Skip to navigation – Site map

HomeFull text issues28.2“My pen replaced a brush”: Derek ...

“My pen replaced a brush”: Derek Walcott’s Tiepolo’s Hound and Brushing History against the Grain

Maria Cristina Fumagalli
p. 81-94

Abstract

In Tiepolo’s Hound, Walcott is obsessed by a mysterious hound from a painting (allegedly) by Tiepolo or Veronese. Using a selection of Tiepolo’s and Veronese’s paintings and Walter Benjamin’s meditations on history as a springboard, I will argue that Tiepolo is mentioned in the poem’s title because his dogs are figures rejecting marginality and enabling Walcott both to revisit history from the “underdog”’s perspective and to dispute the notion of a dominated future.

Top of page

Full text

1This essay focuses on Derek Walcott’s Tiepolo’s Hound, in which the story of the nineteenth-century painter Camille Pissarro rhymes with Walcott’s experience and artistic career. Camille Pissarro, a famous “French” Impressionist, friend and mentor of Cézanne and Gaugin, was actually Jacob Pissarro, a Sephardic Jew born in the Caribbean island of St. Thomas. When he moved to Paris he changed his name and contributed to changing the face of European art forever. In both artists’ cases (Pissarro’s and Walcott’s) the narrative of their lives questions and explodes the postcolonial categories of “centre” and “periphery.”

2The title of this essay, “My pen replaced a brush”, is a quotation from Walcott’s Tiepolo’s Hound (19). It is a reference to Walcott’s passion for painting and to his choice between two vocations: painter or poet. This choice is the subject of Book Two of Another Life. Walcott, the poem informs us, started his apprenticeship as painter in the workshop of Harry Simmons (his master and father-substitute), with his friend Dunstan St. Omer (Gregorias in the poem). It is well-known that St. Omer became a distinguished painter, while Walcott claims that he failed as such because, he says,

in every surface I sought
the paradoxical flash of an instant
in which every facet was caught
in a crystal of ambiguities
[...]
[...] I lived in a different gift,
its element metaphor
(
Collected Poems 200-201).

  • 1 It is noteworthy that Benjamin adds that “a critique of the concept of such a progression must be t (...)

3Metaphors are important explorative and questioning tools which bring to the fore those ambiguities, paradoxes and contradictions that North Atlantic historiography is all too keen to erase when it constructs history as “progression through a homogenous empty time”, to use Walter Benjamin’s arresting definition (252).1 The history Walcott famously rejects in “The Muse of History” is precisely the product of a historiography that “is forced to exclude certain contradictions for history cannot be ambiguously recorded” (59).

4My subtitle paraphrases Benjamin’s incitement to be aware of history’s ambiguities and contradictions and to brush history against the grain to reinterpret it from the perspective of the underdog and not of the victors:

There is no document of civilization that is not at the same time a document of barbarism. […] barbarism taints also the manner in which it was transmitted from one owner to another. [In order to] disassociate [oneself] from it as far as possible [one’s] task [is] to brush history against the grain (248).

  • 2 Paul Hamilton uses this phrase in relation to Marx’s famous statement in the The Eighteenth Brumair (...)

5Benjamin’s aim is not to establish an “historical truth [which] yellows into polemic or evaporates in pathos” (as Walcott put it in “The Muse of History” 37) but to recast the past in order to “create the future that it will be poetry to describe”.2 Walcott’s poem, I would argue, does exactly this (and much more).

6Walcott’s attention to dogs and underdogs is inflected by an urge to re-examine modes of conceptualizing and representing the “underdog” that counter rather than confirm the silencing and marginalizing effect of such discourses. Most importantly, it goes beyond victimhood to arrive at a positive, non-complacent articulation of agency. In Tiepolo’s Hound, Walcott (who appears as a character in his own poem) is obsessed with a specific type of underdog, a hound whom he allegedly saw for the first time during a visit to the New York Metropolitan Museum. There, in a painting hanging on the wall, the persona

           caught a slash of pink on the inner thigh
Of a white hound entering the cave of a table

So exact its lucency at The Feast of Levi,
I felt my heart halt (7)

7In Benjamin’s terms this is a vision that, as we will see, can help us seize the past and engage in a meaningful relation with it and our present.

To articulate the past historically does not mean to recognize it “the way it really was.”
     The true picture of the past flits by. The past can be seized only as an image which flashes up at the instant when it can be recognized and is never seen again (248).

  • 3 Moreover, as Hannah Arendt highlights in her introduction to Illuminations, Benjamin “thought poeti (...)

8I have quoted Benjamin once again because many parallels can be drawn between his words and Derek Walcott’s poem.3 Initially, as we have seen, we are told that the painting with the hound in question is Paolo Veronese’s Feast in the House of Levi but shortly afterwards Walcott adds that when he went back to reproductions of the painting, they opened “on a soundless page” (8): in other words the hound he was looking for was not there. This is hardly surprising: the Feast in the House of Levi is not to be found at the Metropolitan Museum of New York (as Walcott himself admits later in the poem) but at the Gallerie dell’Accademia in Venice, a place that Walcott had not yet visited when he was first inspired by the hound. The title’s attribution (Tiepolo’s hound) is not a better clue if one wants to anchor the hound in question to a specific painting: no painting by Tiepolo, Walcott himself declares, contains a picture of a dog that matches the one he is haunted by. As a matter of fact, we are later informed that he could never relocate the hound (“I have never found its image again”, 8).

9This is not important, Walcott suggests (echoing Benjamin). What matters is the vision, the flashing image and, most importantly, the articulation of past, present and future that it generates. Walcott’s dismissal of facts mirrors his life-long distrust for history and historiography: “History is insult, energy is intellect” he states in chapter 14 of Tiepolo’s Hound and, a few pages later, referring to his people, he writes: “We are History’s afterthought” (90, 96). It is hardly surprising that Walcott should take a dismissive stance vis-à-vis facts: “facts” are actually part of the problem when one deals with a history that was written by the victors. In “The Schooner Flight,” the “red nigger” and mixed blood seaman Shabine famously meets history in the shape of his white grandfather but, he adds, “he ain’t recognize me” (Collected Poems 346, 350). I would argue that Walcott’s response to history’s lack of recognition is not only to refuse to recognize history as a “creative or culpable force” — as he declares in “The Muse of History” (37) — but also to re-cognize it by revisiting it from a different standpoint. Those occurrences that are canonized and become “facts” contribute both to a systematic ethnocentric misreading of the past and to the distorted relation that our present has with it. The production of “facts” always entails the creation of silences. In “The Star-Apple Kingdom”, Walcott draws our attention to the fact that old daguerreotypes of the Caribbean pastoral are “curled at the edge” in order to exclude

the groom, the cattle boy, the housemaid, the gardeners,
the tenants, the good Negroes
their mouths in the locked jaw of a silent scream
(
Collected Poems 384).

10The echo of the “silent screams” of the silenced ones informs Walcott’s Tiepolo’s Hound where, rather than fetishising facts, Walcott encourages a different approach to the past aimed at foregrounding the presence (also in terms of contribution and agency) of those who “fell” off the edges (history’s “after-thoughts”) and at “energetically” unearthing these silences. What follows is my attempt to respond to Walcott’s invitation.

11Let us focus on the first painting Walcott mentions in the poem, Veronese’s Feast in the House of Levi (See Image 1). This is a monumental painting. The subject comes from the Gospels (Matthew 9: 10-13; Mark 2:13-17, Luke 5: 27-32) but the religious theme seems a pretext to stage a rich and sumptuous feast where all the characters wear sixteenth century costumes. The anachronism is deliberate and the painting constitutes a visual counterpart to poetry’s ability to conjugate past and present together, or to Benjamin’s “time filled by the presence of the now” which he opposes to the “homogenous empty time” he set out to reject (252-253). In Tiepolo’s Hound, Walcott focuses his attention (and ours) on a “marginal” detail of the painting, the hound. This move contains an implicit invitation to return to the painting with new eyes, to refocus on what we can call the underdogs’ narrative, to recast history as a shared, heterogeneous history.

Image 1. Paolo Veronese (1528-1588), Feast in the House of Levi (1573). Oil on canvas - cm 555 x 1310, Venezia - Gallerie dell'Accademia

Image 1. Paolo Veronese (1528-1588), Feast in the House of Levi (1573). Oil on canvas - cm 555 x 1310, Venezia - Gallerie dell'Accademia

Courtesy Ministero per i Beni e le Attività Culturali

  • 4 I am borrowing Shakespeare’s words in Othello V.ii.351.

12One could argue, in fact, that the painting testifies to Venice’s cosmopolitanism, which was at the core of her prosperity and one of her distinctive traits. In 1484, the Italian Marin Sanudo described Venice as a “domicile common to everyone” (20 [my translation]). In 1599, Gasparo Contarini presents it as “a common and general market of the whole world” with a “wonderful concourse of strange and forraine people, yea of the farthest and remotest nations” (1). On the left of the painting, a few “turbanned Turk[s]”4 are squeezed to the margins or bizarrely hang from the ceiling at the edge of the feast. Turkish traders, it is well-known, were “indispensable immigrants” for Venice.

  • 5 For more information on Venice’s “indispensable immigrants” see Braudel 1: 334-341.
  • 6 In Italy, in the late 1550s, Jews from Turkey were harshly criticized for wearing white instead of (...)
  • 7 “Between 1516 and 1633 Venice set up three ghettoes: the vecchio, the nuovo and the nuovissimo, lin (...)
  • 8 See Archivio di Stato, Venice, Senato Terra, 31, 29th March, 1556 qtd in Braudel 2: 806.
  • 9 The Feast in the House of Levi was painted after the Battle of Lepanto when Venice defeated the Tur (...)

13They had been present in the city for centuries and accommodated by the State in different areas: from the middle of the sixteenth century the Turks who came to Venice as traders had been quartered in an annex of the palace of Marco Antonio Barbaro until the fondaco dei turchi was established in the seventeenth century.5 The white turbans that we can see in the painting were actually a prerogative of the Turks. Veronese’s painting also features a yellow turban which was instead the distinctive colour of the Jews.6 Jews were coming to Venice from everywhere but at the end of the fifteenth century many Jews expelled from Spain and Portugal moved to the Serenissima where the first ghetto of Europe came into existence in 1516.7 Venetian Jews paid dearly to live in the ghetto which was both overcrowded and unhealthy. It was surrounded by a wall, its gate was locked from the outside at sunset and re-opened at sunrise and two armed ships guarded their outlets to the sea. On holidays the Jews were forbidden to exit the ghetto but segregation was often infringed: a senatorial debate of March 1556 deemed it essential to oblige the Jews to stay in the ghetto “and not to keep an inn in any other part of the city”.8 The Jews were also indispensable to Venetian prosperity — and not only for their “aptitude” for trade. As Braudel reminds us, in 1573 (the year in which Veronese’s painting was completed) Venice was actually ready to expel the Jews but the Council of Ten revoked this decision (taken in 1571) because it was pointed out that, since the Sephardic Jews were the skilled craftsmen who provided the Turks with cannon, bows, swords and other effective weapons, driving the Jews out would have put Venice at considerable risk (Braudel 2: 808-809).9

  • 10 For more information on slavery in Venice and on the shortage of both crew and oarsmen in Venice an (...)

14Overall, the social reality portrayed by Veronese is both diverse and hierarchically organized: the guests are rich and important sixteenth century Venetian VIPs, the Turks and the Jews are pushed to the fringe of the narrative and many of the servants attending the tables are Black. Their presence is quickly explained: during the sixteenth century, Venice housed fairly regular slave sales and slavery was maintained mainly in the form of domestic slavery. Slaves were as crucial to the Venetian economy as the Turks and the Jews: as a matter of fact Venice would not have had enough men for her galleys and would never have become what it was if it had not been for the slaves, prisoners of war, and convicts it chained to the oars.10 The underdogs’ narrative (the one Walcott suggests we should concentrate on when looking at Veronese’s painting) brings to the fore the mixed nature of Venice’s social fabric; what is laid bare is the economic structure of early modern Venice and its forces and relations of production.

15Later in the poem, Walcott conflates the dog, the black slaves and himself. The hound that fascinates him for its “lucency”, he writes, shares the space “at the edge of [the] feast” with other “marginal” characters. As his quests for the hound and for himself intertwine, Walcott “suddenly” realises that “every hound had its attendant Moor / restraining it with dutiful affection” (125). This time he mentions two paintings by Tiepolo

I ravaged a volume on Tiepolo later.
I was searching for myself now, and I found
The Meeting of Antony and Cleopatra
I was the grey Moor clutching a wolfhound
[…]
The Banquet
Of Antony and Cleopatra
. Here the Queen
Poises a pearl over a goblet; in the quiet,
A Moor in a doublet and brown hound frame the scene (124).

  • 11 Eighteenth-century Venice experienced what could be described as a “green revolution”: agriculture (...)
  • 12 William Wordsworth’s “On the extinction of the Venetian Republic” gives us a good idea of Venice’s (...)

16It has been observed that the representation of blacks is a constant that connects the two historical periods of Veronese and Tiepolo, and that Walcott’s (alleged) confusion between the two artists is a device to address a racial phenomenon that spans two centuries (Erikson 229). Nevertheless, Walcott insists that Tiepolo’s rendition of the encounter between Cleopatra and Antony should be projected on a different Venice from the one painted by Veronese in the second half of the sixteenth century: “Venice is dimming, her diadems in eclipse” (124). Economic and political decline was a palpable reality in eighteenth-century Venice. In Tiepolo’s time (1696-1770) Venice was the pleasure capital of Europe but it had lost its former political influence and almost became a superannuated force. At Veronese’s time Venice’s finances were very sound but, as Braudel eloquently reminds us, the sixteenth century also signposted the beginning of Venice’s decline in “relative importance. She was no longer the centre of the Mediterranean. The commercial activity of the sea, concentrating more and more in the West, tipped the balance, spelling the inexorable decline of the eastern basin which had for so long been the source of wealth” (139 [emphasis in the text]). Following 1492, Venice became increasingly a city in dialogue with its own immediate surroundings rather than with the rest of the world. This introversion is better exemplified by the extraordinary flourishing of villas that the great Venetian families began to build around the sixteenth century in the countryside near the Serenissima and the construction of the Ponte Rialto between 1588 and 1591 — earlier there was a wooden bridge which could be opened to allow the passage of big ships. During the seventeenth century, affluent Venetians became progressively more interested in acquiring estates on the Terra Firma and to live as glamorously as the landed nobility.11 In the meantime, Venice’s political marginality became increasingly patent only to culminate in the Napoleonic occupation and the collapse of the Venetian Republic in 1797.12 The move from Veronese to Tiepolo that Walcott records in the poem epitomizes Venice’s crucial shift of focus and identity, highlights the relative (and relational) value of “centrality” and “marginality” and draws our attention to the fact that empires and socio-political power in general are transitory: their position of prominence is never irreversible. As Walcott reminds us, in “Ruins of a Great House”: “Albion too was once / a colony” (Collected Poems 20).

17But why was Tiepolo’s name chosen for the title instead of Veronese’s? After all, the haunting hound is not to be found in his paintings. Walcott suggests that “any one of the / two names might have done it” and that the “name Tiepolo” might have been privileged merely for the sake of “euphony” (123). I would argue, instead, that we might find a rationale behind Walcott’s decision if we focus on Veronese’s and Tiepolo’s dogs.

  • 13 For a more detailed history of this painting see Alpers and Baxandall, pp. 1-3.

18Dogs were among Veronese’s and Tiepolo’s favourite pet motifs, but there seem to be important differences in the way they approach the subject. By and large, as John Ruskin pointed out, in Veronese’s works, dogs seem to play a rather subordinate social role: they appear only to reflect their master’s wealth (a symbolic function they shared with slaves) or man’s feeling from low (gluttony) to high (fidelity) (Alpers and Baxandall 31). See for example the fresco Giustiniana Giustiniani and her nurse where the nurse’s fidelity is represented with (and by) a small dog (See Image 2). Tiepolo instead disregards hierarchal differences: he borrows his dogs from his predecessor but frees them from subalterneity. In The Meeting of Antony and Cleopatra (c. 1745-50; fresco – cm 650x 300, Palazzo Labia, Venezia) the hound, Walcott writes, “tan and excitable […] frets at [Cleopatra]” (Tiepolo’s Hound 124). As Alpers and Baxandall observe, the light-brown dog is “a key to the complex graphic and tonal range of the painting” (31). In The Banquet of Cleopatra (See Image 3) the hound is “colour-keyed to Cleopatra”, the main character in this painting (Alpers and Baxandall 31). Its alertness and tension again demand our attention despite the fact that the action seems to take place somewhere else: “the Queen / poises a pearl over a goblet” (Tiepolo’s Hound 124). In fact, apart from being visually as interesting as the people they are depicted with, Tiepolo’s dogs at times even divert our attention from what should be the narrative focus of the painting. In John the Baptist Beheaded (1733-34; fresco, Bergamo, Duomo, cappella Colleoni) everyone shows utter desperation at the death of John, but the little dog is uninterested and unmoved. Its presence actually distracts us from the main theme of the painting (one can almost hear it barking!). The Finding of Moses (See Image 4) is an even more extreme example as no distinction is made between primary and secondary characters. The princess and little Moses are off-centre, half of the painting is empty of figures, and a huge halberdier with his dog once again divert our attention from what should be the narrative focus and main subject of the work. As a matter of fact, to obviate to this astounding asymmetry, Tiepolo’s painting was later cut in two parts: a The Finding of Moses (oil on canvas, cm 200x 339; Edinburgh, The National Gallery of Scotland) and a Landscape with Halberdier (oil on canvas, cm 205x 132; Turin, private collection) so the painting as a whole does not exist anymore (image 4 is just a copy of what it would have looked like prior to the partition).13 Significantly, lack of narrative unity is also a defining trait of Walcott’s own poem, in which different characters alternate as the centre of narrative. Formally, one could argue that the loose pentameter couplets (ab ab cd cd) frequently disrupted by enjambment provide an aural counterpart to Tiepolo’s resistance to ordered narratives.

Image 2. Paolo Veronese (1528-1588), Giustiniana Giustiniani and her Nurse (1561-1562). Fresco, Maser – Villa Barbaro

Image 2. Paolo Veronese (1528-1588), Giustiniana Giustiniani and her Nurse (1561-1562). Fresco, Maser – Villa Barbaro

Courtesy Villa di Maser

Image 3. Gianbattista Tiepolo (1696-1770), The banquet of Cleopatra (c.1743-44). Oil on canvas - cm 248.2 x 357.8, The National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Felton Bequest, 1933

Image 3. Gianbattista Tiepolo (1696-1770), The banquet of Cleopatra (c.1743-44). Oil on canvas - cm 248.2 x 357.8, The National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Felton Bequest, 1933

Courtesy of The National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

Image 4. Copy of Gianbattista Tiepolo's The Finding of Moses. Oil on canvas - cm 70 x 140

Image 4. Copy of Gianbattista Tiepolo's The Finding of Moses. Oil on canvas - cm 70 x 140

Courtesy of Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart

19Tiepolo’s figures of hounds, as we have seen, actively reject marginality, a lesson that Walcott seems to have learnt and redeployed in his Tiepolo’s Hound. In chapter XXI of the poem Walcott highlights his debt to Tiepolo when he offers his reading of another famous painting — Apelles and Campaspe (See Image 5):

Tiepolo has painted himself,
Painting his costumed models, on the floor, what must be
his mascot: a white lapdog revels in the wealth
of Venetian light. Alexander sprawls in a chair.
An admiring African peers from the canvas’s edge
where a bare-shouldered model, Campaspe with gold hair,
sees her myth evolve. The Moor silent with privilege (129).

Image 5. Gianbattista Tiepolo (1696-1770), Apelles Painting the Portrait of Campaspe (c. 1725 -1726). Oil on canvas - cm 57.4 x 73.7, The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Adaline Van Horne Bequest

Image 5. Gianbattista Tiepolo (1696-1770), Apelles Painting the Portrait of Campaspe (c. 1725 -1726). Oil on canvas - cm 57.4 x 73.7, The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Adaline Van Horne Bequest

Courtesy of The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts

  • 14 For a more extensive reading of this painting see Alpers and Baxandall, pp. 10-11.

20The story of Apelles and Campaspe is easily sketched: the painter Apelles falls in love with Campaspe, the mistress of Alexander the Great, while doing her portrait. Apelles’s portrait is so good that Alexander acknowledges its greatness by giving Campaspe to Apelles as a prize. In Tiepolo’s painting, Apelles turns towards his beautiful model (the centre of his attention) only to realise that Alexander (alerted by a soldier), like the beautiful Campaspe, another soldier in the background and the black servant are all looking at his portrait (and not at her). The little dog is an exception once again: he invites us to take part in the goings on within the frame by looking out of picture and directly at us. In an intriguing reversal of roles, the dog seems to have us on its leash. The small hound encourages us to meditate on the mystifying nature of painting, on the fact that one man’s perspective can become the centre of the world.14

21Walcott too remarks that Tiepolo has put himself at the centre of the painting: the autobiographical element Walcott refers to (“Tiepolo has painted himself” 129) has to do with the fact that according to the critics, Apelles represented Tiepolo while Campaspe represented his wife. Walcott uses Tiepolo’s self-referentiality as a springboard and, with a masterful stroke, he positions “himself” at the centre of Tiepolo’s painting and (albeit provisionally) of Tiepolo’s Hound. He identifies with the black servant in the painting to then change the perspective and decentre the narrative once again:

we presume from the African’s posture that I too am learning
both skill and conversion watching from the painting’s side (129).

22Rather than being just a “silent” (objectified) “boy”, the black “marginal” figure in the painting is endowed with maturity (in “The Muse of History” Walcott claims that “maturity is the assimilation of the features of every ancestor” [36]). Crucially, he is also endowed with agency as his silence becomes a strategic ploy: he is quietly “learning both skill and conversion” which he will no doubt use for his own purposes (i.e., in Walcott’s case, the writing of this poem). Walcott’s reading of Tiepolo’s painting “blasts open the continuum of history” (borrowing once again Benjamin’s words [254]), “fills” the past with “the presence of the now” (“I too am learning”) and transforms this moment into a meditation on the necessity of re-cognizing both history and an artistic production that relegated people of his colour to the “edges”, holding the leashes of hounds. As Tiepolo’s Hound s closing lines remind us, such recognition conjugates past and present together and produces the future from which poetry is created:

Soon, against the smoky hillsides of Santa Cruz,
dusk will ignite the wicks of the immortelle,
parrots will clatter from the trees with raucous news
of the coming night, and the first star will settle.
Then all the sorrows that lay heavily on us,
the repeated failures, the botched trepidations
will pass like the lights on bridges at village corners
where shadows crouch under pierced constellations
whose name they have never learnt, as a sickle glow
rises over bamboos that repeat the round
of the charted stars, the Archer, aiming his bow,
the Bear, and the studded collar of Tiepolo’s hound (166).

Top of page

Bibliography

Alpers, Svetlana, and Baxandall, Michael. Tiepolo and the Pictorial Intelligence. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994.

Archivio di Stato. Venice. Senato Terra 31. 29th March 1556.

Arendt, Hannah. Introduction. Illuminations. By Walter Benjamin. London: Pimlico, 1999. 7-58.

Belon, Pierre. Les Observations de plusieurs singularitez et choses memorables trouvées en Grèce, Asie, Judée, Egypte, Arabie et autres pays etranges. Paris. 1553.

Benjamin, Walter. Illuminations. London: Pimlico, 1999.

Braudel, Fernand. The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II, 2 vols. Berkley: University of California Press, 1995.

Braudel, Fernand. “Venezia.” Il Mediterraneo: lo spazio, la storia, gli uomini, le tradizioni. Ed. Fernand Braudel. Trans. Elena De Angeli. Milano: Bompiani, 1994.

Contarini, Gasparo. The Commonwealth and Government of Venice. Written by the Cardinal Gasper Contareno, and translated out of Italian into English by Lewes Lewkenor Esquire With Sundry Other Collection. London, 1599.

Erikson, Peter. “Artist’s Self-Portraiture and Self-Exploration in Derek Walcott’s Tiepolo’s Hound,” Callaloo. 28:1 (2005): 224-235.

Giraldi, Cinthio. Hecatommithi. Venice. 1565. Rpt in Shakespeare,William. Othello. Ed. E.A.J. Honigmann. Arden Shakespeare.Walton-on-Thames: Thomas Nelson, 1997. 368-387.

Hamilton, Paul. Historicism. London: Routledge, 1996.

Sanudo, Marin il Giovane. De Origine, situ et magistratibus urbis Venetae / La Città di Venezia. Ed. Arico Caracciolo. Milano: Cisalpino-Goliardica, 1980.

Shakespeare, William. Othello. Ed. E.A.J. Honigmann. Arden Shakespeare.Walton-on-Thames: Thomas Nelson, 1997.

Walcott, Derek. Collected Poems 1948 -1984. London: Faber and Faber, 1986.

Walcott, Derek. “The Muse of History.” What the Twilight Says: Essays. London: Faber and Faber, 1998.

Walcott, Derek. Tiepolo’s Hound. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000.

Wordsworth, William. “On the Extinction of the Venetian Republic.” The Works of William Wordsworth. Ware, Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Editions, 1994.

Top of page

Notes

1 It is noteworthy that Benjamin adds that “a critique of the concept of such a progression must be the basis of any criticism of the concept of progress itself” (252). Walcott is similarly critical of the concept of linear progress: “the vision of progress is the rational madness of history seen as sequential time, of a dominated future” (“The Muse of History”, 41).

2 Paul Hamilton uses this phrase in relation to Marx’s famous statement in the The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (18): “social evolution can only create its poetry from the future, not from the past.” According to Hamilton, Marx thought that “we must first create the future it will be poetry to describe”: see Hamilton, Paul, Historicism, Routledge (London, 1996) pp. 92-93.

3 Moreover, as Hannah Arendt highlights in her introduction to Illuminations, Benjamin “thought poetically and therefore was bound to regard the metaphor as the greatest gift of language” (20).

4 I am borrowing Shakespeare’s words in Othello V.ii.351.

5 For more information on Venice’s “indispensable immigrants” see Braudel 1: 334-341.

6 In Italy, in the late 1550s, Jews from Turkey were harshly criticized for wearing white instead of yellow turbans: see Belon, Pierre. Les Observations de plusieurs singularitez et choses memorables trouvées en Grèce, Asie, Judée, Egypte, Arabie et autres pays etranges. Paris. 1553, 181, qtd in Braudel 2: 806.

7 “Between 1516 and 1633 Venice set up three ghettoes: the vecchio, the nuovo and the nuovissimo, linked islands where the houses stood sometimes as much as seven storeys high –for space was scarce and the density of the population here was the highest in the city. The ghetto vecchio [was] reserved for Jews from the Levant […] the nuovo […] harboured German Jews (Todeschi) some of whom, since there was not room for all, went to live in the old ghetto […] certain Jews specializing in large-scale trade […] obtained special status in 1581 […] but in 1633, all the Jews […] were confined to the same ghettoes — hence the many social, religious and cultural conflicts within this artificial near-concentration-camp world.” Braudel 2: 809-810.

8 See Archivio di Stato, Venice, Senato Terra, 31, 29th March, 1556 qtd in Braudel 2: 806.

9 The Feast in the House of Levi was painted after the Battle of Lepanto when Venice defeated the Turks in 1571. A lasting peace with the Turks, however, was only achieved after 1574.

10 For more information on slavery in Venice and on the shortage of both crew and oarsmen in Venice and throughout the Mediterranean see Braudel 2: 754-755 and Braudel 1: 139. It is noteworthy that the seventh novella in Giraldi Cinthio’s Hecatommithi (1565) — an important source for Shakespeare’s Othello — is set in Venice and tells the story of a Moor who “was personally valiant and had given proof in warfare” qtd in full in William Shakespeare, Othello, 370.

11 Eighteenth-century Venice experienced what could be described as a “green revolution”: agriculture (especially maize, rice, hemp and mulberry) imposed itself as a remarkable source of wealth for the aristocrats who had inherited or acquired properties on the mainland (Braudel, “Venezia,”, 260-261 [the translation from the Italian is mine]).

12 William Wordsworth’s “On the extinction of the Venetian Republic” gives us a good idea of Venice’s downfall: “Once did She hold the gorgeous east in fee; / And was the safeguard of the west: the worth / Of Venice did not fall below her birth, / Venice, the eldest Child of Liberty. / She was a maiden City, bright and free; / No guile seduced, no force could violate; / And, when she took unto herself a Mate, / She must espouse the everlasting Sea. / And what if she had seen those glories fade, / Those titles vanish, and that strength decay; / Yet shall some tribute of regret be paid / When her long life hath reached its final day; / Men are we, and must grieve when even the Shade / Of that which once was great is passed away.”

13 For a more detailed history of this painting see Alpers and Baxandall, pp. 1-3.

14 For a more extensive reading of this painting see Alpers and Baxandall, pp. 10-11.

Top of page

List of illustrations

Title Image 1. Paolo Veronese (1528-1588), Feast in the House of Levi (1573). Oil on canvas - cm 555 x 1310, Venezia - Gallerie dell'Accademia
Credits Courtesy Ministero per i Beni e le Attività Culturali
URL http://0-journals-openedition-org.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/ces/docannexe/image/10269/img-1.jpg
File image/jpeg, 284k
Title Image 2. Paolo Veronese (1528-1588), Giustiniana Giustiniani and her Nurse (1561-1562). Fresco, Maser – Villa Barbaro
Credits Courtesy Villa di Maser
URL http://0-journals-openedition-org.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/ces/docannexe/image/10269/img-2.jpg
File image/jpeg, 56k
Title Image 3. Gianbattista Tiepolo (1696-1770), The banquet of Cleopatra (c.1743-44). Oil on canvas - cm 248.2 x 357.8, The National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Felton Bequest, 1933
Credits Courtesy of The National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
URL http://0-journals-openedition-org.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/ces/docannexe/image/10269/img-3.jpg
File image/jpeg, 68k
Title Image 4. Copy of Gianbattista Tiepolo's The Finding of Moses. Oil on canvas - cm 70 x 140
Credits Courtesy of Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart
URL http://0-journals-openedition-org.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/ces/docannexe/image/10269/img-4.jpg
File image/jpeg, 60k
Title Image 5. Gianbattista Tiepolo (1696-1770), Apelles Painting the Portrait of Campaspe (c. 1725 -1726). Oil on canvas - cm 57.4 x 73.7, The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Adaline Van Horne Bequest
Credits Courtesy of The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts
URL http://0-journals-openedition-org.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/ces/docannexe/image/10269/img-5.jpg
File image/jpeg, 72k
Top of page

References

Bibliographical reference

Maria Cristina Fumagalli, “My pen replaced a brush”: Derek Walcott’s Tiepolo’s Hound and Brushing History against the GrainCommonwealth Essays and Studies, 28.2 | 2006, 81-94.

Electronic reference

Maria Cristina Fumagalli, “My pen replaced a brush”: Derek Walcott’s Tiepolo’s Hound and Brushing History against the GrainCommonwealth Essays and Studies [Online], 28.2 | 2006, Online since 15 January 2022, connection on 23 June 2024. URL: http://0-journals-openedition-org.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/ces/10269; DOI: https://0-doi-org.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/10.4000/ces.10269

Top of page

About the author

Maria Cristina Fumagalli

University of Essex

Maria Cristina Fumagalli is Senior Lecturer in the Department of Literature, Film and Theatre Studies at the University of Essex, UK. She is the author of The Flight of the Vernacular: Seamus Heaney, Derek Walcott and the Impress of Dante (New York: Rodopi, 2001) and the editor of Agenda — Special Issue on Derek Walcott (39. 1-3, 2002-2003). She has written essays and book chapters on Erna Brodber, Marlene Nourbese Philip, Maryse Condé, M.P.Shiel, Jean Rhys, Grace Nichols, Michael Thelwell and Perry Henzell’s The Harder They Come. She is working on a new monograph that aims at investigating the relation between the Caribbean and North Atlantic conceptualizations of modernity and has just established, together with Peter Hulme and Owen Robinson, American Tropics: Towards a Literary Geography, a project which will run between 2006 to 2010 (http://www.essex.ac.uk/literature/American_Tropics/).

Top of page

Copyright

CC-BY-NC-ND-4.0

The text only may be used under licence CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. All other elements (illustrations, imported files) are “All rights reserved”, unless otherwise stated.

Top of page
Search OpenEdition Search

You will be redirected to OpenEdition Search