T.S. Eliot, Dante, and the European Tradition: An International Symposium
January 19th - 25th , 2008
  Promoted by:
Romualdo Del Bianco Foundation
Palazzo Coppini Via del Giglio, 10
50123 – Florence (Italy)


Author : Prof. Neli Moody

Shades of the Earthly and Divine: Contour, Perspective and Invention in Sandro Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus,” and T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”

By Neli Moody

An artist’s technique is grounded in an understanding of how the interpretation and arrangement of objects convey meaning. Can these terms, as they apply to the work of Renaissance artist Sandro Boticelli, also be applied to the poetry of T. S. Eliot? I suggest that Renaissance thought and principles of composition, as expressed in Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus,” a painting in which art historian Herbert Horne asserts, “[Bottecelli] most nearly anticipate[s] the temper of our modern tradition of historical and dramatic painting,” (153) can be found in the “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” Eliot uses terms commonly applied to visual art in his essay, “Tradition and the Individual Talent,” and wrote about Renaissance paintings in his “Notes on Fine Art,” an unpublished manuscript. “Birth” was inspired by a poem. Renaissance artists invent modern perspective by manipulating materials, space, and content and by blending the old (antico) and the new (nuovo). Modern poets employ similar techniques. Petrarch’s individualism and emphasis on Classical antiquity, Copernicus’ pre-empiricism, and St. Francis of Assisi’s humanism, seeds of the Renaissance sown in the “proto-Renaissance,” flower in the aftermath of the great plague. Likewise, the modern poets look to science, antiquity and the East for answers following the unprecedented devastation of WWI. Dante’s Divine Comedy is only one link between Botticelli, who did drawings for the book, and Eliot, who draws his epigraph from that text. Within the contours of Dante’s, Botticelli’s and Eliot’s imagined worlds are God (or consciousness) and Virgil, antiquity and the contemporary, the holy and unholy. Botticelli and Eliot re-vision their worlds by creating works comprised of seemingly disparate elements while challenging concepts of love, spirituality, and the feminine. A study of Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus” may illuminate Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” and enable us to view both in a new light.

Horne, Herbert. Botticelli, painter of Florence. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1980.

Originally published as Allessandro Filipepi, Commonly Called Sandro Botticelli, Painter of Florence by George Bell and Sons, 1908.

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