« PreviousContinue »
chain of circumstances is equal to a narration, and that he cannot but think thai the whole would have been an example of invention and conduct even in the happiest agę of antiquity.” This whole paragraph is admirable.
The well-known story of the contest between Zeuxis and Parrhasius, furnishes another argument of the moderate progress of this art, at that time. It is recorded, that the birds were deceived by the painted grapes of the one, and that the competitor was himself deceived by the painted curtain of the other. Now that the birds were deceived (if they really were) must be owing to the perfection of thę represented grapes; but it is no difficult matter to represent fruit or flowers so perfectly as to deceive even men.
It is a thousand times more difficult to represent truly the human figure: and we find, by the same story, that these grapes were in the hand of a boy, whom, if the painter had represented as well as he had the fruit, the birds would scarcely have ventured to peck at it. And the curtain of the other painter being in a place where a curtain might probably hang, if it were not very perfectly represented, (though such representation is by no means difficult) might easily deceive a person who expected no such thing, and therefore did not scrupulously examine it. And, indeed, very indifferent representations, even of human figures, do sometimes deceive, in places where the originals might probably be; as centinels, and other figures in gardens, painted in wood, and cut out at all the extremities; and figures painted in sham windows. These, and such like, have often deceived the spectators, though not well executed, becanse, as was said, originals might probably be in these places. But the best portrait that erer Titian drew, if hung up in a frame, on the side of a room, would not deceive; that is, would not be taken for the person represented, which, however, it infallibly would, if placed where that person might be expected. And on the contrary, were a living face to appear through a canvass, inclosed in a frame, and mounted up as high as pictures are generally hung, it would very probably be taken fora picture: an instance of which is recounted of the famous Marshall Luxembourg, who, having had his picture drawn by one of the best painters in Paris, carried his mistress to see it, in hopes of prevailing on her to sit for her own. She immediately condemned it asserting at the same time that she never saw any picture like a human face. He, knowing that this was mere prejudice, persuaded the lady to call once more at the painter's house, after the last sitting, and assured her, that if she should not be then perfectly satisfied, he would never more importune her. He had contrived, with the painter's assistance, (just at the time the lady was appointed) to thrust his own face through a canvass bung where the picture bad before been placed. She, on viewing it, persisted in asserting, that it was no more like than before. Upon this he could not keep his countenance, but, by laughing out, discovered his own stratagem, and her ob. stinacy,
This story is introduced, to slew how necessary the concomitant circumstances either of a picture, or of nature are, in order to produce the proper effects of the one or the other, on the spectator,
[The above remarks were made immediately after the publication of Mr. Webb's book, (in 1760) and were in tended to be then printed in this Magazine; but by some accident, were omitted. The author of them has since heard so high, a character (from the best judges) of the works of Mr. Stubbs, on some of the subjects in which Rnbens excelled, that he should not think himself excusable in neglecting the comparison of two such great masters, if he had had the pleasure of seeing Mr. Stubbs' performances; but of that he has been hitherto deprived by his distance from London.]
LXXX. Strictures on Walpole's Anecdotes of Painting,
Lothbury, Feb. 13. MR. URBAN, I HAVE lately turned over the new edition of the “Anecdotes of Painting in England," from the former perusal of which I had received much pleasure and information. I need not expatiate here on the merit of a work which hath been so well received by the public. It appears now with the advantage of some additions and improvements; and if it be perhaps too much to say, that upon the whole it is superior to the lives of the painters which have been pub, lished in Italy and France; yet one may, venture to assert, that the reading of it is more agreeable, being equally free from the trifling particulars which disgust you so often in the works of Vasari, Malvasia, Ridolfi, and other Italian
authors, and from the indiscriminate and exaggerated praises lavished with so liberal a hand by Felibien, Dargenville, and other French writers, upon many artists of no very great merit,
By this publication Mr. Walpole hath rendered us the same service which Vasari hath to Italy. He bath preserved sundry notices which in all probability would soon have been lost, and recorded many which would never have been known. The beginning of the history of the arts in Great Britain would have continued without him, involved in darkness. We may hope, since the foundation of the Sou ciety of Artists, and of the Royal Academy, that those two bodies will be the means of transmitting the seqnel of it to our posterity.
In my cursory reading of this useful and entertaining work, I took notice of some mistakes and some omissions ; and, as I apprehended that rectifying the first, and supplying the others, inight be of some service in a future edition, I wrote them down upon loose papers, with the intention of revising and improving the whole when more leisure should afford me the opportunity of doing it properly. But hav. ing, by some accident, mislaid those papers, and not having at present time to read over again the “ Anecdotes of Painting,” I shall transmit you two or three remarks which I have found, giving you the liberty to insert them in your useful Magazine, if you think them deserving the notice af the public, and worthy of a place in your valuable collection.
Mr. W. upon mentioning (Vol. v. p. 40.) a print of James I. with his arms supported by a lion and a griffin, makes this remark : “ As Crispin Pass executed this abroad, it is not extraordinary that he should have continued Queen Elizabeth's griffin, not knowing that James on his accession had assumed the Scottish supporter.” This observation is true, generally speaking; but I believe that more instances, might be given, where the griffin hath been used by James and his successors of the Stuart family. I shall only mention a remarkable one which may be seen at the hospital of St. Catharine by the Tower. There is, in the wall of that building which runs parallel to the church, a compartment in stone, wherein are carved the arms of King Charles II. impaled with those of his consort Queen Catharine of Portugal, supported by the lion and griffin. It is in very good preservation, well executed, and, on account of its being placed in a public edifice, it claims our particular attention.
In Vol. v. p. 194. a print is mentioned of Lord Chancel
for Jefferies by Isaac Oliver, where he is styled Earl of Flint: a title, says Mr. W. which none of our historians mena tion to have been given to or designed for him*. The sagacity of our author might have pointed out to him, that this print hath preserved us this very curious anecdote, that the title of Earl of Flint was the reward intended by James II. for the cruelties committed by the bloody and merciless Jefferies, who, upon the promise of this new dignity, very probably bespoke this print with his new title, intending that it should appear in public at the same time with the patent of his creation. The temper of the times very likely prevented this last being published as soon as it was intended ; and events crowding fast one upon another, brought on the flight of the king, and the death of the minister.
I wonder that these reflections should not have occurred to Mr. W. when something of the same kind had before, upon a similar occasion; for in p. 116, after mentioning a print of Henry Somerset, marquis of Worcester, by Wm. Faithorne, he says, this print hath the garter, though it never was given, and he adds very judiciously, probably it was promised, which, I think, is very likely the case, by reflecting upon the history of those times.
I cannot help remarking here, as à corroborating proof of what is said above, that very lately a print of a noble Duke with the insignia of the garter hath been published so soon after his receiving it, as to make it evident, that the print was begun, if not finished, before the creation was knowu to the public at large; so that had a revolution in politics or death prevented the bestowing this mark of the royal favour, still the print would have remained to perplex posterity. One may further observe, that the noble Duke appears in the print with the star upon his breast, although, if I be not mistaken, the knights do not wear it till after their installation, and previous to it are only entitled to wear the blue ribbon.
In Vol. iv. Mr. W. giving some account of Bellucci, an Italian painter, who was employed at Canons, the seat of the first Duke of Chandos, observes, that this palace was pulled clown as soon as he was dead, and, as if in mockery of sublunary grandeur, the scite and materials were purchased by Hallet, the cabinet-maker. In the first edition this
*Some have thought this a sarcasm, in allusion to the hardness of his heart. EDIT.
was expressed in a more contemptuous style, by using the expression of one Hallet, a cabinet-maker. Ovid says somewhere, that literature mollit mores, nec sinit esse feros. This is very true, but as there is no rule without exception, the author under our consideration affords us a very striking in. stance of the truth of this common proverb. I always won. dered at the reason which could induce Mr. W. to speak in so familiar and disrespectful a manner of a gentleman, who by his ability, prudence, good management, ceconomy, and success in his business, had been placed in a situation which enabled him to purchase an estate from a family, who, in the care of its fortune, had followed a different line of conduet. If Mr. W. was so fond of morality, and of mak, ing reflections upon the changes of this world, he might have seen an instance of the instability of sublunary grandeur in his own family, an instance too which was connected with his work, and to which his subject ought to have naturally led him. Every body will perceive that I allude to the princely collection of pictures intended by the founder to be an everlasting useful ornament to England, and which in the lapse of a few years hath been sold by his successor, and removed to a country reputed not long ago unlettered and unçivilised*.
Yours, &c. 1784, July,
LXXXI. Mixed Passions sometimes not improperly expressed,
THE discourses of the President of the Royal Academy not only display a profound knowledge of professional theory, but also contain many general incidental principles of all the finer arts. The student of poetry or eloquence may derive from them almost equal instruction with the painter. It is therefore with the greatest hesitation I venture to examine the justness of a decision made by so accurate an observer of human nature.
In the discourse delivered Dec. 10, 1772, he cautions the
* Our correspondent should be informed, that it was rot in the power of Mr. W. to present this unfortunate event, which would not have taken place had a certain lady of the family died a little sooner.