and Antonio Mohedano (1563-1626). As is evidenced by the seventeenth-century inventories of royal and aristocratic collections, the still life was one of the preferred genres in educated milieus.2 Despite their commercial success, two of the leading Spanish art theorists at the time - Vicente Carducho and Francisco Pacheco, who published Diálogos de la pintura and Arte de la pintura in 1633 and 1649 respectively - downplayed the importance of these paintings, which they interpreted as mere exercises in the imitation of nature (see Carducho 1865: 253; Pacheco 1956, II: 125). However, as the Italian cardinal Paleotti had previously suggested in his influential treatise Discorso intorno alle immagini sacre e profane (see 2002: 165), almost any depicted object, whether natural or artificial, may also serve as the basis for speculative thought.

The symbolic potential of the still life could help explain why it soon spread to poetry, as food descriptions proliferated in the Spanish Golden Age. One of the most prominent cultivators of the genre was Luis de Góngora (1561-1627), who included various ekphrases3 of edible components in his epyllion or short narrative poem entitled Fábula de Polifemo y Galatea (1612). Blanco (2012a: 129-30) suggests that Góngora's works are highly visual due in part to the incorporation of images from paintings. Although it is hard to ascertain how much the poet knew about the fine arts, he undeniably took a keen interest in them, as is evidenced by his ballad Ilustre ciudad famosa (1586) (see lines 37-44 on the 'Cuarto de las frutas' in the Alhambra), his décima Pintado he visto al Amor (1607), and his five sonnets about portraits.4 In addition, Góngora was acquainted with major painters and art theorists of his time such as Velázquez (who even produced a portrait of him), El Greco, Pacheco and Pablo de Céspedes. Some of his patrons - notably, the Duke of Lerma, and the Cardinal Archbishop of Toledo - were prominent still life collectors (Huergo 2001: 193). Góngora's interest in art could account for his descriptive talent, as the poet excelled in providing poetic still lifes that are both intensely physical and full of symbolism. It is for this reason that his ekphrases are among the most compelling in Spanish Baroque literature.

In recent years, the link between painting and poetry in the Golden Age that scholars such as Orozco Díaz (1947), Pabst (1966), and Bergmann (1979) explored has undergone a revival in academic interest. In the field of Góngora studies, the most recent bibliography has tended to focus on pictorial aspects - usually, the landscapes - of Soledades.5 With a few notable exceptions, the relationship of Góngora's Polifemo with the arts has not yet been sufficiently studied, particularly regarding its food descriptions. Therefore, taking the work of Huergo (2006) and especially of Ponce (2010: 71-94) as a starting point, I shall focus on the portrayal of the Cyclops' fruit bag (stanzas X and XI): one of the ekphrasis that best illustrates Góngora's conception of the allegorical poetic still life.

My reading offers a narratological, stylistic and symbolic analysis of the passage that makes use of frame theory, art theory about the still life, and Gracián's scheme of wit. It is my contention that these lines have the double purpose of echoing character traits of two of the protagonists - Polyphemus and Galatea - (structural function), and anticipating the tragic denouement of the poem (proleptic function). I also argue that the poetic still life fulfils the Baroque ideal of multum in parvo [less is more], as it symbolically reflects in a nutshell the polarity between a ludic understanding of literature that aims at surprising and amusing readers by celebrating the abundance of nature, and a development of more existential concerns summarized in the word desengaño: a concept central not only to the ekphrasis studied but also to the Polifemo as a whole. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.