Illustrations Of The Foregoing Principles In Each Of The Arts
( Originally Published 1869 )
The examples afforded in the last chapter from the cartoons of ' Paul Preaching at Athens,' and of ' Christ's Charge to Peter,' serve as admirable illustrations of the principles laid down with regard to composition in art. In both these works the subject is arranged in such a manner that we see at once the meaning of the painter; the most orderly method prevails in his mode of relating the story, and in the composition, which throughout is varied so as to be pleasing to the eye, and to accord with what we see in nature ; the principal figure in the piece is at once perceived by his dignity and gesture, and towards him all the subordinate figures are directed; while the different groups are arranged with the utmost propriety. Each part of the picture, moreover, contributes to the general design, and one object only is aimed at by the artist; the draperies, buildings, landscape and background in each case aid mate, rially the effect of the whole.
It is not often that in sculptural efforts a large number of figures is introduced. But when this is the case, the principles of composition are fully as applicable to representations in this art as they are to those in painting. In proof of this we may refer to the Elgin Marbles, where, as in the productions of Raphael, we are struck with the admirable and perspicuous manner in which the composition is arranged, the mode in which the whole is varied, the excellent and judicious disposition alike of the several figures and groups, the manner in which each of the different portions contributes to the effect of the entire design, and the unity which prevails in the representation, notwithstanding the number of personages in the composition.
But no less in poetry, than in visible representations by painting and sculpture, do the foregoing principles of composition admit of elucidation; although here, it may be less easy to quote particular passages in illustration of them. The 'Iliad,' the 'AEneid,' and ' Paradise Lost,' as regards their whole structure and composition throughout, the design and management of the entire story, the disposition of the various characters, and the introduction of the several scenes and incidents, might be appealed to as examples of the strict adherence to these rules, which it is unnecessary to recapitulate. In every well-constructed oration, too, their observance must be enforced, and will essentially contribute to its merit and effect.
In music no less than in poetry, the leading principles of composition are necessary to be observed, as may be seen by reference to every grand oratorio of the greatest masters ; and to architecture all its principles are clearly applicable.
Indeed, in no art more than in architecture may the principles of composition be more fully availed of, and to none are they more essential; more especially as regards the arrangement and order of the composition, the variation of its parts, the due relation of its constituents to each other, the preservation of the unity of the entire subject, the maintenance of a principal object or figure in the composition, the subordination of the collateral parts to the leading features and general design of the whole, and the proper use of ornament.
In architecture, indeed, the principles of composition regulate alike the structure of the principal building, of its several adjuncts, as also its relative component portions, and the ornaments and appendants which contribute to its completion. The most perfect buildings may be appealed to as examples of this rule. In the position, moreover, of the edifice, and the adaptation of it to surrounding objects, the exercise of the foregoing principles is resorted to, and great skill may be displayed in their use.
Composition, as regards the due placing of buildings with regard to site, the different objects near them, and the mode in which the light will fall, is therefore as fully important in architecture as it is in painting or sculpture. Edifices in general, indeed, are great or small, light or dark, much more by comparison with others, than from their own independent size, or shape, or colour.
In dramatic acting, the rules of composition are as essential as in any of the arts, and contribute as extensively to the success of the performance ; more especially as regards its arrangement and order, the placing of the figures, especially in maintaining one principal figure or personage in the piece, and the subservience to him of those that are secondary or inferior, the disposition of the groups, and the maintenance of unity throughout the composition. The performance should, moreover, receive such adventitious aids from independent sources, as compositions in painting do from backgrounds.
Costume, too, owes as much to the principles of composition in respect to the due regulation, variety, and harmony of its different parts, and the fusion of them all into a complete whole, as do any of the arts. Gardening also, as regards the general style of laying out the grounds, may derive essential advantage from their observance; and by this means nature will not be distorted, but will be only directed in her right and accustomed course. More especially in the grouping of the trees, and the arrangement of the whole as regards the undulation of the ground, and the proper distribution of foliage, water, rock, and lawn, these principles may be fully exerted, and skilfully applied.
Gardening admits of the application of the principles of composition as regards the ground itself, whether plain or un-dulating; and of the artistical disposition of objects, whether trees, rocks, plantations, buildings, or beds of flowers. These operations constitute also the elements that are rendered avail-able in compositions of this kind. And the disposal and arrangement of these several forms are capable of infinite variety, alike with regard to shape and colour, and light and shade. The parks and pleasure-grounds of our nobility afford excellent examples of composition in this art, and of the successful application to it of the principles here laid down.
Occasionally, when the character of the country admits of this being done, distant objects and points of view, and even openings for landscape scenery, may be availed of, and, as it were, introduced and embodied in the composition; and whether this be effected by cutting down trees, removing buildings, or lowering part of a hill. A distant sea view, or the summit of a mountain, when these are conspicuous from the garden or grounds, contributes as essentially to the general effect of the composition, as does a tree, or a building, or a piece of water standing within its confines.
The principles of gardening may, moreover, be applied not only to the laying out of grounds which are expressly ornamental, but to the general improvement of our landscape scenery, especially as regards the correction of deformities, and the removal of unsightly objects which mar its natural beauties. By the addition of a few trees either to form an object in a particular locality, or to introduce new tints in the foliage, by a slight alteration in the course of a rivulet, or by the construction of a cascade in a suitable spot, the whole character and composition of the scenery may be advantageously varied; and nature will be not so much changed as corrected, or rather restored.