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Pictures of Romance

Form against Context in Painting and Literature

How do pictures tell stories? Why does the literary romance so often refer to paintings and other visual art objects? Beginning with these two seemingly unrelated questions, Wendy Steiner reveals an intricate exchange between the visual arts and the literary romance.

Romances violate the casual, temporal, and logical cohesiveness of realist novels, and they do so in part by depicting love as a state of suspension, a condition outside of time. Steiner argues that because Renaissance and post-Renaissance painting also represents a suspended moment of perception with "unnatural" clarity and compression of meaning, it readily serves the romance as a symbol of antirealism. Yet the atemporality of stopped-action painting was actually an attempt to achieve pictorial realism—the way things "really" look. It is this paradox that interests Steiner: to signal their departure from realism, romances evoke the symbol of "realistic" visual artwork. Steiner explores this problem through analyses of Keats, Hawthorne, Joyce, and Picasso. She then examines a return to narrative conventions in visual art in the twentieth century, in the work of Lichtenstein and Warhol, and speculates on the fate of pictorial storytelling and the romance in postmodern art. An aesthetic fantasia of sorts, this study combines theory and analysis to illuminate an unexpected interconnection between literature and the visual arts.

225 pages | 49 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 1988

Art: Art Criticism

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
1. Pictorial Narrativity
2. "As Long as Eyes Can See and Beauty Reigns": The Visual Arts in Romance
3. Empowering the Perceiver: Keats
4. Virgins, Copyists, and the Gentle Reader: Hawthorne
5. A Renaissance-Modernist Dalliance: Joyce and Picasso
6. Divide and Narrate: Seurat, Warhol, and Lichtenstein


Association of American Publishers: PROSE Book Award

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