The Drama of the Portrait: Theater and Visual Culture in Early Modern Spain

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The Drama of the Portrait examines the motif of portraiture in Spanish Golden Age theater, drawing from a wide range of drama and imagery to enrich our understanding of the social functions of portraiture and the importance of the theater as a venue for visual education in the court society of early modern Madrid. Written in an engaging and accessible style, this is a model of interdisciplinary scholarship that deftly interweaves detailed research in Spanish art history and material culture, treatises on painting, and the social history of portraiture with original readings of plays.

The Drama of the Portrait illuminates collaborations among artists whose work crossed boundaries in ways far more complex than traditional scholarship has acknowledged. Dramatists like Lope de Vega and Pedro Calderón de la Barca contributed to a culture of connoisseurship that promoted painters such as Diego Velázquez. Both writers and painters shared in the task of constructing Spain's image of itself. At the same time, they were keenly attuned to the social, political, and economic tensions of their age. The great playwrights and artists of the Spanish Baroque dramatized the crisis points in a society that depended on theater and painting for its own representation but remained deeply ambivalent about both art forms.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Despite the very complex ideas at work here, and the ambitious reach of the project, Bass’s prose is limpid and highly accessible. While The Drama of the Portrait is a tremendous contribution to both visual and literary studies in the field, it will also help disseminate this new and sophisticated approach to the comedia to a broad audience. The richly appealing book, with its over sixty sumptuous illustrations (many of them in color), itself makes a persuasive case for the seductiveness of the visual image.”
—Barbara Fuchs, Renaissance Quarterly

“[Laura Bass’s] erudite, innovative, elegantly written, and—it should be mentioned—beautifully illustrated monograph is an essential contribution to studies of classical Spanish theatre and of early modern Spanish culture in general.”
—Donald R. Larson, Iberoamericana

“Bass has interwoven detailed research in Spanish art history, treatises on painting, and the social history of portraiture with illuminating readings of specific plays to present an enormously valuable perspective on a quintessential art form of the baroque.”
—Emilie L. Bergmann, University of California, Berkeley

“[Laura R. Bass’s work] explores the drama of the portrait reenacted in seventeenth-century Spanish theater as a historical and cultural chapter of an ideal history of responses to human likeness. . . . Through the study of selected plays interwoven with visual images, crossed with the analysis of specific paintings, understood in the wider context of art theory and of social, political, and economic history, Bass gives a striking reading of the practice and culture of portraiture seen through the lens of theater as shaping the Spanish ideal of monarchy at the same time that it reveals the underlying anxiety about its crisis.”
—Diane H. Bodart, Art Bulletin

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780271033044
  • Publisher: Penn State University Press
  • Publication date: 1/23/2009
  • Format: Library Binding
  • Pages: 196
  • Sales rank: 1,121,734
  • Product dimensions: 8.10 (w) x 11.70 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Laura R. Bass is Associate Professor in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at Tulane University. She is the co-editor, with Margaret R. Greer, of Approaches to Teaching Early Modern Spanish Drama (2006).

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Table of Contents


List of Illustrations


Introduction: Dramas of the Portrait

1. Visual Literacy and Urban Comedy

2. Stolen Identities

3. Blood Portraits

4. The Powers and Perils of Doubles

5. Framing the Margins on Center Stage

Concluding Reflections


Works Cited


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