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Smithsonian Associates - Entertaining, Informative, Eclectic, Insightful
The Intersection of Art and Literature
3-Session Weekend Series
Sunday, March 27, April 24, and May 22, 202 - 3:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. ET
Quick Tix Code: 1H0686
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$80 Package Non-Member
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The notion that a picture is worth a thousand words is meant to convey the power of imagery. But what of the power of words—if they are personal interpretations of art that mix fact and fiction such as Giorgio Vasari’s Lives, or the writings of Dante and Shakespeare that inspired Auguste Rodin, or Émile Zola’s written defense of his great friend Édouard Manet’s work—and the portrait it inspired.  

Explore the alchemy that occurs at the intersection of art and literature in this fascinating Sunday afternoon series with David Gariff, senior lecturer at the National Gallery of Art.

Please Note: Individual sessions are available for individual purchase.

March 27  Vasari’s Lives

Giorgio Vasari (1511–1574), from the region of Tuscany in Italy, was a painter, architect, engineer, writer, and historian. His Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects (1550/1568) is a foundational book in the historiography of art. The analysis and opinions expressed in the book, however, display a consistent and notorious bias in favor of Florentine and other Tuscan artists. The book tends to attribute to them most of the important developments in Renaissance art while ignoring the artists of Venice and other parts of Europe. However, after visiting Venice, his second edition gave more attention to Venetian art—even including Titian—although without achieving a completely impartial point of view.

Many of Vasari's biographies have the ring of truth, while others are inventions or fictions. But his aesthetic judgment was acute and dependable, especially when his subjects were Italian artists and architects of his own generation, like Michelangelo, as well as those of the immediate past.

April 24  Auguste Rodin and The Gates of Hell

French sculptor Auguste Rodin (1840–1917) drew a lifetime of inspiration from the poet Dante’s epic Divine Comedy. Most notably, Rodin’s monumental The Gates of Hell reflects a scene from the Inferno, the first section of Dante’s poem, where his hero begins his transit through Hell.

Rodin was attracted to the romantic notion of the artist as hero. His oeuvre is filled with monuments and small-scale works depicting such contemporary luminaries as Victor Hugo, Honoré de Balzac, Charles Baudelaire, and Gustav Mahler. Other works derive their heroism from past writers whose lives and work he most admired, especially Dante and Shakespeare.

Recommended Reading: Rodin, the Shape of Genius, by Ruth Butler

May 22  Édouard Manet: A Portrait of a Friendship

Painter Édouard Manet (1832-1883) was a sensitive and serious student of the literature of his day. Among his friends were the poets Charles Baudelaire, Stéphane Mallarmé, and most importantly, the naturalist and novelist Émile Zola. Manet memorialized Zola in his 1868 portrait of the writer—and his fortunes and reputation became linked with Zola’s through the years. They were kindred spirits, confronting the realities of their times and producing art relevant for the modern age as it began. Their revolutionary creative sensibility inspired 20th-century artists and writers to come.

Recommended Reading: Realism and Tradition in Art 1848-1900, by Linda Nochlin

3 sessions

Photo caption (upper right): David Gariff

World Art History Certificate elective: Earn 1/2 credit per session*

Patron Information

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*Enrolled participants in the World Art History Certificate Program receive 1/2 elective credit per session. Not yet enrolled? Learn about the program, its benefits, and how to register here.

This program is part of our
Smithsonian Associates Streaming series.