Ekphrasis and the frame: on paintings in Gogol, Tolstoy, and Dostoevsky
Theories of ekphrasis—the literary description of an artwork—have traditionally addressed the figurative contest between verbal representation (text) and visual representation (image) that structures the trope. Little attention has been paid to the material, physical aspect of the artwork and especially the solid, touchable picture frame. This article examines the function of the frame-as-object in the context of ekphrasis and nineteenth-century realist narrative. It argues that the physical border of the picture frame operates as a demarcating device in the ekphrastic text, as a door-like liminal space that outlines and maintains the boundaries of representation. Moreover, the picture frame’s material presence facilitates both representation and perception in the nineteenth-century realist text. It renders the artwork described more visible, touchable, real. Three nineteenth-century Russian literary works serve as case studies: Nikolai Gogol’s story “The Portrait (1842),” Lev Tolstoy’s novel Anna Karenina (1873–77), and Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Idiot (1869). By analyzing ekphrastic scenes in which painted figures step out of the picture frame, this article shows how the frame becomes intertwined with questions of representation, aesthetics, and realist narrative.
Milkova, Stiliana. 2016. “Ekphrasis and the Frame: On Paintings in Gogol, Tolstoy, and Dostoevsky.” Word & Image 32(2): 153-162. .
Taylor & Francis
Word & Image