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Maratti. They have the same defect which his works so often have, of being overlaid with drapery, and that too artificially disposed. I cannot but believe, that if Ruscono, Le Gros, Monot, and the rest of the Sculptors employed in that work, had taken for their guide the simple dress, such as we see in the antique statues of the philosophers, it would have given more real grandeur to their figures, and would certainly have been more suitable to the characters of the Apostles.
Though there is no remedy for the ill effect of those solid projections which flying drapery in stone must always produce in statues, yet in bas-relievos it is totally different; those detached parts of drapery the Sculptor has here as much power over as the Painter, by uniting and losing it in the ground, so that it shall not in the least entangle and confuse the figure.
But here again the Sculptor, not content with this successful imitation, if it may be so called, proceeds to represent figures, or groups of figures on different plans ; that is, some on the foreground, and some at a greater distance, in the manner of Painters in historical compositions. To do this he has no other means than by making the distant figures of less dimensions, and relieving them in a less degree from the surface; but this is not adequate to the end ; they will still appear only as figures on a less scale, but equally near the eye with those in the front of the piece.
Nor does the mischief of this attempt, which never accomplishes its intention, rest here : by this division of the work into many minute parts, the grandeur of its general effect is inevitably destroyed.
Perhaps the only circumstance in which the Modern have excelled the Ancient Sculptors, is the management of a single group in basso-relievo ; the art of gradually raising the group from the flat surface, till it
imperceptibly emerges into alto-relievo. Of this there is no ancient example remaining that discovers any approach to the skill which Le Gros has shown in an 'Altar in the Jesuits' Church at Rome. Different plans or degrees of relief in the same group have, as we see in this instance, a good effect, though the contrary happens when the groups are separated, and are at some distance behind each other.
This improvement in the art of composing a group in basso-relievo was probably first suggested by the practice of the modern Painters, who relieve their figures, or groups of figures, from their ground, by the same gentle gradation ; and it is accomplished in every respect by the same general principles ; but as the marble has no colour, it is the composition itself that must give its light and shadow. The ancient Sculptors could not borrow this advantage from their Painters, for this was an art with which they appear to have been entirely unacquainted : and in the bas-relievos of Lorenzo Ghiberti, the casts of which we have in the Academy, this art is no more attempted than it was by the Painters of his age.
The next imaginary improvement of the moderns, is the representing the effects of Perspective in basrelief. Of this little need be said ; all must recollect how ineffectual has been the attempt of modern Sculptors to turn the buildings which they have introduced as seen from their angle, with a view to make them appear to recede from the eye in perspective. This, though it may show indeed their eager desire to encounter difficulties, shows at the same time how inadequate their materials are even to this their humble ambition.
The Ancients, with great judgment, represented only the elevation of whatever architecture thev introduced into their bas-reliefs, which is composed of little more than horizontal or perpendicular lines; whereas the interruption of crossed lines, or whatever causes a multiplicity of subordinate parts, destroys that regularity and firmness of effect on which grandeur of style so much depends.
We come now to the last consideration; in what manner Statues are to be dressed, which are made in honour of men, either now living, or lately departed.
This is a question which might employ a long discourse of itself; I shall at present only observe, that he who wishes not to obstruct the Artist, and prevent his exhibiting his abilities to their greatest advantage, will certainly not desire a modern dress.
The desire of transmitting to posterity the shape of modern dress must be acknowledged to be purchased at a prodigious price, even the price of every thing that is valuable in art.
Working in stone is a very serious business ; and it seems to be scarce worth while to employ such durable materials in conveying to posterity a fashion of which the longest existence scarce exceeds a year.
However agreeable it may be to the Antiquary's principles of equity and gratitude, that as he has received great pleasure from the contemplation of the fashions of dress of former ages, he wishes to give the same satisfaction to future Antiquaries ; yet, methinks, pictures of an inferior style, or prints, may be considered as quite sufficient, without prostituting this great art to such mean purposes.
In this town may be seen an Equestrian Statue in a modern dress, which may be sufficient to deter future artists from any such attempt: even supposing no other objection, the familiarity of the modern dress by
nó means agrees with the dignity and gravity of Sculpture.
Sculpture is formal, regular, and austere ; disdains all familiar objects, as incompatible with its dignity; and is an enemy to every species of affectation, or appearance of academical art.
All contrast, therefore, of one figure to another, or of the limbs of a single figure, or even in the folds of the drapery, must be sparingly employed. In short, whatever partakes of fancy or caprice, or goes under the denomination of Picturesque, (however to be admired in its proper place,) is incompatible with that sobriety and gravity which is peculiarly the characteristic of this art.
There is no circumstance which more distinguishes a well-regulated and sound taste, than a settled uniformity of design, where all the parts are compact, and fitted to each other, every thing being of a piece. This principle extends itself to all habits of life, as well as to all works of art.
Upon this general ground therefore we may safely venture to pronounce, that the uniformity and simplicity of the materials on which the Sculptor labours, (which are only white marble,) prescribes bounds to his art, and teaches him to confine himself to a proportionable simplicity of design,
Delivered to the Students of the Royal Academy, on the Distribution
of the Prizes, December 10. 1782.
GENIUS. CONSISTS PRINCIPALLY IN
THE COMPREHENSION OF
WHOLE ; IN TAKING GENERAL IDEAS ONLY.
The highest ambition of every Artist is to be thought a man of Genius. As long as this flattering quality is joined to his name, he can bear with patience the imputation of carelessness, incorrectness, or defects of what
So far, indeed, is the presence of Genius from implying an absence of faults, that they are considered by many as its inseparable companions. Some
such lengths as to take indication from them, and not only excuse faults on account of Genius, but presume Genius from the existence of certain faults.
It is certainly true, that a work may justly claim the character of Genius, though full of errors; and it is equally true, that it may be faultless, and yet not exhibit the least spark of Genius. This naturally suggests an inquiry, a desire at least of inquiring, what qualities of a work and of a workman may justly entitle a Painter to that character.
I have in a former discourse* endeavoured to impress you with a fixed opinion, that a comprehensive
* Discourse III.