English, 2013 curriculum - Free topic 18: All Art is at Once Surface and Symbol: The Portrait in Art and Literature from the Renaissance to Modernism

Course content

This course is open to all active students who wish to explore the links between the visual and the literary portrait through a range of genres such as the (auto)biography, the (dramatic) monologue, the allegory, the novel, etc. Revolving around the classical ut pictura poesis discussion it involves such issues as ‘portraits - masks or mirrors?’; ‘portraits and power’; ‘the relationship between self, artist, sitter, and audience’; ‘the image of the poet in art and literature’; ‘portraits of the past’; ‘portraits in fiction’ and whatever other issues participants may wish to raise. The course does not confine itself to one literary period, but encompasses such subjects as the allegorical Renaissance portrait explored through the link between the body of the Queen and the body politick in visual depictions of Elizabeth I; Romantic self-fashioning in artists’ self-portraits, in images of the Romantic poets and in the blurred lines between the poet and the poetic ‘I’ in the writings of Shelley and Keats; nineteenth-century portraits of the past in paintings by Leighton and in poems by Browning, in Walter Pater’s Imaginary Portraits; the relation between surface and symbol, artist and sitter in some of Oscar Wilde’s writings; the Impressionist portrait and modernist writing.

Classes, with particular emphasis on reading primary and secondary texts, oral discussion and developing proficiency in English.


  • Longer texts/collections of texts studied in the course:
  • Walter Pater, Imaginary Portraits
  • Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray
  • James Joyce, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
  • Virginia Woolf, Orlando

Course plans (including final reading lists and specific dates for deadlines) will be available in mid-January 2018.

This course only leads to exams Free Topic 1A + 1B, Free Topic 2A + 2B and Free Topic 3A + 3B.

  • Category
  • Hours
  • Class Instruction
  • 28
  • Preparation
  • 176,75
  • English
  • 204,75