The liberty of the poetic licence
Year mention: 1564
appropriate church decoration ; poetic liberty ; poetic painting
Clothes anachronism/Errors/Adornment
Contemporary vs. ancient artist
Monstrosity/Unacceptable configuration

Discussion on the painter’s poetic freedom

Gilio, Giovanni Andrea
REFERENCE IMAGE: Agostino Veneziano, after Raphael, Ornamental Panel, ca. 1514–36
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York,

In this part of the dialogue, M. Vincenzo further defines the poetic liberty (poetic licence). As a rule, it consists of the creation of details. Nevertheless, there are exceptions, for example in the design of the costumes of the figures. These must correspond to the subject that the artist wants to portray. Furthermore, he is against the depiction of profane and mythological themes in churches, as well as the depiction of figures such as Mohammad, Ali and their relatives. In addition to that, no iconographies should be mixed.
Once again, the depiction of grotesques is also addressed. These are differentiated in this context between the fabulous and the fictional. Vines, Ivy as well as ancient trophies fall under the latter and are therefore permitted.

“M. Troilo said: ‘So in what would poetic liberty consist?’ M. Vincenzo replied:’ In many, many things. If somebody wanted to paint a forest, it could be made up of trees of different kinds: tall, short, bushy, dry, thin, thick, or however it seemed best. […] So the wise painter must know how to arrange things appropriate to person, time, and place. For it would not be good to give the Pope the costume of a Turk, nor Turk the costume of the Pope. As for the time, one should not represent any Aeneas’s arrival in Italy is taking place at the time of emperor Justinian, nor the battles of the Carthaginians as happening in the presence of Pilates. As for place, in churches one should not represent Vulkan using a steel net to catch Mars and Venus in bed, nor Jupiter in the form of his swan sleeping with Leda, nor the fall of the giants, nor did battle of the Centaures and the Lapiths, or any other story that are not pertinent, like the rape of the Sabines, did capture of the capital by the Gauls, the ruins of Carthage, or the life of Mohammad, Ali, and other relatives. Nor should anything be added repundent to the subject, given the need to avoid what Horace said about the shipwreck survivor, that the artist had wanted to paint a cypress in that scene of shipwreck; and the same would be true if one wished to paint Saint Peter and Paul to embellish a scene of the defeat of Hannibal, and other similar examples, of which one might cite any number’. ‘[…] As for the terms you were speaking of earlier, I say that the ancients made them in that way for a good reason, because the term represented two things: first, dominion, which is something conceptual; and second, possession, a physical thing. The term affirms and displaced this, substituting for the real life owner who could not stand there in person all the time, and at the same time representing the conceptual basis of true dominion, always firmly fixed in place, showing anyone who passed the presence of boundary dividing one field from another. […] From being used in that way, these terms have been improperly transferred to become the supports for vaults and houses. this also applies to the monsters that are simulated on the friezes of cornices. As for the vines, the ivies, and the antique trophies that are painted or even sculpted on columns, I say that they are permissible as attractive fictions, because Ivy is found climbing up walls and columns, as vines are too. For it is not these that do the works of supporting; they are only there as ornaments and sometimes birds are painted on them as if they were eating the grapes and the ivy berries, and boys clamber to catch them. And with this, one has to consider the difference between the fictional [finto] and fabulous [favoloso]: Fictional things can fall under poetic license, but fabulous only in the limited way described earlier’. “

“Disse M. Troilo: ‘In che sarà dunque la libertà poetica?’
Rispose M. Vincenso: ‘In moltissime cose. Se uno volesse dipingere una selva, vi può fare alberi di più sorte, alti, bassi, fronzuti, secchi, rari, spessi o come meglio gli parerà. Se vuol far un paese, vi potrà fingere monti, colli, valli, prati, campi, fiumi, stagni, fonti, rivi, pesci, animali, uccelli di più sorte; città, castella, ville, palazzi, uomini, chi vada, chi stia, chi dorma, chi vegli, chi camini, chi beva, e simil altre cose. Averta però a non ci far cose sconvenevoli al luogo: come, se dipingesse la Moscovia, la Sarmazia, la Gottia, la Grutlandia et altri paesi settentrionali freddissimi farli pieni di aranci, di cedri, di limoni di olive di vite cariche di maturissima e grossa uva, di lauri, di olive, e d’altre cose tali che non nascono se non in paesi calidi o temperati, o vero dipingesse i sterili deserti di Arabia e d’Etiopia pieni di amenissimi giardini, di limpissimi fonti, di chiari e freschi ruscelli, intorno ai quali volassero vaghi uccelli, et inoltre fussero pieni di ornati e bei palazzi, intorno ai quali fussero fioriti e verdi prati, ameni boschetti di allori, di mirtelle e d’altri vaghi alberi; o vero vi fussero nobilissime città con porti di mare, piene di grosse e belle navi, vi si vedessero uomini e donne bianchissime e grandissime; e ne’ settentrionali, uomini e donne piccole, nere e sgarbate, vi si vedesse per gli arbori pappagalli o altri uccelli che vengono d’India.’ ‘[…] Quanto ai termini che voi dianzi diceste, dico che gli antichi non senza propogito gli finsero in quel modo, conciossia che due cose ripresentava il termine: prima il dominio, che è cosa mentale, dopo la possessione, che è cosa corporale, la quale era mantenuta e dimostrata per quel termine in vece del vero e vivo padrone, che i piedi corporali sempre tenere non vi poteva, rappresentando i piedi mentali del dominio vero, che sempre v’erano fitti, mostrando a chi vi passava quello esser termine dividente uno campo da l’altro. […] Da questo uso impropriamente poi questi termini sono stati messi per sostegno de le volte e de le case. Tal dirò anco de’ mostri che si fingono ne’ fregi fra le cornici. E quanto a le viti, all’edere et ai trofei antichi, che si dipingono per le colonne et anco si scolpiscono, dico che può fra le belle finzioni passare, perché l’edera si va abbarbicando per le mura e per le colonne, e così anco le viti. Perché non sono questi che fanno il sostenere, ma solo l’ornamento, alcuni a le volte vi fingono uccelli che vadino per mangiar l’uva e i granelli de l’edera, e fanciulli che vi si aggrappano per pigliarli. E con questo s’ha da considerare che altro è il finto et altro il favoloso, e le cose finte possono cadere tutte sotto la poetica licenza, ma il favoloso regolatamente et in quel modo che s’è detto’.”

Quoted Authorities

Horace, Ars Poetica

church decoration, favoloso, finto, Grosteque, Isaiah 11:6-8, poetic liberty

favoloso, finto, libertà poetica
Date mention

Historical Location

Gilio, Dialogue on the errors and abuses of painters (2018), 108-110; Gilio, Dialogo. Nel quale si ragiona degli errori e degli abusi de’pittori circa l’istorie. In: Due dialogi di M. Giouanni Andrea Gilio da Fabriano (1564), 19-21

Gilio 2018, 108-110, n.69-74;

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