( Originally Published 1869 )
In addition to the direct application of the various principles already enumerated for artistical composition, there are certain collateral and indirect means to be resorted to, which are of essential importance both in themselves and for aiding the effect and the operation of others ; and which are not the less striking because, as in many of the works of nature, their immediate result is not perceivable.
Design, indeed, of single figures, in common with composition, admits of auxiliaries of this kind; but the more complicated the performance, the greater is the opportunity for and the greater is the need of this assistance. The present subject, there-fore, belongs more properly to composition than to delineation, although to a large extent common to both. Of these auxiliaries, the introduction and use of ornament is probably the most frequent and the most efficient.
An ornament may be defined to be some object or subject which is of itself directly calculated to call forth pleasing ideas in the mind relating to, or associated with the composition; but which object or subject is, nevertheless, of itself, wholly independent of, and not at all necessarily connected with it.
Ornaments contribute to the effect of an artistical composition, in a manner analogous to that in which particular traits of conduct contribute to the moral character of a man. They give a bias to the whole, and are regarded when more important and essential points are overlooked. We judge, not by what is before us, but by what strikes us. To a certain extent, and in certain cases, ornament is not only desirable, but essential in each of the arts. It is effective in itself, and it is effective also as a cause of variety. So important, indeed, is the proper and judicious' use of ornament, that it has, in some in-stances, served to confer merit on performances which were utterly devoid of every good quality. It conduces as much as anything, to give a character to a work of art. But as its proper use is highly advantageous, so its abuse is proportion-ably deleterious and dangerous.
As regards the amount of ornament to be bestowed on any particular work of art, much must of course depend on the character of the work. Some of the most striking and effective productions have been composed without the addition of any ornament whatever. Such are the statues of the ' Venus de Medicis,' and the 'Apollo Belvedere.' Nor do they suffer anything from the want of it, possessing, indeed, in them-selves all that ornament could bestow. Some of the finest of Cicero's orations are those which have the least ornament.
Ornaments and episodes are, as it were, props or resting places to relieve the monotony of a long and unvaried, or too exciting story. Ornaments should, as far as practical, while aiding the composition, be made useful; and the directly useful portions of the design should, in their turn, be rendered ornamental. Or rather, the useful parts should be so adapted as to be of themselves ornamental, and the ornamental parts to be useful. The principle that the useful and the ornamental should ever be united, and as much as possible be rendered identical, is especially essential, as it is also exemplified in eloquence.
Ornaments, in their management and disposition, should be subject to the same rules as episodes, and the other adjuncts to a composition. Care should, moreover, be taken, that what are intended for ornaments should be not merely additions, but serviceable also to the composition into which they are introduced. They should be calculated to give animation to, as well as to second the general effect intended to be produced. Auxiliaries of this nature should not only add to the narration, but really aid the story. Some of them, on the other hand, merely conduce to interrupt it, and divert instead of direct the attention. In each of the arts, the value of ornament depends entirely on the skill used in the application of it. According as this is the case, it becomes a regimen or a poison, a beauty or a defect. It may be its brightest glory, or its grossest blemish.
Ornament in painting is in the nature either of shape or colour. The same principles are applicable for its use in either case. In each case, too, its main value consists in giving vigour and effect to the whole design ; and the true test of its appropriateness is whether it succeeds here.
Two things should, therefore, especially be observed as to ornament in whatever branch of art :. They should be auxiliary to the whole design. . They should be in character with the composition in which they are used.
Ornaments which do not aid, perplex or mar the general . aim and object. Ornaments differing in their nature from the design, destroy its effect, as, for instance, gaudy ornaments in a grand composition, which are subversive of its dignity.
In all the arts, in painting, sculpture, poetry, and architecture, equally with music and eloquence, and also acting, costume, and gardening, excessive ornament deteriorates from the composition; and the more exalted its nature, the more it is liable to be thus injured by being enervated and debased. Ornament, indeed, may be invaluable; but it is allowable only as an auxiliary to art. When it assumes the rank of a principal it deserves to be deposed. Indeed, if ornament, either in painting or architecture, is carried too - much into detail, or is made too minute, it is apt to degenerate the whole performance from one of beauty into mere prettiness. This is equally the case in poetry and eloquence, and more or less in each of the arts.
Drapery is the leading auxiliary in compositions in painting where figures are introduced, as, by this means, character and rank and action are conferred to a certain degree, in a manner corresponding with that in which in a landscape the shape and aspect of the clouds gives a character to a representation of that description. Indeed, the various features assumed by the sky, and the forms and colours which the clouds are capable of exhibiting in so many varieties, render them valuable auxiliaries in art as regards effect. Not only in painting, but in poetry also, have they been thus availed of. Probably, in-deed, no appearance in external nature possesses so much variety and so much character as do the clouds. There is often, moreover, a silent poetry in nature which speaks to us in her own language, and which is quite independent of any artistical results in the composition, that we might desire to produce. Thus, in a landscape, the beauty of the tints, the variety of the foliage, the harmony of the whole, form a combination of images, excite a flood of picturesque ideas of them-selves, which the most elaborate efforts will fail to attain. Colour and light and shade are, however, of course, not to be considered so much as auxiliaries, as essential and leading ingredients in a composition in painting; although occasionally, striking effects with respect to them, as in sunsets or moonlight scenes, may be strictly so regarded.
The principal elements of composition in landscape scenery are mountains, rocks, buildings, wood, water, foliage, and plains. These objects may be respectively diversified to an almost infinite extent, and admit of contrast and effect, corresponding with the application of all the other elements avail-able in artistical composition. The mountains and buildings about it form the auxiliary objects in, as they constitute also the background to an architectural structure. And to the nature of these due regard in the construction of his edifice ought ever to be had by the architect.
Metaphor is one of the ordinary auxiliary ornaments made use of in poetry and eloquence. An immense field is afforded to the artist by this means for obtaining auxiliaries for the illustration of, and for giving effect to the narrative. Many things may be availed of for this purpose, which though directly foreign to the matter, have an indirect and an ideal relation to it. A metaphor, indeed, when of a suitable nature and aptly introduced, will often contribute to give a tint or glow to a subject, which appears to be reflected as it were from the object from which the metaphor is borrowed; thus the sea, the sun, or a flower, when resorted to as metaphors, attach to the topic to which they are applied the ideas of immensity, glory, and beauty, so peculiar to themselves. Nevertheless all such metaphors must be excluded as are foreign to the subject. Metaphors and similes, like representations in art generally, should, moreover, be calculated to gratify the spectator, never to disgust or nauseate him. The vast number of striking, effective, and moving ideas and metaphors that are all brought together and combined into one description or composition, is what often renders it so powerful and so affecting. This is especially observable in the following quotation from Shakespeare's Henry the Fourth' : ---
" All furnish'd, all in arms :
The same remarks are applicable to the passages which follow from Chaucer; the first containing a description of a forest, the other affording a representation of crime-:
" First on the wall was peinted a forest,
" Ther saw I first the derke imagining
If we take away from these descriptions all but the bare account of the scene, and strip them of all the metaphors and similes that are introduced to give effect to the composition, how spiritless and dull and poor will the representation appear !
To architecture, as much as to painting and sculpture, the leading principles of composition are entirely applicable ; more especially as regards the distribution of the different objects, or figures, or masses, which contribute to make up the building, or group of buildings, the disposal and arrangement of the lights and shadows, the laws of contrast, of effect, and of harmony. Moreover architecture equally with, if not more fully than any of the arts, serves to elucidate the rules of composition as regards the skilful use of ornament, and other artistical auxiliaries.
In costume, in acting, and in gardening, the application of ornament is of equal value with its use in the other arts. Probably, indeed, costume owes more to ornament than do any of them, inasmuch as it is of itself wholly and essentially ornamental in its nature. In the laying out and composition of cities, the introduction of groves, and fountains, and greens, and pools, and gardens affords a great relief, and its effect is picturesque; while statues and columns are no less serviceable in ornamental grounds.
In the disposition of the gardens annexed to some of our suburban villas, which we frequently see effected with so much ingenuity and taste, the acumen and cultivation of the town are availed of in the improvement and bringing to perfection the materials which the country affords.
Both in ornamental-ground disposition and in painting, the real object is not to thwart or to distort nature, but to develope and display it to the fullest extent, and to correct those blemishes and defects which accident, or some other causes, disturbing nature, have occasioned ; and which are no more an essential part of nature, than a tumour or a fracture is an essential part of a living frame.