A Visual and Verbal Analysis on Curiosity: Nicolaes Maes’s Eavesdropper Paintings

Adriana Pucci, a member of  Bakhtiniana’s Advisory Board, is a researcher and professor at  Universidade Federal da Bahia [Federal University of Bahia], UFBA, Salvador, BA, Brazil

bak_logoIn Volume 11, Issue 1 of Bakhtiniana, the explicit authorial voice of the Canadian scholar Anthony Wall (University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta, Canada) makes itself present twice: in ‘Eavesdropping on Painting’ [bisbilhotice na pintura] and in the review of Dialogismo: teoria e(m) prática [Dialogism: Theory and/in Practice), edited by Beth Brait and Anderson Salvaterra Magalhães (São Paulo: Terracota, 2014). Here I highlight some aspects of the essay.

Anthony Wall reconstructs the tradition of the visual arts and elicits links in the chain of speech communication in the works of Dutch painter Nicolas Maes (1634-1693), when he comments on Giotto and Rembrandt. These are all works that share the figure of an eavesdropper, usually a bystander, eavesdropping on a scene that takes place in an adjacent room. Hence, the beholder of these canvases sees both the main scene and the eavesdropper. Besides, she is invited to participate in the scene, since five of the six eavesdroppers in Maes’s portraits analyzed by Wall look directly at the observer of the canvas and employ gestures that ask for their silence.

While the object of the analysis is based on solid knowledge of Art History and the work of Bakhtin and the Circle, Wall warns about two pitfalls for the analysts of visual language, that is, to consider it either completely divorced from verbal language or absolutely analogous to it. To avoid such pitfalls, he starts by recognizing that there are metalinguistic features that both languages share.

He develops the concept of dialogic curiosity and compares Maes’s representations to Dostoyevsky’s characters, to whom the reader must listen, but not see. The Canadian scholar is absolutely original in demonstrating how Maes’s visual language represents a vocative, a second person, as he brings the implicit presence of verbal language to the paintings. Moreover, he shows how the meanings represented in the paintings are incomplete if different semiotic viewpoints are not taken into consideration, such as those of the characters and that of the beholder of the canvas. He also enacts the concept of active understanding, as proposed by Voloshinov (Marxism and Philosophy of Language), which the reader of the works of Bakhtin and the Circle will surely recognize.

Wall states that the principles of Bakhtinian dialogism are not restricted to verbal language, as in the context of the analysis of this group of six portraits by Maes. His analysis does not ignore the importance of verbal language in the titles of Maes’s works, which indicate a focal point in the painting. Invariably, the titles present the term eavesdropper as the nucleus, indicating that the leader of the visual narrative is not in the group of characters that are observed. Rather, he is to be found in the nosy participant, who, not being able to see, tries to listen to what is going on in the adjacent rooms to which he has no physical or visual access.

The article is a must-read for researchers with an interest in the analysis of verbal-visual utterances from a Bakhtinian perspective, but also for a broader public interested in a broader spectrum of language, whether from a dialogic viewpoint or not.

To read the article, access

WALL, A. Eavesdropping on Painting. Bakhtiniana, Rev. Estud. Discurso [online]. 2016, vol.11, n.1, pp.228-263. [viewed 31th March 2016]. ISSN 2176-4573. DOI: 10.1590/2176-457324398. Available from: http://ref.scielo.org/sy84c

External link

Bakhtiniana – BAK: www.scielo.br/bak


Como citar este post [ISO 690/2010]:

PUCCI, A. A Visual and Verbal Analysis on Curiosity: Nicolaes Maes’s Eavesdropper Paintings [online]. SciELO em Perspectiva: Humanas, 2016 [viewed ]. Available from: https://humanas.blog.scielo.org/blog/2016/04/29/a-visual-and-verbal-analysis-on-curiosity-nicolaes-maess-eavesdropper-paintings/


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