Effective Virtues

Paulus de Kempenaer, Alchemy (Detail), 1606, Mixed Media, 420×290 mm, Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum

In his study of the virtuoso at the interface between art, medicine and antiquity, Craig Hanson refers to the long tradition of the connection between the fields of medicine and art in England (The English Virtuoso 2009). He does not, however, explore its theoretical background.

The foundations of this influential and important interconnection can be traced back to the very first art-theoretical text ever published in England. The medical student and later physician Richard Haydocke translated Lomazzo’s Trattato dell’Arte della Pittura, Scoltura, et Archittetura and published it in 1598 as Tracte Concerning the Artes of Curious Painting. The translation contains a chapter on “How the Bodie is Altered by Imitation” which describes the effect of the imagination on the body. The effectiveness of works of art lies in their hidden power to stimulate the body to imitate, to participate in what is represented. The mind has power over the body and is influenced by the representation of affects, as well as through imitated actions and painted bodies:

“And thus if we runne over all the other effects of mans body, we shall find in each of them, a kinde of hidden power, and secret vertue, which by way of similitude induceth others to participate in their affections, by way of imitation.Whence the philosophers thinke it no strange matter, that the body and minde of one man, shoulde bee like affected with the minde of an other man, somuch as the minde is farre more potent , forcible, and active then the vapor which ascende from the body: Neither is there any impedimente, why one mans body shoulde not bee as much subject to the minde of another, as to his body.

Richard Haydocke, A Tracte Containing the Artes of Curious Painting, Oxford 1598, Book 2, chapter 6, p. 16

This efficacy of art, even if fundamentally different, resembles the virtus of medicinal plants and Paracelsian medicines, which, according to the doctrine of signatures, receive their healing power through sympathy, through cosmic correspondences (Friedrich Ohly and Uwe Ruberg, Zur Signaturenlehre der Frühen Neuzeit 1999 and Allen G. Debus, Chemistry, Pharmacy and Cosmology 1978). Images act on the body through the eye, thought to be the most perceptive sensory organ, possibly in the form of rays, or through ligations, connections which were thought to function across distances. Fascination, the term for the powerful potency of such compounds, has the power to transform the body. Through the eyes, the image reaches the heart and the entire body via the blood, as explored by Thijs Weststeijn (Seeing and the Transfer of Spirits in Early Modern Art Theory 2010).

Cite this blog post
Jennifer Rabe (2022, April 8). Effective Virtues. Lady Arundel 1654–2054. Retrieved May 23, 2024, from https://doi.org/10.58079/qpe3

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