Questioning topographies in word and image: Pierre Alechinsky and Claude Lorrain re-flect on the map as index of the real

Speakers: Dr Caroline Levitt (The Courtauld Institute of Art) and Dr Sheila McTighe (The Courtauld Institute of Art)

This seminar marks the first public event of the newly formed ‘Word and Image’ research cluster, and showcases the importance of word and image relationships across different periods and cultures. The speakers will present work in progress that deals with issues of mapping as a form of representation in both word and image. Claude Lorrain and Pierre Alechinsky both use the map or topographic view as a departure for reflection on the conventions for representation in their age.

Caroline Levitt’s focus is Alechinsky’s Arrondissements (1983), a series of ‘lithographic rambles’ over maps of Paris, and Gilbert Lascault’s accompanying texts. Concentrating on Arrondissement No.7 (which incorporates the Eiffel Tower), her paper considers how word, image and overdrawing combine to question not only the importance or usefulness of the map format, but also its place in a discourse on modernism. Against the neat ‘roundedness’ of the arrondissement structure, Alechinsky renders the streets of Paris mysterious, shifting and unstable, mapping sites of fiction and adventure – ideas which may be understood via both surrealism and the concept of ‘literary cartography’.

Sheila McTighe explores a French visual-verbal pun for ‘drawing from life’ used by Claude Lorrain and some of his contemporaries in drawings, prints and paintings of the 1630s and 1640s. This punning motif shows Claude reflecting on the practice of representing topographic landscape views.  It provides a witty commentary on the art criticism of his day, which valued ideal narrative representation, emulating texts, over a ‘mere’ mute mapping of the real.  Claude’s motif reveals the artist ‘theorising’ within images themselves, by overlapping the functions of word and image.  Revealing this repeated motif in his work may profoundly change our view of Claude as an artist.

Caroline Levitt is Lecturer at The Courtauld Institute, where she specialises in French art, literature and architecture of the late 19th to 20th centuries. She formed the Word and Image research cluster to bring together scholars working across periods and disciplines for whom word-image relationships are central concerns. She first published on Alechinsky in the context of his illustrations for Guillaume Apollinaire’s Le Poète assassiné,(Apollinaire and André Breton having been the subject of her PhD thesis, 2007). She has a continuing interest in the artistic practice of over-drawing as a form of illustration, be that on maps, books of poetry or other media. Other current research is closely related to her teaching on both Le Corbusier and modernism and the sacred.

Sheila McTighe is Senior Lecturer at The Courtauld Institute.  She works on early modern paintings and prints, mainly in France and Italy.  Her most recent books are Representing from Life in 17th-century Italy (Amsterdam University Press, in press 2019) and Genre Painting and Prints in 17th-century Italy and France (Amsterdam University Press forthcoming). She is currently translating the letters of Poussin into English for the first time, and writing a monograph on the career of the printmaker Jacques Callot.

Organised by Dr Caroline Levitt (The Courtauld) 

5:00pm, 20 Nov 2019

The Courtauld Institute of Art, Vernon Square, Penton Rise, King’s Cross, London




Word and Image