Paragone is an Italian word that means ‘comparison’. It is a contention between the arts, usually spoken by representative practitioners, to determine supremacy.
The most typical paragone pitch poetry and painting against each other, with the ultimate conclusion that each has an indisputable excellence and supremacy which informs the excellence and supremacy of the other (hence the famous dictum attributed to Simonides: ‘the poem is a speaking picture, the painting mute poetry’. Timon of Athens opens with a paragone between painter and poet; the anonymous entertainment for Queen Elizabeth at Mitcham (1598) features a poet, a painter, and a musician.
The paragone is not, however, restricted to the fine arts: Philip Sidney’s Defence of Poetry (c. 1579) plays with the convention in asserting the power of poetry over that of personified figures of the historian and the philosopher. Examples of the paragone are Lodovico Dolce, Aretino (1557); Leonardo da Vinci, Trattato della Pittura (c. 1500).
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