Examples In Each Art
( Originally Published Late 1800's )
We have now to consider some of the leading examples of beauty which are afforded by various productions in each of the arts.
The Cartoons of Raphael, already several times referred to in the foregoing pages, offer some of the finest samples of the beautiful in the art of painting, although with the elements of grandeur, and, as regards certain of them, with those of pathos, too, they are also eminently endowed. One of the most perfect models of a work in the beautiful style in painting is `Christ's Charge to Peter,' and in which the several elements of beauty to which I have referred may be fully traced. The whole composition is, indeed, adapted to excite within us sensations of a very refined and pleasing description. Here, moreover, we may observe that the variety in the character and expression of the different persons introduced, which is aided by the scenery in the background, contributes much to the effect of the composition. The clearness with which the subject is represented, assists here. The repose of the figures, and of the entire picture also, much adds to its beauty. The light which is thrown over the group further conduces to the same end; as do the harmony, proportion, and regularity which characterize the composition, and also the placidity with which it is endowed.
But, perhaps, the most perfect example of the beautiful in painting is afforded by the picture of ` The Assumption of the Virgin,' by Guido, in the Bridgewater Gallery, in which the harmony, placidity, lightness, delicacy, and clearness, both of the form and colouring, and indeed of the whole design, alike contribute to render it of this character.
Regularity and due proportion in form, which latter is the leading material for conveying expression in sculpture, are what mainly conduce to the beauty of any performance in this branch of the arts. We have two admirable illustrations of this principle in the famous statues of the `Apollo Belvedere' and the `Venus de Medicis.' In the former of these the figure is seen to be in action, or rather to have been quite lately exerting itself in discharging an arrow, while in the latter it is in a state of perfect placidity and repose.
The statue of the 'Venus de Medicis' affords moreover a strong proof that repose is more favourable to the excess, or rather perfection of beauty, than is motion. The `Apollo Belvedere' might also be appealed to in corroboration of this theory, as the recent action has in reality subsided into re-pose.
Here, too, may we perceive that for beauty, light colour, more particularly in sculpture, is more favourable than dark, —as white marble or alabaster, than bronze, or black marble; weakness than strength ; lightness in figure, such as that of the `Apollo' or ` Venus,' (which quality is indeed a branch of that of minuteness)) than heaviness, such as that possessed by the `Farnese Hercules;' the female form, which combines each of these elements of the former kind, than the male, which exhibits mainly those of the latter; and youth than age.
Rhyme is much better adapted than blank verse, for the production of beauty in poetry, its regularity and harmony conducing essentially to this end. How eminently beautiful and remarkable alike for the pleasure they convey, and the variety, delicacy, lightness, and clearness of the ideas they afford, are the following lines, by Pope, descriptive of a landscape prospect, and in which those subjects and qualities which have been pointed out as the elements of beauty abound !
An almost equal degree of beauty may, however, be attained by efforts in eloquence, which, although this art wants the musical intonations of rhyme, yet it admits of more variety in diction and expression than does poetry, as may be evinced by the following quotation from Cicero's ` Oratio pro T. A. Milone,' referring to the sacrilege of Clodius. The elements alluded to are availed of here, while the metaphors introduced add greatly to its effect.
" Vos enim jam, Albani tumuli atque luci, vos, inquam, imploro atque tester, vosque Albanorum obrutm arm, sacrorum populi Romani sociae et aequales, quas ille praeceps amentia, cæsis, prostratisque sanctissimis lucis, substructionum in.. sanis molibus oppresserat : vestrae tum are, vestrae religiones viguerunt, vestra vis valuit, quam ille omni scelere polluerat : tuque ex tuo edito monte, Latiaris sancte Jupiter, cujus file lacus, nemora, finesque saepe omni nefario stupro et scelere macularat, aliquando ad eum puniendum oculos aperuistis : vobis illae, vobis vestro in conspectu serra, sed justae tamen, et debitae poenæ solutae sunt."
In music, softness and shrillness, rather than gravity of sound, are what conduce to produce the sentiment of beauty. Variety, combined with harmony and regularity, is also very essential in this respect; and vivacity or animation, which corresponds with activity in moving objects, is more calculated than slow gradual progress, to render sounds beautiful.
Music, however, consists not so much in the relative power, or in the particular quality of any individual sounds, as in the harmonious combination of several. Even certain sounds which are by themselves harsh and unmelodious, aid, when combined with others, to the music of the entire composition. Thunder by itself is unmusical ; but the thunder-stop in an organ, in conjunction with other-notes, aids intensely the effect and the harmony of the whole. The sound of the drum alone is abrupt, and peculiarly unmusical; as an accompaniment to other instruments it is most valuable. So many colours are harsh and displeasing by themselves ; but combined with other colours they conduce to the beauty of the whole.
In music, as well as in the other arts, the principle of beauty seems to depend on an apt and suitable combination of ideas,—in the case of this art those of sounds,—which together constitute harmony. Sounds which do not harmonize, but are discordant, do not create music. In this respect, sounds and shapes seem to correspond with one another; and each agree in producing in the mind the same effect as regards their ideas, how different soever the sources from which those ideas sprung. Ideas called forth by music enter, perhaps, more directly into the mind than those arising from form or colour, as being simpler and less dependent on collateral circumstances.
In architecture, diminutiveness cannot be said to produce, although it in most cases conduces to beauty. Objects of this kind, of extensive magnitude, may, however, be beautiful, al-though they also possess a great degree of grandeur. In a cor-responding manner the division of the work into small parts, as is the case with many gothic buildings of exquisite workmanship in the detail, is productive of beauty rather than of grandeur. Regularity in design is essential for the beauty of every architectural structure. Variety also conduces much to beauty in objects of this kind. Proportion, too, is an essential element of beauty here. Delicacy, which corresponds with weakness in objects of life, also contributes to this end; and clearness of design, and lightness of colour, add much to the beauty of any architectural edifice. The ruins of the Parthenon, and of other Grecian temples, may be appealed to as illustrations of the truth of the principles which I have here maintained.
Beauty in dramatic acting is mainly and directly excited and promoted by the exhibition of those refined feelings, and tender emotions and passions, which are fully capable of being represented on the stage, and which are more especially called forth when female characters engage in the scene.
There is no art which is more extensively capable of exhibiting to the full the beautiful in art, and of illustrating the truth of the principles which I have propounded, than is that of costume, alike from the variety of which it admits, both as regards form and colour, the vividness of the tints displayed upon it, and the delicacy of its workmanship. Indeed, every element of beauty may here find ample room for application.
In designs in the art of gardening, variety contributes extensively to their beauty, especially in the disposal of the ground, where gradual undulations are decidedly preferable to even plains, and in which respect nature is ever thus diversified. Walks, if skilfully availed of, may be made to contribute essentially and extensively to the beauty of a garden landscape, not only by the new element of variety which they at once constitute, but the graceful undulating lines in which they may be constructed to run, form of themselves objects of beauty. Colour and harmony also require particular attention in the case of compositions in this art, both as regards the tints of the different flowers, and that of the foliage of the various trees and shrubs, as well as the colour of the ground, and of the buildings adjacent. In scenery, alike as regards landscape painting and design in gardening, the effect of variety when combined with harmony,—as these are among the leading and most powerful elements of beauty applicable to this branch of art,—may especially be remarked; and the greater is the variety of the objects that can be introduced into a composition of this kind, the more pleasing will be its result. Thus, wood, and rock, and water, when brought together, occasion not only variety, but also contrast with one another, although without destroying the harmony of the composition. So also the undulation of the ground, and the mixture of fertile plains with steep hills, conduce to this end. Rock is an immense addition to the picturesque charms of a landscape, from its being so different to the other objects in the scene, as is also water, whether still or running. Mountains and lakes are peculiarly antagonistic in feature one to another, the gloom and sternness of the one, contrasting directly and powerfully with the brightness and calmness of the other. The grandeur of one sets off the beauty of the other, and the beauty of one the grandeur of the other. And in that finest of all landscape features, a torrent rushing through a rocky ravine, what a forcible and effective contrast exists between the stern, rigid, venerable position of the dark mass, immovable through count-less ages ; and the ceaselessly restless agitation of the pure limpid stream, whirling around and foaming against it. Fo-liage and herbage, too, add greatly to the effect of both, and contribute to enhance the charms of each ; more particularly from the delicacy of their forms and hues, do they directly con-duce to the beauty of the scene. Ruins of old castles and churches, which have withstood and have battled with the elements for ages, and in whose walls the moss and ivy have taken deep root, become, as it were, incorporated into the natural scenery, and appear to form a part of the very rocks in which they are fixed, and out of which they were originally framed.
It is essentially requisite, however, in laying out ornamental grounds, the leading object of which is to afford pleasure and agreeable contemplation to all who view them, that they should not only, as in the case of pictures, be striking and affecting, but that they should be also directly pleasing. And we should further bear in mind this important consideration, that, while a picture is intended only for a transient glance, ornamental grounds are to be the objects of constant and permanent observation.
Hence, while in painting, many subjects which are striking and effective, although in themselves, or the mode of treating them, they may be too exciting and even harrowing, it may be repulsive, to be directly pleasing, are nevertheless tolerated and even highly prized on account of the wondrous skill displayed in their execution; yet in ornamental gardening objects only which are actually agreeable can be introduced. Thus, the interior of a blacksmith's shop illumined by a furnace, a butcher's stall adorned with the carcases of cattle, and a stable or pigsty, with their ordinary rural accompaniments, afford subjects for paintings which are viewed with much pleasure. But to place these objects themselves before our drawing-room windows, as subjects of interest in our ornamental grounds, would of course be a gross violation of taste and decorum. So weeds and withered trees, which constitute very effective and indeed picturesque objects in a picture, would be wholly out of place, and entirely distasteful in a real composition in ornamental gardening.
Thus also in the other arts, in poetry, eloquence, music, and acting, whatever is directly repulsive or disagreeable, ought to be entirely excluded as foreign to the province of art, and beside the end which it seeks to attain. As a general rule, in-deed, those subjects, and those only, which are of a picturesque character, ought to be selected as the topics for representation or description in art of any kind. Moreover, the quality of the subject, whatever that may be, almost necessarily communicates some portion at least of its character to the work of art by which it is represented. Occasionally, however, by the power of genius, we see themes trivial in themselves exalted in the description into matters of interest and importance, from the skilful manner in which thy are handled; while really sublime events, when treated by persons of but inferior powers, appear but mean and trifling.