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The Impact of the Netherlandish Landscape Tradition on Poetry and Painting in Early Modern England*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 November 2018

Sara Trevisan*
Brunel University, London


The relationship between poetry and painting has been one of the most debated issues in the history of criticism. The present article explores this problematic relationship in the context of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century England, taking into account theories of rhetoric, visual perception, and art. It analyzes a rare case in which a specific school of painting directly inspired poetry: in particular, the ways in which the Netherlandish landscape tradition influenced natural descriptions in the poem Poly-Olbion (1612, 1622) by Michael Drayton (1563–1631). Drayton — under the influence of the artistic principles of landscape depiction as explained in Henry Peacham’s art manuals, as well as of direct observation of Dutch and Flemish landscape prints and paintings — successfully managed to render pictorial landscapes into poetry. Through practical examples, this essay will thoroughly demonstrate that rhetoric is capable of emulating pictorial styles in a way that presupposes specialized art-historical knowledge, and that pictorialism can be the complex product as much of poetry and rhetoric as of painting and art-theoretical vocabulary.

Research Article
Copyright © Renaissance Society of America 2013

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I would like to thank Paul Taylor (Warburg Institute) for discussing with me issues concerning the Netherlandish landscape tradition, as well as two anonymous readers for RQ for their invaluable criticism and suggestions.


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