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the first place. In these instances the combination supposed is arbitrary ; in some cases it is indispensable ; but the general unfitness of an art to exhibit itself alone, without the aid of another art, betrays its absolute inferiority.

No. II.

ON THE CRITERION OF SPECIFIC STYLE. ON THE

SCRIPTURAL AND LEGENDARY SUBJECTS OF
THE MIDDLE AGES.*

In tracing the history of painting and the different character of its schools, the unprejudiced observer may be struck with the fact, that an equal measure of the world's approbation has been sometimes awarded to productions apparently opposite in their style and aim. This is not to be explained by the variety of tastes in connoisseurs; for the claims in question are universally admitted, notwithstanding the influence of individual predilections. The admission supposes the existence of some less mutable criterion ; and it is therefore important to inquire what are the grounds on which this approbation can be said to be consistent.

Considered generally, the Arts are often assumed to have a common character and end: but the vagueness of this principle offers no solution for the question proposed. The opposite process --the discrimination of the different means by which a common end is arrived at—will be found

* [Extracted from the Preface to a translation of Kugler's Handbook of the History of Painting, London, 1842.-ED.]

to lead to more definite and more useful results. In all the Fine Arts some external attraction, some element of beauty, is the vehicle of mental pleasure or moral interest : but in considering the special form, or means, of any one of the Arts, as distinguished from the rest, the excellence of each is not found to be in proportion to the qualities which it is capable of expressing in common with its rivals, but to those qualities which are unattainable by them.

We thus comprehend why various schools have attained great celebrity in spite of certain defects. It is because their defects are generally such as other human attainments, other modes of expression, could easily supply: their excellencies, on the contrary, are their own, and are unapproachable except by means of the art in which they are displayed. Such excellencies constitute what may be called SPECIFIC STYLE.

Accordingly, it may always be concluded that pictures of acknowledged excellence, of whatever school, owe their reputation to the emphatic display of some qualities that are proper to the art. In histories of Painting these merits are often attempted to be conveyed in words, and the mode in which language endeavours to give an equivalent for the impressions produced by a picture is at once an illustration of the above principles. The description of the progress of time, of motion, the imagined interchange of speech, the comparison with things not present

*

-all impossible in the silent, quiescent, and immutable Art—are resorted to without scruple in describing pictures, yet the description does not therefore strike us as untrue. It will immediately be seen that the same liberty is allowable and necessary when representation enters into rivalry with description. The eye has its own poetry; and as the mute language of nature in its simultaneous effect (the indispensable condition of harmony) produces impressions which words restricted to mere succession can but imperfectly embody, so the finest qualities of the formative arts are those which language cannot adequately convey.

On the same grounds it must be apparent that a servile attention to the letter of description (as opposed to its translateable spirit), accuracy of historic details, exactness of costume, etc., are not essential in themselves, but are valuable only in proportion as they assist the demands of the art, or produce an effect on the imagination. This may sufficiently explain why an inattention to these points, on the part of great painters (and poets, as compared with mere historians), has interfered so little with their reputation. In this instance the powers of Painting are opposed to those of language generally; on the same principle, they would be distinguished in many respects from those of Poetry ; in like manner, if we suppose a comparison with Sculpture,

* See Lessing's “ Laokoon." Treatises.” London, 1744.

Compare Harris, “Three

or any imitative art, the strength of Painting will still consist in the distinctive attributes which are thus forced into notice. Of those attributes, some may be more prominent in one school, some in another ; but they are all valued because they are characteristic-because the results are unattainable in the same perfection by any other means.

The principle here dwelt on with regard to Painting is equally applicable to all the Fine Arts : each art, as such, is raised by raising its characteristic qualities : each lays a stress on those means of expression in which its rivals are deficient, in order to compensate those in which its rivals surpass it. The principle extends even to the rivalry of the formative Arts generally with Nature. The absence of sound, and of progressive action, is supplied by a more significant, mute and momentary appearance. The arrangement which, apparently artless, fixes the attention on important points, the emphasis on essential as opposed to adventitious qualities, the power of selecting expressive forms, of arresting evanescent beauties, are all prerogatives by means of which a feeble imitation successfully contends even with its archetype. As this selection and adaptation are the qualities in which imitation, as opposed to nature, is strong, so the approach to literal rivalry is, as usual, in danger of betraying comparative weakness. Could the imitation of living objects, for example, in Painting or Sculpture, be carried to absolute deception as regards their mere surface,

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