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In The Transmission of Knowledge by Juan Luis Vives, Vives describes his idea of proper imitation. His basic theory is that people are not innately born with skills of art or rhetoric and therefore, these skills are obtained through the imitation of other skilled artists or rhetoricians. This idea is parallel to those of Petrarch and Alberti.
Petrarch and Vives both say that proper imitation should be analogous to the way a son resembles his father. Vives says “A son is said to be like his father, not so much in that he recalls his features, his face and form, but because shows to us his father’s manners, his disposition, his talk, his gait, his movements, and as it were his very life, which issues forth in his actions as he goes abroad, from the inner seat of the spirit, and shows his real self to us.” (190) Petrarch says, similarly, “As soon as we see the son, he recalls the father to us, although if we should measure every feature we should find them all different.”(199)
The father to son resemblance is the basis of imitation to both these authors. They both believe that a good writer should use imitation in a way where what they imitate resembles the original, but does it not duplicate it. For Petrarch and Vives, this can be achieved by properly integrating reading with writing. They both believe that by reading something and being able to digest it thoroughly, one can transport the overall idea and feeling of what he read onto his own writing. This creates a deep imitation, rather than copying what a writer says in different words. Both authors use the father to son metaphor to show that imitation should be meaningful and evocative.
Petrarch supplements this idea by claiming that reading should be an alterative to experience. As one would in a sense “experience” the father through the son, one should similarly be able to experience the author a writer imitates. To illustrate this he referrers to “wandering” and “transport” throughout his works. Specifically, Petrarch interchanges writing with experience when he describes climbing Mont Ventroux. He says “But nature is not overcome by a man’s devices; a corporeal thing cannot reach the heights by descending” and, further, “there I leaped in my winged thought from things corporeal to what is incorporeal and addressed myself in words like these…” (39)
The physical and spiritual are linked so closely together that they transport and overlap one another. According to Petrarch, characteristics like this are traits of a good imitator. Vives also relates to the kind of imitation which interchanges the bodily action with spiritual. He describes an oration, which links actions with rhetoric. He says “But these modern imitators regard not so much the mind of the orator in his expression, as the outward appearance of his words and the external for of his style.” (191) Both writers believe that by interchanging techne which psyche, one can properly imitate and transcend a deeper significance of what the writer is imitating.
Although Petrarch and Vives share similar ideas, they also hold a contradictory belief: Petrarch only imitates Cicero, while Vives believes that one should imitate several models to create a single work. Although Vives clearly states that Cicero is the best model for writing in the conversational style: “Caesar and Epistles of Cicero will come into the first rank of conversational style,” (192) he also states that one should comprise writing by mimicking several writers: “The more models we have and the less likeness there is between them, the greater is the progress of eloquence.” (190) Foremost, Petrarch is not writing in the conversational style, instead he using the plain style. Therefore, he should mimic another writer from the list Vives has specified. Also, Petrarch is only interested in imitating one writer, Cicero. He defends the Ciceronian tradition by writing only in Cicero’s style. For this reason, Petrarch does not read other writers, like Dante, because he is afraid that he will become the product of what he reads, ideas and style.
Instead he immerses himself in Cicero’s style by reading his work in such depth that he essentially writes in Cicero’s style without knowing he is doing so. Vives respects Cicero’s work, but he does not believe that Cicero is the best writer. Other than Vives’ belief that Petrarch should have imitated several conversationalists, Vives also states that “imitation of Cicero’s work is useful and safe, but not of his style; for if anyone cannot achieve success in the attempt he will degenerate into redundant, nerveless, vulgar and plebeian kind of writer.” (191) Therefore, the difference between Vives and Petrarch is that Vives believes that one should imitate several writers and that Cicero is not the best writer. Further, he offers a list of writers which should be imitated when trying to achieve a certain style. Petrarch, on the other hand, writes in Cicero’s style and believes that Cicero should be imitated while engaging in every kind of writing.
Alberti was an author who was more like Vives in this sense. He also believed that one should embrace all the things which would make something beautiful into one. For example, he says that all arts are linked to painting somehow, and that all arts take from incorporate the skills associated with painting into their works: “The architect, if I am not mistaken, takes from the painter architraves, bases, capitals, columns, faï¿½ades and other similar things. All the smiths, sculptors, shops and guilds are governed by the rules and art of the painter. It is scarcely possible to find any superior art which is not concerned with painting. so that whatever beauty is found can be said to be born of painting .”(Book II) Furthermore, it was important to Alberti to imitate the laws of nature, rather than nature itself. He pointed out that an architect should mimic the structure of reality and the geometry hidden in reality. Like Vives and Petrarch, Alberti joined the bodily with the spiritual to create the perfect art. But, he resembles Vives, in the sense that he believes that one should imitate several things to create one thing.
One difference between Alberti and Vives is that Vives believes that one should start out imitating a person who is not the best at what he does, but someone who is better than the imitator. Eventually, according to Vives, one should be able to move up in rank and imitate the best. He says “it is a wise precept of M. Fabius Quintilian that boys should not at first attempt to rise to emulation of their master, lest their strength fail them. An easier and quicker method will be to let them imitate someone more learned than themselves among their fellows, and contending with him let them gradually rise to copying their master himself.” (189) Alberti does not mention this method of imitation. Instead he says that when it comes to art, on must have “the favors of nature.” (Book I) In other words, Alberti strongly believes that one should have a natural talent for what he is doing, and that the gradual chain of improvement is not necessarily an established method, as Vives indicates.
Also, Alberti uses a style that is short and to the point. He says “I beg that I may be pardoned if, where I above all wish to be understood, I have given more care to making my words clear than ornate. I believe that which follows will be less tedious to the reader. (Book I) This type of frankness is a distinguished style of writing.
He uses simple rhetoric so that his audience can grasp the idea quickly. This kind of style corresponds to the type of art he is writing about. He says that he writing about a new type of art: “We are, however, building anew an art of painting about which nothing, as I see it, has been written since this age.”(Book II) His new style is imitating his concept of having a different type of manual towards art. Also, his main is to gear away from the Ancients and more towards the Florentine. By changing his style of writing he is achieving this, not only through what he saying about graduating art from mechanical to liberal, but also through his style and techne.
Both Alberti and Vives spend time discussing subject matter. Vives splits up who should be imitated based on the subject of the piece being writer. Similarly, Alberti pays attention to the subject matter of the painting. He says that an image can only bring pleasure of the subject matter of the painting brings pleasure. Alberti believes that one must imitate the feeling he wants the viewer to have in the subject of his painting for the artwork to be successful. This is what Vives is saying when he illustrates that one must pick the best writer in the subject that he wants to write about and imitate that style to be successful.
Both Petrarch and Alberti can be compared with Vives and his ideas on imitation. To all three writers imitation plays a huge role on how to present written and artistic works. All three of them believe that imitation of others will lead to success. Further, they believe that imitation is the only way to learn how to write properly. Alberti adds another assumption: he says that to be the best, one must imitate, but before the imitation process takes place, one must have a natural talent for art. Petrarch and Alberti both believe that one must mimic what they believe is the right tradition through their styles. Petrarch believes in the Ciceronian tradition and follows in Cicero’s footsteps by imitating his style. Alberti is more concerned with understanding than the use of eloquent language. Overall, to all three writers imitation plays a huge role in their understanding of how written works influence their audiences.