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Every art or profession requires this union of contrary qualities, like the harmony of colouring, which is produced by an opposition of hot and cold hues. The poet and the painter must unite to the warmth that accompanies a poetical imagination patience and perseverance: the one in counting syllables and toiling for a rhyme, and the other in labouring the minute parts, and finishing the detail of his works, in order to produce the great effect he desires : they must both possess a comprehensive mind that takes in the whole at one view, and at the same time an accuracy of eye or mind that distinguishes between two things that, to an ordinary spectator, appear the same, whether this consists in tints or words, or the nice discrimination on which expression and elegance depend.
NOTE LI. VERSE 715.
While free from prejudice your active eye
Preserves its first unsullied purity. Prejudice is generally used in a bad sense, to imply a predilection, not founded on reason or nature, in favour of a particular master, or a particular manner, and therefore ought to be opposed with all our force; but totally to eradicate in advanced
what has so much assisted us in our youth is a point to which we cannot hope to arrive. The difficulty of conquering this prejudice is to be considered in the number of those causes which makes excellence so very rare.
Whoever would make a happy progress in any art or science must begin by having great confidence in, and even prejudice in favour of, his instructor ; but to continue to think him infallible, would be continuing for ever in a state of infancy.
It is impossible to draw a line when the artist shall
begin to dare to examine and criticise the works of his master, or of the greatest master-pieces of art; we can only say, that his progress to this capacity will be gradual. In proportion as the scholar learns to analyse the excellence of the masters he esteems, - in proportion as he comes exactly to distinguish in what that excellence consists, and refer it to some precise rule and fixed standard, in that proportion he becomes free. When he has once laid hold of their principle, he will see when they deviate from it, or fail to come up to it; so that it is in reality through his extreme admiration of, and blind deference to, these masters (without which he never would have employed an intense application to discover the rule and scheme of their works), that he is enabled, if I may use the expression, to emancipate himself, even to get above them, and to become the judge of those of whom he was at first the humble disciple.
NOTE LII. VERSE 721.
When duly taught each geometric rule,
Approach with awful step the Grecian school. The first business of the student is to be able to give a true representation of whatever object presents itself, just as it appears to the eye, so as to amount to a deception; and the geometric rules of perspective are included in this study. This is the language of the art;
the more necessary to be taught early, from the natural repugnance which the mind has to such mechanical labour, after it has acquired a relish for its higher departments.
The next step is to acquire a knowledge of the beauty of form; for this purpose he is recommended to the study of the Grecian sculpture ; and for com
position, colouring, and expression to the great works at Rome, Venice, Parma, and Bologna: he begins now to look for those excellences which address themselves to the imagination, and considers deception as a scaffolding to be now thrown aside, as of no importance to this finished fabric.
No rest, no pause, till all her graces known,
A happy habit makes each grace your own. To acquire this excellence, something more is required than measuring statues or copying pictures.
I am confident the works of the ancient sculptors were produced, not by measuring but in consequence of that correctness of eye which they had acquired by long habit, which served them at all times, and on all occasions, when the compass would fail. There is no reason why the eye should not be capable of acquiring equal precision and exactness with the organs of hearing or speaking. We know that an infant, who has learned its language by habit, will sometimes correct the most learned grammarian who has been taught by rule only; the idiom, which is the peculiarity of language, and that in which its native grace is seated, can be learned by habit alone.
To possess this perfect habit, the same conduct is necessary in art as in language, that it should be begun early, whilst the organs are pliable and impressions are easily taken, and that we should accustom ourselves, while this habit is forming, to see beauty only, and avoid as much as possible deformity or what is incorrect. Whatever is got this way may be said to be properly made our own; it becomes a part of
ourselves, and operates unperceived. The mind acquires by such exercise a kind of instinctive rectitude which supersedes all rules.
NOTE LIV. VERSE 733.
Unrivall’d sovereign of the realms of grace. The pre-eminence which Fresnoy has given to those three great painters, Raffaelle, Michael Angelo, and Julio Romano, sufficiently points out to us what ought to be the chief object of our pursuit. Though two of them were either totally ignorant of, or never practised any of those graces of the art which proceed from the management of colours, or the disposition of light and shadow, and the other (Raffaelle) was far from being eminently skilful in these particulars, yet they all justly deserve that high rank in which Fresnoy has placed them: Michael Angelo, for the grandeur and sublimity of his characters, as well as for his profound knowledge of design ; Raffaelle for the judicious arrangement of his materials, for the grace, the dignity, and the expression of his characters; and Julio Romano, for possessing the true poetical genius of painting, perhaps, in a higher degree than any other painter whatever.
In heroic subjects it will not, I hope, appear too great a refinement of criticism to say, that the want of naturalness or deception of the art, which give to an inferior style its whole value, is no material disadvantage: the Hours, for instance, as represented by Julio Romano, giving provender to the horses of the sun, would not strike the imagination more forcibly from their being coloured with the pencil of Rubens, though he would have represented them more natu
rally : but might he not possibly, by that very act, have brought them down from the celestial state to the rank of mere terrestrial animals? In these things, however, I admit there will always be a degree of uncertainty. Who knows that Julio Romano, if he had possessed the art and practice of colouring like Rubens, would not have given to it some taste of poetical grandeur not yet attained to ? The same familiar naturalness would be equally an imperfection in characters which are to be represented as demi-gods, or something above humanity.
Though it would be far from an addition to the merit of those two great painters to have made their works deceptions, yet there can be no reason why they might not, in some degree, and with a judicious caution and selection, have availed themselves of many excellences which are found in the Venetian, Flemish, and even Dutch schools, and which have been inculcated in this poem. There are some of them which are not in absolute contradiction to any style; the happy disposition, for instance, of light and shade; the preservation of breadth in the masses of colours ; the union of these with their grounds; and the harmony arising from a due mixture of hot and cold hues, with many other excellences, not inseparably connected with that individuality which produces deception, would surely not counteract the effect of the grand style : they would only contribute to the ease of the spectator, by making the vehicle pleasing by which ideas are conveyed to the mind, which otherwise might be perplexed and bewildered with a confused assemblage of objects; they would add a certain degree of grace and sweetness to strength and grandeur. Though the merits of those two great painters are of such transcendency as to make us overlook their deficiency,