The Power Of Pictorial And Plastic Art
( Originally Published 1896 )
A life passed among pictures, in the study and love of art is a happy' and noiseless dream.- Hazlitt.
"Before this figure, Niobe and her Dying Children, transformed into. stone, and yet so inimitably animated - before this line of demarkation of all human suffering, the most callous beholder is dissolved to tears."
" Raphael's pictures interest so much in themselves, that they make us forget that they are only a part of history."
Great is the power of the skillful artist. The artist's brush and chisel have often deceived the very eye of both man and beast. Zeuxis painted grapes so true to nature as to deceive the birds that tried to pick them from the canvas. Trees and buildings have been so naturally portrayed with the brush that ravens and other birds have come to perch on them. Flowers have been pictured so as to deceive the bees that have tried to alight on them. Portraits of persons have been made so perfect that a whiffet dog has barked at them, and there is a painting of three dogs so truly natural that. almost every dog admitted to the room at once looks at the painting and runs up to salute it.
Giovanni Contarini painted a picture of Marco Dolce, and when the portrait was sent home, his dog "began to fawn upon it, mistaking it for his master." Giovanni, Rosa painted rabbits so life-like as to deceive the dogs, which would rush at them furiously.
Bernazzano painted a strawberry bed in a court yard which so deceived the pea-birds that they pecked at the wall till they had destroyed the painting. He also painted some birds in the act of feeding, and when the picture was placed in the open air, the birds flew towards the picture to join their companions.
Pantoja represented a superb eagle belonging to the king with such naturalness that the bird itself on seeing its own picture, mistook it for another real eagle, and attacked the picture with such fierceness that he tore it into shreds with his beak and talons before they could stop him.
Holbein painted a person's portrait with a fly on the forehead, so accurately as to deceive one into trying to brush it away.
A ragged urchin stretched out his hand to steal some grapes from a basket of grapes painted by Guereino.
Jacopo da Ponte painted a book upon a table which deceived people into extending their hand to pick it up. So true to life was a painting by Appeles, of a horse in the Temple of Diana at Ephesus, that when Alexander's horse was led up to it, he began to neigh, as one horse is accustomed to greet another.
A certain artist is said to have painted cobwebs on his ceiling so perfectly that the hired girl wore herself into an attack of nervous prostration in trying to sweep them down. There may have been such an artist, but it is doubtful if there was ever such a hired girl.
Daedalus is said to have made a statue of Heracles so perfect that it had to be tied to prevent its running away, and the hero was so angry when he saw how closely it resembled himself that he threw a stone at it. We must pronounce this story a fable.
Two artist lovers were rivals for the hand of a noted painter's daughter. The father promised to give his child to the one that painted the best picture. One painted a picture of fruit so natural that the birds attempted to eat the fruit from the canvas. The father was delighted, and declared that no one could excel that. Presently the other lover came with his picture, and it was veiled. " Take the veil from your painting," said the old man. " I leave that to you," modestly replied the young artist. The father then approached and attempted to remove the veil from the picture, but to his astonishment, he found the veil to be the picture. The canvas was so veiled by the brush as to deceive the skillful master himself, and no doubt remained as to whose wife the lovely maiden should become.
Valasquez who stood at the head of the Spanish school, painted portraits that baffled description of praise. They produced complete illusion. "He depicted the minds of men; they live, breathe, and seem about to walk out of their frames. The freshness, individuality, and identity of every person are quite startling." Some of his portraits. as of one of the Popes, was said to deceive the eye so completely as to be taken for the person of the Pope himself.
Raphael painted a portrait of Pope Leo X., so full of life that one of the Cardinals approached it with a pen and ink for the Pope to sign a documcnt.
The marble fairly breathed under the chisel of Phidias and Praxiteles and Myron of ancient Greece. Myron chisled a marble statue of a cow of dun color so faithful to nature as to deceive a calf that ran up to the stone cow and attempted to satisfy its hunger.
In the galleries of the old world we have seen -marble or bronze statues by the old masters that appear to live -"the veins, the muscles swollen by exertion, the nerves gradually stretched, and the figure expressing those feelings which act on the living subject." One said of the bronze horses wrought by the old Etruscan artists, that they were " so full of spirit, with their fiery nostrils, their sparkling eyes, their easy and graceful limbs,- they would move, if not of metal."
With toil and patience Ghiberti worked twenty-one years upon the wonderful bronze doors of the church of San Giovanni in Florence. They represent in bas-relief the principal Bible scenes. Before these gates of gilded bronze, Michael Angelo himself stood amazed, and in his ecstacy pronounced them worthy to adorn the portals of Paradise. We stood long and fairly en-chanted before these doors resplendent with genius that was all but inspired.
In as much as the artist has such tremendous power, his genius ought everywhere to be recognized and utilized.
It is not of the mere effect of pictures, statues, and other works of art on the eye or outward sense that we wish to treat. Indeed, the influence of art does not stop with impressions made on the outward sense alone. The mind and heart are reached through the eye and other senses. The moral and religious impressions thus made are all-important.