Ekphrasis – Definition, Examples, History & More – Art Theory Glossary

What is Ekphrasis?

Ekphrasis is a literary description of or commentary on a visual work of art. It is a form of writing that seeks to bring a visual image to life through words.

Ekphrasis allows the reader to experience a piece of art through the eyes of the writer, creating a deeper connection between the two mediums.

History of Ekphrasis

The term “ekphrasis” comes from the Greek word “ekphrasis,” which means “description.” It has been a common practice in literature for centuries, dating back to ancient Greek and Roman times.

Ekphrasis was often used in epic poems and plays to vividly describe works of art, such as sculptures and paintings, to the audience.

Types of Ekphrasis

There are two main types of ekphrasis: descriptive and prescriptive. Descriptive ekphrasis focuses on providing a detailed description of a visual work of art, while prescriptive ekphrasis offers an interpretation or analysis of the artwork.

Ekphrasis can also be categorized based on the medium of the artwork, such as painting, sculpture, or photography. Each type of ekphrasis offers a unique perspective on the visual art form.

Examples of Ekphrasis in Art

One famous example of ekphrasis in art is John Keats’ poem “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” in which he describes a beautiful ancient Greek vase in intricate detail.

Another example is the painting “Starry Night” by Vincent van Gogh, which has inspired countless poets and writers to create ekphrastic works based on the swirling colors and shapes in the painting.

Ekphrasis in Literature

Ekphrasis has been a popular literary device in poetry and prose for centuries. Writers use ekphrasis to evoke emotions, create vivid imagery, and explore the relationship between art and language.

One famous example of ekphrasis in literature is Homer’s description of Achilles’ shield in “The Iliad,” which serves as a symbol of the hero’s power and glory.

Ekphrasis in Contemporary Art

In contemporary art, ekphrasis has evolved to include a wide range of mediums, including performance art, video installations, and digital art. Artists use ekphrasis to explore the intersection of visual and verbal language in new and innovative ways.

Contemporary poets and writers continue to be inspired by visual art, using ekphrasis as a tool to engage with and respond to the artwork in a meaningful way.

Overall, ekphrasis remains a powerful and evocative form of expression that bridges the gap between art and literature, allowing for a deeper understanding and appreciation of both mediums.