PRINT March 1981

Words and Pictures: Notes on Alexander Pope and William Carlos Williams

MEYER SCHAPIRO HAS POINTED out an interesting relationship between words and pictures:

. . . a great part of visual art in Europe from late antiquity to the 18th century represents subjects taken from a written text. The painter and sculptor had the task of translating the word—religious, historic, poetic—into a visual image. It is true that many artists did not consult the text but copied an existing illustration either closely or with some change. But for us today the intelligibility of that copy, as of the original, rests finally on its correspondence to a known text through the recognizable forms of the pictured objects and actions signified by the words. The picture, we assume further, corresponds to the concept or memory image associated with the words. . . . That correspondence of word and picture is often problematic and may be surprisingly vague.

In fact, the history of Western

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