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Too Beautiful to Picture

Zeuxis, Myth, and Mimesis

2006
Author:

Elizabeth C. Mansfield

Too Beautiful to Picture

An intriguing look at imitation in Western art from antiquity to the present

Elizabeth C. Mansfield engages the visual arts, literature, and performance to examine the Zeuxis myth. Mansfield considers depictions of the legend during the Renaissance, and offers interpretations of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, and Orlan's carnal art.

Throughout, Mansfield asserts that the Zeuxis legend encodes an unconscious record of the West's reliance on mimetic representation as a vehicle for metaphysical solace.

A wonderful book. Too Beautiful to Picture provides an excellent example of the sorely needed explorations of the stories and myths that have been central to the history of art.

Mary D. Sheriff, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Few tales of artistic triumph can rival the story of Zeuxis. As first reported by Cicero and Pliny, the painter Zeuxis set out to portray Helen of Troy, but when he realized that a single model could not match Helen’s beauty, he combined the best features of five different models. A primer on mimesis in art making, the Zeuxis myth also illustrates ambivalence about the ability to rely on nature as a model for ideal form.

In Too Beautiful to Picture, Elizabeth C. Mansfield engages the visual arts, literature, and performance to examine the desire to make the ideal visible. She finds in the Zeuxis myth evidence of a cultural primal scene that manifests itself in gendered terms. Mansfield considers the many depictions of the legend during the Renaissance and questions its absence during the eighteenth century. Offering interpretations of Angelica Kauffman’s paintings, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, Mansfield also considers Orlan’s carnal art as a profound retelling of the myth.

Throughout, Mansfield asserts that the Zeuxis legend encodes an unconscious record of the West’s reliance on mimetic representation as a vehicle for metaphysical solace.

Awards

Winner of the College Art Association’s Charles Rufus Morey Book Award

Too Beautiful to Picture

Elizabeth C. Mansfield is associate professor of art history at the University of the South.

Too Beautiful to Picture

A wonderful book. Too Beautiful to Picture provides an excellent example of the sorely needed explorations of the stories and myths that have been central to the history of art.

Mary D. Sheriff, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Undeniably fascinating. I have no doubt that the highly appealing interpretive work in this study will continue to inspire this brave combination of classical scholarship which does the dangerous work of bringing ideas from cultural studies, post-colonial gender studies, psychoanalysis and modern art into conversation with the ancient Greeks. Too Beautiful to Picture: Zeuxis, Myth, and Mimesis is an intensely scholarly study of myth, mimesis, and invention in art history.

Leonardo

This is a wonderful book, thoughtful, insightful, and original. In revealing a history of the West’s need to see and embody that which cannot be pictured, Mansfield uncovers the repressed desire to create something transcendent and god-like. Such an impossible task is both heroic and hopeless, and its legacy has been both brilliant and abysmal. . . . We must be grateful to Mansfield for her trenchant and illuminating analysis.

Visual Resources

Too Beautiful to Picture is a brilliant, rigorously historicized, and tightly organized book.

College Art Association Reviews

Too Beautiful to Picture

Contents

Acknowledgments

Introduction

PART I. MYTH AND MIMESIS IN WESTERN ART HISTORY

1. Art History as Myth
2. Th e Zeuxis Myth
3. Myth and Mimesis in the Renaissance

PART II. PAINTING (LIKE) ZEUXIS

4. Zeuxis in the Academy
5. Women Artists and the Zeuxis Myth
6. Painting in the Philosophical Brothel
7. Zeuxis in the Operating Room: Orlan’s Carnal Art

Conclusion: Zeuxis Selecting Models and the Cultural Unconscious

Notes

Index