On Painting & Poetry (2)

I’d like to continue with the article I started last week. It was written in 1718 by an anonymous author and dealt with the characteristics of painting and poetry. These two art forms have a lot in common. In the early 18th century these common traits were often highlighted. The phrase ‘Painting is a Silent Poetry’ (Plutarch) was often used. ‘Ut Pictura Poesis’ (as is painting so is poetry) (Horace) also pops up regularly.  

Although I am not much of a poetry reader I find that painting expresses in a similar way as does poetry. It tries to seduce you, convince you and of course delight you through its own language of form, shape, value, colour and concept.  Let’s see what our anonymous author has to say on it. 

He is discussing the differences and common characteristics of painting and poetry, and continues:


It would be hard to determine, which of these Two Arts require the greater Power of Imagination, the longer Term of Experience, and the more unwearied Application.

It seems equally difficult to paint in Words, or in Colours; so as to impose the One upon the Reader, and the Other on the Beholder for Realities.

The Great Poet, and the Great Painter, think alike: But, They express their Thoughts by very different Powers.

The Painter’s Language is his Colours: The Poet’s Colours are his Diction.

The strongest Colouring will fade; and the most significant Words grow obsolete.

Many of the most celebrated Writings of Antiquity are preserved: The Paintings are all perished.


The Painters is equally understood in all Nations: And the Poet can distribute every One of his Performances into the Hands of all his Countryemen.

The Poet and the Painter may mutually improve one another, by judiciously perusing each others Works.

The Similitudes, the Descriptions, and Metaphors of the One;  the Landskips, Figures, and Postures, of the Other, equally tend to regulate, and enliven, the Imagination.

The violent Motions of Nature are so very Transient, that it is difficult to catch distinct Ideas of them, from the Life: Whereas, when a Great Painter has fixed a Passion in a Face, the Poet may there study the Workings of it in the Features, at his Leisure: And the Painter may, in his Turn, receive the like Advantage from the Poet. 

It shews the greatest Skill in these Artists, when they arrive to the Perfection of copying happily One from the Other.

There is not the least Resemblance between Words and Colours, as there is between different Languages: And therefore, it requires a strong Faculty of Imaging, and a just Manner of Thinking, to be able to Translate out of One of These into the Other, without loosing the Spirit.


These Observations are the Result of What occurred to Me, upon opening the following welcome Packet from a Fair Lady; in which the Reader will find a Poet copying, with Success, the Beauties of the Greatest Masters in Painting. 

The Free-Thinker, no. 63. Monday October 27, 1718. 


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