Table of Contents
|Author:||Hazlitt, William H., 1778-1830|
|Author Alternative Name:||William H. Hazlitt|
|Author Nationality:||United Kingdom|
|Author Birth Place:||England; Europe; Maidstone, England; United Kingdom|
|Editor/Translator:||Wu, Duncan, 1961-|
|Editor/Translator Alternative Name:||Duncan Wu|
|First Published Date:||1827|
On the Elgin Marbles: The Ilissus
[p. 75] | [Page Image]
Who to the life an exact piece would make,
Must not from others' work a copy take;
No, not from Rubens or Vandyke:
Much less content himself to make it like
Th' ideas and the images which lie
In his own Fancy or his Memory.
No: he before his sight must place
The natural and living face;
The real object must command
Each judgement of his eye and motion of his hand.[note]
The true lesson to be learnt by our students and professors from the Elgin Marbles, is the one which the ingenious and honest Cowley has expressed in the above spirited lines. The great secret is to recur at every step to nature -
Her manner, and with rapture taste her style.[note]
It is evident to any one who views these admirable remains of Antiquity (nay, it is acknowledged by our artists themselves, in despite of all the melancholy sophistry which they have been taught or have been teaching others for half a century) that the chief excellence of the figures depends on their having been copied from nature, and not from imagination. The communication of art with nature is here everywhere immediate, entire, palpable. The artist gives himself no fastidious airs of superiority over what he sees. He has not arrived at that stage of his progress described at much length in Sir Joshua Reynolds's Discourses, in which having served out his apprenticeship to nature, he can set up for himself in opposition to her. According to the old Greek form of drawing up the indentures in this case, we apprehend they were to last for life. At least, we can compare these Marbles to nothing but human figures petrified: they have every appearance of absolute facsimiles or casts taken from nature. The details are those of nature; the masses are those of nature; the forms are from nature; the action is from nature; the whole is
[p. 76] | [Page Image]from nature. Let any one, for instance, look at the leg of the Ilissus, or River-God, which is bent under him-let him observe the swell and undulation of the calf, the inter-texture of the muscles, the distinction and union of all the parts, and the effect of action every where impressed on the external form, as if the very marble were a flexible substance, and contained the various springs of life and motion within itself, and he will own that art and nature are here the same thing. It is the same in the back of the Theseus, in the thighs and knees, and in all that remains unimpaired of these two marble figures. It is not the same in the cast (which was shown at Lord Elgin's) of the famous Torso by Michael Angelo, the style of which that artist appears to have imitated too well. There every muscle has obviously the greatest prominence and force given to it of which it is capable in itself, not of which it is capable in connexion with others. This fragment is an accumulation of mighty parts, without that play and re-action of each part upon the rest, without that 'alternate action and repose'[note] which Sir Thomas Lawrence speaks of as characteristic of the Theseus and the Ilissus, and which are as inseparable from nature as waves from the sea. The learned, however, here make a distinction, and suppose that the truth of nature is, in the Elgin Marbles, combined with ideal forms. If by ideal forms they mean fine natural forms, we have nothing to object; but if they mean that the sculptors of the Theseus and Ilissus got the forms out of their own heads, and then tacked the truth of nature to them, we can only say 'Let them look again, let them look again.' We consider the Elgin Marbles as a demonstration of the impossibility of separating art from nature, without a proportionable loss at every remove. The utter absence of all setness of appearance proves that they were done as studies from actual models. The separate parts of the human body may be given from scientific knowledge:- their modifications or inflections can only be learnt by seeing them in action; and the truth of nature is incompatible with ideal form, if the latter is meant to exclude actually existing form. The mutual action of the parts cannot be determined where the object itself is not seen. That the forms of these statues are not common nature, such as we see it every day, we readily allow: that they were not select Greek nature, we see no convincing reason to suppose. That truth of nature, and ideal or fine form, are not always or generally united, we know; but how they can ever be united in art, without being first united in nature, is to us a mystery, and one that we as little believe as understand!
Suppose, for illustration's sake, that these Marbles were originally done as casts from actual nature, and then let us inquire whether they would not have possessed all the same qualities that they now display, granting only, that the forms were in the first instance selected with the eye of taste, and disposed with a knowledge of the art and of the subject.
First, the larger masses and proportions of entire limbs and divisions of the body would have been found in the casts, for they would have been found in nature. The back, and trunk, and arms, and legs, and thighs, would have been there, for these are
[p. 77] | [Page Image]parts of the natural man, or actual living body, and not inventions of the artist, or ideal creations borrowed from the skies. There would have been the same sweep in the back of Theseus; the same swell in the muscles of the arm on which he leans; the same division of the leg into calf and small, i.e. the same general results, or aggregation of parts, in the principal and most striking divisions of the body. The upper part of the arm would have been thicker than the lower, the thighs larger than the legs, the body larger than the thighs, in a cast taken from common nature; and in casts taken from the finest nature they would have been so in the same porportion, form, and manner, as in the statue of the Theseus, if the Theseus answers to the idea of the finest nature; for the idea and the reality must be the same; only, we contend that the idea is taken from the reality, instead of existing by itself, or being the creature of fancy. That is, there would be the same grandeur of proportions and parts in a cast taken from finely developed nature, such as the Greek sculptors had constantly before them, naked and in action, that we find in the limbs and masses of bone, flesh, and muscle, in these much and justly admired remains.
Again, and incontestibly, there would have been, besides the grandeur of form, all the minutiæ and individual details in the cast that subsist in nature, and that find no place in the theory of ideal art - in the omission of which, indeed, its very grandeur is made to consist. The Elgin Marbles give a flat contradiction to this gratuitous separation of grandeur of design and exactness of detail, as incompatible in works of art, and we conceive that, with their whole ponderous weight to crush it, it will be difficult to set this theory on its legs again. In these majestic colossal figures, nothing is omitted, nothing is made out by negation. The veins, the wrinkles in the skin, the indications of the muscles under the skin (which appear as plainly to the anatomist, as the expert angler knows from an undulation on the surface of the water what fish is playing with his bait beneath it), the finger-joints, the nails, every the smallest part cognizable to the naked eye, is given here with the same ease and exactness, with the same prominence, and the same subordination, that it would be in a cast from nature, i.e. in nature itself. Therefore, so far these things, viz. nature, a cast from it, and the Elgin Marbles, are the same; and all three are opposed to the fashionable and fastidious theory of the ideal. Look at Sir Joshua's picture of Puck, one of his finest- coloured, and most spirited performances. The figures are mere spuds, and we doubt whether any one can make out whether there are four toes or five allowed to each of the feet. If there had been a young Silenus among the Elgin Marbles, we don't know that in some particulars it would have surpassed Sir Joshua's masterly sketch, but we are sure that the extremities, the nails, &c. would have been studies of natural history. The life, the spirit, the character of the grotesque and imaginary little being would not have made an abortion of any part of his natural growth or form.
Farther, in a cast from nature there would be, as a matter of course, the same play and flexibility of limb and muscle, or, as Sir Thomas Lawrence: expresses it, the same 'alternate action and repose,' that we find so admirably displayed in the Elgin
[p. 78] | [Page Image]Marbles. It seems here as if stone could move: where one muscle is strained, another is relaxed, where one part is raised, another sinks in, just as in the ocean, where the waves are lifted up in one place, they sink proportionally low in the next: and all this modulation and affection of the different parts of the form by others arises from an attentive and co-instantaneous observation of the parts of a flexible body, where the muscles and bones act upon, and communicate with, one another like the ropes and pullies in a machine, and where the action or position given to a particular limb or membrane naturally extends to the whole body. This harmony, this combination of motion, this unity of spirit diffused through the wondrous mass and every part of it, is the glory of the Elgin Marbles:- put a well-formed human body in the same position, and it will display the same character throughout; make a cast from it while in that position and action, and we shall still see the same bold, free, and comprehensive truth of design. There is no alliteration or antithesis in the style of the Elgin Marbles, no setness, squareness, affectation, or formality of appearance. The different muscles do not present a succession of tumuli, each heaving with big throes to rival the other. If one is raised, the other falls quietly into its place. Neither do the different parts of the body answer to one another, like shoulder-knots on a lacquey's coat, or the different ornaments of a building. The sculptor does not proceed on architectural principles. His work has the freedom, the variety, and stamp of nature. The form of corresponding parts is indeed the same, but it is subject to inflection from different circumstances. There is no primness or petit maître-ship, as in some of the later antiques, where the artist seemed to think that flesh was glass or some other brittle substance; and that if it were put out of its exact shape it would break in pieces. Here, on the contrary, if the foot of one leg is bent under the body, the leg itself undergoes an entire alteration. If one side of the body is raised above the other, the original, or abstract, or ideal form of the two sides is not preserved strict and inviolable, but varies as it necessarily must do in conformity to the law of gravitation, to which all bodies are subject. In this respect, a cast from nature would be the same. Mr Chantrey once made a cast from Wilson the Black.[note] He put him into an attitude at first, and made the cast, but not liking the effect when done, got him to sit again and made use of the plaister of Paris once more. He was satisfied with the result; but Wilson, who was tired with going through the operation, as soon as it was over, went and leaned upon a block of marble with his hands covering his face. The sagacious sculptor was so struck with the superiority of this natural attitude over those into which he had been arbitrarily put, that he begged him (if possible) to continue in it for another quarter of an hour, and another impression was taken off. All three casts remain, and the last is a proof of the superiority of nature over art. The effect of lassitude is visible in every part of the frame, and the strong feeling of this affection, impressed on every limb and muscle, and venting itself naturally in an involuntary attitude which gave immediate relief, is that which strikes every one who has seen this fine study from the life. The casts from this man's figure have been
[p. 79] | [Page Image]much admired:- it is from no superiority of form: it is merely that, being taken from nature, they bear her 'image and superscription.'[note]
As to expression, the Elgin Marbles (at least the Ilissus and Theseus) afford no examples, the heads being gone.
Lastly, as to the ideal form, we contend it is nothing but a selection of fine nature, such as it was seen by the ancient Greek sculptors; and we say that a sufficient approximation to this form may be found in our own country, and still more in other countries, at this day, to warrant the clear conclusion, that under more favourable circumstances of climate, manners, &c. no vain imagination of the human mind could come up to entire natural forms; and that actual casts from Greek models would rival the common Greek statues, or surpass them in the same proportion and manner as the Elgin Marbles do. Or if this conclusion should be doubted, we are ready at any time to produce at least one cast from living nature, which if it does not furnish practical proof of all that we have here advanced, we are willing to forfeit the last thing we can afford to part with - a theory!
If then the Elgin Marbles are to be considered as authority in subjects of art, we conceive the following principles, which have not hitherto been generally received or acted upon in Great Britain, will be found to result from them:-
|1. That art is (first and last) the imitation of nature.|
|2. That the highest art is the imitation of the finest nature, that is to say, of that which conveys the strongest sense of pleasure or power, of the sublime or beautiful.|
|3. That the ideal is only the selecting a particular form which expresses most completely the idea of a given character or quality, as of beauty, strength, activity, voluptuousness, &c. and which preserves that character with the greatest consistency throughout.|
|4. That the historical is nature in action. With regard to the face, it is expression.|
|5. That grandeur consists in connecting a number of parts into a whole, and not in leaving out the parts.|
|6. That as grandeur is the principle of connexion between different parts, beauty is the principle of affinity between different forms, or their gradual conversion into each other. The one harmonizes, the other aggrandizes our impressions of things.|
|7. That grace is the beautiful or harmonious in what relates to position or motion.|
|8. That grandeur of motion is unity of motion.|
|9. That strength is the giving the extremes, softness, the uniting them.|
|10. That truth is to a certain degree beauty and grandeur, since all things are connected, and all things modify one another in nature. Simplicity is also grand and beautiful for the same reason. Elegance is ease and lightness, with precision.|
All this we have, we believe, said before: we shall proceed to such proofs or explanations as we are able to give of it in another article.
[p. 80] | [Page Image]
1. The first was, that art is (first and last) the imitation of nature.
By nature, we mean actually existing nature, or some one object to be found in rerum naturâ, not an idea of nature existing solely in the mind, got from an infinite number of different objects, but which was never yet embodied in an individual instance. Sir Joshua Reynolds may be ranked at the head of those who have maintained the supposition that nature (or the universe of things) was indeed the ground-work or foundation on which art rested; but that the superstructure rose above it, that it towered by degrees above the world of realities, and was suspended in the regions of thought alone - that a middle form, a more refined idea, borrowed from the observation of a number of particulars, but unlike any of them, was the standard of truth and beauty, and the glittering phantom that hovered round the head of the genuine artist:
So from the ground Springs lighter the green stalk, from thence the leaves More airy, last the bright consummate flower![note]
We have no notion of this vague, equivocal theory of art, and contend, on the other hand, that each image in art should have a tally or corresponding prototype in some object in nature. Otherwise, we do not see the use of art at all: it is a mere superfluity, an incumbrance to the mind, a piece of 'laborious foolery,'[note] - for the word, the mere name of any object or class of objects will convey the general idea, more free from particular details or defects than any the most neutral and indefinite representation that can be produced by forms and colours. The word Man, for instance, conveys a more filmy, impalpable, abstracted, and (according to this hypothesis) sublime idea of the species, than Michael Angelo's Adam, or any real image can possibly do. If this then is the true object of art, the language of painting, sculpture, &c. becomes quite supererogatory. Sir Joshua and the rest contend, that nature (properly speaking) does not express any single individual, nor the whole mass of things as they exist, but a general principle, a something common to all these, retaining the perfections, that is, all in which they are alike, and abstracting the defects, namely, all in which they differ: so that, out of actual nature, we compound an artificial nature, never answering to the former in any one part of its mock- existence, and which last is the true object of imitation to the aspiring artist. Let us adopt this principle of abstraction as the rule of perfection, and see what havoc it will make in all our notions and feelings in such matters. If the perfect is the
[p. 81] | [Page Image]intermediate, why not confound all objects, all forms, all colours at once? Instead of painting a landscape with blue sky, or white clouds, or the green earth, or grey rocks and towers; what should we say, if the artist (so named) were to treat all these 'fair varieties'[note] as so many imperfections and mistakes in the creation, and mass them all together, by mixing up the colours on his palette in the same dull leaden tone, and call this the true principle of epic landscape-painting? Would not the thing be abominable, an abortion, and worse than the worst Dutch picture? Variety then is one principle, one beauty in external nature, and not an everlasting source of pettiness and deformity, which must be got rid of at all events, before taste can set its seal upon the work, or fancy own it. But it may be said, it is different in things of the same species, and particularly in man, who is cast in a regular mould, which mould is one. What then, are we, on this pretext, to confound the difference of sex in a sort of hermaphrodite softness, as Mr Westall, Angelica Kauffman, and others, have done in their effeminate performances? Are we to leave out of the scale of legitimate art, the extremes of infancy and old age, as not middle terms in man's life? Are we to strike off from the list of available topics and sources of interest, the varieties of character, of passion, of strength, activity, &c? Is every thing to wear the same form, the same colour, the same unmeaning face? Are we only to repeat the same average idea of perfection, that is, our own want of observation and imagination, for ever, and to melt down the inequalities and excrescences of individual nature in the monotony of abstraction? Oh no! As well might we prefer the cloud to the rainbow; the dead corpse to the living moving body! So Sir Joshua debated upon Rubens's landscapes, and has a whole chapter to inquire whether accidents in nature, that is, rainbows, moonlight, sun-sets, clouds and storms, are the proper thing in the classical style of art.[note] Again, it is urged that this is not what is meant, viz. to exclude different classes or characters of things, but that there is in each class or character a middle point, which is the point of perfection. What middle point? Or how is it ascertained? What is the middle age of childhood? Or are all children to be alike, dark or fair? Some of Titian's children have black hair, and others yellow or auburn: who can tell which is the most beautiful? May not a St John be older than an infant Christ? Must not a Magdalen be different from a Madonna, a Diana from a Venus? Or may not a Venus have more or less gravity, a Diana more or less sweetness? What then becomes of the abstract idea in any of these cases? It varies as it does in nature; that is, there is indeed a general principle or character to be adhered to, but modified everlastingly by various other given or nameless circumstances. The highest art, like nature, is a living spring of unconstrained excellence, and does not produce a continued repetition of itself, like plaster-casts from the same figure. But once more it may be insisted, that in what relates to mere form or organic structure, there is necessarily a middle line or central point, any thing short of which is deficiency, and any thing beyond it excess, being the average form to which all the other forms included in the same species
[p. 82] | [Page Image]tend, and approximate more or less. Then this average form as it exists in nature should be taken as the model for art. What occasion to do it out of your own head, when you can bring it under the cognizance of your senses? Suppose a foot of a certain size and shape to be the standard of perfection, or if you will, the mean proportion between all other feet. How can you tell this so well as by seeing it? How can you copy it so well as by having it actually before you? But, you will say, there are particular minute defects in the best-shaped actual foot which ought not to be transferred to the imitation. Be it so. But are there not also particular minute beauties in the best, or even the worst shaped actual foot, which you will only discover by ocular inspection, which are reducible to no measurement or precepts, and which in finely developed nature outweigh the imperfections a thousand fold, the proper general form being contained there also, and these being only the distinctly articulated parts of it with their inflections which no artist can carry in his head alone? For instance, in the bronze monument of Henry VII and his wife, in Westminster Abbey, by the famous Torregiano, the fingers and finger nails of the woman in particular are made out as minutely, and, at the same time, as beautifully as it is possible to conceive; yet they have exactly the effect that a cast taken from a fine female hand would have, with every natural joint, muscle, and nerve, in complete preservation. Does this take from the beauty or magnificence of the whole? No: it aggrandizes it. What then does it take from? Nothing but the conceit of the artist that he can paint a hand out of his own head (that is, out of nothing, and by reducing it again as near as can be to nothing, to a mere vague image) and shall be better than any thing in nature. A hand, or foot, is not one thing, because it is one word or name; and the painter of mere abstractions had better lay down his pencil at once, and be contented to write the descriptions or titles under works of art. Lastly, it may be objected that a whole figure can never be found perfect or equal; that the most beautiful arm will not belong to the same figure as the most beautiful leg, and so on. How is this to be remedied? By taking the arm from one, and the leg from the other, and clapping them both on the same body? That will never do; for however admirable in themselves, they will hardly agree together. One will have a different character from the other; and they will form a sort of natural patchwork. Or, to avoid this, will you take neither from actual models, but derive them from the neutralizing medium of your own imagination. Worse and worse. Copy them from the same model, the best in all its parts you can get; so that if you have to alter, you may alter as little as possible, and retain nearly the whole substance of nature.[note] You may depend upon it that what is so retained, will alone be of any specific value. The rest may have a negative merit, but will be positively good for nothing. It will be to the vital truth and beauty of what is taken from the
[p. 83] | [Page Image]best nature, like the piecing of an antique statue. It fills a gap, but nothing more. It is, in fact, a mental blank.
2. This leads us to the second point laid down before, which was, that the highest art is the imitation of the finest nature, or in other words, of that which conveys the strongest sense of pleasure or power, of the sublime or beautiful.
The artist does not pretend to invent an absolutely new class of objects, without any foundation in nature. He does not spread his palette on the canvas, for the mere finery of the thing, and tell us that it makes a brighter show than the rainbow, or even than a bed of tulips. He does not draw airy forms, moving above the earth, 'gay creatures of the element, that play i' th' plighted clouds,'[note] and scorn the mere material existences, the concrete descendants of those that came out of Noah's Ark, and that walk, run, or creep upon it.[note] No, he does not paint only what he has seen in his mind's eye, but the common objects that both he and others daily meet - rocks, clouds, trees, men, women, beasts, fishes, birds, or what he calls such. He is then an imitator by profession. He gives the appearances of things that exist outwardly by themselves, and have a distinct and independent nature of their own. But these know their own nature best; and it is by consulting them that he can alone trace it truly, either in the immediate details, or characteristic essences. Nature is consistent, unaffected, powerful, subtle: art is forgetful, apish, feeble, coarse. Nature is the original, and therefore right: art is the copy, and can but tread lamely in the same steps. Nature penetrates into the parts, and moves the whole mass: it acts with diversity, and in necessary connexion; for real causes never forget to operate, and to contribute their portion. Where, therefore, these causes are called into play to the utmost extent that they ever go to, there we shall have a strength and a refinement, that art may imitate but cannot surpass. But it is said that art can surpass this most perfect image in nature by combining others with it. What! by joining to the most perfect in its kind something less perfect? Go to, - this argument will not pass. Suppose you have a goblet of the finest wine that ever was tasted: you will not mend it by pouring into it all sorts of samples of an inferior quality. So the best in nature is the stint and limit of what is best in art: for art can only borrow from nature still; and, moreover, must borrow entire objects, for bits only make patches. We defy any landscape-painter to invent out of his own head, and by jumbling together all the different forms of hills he ever saw, by adding a bit to one, and taking a bit from another, any thing equal to Arthur's seat, with the appendage of Salisbury Crags, that overlook Edinburgh.[note] Why so? Because there are no levers in the mind of man equal to those with which nature works at her utmost need. No imagination can toss and tumble about huge heaps of earth as the ocean in its fury can. A volcano is more potent to rend rocks asunder than the most splashing pencil. The convulsions of nature can make a precipice more frightfully, or heave the backs of mountains more proudly, or throw their sides into waving lines more gracefully than all the beau idéal of art. For there is in nature not only greater power and scope,
[p. 84] | [Page Image]but (so to speak) greater knowledge and unity of purpose. Art is comparatively weak and incongruous, being at once a miniature and caricature of nature. We grant that a tolerable sketch of Arthur's Seat, and the adjoining view, is better than Primrose Hill itself,[note] (dear Primrose Hill! ha! faithless pen, canst thou forget its winding slopes, and valleys green, to which all Scotland can bring no parallel?) but no pencil can transform or dandle Primrose Hill (our favourite Primrose Hill) into a thing of equal character and sublimity with Arthur's Seat. It gives us some pain to make this concession; but in doing it, we flatter ourselves that no Scotchman will have the liberality in any way to return us the compliment. We do not recollect a more striking illustration of the difference between art and nature in this respect, than Mr Martin's very singular, and, in some things, very meritorious pictures. But he strives to outdo nature. He wants to give more than she does, or than his subject requires or admits. He subdivides his groups into infinite littleness, and exaggerates his scenery into absolute immensity. His figures are like rows of shiny pins; his mountains are piled up one upon the back of the other, like the stories of houses. He has no notion of the moral principle in all art, that a part may be greater than the whole. He reckons that if one range of lofty square hills is good, another range above that with clouds between must be better. He thus wearies the imagination, instead of exciting it. We see no end of the journey, and turn back in disgust. We are tired of the effort, we are tired of the monotony of this sort of reduplication of the same object. We were satisfied before; but it seems the painter was not, and we naturally sympathise with him. This craving after quantity is a morbid affection. A landscape is not an architectural elevation. You may build a house as high as you can lift up stones with pulleys and levers, but you cannot raise mountains into the sky merely with the pencil. They lose probability and effect by striving at too much; and, with their ceaseless throes, oppress the imagination of the spectator, and bury the artist's fame under them. The only error of these pictures is, however, that art here puts on her seven-league boots, and thinks it possible to steal a march upon nature. Mr Martin might make Arthur's Seat sublime, if he chose to take one thing as it is; but he would be for squaring it according to the mould in his own imagination, and for clapping another Arthur's Seat on the top of it, to make the Calton Hill stare! Again, with respect to the human figure. This has an internal structure, muscles, bones, blood-vessels, &c. by means of which the external surface is operated upon according to certain laws. Does the artist, with all his generalizations, understand these, as well as nature does? Can he predict, with all his learning, that if a certain muscle is drawn up in a particular manner, it will present a particular appearance in a different part of the arm or leg, or bring out other muscles, which were before hid, with certain modifications? But in nature all this is brought about by necessary laws, and the effect is visible to those, and those only, who look for it in actual objects. This is the great and master-excellence of the ELGIN MARBLES, that they do not seem to be the outer surface of a hard and
[p. 85] | [Page Image]immovable block of marble, but to be actuated by an internal machinery, and composed of the same soft and flexible materials as the human body. The skin (or the outside) seems to be protruded or tightened by the natural action of a muscle beneath it. This result is miraculous in art: in nature it is easy and unavoidable. That is to say, art has to imitate or produce certain effects or appearances without the natural causes: but the human understanding can hardly be so true to those causes as the causes to themselves; and hence the necessity (in this sort of simulated creation) of recurring at every step to the actual objects and appearances of nature. Having shown so far how indispensable it is for art to identify itself with nature, in order to preserve the truth of imitation, without which it is destitute of value or meaning, it may be said to follow as a necessary consequence, that the only way in which art can rise to greater dignity or excellence is by finding out models of greater dignity and excellence in nature. Will any one, looking at the Theseus, for example, say that it could spring merely from the artist's brain, or that it could be done from a common, ill-made, or stunted body? The fact is, that its superiority consists in this, that it is a perfect combination of art and nature, or an identical, and as it were spontaneous copy of an individual picked out of a finer race of men than generally tread this ball of earth. Could it be made of a Dutchman's trunk-hose? No. Could it be made out of one of Sir Joshua's Discourses on the middle form? No. How then? Out of an eye, a head, and a hand, with sense, spirit, and energy to follow the finest nature, as it appeared exemplified in sweeping masses, and in subtle details, without pedantry, conceit, cowardice, or affectation! Some one was asking at Mr Haydon's one day, as a few persons were looking at the cast from this figure, why the original might not have been done as a cast from nature? Such a supposition would account at least for what seems otherwise unaccountable - the incredible labour and finishing bestowed on the back and other parts of this figure, placed at a prodigious height against the walls of a temple, where they could never be seen after they were once put up there. If they were done by means of a cast in the first instance, the thing appears intelligible, otherwise not. Our host stoutly resisted this imputation, which tended to deprive art of one of its greatest triumphs, and to make it as mechanical as a shaded profile. So far, so good. But the reason he gave was bad, viz. that the limbs could not remain in those actions long enough to be cast. Yet surely this would take a shorter time than if the model sat to the sculptor; and we all agreed that nothing but actual, continued, and intense observation of living nature could give the solidity, complexity, and refinement of imitation which we saw in the half- animated, almost moving figure before us.[note] Be this as it may, the principle here stated does not reduce art to the imitation of what is understood by common or low
[p. 86] | [Page Image]life. It rises to any point of beauty or sublimity you please, but it rises only as nature rises exalted with it too. To hear these critics talk, one would suppose there was nothing in the world really worth looking at. The Dutch pictures were the best that they could paint: they had no other landscapes or faces before them. Honi soit qui mal y pense. Yet who is not alarmed at a Venus by Rembrandt? The Greek statues were (cum grano salis) Grecian youths and nymphs; and the women in the streets of Rome (it has been remarked[note] )[note] look to this hour as if they had walked out of Raphael's pictures. Nature is always truth: at its best, it is beauty and sublimity as well; though Sir Joshua tells us in one of the papers in the IDLER that in itself, or with reference to individuals, it is a mere tissue of meanness and deformity.[note] Luckily, the Elgin Marbles say NO to that conclusion: for they are decidedly part and parcel thereof. What constitutes fine nature, we shall inquire under another head. But we would remark here, that it can hardly be the middle form, since this principle, however it might determine certain general proportions and outlines, could never be intelligible in the details of nature, or applicable to those of art. Who will say that the form of a finger nail is just midway between a thousand others that he has not remarked: we are only struck with it when it is more than ordinarily beautiful, from symmetry, an oblong shape, &c. The staunch partisans of this theory, however, get over the difficulty here spoken of, in practice, by omitting the details altogether, and making their works sketches, or rather what the French call ebauches, and the English daubs.
3. The IDEAL is only the selecting a particular form which expresses most completely the idea of a given character or quality, as of beauty, strength, activity, voluptuousness, &c. and which preserves that character with the greatest consistency throughout.
Instead of its being true in general that the ideal is the middle point, it is to be found in the extremes; or, it is carrying any idea as far as it will go. Thus, for instance, a Silenus is as much an ideal thing as an Apollo, as to the principle on which it is done, viz. giving to every feature, and to the whole form, the utmost degree of grossness and sensuality that can be imagined, with this exception (which has nothing to do with the understanding of the question), that the ideal means by custom this extreme on the side of the good and beautiful. With this reserve, the ideal means always the something more of any thing which may be anticipated by the fancy, and which must be found in nature (by looking long enough for it) to be expressed as it ought. Suppose a good heavy Dutch face (we speak by the proverb) - this, you will say, is gross; but it is not gross enough. You have an idea of something grosser, that is, you have seen something grosser and must seek for it again. When you meet with it, and have stamped it on the canvas, or carved it out of the block, this is the true ideal, namely, that which answers to and satisfies a preconceived idea; not that which is made out of an abstract idea, and answers to nothing. In the Silenus, also, according
[p. 87] | [Page Image]to the notion we have of the properties and character of that figure, there must be vivacity, slyness, wantonness, &c. Not only the image in the mind, but a real face may express all these combined together; another may express them more, and another most, which last is the ideal; and when the image in nature coalesces with, and gives a body, force, and reality to the idea in the mind, then it is that we see the true perfection of art. The forehead should be 'villainous low;'[note] the eye-brows bent in; the eyes small and gloating; the nose pugged, and pointed at the end, with distended nostrils; the mouth large and shut; the cheeks swollen; the neck thick, &c. There is, in all this process, nothing of softening down, of compromising qualities, of finding out a mean proportion between different forms and characters; the sole object is to identify each as much as possible. The only fear is 'to o'erstep the modesty of nature,'[note] and run into caricature. This must be avoided; but the artist is only to stop short of this. He must not outrage probability. We must have seen a class of such faces, or something so nearly approaching, as to prevent the imagination from revolting against them. The forehead must be low, but not so low as to lose the character of humanity in the brute. It would thus lose all its force and meaning. For that which is extreme and ideal in one species, is nothing, if, by being pushed too far, it is merged in another. Above all, there should be keeping in the whole and every part. In the Pan, the horns and goat's feet, perhaps, warrant the approach to a more animal expression than would otherwise be allowable in the human features; but yet this tendency to excess must be restrained within certain limits. If Pan is made into a beast, he will cease to be a God! Let Momus distend his jaws with laughter, as far as laughter can stretch them, but no farther; or the expression will be that of pain and not of pleasure. Besides, the overcharging the expression or action of any one feature will suspend the action of others. The whole face will no longer laugh. But this universal suffusion of broad mirth and humour over the countenance is very different from a placid smile, midway between grief and joy. Yet a classical Momus, by modern theories of the ideal, ought to be such a nonentity in expression. The ancients knew better. They pushed art in such subjects to the verge of 'all we hate,'[note] while they felt the point beyond which it could not be urged with propriety, i.e. with truth, consistency, and consequent effect. - There is no difference, in philosophical reasoning, between the mode of art here insisted on, and the ideal regularity of such figures as the Apollo, the Hercules, the Mercury, the Venus, &c. All these are, as it were, personifications, essences, abstractions of certain qualities or virtues in human nature, not of human nature in general, which would make nonsense. Instead of being abstractions of all sorts of qualities jumbled together in a neutral character, they are in the opposite sense abstractions of some single quality or customary combination of qualities, leaving out all others as much as possible, and imbuing every part with that one predominant character to the utmost. The Apollo is a representation of graceful dignity and mental power; the Hercules of bodily strength; the Mercury of swiftness; the Venus of female
[p. 88] | [Page Image]loveliness, and so on. In these, in the Apollo, is surely implied and found more grace than usual; in the Hercules more strength than usual; in the Mercury more lightness than usual; in the Venus more softness than usual. Is it not so? What then becomes of the pretended middle form? One would think it would be sufficient to prove this, to ask, 'Do not these statues differ from one another? And is this difference a defect?' It would be ridiculous to call them by different names, if they were not supposed to represent different and peculiar characters: sculptors should, in that case, never carve any thing but the statue of a man, the statue of a woman, &c. and this would be the name of perfection. This theory of art is not at any rate justified by the history of art. An extraordinary quantity of bone and muscle is as proper to Hercules as his club, and it would be strange if the Goddess of Love had not a more delicately rounded form, and a more languishing look withal, than the Goddess of Hunting. That a form combining and blending the properties of both the downy softness of the one, with the elastic buoyancy of the other, would be more perfect than either, we no more see than that grey is the most perfect of colours. At any rate, this is the march neither of nature nor of art. It is not denied that these antique sculptures are models of the ideal; nay, it is on them that this theory boasts of being founded. Yet they give a flat contradiction to its insipid mediocrity. Perhaps some of them have a slight bias to the false ideal, to the smooth and uniform, or the negation of nature: any error on this side is, however, happily set right by the ELGIN MARBLES, which are the paragons of sculpture and the mould of form. - As the ideal then requires a difference of character in each figure as a whole, so it expects the same character (or a corresponding one) to be stamped on each part of every figure. As the legs of a Diana should be more muscular and adapted for running, than those of a Venus or a Minerva, so the skin of her face ought to be more tense, bent on her prey, and hardened by being exposed to the winds of heaven. The respective characters of lightness, softness, strength, &c. should pervade each part of the surface of each figure, but still varying according to the texture and functions of the individual part. This can only be learned or practised from an attentive observation of nature in those forms in which any given character or excellence is most strikingly displayed, and which has been selected for imitation and study on that account. - Suppose a dimple in the chin to be a mark of voluptuousness; then the Venus should have a dimple in the chin; and she has one. But this will imply certain correspondent indications in other parts of the features, about the corners of the mouth, a gentle undulation and sinking of the cheek, as if it had just been pinched, and so on: yet so as to be consistent with the other qualities of roundness, smoothness, &c. which belong to the idea of the character. Who will get all this and embody it out of the idea of a middle form, I cannot say: it may be, and has been, got out of the idea of a number of distinct enchanting graces in the mind, and from some heavenly object unfolded to the sight!
4. That the historical is nature in action. With regard to the face, it is expression.
[p. 89] | [Page Image]
Hogarth's pictures are true history. Every feature, limb, figure, group, is instinct with life and motion. He does not take a subject and place it in a position, like a lay figure, in which it stirs neither limb nor joint. The scene moves before you: the face is like a frame-work of flexible machinery. If the mouth is distorted with laughter, the eyes swim in laughter. If the forehead is knit together, the cheeks are puckered up. If a fellow squints most horribly, the rest of his face is awry. The muscles pull different ways, or the same way, at the same time, on the surface of the picture, as they do in the human body. What you see is the reverse of still life. There is a continual and complete action and re-action of one variable part upon another, as there is in the ELGIN MARBLES. If you pull the string of a bow, the bow itself is bent. So it is in the strings and wires that move the human frame. The action of any one part, the contraction or relaxation of any one muscle, extends more or less perceptibly to every other:
Thrills in each nerve, and lives along the line.[note]
Thus the celebrated Iö of Correggio is imbued, steeped in a manner in the same voluptuous feeling all over - the same passion languishes in her whole frame, and communicates the infection to the feet, the back, and the reclined position of the head. This is history, not carpenter's work. Some painters fancy that they paint history, if they get the measurement from the foot to the knee, and put four bones where there are four bones. This is not our idea of it; but we think it is to show how one part of the body sways another in action and in passion. The last relates chiefly to the expression of the face, though not altogether. Passion may be shown in a clenched fist as well as in clenched teeth. The face, however, is the throne of expression. Character implies the feeling, which is fixed and permanent; expression that which is occasional and momentary, at least, technically speaking. Portrait treats of objects as they are; history of the events and changes in which they are liable. And so far history has a double superiority; or a double difficulty to overcome, viz. in the rapid glance over a number of parts subject to the simultaneous action of the same law, and in the scope of feeling required to sympathise with the critical and powerful movements of passion. It requires greater capacity of muscular motion to follow the progress of a carriage in violent motion, than to lean upon it standing still. If, to describe passion, it were merely necessary to observe its outward effects, these, perhaps, in the prominent points, become more visible and more tangible as the passion is more intense. But it is not only necessary to see the effects, but to discern the cause, in order to make the one true to the other. No painter gives more of intellectual or impassioned appearances than he understands or feels. It is an axiom in painting, that sympathy is indispensable to truth of expression. Without it, you get only caricatures, which are not the thing. But to sympathise with passion, a greater fund of sensibility is demanded in
[p. 90] | [Page Image]proportion to the strength or tenderness of the passion. And as he feels most of this whose face expresses most passion, so he also feels most by sympathy whose hand can describe most passion. This amounts nearly, we take it, to a demonstration of an old and very disputed point. The same reasoning might be applied to poetry, but this is not the place. - Again, it is easier to paint a portrait than an historical face, because the head sits for the first, but the expression will hardly sit for the last. Perhaps those passions are the best subjects for painting, the expression of which may be retained for some time, so as to be better caught, which throw out a sort of lambent fire, and leave a reflected glory behind them, as we see in Madonnas, Christ's Heads, and what is understood by sacred subjects in general. The violences of human passion are too soon over to be copied by the hand, and the mere conception of the internal workings is not here sufficient, as it is in poetry. A portrait is to history what still-life is to portraiture: that is, the whole remains the same while you are doing it, or while you are occupied about each part, the rest wait for you. Yet, what a difference is there between taking an original portrait, and making a copy of one! This shows that the face in its most ordinary state is continually varying and in action. So much of history is there in portrait! - No one should pronounce definitively on the superiority of history over portrait, without recollecting Titian's heads. The finest of them are very nearly (say quite) equal to the finest of Raphael's. They have almost the look of still-life, yet each part is decidedly influenced by the rest. Every thing is relative in them. You cannot put any other eye, nose, lip, in the same face. As in one part, so is the rest. You cannot fix on any particular beauty; the charm is in the whole. They have least action, and the most expression of any portraits. They are doing nothing, and yet all other business seems insipid in comparison of their thoughts. They are silent, retired, and do not court observation; yet you cannot keep your eyes from them. Some one said, that you would be as cautious of your behaviour in a room where a picture of Titian's was hung, as if there was somebody by - so entirely do they look you through. They are the least tiresome furniture-company in the world!
5. Grandeur consists in connecting a number of parts into a whole, and not in leaving out the parts.
Sir Joshua lays it down that the great style in art consists in the omission of details. A greater error never man committed. The great style consists in preserving the masses and general proportions; not in omitting the details. Thus, suppose, for illustration's sake, the general form of an eye-brow to be commanding and grand. It is of a certain size, and arched in a particular curve. Now, surely, this general form or outline will be equally preserved, whether the painter daubs it in, in a bold, rough way, as Reynolds or perhaps Rembrandt would, or produces the effect by a number of hair-lines arranged in the same form as Titian sometimes did; and in his best pictures. It will not be denied (for it cannot) that the characteristic form of the eye-brow would be the same, or that the effect of the picture at a small distance
[p. 91] | [Page Image]would be nearly the same in either case; only in the latter, it would be rather more perfect, as being more like nature. Suppose a strong light to fall on one side of a face, and a deep shadow to involve the whole of the other. This would produce two distinct and large masses in the picture; which answers to the conditions of what is called the grand style of composition. Well, would it destroy these masses to give the smallest veins or variation of colour or surface in the light side, or to shade the other with the most delicate and elaborate chiaro-scuro? It is evident not; from common sense, from the practice of the best masters, and, lastly, from the example of nature, which contains both the larger masses, the strongest contrasts, and the highest finishing, within itself. The integrity of the whole, then, is not impaired by the indefinite subdivision and smallness of the parts. The grandeur of the ultimate effects depends entirely on the arrangement of these in a certain form or under certain masses. The Ilissus or River-god (of which we have given a print in a former number) is floating in his proper element, and is, in appearance, as firm as a rock, as pliable as a wave of the sea. The artist's breath might be said to mould and play upon the undulating surface. The whole is expanded into noble proportions, and heaves with general effect. What then? Are the parts unfinished; or are they not there? No; they are there with the nicest exactness, but in due subordination; that is, they are there as they are found in fine nature; and float upon the general form, like straw or weeds upon the tide of ocean. Once more: in Titian's portraits we perceive a certain character stamped upon the different features. In the Hippolito de Medici the eye-brows are angular, the nose is peaked, the mouth has sharp corners, the face is (so to speak) a pointed oval. The drawing in each of these is as careful and distinct as can be. But the unity of intention in nature, and in the artist, does not the less tend to produce a general grandeur and impressiveness of effect; which at first sight it is not easy to account for. To combine a number of particulars to one end is not to omit them altogether; and is the best way of producing the grand style, because it does this without either affectation of slovenliness.
6. The sixth rule we proposed to lay down was, that as grandeur is the principle of connexion between different parts, beauty is the principle of affinity between different forms, or their gradual conversion into each other. The one harmonizes, the other aggrandizes, our impressions of things.
There is a harmony of colours and a harmony of sounds, unquestionably: why then there should be all this squeamishness about admitting an original harmony of forms as the principle of beauty and source of pleasure there we cannot understand. It is true, that there is in organized bodies a certain standard of form to which they approximate more or less, and from which they cannot very widely deviate without shocking the sense of custom, or our settled expectations of what they ought to be. And hence it has been pretended, that there is in all such cases a middle central form, obtained by leaving out the peculiarities of all the others, which alone is the pure standard of truth and beauty. A conformity to custom is, we grant, one condition
[p. 92] | [Page Image]of beauty or source of satisfaction to the eye, because an abrupt transition shocks; but there is a conformity (or correspondence) of colours, sounds, lines, among themselves, which is soft and pleasing for the same reason. The average or customary form merely determines what is natural. A thing cannot please, unless it is to be found in nature; but that which is natural is most pleasing, according as it has other properties which in themselves please. Thus the colour of a cheek must be the natural complexion of a human face; - it would not do to make it the colour of a flower or a precious stone; - but among complexions ordinarily to be found in nature, that is most beautiful which would be thought so abstractedly, or in itself. Yellow hair is not the most common, nor is it a mean proportion between the different colours of women's hair. Yet, who will say that it is not the most beautiful? Blue or green hair would be a defect and an anomaly, not because it is not the medium of nature, but because it is not in nature at all. To say that there is no difference in the sense of form except from custom, is like saying that there is no difference in the sensation of smooth or rough. Judging by analogy, a gradation or symmetry of form must affect the mind in the same manner as a gradation of recurrence at given intervals of tones or sounds; and if it does so in fact, we need not inquire further for the principle. Sir Joshua, (who is the arch-heretic on this subject) makes grandeur or sublimity consist in the middle form, or abstraction of all peculiarities; which is evidently false, for grandeur and sublimity arise from extraordinary strength, magnitude, &c. or in a word, from an excess of power, so as to startle and overawe the mind. But as sublimity is an excess of power, beauty is, we conceive, the blending and harmonizing different powers of qualities together, so as to produce a soft and pleasurable sensation. That it is not the middle form of the species seems proved in various ways. First, because one species is more beautiful than another, according to common sense. A rose is the queen of flowers, in poetry at least; but in this philosophy any other flower is as good. A swan is more beautiful than a goose; a stag, than a goat. Yet if custom were the test of beauty, either we should give no preference, or our preference would be reversed. Again, let us go back to the human face and figure. A straight nose is allowed to be handsome, that is, one that presents nearly a continuation of the line of the forehead, and the sides of which are nearly parallel. Now this cannot be the mean proportion of the form of noses. For, first, most noses are broader at the bottom than at the top, inclining to the negro head, but none are broader at top than at the bottom, to produce the Greek form as a balance between both. Almost all noses sink in immediately under the forehead bone, none ever project there; so that the nearly straight line continued from the forehead cannot be a mean proportion struck between the two extremes of convex and concave form in this feature of the face. There must, therefore, be some other principle of symmetry, continuity, &c. to account for the variation from the prescribed rule. Once more (not to multiply instances tediously), a double calf is undoubtedly the perfection of beauty in the
[p. 93] | [Page Image]form of the leg. But this is a rare thing. Nor is it the medium between two common extremes. For the muscles seldom swell enough to produce this excrescence, if it may be so called, and never run to an excess there, so as, by diminishing the quantity, to subside into proportion and beauty. But this second or lower calf is a connecting link between the upper calf and the small of the leg, and is just like a second chord or half-note in music. "We conceive that any one who does not perceive the beauty of the Venus de Medicis, for instance, in this respect, has not the proper perception of form in his mind. As this is the most disputable, or at least the most disputed part of our theory, we may, perhaps, have to recur to it again, and shall leave an opening for that purpose.
7. That grace is the beautiful or harmonious in what relates to position or motion.
There needs not much be said on this point; as we apprehend it will be granted, that whatever beauty is as to the form, grace is the same thing in relation to the use that is made of it. Grace, in writing, relates to the transitions that are made from one subject to another, or to the movement that is given to a passage. If one thing leads to another, or an idea or illustration is brought in without effect, or without making a boggle in the mind, we call this a graceful style. Transitions must in general be gradual and pieced together. But sometimes the most violent are the most graceful, when the mind is fairly tired out and exhausted with a subject, and is glad to leap to another as a repose and relief from the first. Of these there are frequent instances in Mr Burke's writings, which have something Pindaric in them. That which is not beautiful in itself, or in the mere form, may be made so by position or motion. A figure by no means elegant may be put in an elegant position. Mr Kean's figure is not good; yet we have seen him throw himself into attitudes of infinite spirit, dignity, and grace. John Kemble's figure, on the contrary, is fine in itself; and he has only to show himself to be admired. The direction in which any thing is moved has evidently nothing to do with the shape of the thing moved. The one may be a circle and the other a square. Little and deformed people seem to be well aware of this distinction, who, in spite of their uncompromising appearance, usually assume the most imposing attitudes, and give themselves the most extraordinary airs imaginable.
8. Grandeur of motion is unity of motion.
This principle hardly needs illustration. Awkwardness is contradictory or disjointed motion.
9. Strength in art is giving the extremes, softness the uniting them.
There is no incompatibility between strength and softness, as is sometimes supposed by frivolous people. Weakness is not refinement. A shadow may be twice as deep in a finely coloured picture as in another, and yet almost imperceptible, from the gradations that lead to it, and blend it with the light. Correggio had prodigious strength, and greater softness. Nature is strong and soft, beyond the reach of art to imitate. Softness then does not imply the absence of considerable
[p. 94] | [Page Image]extremes, but it is the interposing a third thing between them, to break the force of the contrast. Guido is more soft than strong. Rembrandt is more strong than soft.
10. And lastly. That truth is, to a certain degree, beauty and grandeur, since all things are connected, and all things modify one another in nature. Simplicity is also grand and beautiful for the same reason. Elegance is ease and lightness, with precision.
This last head appears to contain a number of gratis dicta, got together for the sake of completing a decade of propositions. They have, however, some show of truth, and we should add little clearness to them by any reasoning upon the matter. So we will conclude here for the present.