Imágenes de páginas

diciously applied, than the apprehension, which has been repeatedly evinced, of danger to the purity of religious worship should pictures be permitted to adorn our churches.

We presume, then, that Mr. Phillips's conclusion is, that the church and dissenting religious houses of Great Britain are utterly closed for ever against the painter's art, and, in that case, it would be useless to consider the propriety of renewing the prohibition. It is no doubt with such a conviction on his mind that he confines himself to an humbler prospect, and is satisfied with speculating merely on the effects of paintings on the general mind in a political and moral point of view. The same power

of art which excites the religious feelings, and makes them glow in the bosom of him who contemplates the terrible circumstances of a crucifixion, surely will have equal force upon the natural sentiments of the human mind, which inspire a love of justice, a tendency to charity, and a due appreciation of moral duties. If this be the case, will it not be legitimate to infer that painting, from its peculiar nature, may become an important instrument in the diffusion of virtue? Let us hear Mr. Phillips on this interesting subject:

Were our halls of justice to be adorned with pictures illustrative of subjects which exemplify the power and certainty with which crime is accompanied by sorrow and misery, and sooner or later punished; or how honesty and rectitude of conduct is blessed and rewarded: Were there, in like manner, exhibited our rooms devoted to public meetings pictures relative to the subjects usually discussed there, to the value of moral principles, or to illustrate facts whereby mankind had obtained 'great benefits or suffered great privations : Were our corporations and great communities to suspend in their halls, from time to time, paintings representing those circumstances which gave rise to their establishment, or of events illustrative of their object, or of their charitable and useful proceedings: Were the chambers of our palaces to be adorned with scenes commeniorative of great and public important events, beneficial and honourable to the nation, such as occupy a large portion of its history, and furnish records for remote periods: were, I say, these conjoined and important influences once set in motion for the employment of the historical painter, it can scarcely be supposed that no benefit would accrue to each and all concerned; or that much important and beneficial instruction and information could not be conveyed to the minds of the public by such means. By such a mode of proceeding, national points of interest might be created for the employment of the art, which would most effectually tend to advance its cultivation to a state of worthy and honourable rivalry with the best of other countries; and without which it must of necessity languish, and remain at a comparatively lower degree of importance."-p. xxiii.

With respect to the objection which would with so much justice be raised at this moment by those who turn to the embarrassed condition of our finances, Mr. Phillips has a resource in the very moderate amount of the claim which he puts forward. “ If the government,” he says, "would devote two or three thousand pounds annually to the purpose, placed under proper control, all that relates to the palaces, the halls of parliament, and public offices, might progressively be obtained; and if our public corporations and great communities would but set apart from five to one hundred pounds per annum, according to their several sources of wealth, as a fund for the purpose, every end required of them would, in like manner, be answered: and they would ob, tain their share of the honour and the respect due to those who assist in the cultivation of the fine and liberal arts."

Leaving this subject for the present to the judgment of our readers, we proceed to the consideration of the contents of this volume. The number of lectures amounts to ten, the four first being devoted to the history of painting. The three succeeding discourses are upon the subjects of invention, design, and composition in painting, and the three remaining lectures on colouring, chiaro-oscuro, and on the application of the principles of painting.

We have already alluded to the journey which Mr. Phillips made to Italy. This step he was induced to take on the occasion of his accession to the office of Professor of Painting; for it was natural for him to feel that he ought not to rest satisfied with repeating the thoughts of others, whatever was his confidence in the person from whom he derived them, and that it would only be a fair compliance with the moral claims upon him to take the opportunity of observing and deciding for himself. Accordingly, in company with a most intelligent friend and bro. ther artist, Mr. Phillips proceeded to Italy. In examining the works of the different ages, forming the long interval between the tenth and the seventeenth centuries, he found that there were two important points connected with the art of painting, upon which the works of all former visitors, that had been accessible to him, afforded him very imperfect ideas. In the first place he was struck with surprise and pleasure at the propriety and even perfection of feeling and understanding with which the paintings of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries were executed. The writers who affected to describe these compositions, either conveyed inadequate ideas of their merits, or exaggerated them. “We found,” says Mr. Phillips, “also, on continued consecutive inquiry into the progress of the art towards perfection, this same feeling, extending itself through the works of all the better masters. We found it to be that, which all subsequent embellishments, added progressively to the practice of the art, were adopted to adorn, and support; and being so adorned and supported, forming in fact the foundation of the beauty most to be admired in the works of Raffaelle and M. Angelo : the finished ground-work of our faith in art, in all that relates to form and to expression.'

Mr. Phillips acutely observes, that the property which he has just been dwelling upon in these ancient paintings, is exceedingly well deserving the careful attention of the student, because the rich embellishments will be almost always certain of taking care, as it were, of themselves, whilst the power of giving suitable form and expression requires deep study, and can only be attained by care and attention. The second of the important discoveries which remunerated Mr. Phillips for the trouble of his journey to Italy was, that the whole of his previous notions of the works of Michel Angelo were altogether inadequate; for, though his mind was fully impressed, from the descriptions of Reynolds and Fuseli, with the grand style in which these works are wrought, still he was by no means sufficiently prepared to find a still greater power exhibited in them, creating and predominating over it. Hence, we find, Mr. Phillips dwelling on the merits of the older painters, such as Giotto, with the enthusiasm of newborn delight. He says that the labours of Giotto, as well as of Cimabue, have been very unfairly presented to us in England; and that, instead of being compositions in that meagre, dry, insipid style, which we should have believed them to be, from the daubs foistered upon some persons in England as genuine, they exhibit a correspondence in principle with good Greek art, notwithstanding their imperfection in minor parts. This is the true source of historical painting, and which controlled the Florentine school, and was the source of that perfection which was finally completed by Raffaelle. Mr. Phillips has found attractions in Giotto's paintings, which amply compensate for their acknowledged imperfections. He has been struck by the fullness of the feeling which they display-well-directed, ardent, concentrated feeling! by which the artist's mind was engaged in comprehending the points most worthy of display in the subject he undertook to represent, and led to the clearness and intelligence with which he has selected them: add to this, the simplicity and ability with which he has displayed that feeling. It directed him in selecting his figures, and combining his groups; disposing the figures in actions becoming their characters; giving them expressions and situations, at once appropriate to those characters, and to the scene in which they were engaged; thus alluring the spectator till he becomes a participator in it, forgetful of the fiction and its defective accompaniments.

This quality is described as being peculiarly manifested in the series of pictures by Giotto, illustrating the Life of St. Francis, in the great church of Assisi, but still better on the walls of the church called the Annunciata, in the amphitheatre at Padua, in which composition will be found by students the real source of pathos in painting. The work to which Mr. Phillips alludes is a series of pictures done in fresco, and still in good preservation, presenting graphic scenes from the histories of the Virgin and the Saviour. The author's remarks on these compositions amply deserve attention.

• The compositions are simple, and go direct to their point. They are of that kind, which aims at explaining its object, and seeks for little or no unnecessary matter. The simplest principles are relied upon with security and effect. Proportion is well maintained, and like that adopted by Raffaelle. The figures are admirably employed, arranged most efficiently and frequently with beautiful effect, in lines and in contrasts; the heads sometimes appear to be portraits, but most commonly are ideal, and have just and powerful expressions. The painting is very broad and simple, generally with little or nothing of the meagerness which is seen in the works of others of the time. I have already spoken of their imperfections : they belong to the period. Plain blue skies, of one colour from top to bottom; golden glories, raised partially from the ground, round the heads of Christ and his Apostles, the Virgin, and other holy characters; imper. fect drawing of the hands and feet; but they are always well disposed, the hands particularly so, and the actions of the fingers are the offspring and the tokens of expression. The naked figure is always ill drawn, wherever it appears, and its colour dull and imperfect. The light and shade is the product of common daylight, without any attempt at the artificial effect of chiaro-oscuro. Of draperies he was a perfect master; and it is an extremely curious thing to observe, that the intricacies of drawing, which, you all know are presented in drapery, were so completely overcome by him, who erred so egregiously in drawing the naked figure. He seems to have been rather too conscious of his power in this respect, as some of the compositions are overloaded with it; but it is always appropriate to the persons or characters, conducted in the foldings

with good sense, and well exhibiting the limbs of the figures. : The arrangements of the masses are large in their style, and of a class which Raffaelle appears to have imitated, and not often surpassed.'=pp. 40, 41. 1 Proceeding with the historical account in the second lecture, Mr. Phillips enters upon that curious portion of the Florentine annals which relates to the immediate applications of pictures to or upon the altars of the church. This, he informs us, first occurred in the painting of small pictures of holy subjects upon the front of the predelle, or platforms raised upon the table, and on which is placed the holy chalice. Afterwards, but not till the beginning of the fifteenth century, long pictures, of divers subjects, divided by pilasters, and sometimes surrounded by saints and angels, were introduced, elevated upon the back of the predelle, or on the table. By degrees, the pilasters or divisions were taken away; the proportions of the figures, and the size of the pictures, increased; and the saints, instead of surrounding the picture like so many statues, were brought within it, accompanying the Virgin and the Saviour in varied positions and actions. Thus were formed those anomalous compositions of holy personages which now so overload the altars of the churches of Italy, and the collections of the cognoscenti.

The most celebrated of the successors of Giotto, or rather the individual on whom his genius seems to have descended, was Masaccio, whose merits may still be studied in the church of the Carmelites, at Florence, and in the church of St. Clement, at Rome. Mr. Phillips considers this artist as the true precursor of Raffaelle in the application of painting as an agent in producing a dramatic effect. Raffaelle himself, indeed, has furnished some proofs of the truth of this suggestion, in adopting, in some of his ablest compositions, the very figures painted by Masaccio. With the immediate successors of the latter celebrated painter, the second of the epochs of the Florentine school terminated, giving way to the dawn of that splendid light which was poured on Italy by the rise of the constellation that was formed by a Michel Angelo and a Raffaelle. A highly instructive observation falls from Mr. Phillips, in reference to the period at which we have now arrived.

He calls the attention of the student to the fact, that nearly two hundred years had elapsed between the time when painting was restored in Italy, and the era when it attained to its most polished state of perfection. And yet when we consider the pains that were exhausted in the meantime, together with the genius, industry, and perseverance, we shall be surprised to find that the highest degree of excellence was not sooner reached, particularly in a country, and in an age so peculiarly congenial to this particular branch of cultivation. Perhaps some share in occasioning this delay may be attributed to the partial absence of that encouragement from high quarters, which afterwards was so profusely poured upon the art; for it appears that, until the time of Raffaelle, there was no school of painting in Rome, nor was the taste for it before that epoch sufficient for the production of any great practical measures in its favour. No government had, up to this time, adopted the art, and though the church, in its individual establishments, protected and promoted it perhaps to a greater extent than the public; still the Pope, in the very headquarters of genius, and supported by diligence, scarcely employed a painter at all. It appears that the embellishments of the churches immediately within the superintendence of the papal court, consisted almost exclusively of mosaics, and that even when the painter's art was sought, the artists of Florence and of Bologna were chiefly preferred. It was about the middle of the fifteenth century that the Medici family in Florence, by a judicious encouragement of the arts, infused an enthusiasm and an ambition into the genius of Italy, which declared itself in the extraordinary rapidity of the progress which painting made to the highest rank of perfection. The artists now, no longer satisfied with the beaten track, began to appeal to the human figure itself, which they studied with unwearied perseverance, and, giving the reins to their 'excited imaginations, ventured upon the embodying of the spirits of the other world. The artist who claims distinction

« AnteriorContinuar »