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NOTE XXXVII. Verse 349.
for those celestial hues
Gave to the wondering eye: From the various ancient paintings which have come down to us, we may form a judgment with tolerable accuracy of the excellencies and the defects of the art amongst the ancients.
There can be no doubt, but that the same correctness of design was required from the painter as from the sculptor; as if what has happened in the case of sculpture, bad likewise happened in regard to their paintings, and we had the good fortune to possess what the ancients themselves esteemed their master-pieces, I have no doubt but we should find their figures as correctly drawn as the Laocoon, and probably coloured like Titian. What disposes me to think higher of their colouring than any remains of ancient painting will warrant, is the account which Pliny gives of the mode of operation used by Apelles ; that over his finished picture he spread a transparent liquid like ink, of which the effect was to give brilliancy, and at the same time to lower the too great glare of the colour: Quod absoluta opera atramento illinebat ita tenui, ut id ipsum repércussu claritates colorum excitaret ;-et cum ratione magna, ne colorum claritas oculorum aciem offenderet.” This passage, though it may possibly perplex the critics, is a true and an artist-like description of the effect of glazing or scumbling, such as was practised by Titian and the rest of the Venetian painters. This custom, or mode of operation, implies at least a true taste of that in which the excellence of colouring consists : which does not proceed from fine colours, but true colours; from breaking down these fine colours which would appear too raw, to a deep-toned brightness. Perhaps the manner in which Corregio practised the art of glazing was still more like that of Apelles, which was only perceptible to those who looked close to the picture ad manum intuenti demum appareret : whereas in Titian, and still more in Bassan, and others his imitators, it was apparent on the slightest inspection. Artists, who' may not approve of glazing, must still acknowledge that this practice is not that of ignorance. . .
Another circumstance that tends to prejudice me in favour of their colouring, is the account we have of some of their principal painters using but four colours only. I am convinced the fewer the colours the cleaner will be the effect of those colours, and that four are sufficient to make every combination required. Two colours mixed together will not preserve the brightness of either of them single, nor will three be as bright as two; of this observation, simple as it is, an artist, who wishes to colour bright will know the value.
In regard to their power of giving peculiar expression, no correct judgment can be formed; but we cannot well suppose that men who were capable of giving that general grandeur of character which so eminently distinguishes their works in sculpture, were incapable of expressing peculiar passions.
As to the enthusiastic commendations bestowed on them by their contemporaries, I consider them as of no weight. The best words are always employed to praise the best works; admiration often proceeds from ignorance of higher excellence. What they appear to have most failed in is composition, both in regard to the grouping of their figures, and the art of disposing the light and shadow in masses. It is apparent that this, which makes so considerable a part of modern art, was to them totally unknown.
If the great painters had possessed this excellence, some portion of it would have infallibly been diffused, and have been discoverable in the works of the inferior rank of artists, such as those whose works have come down to us, and which may be considered as on the same rank with the paintings that ornament our public gardens. Supposing our modern pictures of this rank only were preserved for the inspection of connoisseurs two thousand years hence, the general principles of composition would be still discoverable in those pieces : however feebly executed, there would be
seen an attempt to an union of the figure with its ground, and some idea of disposing both the figures and the lights in groups. Now as nothing of this appears in what we have of ancient Painting, we may conclude that this part of the art was totally neglected, or more probably unknown.
They might, however, have produced single figures which approached perfection both in drawing and colouring; they might excel in a solo in the language of musicians), though they were probably incapable of composing a full piece for a concert of different instruments.
NOTE XXXVIII. VERSE 419.
Permit not two conspicuous lights to shine
With rival radiance in the same design. · The same right judgment which proscribes two equal lights, forbids any two objects to be introduced of equal magnitude or force, so as to appear to be competitors for the attention of the spectator. This is common; but I do not think it quite so common, to extend the rule so far as it ought to be extended; even in colours, whether of the warm or cold kind, there should be one of each which should be apparently principal, and predominate over the rest. It must be observed, even in drapery ; two folds of the same drapery must not be of equal magnitude.
NOTE XXXIX. VERSE 421.
But yield to one alone the power to blaze,
And spread th’ extensive vigour of its rays. Rembrandt frequently practised this rule to a degree of affectation, by allowing but one mass of light; but the Venetian painters, and Rubens, who extracted his principles from their works, admitted many subordinate lights.
The same rules which have been given in regard to the regulation of groups of figures, must be observed in regard to the grouping of lights; that there shall be a superiority of one over the rest, that they shall be separated, and varied in their shapes, and that there should be at least three lights; the secondary lights ought, for the sake of harmony and union, to be of nearly equal brightness, though not of equal magnitude with the principal.
The Dutch painters particularly excelled in the management of light and shade, and have shown, in this department, that consummate skill which entirely conceals the appearance of art.
Jan Steen, Teniers, Ostade, Du Sart, and many others of that school, may be produced as instances, and recommended to the young artist's careful study and attention.
The means by which the painter works, and on which the effect of his picture depends, are light