Ariadne Florentina Part 15

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[BH] "Would not the design have looked better, to us, on the plate than on the print? On the plate, the reins would be in the left hand; and the whole movement be from the left to the right? The two different forms that the radiance takes would symbolize respectively heat and light, would they not?"

[BI] Strutt, pp. 97-8, ed. 1801.

[BJ] Explained as "a game still played by the shepherds, cowkeepers,"

etc., in the midland counties.

[BK] See Iliad, 20, 145.

[Ill.u.s.tration: XI.

"Obediente Domino voci hominis."]




229. I have long deferred the completion of this book, because I had hoped to find time to show, in some fullness, the grounds for my conviction that engraving, and the study of it, since the development of the modern finished school, have been ruinous to European knowledge of art. But I am more and more busied in what I believe to be better work, and can only with extreme brevity state here the conclusions of many years' thought.

These, in several important particulars, have been curiously enforced on me by the carelessness shown by the picture dealers about the copies from Turner which it has cost Mr. Ward and me[BL] fifteen years of study together to enable ourselves to make. "They are only copies," say they,--"n.o.body will look at them."

230. It never seems to occur even to the most intelligent persons that an engraving also is 'only a copy,' and a copy done with refusal of color, and with disadvantage of means in rendering shade. But just because this utterly inferior copy can be reduplicated, and introduces a different kind of skill, in another material, people are content to lose all the composition, and all the charm, of the original,--so far as these depend on the chief gift of a _painter_,--color; while they are gradually misled into attributing to the painter himself qualities impertinently added by the engraver to make his plate popular: and, which is far worse, they are as gradually and subtly prevented from looking, in the original, for the qualities which engraving could never render. Further, it continually happens that the very best color-compositions engrave worst; for they often extend colors over great s.p.a.ces at equal pitch, and the green is as dark as the red, and the blue as the brown; so that the engraver can only distinguish them by lines in different directions, and his plate becomes a vague and dead ma.s.s of neutral tint; but a bad and forced piece of color, or a piece of work of the Bolognese school, which is everywhere black in the shadows, and colorless in the lights, will engrave with great ease, and appear spirited and forcible. Hence engravers, as a rule, are interested in reproducing the work of the worst schools of painting.

Also, the idea that the merit of an engraving consisted in light and shade, has prevented the modern masters from even attempting to render works dependent mainly on outline and expression; like the early frescoes, which should indeed have been the objects of their most attentive and continual skill: for outline and expression are entirely within the scope of engraving; and the scripture histories of an aisle of a cloister might have been engraved, to perfection, with little more pains than are given by ordinary workmen to round a limb by Correggio, or imitate the texture of a dress by Sir Joshua,--and both, at last, inadequately.

231. I will not lose more time in a.s.serting or lamenting the mischief arising out of the existing system: but will rapidly state what the public should now ask for.

1. Exquisitely careful engraved outlines of all remaining frescoes of the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth centuries in Italy, with so much pale tinting as may be explanatory of their main; and with the local darks and local lights brilliantly relieved. The Arundel Society have published some meritorious plates of this kind from Angelico,--not, however, paying respect enough to the local colors, but conventionalizing the whole too much into outline.

2. Finished small plates for book ill.u.s.tration. The cheap wood-cutting and etching of popular ill.u.s.trated books have been endlessly mischievous to public taste: they first obtained their power in a general reaction of the public mind from the insipidity of the lower school of line engraving, brought on it by servile persistence in hack work for ignorant publishers. The last dregs of it may still be seen in the sentimental landscapes engraved for cheap ladies' pocket-books. But the woodcut can never, educationally, take the place of serene and accomplished line engraving; and the training of young artists in whom the gift of delineation prevails over their sense of color, to the production of scholarly, but small plates, with their utmost honor of skill, would give a hitherto unconceived dignity to the character and range of our popular literature.

3. Vigorous mezzotints from pictures of the great masters, which originally present n.o.ble contrasts of light and shade. Many Venetian works are magnificent in this character.

4. Original design by painters themselves, decisively engraved in few lines--(_not_ etched); and with such insistence by dotted work on the main contours as we have seen in the examples given from Italian engraving.

5. On the other hand, the men whose quiet patience and exquisite manual dexterity are at present employed in producing large and costly plates, such as that of the Belle Jardiniere de Florence, by M. Boucher Desnoyers, should be entirely released from their servile toil, and employed exclusively in producing colored copies, or light drawings, from the original work. The same number of hours of labor, applied with the like conscientious skill, would multiply precious likenesses of the real picture, full of subtle veracities which no steel line could approach, and conveying, to thousands, true knowledge and unaffected enjoyment of painting; while the finished plate lies uncared for in the portfolio of the virtuoso, serving only, so far as it is seen in the printseller's window by the people, to make them think that sacred painting must always be dull, and unnatural.

232. I have named the above engraving, because, for persons wis.h.i.+ng to study the present qualities and methods of line-work, it is a pleasant and sufficient possession, uniting every variety of texture with great serenity of unforced effect, and exhibiting every possible artifice and achievement in the distribution of even and rugged, or of close and open line; artifices for which,--while I must yet once more and emphatically repeat that they are illegitimate, and could not be practiced in a revived school of cla.s.sic art,--I would fain secure the reader's reverent admiration, under the conditions exacted by the school to which they belong. Let him endeavor, with the finest point of pen or pencil he can obtain, to imitate the profile of this Madonna in its relief against the gray background of the water surface; let him examine, through a good lens, the way in which the lines of the background are ended in a lance-point as they approach it; the exact equality of depth of shade being restored by inserted dots, which prepare for the transition to the manner of shade adopted in the flesh: then let him endeavor to trace with his own hand some of the curved lines at the edge of the eyelid, or in the rounding of the lip; or if these be too impossible, even a few of the quiet undulations which gradate the folds of the hood behind the hair; and he will, I trust, begin to comprehend the range of delightful work which would be within the reach of such an artist, employed with more tractable material on more extended subject.

233. If, indeed, the present system were capable of influencing the ma.s.s of the people, and enforcing among them the subtle attention necessary to appreciate it, something might be pleaded in defense of its severity.

But all these plates are entirely above the means of the lower middle, and perhaps not one reader in a hundred can possess himself, for the study I ask of him, even of the plate to which I have just referred. What, in the stead of such, he can and does possess, let him consider,--and, if possible, just after examining the n.o.ble qualities of this conscientious engraving.

234. Take up, for an average specimen of modern ill.u.s.trated works, the volume of d.i.c.kens's 'Master Humphrey's Clock,' containing 'Barnaby Rudge.'

You have in that book an entirely profitless and monstrous story, in which the characters are a c.o.xcomb, an idiot, a madman, a savage blackguard, a foolish tavern-keeper, a mean old maid, and a conceited apprentice,--mixed up with a certain quant.i.ty of ordinary operatic pastoral stuff, about a pretty Dolly in ribbons, a lover with a wooden leg, and an heroic locksmith. For these latter, the only elements of good, or life, in the filthy ma.s.s of the story,[BM] observe that the author must filch the wreck of those old times of which we fiercely and frantically destroy every living vestige, whenever it is possible. You cannot have your Dolly Varden brought up behind the counter of a railway station; nor your jolly locksmith trained at a Birmingham bra.s.s-foundry.

And of these materials, observe that you can only have the ugly ones ill.u.s.trated. The cheap popular art cannot draw for you beauty, sense, or honesty; and for Dolly Varden, or the locksmith, you will look through the vignettes in vain. But every species of distorted folly and vice,--the idiot, the blackguard, the c.o.xcomb, the paltry fool, the degraded woman,--are pictured for your honorable pleasure in every page, with clumsy caricature, struggling to render its dullness tolerable by insisting on defect,--if perchance a penny or two more may be coined out of the c.o.c.kney reader's itch for loathsomeness.

235. Or take up, for instance of higher effort, the 'Cornhill Magazine'

for this month, July, 1876. It has a vignette of Venice for an illuminated letter. That is what your decorative art has become, by help of Kensington! The letter to be produced is a T. There is a gondola in the front of the design, with the canopy slipped back to the stern like a saddle over a horse's tail. There is another in the middle distance, all gone to seed at the prow, with its gondolier emaciated into an oar, at the stern; then there is a Church of the Salute, and a Ducal Palace,--in which I beg you to observe all the felicity and dexterity of modern cheap engraving; finally, over the Ducal Palace there is something, I know not in the least what meant for, like an umbrella dropping out of a balloon, which is the ornamental letter T. Opposite this ornamental design, there is an engraving of two young ladies and a parasol, between two trunks of trees. The white face and black feet of the young lady, being the points of the design, are done with as much care,--not with as much dexterity,--as an ordinary sketch of Du Maurier's in Punch. The young lady's dress, the next attraction, is done in cheap white and black cutting, with considerably less skill than that of any ordinary tailor's or milliner's shop-book pattern drawing. For the other young lady, and the landscape, take your magnifying gla.s.s, and look at the hacked wood that forms the entire shaded surface--one ma.s.s of idiotic scrabble, without the remotest attempt to express a single leaf, flower, or clod of earth. It is such landscape as the public sees out of its railroad window at sixty miles of it in the hour--and good enough for such a public.

236. Then turn to the last--the poetical plate, p. 122: "Lifts her--lays her down with care." Look at the gentleman with a spade, promoting the advance, over a hillock of hay, of the reposing figure in the black-sided tub. Take your magnifying gla.s.s to _that_, and look what a dainty female arm and hand your modern scientific and anatomical schools of art have provided you with! Look at the tender horizontal flux of the sea round the promontory point above. Look at the tender engraving of the linear light on the divine horizon, above the ravenous sea-gull.

Here is Development and Progress for you, from the days of Perugino's horizon, and Dante's daybreaks! Truly, here it seems

"Si che le bianche e le vermiglie guance Per troppa etate divenivan rance."

237. I have chosen no gross or mean instances of modern work. It is one of the saddest points connected with the matter that the designer of this last plate is a person of consummate art faculty, but bound to the wheel of the modern Juggernaut, and broken on it. These woodcuts, for 'Barnaby Rudge' and the 'Cornhill Magazine,' are favorably representative of the entire ill.u.s.trative art industry of the modern press,--industry enslaved to the ghastly service of catching the last gleams in the glued eyes of the daily more b.e.s.t.i.a.l English mob,--railroad born and bred, which drags itself about the black world it has withered under its breath, in one eternal grind and shriek,--gobbling,--staring,--chattering,--giggling,--trampling out every vestige of national honor and domestic peace, wherever it sets the staggering hoof of it; incapable of reading, of hearing, of thinking, of looking,--capable only of greed for money, l.u.s.t for food, pride of dress, and the prurient itch of momentary curiosity for the politics last announced by the newsmonger, and the religion last rolled by the chemist into electuary for the dead.

238. In the miserably compet.i.tive labor of finding new stimulus for the appet.i.te--daily more gross--of this tyrannous mob, we may count as lost, beyond any hope, the artists who are dull, docile, or distressed enough to submit to its demands; and we may count the dull and the distressed by myriads;--and among the docile, many of the best intellects we possess. The few who have sense and strength to a.s.sert their own place and supremacy, are driven into discouraged disease by their isolation, like Turner and Blake; the one abandoning the design of his 'Liber Studiorum' after imperfectly and sadly, against total public neglect, carrying it forward to what it is,--monumental, nevertheless, in landscape engraving; the other producing, with one only majestic series of designs from the book of Job, nothing for his life's work but coa.r.s.ely iridescent sketches of enigmatic dream.

239. And, for total result of our English engraving industry during the last hundred and fifty years, I find that practically at this moment I cannot get a _single_ piece of true, sweet, and comprehensible art, to place for instruction in any children's school! I can get, for ten pounds apiece, well-engraved portraits of Sir Joshua's beauties showing graceful limbs through flowery draperies; I can get--dirt-cheap--any quant.i.ty of Dutch flats, ditches, and hedges, enlivened by cows chewing the cud, and dogs behaving indecently; I can get heaps upon heaps of temples, and forums, and altars, arranged as for academical compet.i.tion, round seaports, with curled-up s.h.i.+ps that only touch the water with the middle of their bottoms. I can get, at the price of lumber, any quant.i.ty of British squires flouris.h.i.+ng whips and falling over hurdles; and, in suburban shops, a dolorous variety of widowed mothers nursing babies in a high light with the Bible on a table, and baby's shoes on a chair.

Also, of cheap prints, painted red and blue, of Christ blessing little children, of Joseph and his brethren, the infant Samuel, or Daniel in the lions' den, the supply is ample enough to make every child in these islands think of the Bible as a somewhat dull story-book, allowed on Sunday;--but of trained, wise, and worthy art, applied to gentle purposes of instruction, no single example can be found in the shops of the British printseller or bookseller. And after every dilettante tongue in European society has filled drawing-room and academy alike with idle clatter concerning the divinity of Raphael and Michael Angelo, for these last hundred years, I cannot at this instant, for the first school which I have some power of organizing under St. George's laws, get a good print of Raphael's Madonna of the tribune, or an ordinarily intelligible view of the side and dome of St. Peter's!

240. And there are simply no words for the mixed absurdity and wickedness of the present popular demand for art, as shown by its supply in our thoroughfares. Abroad, in the shops of the Rue de Rivoli, brightest and most central of Parisian streets, the putrescent remnant of what was once Catholicism promotes its poor gilded pedlars' ware of nativity and crucifixion into such honorable corners as it can find among the more costly and studious illuminations of the brothel: and although, in Pall Mall, and the Strand, the large-margined Landseer,--Stanfield,--or Turner-proofs, in a few stately windows, still represent, uncared-for by the people, or inaccessible to them, the power of an English school now wholly perished,--these are too surely superseded, in the windows that stop the crowd, by the thrilling attraction with which Dore, Gerome, and Tadema have invested the gambling table, the dueling ground, and the arena; or by the more material and almost tangible truth with which the apothecary-artist stereographs the stripped actress, and the railway mound.

241. Under these conditions, as I have now repeatedly a.s.serted, no professors.h.i.+p, nor school, of art can be of the least use to the general public. No race can understand a visionary landscape, which blasts its real mountains into ruin, and blackens its river-beds with foam of poison. Nor is it of the least use to exhibit ideal Diana at Kensington, while substantial Phryne may be wors.h.i.+ped in the Strand. The only recovery of our art-power possible,--nay, when once we know the full meaning of it, the only one desirable,--must result from the purification of the nation's heart, and chastis.e.m.e.nt of its life: utterly hopeless now, for our adult population, or in our large cities, and their neighborhood. But, so far as any of the sacred influence of former design can be brought to bear on the minds of the young, and so far as, in rural districts, the first elements of scholarly education can be made pure, the foundation of a new dynasty of thought may be slowly laid. I was strangely impressed by the effect produced in a provincial seaport school for children, chiefly of fishermen's families, by the gift of a little colored drawing of a single figure from the Paradise of Angelico in the Accademia of Florence. The drawing was wretched enough, seen beside the original; I had only bought it from the poor Italian copyist for charity: but, to the children, it was like an actual glimpse of heaven; they rejoiced in it with pure joy, and their mistress thanked me for it more than if I had sent her a whole library of good books. Of such copies, the grace-giving industry of young girls, now worse than lost in the spurious charities of the bazaar, or selfish ornamentations of the drawing-room, might, in a year's time, provide enough for every dame-school in England; and a year's honest work of the engravers employed on our base novels, might represent to our advanced students every frescoed legend of philosophy and morality extant in Christendom.

242. For my own part, I have no purpose, in what remains to me of opportunity, either at Oxford or elsewhere, to address any farther course of instruction towards the development of existing schools. After seeing the stream of the Teviot as black as ink, and a putrid carca.s.s of a sheep lying in the dry channel of the Jed, under Jedburgh Abbey, (the entire strength of the summer stream being taken away to supply a single mill,) I know, finally, what value the British mind sets on the 'beauties of nature,' and shall attempt no farther the excitement of its enthusiasm in that direction. I shall indeed endeavor to carry out, with Mr. Ward's help, my twenty years' held purpose of making the real character of Turner's work known, to the persons who, formerly interested by the engravings from him, imagined half the merit was of the engraver's giving. But I know perfectly that to the general people, trained in the midst of the ugliest objects that vice can design, in houses, mills, and machinery, _all_ beautiful form and color is as invisible as the seventh heaven. It is not a question of appreciation at all; the thing is physically invisible to them, as human speech is inaudible during a steam whistle.

243. And I shall also use all the strength I have to convince those, among our artists of the second order, who are wise and modest enough not to think themselves the matches of Turner or Michael Angelo, that in the present state of art they only waste their powers in endeavoring to produce original pictures of human form or pa.s.sion. Modern aristocratic life is too vulgar, and modern peasant life too unhappy, to furnish subjects of n.o.ble study; while, even were it otherwise, the multiplication of designs by painters of second-rate power is no more desirable than the writing of music by inferior composers. They may, with far greater personal happiness, and incalculably greater advantage to others, devote themselves to the affectionate and sensitive copying of the works of men of just renown. The dignity of this self-sacrifice would soon be acknowledged with sincere respect; for copies produced by men working with such motive would differ no less from the common trade-article of the galleries than the rendering of music by an enthusiastic and highly trained executant differs from the grinding of a street organ. And the change in the tone of public feeling, produced by familiarity with such work, would soon be no less great than in their musical enjoyment, if having been accustomed only to hear black Christys, blind fiddlers, and hoa.r.s.e beggars or howl about their streets, they were permitted daily audience of faithful and gentle orchestral rendering of the work of the highest cla.s.sical masters.

244. I have not, until very lately, rightly appreciated the results of the labor of the Arundel Society in this direction. Although, from the beginning, I have been honored in being a member of its council, my action has been hitherto rather of check than help, because I thought more of the differences between our copies and the great originals, than of their unquestionable superiority to anything the public could otherwise obtain.

I was practically convinced of their extreme value only this last winter, by staying at the house of a friend in which the Arundel engravings were the decoration; and where I learned more of Masaccio from the Arundel copy of the contest with Simon Magus, than in the Brancacci chapel itself; for the daily companions.h.i.+p with the engraving taught me subtleties in its composition which had escaped me in the mult.i.tudinous interest of visits to the actual fresco.

But the work of the Society has been sorely hindered hitherto, because it has had at command only the skill of copyists trained in foreign schools of color, and accustomed to meet no more accurate requisitions than those of the fas.h.i.+onable traveler. I have always hoped for, and trust at last to obtain, co-operation with our too mildly laborious copyists, of English artists possessing more brilliant color faculty; and the permission of our subscribers to secure for them the great ruins of the n.o.ble past, undesecrated by the trim, but treacherous, plastering of modern emendation.

245. Finally, I hope to direct some of the antiquarian energy often to be found remaining, even when love of the picturesque has pa.s.sed away, to encourage the accurate delineation and engraving of historical monuments, as a direct function of our schools of art. All that I have generally to suggest on this matter has been already stated with sufficient clearness in the first of my inaugural lectures at Oxford: and my forthcoming 'Elements of Drawing'[BN] will contain all the directions I can give in writing as to methods of work for such purpose.

The publication of these has been hindered, for at least a year, by the abuses introduced by the modern cheap modes of printing engravings. I find the men won't use any ink but what pleases them; nor print but with what pressure pleases them; and if I can get the foreman to attend to the business, and choose the ink right, the men change it the moment he leaves the room, and threaten to throw up the job when they are detected. All this, I have long known well, is a matter of course, in the outcome of modern principles of trade; but it has rendered it hitherto impossible for me to produce ill.u.s.trations, which have been ready, as far as my work or that of my own a.s.sistants is concerned, for a year and a half. Any one interested in hearing of our progress--or arrest, may write to my Turner copyist, Mr. Ward:[BO] and, in the meantime, they can help my designs for art education best by making these Turner copies more generally known; and by determining, when they travel, to spend what sums they have at their disposal, not in fady photography, but in the encouragement of any good _water-color_ and _pencil_ draughtsmen whom they find employed in the _galleries_ of Europe.




_On the series of Sibyl engravings attributed to Botticelli._

246. Since I wrote the earlier lectures in this volume, I have been made more doubtful on several points which were embarra.s.sing enough before, by seeing some better (so-called) impressions of my favorite plates containing light and shade which did not improve them.

I do not choose to waste time or s.p.a.ce in discussion, till I know more of the matter; and that more I must leave to my good friend Mr. Reid of the British Museum to find out for me; for I have no time to take up the subject myself, but I give, for frontispiece to this Appendix, the engraving of Joshua referred to in the text, which however beautiful in thought, is an example of the inferior execution and more elaborate shade which puzzle me. But whatever is said in the previous pages of the plates chosen for example, by whomsoever done, is absolutely trustworthy. Thoroughly fine they are, in their existing state, and exemplary to all persons and times. And of the rest, in fitting place I hope to give complete--or at least satisfactory account.

Ariadne Florentina Part 15

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