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Literature and the Visual Arts in Spain

SPAN 630 will survey the literature of the Iberian Peninsula from the Middle Ages to the early 20th century in conjunction with developments in the visual arts. The course is meant for graduate students and advanced undergraduates. The famous formula of Horace – Ut pictura poesis – has given rise to as much controversy as agreement, and students will be encouraged to think carefully about the fruitfulness of drawing parallels between the verbal and visual culture of given periods. Nevertheless, the course assumes that the study of the visual arts vis a vis the literature of a particular period can encourage a thickened description (to use Clifford Geertz’s term) of both verbal art and pictorial representation.

Course contents: Our survey of each period will examine literary texts in conjunction with contemporary visual representations. Our look at the Middle ages will include selections from the Romancero, the Arcipreste de Hita, and Berceo together with examples of Romanesque and Gothic art. In the Renaissance period, we will consider the poetry of Garcilaso together with the works of Titian (and the music of Luis de Narvaez), and the mystical writings of Teresa de Jesus and Juan de la Cruz alongside the “estilo herreriano” of The Escorial and the mannerist output of El Greco. We will read poems by Quevedo and Gongora while contemplating paintings by Velazquez, Murillo and Zurbaran, and Calderon’s La vida es sueño while exploring the painterly genre of vanitas and the aesthetic principles of the counter-reformation. A selection of the literature of 18th-century Spain will enable the students to link Spain to other European artistic tendencies such as the rococo and neoclassic movements. The romantic prose and poetry of Rosalia de Castro and Becquer, himself a painter, will be read against the background of the romantic art of the period. The short stories of Pardo Bazan will be examined in the context of the aesthetic principles of Spanish and European naturalism, both in writing and in the visual arts. The bourgeois literature of the second half of the 19th century will be juxtaposed to the work of Sorolla and the depictions of the feminine subject in the realist/naturalist tradition will be seen projected in the work of Madrazo and in the images extracted from the 19th-century Spanish press studied by Lou Charnon-Deutsch and Jo Labanyi. The modernismo of the Sonatas by Valle Inclan will be looked at in conjunction with the Catalan art nouveau movement (Modernisme) and in the ekphrastic prose of Santiago Rusinyol, himself both a painter and a writer. Finally, the avant-garde movement theorized by Ortega y Gasset (“La deshumanizacion del arte”) will be looked for in the poetry of Futurist poet Salvat-Papasseit and in the work of Lorca, both of whom were richly anchored in the visual art movements of their time.


Previously Offered:

Spring 2016