The Pygmalion Effect: From Ovid to Hitchcockby Victor I. Stoichita
Between life and the art that imitates it is a vague, more shadowy category: images that exist autonomously. Pygmalion’s mythical sculpture, which magnanimous gods endowed with life after he fell in love with it, marks perhaps the first such instance in Western art history of an image that exists on its own terms, rather than simply imitating
Between life and the art that imitates it is a vague, more shadowy category: images that exist autonomously. Pygmalion’s mythical sculpture, which magnanimous gods endowed with life after he fell in love with it, marks perhaps the first such instance in Western art history of an image that exists on its own terms, rather than simply imitating something (or someone) else. In The Pygmalion Effect, Victor I. Stoichita delivers this living image—as well as its many avatars over the centuries—from the long shadow cast by art that merely replicates reality.
Stoichita traces the reverberations of Ovid’s founding myth from ancient times through the advent of cinema. Emphasizing its erotic origins, he locates echoes of this famous fable in everything from legendary incarnations of Helen of Troy to surrealist painting to photographs of both sculpture and people artfully posed to simulate statues. But it was only with the invention of moving pictures, Stoichita argues, that the modern age found a fitting embodiment of the Pygmalion story’s influence. Concluding with an analysis of Alfred Hitchcock films that focuses on Kim Novak’s double persona in Vertigo, The Pygmalion Effect illuminates the fluctuating connections that link aesthetics, magic, and technical skill. In the process, it sheds new light on a mysterious world of living artifacts that, until now, has occupied a dark and little-understood realm in the history of Western image making.
Charles G. Salas
“Victor Stoichita is one of the most brilliant art historians of his generation, and The Pygmalion Effect is his most wide-ranging book to date. Dazzling in his scholarship, Stoichita successfully excavates the core of the Pygmalion myth for the art and literature that invoke it.”
“This is a book of real imaginative scope—from Pygmalion to Bacchus to Helen of Troy, from classical philology to contemporary visual poetics, from narrative to sculpture to photography to cinema. Stoichita manages to touch all these bases with both erudition and grace.”
"[The Pygmalion story and its 'effect'] are the exhibits before Professor Stoichita's judicial bench. And what fascinating work he makes of them, once again spanning the history of the theme from the classical world to cinema. . . . The illustrations are apt and glorious. In short and in sum, the book is an intellectual thriller."
"This is a fascinating and extremely well-researched study of the Ovidian myth. . . . The book is well illustrated and the experience of the shift from images of Pygmalion in medieval manuscripts and later painting to the film stills from Vertigo is utterly compelling."
"At every stop the remarkable erudition of the author is evident. The works themselves—be they sculptures, paintings, poems, photographs, or film—receive insightful analysis that alone justifies the reader’s effort, and the illustrations are gorgeous. . . . Originality and subtlety are expected of Stoichita, and his efforts in The Pygmalion Effect do not disappoint."
Meet the Author
Victor I. Stoichita is professor of modern and contemporary art history at the University of Fribourg, Switzerland. His many books include Goya: The Last Carnival and A Short History of the Shadow.
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