Ekphrasis

What is ekphrasis?

Ekphrasis refers to the vivid, verbal, descriptive narrative of a subject that the listener cannot see in front of them. It has a long tradition in Classics, continuing to the present day. In antiquity, it was applied to a range of subjects, such as people, places and events, and in a variety of genres, such as oratory, historiography, and forms of poetry. The modern definition focuses on works of art, including those set within the context of a museum. Media using ekphrasis vary, from Homer's account of the Shield of Achilles (Iliad 18, 478-608), to art reviews on the radio. 

Ekphrasis and Classics

Ekphrasis is more than just visual-verbal translation, being also framed by the language used, and interpreted through culturally defined ways of seeing.  It is socially specific – few today would tolerate the overwhelming maleness of the ancient voice. This dialogue about ekphrasis between antiquity and modernity explores how the classical world has influenced our shifting debates, and how modern approaches have changed our view of antiquity. 

Ekphrasis and AD

The fact that AD is used more for kinetic media than visual art may be partly why art historians do not reference AD.  The reverse is not necessarily true, as BPS scholars allude to ekphrasis. The juxtaposition of ekphrasis and AD allow us to consider how museums' access programmes might interact with academic research, for example, exploring the language used.  Furthermore, studies of visual memory in classical art focus on the link between seeing and remembering, but the practice of AD suggests that active description forms a crucial role bridging the two.