Imaginary Art

An imaginary painting is a fictional picture, one belonging to a fictitious world.

Francis Bacon
Portrait of George Dyer in a Mirror
Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

As a fictional painting, the imaginary picture may exist in a fictitious world (real of imagination). But imaginary pictures may also refer to paintings or drawings showing fictitious beings and/or fictitious worlds.

Some imaginary paintings can be found in literature. Indeed, the 64 paintings described by Philostratus in Eikones may be imaginary paintings.

In Ars Poetica, Horace describes an imaginary picture featuring a ridiculous hybrid.

In Interpretazioni veneziane (1984) is stated that the imagery that Pietro Aretino describes at the beginning of the Passion carries conviction, although some commentators suggest he may be describing an imaginary painting by Titian or Tintoretto.[1]

Nicholas Meyer's 1993 novel The Canary Trainer describes a fictional painting by the well-known Impressionist Degas, which happens to show... Sherlock Holmes.

Significantly, an imaginary picture is expected to show something imagined, fabricated, or unreal:

1. An imaginary figure or motif

Dragon from a medieval illuminated manuscript

2. A fictional event

From time to time... it happens.

3. Real things in fictional arrangement, as in the case of 18th-century Italian capricci.

Giovanni Battista Piranesi, The Grotteschi: Capriccio II - The Triumphal Arch, 1747

Note that an accurately depicted image that looks as real as the object it represents, and can thus deceive the viewer who usually takes it for the very object it represents, as it happens with trompe l'oeil,  is a case of hyper-representation or ultra-mimesis. Trompe l'oeil has to do with extreme realism in art. As a general rule, the real tends to oppose imagination.

Not imaginary art but rather mimesis.
Imitation has nothing to do with the Imaginary.
Representation is not Invention.

Yet... imagination takes it all

Alexandre-Gabriel Decamps, The Experts, 1837

Special mention in this context deserves The Experts, a 1837 oil painting by French painter Decamps. The picture is a parody of 19th-century Realism and its adherents. Decamps reccurs to realist style. The things he paints look real and convincing. Yet the whole image is a fruit of his imagination, as pressumably no monkey ever acted as an art expert in the French Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture.[2] Moreover, the landscape painting the "experts" examine is a fabrication in its own right. Mocking those who cannot but appreciate the imitation of Nature, Decamp's humorous oil is no doubt a masterpiece of imaginary art too. As Giordano Bruno once put it, the fictitious image entails its own truth.

Gabriel Cornelius von Max, Monkeys as Judges of Art, 1889
Oil on canvas, 85 x 107 cm. Neue Pinakothek, Munich

1. Passion apparently refers to La passione di Gesù of 1535; Interpretazioni veneziane: Studi di storia dell'arte in onore di Michelangelo Muraro, ed. David Rosand, Venice: Arsenale, 1984.
2. The Experts, also known as The Monkey Connoisseurs, is a satire of the jury of the French Academy of Painting, which had rejected several of Decamps' earlier works on account of their divergence from any known standard (Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia).

Art by Caloi


The Fictitious Image

FICTITIOUS Syn imaginary, fantastic, chimerical, fictional, made-up, fabricated, suppositious, untrue. Ant real, factual, confirmed, proven, true.

Francis Bacon: George Dyer

Can a fantastic figure convey a truth of its own? According to Italian philosopher Giordano Bruno (1548-1600), the fictitious image entails its own truth.[1]

Francis Bacon
Portrait of George Dyer in a Mirror
Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

An imaginary painting is a fictional picture, which depicts a fictitious world or exists in a fictitious world.

In the Grotteschi, a series of four engravings of 1747-50, Giovanni Battista Piranesi assembles true archaeological fragments from Classical Rome in fully invented compositions. Each of them is a capriccio or architectural fantasy.

The Grotteschi: Capriccio II - The Triumphal Arch

Both fantastic art and grotesque art comprise pictures showing imaginary beings. Such fictitious figures may suggest real possibilities.

La imagen fantástica posee su propia verdad.

FICTICIO. 1 fantástico, fabuloso, quimérico, imaginario, imaginado; 2 irreal, inventado, supuesto, aparente, fingido, simulado, engañoso, falso. Ant real, auténtico, verdadero, verídico.

Giordano Bruno, De vinculis in genere (A General Account of Bonding), 1588-91, pt. 2, art. XXX (Os vínculos, trad. Elaine Santorelli, Sao Paulo: Hedra, 2012, p. 55: "a aparência fantástica tem sua verdade"); Roger Caillois, Au coeur du fantastique, Paris: Gallimard, 1965: "L'image fictive possède sa propre vérité").

Original text, in Latin: Giordano Bruno, De vinculis in genere, 1588-91: De vincibilibus in genere, Art. XXX, Vincibilis veritas: "Etsi enim nullus sit infernus, opinio et imaginatio inferni sine veritatis fondamento vere et verum facit infernum; habet enim sua species phantastica veritatem" (Jordani Bruni Nolani opera latine conscriptapta publicis sumptibus edita, Napoli: D. Morano, 1879-91, vol. 3, fol. 93v; HTML edition by Joseph H. Peterson, 1997; La biblioteca ideale di Giordano Bruno, Italy, 2000).

An Italian version: "anche che non esista inferno, la credenza immaginaria nell'inferno senza fondamento di verità produce veramente un vero inferno: l'immagine fantastica ha la sua verità" (De vinculis in genere, 1589–91, trad. it. F. Tocco, E. Vitelli, Pordenone: Edizioni Biblioteca dell'Immagine, 1987, XXX, La verità vincolabile, p. 175).

Michelangelo in Da pintura antiga (1548) remarks on painting imaginary beings: "But if it so happens [...] a work [...] under pain of otherwise becoming shameful or false, requires fantasy [... and that] certain limbs or elements of a figure are altered by borrowing from other species, for example transforming into a dolphin the hinder end of a griffon or a stag [...] these alterations will be excellent and the substitution, however unreal it may seem, deserves to be declared a fine invention in the genre of the monstrous. When a painter introduces into this kind of work of art chimerae and other imaginary beings in order to divert and entertain the senses and also to captivate the eyes of mortals who long to see unclassified and impossible things, he shows himself more respectful of reason than if he produced the usual figures of men or of animals" (Marina Warner, Monsters of Our Own Making: The Peculiar Pleasures of Fear, Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2007, pp. 249-50).

On Warner's book, from the publisher: "Since the beginning of storytelling, monsters of all kinds have inhabited myths, legends, folklore, and oral traditions, and they continue to thrive amidst society's ever-increasing attraction to the thrill of experiencing fear. Today many of us seek out horror movies, read thrillers and Gothic novels, and visit haunted houses, in our endless pursuit of the macabre and exciting. In Monsters of Our Own Making: The Peculiar Pleasures of Fear, Marina Warner explores the world of bogeys from their incarnation as ogres in nursery tales to their current role in the new, twisted reality of contemporary conflicts, where there is no guarantee of a happy ending. Marina Warner digs into the past to uncover the origins of these myths, to examine their history and social function over time. Paying particular attention to the prevalence of male figures of terror, Warner reveals their connections to current ideas about sexuality and power, identity and ethnicity, youth and age."

Notes and References
1. The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia, 17.11.2012.
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