Abbildungen der Seite

found among the most barbarous nations; they flourish among the most civilized; and springing from nature, and not from necessity or accident, they can never be wholly lost in the most disastrous changes. In this they differ from mere inventions; and, compared with inechanical discoveries, are what a living tree is to a log of wood. It may indeed be said that the tongue of poetry is occasionally silent, and the hand of painting sometimes stayed; but this seems not to affect the ever-living principle which I claim as their characteristic. They are heard and seen again in their season, as the birds and flowers are at the coming of spring; and assert their title to such immortality as the things of earth may claim. It is true that the poetry of barbarous nations is rude, and their attempts at painting uncouth; yet even in these we may recognise the foreshadowings of future excellence, and something of the peculiar character which, in happier days, the genius of the same tribe is to stamp upon worthier productions. The future Scott, or Lawrence, or Chantrey may be indicated afar off in the barbarous ballads, drawings, or carv. ings of an early nation. Coarse nature and crude simplicity are the commencement, as elevated nature and elegant simplicity are the consummation, of art.

When the Spaniards invaded the palaces of Chili and Peru, they found them filled with works of art. Cooke found considerable beauty of drawing and skill of workmanship in the ornamented weapons and war-canoes of the islanders of the South Sea; and in the interior recesses of India, sculptures and paintings, of no common merit, are found in every village. In like manner, when Cæsar landed among the barbarians of Britain, he found them acquainted with arts and arms; and his savage successors, the Saxons, added to unextinguishable ferocity a love of splendour and a rude sense of beauty,

[ocr errors]

still visible in the churches which they built, and the monuments which they erected to their princes and leaders. All those works are of that kind called ornamental: the graces of true art, the truth of action and the dignity of sentiment are wanting; and they seem to have been produced by a sort of mechanical process, similar to that which creates figures in arras. · Art is, indeed, of slow and gradual growth; like the oak, it is long of growing to maturity and strength. Much knowledge of colour, much skill of hand, much experience in human character, and a deep sense of light and shade, have to be acquired, to enable the pencil to imbody the conceptions of genius. The artist has to seek for all this in the accumulated mass of professional knowledge which time has gathered for his instruction: and with his best wisdom, and his happiest fortune, he can only add a little more information to the common stock, for the benefit of his successors. In no country has Painting risen suddenly into eminence. While Poetry takes wing at once, free and unencumbered, she is retarded in her ascent by the very mechanism to which she must at last owe at least half. her glory. In Britain, Painting was centuries in throwing off the fetters of mere mechanical skill, and in rising into the region of genius. The original spirit of England had appeared in many a noble poem, while the two sister arts were still servilely employed in preserving incredible legends, in taking the likeness of the last saint whom credulity had added to the calendar, and in confounding the acts of the apostles in the darkness of allegory.

Henry the Third, a timid and pious king, founded many cathedrals, and enriched thein with sculpture and with painting, to an extent and with a skill which merited the commendation of Flaxman. The royal instructions of 1233 are curious, and inform us of the character of art at that remote period, and of the subordinate condition of its professors. In Italy

indeed, as well as in England, an artist was then, and long after, considered as a mere mechanic. He was commonly at once a carver of wood, a maker of figures, a house and heraldry painter, a carpenter, an upholsterer, and a mason; and sometimes, over and above all this, he was a tailor. Genius had not then come to the aid of art, and paintings and statues were ordered exactly as chairs and tables are now.

Much of the undisciplined talent of the nation was employed by Henry the Third in the building and embellishing of his cathedrals and palaces : foreign artists, too, were imported; and the manufacture of saints and legends was carried on under the inspection of one William, a Florentine. Those productions take their position in history, and claim the place, if not the merit, of works of taste and talent. At best they were but a kind of religious heraldry: the most beautiful of the virgins and the most dignified of the apostles were rude, clumsy, and ungraceful, with ill-proportioned bodies and most rueful looks.

That the religious paintings of that period were such as I have described them, there is sufficient evidence; that those of a national or domestic kind were similar in character may be safely inferred. There is no account of the nature of those paintings which belonged to the royal castle of Winchester, but we may conclude that they were not the same as those which aided the priests of the abbeys in explaining religion to an illiterate people. Walpole presumes-he says not on what authority—that when Henry the Third directed his chamber in Winchester to be painted with “ the same pictures as before," they were of an historical nature. Historical, or religious, or domestic, the passage referred to by Walpole proves that the art of painting had been introduced early among us: perhaps it even countenances the tradition that it is as old as Bede. Vertue indeed urges, with more nationality

than probability, the claim of England to early knowledge in art, and our acquaintance with the mystery of oil colours, before they appeared in Italy. In Sculpture considerable talent was shown before this period; but he who proves that equal skill was exhibited in Painting has likewise to prove that the artists were Englishmen—a circumstance contradicting tradition, and unsupported by history. The early works of art in this island were from the hands of foreigners. It was the interest of Rome to supply us with painters as well as priests, whose mutual talents and mutual zeal might maintain, and extend, and embellish religion. There is no honour surrendered in relinquishing our claims to such productions; the best of them displayed no genius and exhibited little skill.

The arts seem to have suffered some neglect during the reigns of Edward the First and Second -the chronicles of the church and the state annalist are alike silent. Painting, which requires seclusion and repose, was ill suited to the temper of the conqueror of Wales and Scotland, and was not likely to obtain patronage from a fierce nobility, whose feet were seldom out of the stirrup. All art was neglected save that which embellished armour, and weapons, and military trappings. Elegance was drowned in absurd pomp, and luxury in grotesque extravagance.

Art and knowledge were more in favour during the long reign of Edward the Third. Poetry and learning were of his train; a better taste and a more temperate splendour distinguished the court; the country became rich as well as powerful, and the martial barbarism of the preceding reigns was sobered down into something like elegance. The ladies laid aside those formidable pyramids which made the face seem the centre of the body, and the nobles escaped out of the courtly boots of the first Edward with the square turned-up toes fastened to

m the knees by chains of gold. There was every

where a growing sense of what was becoming and elegant, yet the character of the tinies was decidedly martial. The actions of the Black Edward in France and Spain gave lustre to the arms of England. A spirit for martial adventure, tempered with high feeling and romantic generosity, spread among the nobles. He was accounted of little note in the land who preferred domestic repose to active war, or who imagined that the best productions of the human mind could be compared to the fame of a well-fought field. Sentiments and feelings such as these ushered in chivalry; to the influence of which we owe so much, since it brought with it miidness, mercy, high honour and heroic daring, and many of the sweets and amenities of social life.

The art of painting during this reign partook of the warlike spirit of the king; the royal commissions for saints, virgins, and apostles gave way to orders for gilded armour, painted shields, and emblazoned banners-St. Edward was less in request than St. George. No works of art were produced in this period which induce me to lament their loss, and the oblivion which has come over them.

During the civil wars which succeeded, the waste W of human life was immense; the contest was fierce

and of long continuance; and the destruction of castles and churches involved the treasures of knowledge in ruin, and checked the progress of the elegant arts. In the intervals of repose, indeed, painting was not idle; but her efforts displayed neither originality of thought nor skill of execution. For many reigns art continued to work patiently at its old manufacture. No new paths were explored ; nor had the painter any other air than that of mechanically reproducing the resemblance of that which had preceded him. Those works are the first blind gropings of art after form and colour

« ZurückWeiter »