The Gains and Losses of Translation

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


This paper argues that translation is an essential underpinning of art history. In the English-speaking world, art history has evolved through translation from a succession of dominant source languages: Greek, Latin and Italian in the Renaissance, French in the Enlightenment, and German in the nineteenth century. Since the mid-twentieth century, English has emerged as the dominant source language in the discipline. Throughout history, translators have faced the same choices: faithfulness versus beauty, literal versus literary, word-for-word or sense-for-sense. Literal or literary, the translation is never the same as the original. It is always a creative reworking in which the translator has the power to add a new voice, to create, invent, and interpret. There are both gains and losses as the translator creates a new network of intertextual relations, derived from the receptor culture. The potential for formal and semantic loss is enormous, but the gains are equally striking, and the internationalization of knowledge is unthinkable without translation. None of this is politically neutral, however, and the act of translation confirms and reinforces hegemonic power relations.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages7
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 16 Jul 2016


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