BMCR 2012.09.16

La rhétorique des arts. Actes du colloque tenu au Collège de France sous la présidence de Marc Fumaroli, de l’Académie française

, La rhétorique des arts. Actes du colloque tenu au Collège de France sous la présidence de Marc Fumaroli, de l'Académie française. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 2011. x, 228. ISBN 9782130584971 €20.00 (pb).

[The Table of Contents is listed below.]

This trim volume contains seven essays exploring the relationship between rhetoric and the fine arts in Europe from antiquity to at least the 18 th century. In approaching rhetoric as “une langue commune favorisant le dialogue entre les disciplines” (p. vi), the collection differs from other discussions of “rhetoric and X” by focusing on the traffic between rhetoric and the fine arts specifically. Indeed, the volume includes several refreshing theoretical comparisons of rhetoric and the fine arts qua distinct representational technologies that will particularly interest devotees of classical rhetoric and its reception. The volume’s vast chronological range corresponds in a sense with a significant variety in the length, register, and methodology of the papers. For example, Fumaroli’s introductory remarks on the fortunes of rhetoric in education and modern academic study preserve the genial, exploratory character of a welcome address (pp. 1-8). At the other extreme, Ursula and Warren Kirkendale’s study of Quintilian’s influence on Bach (ca. 90 pp., previously published in English) makes for dense but valuable reading, though the paper was not delivered at the panel celebrated by the volume.1 The essays also vary significantly (if predictably, given the contributors’ wide range of scholarly expertise) in their level of engagement with the ancient rhetorical tradition and its scholarship. Readers should therefore be prepared for occasionally hasty treatment of ancient sources and uneven citation of Latin and Greek. They may find that references to scholarship are similarly irregular, though the reviewer admits difficulty in assessing this in view of the wide range of topics and regrettable lack of systematic bibliographies. Thirty-eight images, musical staff notation, and an index nominum complement the text.

The most sustained encounters with ancient rhetoric are perhaps Laurent Pernot’s discussion of Phidias in the Roman declamatory tradition and Pierre Caye’s comparative study of rhetoric and architecture. Because these papers reflect both the possibilities and the problems with the volume’s stated aims to “mettre les beaux-arts en relation avec la rhétorique,” (p. vi) it is on these two essays that this review will focus. Brief comments on other contributions and selected errata follow.

In “Phidias à la barre,” Laurent Pernot examines the remarkable reception of the Athenian sculptor Phidias in Roman oratory and rhetoric. Phidias may in fact have been put on trial for real crimes at Athens (pp. 11-12), but Pernot concentrates on the declamatory representations of Phidias’ appearances “on the stand.” Seneca the Elder ( Contr. 8.2) and the 3rd (?) c. CE rhetorical treatise Anonymus Seguerianus share a particular interest in Phidias’ alleged embezzlement of the gold meant for his statue of Zeus at Olympia in Elis. In the Senecan excerpta, the Eleans have severed Phidias’ apparently guilty hands as punishment for his sacrilege (i.e., theft of sacred objects). The Athenians cry foul——what good is a handless Phidias to Athens?—and countercharge the Eleans with sacrilege for having stymied future Phidian depictions of the divine. For Pernot, the excerpts point not only to the religious value of statuary, but also to aspects of “the creative process” in both material and metaphysical senses (“les déclamateurs considéraient que l’artiste avait conçu Zeus par l’esprit, avant de l’incarner dans la matière,” p. 21). Similar concerns appear in the fictive “trial” of Phidias represented in Dio Chrysostom’s twelfth (alias Olympic) Discourse, delivered in 97 CE in sight of Phidias’ chryselephantine Zeus. The charge to which Dio’s Phidias responds, however, is not religious theft, but whether it was right to have portrayed divine Zeus in human form, and in pleasure-inducing gold. Here again, Pernot stresses the theological and philosophical aspects of creation in light of constraints inherent in the plastic (vs. poetic) arts: by vindicating the fabrication of a divine image, this Phidias underscores the legitimacy of religious statuary in particular, even when this means straying from Dio’s usual, if eclectic, Stoicism. The speech therefore provides not only a moral and theological basis by which to legitimate Trajan, but also a pacifistic counterpoint to Nerva’s martial heir. Trajan’s preparations for war in Dacia, whence Dio himself had just returned, were already underway, and Phidias’ Zeus implicitly rejected Homer’s warlike conception of the god.2

Pernot will convince many readers that, in the declamatory tradition as in Cicero (e.g., Orat. 8-9), Phidias typically denoted the difficulties of representing the ideal—indeed the divine—in art. The discussion might have been enriched, however, by engaging other, recent studies on Roman declamation. Particularly striking is the omission of reference to Gunderson, who handily notes the high incidence of amputation in the declamatory tradition.3 Finally, it should be said that if Pernot’s essay succeeds as a diachronic and essentially literary study of an artistic topos in the rhetorical tradition, it somewhat less effectively compares the fine arts per se (i.e., rather than its artists) with rhetoric. For, just as Dio, via Phidias, pits sculpture against Homeric poetry as rival modes of representation (p. 32), Dio also implies a comparison between sculpture and poetry on the one hand and rhetoric on the other, since it is (ironically) rhetoric that the sculptor deploys to acquit himself.

It is just such a theoretical comparison between arts that Pierre Caye offers in “L’architecture et rhétorique: approche cicéronienne de leur identité et leur différence.” Caye’s paper reprises many of the broader themes touched upon in Fumaroli’s sweeping welcome address (pp. 1-8), and its chosen frame of reference (“l’âge humaniste et classique”) 4 embodies a sometimes disorienting amalgam of synchronic and diachronic approaches in which Vitruvian and Albertian terms freely intermingle. Still, Caye compellingly asserts a close, conceptual relationship between rhetoric and architecture. Two preexisting models for the relationship are taken from Vasari’s “cognate” arts of disegno (painting, sculpture, and architecture) on the one hand, and from Baxandall’s findings concerning rhetorical composition in Renaissance visual perspective on the other.5 Caye partially rejects both, and maintains the existence of unique, but still comparable, mimetic strengths and limitations in every medium; architecture is not intrinsically “sub-rhetorical” simply because it borrows apparently rhetorical terminology. Caye notes, e.g., that many Vitruvian terms, presumed to be rhetorical, are in fact broadly philosophical, so that architecture’s relationship to rhetoric is cognate, not derivative. As evidence, Caye mistakenly implies (p. 75) that Aristotle discusses diathesis and taxis (Vitr. 1.2.1) only in the Metaphysics, and not in the Rhetoric. And yet, arrangement (διαθέσθαι) is mentioned in connection with lexis at Rh. 1403b20 (see also Pl. Phdr 236a), while taxis itself is discussed at Rh. 1414a3-1420a8 (cf. 1403b3;1403b8). This is not to deny Caye’s belief in the unique power of architecture, but we should not preclude, e.g., Ciceronian rhetorical influence on Vitruvius, for which there is both evidence (Vitr. 9.Pref.17-18) and scholarship (e.g., Callebat, Romano, et al.), of which none is cited.6

Still, the point stands that architecture can be understood as a mute, but powerful, medium of persuasion. For Caye, such persuasion operates in the realm of the ornamental and “tectonic,” the latter term borrowed admittedly loosely (pp. 77f. n. 3) from Gottfried Semper. The jargon probably adds little to Caye’s assertion that architecture, like rhetoric, is an art of “displacement,” i.e., that architectural works neither obliterate nor merely replicate their antecedents, but displace them by (re)arranging ornamenta. Architecture is not building (édification), but “building-on” (surédification), in both concrete and abstract senses. Caye further assimilates architecture to a Protagorean ” kreitton logos,” of which rhetoric is another example. More discussion of this notion is needed, though it seems that architecture, like rhetoric, will entail specific ethical concerns.

Among other essays, Henry P. Maguire and Jacqueline Lichtenstein discuss possible rhetorical influence on painting in the Byzantine period and 17 th c. Europe (especially France), respectively. Maguire argues that sermons and visual compositions reflect priorities similar to those of ancient rhetorical writers, especially Menander Rhetor. Emphasis is on antithesis and synkrisis in scenes of lamentation, e.g., in paired images depicting Christ’s nativity and crucifixion in the church of St. George at Kurbinovo. Lichtenstein discusses the strong influence of Cartesian (i.e., scientific) thinking on 17th c. artists in their depictions and discussions of the passions, especially in lectures and physiognomic sketches of Charles Le Brun. Lichtenstein asserts the ultimate insufficiency of classical rhetoric as a creative heuristic for painters, since in rhetoric emotional “expression” was confined to delivery ( actio) through gestures and the voice, and neither of these could be expressed in painting. However, Lichtenstein includes no specific reference for the “Ciceronian definition” of actio as “une élocution du corps consistant dans la voix et le geste” (p. 180, my emphasis), and omits the discussion of actio at de Orat. 3.213 ff., in which Crassus describes the expressive capacity of the vultus (esp. 3.216, 221). This hardly undermines Lichtenstein’s claims of an ascendant Cartesian discourse, but it does seem relevant in light of Le Brun’s striking physiognomic renderings, of which five are appended.

Two scholars treat relations between rhetorical texts and sonic experiences. Marie Demeilliez’s fine translation of Warren and Urusla Kirkendale’s 2007 essay will provide access to fascinating work on Quintilian and Bach for readers who prefer French to English, and will in this venue introduce students of rhetoric (rather than musicology) to the suggestion that Quintilianic dispositio directly shaped Bach’s Musical Offering. However, readers who cannot read modern musical staff notation—with which this reviewer’s familiarity is only elementary—will be faced with an article that is partly inaccessible. References to musical measures might have been supplemented with reference times (given in minutes and seconds), keyed to a particular recording. Carlo Ossola considers the problem of how to record, for purposes of reproducing, sonic events in writing (i.e., signare vocem) and identifies two competing trends in grappling with this problem in the West, viz., an Isidorian belief in the superiority of the written word over the voice and a Rousseauian conviction of the insufficiency of writing. Punctuation and other technologies, e.g., musical notation, are explored as phenomena marking silence (inter alia) from Geoffroy Tory to Kandinsky.

Despite the difficulties inherent in bringing together a wide variety of scholars and disciplines, this volume will undoubtedly stimulate further discussion among those with interests in rhetoric, the arts, and relations among discourses.

Table of Contents

“Avant-propos.” (Laurent Pernot)
“La rhétorique et les arts.” (Marc Fumaroli)
“Phidias à la barre.” (Laurent Pernot)
“La rhétorique et l’esthétique de l’art byzantin.” (Henry P. Maguire)
“Architecture et rhétorique : approche cicéronienne de leur identité et de leur différence.” (Pierre Caye)
“De Quintilien à Bach : l’ Institutio oratoria de Quintilien, source de l’ Offrande musicale de Jean- Sébastien Bach.” (Ursula and Warren Kirkendale)
“L’expression des passions.” (Jacqueline Lichtenstein)
Signare vocem —Tracer la voix : pulsations de la punteggiatura.” (Carlo Ossola)

Selected Errata: Pernot does not follow Winterbottom’s reading of Sen. Contr. 8.2 as claimed (p. 21 n. 1); the concordance of Quintilian and Bach contains numerous errors in transcription of Quintilian’s Latin.


1. Includes translator’s note, appendices and musical transcription. Published first in Journal of the American Musicological Society 33: 88-141, 1980, and expanded, in Music and Meaning: Studies in Music History and the Neighbouring Disciplines. Florence: Olschki, 2007.

2. Pernot, p. 32. Phidias’ model was allegedly Il. 1.528-30; so Str. 8.354, cf. D.Chr. 12.62.

3. Erik Gunderson, Declamation, Paternity, and Roman Identity: Authority and the Rhetorical Self. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003, p. 60. (BMCR 2004.02.29)

4. But cf. Pierre Caye, Empire et décor : L’architecture et la question de la technique à l’âge humaniste et classique. Paris: J. Vrin, 1999.

5. Michael Baxandall, Giotto and the Orators: Humanist Observers of Painting in Italy and the Discovery of Pictorial Composition: 1350-1450. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971.

6. E.g., Louis Callebat, “Rhétorique et architecture dans le De architectura de Vitruve,” CollÉFR 192: 31–46, 1994; Elisa Romano, La capanna e il tempio: Vitruvio o dell’Architettura. Palermo: Palumbo, 1987.