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GENTLEMEN, It is not easy to speak with propriety to so many students of different ages and different degrees of advancement. The mind requires nourishment adapted to its growth; and what may have promoted our earlier efforts, might retard us in our nearer approaches to perfection.
The first endeavours of a young Painter, as I have remarked in a former discourse, must be employed in the attainment of mechanical dexterity, and confined to the mere imitation of the object before him. Those who have advanced beyond the rudiments, may, perhaps, find advantage in 'reflecting on the advice which I have likewise given
them, when I recommended the diligent study of the works of our great predeces
but I at the same time endeavoured to guard them against an implicit submission to the authority of any one master however excellent : or by a strict imitation of his manner, precluding themselves from the abundance and variety of Nature. I will now add that Nature herself is not to be too closely copied. There are excellencies in the art of painting beyond what is commonly called the imitation of nature : and these excellencies I wish to point out. The students who, having passed through the initiatory exercises, are more advanced in the art, and who, sure of their hand, have leisure to exert their understanding, must now be told, that a mere copier of nature can never produce any thing great ; can never raise and enlarge the conceptions, or warm the heart of the spectator.
The wish of the genuine painter must be more extensive: instead of endeavouring to amuse mankind with the minute neatness of his imitations, he must endeavour to ima
prove them by the grandeur of his ideas; instead of seeking praise, by deceiving the superficial sense of the spectator, he must strive for fame, by captivating the imagination.
The principle now laid down, that the perfection of this art does not consist in mere imitation, is far from being new or singular. It is, indeed, supported by the general opinion of the enlightened part of mankind. The poets, orators, and rhetoricians of antiquity, are continually enforcing this position ; that all the arts receive their perfection from an ideal beauty, superior to what is to be found in individual nature. They are ever referring to the practice of the painters and sculptors of their times, particularly Phidias, (the favourite artist of antiquity,) to illustrate their assertions. As if they could not sufficiently express their admiration of his genius by what they knew, they have recourse to poetical enthusiasm : they call it inspiration ; a gift from heaven. The artist is supposed to have ascended the celestial regions, to furnish his mind with this perfect idea of beauty,
He,” says Proclus *, " who takes for his
model such forms as nature produces, and " con fines himself to an exact imitation of " them, will never attain to what is perfectly " beautiful. For the works of nature are full '" of disproportion, and fall very short of the “ true standard of beauty. So that Phidias, “ when he formed his Jupiter, did not copy
any object ever presented to his sight; but
contemplated only that image which he " had conceived in his mind from Homer's
description.” And thus Cicero, speaking of the same Phidias : " Neither did this " artist,” says he, " when he carved the
image of Jupiter or Minerva, set before “ him any one human figure, as a pattern, “ which he was to copy ; but having a “ more perfect idea of beauty fixed in his “ mind, this he steadily contemplated, and " to the imitation of this all his skill and " labour were directed."
The Moderns are not less convinced than the Ancients of this superior power existing in the art; nor less sensible of its effects.
* Lib. 2. in Timæum Platonis, as cited by Junius de Pictura Veterum. R.
Every language has adopted terms expressive of this excellence. The gusto grande of the Italians, the beau ideal of the French, and the great style, genius, and taste among the English, are but different appellations of the same thing. It is this intellectual dignity, they say, that ennobles the painter's art ; that lays the line between him and the mere mechanick; and produces those great effects in an instant, which eloquence and poetry, by slow and repeated efforts, are scarcely able to attain.
Such is the warmth with which both the Ancients and Moderns speak of this divine principle of the art; but, as I have formerly observed, enthusiastick admiration seldom promotes knowledge. Though a student by such praise may have his attention roused, and a desire excited, of running in this great career; yet it is possible that what has been said to excite, may only serve to deter him. He examines his own mind, and perceives there nothing of thạt divine inspiration, with which, he is told, so many others have been favoured, He never tra.