Page images

or at least to be traced out in very few works of the artists, and of which scarce any of the poets have caught any ray in their descriptions, (or perhaps even in their imaginations) except Homer and Virgil among the antients, and our Shakespeare and Milton among the moderns.

The beauty of the mere human form is much superior to that of colour, partly for this reason, that when we observe the finest works of the artists at Rome, we feel the mind more struck and more charmed with the capital statues, than with the pictures of the greatest masters.

One of the Roman poets, speaking of a very handsome man, who was candidate for the prize in some of the public games, says that he was much admired by all the spectators at his first appearance, but that when he threw off his robes, and discovered the whole beauty of his shape, it quite extinguished the beauties they had before so much admired in his face.

I have often felt much the same effect in view. ing the Venus de Medicis. If we observe the face only, it appears extremely beautiful; but if we consider all the other elegancies of her make, the beauty of her face becomes less striking, and is almost lost in such a multiplicity of charms.

Whoever would learn what makes the beauty

[ocr errors][merged small]

of each part of the human body, may find it laid down by Felibien; or may study it with more pleasure in the finest pictures and statues, and I am forced to have recourse to them so often, because in life we commonly see but a small part of the human body, most of it being either disguised or altered by dress.




THE two other constituent parts of beauty, are expression and grace: the former of which is common to all persons and faces; the latter is to be met with but in very few. By expression, I mean the expression of the passions; the turns and changes of the mind, so far as they are made visible to the naked eye, by our looks or gestures.

Though the mind appears, principally in the face, and attitudes of the head; yet every part almost of the human body, on some occasion or

other may become expressive: as the languishing hanging of the arm, or the vehement exertion of it; the pain expressed by the fingers of one of the sons in the famous group of Laocoon, and in the toes of the dying gladiator. But this again is often lost among us by our dress; and indeed is of the less concern, because the expression of the passions passes chiefly in the face, which are by good luck not yet concealed. The parts of the face in which the passions most frequently make their appearance are the eyes, and mouth, but from the eyes they diffuse themselves very strongly about the eyebrows; as in the other case, they appear often, in the parts all round the mouth.

Philosophers may dispute, as much as they please, about the seat of the soul: but whereever it resides, I am sure that it speaks in the eyes. I do not know whether I have not injured the eyebrows, in making them only dependents on the eye; for they, especially in lively faces, have a language of their own, and are extremely varied, according to the different sentiments and passions of the mind. I have sometimes observed a degree of displeasure in a lady's eyebrow, when she had address enough not to let it appear in her eyes; and at other times have discovered so much of her thoughts, in the line just

[ocr errors]

above her eyebrows, that she has been amazed how any body could tell what passed in her mind, and as she thought undiscovered by her face, so particularly and distinctly. Homer makes the eyebrows the seat of majesty, Virgil of dejection, Horace of modesty, and Juvenal of pride; and I question whether every one of the passions is not assigned by one or other of the poets to the same part.

Hitherto I have spoken only of the passions in general; we will now consider a little, which of them adds to beauty, and which of them takes from it. I believe I may say in general, that all the tender and kind passions add to beauty; and all the cruel and unkind ones add to deformity. And it is on this account that good nature may, very justly, be said to be "the best "feature even in the finest face."

Mr. Pope has included the principal passion of each sort in two lines;

"Love, Hope, and Joy, fair Pleasure's smiling train; "Hate, Fear and Grief, the family of Pain.

The former of which naturally give an additional lustre and enlivening to beauty; as the latter are too apt to fling a gloom over it. Yet in these and all the other passions, I do not know whether moderation may not be, in a great mea

[blocks in formation]

sure, the rule of their beauty; almost as far as moderation in actions is the rule of virtue. Thus an excessive joy may be too boisterous in the face to be pleasing; and a degree of grief in some faces and on some occasions may be extremely beautiful. Some degrees of anger, shame, surprise, fear, and concern are beautiful; but all excess is hurtful and ugly; as dulness, austerity, impudence, pride, affectation, malice, and envy.

The finest union of passion consists in a just mixture of modesty, sensibility, and sweetness; each of which when taken singly is pleasing; but when all are blended together in such a manner as either to enliven or correct each other, they give almost as much attraction, as the passions are capable of adding, to a very pretty face.

The prevailing passion in the Venus of Medici is modesty. It is expressed by each of her hands, in her looks, and in the turn of her head. And by the way, I question whether one of the chief reasons, why side faces please more than full ones, may not be from the former having more of the air of modesty than the latter. However that may be, this is certain, that the best artists usually chuse to give a side face, rather than a full one; in which attitude the turn of the neck

« EelmineJätka »