Notebook

Silent Poetry

Lockdown has largely kept people out of museums. In a luminous brief essay, Gabriele Finaldi, Director of the National Gallery, reflects on the experience of walking round eerily empty rooms listening to the paintings. He writes:

‘A classic early definition of painting is given by Plutarch: ‘Paining is silent poetry; and poetry is painting that speaks.’ He was quoting Simonides of Ceos, a Greek musician and lyric poet of the sixth century before Christ, who wrote verses rich in human empathy. Paintings may make no sound but they have a voice that is able to communicate emotion and meaning across time and space. That is one reason why painting is so important.’