From January to June 2016, Federica Pich enjoyed sabbatical from her lectureship at the University of Leeds to take up a visiting position at the Courtauld Institute of Art. While resident in London, Federica taught an interdisciplinary MA course on the art and literature of the Italian Renaissance (in collaboration with Scott Nethersole). During that time, she also came across the writings of Michael Squire, who works on the interface between Graeco-Roman visual and literary cultures – and who happened to be based next door on the Strand, in the Department of Classics at King’s College London… As a scholar of the same generation, but trained in different disciplinary, institutional and national frameworks, Michael stood out to Federica as an interesting interlocutor for a conversation on ekphrasis and intermediality. There followed a series of art historical and literary exchanges, parts of which are recorded (in lightly re-worked form) in the present essay. The dialogue came about while Federica was thinking about intermediality and the importance of cross-disciplinary collaboration, and while Michael was working with Courtauld colleagues to organize the 2018 Annual Meeting of the Association of Art Historians (co-hosted by the Courtauld and King’s). No less importantly, the conversation took shape against the bitter nadir of the British European referendum debate – that is, at exactly the time when Britain was raising its isolationist drawbridge and turning its back on European friends. If nothing else, we hope that the following dialogue captures the spirit of a more engaged, outward-looking and pluralist perspective…


Federica Pich: I’d like to start our conversation with a quote from Michael Baxandall’s Patterns of Intention (1985: 4): «Past tense and cerebration: what a description will tend to represent best is thought after seeing a picture». I suspect a literary scholar would have been unable to capture the essence of verbal description – the shift that is implied in any attempt to represent a picture into words – as poignantly as this particular art historian does here. It is a question of perspective, of positive displacement – of being able to see more when we step outside the realm of our own discipline. My experience here at the Courtauld has been quite unique in this respect. Besides rekindling my interest in intermediality, conversations with students and colleagues have changed the way I look at pictures and, perhaps more surprisingly, the way I read texts.

It was that same search for new perspectives – facilitated by the chance to spend more time in London’s libraries over the last few months – that first led me to your work, Michael. When I read your article on the epigrams on Myron’s cow (Squire 2010a), for example, and your chapter on ekphrasis for the Oxford Handbooks Online in Classical Studies (Squire 2015b), they both stood out to me as much more intellectually refreshing and helpful than many theoretical contributions I had come across during my own research on ekphrastic poetry in the Italian Renaissance. I felt that your view of the subject could speak effectively to someone with a different expertise – precisely because your thoughts were moving from specific objects and texts, which you analyzed in great depth, while never losing sight of wider issues. This made me wonder how you first got interested in themes of image and text. Was it your interest in individual authors or texts that led you to themes such as ekphrasis and visual poetry, or was it rather the interest in these themes that guided your selection of texts? For that matter, what took you to classical materials in the first place?

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