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?