Examples In Each Art
( Originally Published Late 1800's )
We have now to examine some examples in each art, illustrative of the truth of the principles which in the preceding section I have endeavoured to lay down.
In the cartoons of Raphael, particularly in that of `Paul Preaching at Athens,' the energy and boldness, together with the simplicity of the design, and the dignified expression which is displayed in the different countenances of the persons de-scribed, especially in that of the principal character, are what conduce to render it of the grandeur by which it is peculiarly distinguished.
The astonishment, not unmixed with fear, which the Apostle appears to be exciting in the minds of his audience, and which are insensibly communicated to that of the spectator; the majesty of his figure, to which the painter has skilfully added by placing him on an eminence rather above his hearers, and by throwing his form into shadow ; the energy with which he is addressing them, and the effective mode in which he has evidently impressed them; the intense feelings with which they are excited, as evinced by their various actions, and demeanour, and expressions ;—alike contribute, according to the principles which I have laid down, to add to the grandeur of this very admirable performance, which, if not the most sublime, is probably, nevertheless, the most perfect work of the kind which the art of painting ever yet produced.
Perhaps, indeed, a more complete example of the grand is afforded by the figure of ` Ezekiel, on the ceiling of the Sistine chapel at Rome, by Michael Angelo. He is represented as a venerable old man of dignified aspect, in stature above the ordinary size, clothed in a simple drapery. This, although not in itself so fine a picture as that last described, contains in it more elements of grandeur, unmixed with any of the elements of the other orders of the picturesque. Grandeur and beauty are probably too much blended together in many of the works of Raphael, especially in the `Cartoons,' to adapt them for being referred to as pure examples of either.
In sculpture, as in painting, the general vigour of the outline and expression, is what mainly contributes to confer grandeur on the composition. Of this we have an admirable example in the group of ' The Laocoon,' in which the boldness, and irregularity, and even wildness of the figures and attitude and expression, the majesty and strength of the form of Laocoon him-self, together with the violent contortions into which he is thrown, conduce to produce this effect. In the element of dignity it is, however, somewhat deficient. No casts or copies which I have seen at all do justice to the original of this splendid statue, in which the expression of agony, both mental and corporeal, in Laocoon, the representation of the shrinking of the flesh, and the distortion and convulsion of his vast and vigorous frame, are extremely fine, and, indeed, wonderful, if not perfect. Both in the countenances and the attitude of the sons there is also much feeling.
The statue of `Moses,' by Michael Angelo, furnishes, perhaps, even a more complete and unmixed example of the grand alone, than does the group of the Laocoon. The figure here is in repose instead of action. Its venerable form, simple attire, rugged outline, vast stature, and dignified aspect, all contribute to its grandeur. And there is no one feature which tends to lessen this quality.
In poetry, blank verse, as admitting of more freedom, and possessing more vigour and boldness of expression, is better adapted for grandeur of description than is rhyming metre ; the smoothness, and regularity, and harmony of which detract from the dignity and energy required in this style.
In the following extremely sublime description by Milton, of the form and appearance of Satan, we shall find that the principles which I have laid down in the preceding section, have been very fully and literally carried out, as regards the means to which the poet has resorted in order to endow him with the utmost grandeur.
He is introduced to us in the numerous assembly of his peers, and as their great and " dread commander." He is described as endowed with astonishing power, and is even compared to the heavenly bodies, although obscured. His form appears of superhuman stature; his shape and action are of extraordinary majesty; and marks of much pride, and care, and courage, are seen in his countenance :—
"He above the rest
In the description of Beelzebub, the grandeur with which he is endowed is owing to the observance of the same principles. The majesty of his appearance, and of his expression and action, are very sublimely portrayed.
He is represented as rising to offer his counsel in the debate among the assembly of the fallen angels, after their banishment into the infernal regions; and is accordingly here characterized by his stately qualities and endowments, rather than by the courage and power possessed by Satan; ---
" With grave
Milton's description of the war in Heaven is of the utmost grandeur. The various elements to which I have referred as contributing to this end, have here been availed of in a manner the most efficient. The dignity of Satan's appearance, his huge stature, the terror of the scene, the multitude of the host engaged, the power of the combatants, the action of Satan, which is particularly described, and the supernatural character of the whole, alike aid in this respect.
Satan is here introduced as leading on his forces, previous to his encounter with Abdiel; ---
High in the midst, exalted as a God,
The introduction by Dante, in the 3rd Canto of his ` Inferno,' of wasps and hornets and worms, is little and mean and degrading; and detracts both from the grandeur and the celestiality of the description. So also in Canto 5, the account of Minos encircling himself with his tail, is petty and ludicrous. And still more mean and degrading, and destructive of all sublime and celestial thought and feeling, is the metaphor in Canto 15 of ----
" An old tailor at his needle's eye."
Again, in the 17th Canto, the comparison of the action of the spirits to that of dogs bitten by flies, is trivial and vulgar.
In eloquence the same grandeur is attainable as we have seen effected in poetry. Metaphor is here on certain occasions extensively resorted to for the purpose of introducing objects of grandeur. The close connection between poetry and eloquence I have commented upon in a former chapter. In the orations of Demosthenes, and of the other great orators in his style, we may discern a grandeur and a sublimity corresponding with what characterizes those passages which I have quoted from the poem of Milton. Thus great dignity and grandeur, from the noble and bold sentiment which it contains, and from the sublime notions that it affords to us of the character, and also of the action and power of the orator, are contained in that eloquent passage towards the close of Demosthenes" Oration on the Crown,' which is as follows :
"Not the solemn demand of my person; not the vengeance of the Amphictyonic Council, which they denounced against me; not the terror of their threatenings; not the flattery of their promises ; no, nor the fury of those accursed wretches, whom they roused like wild beasts against me, could ever tear this affection from my breast. From first to last, I have uniformly pursued the just and virtuous course of conduct; assertor of the honours, of the prerogatives, of the glory of my country; studious to support them, zealous to advance them, my whole being is devoted to this glorious cause."
In the foregoing extract, a number of sublime ideas are congregated together; and as the orator proceeds, he appears to rise higher at each step. From a patriot he is exalted almost to a divinity. The simple dignity of the sentiment, and the plain structure of the language, both conduce, moreover, to the grandeur of the whole. And the effect is greatly heightened by contrasting with his own undaunted firmness, the rabid fury of those arrayed against him.
In sound or music, the bass is that which is most adapted for producing grand, and the treble for beautiful sounds. Loudness is also to a certain extent essential for occasioning any very powerful ideas of grandeur to be called forth by this means. The idea of great strength is oftentimes the main cause of grandeur here. Thus the roar of thunder, of an avalanche, or of the sea, are on this account calculated to excite within us sensations of the grandest character; while the sound of a gun-shot, or of the murmuring of a brook, which differ only from the former in the extent of their magnitude and power, are not in any degree calculated to produce this effect. The slow, simple, and dignified, but irregular progress of the sound in the case of thunder, which has relation to the element of motion, con-tributes also to its grandeur.
In architecture, magnitude is the principal cause of grandeur, although shape and colour may also greatly conduce to this end. Nevertheless, forms either natural or artificial which possess a shape unfavourable to their grandeur, may from their excessive magnitude alone become objects of considerable grandeur, as is the case with many mountains, and also with several large buildings. Solidity, which corresponds with strength or power in objects of action, and the solemn dignity which appertains to all edifices of magnitude, contribute much to their grandeur. The Norman and Roman styles are well adapted for attaining grandeur in architecture, from the boldness and simplicity of character which distinguish them.
Association of ideas has a powerful effect in the promotion of grandeur, and of beauty also, but probably more in some arts than in others. Age and mould and decay thus give a character to many edifices that no auxiliaries of art can supply, and which they do in a great measure by the associations that they excite.
Painting, sculpture, poetry, eloquence, and music are so closely connected with dramatic acting, that the elements of grandeur which are available in those arts, must be necessarily more or less resorted to in the latter art also. Grandeur in acting is mainly exhibited in those scenes representative of heroes and momentous enterprises, which it is the noblest province of this art forcibly and adequately to depict, and in which characters of the male sex are best adapted to engage. Picturesqueness in costume, too, is dependent on the same principles as those which occasion it in painting and sculpture. Productions in this art are fully capable of being imbued with an extensive degree of grandeur, more especially when these are of a martial order, as is the case with much of the armour of ancient days. Its forms and its colours alike conduce to this end, as do also the associations which it is calculated to excite.
As regards gardening, the same principles which regulate landscape scenery, and description in painting and poetry, and which are applicable to architecture, are fully available here. Designs in gardening, however, seldom admit of a large amount of grandeur being infused into them, on account of the necessary absence of the main element of magnitude. The introduction of rocks, which give boldness and irregularity to the scene, and simplicity in the design, may of course be resorted to to aid grandeur here.