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enable any one to pursue the chain of this enquiry through all its parts: which I hope will be made to appear in the following work.
It will then naturally be asked, why the best painters within these two centuries, who by their works appear to have excelled in grace and beauty, should have been so silent in an affair of such seeming importance to the imitative arts and their own honour ? to which I answer, that it is probable, they arrived at that excellence in P. v their works, by the mere dint of imitating with great exactness the beauties of nature, and by often copying and retaining strong ideas of graceful antique statues; which might sufficiently serve their purposes as painters, without their troubling themselves with a farther enquiry into the particular causes of the effects before them. It is not indeed a little strange, that the great Leonardo da Vinci (amongst the many philosophical precepts which he hath at random laid down in his treatise on painting) should not have given the least hint of any thing tending to a system of this kind; especially as he was cotemporary with Michael Angelo, who is said to have discovered a certain principle in the trunk only of an antique statue, (well known from this circumstance by the name of Michael Angelo's Torso, or Back, fig. *) which principle
gave his works a grandeur of gusto equal to the best antiques. Relative to which tradition, Lamozzo who wrote about painting at the same time, hath this remarkable passage, vol. 1. book 1.
“ And because in this place there falleth out a certaine precept of Michael Angelo much for our purpose, I wil not conceale it, leaving the farther interpretation and vnderstanding thereof to the iudicious reader. It is reported then that Michael Angelo vpon a time gaue this observation to the Painter Marcus de Sciena his scholler;
that he should alwaies make a figure Pyramidall, P. vi Serpentlike, and multiplied by one two and three.
In which precept (in mine opinion) the whole mysterie of the arte consisteth. For the greatest grace and life that a picture can naue, is, that it expresse Motion: which the Painters call the spirite of a picture: Nowe there is no forme so fitte to expresse this motion, as that of the flame of fire, which according to Aristotle and the other Philosophers, is an elemente most actiue of all others: because the forme of the flame thereof is most apt for motion : for it hath a Conus or sharpe pointe wherewith it seemeth to divide the aire, that so it may ascende to his proper sphere. So that a picture having this forme will bee most beautifull *.”
* See Haydocks's translation printed at Oxford, 1598.
Many writers since Lamozzo have in the same words recommended the observing this rule also; without comprehending the meaning of it: for unless it were known systematically, the whole business of grace could not be understood.
Du Fresnoy, in his art of painting, says “ large flowing, gliding outlines which are in waves, give not only a grace to the part, but to the whole body; as we see in the Antinous, and in many other of the antique figures: a fine figure and its parts ought always to have a serpent-like and flaming form : naturally those sort P. vii of lines have I know not what of life and seeming motion in them, which very much resembles the activity of the flame and of the serpent.” Now if he had understood what he had said, he could not, speaking of grace, have expressed himself in the following contradictory manner.
-“But to say the truth, this is a difficult undertaking, and a rare present, which the artist rather receives from the hand of heaven than from his own industry and studies *.” But De
* See Dryden's translation of his latin poem on Painting, verse 28, and the remarks on these very lines, page 155, which run thus, “ It is difficult to say what this grace of painting is, it is to be conceived and understood much more easy than to be expressed by words; it proceeds from
Piles, in his lives of the painters, is still more contradictory, where he says, “that a painter can only have it (meaning grace) from nature, and doth not know that he hath it, nor in what degree, nor how he communicates it to his works: and that grace and beauty are two different things ; beauty pleases by the rules, and grace without them.”
All the English writers on this subject have echoed these passages; hence Je ne sçai quoi, is become a fashionable phrase for grace.
By this it is plain, that this precept which Michael Angelo delivered so long ago in an oracle-like manner, hath remained mysterious down to this time, for aught that has appeared to the contrary. The wonder that it should do so will in some measure lessen when we come to con
sider that it must all along have appeared as P. viii full of contradiction as the most obscure quibble
ever delivered at Delphos, because, winding lines are as often the cause of deformity as of grace, the solution of which, in this place, would be an anticipation of what the reader will find at large in the body of the work.
There are also strong prejudices in favour of straight lines, as constituting true beauty in the
the illuminations of an excellent mind, (but not to be acquired) by which we give an certain turn to things, which makes them pleasing."
human form, where they never should appear. A middling connoisseur thinks no profile has beauty without a very straight nose, and if the forehead be continued straight with it, he thinks it is still more sublime. I have seen miserable scratches with the pen, sell at a considerable rate for only having in them a side face or two, like that between fig. 22, and fig. 105, plate 1, which was made, and any one might do the same, with the eyes shut. The common notion that a person should be straight as an arrow, and perfectly erect, is of this kind. If a dancingmaster were to see his scholar in the easy and gracefully-turned attitude of the Antinous (fig. 6, plate 1,) he would cry shame on him, and tell him he looked as crooked as a ram's horn, and bid him hold up his head as he himself did. See fig. 7, plate 1.
The painters, in like manner, by their works, seem to be no less divided upon the subject than the authors. The French, except such as have imitated the antique, or the Italian school, seem to have studiously avoided the serpentine line in all their pictures, especially Anthony Coypel, history painter, and Rigaud, principal portrait painter to Lewis the 14th.
Rubens, whose manner of designing was P. ix quite original, made use of a large flowing line as a principle, which runs through all his works,