Typographic ekphrasis: The description of typographic forms in the nineteenth century

Martin Antonetti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


W.J. T. Mitchell, at the conclusion of his seminal presentation of ekphrastic poetics, summarizes the discussion of the otherness of the ekphrastic image by cataloguing the ‘figures of difference that energize the dialectic of the imagetext.’ This catalogue of figures includes, inter alia, descriptions of specific historical, cultural and social contradictions (illustrated by Keats’ Urn, Stevens’ Jar and Shelley’s Medusa respectively). He then acknowledges that one might bring the ekphrastic mode to bear on the verbal representation of other genres of visual representation, ‘such as photography, maps, diagrams, movies, theatrical spectacles … each of which carries its own peculiar sort of textuality into the heart of the visual image.’ To this list of ‘other genres’ I propose to add typography. The particular shape of the printed letterform as it is expressed in its contrast, stress and cant lends itself perfectly to an ekphrastic (as opposed to pictorial or iconic) reading, and this precisely because it is representational — the necessary qualification or precondition for ekphrastic treatment as proposed by James A. W. Heffernan.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)41-53
Number of pages13
JournalWord and Image
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1999

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Visual Arts and Performing Arts
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Literature and Literary Theory


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