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Sculpture:-has but one style.--Its objects, form, and
character. — Ineffectual attempts of the modern sculptors to improve the art.-Ill effects of modern dress in sculpture.
I SHALL now, as it has been customary on this day, and on this occasion, communicate to you such observations as have occurred to me on the theory of art.
If these observations have hitherto referred principally to painting, let it be remembered that this art is much more extensive and complicated than sculpture, and affords therefore a more ample field for criticism; and as the greater includes the less, the leading principles of sculpture are comprised in those of painting. .
However, I wish now to make some remarks with particular relation to sculpture; to consider
wherein, or in what manner, its principles, and those of painting, agree or differ; what is within its power of performing, and what it is vain or improper to attempt; that it may be clearly and distinctly known what ought to be the great purpose of the sculptor's labours.
Sculpture is an art of much more simplicity and uniformity than painting; it cannot with propriety, and the best effect, be applied to many subjects. The objects of its pursuit may be comprised in two words, form and character; and those qualities áre presented to us but in one manner, or in one style only; whereas the powers of painting, as they are more various and extensive, so they are exhibited in as great a variety of manners. The Roman, Lombard, Florentine, Venetian, and Flemish schools, all pursue the same end by different means. But sculpture having but one style, can only to one style of painting have any relation ; and to this (which is indeed the highest and most dignified that painting can boast), it has a relation so close, that it may be said to be almost the same art operating upon different materials. The sculptors of the last age, from not attending sufficiently to this discrimination of the different styles of painting, have been led into many errors. Though they well knew that they were allowed to imitate, or take ideas for the improvement of their own art from the grand style of painting, they were not aware that it was not permitted to borrow in the
i same manner from the ornamental. When they I endeavour to copy the picturesque effects, con
trasts, or petty excellencies of whatever kind, which not improperly find a place in the inferior branches of painting, they doubtless imagine themselves improving and extending the boundaries of their art by this imitation;- but they are in reality violating its essential character, by giving a different direc
tion to its operations, and proposing to themselves í either what is unattainable, or at best a meaner
object of pursuit. The grave'and austere character ļ of sculpture requires the utmost degree of formality i in composition; picturesque contrasts have here į no place; every thing is carefully weighed and
measured, one side making almost an exact equipoise to the other : a child is not a proper balance
to a full grown figure, nor 'is a figure sitting or I stooping, a companion to an upright figure.' ; The excellence of every art must consist in the
complete accomplishment of its purpose; and if
by a false imitation of nature, or mean ambition of ļ producing a picturesque effect or illusion of any
kind, all the grandeur of ideas which this art endeavours to excite, be degraded or destroyed, we may boldly oppose ourselves to any such innovation. If the producing of a deception is the summit of this art, let us at once give to statues, the addition of colour; which will contribute more towards accomplishing this end, than all those artifices which have been introduced and professedly
defended, on no other principle but that of rendering the work more natural. But as colour is universally rejected, every practice liable to the same objection must fall with it. If the business of sculpture were to administer pleasure to ignorance, or a mere entertainment to the senses, the Venus of Medicis might certainly receive much improvement by colour ; but the character of sculpture makes it her duty to afford delight of a different, and, perhaps, of a higher kind ; the delight resulting from the contemplation of perfect beauty; and this, which is in truth an intellectual pleasure, is in many respects incompatible with what is merely addressed to the senses, such as that with which ignorance and levity contemplate elegance of form. . .
The sculptor may be safely allowed to practise every means within the power of his art to produce a deception, provided this practice does not interfere with or destroy higher excellencies; on these conditions he will be forced, however loth, to acknowledge that the boundaries of his art have long been fixed, and that all endeavours will be vain that hope to pass beyond the best works which remain of ancient sculpture. · Imitation is the means, and not the end, of art; it is employed by the sculptor as the language by which his ideas are presented to the mind of the spectator. Poetry and elocution of every sort make use of signs, but those signs are