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ed an art invented before the war of Troy. This poet, as I think I have already remarked, is very exact in not giving to the people of whom he speaks any knowledge that did not belong to the ages in which he places thenı. A more faithful historian than Virgil, he does not anticipate the times, I think that Homer could have seen only in Asia the models which suggested to him the idea of the field of Achilles. The Greeks were at that time too rude to give them the honour of such a work. With respect to Egypt, I doubt whether Homer was ever there. These motives, I think, are sufficient to refer to the times and to the people whom I am actually speaking of, the masterpiece which we are going to examine.
I see no fact in ancient history which can ferve so well as the field of Achilles, to make known the state and the progress of arts in the present ages.
Without speaking of the richness and variety of the design which runs through that work, we ought to remark, firit, the blending the different metals which Homer puts in the compo. sition of his shield. Copper, tin, gold, and silver are employed in it. Lastly, we must observe, that at that time they knew the art of giving, by the impression of fire on metals, and by their mixture, the colour of different objects. Let us add to this tlie ingraving and the chasing, and we shall agree that the shield of Achilles formed a very complicated work.
If it is easy to make known the beauty and the merit of this important piece, it is not the same as to the mechanism of the work. It is not easy to form a clear and precise idea of it: we do not sufficiently comprehend the manner in which Horner would have us to understand how it must have been executed. Yet let us fee if, in modern productions, we cannot find some, whose composition may assist us to comprehend this kind of work.
Let us call to mind those works in trinkets which they
c Iliad, 1. 18, V.474. & 475.
made some years ago, in which, with the sole help of gold and silver differently mixed, upon a plain and uniform surface, they represented divers subjects. The artifice of these fort of trinkets consisted in the infinite number of little pieces inlaid and soldered on the ground of the work. All these different pieces were ingraved or chased. The colour and reflection of the metals joined in the design, detached the subjects from the back-ground of the work, and made them stand forward, We may conjecture, that it was in this taste nearly, that Homer has imagined the execution of the shield of Achilles by Vulcan. The field of it was tin, intersected and varied with many pieces of different metals ingraved and carved. Let us give some examples.
Would Vulcan represent oxen? he chose gold and tin, that is to say, a piece of yellow metal and a piece of white metal to diversify his flock. Was his intention to represent a vine loaden with dark-coloured grapes? Gold composed the stem of that vine. It was supported by props of silver • Pieces of polished and imbrowned steel probably formed the dark-coloured grape. A ditch of the same metal surrounded the vineyard. A palisade of tin might ferve for the inclosure f. I shall not enter into any very particular details : this flight sketch is sufficient to explain the manner in which I conceive the mechanism of that work. As for the rest, what ideas foever we form of the fhield of Achilles, we may be assured, that the invention of it was great and magnificent. Such a composition does not permit us to doubt, that, at the time of the war of Troy, goldsmiths work was come to a very great degree of perfection among the people of Asia; for it is always in these countries that Homer places the seat of arts and of famous artists.
Iliad. I, 18, V. 574 * Ibid.
* Ibid. v. 561, CC.
Of Painting. THE
HE origin of painting is one of the most difficult que
stions that occurs in the history of the arts. There reigns a very great obscurity, as to the time of its being invented and put in practice. It is not much more easy to decide to what people we ought to give the honour of it. Sentiments are so divided about the countries and about the time when this art took its rise. Some have given the honour to the Egyptians s; others to the Greeks a. It is not here a proper place to examine this point of criticism. With respect to the time in which painting took its rise, some authors pretend that the invention of this art preceded the war of Troyi; others think it posterior to that epochk. This is what is to be examined into. But before we give ourselves up to these researches, it is proper, I think, to establish the sense of the word by which I understand painting, and to fix the object of the question.
I define painting, The art of representing on a plain surface, by means of colours, objects, such as they appear to us figured and coloured by nature *. From this definition, I say, and I hope to prove, painting was not known in the ages we are now examining.
The Egyptians boast of having known painting 6000 years before the Greeks. The holy scripture and profane history equally agree to reject such a' chimera. Pliny himself has not made any account of this vain pretension, and has not thought it worth his while to dwell upon it m.
& Plin. I. 7. fect. 57. p. 417. 1. 35. sect. 5. p.682.; Isidor, orig. 1. 19. C. 16,
* Theophraft, ibid. ; Plin. 1. 35. fect. 6 * I comprehend in this definition the Brooch, attended with the different mades and the different degrees of colours which are there obferved, bélides the effect of Thades, clairs obscurs, 6o. * Pliny 1. 35. sect. 5. p. 681.
m Ibid. X 2
But in rejecting this excessive number of years, we must examine if the Egyptians had not the knowledge of painting very early; many critics, and some modern travellers, are of this opinion. Let us examine the testimonies on which they ground their sentinient.
Diodorus, in describing the mausoleum of Ofymandes, fays, that the ceiling of that monument was spread over with stars on a blue ground". We might throw some doubts on the truth of this fact. Diodorus is the only one who speaks of it, and that only from the relation of Hecateus, an author much cried down by the ancients. This testimony appears then at least suspicious. But let it be admitted, what will result from it? We are ignorant in what time this mausoleum might have been built. Diodorus does not even tell us the age in which the monarch lived whose ashes it contains. The toinb of Osymandes may be very ancient, and yet have been built in ages posterior to those we are now examining *. Besides, I shall ask what inductions we could draw from a simple laying on of one colour, on which they had probably applied leaves of gold or silver to imitate stars.
In the ruins of those vast palaces spread in the Upper Egypt, we see, according to the report of some travellers, antique paintings of a very lively and shining colour • I will not dispute the truth of these relations; but in a. greeing that the facts are really true, they prove nothing against the sentiment which I have embraced.' These paintings are probably the work of some Greek artists callcd into Egypt by the Ptolomeys and their successors. This conjecture appears to me so much the better founded, as a modern traveller, describing a temple in which he had seen paintings, says, that the columns that supported the
* L. 1. p. 56.
• Voyage du Sayd par deux PP. Capucins, p. 3. & 4. in the collection of relations published by Thevenot, t. 2. ; Paul Lucas, t. 3. p. 38. 39. &. 69.; Rec. d'observat. curieuses, t. 3. p. 79. 81. i 33. 134. 164, 166.; Voyage de Granger, p. 35. 38. 46.47.61.
ceiling were of the Corinthian orderp. He further observes, in speaking of a palace, which, he believes, made part of the ruins of ancient Thebes, that the chapiters of the columns were of the composite order, highly finished 2. We are not ignorant that the architecture of the first Egyptians had no resemblance to any of the five orders which we have from the Greeks and the Romans. Another tra. veller quotes a Greek inscription found in an ancient palace where he had likewise seen paintings".
I think it right to conclude, after these facts, that the monuments in question were not the work of the ancient inhabitants of Egypt; or, supposing that they were, they had been repaired by the Greeks or by the Romans. Thus the paintings which they found there decided nothing for the antiquity of this art in Egypt.
Yet they insist, and pretend to prove by the fame pictures, the antiquity of the edifices which contained them. The Persians, say they, were for some time masters of Egypt. These people were declared enemies to temples, and to all forts of representations; and, by consequence, we cannot attribute to them the paintings which we still see in the temples and in the palaces of Egypt. These works then must have been executed before the ages in which the Persians conquered Egyptí. I am bold enough to say, that I see no sort of consequence in this reasoning.
Cambyses destroyed as much as was possible for him, the monuments of Egypt: we may conclude from this fact, avowed by all antiquity, that every thing that bore the marks of taste and magnificence, was demolished by this barbarous conqueror. Thus we ouglit to look upon the palaces and the temples they mention to us as posterior to the invasion of this prince. But fuppofing, what appears to me very probable, that many of these edifices had escaped the fury of this prince, we must remember,
B Granger, p. 38. & 39.
9 Ibid. p. 58. r Paul Lucas, t. 3. p. 38. 39. 41. & 42. Rec, d'observat. cur, t. 3. p. 134. & 166,