Notebook, 1993-

Lee, Rensselaer W. Ut Pictura Poesis, The Humanistic Theory of Painting. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., Inc. 1967

Ut Pictura Poesis

Appendix 2 --- Inventio, Dispositio, Elocutio

Dolce [Dialogo della pittura, p. 17.] remarks that "La inventioine vien da due parti, dalla historia e dall'ingegno del Pittore [the latter becomes, of course, the all-important part as one approaches the Romantic Movement at the end of the eighteenth century; cf. also note 75]. Dalla historia egli ha semplicemente la materia. E dall'ingegno oltre all'ordine e la convenevolezza [orderly arrangement or disposition of figures, and decorum], procedono l'attitudini, la varietà, e la [per così dire] energia delle figure, ma questa è parte commune col disegno." Invention, then, for Dolce, means the choice of the history that he would represent, and the general plan of the picture, according to principles of good disposition and decorum, that he would work out in his mind. The actual sketch of the picture in black and white with "the attitudes, variety and energy" of the figures [all of which would have been perforce included in a general way, at least, in the invention] is included under "desegno." Dolce had already (p. 150) divided the labor of the painter into three categories: inventione, disegno, and colorito. "L'inventione," he says, "è la favola, o historia, che'l Pittore si elegge da lui stesso, o gli è posta innanzi da altri per materia di quello che ha da operare [this narrow definition receives subsequently in the dialogue a broad interpretation of the kind suggested above]. Il disegno è la forma, con che egli la rappresenta [that is to say the projection into a sketch without color of the invention in the painter's mind]. Il colorito serve a quelle tinte, con le quali la natura dipinge [che così si può dire] diversamente le cose animate et inanimate" [coloring is, then, the final rendering of the picture].

It is interesting to observe that Dolce is the first critic to use this threefold division which corresponds almost exactly to the first three divisions of the art of rhetoric--inventio, dispositio, and elocutio--among the Roman rhetoricians [Professor Samuel H. Monk of Southwestern College pointed out to me this and other interesting examples of the influence of the rhetoricians on Renaissance and Baroque criticism]. For Cicero and Quintillian as for Dolce inventio means the choice of material, though it also includes for Dolce, as we have seen above, the general plan of the composition worked out in the painter's mind before its execution in a sketch; dispositio for the rhetoricians means a preliminary blocking out of the oratorical discourse, so as to give a clear indication of the structural outlines of its final form with the relation of parts to the whole, just as disegno for Dolce means a preliminary sketch of the painter's invention; and elocutio for the rhetoricians means the final rendering in language, just as colorito [for Dolce means the final rendering in color [see Cicero De inventione I. 7, 9 and cf. De oratore I. 31, 142; Quintilian Institutio oratoria I. Proşm., 22]. A century before Dolce, Alberti, writing not only in a humanistic spirit, but even more as one interested in the practice of painting at a time when the Quattrocento painters were making their realistic advances, divides the art into circonscriptione, compositione, and receptione di lumi [Della pittura, pp. 99 ff.]. This order indicates the painter's practical procedure: first the drawing of figures in outline; second the indication of planes within the outline [this is the first and purely technical aspect of compositione; other aspects will be mentioned shortly]; third, the rendering in color wherein the painter must be aware of the relation of color to light. Dolce, on the other hand, writing [p. 70] not as one interested in the technical procedure of the practicing artist, but as an urbane and genial critic with a good education in classical literature and theory in an age that was critical rather than creative, follows the ancient rhetoricians in placing first inventio, which includes all the preparatory labor of the painter before he actually begins to work at his canvas: his reading from which he would choose his subject, his conversations with learned men that might provide ideas, and his plan before its actual execution in a sketch for the disposition of his figures in his composition according to the principles of arrangement [ordine ] and decorum [convenevolezza ]. Alberti's compositione corresponds in part to Dolce's inventione, for it includes besides the indication of planes in light and shade that distinguishes it in a purely technical sense from circonscriptione, the planning of the composition and matters of decorum and expression. Alberti added as conclusion to his treatise, after circonscriptione and compositione had been discussed, a short third part that was intended to round out the painter's knowledge and render him "tale che possa sequire intera loda" [op. cit., pp. 143 ff.]. It includes a passage containing a few words of advice to the painters to acquire literary and historical knowledge that will improve their ability to compose histories "di cui ogni laude consiste in la inventione." This use of the word inventione corresponds to its use in Dolce's definition, and it is worth noting that whereas in the realistic Quattrocento literary knowledge is thought of as coming after and crowning the painter's scientific and practical knowledge, in the theoretical Cinquecento it is emphasized as the indispensable propadeutic to good painting, being considered equally with genius as the source of invention.

Professor Panofsky has called to my attention the fact that Alberti's threefold division of painting represents an indirect adaptation, long before Dolce's direct adaptation, of the rhetoricians' inventio, dispositio, and elocutio; inventio being partly included by Alberti under compositione [where he speaks of arrangement, decorum, etc.] and mentioned once, in its own name, at the end of his book in connection with his advice concerning literary knowledge; dispositio, the preliminary outline of the orator's discourse, being represented also by compositione which includes the indication of how "le parti delle cose vedute si porgono insieme in pictura" [p. 109], but also by circonscriptione, the outline drawing through which the disposition of figures in a sketch would chiefly be made; and elocution, the actual performance of the oration, by receptione di lumi, the rendering of the picture.

It should be noted that Dolce could have found the threefold division of inventione, dispositio, and elocutio, not only in the Roman rhetoricians, but also in Renaissance criticism of poetry which was profoundly influenced by them. See, for instance, Daniello, La poetica, Venice, 1536, p. 26: "Dico, tre esser le cose principali dalle quali esso [a poem] suo stato, et suo esser prende. L'Inventione prima delle cose, o vogliam dire, ritrovamento. La Dispositione poi, over ordine di esse. Et finalmente la forma dello scrivere ornatamente le già ritrovate et disposte, che [latinamente parlando] Elocutione si chiama; et che noi volgare, leggiardo et ornato parlare chiameremo." [p. 71.]

[Lee, Rensselaer W. Ut Pictura Poesis, The Humanistic Theory of Painting. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., Inc. 1967.]



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