[It.: ‘poem’, ‘poetry’; ‘dream, fancy’]
Term used in the art theory of the Italian Renaissance for a work inspired by the myths, fables and legends related by ancient authors such as Ovid, Virgil and Apuleius. It may be contrasted with an Istoria, a picture based on a historical subject. Theorists discussed such issues as the degree of fantasy permitted, and the laxness of moral content. Poesia was used by Titian to describe a group of mythological pictures (Madrid, Prado) painted for Philip II of Spain (reg 1556–98), and the historical importance of these particular works has ensured the survival of the term.
Leon Battista Alberti (De pictura, written 1435) made no distinction between poetical and historical subjects; for him the word istoria served for both. He believed that the greatest praise the painter could earn was in composing unified, complex subjects, literary as well as religious. In 1518, when Titian began to paint a series of mythologies (Madrid, Prado; London, N.G.) to decorate the ...