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THE ART OF PAINTING
BY C. A. DU FRESNOY.
TRANSLATED INTO ENGLISH; WITH AN ORIGINAL PREFACE, CONTAIN-
CHARLES ALPHONSE DU FRESNOY, as we learn from his life by Mason, was born in Paris in the year 1611. He studied the art of painting in Rome and Venice, and afterwards practised it in France with great reputation. Meanwhile, he did not neglect the sister pursuit of poetry: and combining it with the studies of an artist, he composed his poem on the Art of Painting. It did not appear till after the author's death, in 1658, when it was published with the French version, and remarks of De Piles. The first edition was printed 1661. This poem, as containing, in elegant and perspicuous language, the most just rules for artists and amateurs, has been always held in esteem by the admirers of the art which it professes to teach.
The version of Dryden first appeared in 4to, in 1695, and was republished by Richard Graham in 1716, by whom it is inscribed to Lord Burlington. The editor of 1716 informs us, that Mr. Jervas had undertaken to correct such passages of the translation as Dryden had erred in, by following too closely the French version of De Piles. To Graham's edition is prefixed the epistle from Pope to Jervas, with Dryden's version; an honourable and beautiful testimony from the living to the dead poet, which I have retained with pleasure, as also the epistle from
Mason to Sir Joshua Reynolds, which contains some remarks on Dryden's version.
The late Mr. Mason, as a juvenile exercise, executed a poetical version of Fresnoy's poem, which has had the honour to be admitted into the works of Sir Joshua Reynolds, vol. iii. and might have superseded the necessity of here reprinting the prose of Dryden. But there is something so singular in a great poet undertaking to render into prose the admired poem of a foreign bard, that, as a specimen of such an uncommon task, as well as on account of its brevity, I have retained this translation.
Being no judge of the art to which the poem refers, I follow the readings of Jervas, as published by Graham in 1716.
Mason has retained the Parallel between Painting and Poetry, in his edition of Fresnoy, with the following note:
"It was thought proper to insert in this place the pleasing preface, which Mr. Dryden printed before his translation of M. Du Fresnoy's poem. There is a charm in that great writer's prose, peculiar to itself; and though, perhaps, the parallel between the two arts, which he has here drawn, be too superficial to stand the test of strict criticism, yet it will always give pleasure to readers of taste, even when it fails to satisfy their judgment."
TO MR. JARVIS,
WITH FRESNOY'S ART OF PAINTING.
TRANSLATED BY MR. DRYDEN.
THIS verse be thine, my friend; nor thou refuse
Smit with the love of sister-arts we came,
How oft in pleasing tasks we wear the day,
What flattering scenes our wandering fancy wrought,
Rome's pompous glories rising to our thought!
With thee, on Raphael's monument I mourn,
This small well-polish'd gem, the work of years! *
Yet still how faint by precept is exprest,
Muse at that name thy sacred sorrows shed
Her modest cheek shall warm a future age.
And soft Belinda's blush for ever glow.
Oh! lasting as those colours may they shine, [Free as thy stroke, yet faultless as thy line! New graces yearly, like thy works, display; Soft without weakness, without glaring gay; Led by some rule, that guides, but not constrains;
And finish'd more through happiness than pains!
* Fresnoy employed above twenty years in finishing this poem,
TO SIR JOSHUA REYNOLDS.
WHEN Dryden, worn with sickness, bow'd
Was doom'd (my friend, let pity warm thy tears)
This artless elegance, this native fire,
How oft, on that fair shrine when poets bind
The deed, and scorn to call it genuine fame!
And buy of him a thousand years of bloom.
And oh, if aught thy poet can pretend
Be it that here his tuneful toil has drest
A PARALLEL OF POETRY AND PAINTING.
Ir may be reasonably expected that I should say something on my own behalf, in respect to my present undertaking. First, then, the reader may be pleased to know, that it was not of my own choice that I undertook this work. Many of our most skilful painters, and other artists, were pleased to recommend this author to me, as one who perfectly understood the rules of painting; who gave the best and most concise instructions for performance, and the surest to inform the judgment of all who loved this noble art; that they who, before, were rather fond of it than knowingly admired it, might defend their inclination by their reason; that they might understand those excellencies which they blindly valued, so as not to be farther imposed on by bad pieces, and to know when nature was well imitated by the most able masters. It is true indeed, and they acknowledge it, that beside the rules which are given in this treatise, or which can be given in any other, to make a perfect judgment of good pictures, and to value them more or less, when compared with one another, there is farther required a long conversation with the best pieces, which are not very frequent either in France or England; yet some we have, not only from the hands of Holbein, Rubens, and Vandyck, (one of them admirable for history painting, and the other two for portraits,) but of many Flemish masters, and those not inconsiderable, though for design not equal to the Italians. And of these latter also, we are not unfurnished with some pieces of Raphael, Titian, Correggio, Michael Angelo, and others.
But to return to my own undertaking of this translation. I freely own that I thought myself incapable of performing it, either to their satisfaction or my own credit. Not but that I understood the original Latin, and the French author, perhaps as well as most Englishmen; but I was not sufficiently versed in the terms of art; and therefore thought that many of those persons who put this honourable task on me, were more able to perform it themselves, as undoubtedly they were. But they, assuring me
of their assistance in correcting my faults where I spoke improperly, I was encouraged to attempt it, that I might not be wanting in what I could, to satisfy the desires of so many gentlemen, who were willing to give the world this useful work. They have effectually performed their promise to me, and I have been as careful, on my side, to take their advice in all things; so that the reader may assure himself of a tolerable translation,-not elegant, for I proposed not that to myself, but familiar, clear, and instructive: in any of which parts if I have failed, the fault lies wholly at my door. In this one particular only, I must beg the reader's pardon. The prose translation of this poem is not free from poetical expressions, and I dare not promise that some of them are not fustian, or at least highly metaphorical; but this being a fault in the first digestion, (that is, the original Latin,) was not to be remedied in the second, viz. the translation. And I may confidently say, that whoever had attempted it must have fallen into the same inconvenience, or a much greater, that of a false version.
When I undertook this work, I was already engaged in the translation of Virgil,* from whom I have borrowed only two months; and am now returning to that which I ought to understand better. In the mean time, I beg the reader's pardon for entertaining him so long with myself: it is a usual part of ill manners in all authors, and almost in all mankind, to trouble others with their business; and I was so sensible of it beforehand, that I had not now committed it, unless some concernments of the reader's had been interwove with my own. But I know not, while I am atoning for one error, if I am not falling into another; for I have been importuned to say something farther of this art; and to make some observations on it, in relation to the likeness and agreement which it has with poetry, its sister. But before I proceed, it will not be amiss, if I copy from Bellori, (a most ingenious author yet
* Our author began his translation of Virgil in the preceding year, 1694.—Malone.
living,) some part of his idea of a painter,* which cannot be unpleasing, at least to such who are conversant in the philosophy of Plato; and, to avoid tediousness, I will not translate the whole discourse, but take and leave as I find occasion.
"God Almighty, in the fabric of the universe, first contemplated himself, and reflected on his own excellencies; from which he drew and constituted those first forms which are called ideas; so that every species which was afterwards expressed, was produced from that first idea, forming that wonderful contexture of all created beings. But the celestial bodies above the moon being incorruptible, and not subject to change, remained for ever fair and in perpetual order. On the contrary, all things which are sublunary, are subject to change, to deformity, and to decay. And though nature always intends a consummate beauty in her productions, yet through the inequality of the matter, the forms are altered; and in particular, human beauty suffers alteration for the worse, as we see to our mortification, in the deformities and disproportions which are in us. For which reason, the artful painter and the sculptor, imitating the Divine Maker, form to themselves, as well as they are able, a model of the superior beauties; and reflecting on them, endeavour to correct and amend the common nature, and to represent it as it was at first created, without fault, either in colour or in linea
"This idea, which we may call the goddess of painting and of sculpture, descends upon the marble and the cloth, and becomes the original of those arts; and being measured by the compass of the intellect, is itself the measure of the performing hand; and being animated by the imagination, infuses life into the image. The idea of the painter and the sculptor is undoubt edly that perfect and excellent example of the mind, by imitation of which imagined form all things are represented which fall under human sight: such is the definition which is made by Cicero in his book of the "Orator" to Brutus:
As therefore in forms and figures there is somewhat which is excellent and perfect, to which imagined species all things are referred by imitation, which are the objects of sight, in like manner we behold the species of eloquence in our minds, the effigies or actual image of
which we seek in the organs of our hearing. This is likewise confirmed by Proclus in the dialogue of Plato, called "Timæus." If, says he, you take a man as he is made by nature, and compare him with another, who is the effect of art, the work of nature will always appear the less beautiful, because art is more accurate than nature.' But Zeuxis, who, from the choice which he made of five virgins, drew that wonderful picture of Helena, which Cicero his "Orator" before mentioned, sets before us as the most perfect example of beauty, at the same time admonishes a painter, to contemplate the ideas of the most natural forms, and to make a judicious choice of several bodies, all of them the most elegant which he can find; by which we may plainly understand, that he thought it impossible to find in any one body all those perfections which he sought for the accomplishment of a Helena, because nature in any individual person makes nothing that is perfect in all its parts. For this reason, Maximus Tyrius also says, that the image which is taken by a painter from several bodies, produces a beauty which it is impossible to find in any single natural body, approaching to the perfection of the fairest statues. Thus nature on this account is so much inferior to art, that those artists who propose to themselves only the imitation and likeness of such or such a particular person, without election of those ideas before mentioned, have often been reproached for that omission. Demetrius was taxed for being too natural ; Dionysius was also blamed for drawing men like us, and was commonly called ȧvpw6ypalos, that is, a painter of men. In our times, Michael Angelo da Caravaggio was esteemed too natural. He drew persons as they were; and Bamboccio, and most of the Dutch painters, have drawn the worst likeness. Lysippus of old upbraided the common sort of sculptors, for making men such as they were found in nature; and boasted of himself, that he made them as they ought to be: which is a precept of Aristotle, given as well to poets as to painters. Phidias raised an admiration, even to astonishment, in those who beheld his statues, with the forms which he gave to his gods and heroes, by imitating the idea, rather than nature. And Cicero, speaking of him, affirms, that figuring Jupiter and Pallas, he did not contemplate any object from whence he took the likeness, but considered in his own mind a great and admirable form of beauty; and according to that image. in his soul, he directed the operation of his hand. Seneca also seems to wonder, that Phidias, having never beheld either Jove, or Pallas, yet could conceive their divine images in his mind.
+ In May, 1664, Gio. Pietro Bellori read a discourse in the Academy of St. Luke at Rome, (Carlo Maratti being then president,) entitled-L'Idea del Pittore, dello Scultore, e dell' Architetto, scelta dalle bellezze naturali superiore alla, Natura. This discourse, from which the following extract is taken, was afterwards prefixed to Le Vite de Pittore, &c. by the same author, printed at Rome in 4to. 1672.-Malone.