and engraver; erincing in all (but more especially in the lattor art) the most vigorous and original powers. He appears to hare had no tutor,—at least none has been mentioned by his biographers,—but to have built up a grand style of engraving perfectly homogeneous with those majestic and picturesque edifices which he delighted to represent, on his own strong and keen observation of Nature and the great remains of antiquity. Yet it should be recollected that books or a master must have supplied the materials of that mathematical foundation, on which alone his extensive practical knowledge of perspective could have been confidently rested. In this science he had among his contemporaries no equal; but in the characteristic treatment of ruined buildings, he so far excelled other artists, that he may be emphatically said to have had no predecessor; and though he will always have numerous imitators, he has yet met with no rival in Italy, nor even 'in Europe, unless we should except our own countryman, Edward Rooker.

The professional industry of Piranesi was unremitting, yet his mind and his hand have so far outstripped time, that after we know this, we remain in astonishment at the vast quantity of his works, which, when their number and magnitude are taken together, exceed the productions of any other engraver whatever. A A pile of more than twenty large folio volumes, replete with taste and intelligence, seems too much to have been produced by the la. bour of a single individual, even after we have made ourselves ac. quainted with the rapidity of his powers : yet in the case of this engraver, all these are etched from drawings made by himself: and some of these drawings, of which the subjects are the Greek temples at Pæstum, and which attest the vivid feeling and mas. terly powers of execution which he possessed in that branch of the art, are now in this country, having been purchased, within these few years, in Italy, by Charles Lambert, Esq., of the Inner Temple.

Indeed, in no instance that I have seen, has Piranesi engraved after any other pictures or drawings than were the production of his own hand, which sometimes present us with the magnificent remains of ancient Italy, and at others, are the ready offspring of a mind stored with architectural wonders. He is therefore one, of many irrefragable proofs that might be adduced to render idle the sophisms of those who assert that engraving is not an origi. nal art, unless those arts which are capable of independant ex existence, might justly lose their claim to originality, by condescending to copy, where the general and inseparable interests of arts and society, require such condescension. No man denies oria ginality to a picture because a sketch or cartoon of the same com


position by the same painter has previously existed, nor to the art of the sculptor because he models in clay before he chisels in marble.

Toward the middle period of his life, or rather before, our en. graver became a member of the Roman Academy of Arts; but on account of some feuds, with the merits of which (if any merit attached to them) we are not acquainted, he was expelled by the voice of the majority of Academicians.

After some few years however had elapsed, and animosity was cool, motives were explained or mistakes were discovered, and Piranesi was honour, ably invited by his brother artists to return.

"Of the Academy, as a school for the study of the human figure, he appears to have made little use: yet though the figures which he introduced into his landscapes are ill drawn and extravagant in their attitudes, they act the parts which they were intended to act-they serve to shew that the ruinous scenes which he commonly represented are inhabited (if not by whom), and they are a scale whereby he induces the spectator unwittingly to measure the relative magnitude of those edifices which were the real and the ostensible objects of his art. In his characteristic treatment of these edifices, and of the vases and other ornamental remains of antiquity, his line, varying as occasion admitted or required, was peculiarly expressive of stone, bronze, stucco, brick, and all the various materials of which Greek and Roman sculpture and architecture consist, discriminating, with exquisite observa. tion and inimitable skill, whether those materials retained their original sharpness of workmanship, or were mouldered by the hand of Time, or stained by the weather, or split and cracked by the frost, by Vandal barbarity, or other sudden casualty; and whatever his subject, he always seems to have worked with easy vigour, with unlimited freedom of hand, and as if “out of the abundance of his heart.”

Trees do not often occur in the prints of Piranesi, but when they do, they in most instances too much resemble sea-weed; yet the wild raggedness and unexpected forms which mark both them and the clouds which float over his landscapes, and even his ill-drawn figures, have a certain air of enterprize, which accords with the forceful and chivalrous character of his chiaro-scuro, and rather augments than diminishes the general sentiment of romantic magnificence which many of his compositions, and more especially the large frontispieces which fold into his large folios, inspire. In some of the latter all the grand architectural forms of Egypt, Greece, and Italy, appear to be assembled as if by magic, and the mind of the spectator is led to wander in poetic reverie, through irregular avenues of obelisks, sarcophagi, pyramids, columns, and triumphal arches. In others, which are of subterraneous


[ocr errors]

character, the author appears to have penetrated the cemeteries of departed greatness; and here, monstrous and forbidden things are crawling and twiping their slimy convolutions among moulder. ing bones, broken sculpture, and mutilated inscriptions, and an air of dankness and dilapidation and sepulchral gloom, is diffused through the cavern, as if Time and Envy were beckoning to Ob. livion to break down what remained of the trophies of the brave, and obliterate the wisdom of the wise,

In his technical process, Piranesi was the first engraver who made free and abundant use of the ruler, as may be seen in his In. teriors of St. Peter's Cathedral, his antique vases, and such other subjects as required it, or as admitted it only in certain parts; for he sometimes artfully contrasted in the same plate, the wildest sallies of the etching-point, in the broken or 'weather-stained parts of his lights, with ruled passages in his shadows, where the atmost regularity and perspicuity were preserved. Thought al. ways accompanies his deeds even where he seems most careless. The reflex light of a bright climate, might seem to the inconsiderate in a humid one, to partake of Aimsy transparency,-in the works of Piranesi, they shew the justness of his observation. If he was stimulated by an adventurous spirit, he was restrained by judicious caution, which sat so easy on him, that he exerted it without the least seeming effort. In short, with the skill and conduct of a brave general, it was his to adapt his mode of exe. cution and qualify his prowess, by the nature and demands of the occasion which called it forth : he used the graver with boldness when he did use it, but used it only as an auxiliary to his etching. He knew that this was the main body of his native force on which he could most depend. He doubtless felt that he was here the Alexander of his art, and that none could here, with any hope of success, dispute with him for the palm of victory.

I am, Sir, &c. &c.,


London, August, 1811.


Art. XVIII.- Retrospect of the Theatre

As the last article on this subject entrenched on the season now under review, with a carelessness for which the irregular appear. ance of the Magazine hitherto may in some measure help to ac. count, little is left me at present but to notice the opening of the Haymarket Theatre and the only two pieces which it produced up to the end of June.

The opening of the Haymarket Theatre presented us with the usual appearances of an ill-managed stage. The performers, engaged from the larger theatres, Elliston, Munden, Liston, and Mrs. Glover, were indeed eminent; but never were good per. formers seconded by a more wretched multitude of barn-house recruits; and a very few weeks had elapsed, when we were threatened with the loss of the former gentlemen by new squabbles at law respecting the management. The business however was compromised on their parts; the proprietors were left to an. noy each other and to pursue the ruin of their concern in pri. vate; and the performances went on as usual, reminding us at one minute of the best times of Drury Lane Theatre, and at the next transporting us to the booths and grown puppets of a coun. try fair. It was on these occasions, that a London audience had full insight into the merits of that judicious custom at the said" fairs, which allows any character in a drama to be “ left out by particular desire.” The only new performer worth notice is a la. dy of the name of Barnes, who with a poor voice, a small person, and a countenance not handsome, is deficient neither in judgment nor feeling, and would produce a still better impression than she does could she get rid of a certain fastidiousness of tone and gesture, which makes her appear affected where she most desires to be energetic. By far the most agreeable novelty however was the re-appearance of Mr. Elliston, after filling his coffers and wasting his reputation at the Circus. A considerable increase in flesh makes him look much older, and is not very fortunate for the elegance and vivacity of his best characters; but the liveli, ness of his genius is still the same, and his return to his proper sphere would have been hailed with double pleasure, had he brought with him no greater enemy to interesting effect than his additional bulk. It is to be feared however that he has given him. self a desperate blow in the good opinion of his best admirers, by having laid himself out to the gross admiration of a Circus au, dience, and what is worse, to the imputation of having preferred gain to a good name.

The best thing to be said of Mr. Hook's farce, the Trial by YOL. II. NO, III.


Jury, is that it did not answer to it's name, that is to say, it did not abound in the clap-traps which the dramatic use of those twelve respectable men” so generally announces.

It was a mere little piece of intrigue with lovers in disguise and ladies in a dilemma, and it's comparative freedom from puns and other common provocatives, shewed a manifest progress on the writer's part in the negative duties of his calling. However, for a young man of any ardour, he advances very slowly in other respects; and it is to be feared, that any little proniise he may have given, has been completely spoiled by the early perversion of his ambition to the amusement of frivolous minds. Mr. Dimond, in his new drama, the Royal Oak, deserved a similar praise, though in higher proportion, for evincing less attachment to a puerile declamation and floweriness than in any of his former productions; and the piece was altogether much superior, not only ta what he himself has written, but to most of the dramas that have been lately brought forward. It's plot, founded on the adventures of Charles the Second after his defeat at Worcester, had more interest than common; the language was of very gentlemanly superiority to that of the Reynoldses; the manners of the times were for the most part well preserved; but the character of the hero, who in his youngest and most interesting days was notorious for his selfish. ness and want of principle, was most unwarrantably, and, as far as any effect might be attributed to the piece, most perniciously exalted into something absolutely generous and heroic; the lan. guage, if it was free from the ordinary vulgarity, presented nothing new besides it's refinement; and upon the whole, Mr. Di. mond has gained as little positive solidity on the side of thinking, and promises as little genuine power in the art of dramatic writ. ing, as Mr. Hook.

Such are the authors that, together with Mr. Colman the Ma. hager, seem to enjoy full possession of the Haymarket stage; and though Mr. Colman is much their superior, and now and then produces, after a thousand efforts, something that is full of real service to his brother proprietors, yet it perhaps would be much better for them if the theatre had nothing to do with him ; for every thing that is seen and heard of it, proclaims it's wretched and ruinous management. They may be in the wrong, to a certain degree, as well as himself; but when the principal manager and writer of a theatre has brought himself into such habits and into such a situation, that he can attend to the concern neither with his pen, nor with common prudence, nor even in person, the public will most assuredly, and I believe, most justly lay the principal blame at his door. Under proper direction, this little theatre, with it's reasonable size, might become the very best in town, in spite of it's poor accommodations; but in it's present


« ElőzőTovább »