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Art. IV.-The History of Painting in Italy, from the Period of the Revival of the Fine Arts, to the end of the 18th Century.
Translated from the original Italian of the Abate Luigi Lanzi. By Thomas Roscoe. 6 vols. 8vo. London. Simpkin & Mar
shall. 1828. Storia Pittorica della Italia, dal risorgimento delle belle arti fin presso al fine del 18 secolo, dell'Abate Luigi Lanzi, Antiquario I. e R. in Firenze. Edizione Quarta. 8°. Firenze. 1822.
The Italians commonly call a taste for the fine arts, or skill
in them, by the name of Virtue. They term the productions of artists, objects of virtue; and a person, who has a taste for such things, is denominated a virtuoso, that is, a virtuous man. Of the great Tintoret, his biographer accordingly writes, that he took much delight in every virtue, and especially in music, and playing on various instruments; Il quale si è dilettato di • tutte le virtù, e particolarmente di sonare di musica, e diversi strumenti.'
The ancient inhabitants of their country preferred the sword and the spear to the pencil and the bow of the violin; and certainly the Sabines, Tuscans, and other nations, would have found the followers of Romulus more agreeable neighbours, bad they been content to place the highest excellence in an exquisite harmony of colours, or of sounds; and not in scaling the rugged rocks, on which they chose to plant their fame, and whither the Roman eagle was taught to direct a constant and daring flight. We smile at first at this use of the word virtù by the Italians ; but we may find, on reflection, that it is less absurd than we had supposed. Although the Fine Arts do not in themselves constitute virtue, we cannot but think that they promote it. It is not impossible, unfortunately, but it is somewhat difficult for one, whose mind is filled with an intense love of art, to be very vicious. His time and thoughts are engrossed by objects of powerful interest; and idleness, whence vices generally spring, cannot originate and take root, where the whole soul is preoccupied. Disgraceful vices, accordingly, have rarely been found to exist ir men devoted to literature; and a similar devotion to the fine arts, has been most commonly an effectual preservative against the contagion of evil. If we were required to seek for innocuons men, of pure and blameless lives, we should undoubtedly lock first amongst men of letters and virtuosi ; the former rarely stain, by baseness, the honourable pursuits for which they live; and the latter, by the strict monopoly of themselves which they yield to their favourite objects, justify, for the most part, by their harmlessness, the name they bear. The great mass of mankind are usually occupied with their daily labours; and whilst they are actually at work, they not only do no evil, but are active about good; it is only at leisure hours that they take mischief in hand. If a taste for letters and the arts, therefore, were generally diffused, and the means of gratifying it supplied, which is not a very difficult thing, the quantity of drunkenness, gaming, riot, and such modes of consuming spare time as are injurious to the community, would be reduced to a small amount: For, wherever the large majority are sober, regular, orderly, and decent, the sanction of public opinion and example becomes so powerful, that it is not easy for a few foolish and worthless persons, who may be disposed to violate the decorum of society, to indulge in habits which would excite indignation, and be speedily repressed. Benevolent individuals have already begun to provide for the instruction and literary wants of the lower orders; it would be well if some philanthropic society would undertake also to create in them a taste for the fine arts; to make the many virtuous in their amusements.
The Greeks set a high value upon the arts, and upon that of Painting, in particular; they deemed it the invention of some of the Gods; Pictura Deorum inventum,' Swypapia JEūv tò župnua. Invention indeed is plainly the highest act of the mind; and they thought that it placed men on a level with the immortal gods. They deified, therefore, the inventors of important arts, after they had quitted this life; they made them gods—or rather they acknowledged that they were, and had always been such.
It is the office of sculpture faithfully to imitate forms, and of painting to represent appearances; and they reverenced these arts, with which it was thought proper to adorn the habitations of the gods, and in the exercise of which men seemed often to attain to a beauty more than human, and as it were divine. The greater part of inventions are the product of man's wants and necessities, except only the fine arts, which are derived from his love of imitation. There are some speculators, who will only admit the useful; and putting a very narrow sense upon that word, will perhaps only suffer us to grow some kind of grain, to grind it into flour, and to knead it hastily and imperfectly, and having baked it slightly, to eat it up-and then to sit down on the ground to meditate upon the most effectual method of saving our money and our time. Yet, who can decide what is useful? Is that only to be esteemed useful, for which the philosopher himself ean find an use?-then let him go into the workshop
of the artisan, and say how many useful tools he sees there, which to him are without use. It is evident, that unless we give a very extensive signification to the term, we must seek some other standard.
The ancients have shown, by the perfection to which they carried the fine arts, that they either considered the cultivation of them to be useful, or were of opinion, that there are other qualities which ought to recommend objects to our attention. We fortunately possess sufficient opportunities of judging of their vast superiority in architecture and sculpture. Our most accomplished musicians have also acknowledged, as might be distinctly proved, if it were to the present purpose, that, as far as they have been able to penetrate into the deep obscurity of the subject, it appears that the music of the ancient Greeks was of a far higher kind than that of the moderns. Our materials for forming an estimate of their skill in painting are no doubt scanty; but they have been sufficient to enable some critics to assign them the palm in this art also. Mengs, who had studied the subject deeply, and was in all respects well qualified to judge, gives it as his dended opinion, that the modern painters are inferior to the ap-lents; he says, “I am fully persuaded o that the design of thi ancient painters was much more perfect o than that of the scnptors, for the ancient painters were more 6 highly esteemed nan the sculptors. I think, too, that the o design of the ar:ients was much superior to that of the mooderns; since, anong the antient pictures which I have seen, o there are manyin which the drawing is as good as in the best
works of Raphel, notwithstanding that they were executed at o Rome in tims when the true Greek taste had disappeared, o being, at the arliest, of the age of Augustus; and nevertheless o the sculptur,of that time was much inferior to these paintings, 6 so that, frot the little that remains of the ancient painting, I o infer that i was always more perfect than the contemporane6 ons sculoure He speaks also in high terms of the chiaroscuro and oloring of the ancients. Opere, p. 154. In another place, treningof the paintings found at Herculaneum, he says, (Having obsived, even in the commonest of these pictures, how (well the chiroscuro is understood, although it is negligently Gexecuted, am amazed when I reflect and endeavour to ima
gine whanust have been the works of the famous painters, ovho werthe contemporaries of the famous sculptors who a formed t] Apollo Belvidere, the Gladiator, and the Venus de
Medicis,id of other such works.'— In short, if we como pare thepictures with all the works of the moderns, and con
sider that they were produced in such unimportant places, we shall perceive how far superior the painting of the ancients must bave been to our own.'
It must be gratifying to the lover of art, to reflect to what a high degree of perfection painting may yet be carried ; and to the aspiring artist, it is an animating motive of ambition to be assured, that the Greeks had reached an eminence, to which even the greatest masters of Italy have not yet arrived. To rival the Greeks, it is necessary to attain to a style of beauty which has never been approached in later times. The ideal painter of Mengs, at whose perfection all artists ought to aim, should unite in himself the design and beauty of the Greeks, the expression and composition of Raphael, the chiaroscuro and the grace of Coreggio, and finally the colouring of Titian. Mr Jonathan Richardson, in his Theory of Painting,' insists, indeed, on still higher requisites; for he says, • The way to be an
excellent painter is to be an excellent man—and these united, • make a character that would shim even in a better world than < this'--p. 18.-resolved, apparently, that the word virtù should be applicable to his favourites, in all the languages of the world.
It has been doubted whether the pictures of the ancients supplied examples of figures in various distances, so as to present to the eye a composition of considerable Lepth, such as we find in the works of the moderns; or if they consisted only of what may be termed shallow compositions, where the figures are represented nearly in a row, as in a bas relief, or as the performers are wont to group themselves on the stage: the few specimens of ancient art which we possess are of thr latter kind.
Pliny, Lucian, and Philostratus, afford ample materials for an interesting history of ancient painting: the rimarks of these authors, especially of the first, have been sometimes censured, but commonly, it must be admitted, by those who were equally ignorant of the art of painting, and of thelanguages in which they wrote. Francis Junius, the great interpreter of the Northern tongues, has composed a large work, 'De Picturâ Ve
terum,' full of quotations and of omnigenous learning; but not of greater vivacity, nor more readable, as a whole, either in the original Latin, or in the author's English translation, than his lexicon of the Anglo-Saxon. It is useful, however, as a book of occasional reference, and not the less so, because the author looked upon learning only as a means to an end-that end being to heap up citations. His vast catalogue of ancient artists is a curious monument of his own diligence, and of the extent to which the arts were cultivated in past agei. Nor were critics wanting in those days; for Pliny and Philostratus cite many ancient works on painting. Carlo Dati has also produced a work bearing the title of Lives of the Ancient Painters; but it comprehends the lives of four only, Zeuxis, Parrhasius, Apelles, and Protogenes. It is pleasant and readable; bis secretion of quotations is moderate, natural, and healthy, by no means morbid and excessive, as in Junius, and other plethoric Germans.
With the other arts, painting gradually declined : But it is a question whether it ever entirely expired, whether there ever was a time, in the dark ages, when a few painters of merit did not exist; for we see, in some collections, works of a very extraordinary beauty and excellence, by late Greek artists, which are of an older date than the earliest period that has been named for the revival of the art in Italy. Whether painting may be said to have been dead or only asleep, it was certainly brought to life or awakened by the great masters of that country, who preceded Giotto, and especially by that wonderful genius himself; Giotto, the ugly little angel, or Ambrose, for his name, according to the custom of the Florentines, is said to be a nickname, an abridgement of Angiolotto, or Ambrogiotto, either of which terms would denote that he was ugly; and his friend Petrarch says of him, in an epistle, · Duos ego novi pictores egregios, nec formosos, Jottum, Florentinum civem, cujus inter modernos fama ingens est, et Simonem Senensem.' Giotto has been justly called, notwithstanding his person, the Raphael of his age. In the 14th century, and at the beginning of that century, 200 years before Raphael, he brought to perfection, as some critics hold, an art which, they assert, has in many respects been changed by subsequent masters,-in some deteriorated, in others advanced, but not on the whole improved; whilst others confidently maintain, that painting was still in its infancy, and decide, upon inspection, that although a wonderful child, it was still but a child; and that the question is not one of difficulty, for, · L'Infanzia dell' arte si conosce più facilmente che le altr' età; ed è la mede
sima in ogni nazione, come in ogni nazione i bambini sono gli 5 stessi.'
Giotto bad, at least, the happiness to live in an age of great men. He was the friend of Dante, Boccaccio, and Petrarch; the last bequeaths a picture by him, and speaks of it in his will thus: • In cujus pulchritudinem, ignorantes non intelligunt, magistri • autem artis stupent. It requires a considerable familiarity with the works of these ancient masters, and a careful examination and long study of their works, to be qualified either to adopt or to reject, on satisfactory grounds, the opinion of their transcendent merit, which has been formed and expressed by critics, who are entitled to high respect. It is manifest, however, even
VOL. XLVIII. NO. 95.