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Genius, by its intuitions, as in Da Vinci, Raphael, and Michael Angelo, often realises the truth at once, in its creations; while the ordinary mind fails to attain it but by slow and oft-repeated efforts.
A sculptor may mould a face, or turn a joint; the painter may tint a lip, or foreshorten a limb, and yet fail to delineate the head accurately, because indifferent to the law which shows that the nervous system reigns supreme over physical development, and determines the elements of shape, contour, and physiognomy, as well as indicates special idiosyncracies of character and capacity. If a Bacchus requires one style of muscular development, Hercules another, and Diana a third, so there is one form of head for the poet, another for the brutal criminal, and a different one for the clown. It is the imperfection in the brain that leaves the idiot a driveller; it is its form and quality that exalts the poet in his temple, and raises the throne of the patriot in the hearts of the people. Men are eloquent on the bones of extinct animals, but silent on the convolutions of the brain, and their resulting forins on the head ; and yet the forehead of the highly-gifted musician differs from that of the mathematician; that of the portrait-painter must vary from that of the linguist, engineer, and the landscape artist; while men like Michael Angelo, Da Vinci, Shakspere, and Goëthe, possessing universality of power, must require well-balanced brains, and finely-organised nervous constitutions, to accomplish their mission.
Thus the interest awakened by a portrait, bust, or statue of Shakspere, is in proportion to the probable exactness of the artist in making the portraits special, biographic, and individually true as a likeness of the bard. But there was no painter of eminence in England at the commencement of the 17th century, for repeated efforts were made by Henry, Prince of Wales, through Sir Edward Conway, to induce “the painter of Delft” to visit England, but he failed : although £40 were offered to this artist to meet the expenses of the voyage, he could not be induced to leave his Dutch patrons, or undertake the journey, in 1611. It is reasonable to conclude, therefore, that no artist of eminence was at that time in England, to paint a portrait of Shakspere from life. Portrait painting was a luxury enjoyed only by the nobility or the very wealthy. The arrival of Jansen in 1618 extended the taste and increased the opportunity for the possession of portraits among those of the class to which Ben Jonson belonged ; and we find a likeness of him by Jansen about this period. It is quite possible, too, that he saw and copied a cast of Shakspere while painting his portrait. Jansen was followed by Mytens, Oliver, and others, till the arrival of Rubens and Vandyke. In the interval Shakspere's popularity had increased and his portraits multiplied. There are now likenesses by the modellers, the engravers, the sculptors, and the painters. How the mere artist would be likely to treat the portrait of the popular idol, we may learn from what Gainsborough was inclined to do, as stated by himself in his letter to David Garrick, on the subject of a portrait of the poet, when he says :
“Shakespeare shall come forth forthwith,' as the lawyer says. Damn the original picture of him, with your leave ; for I think a stupider face I never beheld, except D-k's.
“I intend, with your approbation, my dear friend, to take the form from his pictures and statues, just enough to preserve his likeness past the doubt of all blockheads at first sight, and fupply a foul from his works : it is impossible that such a mind and ray of heaven could shine with such a face and pair of eyes as that picture has."
This blunt yet characteristic condemnation of the popular portraits of Shakspere, by one of our best English portrait painters, together with the evidence presented by the portraits themselves, lead to the conclusion that most of them are idealised creations of the painter, from very slight materials as a foundation for a likeness. To arrive at a satisfactory approximation to the truth, we must apply higher and severer criteria than art, and adopt the more certain tests of science and cerebral physiology, as far as practicable, in examining the likenesses of the poet. The collection of thirty different portraits of Shakspere, and their juxta-position on the walls of the Town Hall, afforded a good opportunity for judging of the great variety of forms various artists have given to the head of the bard, when compelled, without a model, to
“Weave their vagaries around it.” It is this great difference in the various portraits-in the essential and distinguishing elements of the poet and the man-which renders a selection of the possible and the
real from the imaginary and the false, absolutely necessary to eliminate the truth in relation to the portraiture of the poet.
The exhibition was a severe ordeal to the popular favourites. One or two of the portraits are monstrous exaggerations ;
others are delineated, as Shakspere says, with foreheads “villainously low;" while in some pictures the expression in the face is in contradiction to the size and form of the brain, and we must turn them to the wall of oblivion, as unworthy of consideration.
I shall confine myself, therefore, to the examination of those only which have the best claims to authenticity and general approval, and those are :1. The BUST ON THE MONUMENT near the tomb of
Shakspere, in the Chancel of the Church at Stratford.
on-Avon. 2. The ENGRAVED PORTRAIT, by MARTIN DROESHOUT,
and first published with the folio edition of Shakspere's
works, in 1623. 3. The STRATFORD PORTRAIT, at the birthplace. [lery) 4. The CHANDOS PORTRAIT (at the National Portrait Gal. 5. The JANSEN PORTRAITS (J. Staunton, Esq. and others). 6. The FELTON HEAD (at the birthplace), 7. The LUMLEY LIKENESS (at Mrs. Rippon's, N. Shields), 8. The ZETLAND PORTRAIT (the Countess of Zetland's), 9. The WARWICK PORTRAIT (Warwick Castle): and lastly, 10. The Cast, said to be from the face and forehead of
Shakspere after death, and lent from the British
The Stratford Bust. The Bust in the Stratford Church first claims our åttention, because it possesses the greatest authenticity as & monumental effigy of the poet, and was erected within å few years after his death, under the superintendence or direction of the poet's family-Dr. and Mrs. Hall.
The bust is the size of life, cut out of a single block of soft stone. The hands are resting on a cushion, with a pen, as if in the act of writing. The figure, represented in the dress of the period, presents a stout, heavy appearance, and is executed without much artistic taste or skill. As à
work of art, it is far inferior to the monuments of the period in the neighbourhood-such as those on the tombs of the Cloptons, Sir Thomas Lucy, and others. After the manner of the times, the monument was painted—the hair, beard, and moustache of an auburn colour, and the eyes hazel; the dress consisting of a scarlet doublet, over which was a tabard, or loose black gown, without sleeves. These details would lead to the supposition of an attempt to obtain an exact likeness. Having a cast taken from the face of it now before me, I can appreciate its effect on those who are prepared to accept as truth what has so strong a resemblance of life and reality. Sir F. Chantry, himself a sculptor; Hugh Miller, a stonemason ; Bullock and Fairholt, artists-all speak in approval of the monument; but they look at it from a limited point of view, and without being qualified to perceive the incongruities that are apparent to the ethnic student, the physiologist, and phrenologist. On the other hand, Mr. Skottowe declares that the bust“ is not only at variance with the tradition of Shakspere's appear:rice having been prepossessing, but irreconcilable with the belief of its ever having borne a striking resemblance to any human being.”
This is a sweeping conclusion, with which I do not altogether agree; but I have no theory to advocate as to Shakspere's personal appearance or beauty, except that which harmonises with the relation of nervous power and capacity, and the law that all beauty is organic. Th world owes much of its civilisation and advancement to men whose intellect and moral beauty lie beyond the range of the mental vision of the multitude. It is not in the most regular features, most beautiful faces, or faireșt complexions, that we find the greatest power of mind or of character.
Boswell tells us that Mrs. Boswell considered Dr. Johnson more like a bear than a beauty ; Mirabeau was, according to his own description of himself to a lady,“ like a tiger pitted with the small pox.” In the portrait of Goldsmith there is nothing to indicate the man who “could write like an angel, yet talk like a fool.” We do not look for beauty of facial contour in a Michael Angelo, a Cromwell, a Luther, a Brougham, or a Garibaldi. Those who have exercised the greatest influence over humanity were not, physically speaking, the most handsome of their race. It
SIR THOMAS LUCY. From the Effigy on the Tomb in Charlecote Church. is the size, quality, and proportions of the brain that constitute the sources of power and the cause of our admiration. Our attraction to them does not originate in their features, but in their works--their deeds, prompted by their brains—the true source of all their beauty. When we find in them high moral organisms, we see that even yet beauty “rides with the lion-hearted;" for it is the beauty and harmony existing in the brain, embodied in great and generous actions and noble work, that wins the hearts worship, and commands its lasting sympathy: and our task is to ascertain, if possible, what Shakspere was in form and stature, in relation to his character as a poet and
According to Dugdale, Gerard Johnson, the “tombemaker," was employed to erect the monument of Shakspere in the Stratford Church. Wheeler states that he resided in London, and employed a number of journeymen and apprentices. He appears to have been much engaged, and probably made his own designs, and left the details to be elaborated by one of his journeymen.
It is the opinion of Chantrey, Bell, and others, that the tomb-maker worked from a cast of the face taken after