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Title: Fifteen Discourses
Author: Reynolds, Sir Joshua
Language: English
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           Everyman, I will go with thee, and be thy guide,
                  In thy most need to go by thy side.

     This is No. 118 of Everyman’s Library. A list of authors and their
     works in this series will be found at the end of this volume. The
     publishers will be pleased to send freely to all applicants a
     separate, annotated list of the Library.

                       J. M. DENT & SONS LIMITED
                   10-13 BEDFORD STREET LONDON W.C.2

                        E. P. DUTTON & CO. INC.
                         286-302 FOURTH AVENUE
                               NEW YORK

                          EVERYMAN’S LIBRARY
                         EDITED BY ERNEST RHYS


                         IN THE ROYAL ACADEMY
                         BY L. MARCH PHILLIPPS

     JOSHUA REYNOLDS, born in 1723 in Devonshire, the son of the Rev.
     Samuel Reynolds. Lived at Plymouth, 1746-9, afterwards going to
     Italy. Settled in London, 1752, becoming fashionable
     portrait-painter. Founded the Literary Club. In 1768 the first
     president of the Royal Academy. Died in 1792, and buried in St.

                          FIFTEEN DISCOURSES

                       [Illustration: colophon]

                          SIR JOSHUA REYNOLDS

                    LONDON: J. M. DENT & SONS LTD.
                   NEW YORK: E. P. DUTTON & CO. INC.

                         _All rights reserved_

                        _Made in Great Britain
                    at The Temple Press Letchworth
                    and decorated by Eric Ravilious

                        _J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd.
                   Aldine House Bedford St. London_
                     _Toronto_    .   _Vancouver_
                     _Melbourne_  .  _Wellington_

                _First Published in this Edition 1906_
                           _Reprinted 1928_


THE most careless reader of these Discourses of Sir Joshua Reynolds will
be struck by their frequent slighting and depreciatory allusions to the
great Venetian colourists, and by the almost passionate note of warning
sounded in them against the teaching and influence of these masters. The
school of Venice is always referred to by Sir Joshua as the “decorative”
school; “mere elegance” is defined as its principal object, and its
“ornamental” character is affirmed to be totally inconsistent with any
achievement of the first order. Tintoret and Veronese are selected for
especial condemnation. “These are the persons who may be said to have
exhausted all the powers of florid eloquence to debauch the young and
inexperienced.” They have turned many painters “from those higher
excellences of which the art is capable, and which ought to be required
in every considerable production.”

If we seek more particularly the ground of Sir Joshua’s dislike of the
Venetians, we shall find it in the fact that that school was, as he says
himself, “engrossed by the study of colour to the neglect of the ideal
beauty of form.” Ideal beauty of form constituted, in Sir Joshua’s view,
the only possible really noble motive in art. He never for a moment, in
criticism and theory, admitted the possibility of colour constituting
such a motive. Colour, in his judgment, remained always a quite
secondary and merely decorative affair, while the true greatness of the
painting depended entirely on its excellence as a study of form. In one
of his letters to the _Idler_ he pushes this view to such a length, and
so entirely confines the idea of beauty to form, and form alone, that he
actually asserts that the colour of a thing can have no more to do with
its beauty than its smell has.

If it were an ordinary critic who wrote and reasoned thus, we should
pass by his judgments as indicative merely of a totally defective colour
sense. But to suppose that Reynolds, of all men, was defective in this
respect would be absurd. The extraordinary thing about him is that no
sooner had he passed from the lecture-room to his own studio than he
proceeded to demonstrate in his work his own intense appreciation of
that insidious school of colour against which he was never tired of
warning his hearers. He was himself one of those victims whom Tintoret
and Veronese had “debauched.” He had stayed in Venice but a few weeks,
in Rome two years, and yet the example of the Venetians had made
incalculably the deeper impression upon him. With all the force of his
judgment and reason he approved the teaching of Michael Angelo, but with
a warmth which had more of emotion in it he adored the great colourists.
Into the examination of the methods by which these had obtained their
effects he threw himself with an energy which amounted to downright
excitement, and to his thirst for information sacrificed even the
paintings that so allured him, rubbing and scraping away, as we are
told, the impasto of several valuable pictures in order that he might
investigate the composition of the successive layers of colour. His own
ceaseless experiments in colour effects and the use into which he was
led of refractory pigments, resulting too often in the cracking or
peeling of his pictures, are a further testimony to the hold which,
entirely against his will, Venice exerted over him. He recognised it
himself even while he submitted to it. In the last words addressed by
him to the Academicians there is a pathetic consciousness of what he
seems to have felt as his own disloyalty in not sticking in practice to
that greatness which his reason always assured him was pre-eminent. He
could claim to be an admirer only, not a follower, of Michael Angelo. “I
have taken another course, one more suited to my abilities and to the
taste of the times in which I live. Yet,” he exclaims contritely,
“however unequal I feel myself to that attempt, were I now to begin the
world again I would tread in the steps of that great master; to kiss
the hem of his garment, to catch the slightest of his perfections,
would be glory and distinction enough for an ambitious man.”

In practice devoted to Venice, in theory despising her; in practice
ignoring the great Florentines, in theory strenuously upholding their
ideals: such are the contradictions one meets with in Sir Joshua
Reynolds, and certainly his judgments, and these lectures in which they
are contained, will never be rightly understood until a clue to these
contradictions be found.

Let us remember, in the first place, that down to the eighteenth century
the native art of England had been essentially an art of form. The great
Gothic creative epoch had exhibited its energy and power in architecture
and sculpture alone. No great school of painting arose in the North to
vie with the varied and rich productions of the builders and sculptors
of that age. Such colour as was used was used in a subordinate or, to
use Sir Joshua’s word, a “decorative” sense--to enrich, that is, and add
a brilliance to form. But it was in form only, whether structural, as in
the great cathedrals, or statuesque, as in the innumerable and beautiful
figures and effigies which adorn or repose in them, or expressed in the
carved likeness of flowers and foliage and animals and birds--it was in
form, I say, only that the Gothic genius displayed its real power and

And this being so, the nature of the contributions which the Gothic
nations were to make to pictorial art might almost, perhaps, have been
foreseen. Drawing rather than painting gave them the effects they
sought, and the art of wood engraving became in their hands a natural
and popular mode of expression. The powerful black line of the graver
was found to be extraordinarily effective in delineating mere form, and
accordingly in this new art, first started in Europe about the beginning
of the fifteenth century, the Gothic races, however hopelessly behind in
delineation by colour, took the lead. They treated it, indeed, quite
frankly, not as a pictorial but as a sculptural representation. That is
to say, they ignored aerial perspective and effects of light and shade
altogether, and made no attempt to produce the illusion to the eye of a
represented scene or landscape. On the other hand, each figure, or
object, or animal was outlined with extraordinary clearness and force,
as if it were being designed for a carving in relief. One has but to
turn from the sculptured work in wood or stone to the wood engravings of
the same period to recognise the similarity in spirit between the two,
and realise how thoroughly genuine a product of its age the art of
engraving was. It carried on the Gothic temper and characteristic view
of nature and life. It loved the same direct and literal statements, and
its sole preoccupation was how to express them with as much
matter-of-fact precision as possible and invest them with all the air of
positive realities. Moreover, the art, as it was developed in the North,
betrays the same strong popular sympathies that run through all Gothic
art. The same perception belongs to it of the significance and interest
of all homely objects and scenes, and it loves to depict in the same way
the details of the life and labour of the common people. And if it
cannot give to these things the actual reality of concrete form, it
still endeavours to attain this end so far as can possibly be done by
outline. Its instinct is always to treat its subjects as things, never
as appearances.

Wood engraving, then, carries on directly the great Gothic movement, and
is part of that movement. It continues to apply to life that measure of
_form_ which had hitherto so completely satisfied the Northern nations,
but which was soon to satisfy them no longer. Moreover, although this
splendid Gothic outburst of formative and structural art by degrees
waned and spent itself, yet still it remained the only aspect of art of
which the North had cognisance. The influence of the Renaissance was for
long accepted in the North as a structural influence only. In England
painting remained a dead letter, and on the Continent the only notable
school which arose, the Dutch school, was remarkable for just the
characteristics which had always distinguished Northern art--a love of
the facts of common life and a close, exact, and literal representation
of form. In short, if we were to take our stand in the middle of the
eighteenth century we should find stretching behind us the long history
of an art which had developed with unexampled vigour all the resources
of form, but which had never been really warmed and suffused by any
great conception of the value of colour. This was the atmosphere and
world of art into which Sir Joshua was born, and of which his criticism
is the outcome.

I will ask the reader now, in this brief survey of ours of the currents
that are carrying us on to the moment of Reynolds’s life and influence,
to turn his eyes southward to Italy, where he will perceive an
altogether new element in art gathering head and preparing to exert an
influence contrary to the old influence of form over the rest of Europe.

I have always thought myself that, as the intellectual and
matter-of-fact qualities of the Western mind are especially embodied in
form, so the emotional and sensuous qualities of the Eastern mind are
embodied, or find expression, in colour. However that may be, it would
seem to be certain that a conception of the possibilities of colour
quite unknown in Europe previously was gradually introduced into Italy
during the centuries which ensued between the collapse of classic Rome
and the rise of the Gothic nationalities by Byzantine artists and
architects arriving from Constantinople and the Eastern empires. This
new use of colour, contributed by the East, and which was to take
deepest root wherever the influence of the East had been most firmly
established, is, moreover, quite easy to understand and define. Gothic
colour was used, as I have said, subordinately to form and as one of
form’s attributes, its range and limits being exactly defined by the
body of those objects it belongs to. Oriental colour, on the other hand,
is used quite differently. Instead of being handled by form, it is
handled by light and shade, and with the help of light and shade it is
at once enabled to overcome the limitations of form and to develop a
rich and ample scheme of its own extending through the whole
composition. The marks of colour used in this sense are, I believe,
invariably these two: (1) It always employs its warmest and richest
hues; (2) it always melts away the edges and exactitudes of form, and
suffuses them all in a universal sunny glow.

It was in the interiors of their mosaic churches, swathed in mellow
gold, inlaid with rich colours, and always deeply and darkly shadowed,
that the Byzantine architects best embodied this Oriental conception of
colour effect, and the whole of Italy was to some extent warmed by their
glow. But it was in Venice, where the influence of the East was always
paramount, and where the most splendid of all these mosaic churches
glowed and glittered in the midst of the city, that the example had
strongest and most definite effect. Here it grafted itself and bore
fruit, and in the city which for so many centuries had sucked
nourishment from Eastern sources there arose in due time a school of
painting in which all the great characteristics of Oriental colour are

This school it was which took Reynolds captive. But in yielding to
colour of this kind he was not yielding to decorative colour. The rich,
suffused colour on the canvas of a Tintoret or a Titian is not
decorative colour at all. It is emotional colour, colour used to instil
a sensation and a feeling, not to define an object. Will the reader
compare in his mind the inside of St. Mark’s at Venice with the inside
of St. Peter’s at Rome? Both make much use of colour, but in St. Mark’s
the colour appears as a pervading deep and rich glow, governed and
controlled by light and shade; in St. Peter’s it appears as a
complicated pattern of variously cut marbles exposed in clear daylight.
This last is the decorative use of colour, and excites no feeling at
all. The former is the emotional use of it, and both excites and
satisfies deep feeling. The same difference is apparent between colour
as dealt with by the Venetian painters and colour as dealt with by the
Northern nations before Venice’s influence had been felt.

Bearing these facts in mind, the theory and the practice of Reynolds
both gain in significance. He came at the moment when the spread of that
Eastern ideal of colouring, which had already been carried here and
there through Europe, had become possible in England. He has himself
drawn attention to this tendency it possessed to overflow and extend
into other nations. “By them,” he says--that is, by Tintoret and
Veronese especially--“a style merely ornamental has been disseminated
throughout all Europe. Rubens carried it into Flanders, Voet to France,
and Lucca Giordano to Spain and Naples.” To which he might have added,
“and I myself to England.”

From the point of view of his work and example, Reynolds is to be
considered as the instrument of destiny appointed to a great end, while
at the same time his own slighting and inadequate criticism of this kind
of colour and his humble contrition for having been led astray by it are
not, if we remember his date, unintelligible. For, having behind him a
national past throughout which form, and the intellectual associations
suggested by form, ruled paramount, and in which the only recognised
function of colour had been its decorative function, it must seem to be
inevitable that, however natural an aptitude he may have possessed for
judging the grandeur of form, he could have possessed little for
appraising the effects of colour. The truth is that he applies to colour
used as the Venetians used it exactly the kind of criticism which he
might have applied to it as it was used all through the Gothic epoch. It
was inbred in Reynolds that colour must be and could be only a property
of form--must and could be, that is to say, only decorative. To this
formula he returns again and again, and however inapplicable it may seem
to the mighty Venetian canvases, we have only to put ourselves in
Reynolds’s time and place to perceive that the use of it was natural and

But all this represented, after all, only his conscious criticism and
reasoning. Form is intellectual, colour emotional, and if intellectually
Sir Joshua remained true to the first, emotionally he abandoned himself
entirely to the last. Venice never conquered his reason, but she
conquered his instincts and feelings and affections, and, for all that
reason could do, for thirty years, from his return from Italy until his
death, he poured forth work which owes all its power and charm to that
very glow and suffusion of colour which year by year he denounced to the
pupils of the Royal Academy as a delusion and a snare. It seems to me
that this conquest of Sir Joshua Reynolds, in spite of all his protests
and in defiance of all his reasoning, is about the most remarkable proof
extant of the irresistible influence which emotional colouring can

Well, then, turning to these Discourses, let us say at once that all the
strictures on the great colourists which they contain do not constitute
a real valuation of colour at all, but only a valuation of it by one
bred in traditions of form. They have, indeed, their own great interest.
They enable us to realise, more vividly than anything else I can think
of, the limitations and one-sidedness of art in England in the days
before Reynolds’s own painting achievements had helped to lay the basis
of a truer standard in criticism than any he himself possessed or could
possess. Here their interest is unique. But as criticism we may pass
them by. No one, indeed, has refuted them more ably than Sir Joshua
himself. His real and genuine estimate of colour is to be found, not in
what he said, but in what he did.

On the other hand, perhaps the very solidity and unity of that great
Northern tradition which stretched behind him gave a simplicity and
power to his analysis of form which it would scarcely in a later day
have possessed. Certainly I do not know where else in English art
criticism are to be found such clear and weighty definitions of what
grandeur of style consists in as occur throughout these Discourses. The
principle of the selection of essential traits, or those common to the
species, together with the elimination of accidental ones, or those
peculiar to the individual, which may be said to underlie his whole
theory of the grand style, is indeed that principle on which art itself
is founded, and the recognition of which has made the difference in all
ages between the cultured and ignorant, between the artist who
simplifies and the artist who complicates, between Greek and barbarian.
It is little to the point to say that this principle is already familiar
to us, and that we have no need of further instruction in it, for it is
with this as with other truths that matter, which become dimmed and
stale in the world, and lose their meaning and have to be reaffirmed
from time to time by some great teacher with emphasis and power.

It is in their powerful handling of first principles in all that regards
form that the value of these lectures lies. It is this also which gives
them for the present age their character of an antidote. There are times
during which the national life, uncertain and fluctuating in convictions
and aims, is incapable of inspiring art with any definite impulse
whatsoever. These, for art, are melancholy days--days divested of all
tradition and agreement--which it occupies rather in experimenting on
its own methods and processes than in producing definite constructive
work. Such experiments, however, are taken very seriously by
contemporaries, and all kinds of ingenious, far-fetched tricks are
played in paint or marble with as much zeal as if they formed part of a
genuine creative movement. Art criticism, it is needless to say, follows
the lead of art, and analyses these fugitive individual experiments as
solemnly as if they were an authentic expression of the life of their
age. The combined effect of this kind of art and this kind of art
criticism on a disinterested stranger would probably be that, far from
conceiving of art as a very important and vitally human affair, he would
conclude that it was an extremely clever and ingenious kind of juggling,
which, however interesting to cliques and coteries, could be no concern
of mankind in general.

There is no doubt that the best way, or only way, of counteracting this
tendency to triviality, to which in an experimental age we are liable,
is now and then to have recourse to those primitive and fixed principles
of art which are the same in all ages, and obedience to which alone
constitutes a passport to the regard of all ages. Only, in order that
such principles may be made acceptable and attractive, it is essential
that they should be treated with that directness and simplicity which an
intimate consciousness of their truth inspires. They are so treated in
these Discourses, and the consequence of their being so treated is that
just as a reader wearied by the trivialities of contemporary poetry or
the arguments of contemporary theology may find rest and refreshment by
turning over a page or two of Wordsworth or Thomas à Kempis, so in
something the same way at least, though perhaps in a less degree, he may
be brought closer again to the reality he had lost touch of in matters
of art by turning from the art criticism of the newspapers to the
lectures of Sir Joshua Reynolds.

     Discourses delivered in the Royal Academy, 1769-1791 (published

     Seven Discourses delivered in the Royal Academy (1769-76), 1778.
     Edited by H. Morley (Cassell’s National Library), 1888.

     Discourses of Sir Joshua Reynolds. Ed. E. Gosse, 1884.

     Ed. H. Zimmern (Camelot Classics), 1887.

     Works: Ed. G. Malone, 2 vols., 1797, 1798.

     Complete Works, 3 vols., 1824.

     Ed. H. W. Beechey, 2 vols., 1835; 1852 (Bohn). (Works include “A
     Journey to Flanders and Holland,” Annotations on Du Fresnoy’s “Art
     of Painting,” and three letters to the _Idler_, 1759, on Painting,
     and the True Idea of Beauty.)

     Sir Joshua Reynolds and his Works (Gleanings from Diary,
     unpublished MSS., &c.), by W. Cotton. Ed. J. Barnet, 1856.






THAT you have ordered the publication of this discourse is not only very
flattering to me, as it implies your approbation of the method of study
which I have recommended; but, likewise, as this method receives from
that act such an additional weight and authority, as demands from the
students that deference and respect which can be due only to the united
sense of so considerable a body of artists.

                                 I am,

                 With the greatest esteem and respect,


                           Your most humble

                         and obedient Servant,

                           JOSHUA REYNOLDS.


_Delivered at the opening of the Royal Academy, January 2, 1769._

     The Advantages proceeding from the Institution of a Royal
     Academy.--Hints offered to the Consideration of the Professors and
     Visitors;--That an Implicit Obedience to the Rules of Art be
     exacted from the Young Students;--That a Premature Disposition to a
     Masterly Dexterity be repressed;--That Diligence be constantly
     recommended, and (that it may be effectual) directed to its Proper


An Academy, in which the Polite Arts may be regularly cultivated, is at
last opened among us by Royal munificence. This must appear an event in
the highest degree interesting, not only to the artists, but to the
whole nation.

It is indeed difficult to give any other reason, why an empire like that
of Britain should so long have wanted an ornament so suitable to its
greatness, than that slow progression of things, which naturally makes
elegance and refinement the last effect of opulence and power.

An institution like this has often been recommended upon considerations
merely mercantile; but an Academy, founded upon such principles, can
never effect even its own narrow purposes. If it has an origin no
higher, no taste can ever be formed in manufactures; but if the higher
Arts of Design flourish, these inferior ends will be answered of course.

We are happy in having a Prince, who has conceived the design of such an
institution, according to its true dignity; and who promotes the Arts,
as the head of a great, a learned, a polite, and a commercial nation;
and I can now congratulate you, gentlemen, on the accomplishment of your
long and ardent wishes.

The numberless and ineffectual consultations which I have had with many
in this assembly, to form plans and concert schemes for an Academy,
afford a sufficient proof of the impossibility of succeeding but by the
influence of Majesty. But there have, perhaps, been times, when even the
influence of Majesty would have been ineffectual; and it is pleasing to
reflect, that we are thus embodied, when every circumstance seems to
concur from which honour and prosperity can probably arise.

There are, at this time, a greater number of excellent artists than were
ever known before at one period in this nation; there is a general
desire among our nobility to be distinguished as lovers and judges of
the Arts; there is a greater superfluity of wealth among the people to
reward the professors; and, above all, we are patronised by a monarch,
who, knowing the value of science and of elegance, thinks every art
worthy of his notice, that tends to soften and humanise the mind.

After so much has been done by his Majesty, it will be wholly our fault,
if our progress is not in some degree correspondent to the wisdom and
generosity of the Institution: let us show our gratitude in our
diligence, that, though our merit may not answer his expectations, yet,
at least, our industry may deserve his protection.

But whatever may be our proportion of success, of this we may be sure,
that the present Institution will at least contribute to advance our
knowledge of the Arts, and bring us nearer to that ideal excellence,
which it is the lot of genius always to contemplate and never to

The principal advantage of an Academy is, that, besides furnishing able
men to direct the student, it will be a repository for the great
examples of the Art. These are the materials on which genius is to work,
and without which the strongest intellect may be fruitlessly or
deviously employed. By studying these authentic models, that idea of
excellence which is the result of the accumulated experience of past
ages, may be at once acquired; and the tardy and obstructed progress of
our predecessors may teach us a shorter and easier way. The student
receives, at one glance, the principles which many artists have spent
their whole lives in ascertaining; and, satisfied with their effect, is
spared the painful investigation by which they came to be known and
fixed. How many men of great natural abilities have been lost to this
nation, for want of these advantages! They never had an opportunity of
seeing those masterly efforts of genius, which at once kindle the whole
soul, and force it into sudden and irresistible approbation.

Raffaelle, it is true, had not the advantage of studying in an Academy;
but all Rome, and the works of Michael Angelo in particular, were to him
an academy. On the sight of the Capella Sistina, he immediately from a
dry, Gothic, and even insipid manner, which attends to the minute
accidental discriminations of particular and individual objects, assumed
that grand style of painting, which improves partial representation by
the general and invariable ideas of nature.

Every seminary of learning may be said to be surrounded with an
atmosphere of floating knowledge, where every mind may imbibe somewhat
congenial to its own original conceptions. Knowledge, thus obtained, has
always something more popular and useful than that which is forced upon
the mind by private precepts, or solitary meditation. Besides, it is
generally found, that a youth more easily receives instruction from the
companions of his studies, whose minds are nearly on a level with his
own, than from those who are much his superiors; and it is from his
equals only that he catches the fire of emulation.

One advantage, I will venture to affirm, we shall have in our Academy,
which no other nation can boast. We shall have nothing to unlearn. To
this praise the present race of artists have a just claim. As far as
they have yet proceeded, they are right. With us the exertions of genius
will henceforward be directed to their proper objects. It will not be as
it has been in other schools, where he that travelled fastest only
wandered farthest from the right way.

Impressed, as I am, therefore, with such a favourable opinion of my
associates in this undertaking, it would ill become me to dictate to any
of them. But as these institutions have so often failed in other
nations; and as it is natural to think with regret, how much might have
been done, I must take leave to offer a few hints, by which those errors
may be rectified, and those defects supplied. These the professors and
visitors may reject or adopt as they shall think proper.

I would chiefly recommend, that an implicit obedience to the _Rules of
Art_, as established by the practice of the great masters, should be
exacted from the _young_ students. That those models, which have passed
through the approbation of ages, should be considered by them as perfect
and infallible guides; as subjects for their imitation, not their

I am confident, that this is the only efficacious method of making a
progress in the Arts; and that he who sets out with doubting, will find
life finished before he becomes master of the rudiments. For it may be
laid down as a maxim, that he who begins by presuming on his own sense,
has ended his studies as soon as he has commenced them. Every
opportunity, therefore, should be taken to discountenance that false and
vulgar opinion, that rules are the fetters of genius; they are fetters
only to men of no genius; as that armour, which upon the strong is an
ornament and a defence, upon the weak and mis-shapen becomes a load, and
cripples the body which it was made to protect.

How much liberty may be taken to break through those rules, and, as the
poet expresses it,

    To snatch a grace beyond the reach of art,

may be a subsequent consideration, when the pupils become masters
themselves. It is then, when their genius has received its utmost
improvement, that rules may possibly be dispensed with. But let us not
destroy the scaffold, until we have raised the building.

The directors ought more particularly to watch over the genius of those
students, who, being more advanced, are arrived at that critical period
of study, on the nice management of which their future turn of taste
depends. At that age it is natural for them to be more captivated with
what is brilliant, than with what is solid, and to prefer splendid
negligence to painful and humiliating exactness.

A facility in composing,--a lively, and what is called a masterly,
handling of the chalk or pencil, are, it must be confessed, captivating
qualities to young minds, and become of course the objects of their
ambition. They endeavour to imitate these dazzling excellences, which
they will find no great labour in attaining. After much time spent in
these frivolous pursuits, the difficulty will be to retreat; but it will
be then too late; and there is scarce an instance of return to
scrupulous labour, after the mind has been debauched and deceived by
this fallacious mastery.

By this useless industry they are excluded from all power of advancing
in real excellence. Whilst boys, they are arrived at their utmost
perfection; they have taken the shadow for the substance; and make the
mechanical felicity the chief excellence of the art, which is only an
ornament, and of the merit of which few but painters themselves are

This seems to me to be one of the most dangerous sources of corruption;
and I speak of it from experience, not as an error which may possibly
happen, but which has actually infected all foreign academies. The
directors were probably pleased with this premature dexterity in their
pupils, and praised their dispatch at the expense of their correctness.

But young men have not only this frivolous ambition of being thought
masters of execution inciting them on one hand, but also their natural
sloth tempting them on the other. They are terrified at the prospect
before them, of the toil required to attain exactness. The impetuosity
of youth is disgusted at the slow approaches of a regular siege, and
desires, from mere impatience of labour, to take the citadel by storm.
They wish to find some shorter path to excellence, and hope to obtain
the reward of eminence by other means than those, which the
indispensable rules of art have prescribed. They must therefore be told
again and again, that labour is the only price of solid fame, and that
whatever their force of genius may be, there is no easy method of
becoming a good painter.

When we read the lives of the most eminent painters, every page informs
us, that no part of their time was spent in dissipation. Even an
increase of fame served only to augment their industry. To be convinced
with what persevering assiduity they pursued their studies, we need
only reflect on their method of proceeding in their most celebrated
works. When they conceived a subject, they first made a variety of
sketches; then a finished drawing of the whole; after that a more
correct drawing of every separate part,--heads, hands, feet, and pieces
of drapery; they then painted the picture, and after all re-touched it
from the life. The pictures, thus wrought with such pains, now appear
like the effect of enchantment, and as if some mighty genius had struck
them off at a blow.

But, whilst diligence is thus recommended to the students, the visitors
will take care that their diligence be effectual; that it be well
directed, and employed on the proper object. A student is not always
advancing because he is employed; he must apply his strength to that
part of the art where the real difficulties lie; to that part which
distinguishes it as a liberal art; and not by mistaken industry lose his
time in that which is merely ornamental. The students, instead of vying
with each other which shall have the readiest hand, should be taught to
contend who shall have the purest and most correct outline; instead of
striving which shall produce the brightest tint, or curiously trifling,
shall give the gloss of stuffs, so as to appear real, let their ambition
be directed to contend, which shall dispose his drapery in the most
graceful folds, which shall give the most grace and dignity to the human

I must beg leave to submit one thing more to the consideration of the
visitors, which appears to me a matter of very great consequence, and
the omission of which I think a principal defect in the method of
education pursued in all the academies I have ever visited. The error I
mean is, that the students never draw exactly from the living models
which they have before them. It is not indeed their intention; nor are
they directed to do it. Their drawings resemble the model only in the
attitude. They change the form according to their vague and uncertain
ideas of beauty, and make a drawing rather of what they think the figure
ought to be, than of what it appears. I have thought this the obstacle
that has stopped the progress of many young men of real genius; and I
very much doubt, whether a habit of drawing correctly what we see, will
not give a proportionable power of drawing correctly what we imagine. He
who endeavours to copy nicely the figure before him, not only acquires a
habit of exactness and precision, but is continually advancing in his
knowledge of the human figure; and though he seems to superficial
observers to make a slower progress, he will be found at last capable of
adding (without running into capricious wildness) that grace and beauty,
which is necessary to be given to his more finished works, and which
cannot be got by the moderns, as it was not acquired by the ancients,
but by an attentive and well compared study of the human form.

What I think ought to enforce this method is, that it has been the
practice (as may be seen by their drawings) of the great Masters in the
Art. I will mention a drawing of Raffaelle, _The Dispute of the
Sacrament_, the print of which, by Count Cailus, is in every hand. It
appears, that he made his sketch from one model; and the habit he had of
drawing exactly from the form before him appears by his making all the
figures with the same cap, such as his model then happened to wear; so
servile a copyist was this great man, even at a time when he was allowed
to be at his highest pitch of excellence.

I have seen also academy figures by Annibale Caracci, though he was
often sufficiently licentious in his finished works, drawn with all the
peculiarities of an individual model.

This scrupulous exactness is so contrary to the practice of the
academies, that it is not without great deference, that I beg leave to
recommend it to the consideration of the visitors; and submit to them,
whether the neglect of this method is not one of the reasons why
students so often disappoint expectation, and, being more than boys at
sixteen, become less than men at thirty.

In short, the method I recommend can only be detrimental where there are
but few living forms to copy; for then students, by always drawing from
one alone, will by habit be taught to overlook defects, and mistake
deformity for beauty. But of this there is no danger; since the Council
has determined to supply the Academy with a variety of subjects; and
indeed those laws which they have drawn up, and which the Secretary will
presently read for your confirmation, have in some measure precluded me
from saying more upon this occasion. Instead, therefore, of offering my
advice, permit me to indulge my wishes, and express my hope, that this
institution may answer the expectation of its Royal founder; that the
present age may vie in Arts with that of Leo the Tenth; and that _the
dignity of the dying Art_ (to make use of an expression of Pliny) may be
revived under the reign of George the Third.


_Delivered to the Students of the Royal Academy, on the Distribution of
the Prizes, December 11, 1769._

     The Course and Order of Study.--The Different Stages of Art.--Much
     Copying discountenanced.--The Artist at all Times and in all Places
     should be employed in laying up Materials for the Exercise of his


I CONGRATULATE you on the honour which you have just received. I have
the highest opinion of your merits, and could wish to show my sense of
them in something which possibly may be more useful to you than barren
praise. I could wish to lead you into such a course of study as may
render your future progress answerable to your past improvement; and,
whilst I applaud you for what has been done, remind you how much yet
remains to attain perfection.

I flatter myself, that from the long experience I have had, and the
unceasing assiduity with which I have pursued those studies, in which,
like you, I have been engaged, I shall be acquitted of vanity in
offering some hints to your consideration. They are indeed in a great
degree founded upon my own mistakes in the same pursuit. But the history
of errors, properly managed, often shortens the road to truth. And
although no method of study that I can offer, will of itself conduct to
excellence, yet it may preserve industry from being misapplied.

In speaking to you of the Theory of the Art, I shall only consider it as
it has a relation to the _method_ of your studies.

Dividing the study of painting into three distinct periods, I shall
address you as having passed through the first of them, which is
confined to the rudiments; including a facility of drawing any object
that presents itself, a tolerable readiness in the management of
colours, and an acquaintance with the most simple and obvious rules of

This first degree of proficiency is, in painting, what grammar is in
literature, a general preparation for whatever species of the art the
student may afterwards choose for his more particular application. The
power of drawing, modelling, and using colours, is very properly called
the language of the art; and in this language, the honours you have just
received prove you to have made no inconsiderable progress.

When the artist is once enabled to express himself with some degree of
correctness, he must then endeavour to collect subjects for expression;
to amass a stock of ideas, to be combined and varied as occasion may
require. He is now in the second period of study, in which his business
is to learn all that has been known and done before his own time. Having
hitherto received instructions from a particular master, he is now to
consider the Art itself as his master. He must extend his capacity to
more sublime and general instructions. Those perfections which lie
scattered among various masters are now united in one general idea,
which is henceforth to regulate his taste, and enlarge his imagination.
With a variety of models thus before him, he will avoid that narrowness
and poverty of conception which attends a bigoted admiration of a single
master, and will cease to follow any favourite where he ceases to excel.
This period is, however, still a time of subjection and discipline.
Though the student will not resign himself blindly to any single
authority, when he may have the advantage of consulting many, he must
still be afraid of trusting his own judgment, and of deviating into any
track where he cannot find the footsteps of some former master.

The third and last period emancipates the student from subjection to any
authority, but what he shall himself judge to be supported by reason.
Confiding now in his own judgment, he will consider and separate those
different principles to which different modes of beauty owe their
original. In the former period he sought only to know and combine
excellence, wherever it was to be found, into one idea of perfection: in
this, he learns, what requires the most attentive survey and the most
subtle disquisition, to discriminate perfections that are incompatible
with each other.

He is from this time to regard himself as holding the same rank with
those masters whom he before obeyed as teachers; and as exercising a
sort of sovereignty over those rules which have hitherto restrained him.
Comparing now no longer the performances of Art with each other, but
examining the Art itself by the standard of nature, he corrects what is
erroneous, supplies what is scanty, and adds by his own observation what
the industry of his predecessors may have yet left wanting to
perfection. Having well established his judgment, and stored his memory,
he may now without fear try the power of his imagination. The mind that
has been thus disciplined, may be indulged in the warmest enthusiasm,
and venture to play on the borders of the wildest extravagance. The
habitual dignity which long converse with the greatest minds has
imparted to him will display itself in all his attempts; and he will
stand among his instructors, not as an imitator, but a rival.

These are the different stages of the Art. But as I now address myself
particularly to those students who have been this day rewarded for their
happy passage through the first period, I can with no propriety suppose
they want any help in the initiatory studies. My present design is to
direct your view to distant excellence, and to show you the readiest
path that leads to it. Of this I shall speak with such latitude, as may
leave the province of the professor uninvaded; and shall not anticipate
those precepts, which it is his business to give, and your duty to

It is indisputably evident that a great part of every man’s life must be
employed in collecting materials for the exercise of genius. Invention,
strictly speaking, is little more than a new combination of those images
which have been previously gathered and deposited in the memory: nothing
can come of nothing: he who has laid up no materials, can produce no

A student unacquainted with the attempts of former adventurers is always
apt to overrate his own abilities; to mistake the most trifling
excursions for discoveries of moment, and every coast new to him, for a
new-found country. If by chance he passes beyond his usual limits, he
congratulates his own arrival at those regions which they who have
steered a better course have long left behind them.

The productions of such minds are seldom distinguished by an air of
originality: they are anticipated in their happiest efforts; and if they
are found to differ in anything from their predecessors, it is only in
irregular sallies, and trifling conceits. The more extensive therefore
your acquaintance is with the works of those who have excelled, the more
extensive will be your powers of invention; and what may appear still
more like a paradox, the more original will be your conceptions. But the
difficulty on this occasion is to determine what ought to be proposed as
models of excellence, and who ought to be considered as the properest

To a young man just arrived in Italy, many of the present painters of
that country are ready enough to obtrude their precepts, and to offer
their own performances as examples of that perfection which they affect
to recommend. The modern, however, who recommends _himself_ as a
standard, may justly be suspected as ignorant of the true end, and
unacquainted with the proper object, of the art which he professes. To
follow such a guide, will not only retard the student, but mislead him.

On whom then can he rely, or who shall show him the path that leads to
excellence? The answer is obvious: those great masters who have
travelled the same road with success are the most likely to conduct
others. The works of those who have stood the test of ages, have a claim
to that respect and veneration to which no modern can pretend. The
duration and stability of their fame is sufficient to evince that it has
not been suspended upon the slender thread of fashion and caprice, but
bound to the human heart by every tie of sympathetic approbation.

There is no danger of studying too much the works of those great men;
but how they may be studied to advantage is an inquiry of great

Some who have never raised their minds to the consideration of the real
dignity of the Art, and who rate the works of an artist in proportion as
they excel or are defective in the mechanical parts, look on theory as
something that may enable them to talk but not to paint better; and
confining themselves entirely to mechanical practice, very assiduously
toil on in the drudgery of copying; and think they make a rapid progress
while they faithfully exhibit the minutest part of a favourite picture.
This appears to me a very tedious, and I think a very erroneous method
of proceeding. Of every large composition, even of those which are most
admired, a great part may be truly said to be _commonplace_. This,
though it takes up much time in copying, conduces little to improvement.
I consider general copying as a delusive kind of industry; the student
satisfies himself with the appearance of doing something; he falls into
the dangerous habit of imitating without selecting, and of labouring
without any determinate object; as it requires no effort of the mind, he
sleeps over his work; and those powers of invention and composition
which ought particularly to be called out, and put in action, lie
torpid, and lose their energy for want of exercise.

How incapable those are of producing anything of their own, who have
spent much of their time in making finished copies, is well known to all
who are conversant with our art.

To suppose that the complication of powers, and variety of ideas
necessary to that mind which aspires to the first honours in the art of
painting, can be obtained by the frigid contemplation of a few single
models, is no less absurd, than it would be in him who wishes to be a
poet, to imagine that by translating a tragedy he can acquire to himself
sufficient knowledge of the appearances of nature, the operations of the
passions, and the incidents of life.

The great use in copying, if it be at all useful, should seem to be in
learning to colour; yet even colouring will never be perfectly attained
by servilely copying the model before you. An eye critically nice can
only be formed by observing well-coloured pictures with attention; and
by close inspection, and minute examination, you will discover, at last,
the manner of handling, the artifices of contrast, glazing, and other
expedients, by which good colourists have raised the value of their
tints, and by which nature has been so happily imitated.

I must inform you, however, that old pictures deservedly celebrated for
their colouring, are often so changed by dirt and varnish, that we ought
not to wonder if they do not appear equal to their reputation in the
eyes of inexperienced painters, or young students. An artist whose
judgment is matured by long observation, considers rather what the
picture once was, than what it is at present. He has by habit acquired a
power of seeing the brilliancy of tints through the cloud by which it is
obscured. An exact imitation, therefore, of those pictures, is likely to
fill the student’s mind with false opinions; and to send him back a
colourist of his own formation, with ideas equally remote from nature
and from art, from the genuine practice of the masters, and the real
appearances of things.

Following these rules, and using these precautions, when you have
clearly and distinctly learned in what good colouring consists, you
cannot do better than have recourse to nature herself, who is always at
hand, and in comparison of whose true splendour the best coloured
pictures are but faint and feeble.

However, as the practice of copying is not entirely to be excluded,
since the mechanical practice of painting is learned in some measure by
it, let those choice parts only be selected which have recommended the
work to notice. If its excellence consists in its general effect, it
would be proper to make slight sketches of the machinery and general
management of the picture. Those sketches should be kept always by you
for the regulation of your style. Instead of copying the touches of
those great masters, copy only their conceptions. Instead of treading in
their footsteps, endeavour only to keep the same road. Labour to invent
on their general principles and way of thinking. Possess yourself with
their spirit. Consider with yourself how a Michael Angelo or a Raffaelle
would have treated this subject: and work yourself into a belief that
your picture is to be seen and criticised by them when completed. Even
an attempt of this kind will rouse your powers.

But as mere enthusiasm will carry you but a little way, let me recommend
a practice that may be equivalent to and will perhaps more efficaciously
contribute to your advancement, than even the verbal corrections of
those masters themselves, could they be obtained. What I would propose
is, that you should enter into a kind of competition, by painting a
similar subject, and making a companion to any picture that you consider
as a model. After you have finished your work, place it near the model,
and compare them carefully together. You will then not only see, but
feel your own deficiencies more sensibly than by precepts, or any other
means of instruction. The true principles of painting will mingle with
your thoughts. Ideas thus fixed by sensible objects will be certain and
definitive; and sinking deep into the mind, will not only be more just,
but more lasting than those presented to you by precepts only; which
will always be fleeting, variable, and undetermined.

This method of comparing your own efforts with those of some great
master is indeed a severe and mortifying task, to which none will
submit, but such as have great views, with fortitude sufficient to
forego the gratifications of present vanity for future honour. When the
student has succeeded in some measure to his own satisfaction, and has
felicitated himself on his success, to go voluntarily to a tribunal
where he knows his vanity must be humbled, and all self-approbation must
vanish, requires not only great resolution, but great humility. To him,
however, who has the ambition to be a real master, the solid
satisfaction which proceeds from a consciousness of his advancement (of
which seeing his own faults is the first step), will very abundantly
compensate for the mortification of present disappointment. There is,
besides, this alleviating circumstance. Every discovery he makes, every
acquisition of knowledge he attains, seems to proceed from his own
sagacity; and thus he acquires a confidence in himself sufficient to
keep up the resolution of perseverance.

We all must have experienced how lazily, and consequently how
ineffectually, instruction is received when forced upon the mind by
others. Few have been taught to any purpose, who have not been their own
teachers. We prefer those instructions which we have given ourselves,
from our affection to the instructor; and they are more effectual, from
being received into the mind at the very time when it is most open and
eager to receive them.

With respect to the pictures that you are to choose for your models, I
could wish that you would take the world’s opinion rather than your own.
In other words, I would have you choose those of established reputation,
rather than follow your own fancy. If you should not admire them at
first, you will, by endeavouring to imitate them, find that the world
has not been mistaken.

It is not an easy task to point out those various excellences for your
imitation, which lie distributed amongst the various schools. An
endeavour to do this may perhaps be the subject of some future
discourse. I will, therefore, at present only recommend a model for
style in painting, which is a branch of the art more immediately
necessary to the young student. Style in painting is the same as in
writing, a power over materials, whether words or colours, by which
conceptions or sentiments are conveyed. And in this Lodovico Caracci (I
mean in his best works) appears to me to approach the nearest to
perfection. His unaffected breadth of light and shadow, the simplicity
of colouring, which, holding its proper rank, does not draw aside the
least part of the attention from the subject, and the solemn effect of
that twilight which seems diffused over his pictures, appear to me to
correspond with grave and dignified subjects, better than the more
artificial brilliancy of sunshine which enlightens the pictures of
Titian: though Tintoret thought that Titian’s colouring was the model of
perfection, and would correspond even with the sublime of Michael
Angelo; and that if Angelo had coloured like Titian, or Titian designed
like Angelo, the world would once have had a perfect painter.

It is our misfortune, however, that those works of Caracci which I would
recommend to the student, are not often found out of Bologna. The _St.
Francis in the midst of his Friars_, _The Transfiguration_, _The Birth
of St. John the Baptist_, _The Calling of St. Matthew_, the _St.
Jerome_, the _Fresco Paintings_ in the Zampieri Palace, are all worthy
the attention of the student. And I think those who travel would do well
to allot a much greater portion of their time to that city, than it has
been hitherto the custom to bestow.

In this art, as in others, there are many teachers who profess to show
the nearest way to excellence; and many expedients have been invented by
which the toil of study might be saved. But let no man be seduced to
idleness by specious promises. Excellence is never granted to man, but
as the reward of labour. It argues indeed no small strength of mind to
persevere in habits of industry, without the pleasure of perceiving
those advances; which, like the hand of a clock, whilst they make hourly
approaches to their point, yet proceed so slowly as to escape
observation. A facility of drawing, like that of playing upon a musical
instrument, cannot be acquired but by an infinite number of acts. I
need not, therefore, enforce by many words the necessity of continual
application; nor tell you that the port-crayon ought to be for ever in
your hands. Various methods will occur to you by which this power may be
acquired. I would particularly recommend, that after your return from
the Academy (where I suppose your attendance to be constant), you would
endeavour to draw the figure by memory. I will even venture to add, that
by perseverance in this custom, you will become able to draw the human
figure tolerably correct, with as little effort of the mind as is
required to trace with a pen the letters of the alphabet.

That this facility is not unattainable, some members in this Academy
give a sufficient proof. And be assured, that if this power is not
acquired whilst you are young, there will be no time for it afterwards:
at least the attempt will be attended with as much difficulty as those
experience, who learn to read or write after they have arrived at the
age of maturity.

But while I mention the port-crayon as the student’s constant companion,
he must still remember, that the pencil is the instrument by which he
must hope to obtain eminence. What, therefore, I wish to impress upon
you is, that whenever an opportunity offers, you paint your studies
instead of drawing them. This will give you such a facility in using
colours, that in time they will arrange themselves under the pencil,
even without the attention of the hand that conducts it. If one act
excluded the other, this advice could not with any propriety be given.
But if painting comprises both drawing and colouring, and if by a short
struggle of resolute industry, the same expedition is attainable in
painting as in drawing on paper, I cannot see what objection can justly
be made to the practice; or why that should be done by parts, which may
be done all together.

If we turn our eyes to the several Schools of Painting, and consider
their respective excellences, we shall find that those who excel most in
colouring, pursued this method. The Venetian and Flemish schools, which
owe much of their fame to colouring, have enriched the cabinets of the
collectors of drawings with very few examples. Those of Titian, Paul
Veronese, Tintoret, and the Bassans, are in general slight and
undetermined; their sketches on paper are as rude as their pictures are
excellent in regard to harmony of colouring. Correggio and Baroccio have
left few, if any, finished drawings behind them. And in the Flemish
school, Rubens and Vandyck made their designs for the most part either
in colours, or in chiaroscuro. It is as common to find studies of the
Venetian and Flemish painters on canvas, as of the schools of Rome and
Florence on paper. Not but that many finished drawings are sold under
the names of those masters. Those, however, are undoubtedly the
productions either of engravers or of their scholars, who copied their

These instructions I have ventured to offer from my own experience; but
as they deviate widely from received opinions, I offer them with
diffidence; and when better are suggested, shall retract them without

There is one precept, however, in which I shall only be opposed by the
vain, the ignorant, and the idle. I am not afraid that I shall repeat it
too often. You must have no dependence on your own genius. If you have
great talents, industry will improve them; if you have but moderate
abilities, industry will supply their deficiency. Nothing is denied to
well-directed labour: nothing is to be obtained without it. Not to enter
into metaphysical discussions on the nature or essence of genius, I
will venture to assert, that assiduity unabated by difficulty, and a
disposition eagerly directed to the object of its pursuit, will produce
effects similar to those which some call the result of _natural powers_.

Though a man cannot at all times, and in all places, paint or draw, yet
the mind can prepare itself by laying in proper materials, at all times,
and in all places. Both Livy and Plutarch, in describing Philopoemen,
one of the ablest generals of antiquity, have given us a striking
picture of a mind always intent on its profession, and by assiduity
obtaining those excellences which some all their lives vainly expect
from nature. I shall quote the passage in Livy at length, as it runs
parallel with the practice I would recommend to the painter, sculptor,
and architect:

“Philopoemen was a man eminent for his sagacity and experience in
choosing ground, and in leading armies; to which he formed his mind by
perpetual meditation, in times of peace as well as war. When, in any
occasional journey, he came to a strait difficult passage, if he was
alone he considered with himself, and if he was in company he asked his
friends, what it would be best to do if in this place they had found an
enemy, either in the front, or in the rear, on the one side, or on the
other. ‘It might happen,’ says he, ‘that the enemy to be opposed might
come on drawn up in regular lines, or in a tumultuous body, formed only
by the nature of the place.’ He then considered a little what ground he
should take; what number of soldiers he should use, and what arms he
should give them; where he should lodge his carriages, his baggage, and
the defenceless followers of his camp; how many guards, and of what
kind, he should send to defend them; and whether it would be better to
press forward along the pass, or recover by retreat his former station:
he would consider likewise where his camp could most commodiously be
formed; how much ground he should inclose within his trenches: where he
should have the convenience of water, and where he might find plenty of
wood and forage; and when he should break up his camp on the following
day, through what road he could most safely pass, and in what form he
should dispose his troops. With such thoughts and disquisitions he had
from his early years so exercised his mind, that on these occasions
nothing could happen which he had not been already accustomed to

I cannot help imagining that I see a promising young painter, equally
vigilant, whether at home, or abroad, in the streets, or in the fields.
Every object that presents itself is to him a lesson. He regards all
nature with a view to his profession; and combines her beauties, or
corrects her defects. He examines the countenance of men under the
influence of passion; and often catches the most pleasing hints from
subjects of turbulence or deformity. Even bad pictures themselves supply
him with useful documents; and, as Lionardo da Vinci has observed, he
improves upon the fanciful images that are sometimes seen in the fire,
or are accidentally sketched upon a discoloured wall.

The artist who has his mind thus filled with ideas, and his hand made
expert by practice, works with ease and readiness; whilst he who would
have you believe that he is waiting for the inspirations of genius, is
in reality at a loss how to begin; and is at last delivered of his
monsters, with difficulty and pain.

The well-grounded painter, on the contrary, has only maturely to
consider his subject, and all the mechanical parts of his art follow
without his exertion. Conscious of the difficulty of obtaining what he
possesses, he makes no pretensions to secrets, except those of closer
application. Without conceiving the smallest jealousy against others, he
is contented that all shall be as great as himself, who have undergone
the same fatigue; and as his pre-eminence depends not upon a trick, he
is free from the painful suspicions of a juggler, who lives in perpetual
fear lest his trick should be discovered.


_Delivered to the Students of the Royal Academy, on the Distribution of
the Prizes, December 14, 1770._

     The Great Leading Principles of the Grand Style.--Of Beauty.--The
     Genuine Habits of Nature to be distinguished from those of Fashion.


It is not easy to speak with propriety to so many students of different
ages and different degrees of advancement. The mind requires nourishment
adapted to its growth; and what may have promoted our earlier efforts,
might retard us in our nearer approaches to perfection.

The first endeavours of a young painter, as I have remarked in a former
discourse, must be employed in the attainment of mechanical dexterity,
and confined to the mere imitation of the object before him. Those who
have advanced beyond the rudiments may, perhaps, find advantage in
reflecting on the advice which I have likewise given them, when I
recommended the diligent study of the works of our great predecessors;
but I at the same time endeavoured to guard them against an implicit
submission to the authority of any one master however excellent: or by a
strict imitation of his manner, precluding themselves from the
abundance and variety of nature. I will now add that Nature herself is
not to be too closely copied. There are excellences in the art of
painting beyond what is commonly called the imitation of nature: and
these excellences I wish to point out. The students who, having passed
through the initiatory exercises, are more advanced in the art, and who,
sure of their hand, have leisure to exert their understanding, must now
be told, that a mere copier of nature can never produce anything great;
can never raise and enlarge the conceptions, or warm the heart of the

The wish of the genuine painter must be more extensive: instead of
endeavouring to amuse mankind with the minute neatness of his
imitations, he must endeavour to improve them by the grandeur of his
ideas; instead of seeking praise, by deceiving the superficial sense of
the spectator, he must strive for fame, by captivating the imagination.

The principle now laid down, that the perfection of this art does not
consist in mere imitation, is far from being new or singular. It is,
indeed, supported by the general opinion of the enlightened part of
mankind. The poets, orators, and rhetoricians of antiquity, are
continually enforcing this position; that all the arts receive their
perfection from an ideal beauty, superior to what is to be found in
individual nature. They are ever referring to the practice of the
painters and sculptors of their times, particularly Phidias (the
favourite artist of antiquity), to illustrate their assertions. As if
they could not sufficiently express their admiration of his genius by
what they knew, they have recourse to poetical enthusiasm: they call it
inspiration; a gift from heaven. The artist is supposed to have ascended
the celestial regions, to furnish his mind with this perfect idea of
beauty. “He,” says Proclus,[1] “who takes for his model such forms as
nature produces, and confines himself to an exact imitation of them,
will never attain to what is perfectly beautiful. For the works of
nature are full of disproportion, and fall very short of the true
standard of beauty. So that Phidias, when he formed his Jupiter, did not
copy any object ever presented to his sight; but contemplated only that
image which he had conceived in his mind from Homer’s description.” And
thus Cicero, speaking of the same Phidias: “Neither did this artist,”
says he, “when he carved the image of Jupiter or Minerva, set before him
any one human figure, as a pattern, which he was to copy; but having a
more perfect idea of beauty fixed in his mind, this he steadily
contemplated, and to the imitation of this all his skill and labour were

The moderns are not less convinced than the ancients of this superior
power existing in the art; nor less sensible of its effects. Every
language has adopted terms expressive of this excellence. The _gusto
grande_ of the Italians, the _beau idéal_ of the French, and the _great
style_, _genius_, and _taste_ among the English, are but different
appellations of the same thing. It is this intellectual dignity, they
say, that ennobles the painter’s art; that lays the line between him and
the mere mechanic; and produces those great effects in an instant, which
eloquence and poetry, by slow and repeated efforts, are scarcely able to

Such is the warmth with which both the ancients and moderns speak of
this divine principle of the art; but, as I have formerly observed,
enthusiastic admiration seldom promotes knowledge. Though a student by
such praise may have his attention roused, and a desire excited, of
running in this great career; yet it is possible that what has been
said to excite, may only serve to deter him. He examines his own mind,
and perceives there nothing of that divine inspiration, with which, he
is told, so many others have been favoured. He never travelled to heaven
to gather new ideas; and he finds himself possessed of no other
qualifications than what mere common observation and a plain
understanding can confer. Thus he becomes gloomy amidst the splendour of
figurative declamation, and thinks it hopeless to pursue an object which
he supposes out of the reach of human industry.

But on this, as upon many other occasions, we ought to distinguish how
much is to be given to enthusiasm, and how much to reason. We ought to
allow for, and we ought to commend, that strength of vivid expression,
which is necessary to convey, in its full force, the highest sense of
the most complete effect of art; taking care at the same time, not to
lose in terms of vague admiration, that solidity and truth of principle,
upon which alone we can reason, and may be enabled to practise.

It is not easy to define in what this great style consists; nor to
describe, by words, the proper means of acquiring it, if the mind of the
student should be at all capable of such an acquisition. Could we teach
taste and genius by rules, they would be no longer taste and genius. But
though there neither are, nor can be, any precise invariable rules for
the exercise, or the acquisition, of these great qualities, yet we may
truly say, that they always operate in proportion to our attention in
observing the works of nature, to our skill in selecting, and to our
care in digesting, methodising, and comparing our observations. There
are many beauties in our art, that seem, at first, to lie without the
reach of precept, and yet may easily be reduced to practical principles.
Experience is all in all; but it is not every one who profits by
experience; and most people err, not so much from want of capacity to
find their object, as from not knowing what object to pursue. This great
ideal perfection and beauty are not to be sought in the heavens, but
upon the earth. They are about us, and upon every side of us. But the
power of discovering what is deformed in nature, or in other words, what
is particular and uncommon, can be acquired only by experience; and the
whole beauty and grandeur of the art consists, in my opinion, in being
able to get above all singular forms, local customs, particularities,
and details of every kind.

All the objects which are exhibited to our view by nature, upon close
examination will be found to have their blemishes and defects. The most
beautiful forms have something about them like weakness, minuteness, or
imperfection. But it is not every eye that perceives these blemishes. It
must be an eye long used to the contemplation and comparison of these
forms; and which, by a long habit of observing what any set of objects
of the same kind have in common, has acquired the power of discerning
what each wants in particular. This long laborious comparison should be
the first study of the painter who aims at the greatest style. By this
means, he acquires a just idea of beautiful forms; he corrects nature by
herself, her imperfect state by her more perfect. His eye being enabled
to distinguish the accidental deficiencies, excrescences, and
deformities of things, from their general figures, he makes out an
abstract idea of their forms more perfect than any one original; and,
what may seem a paradox, he learns to design naturally by drawing his
figures unlike to any one object. This idea of the perfect state of
nature, which the artist calls the Ideal Beauty, is the great leading
principle by which works of genius are conducted. By this Phidias
acquired his fame. He wrought upon a sober principle what has so much
excited the enthusiasm of the world; and by this method you, who have
courage to tread the same path, may acquire equal reputation.

This is the idea which has acquired, and which seems to have a right to,
the epithet of _divine_; as it may be said to preside, like a supreme
judge, over all the productions of nature; appearing to be possessed of
the will and intention of the Creator, as far as they regard the
external form of living beings. When a man once possesses this idea in
its perfection, there is no danger but that he will be sufficiently
warmed by it himself, and be able to warm and ravish everyone else.

Thus it is from a reiterated experience, and a close comparison of the
objects in nature, that an artist becomes possessed of the idea of that
central form, if I may so express it, from which every deviation is
deformity. But the investigation of this form, I grant, is painful, and
I know but of one method of shortening the road; this is, by a careful
study of the works of the ancient sculptors; who, being indefatigable in
the school of nature, have left models of that perfect form behind them,
which an artist would prefer as supremely beautiful, who had spent his
whole life in that single contemplation. But if industry carried them
thus far, may not you also hope for the same reward from the same
labour? We have the same school opened to us, that was opened to them:
for nature denies her instructions to none, who desire to become her

This laborious investigation, I am aware, must appear superfluous to
those who think everything is to be done by felicity, and the powers of
native genius. Even the great Bacon treats with ridicule the idea of
confining proportion to rules, or of producing beauty by selection. “A
man cannot tell” (says he) “whether Apelles or Albert Dürer were the
more trifler; whereof the one would make a personage by geometrical
proportions; the other, by taking the best parts out of divers faces, to
make one excellent.... The painter” (he adds) “must do it by a kind of
felicity ... and not by rule.”[2]

It is not safe to question any opinion of so great a writer, and so
profound a thinker, as undoubtedly Bacon was. But he studies brevity to
excess; and therefore his meaning is sometimes doubtful. If he means
that beauty has nothing to do with rule, he is mistaken. There is a
rule, obtained out of general nature, to contradict which is to fall
into deformity. Whenever anything is done beyond this rule, it is in
virtue of some other rule which is followed along with it, but which
does not contradict it. Everything which is wrought with certainty is
wrought upon some principle. If it is not, it cannot be repeated. If by
felicity is meant anything of chance or hazard, or something born with a
man, and not earned, I cannot agree with this great philosopher. Every
object which pleases must give us pleasure upon some certain principles;
but as the objects of pleasure are almost infinite, so their principles
vary without end, and every man finds them out, not by felicity or
successful hazard, but by care and sagacity.

To the principle I have laid down, that the idea of beauty in each
species of beings is an invariable one, it may be objected, that in
every particular species there are various central forms, which are
separate and distinct from each other, and yet are undeniably beautiful;
that in the human figure, for instance, the beauty of Hercules is one,
of the Gladiator another, of the Apollo another; which makes so many
different ideas of beauty.

It is true, indeed, that these figures are each perfect in their kind,
though of different characters and proportions; but still none of them
is the representation of an individual, but of a class. And as there is
one general form, which, as I have said, belongs to the human kind at
large, so in each of these classes there is one common idea and central
form, which is the abstract of the various individual forms belonging to
that class. Thus, though the forms of childhood and age differ
exceedingly, there is a common form in childhood, and a common form in
age, which is the more perfect, as it is more remote from all
peculiarities. But I must add further, that though the most perfect
forms of each of the general divisions of the human figure are ideal,
and superior to any individual form of that class; yet the highest
perfection of the human figure is not to be found in any one of them. It
is not in the Hercules, nor in the Gladiator, nor in the Apollo; but in
that form which is taken from all, and which partakes equally of the
activity of the Gladiator, of the delicacy of the Apollo, and of the
muscular strength of the Hercules. For perfect beauty in any species
must combine all the characters which are beautiful in that species. It
cannot consist in any one to the exclusion of the rest; no one,
therefore, must be predominant, that no one may be deficient.

The knowledge of these different characters, and the power of separating
and distinguishing them, are undoubtedly necessary to the painter, who
is to vary his compositions with figures of various forms and
proportions, though he is never to lose sight of the general idea of
perfection in each kind.

There is, likewise, a kind of symmetry, or proportion, which may
properly be said to belong to deformity. A figure, lean or corpulent,
tall or short, though deviating from beauty, may still have a certain
union of the various parts, which may contribute to make them on the
whole not unpleasing.

When the artist has by diligent attention acquired a clear and distinct
idea of beauty and symmetry; when he has reduced the variety of nature
to the abstract idea; his next task will be to become acquainted with
the genuine habits of nature, as distinguished from those of fashion.
For in the same manner, and on the same principles, as he has acquired
the knowledge of the real forms of nature, distinct from accidental
deformity, he must endeavour to separate simple chaste nature, from
those adventitious, those affected and forced airs or actions, with
which she is loaded by modern education.

Perhaps I cannot better explain what I mean, than by reminding you of
what was taught us by the Professor of Anatomy, in respect to the
natural position and movement of the feet. He observed, that the fashion
of turning them outwards was contrary to the intent of nature, as might
be seen from the structure of the bones, and from the weakness that
proceeded from that manner of standing. To this we may add the erect
position of the head, the projection of the chest, the walking with
straight knees, and many such actions, which we know to be merely the
result of fashion, and what nature never warranted, as we are sure that
we have been taught them when children.

I have mentioned but a few of those instances, in which vanity or
caprice have contrived to distort and disfigure the human form: your own
recollection will add to these a thousand more of ill-understood
methods, which have been practised to disguise nature among our
dancing-masters, hairdressers, and tailors, in their various schools of

However the mechanic and ornamental arts may sacrifice to fashion, she
must be entirely excluded from the art of painting; the painter must
never mistake this capricious changeling for the genuine offspring of
nature; he must divest himself of all prejudices in favour of his age or
country; he must disregard all local and temporary ornaments, and look
only on those general habits which are everywhere and always the same;
he addresses his works to the people of every country and every age, he
calls upon posterity to be his spectators, and says with Zeuxis, _in
æternitatem pingo_.

The neglect of separating modern fashions from the habits of nature
leads to that ridiculous style which has been practised by some
painters, who have given to Grecian heroes the airs and graces practised
in the Court of Louis the Fourteenth; an absurdity almost as great as it
would have been to have dressed them after the fashion of that Court.

To avoid this error, however, and to retain the true simplicity of
nature, is a task more difficult than at first sight it may appear. The
prejudices in favour of the fashions and customs that we have been used
to, and which are justly called a second nature, make it too often
difficult to distinguish that which is natural from that which is the
result of education; they frequently even give a predilection in favour
of the artificial mode; and almost everyone is apt to be guided by those
local prejudices, who has not chastised his mind and regulated the
instability of his affections by the eternal invariable idea of nature.

Here then, as before, we must have recourse to the ancients as
instructors. It is from a careful study of their works that you will be
enabled to attain to the real simplicity of nature; they will suggest
many observations, which would probably escape you, if your study were
confined to nature alone. And, indeed, I cannot help suspecting, that in
this instance the ancients had an easier task than the moderns. They
had, probably, little or nothing to unlearn, as their manners were
nearly approaching to this desirable simplicity; while the modern
artist, before he can see the truth of things, is obliged to remove a
veil, with which the fashion of the times has thought proper to cover

Having gone thus far in our investigation of the great style in
painting; if we now should suppose that the artist has found the true
idea of beauty, which enables him to give his works a correct and
perfect design; if we should suppose also, that he has acquired a
knowledge of the unadulterated habits of nature, which gives him
simplicity; the rest of his task is, perhaps, less than is generally
imagined. Beauty and simplicity have so great a share in the composition
of a great style, that he who has acquired them has little else to
learn. It must not, indeed, be forgotten, that there is a nobleness of
conception, which goes beyond anything in the mere exhibition even of
perfect form; there is an art of animating and dignifying the figures
with intellectual grandeur, of impressing the appearance of philosophic
wisdom, or heroic virtue. This can only be acquired by him that enlarges
the sphere of his understanding by a variety of knowledge, and warms his
imagination with the best productions of ancient and modern poetry.

A hand thus exercised, and a mind thus instructed, will bring the art to
a higher degree of excellence than, perhaps, it has hitherto attained in
this country. Such a student will disdain the humbler walks of painting,
which, however profitable, can never assure him a permanent reputation.
He will leave the meaner artist servilely to suppose that those are the
best pictures, which are most likely to deceive the spectator. He will
permit the lower painter, like the florist or collector of shells, to
exhibit the minute discriminations, which distinguish one object of the
same species from another; while he, like the philosopher, will consider
nature in the abstract, and represent in every one of his figures the
character of its species.

If deceiving the eye were the only business of the art, there is no
doubt, indeed, but the minute painter would be more apt to succeed; but
it is not the eye, it is the mind, which the painter of genius desires
to address; nor will he waste a moment upon those smaller objects, which
only serve to catch the sense, to divide the attention, and to
counteract his great design of speaking to the heart.

This is the ambition which I wish to excite in your minds; and the
object I have had in my view, throughout this discourse, is that one
great idea, which gives to painting its true dignity, which entitles it
to the name of a liberal art, and ranks it as a sister of poetry.

It may possibly have happened to many young students, whose application
was sufficient to overcome all difficulties, and whose minds were
capable of embracing the most extensive views, that they have, by a
wrong direction originally given, spent their lives in the meaner walks
of painting, without ever knowing there was a nobler to pursue. Albert
Dürer, as Vasari has justly remarked, would, probably, have been one of
the first painters of his age (and he lived in an era of great artists)
had he been initiated into those great principles of the art, which were
so well understood and practised by his contemporaries in Italy. But
unluckily having never seen or heard of any other manner, he, without
doubt, considered his own as perfect.

As for the various departments of painting, which do not presume to make
such high pretensions, they are many. None of them are without their
merit, though none enter into competition with this universal presiding
idea of the art. The painters who have applied themselves more
particularly to low and vulgar characters, and who express with
precision the various shades of passion, as they are exhibited by vulgar
minds (such as we see in the works of Hogarth), deserve great praise;
but as their genius has been employed on low and confined subjects, the
praise which we give must be as limited as its object. The merry-making,
or quarrelling of the boors of Teniers; the same sort of productions of
Brouwer, or Ostade, are excellent in their kind; and the excellence and
its praise will be in proportion, as, in those limited subjects, and
peculiar forms, they introduce more or less of the expression of those
passions, as they appear in general and more enlarged nature. This
principle may be applied to the battle-pieces of Bourgognone the French
gallantries of Watteau, and even beyond the exhibition of animal life,
to the landscapes of Claude Lorrain, and the sea views of Vandervelde.
All these painters have, in general, the same right, in different
degrees, to the name of a painter, which a satirist, an epigrammatist, a
sonneteer, a writer of pastorals or descriptive poetry, has to that of a

In the same rank, and perhaps of not so great merit, is the cold painter
of portraits. But his correct and just imitation of his object has its
merit. Even the painter of still life, whose highest ambition is to give
a minute representation of every part of those low objects which he sets
before him, deserves praise in proportion to his attainment; because no
part of this excellent art, so much the ornament of polished life, is
destitute of value and use. These, however, are by no means the views to
which the mind of the student ought to be _primarily_ directed. Having
begun by aiming at better things, if from particular inclination, or
from the taste of the time and place he lives in, or from necessity, or
from failure in the highest attempts, he is obliged to descend lower, he
will bring into the lower sphere of art a grandeur of composition and
character, that will raise and ennoble his works far above their natural

A man is not weak, though he may not be able to wield the club of
Hercules; nor does a man always practise that which he esteems the best;
but does that which he can best do. In moderate attempts, there are many
walks open to the artist. But as the idea of beauty is of necessity but
one, so there can be but one great mode of painting; the leading
principle of which I have endeavoured to explain.

I should be sorry, if what is here recommended, should be at all
understood to countenance a careless or indetermined manner of painting.
For though the painter is to overlook the accidental discriminations of
nature, he is to exhibit distinctly, and with precision, the general
forms of things. A firm and determined outline is one of the
characteristics of the great style in painting; and let me add, that he
who possesses the knowledge of the exact form which every part of nature
ought to have, will be fond of expressing that knowledge with
correctness and precision in all his works.

To conclude; I have endeavoured to reduce the idea of beauty to general
principles: and I had the pleasure to observe that the Professor of
Painting proceeded in the same method, when he showed you that the
artifice of contrast was founded but on one principle. I am convinced
that this is the only means of advancing science; of clearing the mind
from a confused heap of contradictory observations, that do but perplex
and puzzle the student, when he compares them, or misguide him if he
gives himself up to their authority: bringing them under one general
head can alone give rest and satisfaction to an inquisitive mind.


_Delivered to the Students of the Royal Academy, on the Distribution of
the Prizes, December 10, 1771._

     General Ideas, the Presiding Principle which regulates every Part
     of Art; Invention, Expression, Colouring, and Drapery.--Two
     Distinct Styles in History-painting; the Grand, and the
     Ornamental.--The Schools in which each is to be found.--The
     Composite Style.--The Style formed on Local Customs and Habits, or
     a Partial View of Nature.


The value and rank of every art is in proportion to the mental labour
employed in it, or the mental pleasure produced by it. As this principle
is observed or neglected, our profession becomes either a liberal art,
or a mechanical trade. In the hands of one man it makes the highest
pretensions, as it is addressed to the noblest faculties: in those of
another it is reduced to a mere matter of ornament; and the painter has
but the humble province of furnishing our apartments with elegance.

This exertion of mind, which is the only circumstance that truly
ennobles our art, makes the great distinction between the Roman and
Venetian schools. I have formerly observed that perfect form is produced
by leaving out particularities, and retaining only general ideas: I
shall now endeavour to show that this principle, which I have proved to
be metaphysically just, extends itself to every part of the art; that
it gives what is called the _grand style_ to invention, to composition,
to expression, and even to colouring and drapery.

Invention in painting does not imply the invention of the subject; for
that is commonly supplied by the poet or historian. With respect to the
choice, no subject can be proper that is not generally interesting. It
ought to be either some eminent instance of heroic action, or heroic
suffering. There must be something either in the action, or in the
object, in which men are universally concerned, and which powerfully
strikes upon the public sympathy.

Strictly speaking, indeed, no subject can be of universal, hardly can it
be of general, concern; but there are events and characters so popularly
known in those countries where our art is in request, that they may be
considered as sufficiently general for all our purposes. Such are the
great events of Greek and Roman fable and history, which early
education, and the usual course of reading, have made familiar and
interesting to all Europe, without being degraded by the vulgarism of
ordinary life in any country. Such too are the capital subjects of
Scripture history, which, besides their general notoriety, become
venerable by their connection with our religion.

As it is required that the subject selected should be a general one, it
is no less necessary that it should be kept unembarrassed with whatever
may in any way serve to divide the attention of the spectator. Whenever
a story is related, every man forms a picture in his mind of the action
and expression of the persons employed. The power of representing this
mental picture on canvas is what we call invention in a painter. And as
in the conception of this ideal picture the mind does not enter into the
minute peculiarities of the dress, furniture, or scene of action; so
when the painter comes to represent it, he contrives those little
necessary concomitant circumstances in such a manner, that they shall
strike the spectator no more than they did himself in his first
conception of the story.

I am very ready to allow, that some circumstances of minuteness and
particularity frequently tend to give an air of truth to a piece, and to
interest the spectator in an extraordinary manner. Such circumstances
therefore cannot wholly be rejected: but if there be anything in the art
which requires peculiar nicety of discernment, it is the disposition of
these minute circumstantial parts; which, according to the judgment
employed in the choice, become so useful to truth, or so injurious to

However, the usual and most dangerous error is on the side of
minuteness; and therefore I think caution most necessary where most have
failed. The general idea constitutes real excellence. All smaller
things, however perfect in their way, are to be sacrificed without mercy
to the greater. The painter will not inquire what things may be admitted
without much censure: he will not think it enough to show that they may
be there; he will show that they must be there; that their absence would
render his picture maimed and defective.

Thus, though to the principal group a second or third be added, and a
second and third mass of light, care must be yet taken that these
subordinate actions and lights, neither each in particular, nor all
together, come into any degree of competition with the principal; they
should merely make a part of that whole which would be imperfect without
them. To every kind of painting this rule may be applied. Even in
portraits, the grace, and, we may add, the likeness, consists more in
taking the general air, than in observing the exact similitude of every

Thus figures must have a ground whereon to stand; they must be clothed;
there must be a background; there must be light and shadow: but none of
these ought to appear to have taken up any part of the artist’s
attention. They should be so managed as not even to catch that of the
spectator. We know well enough, when we analyse a piece, the difficulty
and the subtilty with which an artist adjusts the background, drapery,
and masses of light; we know that a considerable part of the grace and
effect of his picture depends upon them; but this art is so much
concealed, even to a judicious eye, that no remains of any of these
subordinate parts occur to the memory when the picture is not present.

The great end of the art is to strike the imagination. The painter
therefore is to make no ostentation of the means by which this is done;
the spectator is only to feel the result in his bosom. An inferior
artist is unwilling that any part of his industry should be lost upon
the spectator. He takes as much pains to discover, as the greater artist
does to conceal, the marks of his subordinate assiduity. In works of the
lower kind, everything appears studied, and encumbered; it is all
boastful art and open affectation. The ignorant often part from such
pictures with wonder in their mouths, and indifference in their hearts.

But it is not enough in invention that the artist should restrain and
keep under all the inferior parts of his subject; he must sometimes
deviate from vulgar and strict historical truth, in pursuing the
grandeur of his design.

How much the great style exacts from its professors to conceive and
represent their subjects in a poetical manner, not confined to mere
matter of fact, may be seen in the Cartoons of Raffaelle. In all the
pictures in which the painter has represented the Apostles, he has drawn
them with great nobleness; he has given them as much dignity as the
human figure is capable of receiving; yet we are expressly told in
Scripture they had no such respectable appearance; and of St. Paul in
particular, we are told by himself, that his _bodily_ presence was
_mean_. Alexander is said to have been of a low stature: a painter ought
not so to represent him. Agesilaus was low, lame, and of a mean
appearance: none of these defects ought to appear in a piece of which he
is the hero. In conformity to custom, I call this part of the art
history painting; it ought to be called poetical, as in reality it is.

All this is not falsifying any fact; it is taking an allowed poetical
licence. A painter of portraits retains the individual likeness; a
painter of history shows the man by showing his actions. A painter must
compensate the natural deficiencies of his art. He has but one sentence
to utter, but one moment to exhibit. He cannot, like the poet or
historian, expatiate, and impress the mind with great veneration for the
character of the hero or saint he represents, though he lets us know at
the same time, that the saint was deformed, or the hero lame. The
painter has no other means of giving an idea of the dignity of the mind,
but by that external appearance which grandeur of thought does
generally, though not always, impress on the countenance; and by that
correspondence of figure to sentiment and situation, which all men wish,
but cannot command. The painter, who may in this one particular attain
with ease what others desire in vain, ought to give all that he possibly
can, since there are so many circumstances of true greatness that he
cannot give at all. He cannot make his hero talk like a great man; he
must make him look like one. For which reason, he ought to be well
studied in the analysis of those circumstances, which constitute dignity
of appearance in real life.

As in invention, so likewise in expression, care must be taken not to
run into particularities. Those expressions alone should be given to the
figures which their respective situations generally produce. Nor is this
enough; each person should also have that expression which men of his
rank generally exhibit. The joy, or the grief of a character of dignity,
is not to be expressed in the same manner as a similar passion in a
vulgar face. Upon this principle, Bernini, perhaps, may be subject to
censure. This sculptor, in many respects admirable, has given a very
mean expression to his statue of David, who is represented as just going
to throw the stone from the sling; and in order to give it the
expression of energy, he has made him biting his under-lip. This
expression is far from being general, and still farther from being
dignified. He might have seen it in an instance or two; and he mistook
accident for generality.

With respect to colouring, though it may appear at first a part of
painting merely mechanical, yet it still has its rules, and those
grounded upon that presiding principle which regulates both the great
and the little in the study of a painter. By this, the first effect of
the picture is produced; and as this is performed, the spectator, as he
walks the gallery, will stop or pass along. To give a general air of
grandeur at first view, all trifling or artful play of little lights, or
an attention to a variety of tints, is to be avoided; a quietness and
simplicity must reign over the whole work; to which a breadth of uniform
and simple colour will very much contribute. Grandeur of effect is
produced by two different ways, which seem entirely opposed to each
other. One is, by reducing the colours to little more than chiaroscuro,
which was often the practice of the Bolognian schools; and the other, by
making the colours very distinct and forcible, such as we see in those
of Rome and Florence; but still, the presiding principle of both those
manners is simplicity. Certainly, nothing can be more simple than
monotony; and the distinct blue, red, and yellow colours which are seen
in the draperies of the Roman and Florentine schools, though they have
not that kind of harmony which is produced by a variety of broken and
transparent colours, have that effect of grandeur which was intended.
Perhaps these distinct colours strike the mind more forcibly, from there
not being any great union between them; as martial music, which is
intended to rouse the nobler passions, has its effect from the sudden
and strongly marked transitions from one note to another, which that
style of music requires; whilst in that which is intended to move the
softer passions, the notes imperceptibly melt into one another.

In the same manner as the historical painter never enters into the
detail of colours, so neither does he debase his conceptions with minute
attention to the discriminations of drapery. It is the inferior style
that marks the variety of stuffs. With him, the clothing is neither
woollen, nor linen, nor silk, satin, or velvet: it is drapery; it is
nothing more. The art of disposing the foldings of the drapery makes a
very considerable part of the painter’s study. To make it merely natural
is a mechanical operation, to which neither genius nor taste are
required; whereas it requires the nicest judgment to dispose the
drapery, so that the folds shall have an easy communication, and
gracefully follow each other, with such natural negligence as to look
like the effect of chance, and at the same time show the figure under it
to the utmost advantage.

Carlo Maratti was of opinion, that the disposition of drapery was a more
difficult art than even that of drawing the human figure; that a student
might be more easily taught the latter than the former; as the rules of
drapery, he said, could not be so well ascertained as those for
delineating a correct form. This, perhaps, is a proof how willingly we
favour our own peculiar excellence. Carlo Maratti is said to have valued
himself particularly upon his skill in this part of his art; yet in him,
the disposition appears so ostentatiously artificial, that he is
inferior to Raffaelle, even in that which gave him his best claim to

Such is the great principle by which we must be directed in the nobler
branches of our art. Upon this principle, the Roman, the Florentine, the
Bolognese schools, have formed their practice; and by this they have
deservedly obtained the highest praise. These are the three great
schools of the world in the epic style. The best of the French school,
Poussin, Le Sueur, and Le Brun, have formed themselves upon these
models, and consequently may be said, though Frenchmen, to be a colony
from the Roman school. Next to these, but in a very different style of
excellence, we may rank the Venetian, together with the Flemish and the
Dutch schools; all professing to depart from the great purposes of
painting, and catching at applause by inferior qualities.

I am not ignorant that some will censure me for placing the Venetians in
this inferior class, and many of the warmest admirers of painting will
think them unjustly degraded; but I wish not to be misunderstood. Though
I can by no means allow them to hold any rank with the nobler schools of
painting, they accomplished perfectly the thing they attempted. But as
mere elegance is their principal object, as they seem more willing to
dazzle than to affect, it can be no injury to them to suppose that their
practice is useful only to its proper end. But what may heighten the
elegant may degrade the sublime. There is a simplicity, and, I may add,
severity, in the great manner, which is, I am afraid, almost
incompatible with this comparatively sensual style.

Tintoret, Paul Veronese, and others of the Venetian school, seem to have
painted with no other purpose than to be admired for their skill and
expertness in the mechanism of painting, and to make a parade of that
art, which, as I before observed, the higher style requires its
followers to conceal.

In a conference of the French Academy, at which were present Le Brun,
Sebastian Bourdon, and all the eminent artists of that age, one of the
Academicians desired to have their opinion on the conduct of Paul
Veronese, who, though a painter of great consideration, had, contrary to
the strict rules of art, in his picture of Perseus and Andromeda,
represented the principal figure in shade. To this question no
satisfactory answer was then given. But I will venture to say, that if
they had considered the class of the artist, and ranked him as an
ornamental painter, there would have been no difficulty in
answering--“It was unreasonable to expect what was never intended. His
intention was solely to produce an effect of light and shadow;
everything was to be sacrificed to that intent, and the capricious
composition of that picture suited very well with the style which he

Young minds are indeed too apt to be captivated by this splendour of
style; and that of the Venetians is particularly pleasing; for by them,
all those parts of the art that gave pleasure to the eye or sense, have
been cultivated with care, and carried to the degree nearest to
perfection. The powers exerted in the mechanical part of the art have
been called _the language of painters_; but we may say, that it is but
poor eloquence which only shows that the orator can talk. Words should
be employed as the means, not as the end: language is the instrument,
conviction is the work.

The language of painting must indeed be allowed these masters; but even
in that, they have shown more copiousness than choice, and more
luxuriancy than judgment. If we consider the uninteresting subjects of
their invention, or at least the uninteresting manner in which they are
treated; if we attend to their capricious composition, their violent and
affected contrasts, whether of figures or of light and shadow, the
richness of their drapery, and at the same time the mean effect which
the discrimination of stuffs gives to their pictures; if to these we add
their total inattention to expression; and then reflect on the
conceptions and the learning of Michael Angelo, or the simplicity of
Raffaelle, we can no longer dwell on the comparison. Even in colouring,
if we compare the quietness and chastity of the Bolognese pencil to the
bustle and tumult that fills every part of a Venetian picture, without
the least attempt to interest the passions, their boasted art will
appear a mere struggle without effect; _a tale told by an idiot, full of
sound and fury, signifying nothing_.

Such as suppose that the great style might happily be blended with the
ornamental, that the simple, grave and majestic dignity of Raffaelle
could unite with the glow and bustle of a Paolo, or Tintoret, are
totally mistaken. The principles by which each is attained are so
contrary to each other, that they seem, in my opinion, incompatible, and
as impossible to exist together, as that in the mind the most sublime
ideas and the lowest sensuality should at the same time be united.

The subjects of the Venetian painters are mostly such as give them an
opportunity of introducing a great number of figures; such as feasts,
marriages, and processions, public martyrdoms, or miracles. I can easily
conceive that Paul Veronese, if he were asked, would say, that no
subject was proper for an historical picture, but such as admitted at
least forty figures; for in a less number, he would assert, there could
be no opportunity of the painter’s showing his art in composition, his
dexterity of managing and disposing the masses of light and groups of
figures, and of introducing a variety of Eastern dresses and characters
in their rich stuffs.

But the thing is very different with a pupil of the greater schools.
Annibale Caracci thought twelve figures sufficient for any story: he
conceived that more would contribute to no end but to fill space; that
they would be but cold spectators of the general action, or, to use his
own expression, that they would be _figurers to be let_. Besides, it is
impossible for a picture composed of so many parts to have that effect
so indispensably necessary to grandeur, that of one complete whole.
However contradictory it may be in geometry, it is true in taste, that
many little things will not make a great one. The sublime impresses the
mind at once with one great idea; it is a single blow: the elegant
indeed may be produced by repetition; by an accumulation of many minute

However great the difference is between the composition of the Venetian
and the rest of the Italian schools, there is full as great a disparity
in the effect of their pictures as produced by colours. And though in
this respect the Venetians must be allowed extraordinary skill, yet even
that skill, as they have employed it, will but ill correspond with the
great style. Their colouring is not only too brilliant, but, I will
venture to say, too harmonious, to produce that solidity, steadiness,
and simplicity of effect, which heroic subjects require, and which
simple or grave colours only can give to a work. That they are to be
cautiously studied by those who are ambitious of treading the great walk
of history is confirmed, if it wants confirmation, by the greatest of
all authorities, Michael Angelo. This wonderful man, after having seen a
picture by Titian, told Vasari, who accompanied him,[4] “that he liked
much his colouring and manner”; but then he added, “that it was a pity
the Venetian painters did not learn to draw correctly in their early
youth, and adopt a better _manner of study_.”

By this it appears, that the principal attention of the Venetian
painters, in the opinion of Michael Angelo, seemed to be engrossed by
the study of colours, to the neglect of the _ideal beauty of form_, or
propriety of expression. But if general censure was given to that school
from the sight of a picture of Titian, how much more heavily and more
justly, would the censure fall on Paolo Veronese, and more especially on
Tintoret? And here I cannot avoid citing Vasari’s opinion of the style
and manner of Tintoret. “Of all the extraordinary geniuses,”[5] says he,
“that have practised the art of painting, for wild, capricious,
extravagant and fantastical inventions, for furious impetuosity and
boldness in the execution of his work, there is none like Tintoret; his
strange whimsies are even beyond extravagance, and his works seem to be
produced rather by chance, than in consequence of any previous design,
as if he wanted to convince the world that the art was a trifle, and of
the most easy attainment.”

For my own part, when I speak of the Venetian painters, I wish to be
understood to mean Paolo Veronese and Tintoret, to the exclusion of
Titian; for though his style is not so pure as that of many other of the
Italian schools, yet there is a sort of senatorial dignity about him,
which, however awkward in his imitators, seems to become him
exceedingly. His portraits alone, from the nobleness and simplicity of
character which he always gave them, will entitle him to the greatest
respect, as he undoubtedly stands in the first rank in this branch of
the art.

It is not with Titian, but with the seducing qualities of the two
former, that I could wish to caution you against being too much
captivated. These are the persons who may be said to have exhausted all
the powers of florid eloquence, to debauch the young and inexperienced;
and have, without doubt, been the cause of turning off the attention of
the connoisseur and of the patron of art, as well as that of the
painter, from those higher excellences of which the art is capable, and
which ought to be required in every considerable production. By them,
and their imitators, a style merely ornamental has been disseminated
throughout all Europe. Rubens carried it to Flanders; Voet to France;
and Lucca Giordano to Spain and Naples.

The Venetian is indeed the most splendid of the schools of elegance; and
it is not without reason, that the best performances in this lower
school are valued higher than the second-rate performances of those
above them: for every picture has value when it has a decided character,
and is excellent in its kind. But the student must take care not to be
so much dazzled with this splendour, as to be tempted to imitate what
must ultimately lead from perfection. Poussin, whose eye was always
steadily fixed on the sublime, has been often heard to say, “That a
particular attention to colouring was an obstacle to the student, in his
progress to the great end and design of the art; and that he who
attaches himself to this principal end, will acquire by practice a
reasonable good method of colouring.”[6]

Though it be allowed that elaborate harmony of colouring, a brilliancy
of tints, a soft and gradual transition from one to another, present to
the eye, what an harmonious concert of music does to the ear, it must be
remembered, that painting is not merely a gratification of the sight.
Such excellence, though properly cultivated, where nothing higher than
elegance is intended, is weak and unworthy of regard, when the work
aspires to grandeur and sublimity.

The same reasons that have been urged to show that a mixture of the
Venetian style cannot improve the great style, will hold good in regard
to the Flemish and Dutch schools. Indeed the Flemish school, of which
Rubens is the head, was formed upon that of the Venetian; like them, he
took his figures too much from the people before him. But it must be
allowed in favour of the Venetians, that he was more gross than they,
and carried all their mistaken methods to a far greater excess. In the
Venetian school itself, where they all err from the same cause, there is
a difference in the effect. The difference between Paolo and Bassano
seems to be only, that one introduced Venetian gentlemen into his
pictures, and the other the boors of the district of Bassano, and called
them patriarchs and prophets.

The painters of the Dutch school have still more locality. With them, a
history-piece is properly a portrait of themselves; whether they
describe the inside or outside of their houses, we have their own people
engaged in their own peculiar occupations; working or drinking, playing
or fighting. The circumstances that enter into a picture of this kind
are so far from giving a general view of human life, that they exhibit
all the minute particularities of a nation differing in several respects
from the rest of mankind. Yet, let them have their share of more humble
praise. The painters of this school are excellent in their own way; they
are only ridiculous when they attempt general history on their own
narrow principles, and debase great events by the meanness of their

Some inferior dexterity, some extraordinary mechanical power is
apparently that from which they seek distinction. Thus, we see, that
school alone has the custom of representing candle-light not as it
really appears to us by night, but red, as it would illuminate objects
to a spectator by day. Such tricks, however pardonable in the little
style, where petty effects are the sole end, are inexcusable in the
greater, where the attention should never be drawn aside by trifles, but
should be entirely occupied by the subject itself.

The same local principles which characterise the Dutch school extend
even to their landscape-painters; and Rubens himself, who has painted
many landscapes, has sometimes transgressed in this particular. Their
pieces in this way are, I think, always a representation of an
individual spot, and each in its kind a very faithful but a very
confined portrait. Claude Lorrain, on the contrary, was convinced, that
taking nature as he found it seldom produced beauty. His pictures are a
composition of the various drafts which he had previously made from
various beautiful scenes and prospects. However, Rubens in some measure
has made amends for the deficiency with which he is charged; he has
contrived to raise and animate his otherwise uninteresting views, by
introducing a rainbow, storm, or some particular accidental effect of
light. That the practice of Claude Lorrain, in respect to his choice, is
to be adopted by landscape-painters in opposition to that of the Flemish
and Dutch schools, there can be no doubt, as its truth is founded upon
the same principle as that by which the historical painter acquires
perfect form. But whether landscape-painting has a right to aspire so
far as to reject what the painters call accidents of nature, is not easy
to determine. It is certain Claude Lorrain seldom, if ever, availed
himself of those accidents; either he thought that such peculiarities
were contrary to that style of general nature which he professed, or
that it would catch the attention too strongly, and destroy that
quietness and repose which he thought necessary to that kind of

A portrait-painter likewise, when he attempts history, unless he is upon
his guard, is likely to enter too much into the detail. He too
frequently makes his historical heads look like portraits; and this was
once the custom amongst those old painters, who revived the art before
general ideas were practised or understood. A history-painter paints man
in general; a portrait-painter, a particular man, and consequently a
defective model.

Thus an habitual practice in the lower exercises of the art will prevent
many from attaining the greater. But such of us who move in these
humbler walks of the profession, are not ignorant that, as the natural
dignity of the subject is less, the more all the little ornamental helps
are necessary to its embellishment. It would be ridiculous for a painter
of domestic scenes, of portraits, landscapes, animals, or still life, to
say that he despised those qualities which have made the subordinate
schools so famous. The art of colouring, and the skilful management of
light and shadow, are essential requisites in his confined labours. If
we descend still lower, what is the painter of fruit and flowers without
the utmost art in colouring, and what the painters call handling; that
is, a lightness of pencil that implies great practice, and gives the
appearance of being done with ease? Some here, I believe, must remember
a flower-painter whose boast it was, that he scorned to paint for the
_million_: no, he professed to paint in the true Italian taste; and
despising the crowd, called strenuously upon the _few_ to admire him.
His idea of the Italian taste was to paint as black and dirty as he
could, and to leave all clearness and brilliancy of colouring to those
who were fonder of money than immortality. The consequence was such as
might be expected. For these petty excellences are here essential
beauties; and without this merit the artist’s work will be more
short-lived than the objects of his imitation.

From what has been advanced, we must now be convinced that there are two
distinct styles in history-painting: the grand, and the splendid or

The great style stands alone, and does not require, perhaps does not so
well admit, any addition from inferior beauties. The ornamental style
also possesses its own peculiar merit. However, though the union of the
two may make a sort of composite style, yet that style is likely to be
more imperfect than either of those which go to its composition. Both
kinds have merit, and may be excellent though in different ranks, if
uniformity be preserved, and the general and particular ideas of nature
be not mixed. Even the meanest of them is difficult enough to attain;
and the first place being already occupied by the great artists in each
department, some of those who followed thought there was less room for
them, and feeling the impulse of ambition and the desire of novelty, and
being at the same time perhaps willing to take the shortest way,
endeavoured to make for themselves a place between both. This they have
effected by forming a union of the different orders. But as the grave
and majestic style would suffer by a union with the florid and gay, so
also has the Venetian ornament in some respect been injured by
attempting an alliance with simplicity.

It may be asserted, that the great style is always more or less
contaminated by any meaner mixture. But it happens in a few instances,
that the lower may be improved by borrowing from the grand. Thus if a
portrait-painter is desirous to raise and improve his subject, he has no
other means than by approaching it to a general idea. He leaves out all
the minute breaks and peculiarities in the face, and changes the dress
from a temporary fashion to one more permanent, which has annexed to it
no ideas of meanness from its being familiar to us. But if an exact
resemblance of an individual be considered as the sole object to be
aimed at, the portrait-painter will be apt to lose more than he gains by
the acquired dignity taken from general nature. It is very difficult to
ennoble the character of a countenance but at the expense of the
likeness, which is what is most generally required by such as sit to the

Of those who have practised the composite style, and have succeeded in
this perilous attempt, perhaps the foremost is Correggio. His style is
founded upon modern grace and elegance, to which is superadded something
of the simplicity of the grand style. A breadth of light and colour, the
general ideas of the drapery, an uninterrupted flow of outline, all
conspire to this effect. Next to him (perhaps equal to him) Parmegiano
has dignified the genteelness of modern effeminacy, by uniting it with
the simplicity of the ancients and the grandeur and severity of Michael
Angelo. It must be confessed, however, that these two extraordinary men,
by endeavouring to give the utmost degree of grace, have sometimes
perhaps exceeded its boundaries, and have fallen into the most hateful
of all hateful qualities, affectation. Indeed, it is the peculiar
characteristic of men of genius to be afraid of coldness and insipidity,
from which they think they never can be too far removed. It particularly
happens to these great masters of grace and elegance. They often boldly
drive on to the very verge of ridicule; the spectator is alarmed, but at
the same time admires their vigour and intrepidity:

    Strange graces still, and stranger flights they had,

           *       *       *       *       *

    Yet ne’er so sure our passion to create,
    As when they touch’d the brink of all we hate.

The errors of genius, however, are pardonable, and none even of the more
exalted painters are wholly free from them; but they have taught us, by
the rectitude of their general practice, to correct their own affected
or accidental deviation. The very first have not been always upon their
guard, and perhaps there is not a fault, but what may take shelter under
the most venerable authorities; yet that style only is perfect, in which
the noblest principles are uniformly pursued; and those masters only are
entitled to the first rank in our estimation, who have enlarged the
boundaries of their art, and have raised it to its highest dignity, by
exhibiting the general ideas of nature.

On the whole, it seems to me that there is but one presiding principle,
which regulates and gives stability to every art. The works, whether of
poets, painters, moralists, or historians, which are built upon general
nature, live for ever; while those which depend for their existence on
particular customs and habits, a partial view of nature, or the
fluctuation of fashion, can only be coeval with that which first raised
them from obscurity. Present time and future may be considered as
rivals, and he who solicits the one must expect to be discountenanced by
the other.


_Delivered to the Students of the Royal Academy, on the Distribution of
the Prizes, December 10, 1772._

     Circumspection required in endeavouring to unite Contrary
     Excellencies.--The Expression of a Mixed Passion not to be
     attempted.--Examples of those who excelled in the Great
     Style;--Raffaelle, Michael Angelo: Those two Extraordinary Men
     compared with each other. The Characteristical Style.--Salvator
     Rosa mentioned as an Example of that Style; and opposed to Carlo
     Maratti.--Sketch of the Characters of Poussin and Rubens: These two
     Painters entirely Dissimilar, but Consistent with themselves. This
     Consistency required in All Parts of the Art.


I purpose to carry on in this discourse the subject which I began in my
last. It was my wish upon that occasion to incite you to pursue the
higher excellences of the art. But I fear that in this particular I have
been misunderstood. Some are ready to imagine, when any of their
favourite acquirements in the art are properly classed, that they are
utterly disgraced. This is a very great mistake: nothing has its proper
lustre but in its proper place. That which is most worthy of esteem in
its allotted sphere, becomes an object, not of respect, but of derision,
when it is forced into a higher, to which it is not suited; and there it
becomes doubly a source of disorder, by occupying a situation which is
not natural to it, and by putting down from the first place what is in
reality of too much magnitude to become with grace and proportion that
subordinate station, to which something of less value would be much
better suited.

My advice in a word is this: keep your principal attention fixed upon
the higher excellences. If you compass them, and compass nothing more,
you are still in the first class. We may regret the innumerable beauties
which you may want; you may be very imperfect; but still, you are an
imperfect artist of the highest order.

If, when you have got thus far, you can add any, or all, of the
subordinate qualifications, it is my wish and advice that you should not
neglect them. But this is as much a matter of circumspection and
caution, at least, as of eagerness and pursuit.

The mind is apt to be distracted by a multiplicity of objects; and that
scale of perfection, which I wish always to be preserved, is in the
greatest danger of being totally disordered, and even inverted.

Some excellences bear to be united, and are improved by union; others
are of a discordant nature; and the attempt to join them only produces a
harsh jarring of incongruent principles. The attempt to unite contrary
excellences (of form, for instance) in a single figure, can never escape
degenerating into the monstrous, but by sinking into the insipid; by
taking away its marked character, and weakening its expression.

This remark is true to a certain degree with regard to the passions. If
you mean to preserve the most perfect beauty _in its most perfect
state_, you cannot express the passions, all of which produce distortion
and deformity, more or less, in the most beautiful faces.

Guido, from want of choice in adapting his subject to his ideas and his
powers, or from attempting to preserve beauty where it could not be
preserved, has in this respect succeeded very ill. His figures are often
engaged in subjects that required great expression; yet his Judith and
Holofernes, the daughter of Herodias with the Baptist’s head, the
Andromeda, and some even of the Mothers of the Innocents, have little
more expression than his Venus attired by the Graces.

Obvious as these remarks appear, there are many writers on our art, who,
not being of the profession, and consequently not knowing what can or
cannot be done, have been very liberal of absurd praises in their
descriptions of favourite works. They always find in them what they are
resolved to find. They praise excellences that can hardly exist
together; and above all things are fond of describing with great
exactness the expression of a mixed passion, which more particularly
appears to me out of the reach of our art.

Such are many disquisitions which I have read on some of the cartoons
and other pictures of Raffaelle, where the critics have described their
own imaginations; or indeed where the excellent master himself may have
attempted this expression of passions above the powers of the art; and
has, therefore, by an indistinct and imperfect marking, left room for
every imagination, with equal probability, to find a passion of his own.
What has been, and what can be done in the art, is sufficiently
difficult; we need not be mortified or discouraged at not being able to
execute the conceptions of a romantic imagination. Art has its
boundaries, though imagination has none. We can easily, like the
ancients, suppose a Jupiter to be possessed of all those powers and
perfections which the subordinate deities were endowed with separately.
Yet, when they employed their art to represent him, they confined his
character to majesty alone. Pliny, therefore, though we are under great
obligations to him for the information he has given us in relation to
the works of the ancient artists, is very frequently wrong when he
speaks of them, which he does very often, in the style of many of our
modern connoisseurs. He observes, that in a statue of Paris, by
Euphranor, you might discover at the same time three different
characters; the dignity of a Judge of the Goddesses, the Lover of Helen,
and the Conqueror of Achilles. A statue in which you endeavour to unite
stately dignity, youthful elegance, and stern valour, must surely
possess none of these to any eminent degree.

From hence it appears, that there is much difficulty as well as danger,
in an endeavour to concentrate in a single subject those various powers,
which, rising from different points, naturally move in different

The summit of excellence seems to be an assemblage of contrary
qualities, but mixed, in such proportions, that no one part is found to
counteract the other. How hard this is to be attained in every art,
those only know, who have made the greatest progress in their respective

To conclude what I have to say on this part of the subject, which I
think of great importance, I wish you to understand, that I do not
discourage the younger students from the noble attempt of uniting all
the excellences of art; but suggest to them, that, besides the
difficulties which attend every arduous attempt, there is a peculiar
difficulty in the choice of the excellences which ought to be united. I
wish you to attend to this, that you may try yourselves, whenever you
are capable of that trial, what you can, and what you cannot do; and
that, instead of dissipating your natural faculties over the immense
field of possible excellence, you may choose some particular walk in
which you may exercise all your powers; in order that each of you may
become the first in his way. If any man shall be master of such a
transcendent, commanding, and ductile genius, as to enable him to rise
to the highest, and to stoop to the lowest, flights of art, and to sweep
over all of them unobstructed and secure, he is fitter to give example
than to receive instruction.

Having said thus much on the _union_ of excellences, I will next say
something of the subordination in which various excellences ought to be

I am of opinion, that the ornamental style, which in my discourse of
last year I cautioned you against, considering it as _principal_, may
not be wholly unworthy the attention even of those who aim at the grand
style, when it is properly placed and properly reduced.

But this study will be used with far better effect, if its principles
are employed in softening the harshness and mitigating the rigour of the
great style, than if it attempt to stand forward with any pretensions of
its own to positive and original excellence. It was thus Lodovico
Caracci, whose example I formerly recommended to you, employed it. He
was acquainted with the works both of Correggio and the Venetian
painters, and knew the principles by which they produced those pleasing
effects which at the first glance prepossess us so much in their favour;
but he took only as much from each as would embellish, but not
overpower, that manly strength and energy of style, which is his
peculiar character.

Since I have already expatiated so largely in my former discourse, and
in my present, upon the _styles_ and _characters_ of painting, it will
not be at all unsuitable to my subject if I mention to you some
particulars relative to the leading principles and capital works of
those who excelled in the _great style_; that I may bring you from
abstraction nearer to practice, and by exemplifying the positions which
I have laid down, enable you to understand more clearly what I would

The principal works of modern art are in _fresco_, a mode of painting
which excludes attention to minute elegances: yet these works in fresco
are the productions on which the fame of the greatest masters depends:
such are the pictures of Michael Angelo and Raffaelle in the Vatican; to
which we may add the cartoons; which, though not strictly to be called
fresco, yet may be put under that denomination; and such are the works
of Giulio Romano at Mantua. If these performances were destroyed, with
them would be lost the best part of the reputation of those illustrious
painters; for these are justly considered as the greatest efforts of our
art which the world can boast. To these, therefore, we should
principally direct our attention for higher excellences. As for the
lower arts, as they have been once discovered, they may be easily
attained by those possessed of the former.

Raffaelle, who stands in general foremost of the first painters, owes
his reputation, as I have observed, to his excellence in the higher
parts of the art: his works in _fresco_, therefore, ought to be the
first object of our study and attention. His easel-works stand in a
lower degree of estimation: for though he continually, to the day of his
death, embellished his performances more and more with the addition of
those lower ornaments, which entirely make the merit of some painters,
yet he never arrived at such perfection as to make him an object of
imitation. He never was able to conquer perfectly that dryness, or even
littleness of manner, which he inherited from his master. He never
acquired that nicety of taste in colours, that breadth of light and
shadow, that art and management of uniting light to light, and shadow to
shadow, so as to make the object rise out of the ground with that
plenitude of effect so much admired in the works of Correggio. When he
painted in oil, his hand seemed to be so cramped and confined, that he
not only lost that facility and spirit, but I think even that
correctness of form, which is so perfect and admirable in his
fresco-works. I do not recollect any pictures of his of this kind,
except perhaps the Transfiguration, in which there are not some parts
that appear to be even feebly drawn. That this is not a necessary
attendant on oil-painting, we have abundant instances in more modern
painters. Lodovico Caracci, for instance, preserved in his works in oil
the same spirit, vigour, and correctness which he had in fresco. I have
no desire to degrade Raffaelle from the high rank which he deservedly
holds: but by comparing him with himself, he does not appear to me to be
the same man in oil as in fresco.

From those who have ambition to tread in this great walk of the art,
Michael Angelo claims the next attention. He did not possess so many
excellences as Raffaelle, but those which he had were of the highest
kind. He considered the art as consisting of little more than what may
be attained by sculpture: correctness of form, and energy of character.
We ought not to expect more than an artist intends in his work. He never
attempted those lesser elegances and graces in the art. Vasari says, he
never painted but one picture in oil, and resolved never to paint
another, saying, it was an employment only fit for women and children.

If any man had a right to look down upon the lower accomplishments as
beneath his attention, it was certainly Michael Angelo; nor can it be
thought strange, that such a mind should have slighted or have been
withheld from paying due attention to all those graces and
embellishments of art, which have diffused such lustre over the works of
other painters.

It must be acknowledged, however, that together with these, which we
wish he had more attended to, he has rejected all the false, though
specious ornaments, which disgrace the works even of the most esteemed
artists; and I will venture to say, that when those higher excellences
are more known and cultivated by the artists and the patrons of arts,
his fame and credit will increase with our increasing knowledge. His
name will then be held in the same veneration as it was in the
enlightened age of Leo the Tenth: and it is remarkable that the
reputation of this truly great man has been continually declining as the
art itself has declined. For I must remark to you, that it has long been
much on the decline, and that our only hope of its revival will consist
in your being thoroughly sensible of its depravation and decay. It is to
Michael Angelo, that we owe even the existence of Raffaelle: it is to
him Raffaelle owes the grandeur of his style. He was taught by him to
elevate his thoughts, and to conceive his subjects with dignity. His
genius, however formed to blaze and to shine, might, like fire in
combustible matter, for ever have lain dormant, if it had not caught a
spark by its contact with Michael Angelo: and though it never burst out
with _his_ extraordinary heat and vehemence, yet it must be acknowledged
to be a more pure, regular, and chaste flame. Though our judgment must
upon the whole decide in favour of Raffaelle, yet he never takes such a
firm hold and entire possession of the mind as to make us desire nothing
else, and to feel nothing wanting. The effect of the capital works of
Michael Angelo perfectly corresponds to what Bouchardon said he felt
from reading Homer; his whole frame appeared to himself to be enlarged,
and all nature which surrounded him, diminished to atoms.

If we put these great artists in a light of comparison with each other,
Raffaelle had more taste and fancy, Michael Angelo more genius and
imagination. The one excelled in beauty, the other in energy. Michael
Angelo has more of the poetical inspiration; his ideas are vast and
sublime; his people are a superior order of beings; there is nothing
about them, nothing in the air of their actions or their attitudes, or
the style and cast of their limbs or features, that reminds us of their
belonging to our own species. Raffaelle’s imagination is not so
elevated; his figures are not so much disjoined from our own diminutive
race of beings, though his ideas are chaste, noble, and of great
conformity to their subjects. Michael Angelo’s works have a strong,
peculiar, and marked character: they seem to proceed from his own mind
entirely, and that mind so rich and abundant, that he never needed, or
seemed to disdain, to look abroad for foreign help. Raffaelle’s
materials are generally borrowed, though the noble structure is his own.
The excellency of this extraordinary man lay in the propriety, beauty,
and majesty of his characters, the judicious contrivance of his
composition, his correctness of drawing, purity of taste, and skilful
accommodation of other men’s conceptions to his own purpose. Nobody
excelled him in that judgment, with which he united to his own
observations on nature, the energy of Michael Angelo, and the beauty and
simplicity of the antique. To the question, therefore, which ought to
hold the first rank, Raffaelle or Michael Angelo, it must be answered,
that if it is to be given to him who possessed a greater combination of
the higher qualities of the art than any other man, there is no doubt
but Raffaelle is the first. But if, as Longinus thinks, the sublime,
being the highest excellence that human composition can attain to,
abundantly compensates the absence of every other beauty, and atones for
all other deficiencies, then Michael Angelo demands the preference.

These two extraordinary men carried some of the higher excellences of
the art to a greater degree of perfection than probably they ever
arrived at before. They certainly have not been excelled, nor equalled
since. Many of their successors were induced to leave this great road as
a beaten path, endeavouring to surprise and please by something uncommon
or new. When this desire of novelty has proceeded from mere idleness or
caprice, it is not worth the trouble of criticism; but when it has been
the result of a busy mind of a peculiar complexion, it is always
striking and interesting, never insipid.

Such is the great style, as it appears in those who possessed it at its
height: in this, search after novelty, in conception or in treating the
subject, has no place.

But there is another style, which, though inferior to the former, has
still great merit, because it shows that those who cultivated it were
men of lively and vigorous imagination. This, which may be called the
original or characteristical style, being less referred to any true
archetype existing either in general or particular nature, must be
supported by the painter’s consistency in the principles which he has
assumed, and in the union and harmony of his whole design. The
excellency of every style, but of the subordinate styles more
especially, will very much depend on preserving that union and harmony
between all the component parts, that they may appear to hang well
together, as if the whole proceeded from one mind. It is in the works of
art, as in the characters of men. The faults or defects of some men
seem to become them, when they appear to be the natural growth, and of a
piece with the rest of their character. A faithful picture of a mind,
though it be not of the most elevated kind, though it be irregular,
wild, and incorrect, yet if it be marked with that spirit and firmness
which characterises works of genius, will claim attention, and be more
striking than a combination of excellences that do not seem to unite
well together; or we may say, than a work that possesses even all
excellences, but those in a moderate degree.

One of the strongest-marked characters of this kind, which must be
allowed to be subordinate to the great style, is that of Salvator Rosa.
He gives us a peculiar cast of nature, which, though void of all grace,
elegance, and simplicity, though it has nothing of that elevation and
dignity which belongs to the grand style, yet has that sort of dignity
which belongs to savage and uncultivated nature: but what is most to be
admired in him is the perfect correspondence which he observed between
the subjects which he chose and his manner of treating them. Everything
is of a piece: his rocks, trees, sky, even to his handling, have the
same rude and wild character which animates his figures.

With him we may contrast the character of Carlo Maratti, who, in my
opinion, had no great vigour of mind or strength of original genius. He
rarely seizes the imagination by exhibiting the higher excellences, nor
does he captivate us by that originality which attends the painter who
thinks for himself. He knew and practised all the rules of art, and from
a composition of Raffaelle, Caracci, and Guido, made up a style, of
which the only fault was, that it had no manifest defects and no
striking beauties; and that the principles of his composition are never
blended together, so as to form one uniform body, original in its kind,
or excellent in any view.

I will mention two other painters, who, though entirely dissimilar, yet
by being each consistent with himself, and possessing a manner entirely
his own, have both gained reputation, though for very opposite
accomplishments. The painters I mean are Rubens and Poussin. Rubens I
mention in this place, as I think him a remarkable instance of the same
mind being seen in all the various parts of the art. The whole is so
much of a piece, that one can scarce be brought to believe but that if
any one of the qualities he possessed had been more correct and perfect,
his works would not have been so complete as they now appear. If we
should allow him a greater purity and correctness of drawing, his want
of simplicity in composition, colouring, and drapery would appear more

In his composition his art is too apparent. His figures have expression,
and act with energy, but without simplicity or dignity. His colouring,
in which he is eminently skilled, is notwithstanding too much of what we
call tinted. Throughout the whole of his works, there is a
proportionable want of that nicety of distinction and elegance of mind,
which is required in the higher walks of painting; and to this want it
may be in some degree ascribed, that those qualities which make the
excellency of this subordinate style, appear in him with their greatest
lustre. Indeed the facility with which he invented, the richness of his
composition, the luxuriant harmony and brilliancy of his colouring, so
dazzle the eye, that whilst his works continue before us, we cannot help
thinking that all his deficiencies are fully supplied.[7]

Opposed to this florid, careless, loose, and inaccurate style, that of
the simple, careful, pure, and correct style of Poussin seems to be a
complete contrast. Yet however opposite their characters, in one thing
they agreed; both of them always preserving a perfect correspondence
between all the parts of their respective manners: insomuch that it may
be doubted whether any alteration of what is considered as defective in
either, would not destroy the effect of the whole.

Poussin lived and conversed with the ancient statues so long, that he
may be said to have been better acquainted with them, than with the
people who were about him. I have often thought that he carried his
veneration for them so far as to wish to give his works the air of
ancient paintings. It is certain he copied some of the antique
paintings, particularly the Marriage in the Aldobrandini Palace at Rome,
which I believe to be the best relic of those remote ages that has yet
been found.

No works of any modern has so much of the air of antique painting as
those of Poussin. His best performances have a remarkable dryness of
manner, which though by no means to be recommended for imitation, yet
seems perfectly correspondent to that ancient simplicity which
distinguishes his style. Like Polidoro, he studied the ancients so much,
that he acquired a habit of thinking in their way, and seemed to know
perfectly the actions and gestures they would use on every occasion.

Poussin in the latter part of his life changed from his dry manner to
one much softer and richer, where there is a greater union between the
figures and ground; as in the Seven Sacraments in the Duke of Orleans’s
collection; but neither these, nor any of his other pictures in this
manner, are at all comparable to many in his dry manner which we have
in England.

The favourite subjects of Poussin were ancient fables; and no painter
was ever better qualified to paint such subjects, not only from his
being eminently skilled in the knowledge of the ceremonies, customs and
habits of the ancients, but from his being so well acquainted with the
different characters which those who invented them gave to their
allegorical figures. Though Rubens has shown great fancy in his Satyrs,
Silenuses, and Fauns, yet they are not that distinct separate class of
beings, which is carefully exhibited by the ancients, and by Poussin.
Certainly when such subjects of antiquity are represented, nothing in
the picture ought to remind us of modern times. The mind is thrown back
into antiquity, and nothing ought to be introduced that may tend to
awaken it from the illusion.

Poussin seemed to think that the style and the language in which such
stories are told, is not the worse for preserving some relish of the old
way of painting, which seemed to give a general uniformity to the whole,
so that the mind was thrown back into antiquity not only by the subject,
but the execution.

If Poussin in imitation of the ancients represents Apollo driving his
chariot out of the sea by way of representing the sun rising, if he
personifies lakes and rivers, it is nowise offensive in him; but seems
perfectly of a piece with the general air of the picture. On the
contrary, if the figures which people his pictures had a modern air or
countenance, if they appeared like our countrymen, if the draperies were
like cloth or silk of our manufacture, if the landscape had the
appearance of a modern view, how ridiculous would Apollo appear instead
of the sun; an old man, or a nymph with an urn, to represent a river or
a lake!

I cannot avoid mentioning here a circumstance in portrait-painting,
which may help to confirm what has been said. When a portrait is painted
in the historical style, as it is neither an exact minute representation
of an individual, nor completely ideal, every circumstance ought to
correspond to this mixture. The simplicity of the antique air and
attitude, however much to be admired, is ridiculous when joined to a
figure in a modern dress. It is not to my purpose to enter into the
question at present, whether this mixed style ought to be adopted or
not; yet if it is chosen, ’tis necessary it should be complete and all
of a piece: the difference of stuffs, for instance, which make the
clothing, should be distinguished in the same degree as the head
deviates from a general idea. Without this union, which I have so often
recommended, a work can have no marked and determined character, which
is the peculiar and constant evidence of genius. But when this is
accomplished to a high degree, it becomes in some sort a rival to that
style which we have fixed as the highest.

Thus I have given a sketch of the characters of Rubens and Salvator
Rosa, as they appear to me to have the greatest uniformity of mind
throughout their whole work. But we may add to these, all those artists
who are at the head of a class, and have had a school of imitators, from
Michael Angelo down to Watteau. Upon the whole it appears, that setting
aside the ornamental style, there are two different modes, either of
which a student may adopt without degrading the dignity of his art. The
object of the first is, to combine the higher excellences and embellish
them to the greatest advantage; of the other, to carry one of these
excellences to the highest degree. But those who possess neither must be
classed with them, who, as Shakspeare says, are _men of no mark or

I inculcate as frequently as I can your forming yourselves upon great
principles and great models. Your time will be much mis-spent in every
other pursuit. Small excellences should be viewed, not studied; they
ought to be viewed, because nothing ought to escape a painter’s
observation: but for no other reason.

There is another caution which I wish to give you. Be as select in those
whom you endeavour to please, as in those whom you endeavour to imitate.
Without the love of fame you can never do anything excellent; but by an
excessive and undistinguishing thirst after it, you will come to have
vulgar views; you will degrade your style; and your taste will be
entirely corrupted. It is certain that the lowest style will be the most
popular, as it falls within the compass of ignorance itself; and the
vulgar will always be pleased with what is natural, in the confined and
misunderstood sense of the word.

One would wish that such depravation of taste should be counteracted
with that manly pride which actuated Euripides when he said to the
Athenians who criticised his works, “I do not compose my works in order
to be corrected by you, but to instruct you.” It is true, to have a
right to speak thus, a man must be a Euripides. However, thus much may
be allowed, that when an artist is sure that he is upon firm ground,
supported by the authority and practice of his predecessors of the
greatest reputation, he may then assume the boldness and intrepidity of
genius; at any rate he must not be tempted out of the right path by any
allurement of popularity, which always accompanies the lower styles of

I mention this, because our exhibitions, while they produce such
admirable effects by nourishing emulation, and calling out genius, have
also a mischievous tendency, by seducing the painter to an ambition of
pleasing indiscriminately the mixed multitude of people who resort to


_Delivered to the Students of the Royal Academy, on the Distribution of
the Prizes, December 10, 1774._

     Imitation.--Genius begins where Rules end.--Invention:--Acquired by
     being conversant with the Inventions of Others.--The True Method of
     Imitating.--Borrowing, how far allowable.--Something to be gathered
     from every School.


When I have taken the liberty of addressing you on the course and order
of your studies, I never proposed to enter into a minute detail of the
art. This I have always left to the several professors, who pursue the
end of our institution with the highest honour to themselves, and with
the greatest advantage to the students.

My purpose in the discourses I have held in the Academy has been to lay
down certain general positions, which seem to me proper for the
formation of a sound taste: principles necessary to guard the pupils
against those errors, into which the sanguine temper common to their
time of life has a tendency to lead them; and which have rendered
abortive the hopes of so many successions of promising young men in all
parts of Europe. I wished also, to intercept and suppress those
prejudices which particularly prevail when the mechanism of painting is
come to its perfection; and which, when they do prevail, are certain
utterly to destroy the higher and more valuable parts of this literate
and liberal profession.

These two have been my principal purposes; they are still as much my
concern as ever; and if I repeat my own notions on the subject, you who
know how fast mistake and prejudice, when neglected, gain ground upon
truth and reason, will easily excuse me. I only attempt to set the same
thing in the greatest variety of lights.

The subject of this discourse will be Imitation, as far as a painter is
concerned in it. By imitation, I do not mean imitation in its largest
sense, but simply the following of other masters, and the advantage to
be drawn from the study of their works.

Those who have undertaken to write on our art, and have represented it
as a kind of _inspiration_, as a _gift_ bestowed upon peculiar
favourites at their birth, seem to insure a much more favourable
disposition from their readers, and have a much more captivating and
liberal air, than he who attempts to examine, coldly, whether there are
any means by which this art may be acquired; how the mind may be
strengthened and expanded, and what guides will show the way to

It is very natural for those who are unacquainted with the _cause_ of
anything extraordinary, to be astonished at the _effect_, and to
consider it as a kind of magic. They, who have never observed the
gradation by which art is acquired; who see only what is the full result
of long labour and application of an infinite number and infinite
variety of acts, are apt to conclude from their entire inability to do
the same at once, that it is not only inaccessible to themselves, but
can be done by those only who have some gift of the nature of
inspiration bestowed upon them.

The travellers into the East tell us, that when the ignorant inhabitants
of those countries are asked concerning the ruins of stately edifices
yet remaining amongst them, the melancholy monuments of their former
grandeur and long-lost science, they always answer, that they were built
by magicians. The untaught mind finds a vast gulf between its own
powers, and those works of complicated art, which it is utterly unable
to fathom; and it supposes that such a void can be passed only by
supernatural powers.

And, as for artists themselves, it is by no means their interest to
undeceive such judges, however conscious they may be of the very natural
means by which their extraordinary powers were acquired; though our art,
being intrinsically imitative, rejects this idea of inspiration, more
perhaps than any other.

It is to avoid this plain confession of truth, as it should seem, that
this imitation of masters, indeed almost all imitation, which implies a
more regular and progressive method of attaining the ends of painting,
has ever been particularly inveighed against with great keenness, both
by ancient and modern writers.

To derive all from native power, to owe nothing to another, is the
praise which men, who do not much think on what they are saying, bestow
sometimes upon others, and sometimes on themselves; and their imaginary
dignity is naturally heightened by a supercilious censure of the low,
the barren, the grovelling, the servile imitator. It would be no wonder
if a student, frightened by these terrific and disgraceful epithets,
with which the poor imitators are so often loaded, should let fall his
pencil in mere despair (conscious as he must be, how much he has been
indebted to the labours of others, how little, how very little of his
art was born with him); and consider it as hopeless, to set about
acquiring by the imitation of any human master, what he is taught to
suppose is matter of inspiration from heaven.

Some allowance must be made for what is said in the gaiety of rhetoric.
We cannot suppose that anyone can really mean to exclude all imitation
of others. A position so wild would scarce deserve a serious answer; for
it is apparent, if we were forbid to make use of the advantages which
our predecessors afford us, the art would be always to begin, and
consequently remain always in its infant state; and it is a common
observation, that no art was ever invented and carried to perfection at
the same time.

But to bring us entirely to reason and sobriety, let it be observed,
that a painter must not only be of necessity an imitator of the works of
nature, which alone is sufficient to dispel this phantom of inspiration,
but he must be as necessarily an imitator of the works of other
painters: this appears more humiliating, but is equally true; and no man
can be an artist, whatever he may suppose, upon any other terms.

However, those who appear more moderate and reasonable allow that our
study is to begin by imitation; but maintain that we should no longer
use the thoughts of our predecessors, when we are become able to think
for ourselves. They hold that imitation is as hurtful to the more
advanced student, as it was advantageous to the beginner.

For my own part, I confess, I am not only very much disposed to maintain
the absolute necessity of imitation in the first stages of the art; but
am of opinion, that the study of other masters, which I here call
imitation, may be extended throughout our whole lives, without any
danger of the inconveniences with which it is charged, of enfeebling the
mind, or preventing us from giving that original air which every work
undoubtedly ought always to have.

I am on the contrary persuaded, that by imitation only, variety, and
even originality of invention, is produced. I will go further; even
genius, at least what generally is so called, is the child of imitation.
But as this appears to be contrary to the general opinion, I must
explain my position before I enforce it.

Genius is supposed to be a power of producing excellences, which are out
of the reach of the rules of art; a power which no precepts can teach,
and which no industry can acquire.

This opinion of the impossibility of acquiring those beauties, which
stamp the work with the character of genius, supposes that it is
something more fixed than in reality it is; and that we always do, and
ever did agree in opinion, with respect to what should be considered as
the characteristic of genius. But the truth is, that the _degree_ of
excellence which proclaims _genius_ is different, in different times and
different places; and what shows it to be so is, that mankind have often
changed their opinion upon this matter.

When the arts were in their infancy, the power of merely drawing the
likeness of any object was considered as one of its greatest efforts.
The common people, ignorant of the principles of art, talk the same
language even to this day. But when it was found that every man could be
taught to do this, and a great deal more, merely by the observance of
certain precepts; the name of genius then shifted its application, and
was given only to him who added the peculiar character of the object he
represented; to him who had invention, expression, grace, or dignity; in
short, those qualities, or excellences, the power of producing which
could not _then_ be taught by any known and promulgated rules.

We are very sure that the beauty of form, the expression of the
passions, the art of composition, even the power of giving a general air
of grandeur to a work, is at present very much under the dominion of
rules. These excellences were, heretofore, considered merely as the
effects of genius; and justly, if genius is not taken for inspiration,
but as the effect of close observation and experience.

He who first made any of these observations, and digested them, so as to
form an invariable principle for himself to work by, had that merit, but
probably no one went very far at once; and generally, the first who gave
the hint, did not know how to pursue it steadily and methodically; at
least not in the beginning. He himself worked on it, and improved it;
others worked more, and improved further; until the secret was
discovered, and the practice made as general, as refined practice can be
made. How many more principles may be fixed and ascertained, we cannot
tell; but as criticism is likely to go hand in hand with the art which
is its subject, we may venture to say, that as that art shall advance,
its powers will be still more and more fixed by rules.

But by whatever strides criticism may gain ground, we need be under no
apprehension, that invention will ever be annihilated, or subdued; or
intellectual energy be brought entirely within the restraint of written
law. Genius will still have room enough to expatiate, and keep always at
the same distance from narrow comprehension and mechanical performance.

What we now call genius begins, not where rules, abstractedly taken,
end; but where known vulgar and trite rules have no longer any place. It
must of necessity be, that even works of genius, like every other
effect, as they must have their cause, must likewise have their rules;
it cannot be by chance, that excellences are produced with any constancy
or any certainty, for this is not the nature of chance; but the rules by
which men of extraordinary parts, and such as are called men of genius,
work, are either such as they discover by their own peculiar
observations, or of such a nice texture as not easily to admit being
expressed in words; especially as artists are not very frequently
skilful in that mode of communicating ideas. Unsubstantial, however, as
these rules may seem, and difficult as it may be to convey them in
writing, they are still seen and felt in the mind of the artist; and he
works from them with as much certainty, as if they were embodied, as I
may say, upon paper. It is true, these refined principles cannot be
always made palpable, like the more gross rules of art; yet it does not
follow, but that the mind may be put in such a train, that it shall
perceive, by a kind of scientific sense, that propriety, which words,
particularly words of unpractised writers, such as we are, can but very
feebly suggest.

Invention is one of the great marks of genius; but if we consult
experience, we shall find, that it is by being conversant with the
inventions of others, that we learn to invent; as by reading the
thoughts of others we learn to think.

Whoever has so far formed his taste, as to be able to relish and feel
the beauties of the great masters, has gone a great way in his study;
for, merely from a consciousness of this relish of the right, the mind
swells with an inward pride, and is almost as powerfully affected, as if
it had itself produced what it admires. Our hearts, frequently warmed in
this manner by the contact of those whom we wish to resemble, will
undoubtedly catch something of their way of thinking; and we shall
receive in our own bosoms some radiation at least of their fire and
splendour. That disposition, which is so strong in children, still
continues with us, of catching involuntarily the general air and manner
of those with whom we are most conversant; with this difference only,
that a young mind is naturally pliable and imitative; but in a more
advanced state it grows rigid, and must be warmed and softened, before
it will receive a deep impression.

From these considerations, which a little of your own reflection will
carry a great way further, it appears, of what great consequence it is,
that our minds should be habituated to the contemplation of excellence;
and that, far from being contented to make such habits the discipline of
our youth only, we should, to the last moment of our lives, continue a
settled intercourse with all the true examples of grandeur. Their
inventions are not only the food of our infancy, but the substance which
supplies the fullest maturity of our vigour.

The mind is but a barren soil; a soil which is soon exhausted, and will
produce no crop, or only one, unless it be continually fertilised and
enriched with foreign matter.

When we have had continually before us the great works of art to
impregnate our minds with kindred ideas, we are then, and not till then,
fit to produce something of the same species. We behold all about us
with the eyes of those penetrating observers whose works we contemplate;
and our minds, accustomed to think the thoughts of the noblest and
brightest intellects, are prepared for the discovery and selection of
all that is great and noble in nature. The greatest natural genius
cannot subsist on its own stock: he who resolves never to ransack any
mind but his own, will be soon reduced, from mere barrenness, to the
poorest of all imitations; he will be obliged to imitate himself, and to
repeat what he has before often repeated. When we know the subject
designed by such men, it will never be difficult to guess what kind of
work is to be produced.

It is vain for painters or poets to endeavour to invent without
materials on which the mind may work, and from which invention must
originate. Nothing can come of nothing.

Homer is supposed to be possessed of all the learning of his time: and
we are certain that Michael Angelo and Raffaelle were equally possessed
of all the knowledge in the art which had been discovered in the works
of their predecessors.

A mind enriched by an assemblage of all the treasures of ancient and
modern art will be more elevated and fruitful in resources, in
proportion to the number of ideas which have been carefully collected
and thoroughly digested. There can be no doubt but that he who has the
most materials has the greatest means of invention; and if he has not
the power of using them, it must proceed from a feebleness of intellect,
or from the confused manner in which those collections have been laid up
in his mind.

The addition of other men’s judgment is so far from weakening our own,
as is the opinion of many, that it will fashion and consolidate those
ideas of excellence which lay in embryo, feeble, ill-shaped, and
confused, but which are finished and put in order by the authority and
practice of those, whose works may be said to have been consecrated by
having stood the test of ages.

The mind, or genius, has been compared to a spark of fire, which is
smothered by a heap of fuel, and prevented from blazing into a flame.
This simile, which is made use of by the younger Pliny, may be easily
mistaken for argument or proof. But there is no danger of the mind’s
being overburdened with knowledge, or the genius extinguished by any
addition of images; on the contrary, these acquisitions may as well,
perhaps better, be compared, if comparisons signified anything in
reasoning, to the supply of living embers, which will contribute to
strengthen the spark, that without the association of more fuel would
have died away. The truth is, he whose feebleness is such, as to make
other men’s thoughts an incumbrance to him, can have no very great
strength of mind or genius of his own to be destroyed; so that not much
harm will be done at worst.

We may oppose to Pliny the greater authority of Cicero, who is
continually enforcing the necessity of this method of study. In his
dialogue on Oratory, he makes Crassus say, that one of the first and
most important precepts is, to choose a proper model for our imitation.
_Hoc sit primum in præceptis meis, ut demonstremus quem imitemur._

When I speak of the habitual imitation and continued study of masters,
it is not to be understood, that I advise any endeavour to copy the
exact peculiar colour and complexion of another man’s mind; the success
of such an attempt must always be like his, who imitates exactly the
air, manner, and gestures, of him whom he admires. His model may be
excellent, but the copy will be ridiculous; this ridicule does not arise
from his having imitated, but from his not having chosen the right mode
of imitation.

It is necessary and warrantable pride to disdain to walk servilely
behind any individual, however elevated his rank. The true and liberal
ground of imitation is an open field; where, though he who precedes has
had the advantage of starting before you, you may always propose to
overtake him: it is enough, however, to pursue his course; you need not
tread in his footsteps; and you certainly have a right to outstrip him
if you can.

Nor whilst I recommend studying the art from artists, can I be supposed
to mean, that nature is to be neglected: I take this study in aid, and
not in exclusion, of the other. Nature is, and must be the fountain
which alone is inexhaustible; and from which all excellences must
originally flow.

The great use of studying our predecessors is, to open the mind, to
shorten our labour, and to give us the result of the selection made by
those great minds of what is grand or beautiful in nature: her rich
stores are all spread out before us; but it is an art, and no easy art,
to know how or what to choose, and how to attain and secure the object
of our choice. Thus the highest beauty of form must be taken from
nature; but it is an art of long deduction, and great experience, to
know how to find it. We must not content ourselves with merely admiring
and relishing; we must enter into the principles on which the work is
wrought: these do not swim on the superficies, and consequently are not
open to superficial observers.

Art in its perfection is not ostentatious; it lies hid, and works its
effect, itself unseen. It is the proper study and labour of an artist to
uncover and find out the latent cause of conspicuous beauties, and from
thence form principles of his own conduct: such an examination is a
continual exertion of the mind; as great, perhaps, as that of the artist
whose works he is thus studying.

The sagacious imitator does not content himself with merely remarking
what distinguishes the different manner or genius of each master; he
enters into the contrivance in the composition how the masses of lights
are disposed, the means by which the effect is produced, how artfully
some parts are lost in the ground, others boldly relieved, and how all
these are mutually altered and interchanged according to the reason and
scheme of the work. He admires not the harmony of colouring alone, but
examines by what artifice one colour is a foil to its neighbour. He
looks close into the tints, examines of what colours they are composed,
till he has formed clear and distinct ideas, and has learned to see in
what harmony and good colouring consists. What is learned in this manner
from the works of others, becomes really our own, sinks deep, and is
never forgotten; nay, it is by seizing on this clue that we proceed
forward, and get further and further in enlarging the principles and
improving the practice of our art.

There can be no doubt, but the art is better learnt from the works
themselves, than from the precepts which are formed upon those works;
but if it is difficult to choose proper models for imitation, it
requires no less circumspection to separate and distinguish what in
those models we ought to imitate.

I cannot avoid mentioning here, though it is not my intention at present
to enter into the art and method of study, an error which students are
too apt to fall into. He that is forming himself, must look with great
caution and wariness on those peculiarities, or prominent parts, which
at first force themselves upon view; and are the marks, or what is
commonly called the manner, by which that individual artist is

Peculiar marks, I hold to be, generally, if not always, defects; however
difficult it may be wholly to escape them.

Peculiarities in the works of art are like those in the human figure: it
is by them that we are cognisable and distinguished one from another,
but they are always so many blemishes; which, however, both in real life
and in painting, cease to appear deformities, to those who have them
continually before their eyes. In the works of art, even the most
enlightened mind, when warmed by beauties of the highest kind, will by
degrees find a repugnance within him to acknowledge any defects; nay,
his enthusiasm will carry him so far, as to transform them into
beauties, and objects of imitation.

It must be acknowledged, that a peculiarity of style, either from its
novelty, or by seeming to proceed from a peculiar turn of mind, often
escapes blame; on the contrary, it is sometimes striking and pleasing:
but this it is a vain labour to endeavour to imitate; because novelty
and peculiarity being its only merit, when it ceases to be new, it
ceases to have value.

A manner therefore being a defect, and every painter, however excellent,
having a manner, it seems to follow, that all kinds of faults, as well
as beauties, may be learned under the sanction of the greatest
authorities. Even the great name of Michael Angelo may be used, to keep
in countenance a deficiency or rather neglect of colouring, and every
other ornamental part of the art. If the young student is dry and hard,
Poussin is the same. If his work has a careless and unfinished air, he
has most of the Venetian school to support him. If he makes no selection
of objects, but takes individual nature just as he finds it, he is like
Rembrandt. If he is incorrect in the proportions of his figures,
Correggio was likewise incorrect. If his colours are not blended and
united, Rubens was equally crude. In short, there is no defect that may
not be excused, if it is a sufficient excuse that it can be imputed to
considerable artists; but it must be remembered, that it was not by
these defects they acquired their reputation; they have a right to our
pardon, but not to our admiration.

However, to imitate peculiarities or mistake defects for beauties, that
man will be most liable, who confines his imitation to one favourite
master; and even though he chooses the best, and is capable of
distinguishing the real excellences of his model, it is not by such
narrow practice, that a genius or mastery in the art is acquired. A man
is as little likely to form a true idea of the perfection of the art,
by studying a single artist, as he would be to produce a perfectly
beautiful figure, by an exact imitation of any individual living model.
And as the painter, by bringing together in one piece, those beauties
which are dispersed among a great variety of individuals, produces a
figure more beautiful than can be found in nature, so that artist who
can unite in himself the excellences of the various great painters, will
approach nearer to perfection than any one of his masters. He, who
confines himself to the imitation of an individual, as he never proposes
to surpass, so he is not likely to equal, the object of his imitation.
He professes only to follow; and he that follows must necessarily be

We should imitate the conduct of the great artists in the course of
their studies, as well as the works which they produced, when they were
perfectly formed. Raffaelle began by imitating implicitly the manner of
Pietro Perugino, under whom he studied; hence his first works are scarce
to be distinguished from his master’s; but soon forming higher and more
extensive views, he imitated the grand outline of Michael Angelo; he
learned the manner of using colours from the works of Leonardo da Vinci,
and Fratre Bartolomeo: to all this he added the contemplation of all the
remains of antiquity that were within his reach; and employed others to
draw for him what was in Greece and distant places. And it is from his
having taken so many models, that he became himself a model for all
succeeding painters; always imitating, and always original.

If your ambition, therefore, be to equal Raffaelle, you must do as
Raffaelle did; take many models, and not even _him_ for your guide
alone, to the exclusion of others.[8] And yet the number is infinite of
those who seem, if one may judge by their style, to have seen no other
works but those of their master, or of some favourite, whose _manner_ is
their first wish, and their last.

I will mention a few that occur to me of this narrow, confined,
illiberal, unscientific, and servile kind of imitators. Guido was thus
meanly copied by Elizabetta, Sirani, and Simone Cantarina; Poussin, by
Verdier and Cheron; Parmeggiano, by Jeronimo Mazzuoli. Paolo Veronese
and Iacomo Bassan had for their imitators their brothers and sons.
Pietro da Cortona was followed by Ciro Ferri and Romanelli; Rubens, by
Jacques Jordaens and Diepenbeke; Guercino, by his own family, the
Gennari. Carlo Maratti was imitated by Giuseppe Chiari and Pietro da
Pietri; and Rembrandt, by Bramer, Eeckhout, and Flink. All these, to
whom may be added a much longer list of painters, whose works among the
ignorant pass for those of their masters, are justly to be censured for
barrenness and servility.

To oppose to this list a few that have adopted a more liberal style of
imitation;--Pellegrino Tibaldi, Rosso, and Primaticcio, did not coldly
imitate, but caught something of the fire that animates the works of
Michael Angelo. The Caraccis formed their style from Pellegrino Tibaldi,
Correggio, and the Venetian school. Domenichino, Guido, Lanfranco,
Albano, Guercino, Cavidone, Schidone, Tiarini, though it is sufficiently
apparent that they came from the school of the Caraccis, have yet the
appearance of men who extended their views beyond the model that lay
before them, and have shown that they had opinions of their own, and
thought for themselves, after they had made themselves masters of the
general principles of their schools.

Le Sueur’s first manner resembles very much that of his master Voüet:
but as he soon excelled him, so he differed from him in every part of
the art. Carlo Maratti succeeded better than those I have first named,
and I think owes his superiority to the extension of his views; beside
his master Andrea Sacchi, he imitated Raffaelle, Guido, and the
Caraccis. It is true, there is nothing very captivating in Carlo
Maratti; but this proceeded from a want which cannot be completely
supplied; that is, want of strength of parts. In this certainly men are
not equal; and a man can bring home wares only in proportion to the
capital with which he goes to market. Carlo, by diligence, made the most
of what he had; but there was undoubtedly a heaviness about him, which
extended itself, uniformly, to his invention, expression, his drawing,
colouring, and the general effect of his pictures. The truth is, he
never equalled any of his patterns in any one thing, and he added little
of his own.

But we must not rest contented even in this general study of the
moderns; we must trace back the art to its fountain-head; to that source
from whence they drew their principal excellences, the monuments of pure
antiquity. All the inventions and thoughts of the ancients, whether
conveyed to us in statues, bas-reliefs, intaglios, cameos, or coins, are
to be sought after and carefully studied; the genius that hovers over
these venerable relics, may be called the father of modern art.

From the remains of the works of the ancients the modern arts were
revived, and it is by their means that they must be restored a second
time. However it may mortify our vanity, we must be forced to allow them
our masters; and we may venture to prophesy, that when they shall cease
to be studied, arts will no longer flourish, and we shall again relapse
into barbarism.

The fire of the artist’s own genius operating upon these materials which
have been thus diligently collected, will enable him to make new
combinations, perhaps, superior to what had ever before been in the
possession of the art: as in the mixture of the variety of metals, which
are said to have been melted and run together at the burning of Corinth,
a new and till then unknown metal was produced, equal in value to any of
those that had contributed to its composition. And though a curious
refiner should come with his crucibles, analyse and separate its various
component parts, yet Corinthian brass would still hold its rank amongst
the most beautiful and valuable of metals.

We have hitherto considered the advantages of imitation as it tends to
form the taste, and as a practice by which a spark of that genius may be
caught, which illumines those noble works that ought always to be
present to our thoughts.

We come now to speak of another kind of imitation; the borrowing a
particular thought, an action, attitude, or figure, and transplanting it
into your own work; this will either come under the charge of
plagiarism, or be warrantable, and deserve commendation, according to
the address with which it is performed. There is some difference
likewise, whether it is upon the ancients or moderns that these
depredations are made. It is generally allowed, that no man need be
ashamed of copying the ancients: their works are considered as a
magazine of common property, always open to the public, whence every man
has a right to take what materials he pleases; and if he has the art of
using them, they are supposed to become to all intents and purposes his
own property. The collection of the thoughts of the ancients, which
Raffaelle made with so much trouble, is a proof of his opinion on this
subject. Such collections may be made with much more ease, by means of
an art scarce known in his time; I mean that of engraving; by which, at
an easy rate, every man may now avail himself of the inventions of

It must be acknowledged that the works of the moderns are more the
property of their authors. He, who borrows an idea from an ancient, or
even from a modern artist not his contemporary, and so accommodates it
to his own work, that it makes a part of it, with no seam or joining
appearing, can hardly be charged with plagiarism: poets practise this
kind of borrowing, without reserve. But an artist should not be
contented with this only; he should enter into a competition with his
original, and endeavour to improve what he is appropriating to his own
work. Such imitation is so far from having anything in it of the
servility of plagiarism, that it is a perpetual exercise of the mind, a
continual invention. Borrowing or stealing with such art and caution
will have a right to the same lenity as was used by the Lacedemonians;
who did not punish theft, but the want of artifice to conceal it.

In order to encourage you to imitation, to the utmost extent, let me
add, that very finished artists in the inferior branches of the art will
contribute to furnish the mind and give hints, of which a skilful
painter, who is sensible of what he wants, and is in no danger of being
infected by the contact of vicious models, will know how to avail
himself. He will pick up from dung-hills what by a nice chemistry,
passing through his own mind, shall be converted into pure gold; and
under the rudeness of Gothic essays, he will find original, rational,
and even sublime inventions.

The works of Albert Dürer, Lucas Van Leyden, the numerous inventions of
Tobias Stimmer and Jost Ammon, afford a rich mass of genuine materials,
which wrought up and polished to elegance, will add copiousness to what,
perhaps, without such aid, could have aspired only to justness and

In the luxuriant style of Paul Veronese, in the capricious compositions
of Tintoret, he will find something that will assist his invention, and
give points, from which his own imagination shall rise and take flight,
when the subject which he treats will with propriety admit of splendid

In every school, whether Venetian, French, or Dutch, he will find,
either ingenious compositions, extraordinary effects, some peculiar
expressions, or some mechanical excellence, well worthy of his
attention, and, in some measure, of his imitation. Even in the lower
class of the French painters great beauties are often found, united with
great defects. Though Coypel wanted a simplicity of taste, and mistook a
presumptuous and assuming air for what is grand and majestic; yet he
frequently has good sense and judgment in his manner of telling his
stories, great skill in his compositions, and is not without a
considerable power of expressing the passions. The modern affectation of
grace in his works, as well as in those of Bosch and Watteau, may be
said to be separated, by a very thin partition, from the more simple and
pure grace of Correggio and Parmegiano.

Among the Dutch painters, the correct, firm, and determined pencil,
which was employed by Bamboccio and Jean Miel, on vulgar and mean
subjects, might, without any change, be employed on the highest; to
which, indeed, it seems more properly to belong. The greatest style, if
that style is confined to small figures, such as Poussin generally
painted, would receive an additional grace by the elegance and precision
of pencil so admirable in the works of Teniers; and though the school to
which he belonged more particularly excelled in the mechanism of
painting; yet it produced many, who have shown great abilities in
expressing what must be ranked above mechanical excellences. In the
works of Frans Hals, the portrait-painter may observe the composition of
a face, the features well put together, as the painters express it; from
whence proceeds that strong-marked character of individual nature, which
is so remarkable in his portraits, and is not found in an equal degree
in any other painter. If he had joined to this most difficult part of
the art, a patience in finishing what he had so correctly planned, he
might justly have claimed the place which Vandyck, all things
considered, so justly holds as the first of portrait-painters.

Others of the same school have shown great power in expressing the
character and passions of those vulgar people, which were the subjects
of their study and attention. Among those Jan Steen seems to be one of
the most diligent and accurate observers of what passed in those scenes
which he frequented, and which were to him an academy. I can easily
imagine, that if this extraordinary man had had the good fortune to have
been born in Italy instead of Holland, had he lived in Rome instead of
Leyden, and been blessed with Michael Angelo and Raffaelle for his
masters instead of Brouwer and Van Goyen; the same sagacity and
penetration which distinguished so accurately the different characters
and expression in his vulgar figures, would, when exerted in the
selection and imitation of what was great and elevated in nature, have
been equally successful; and he now would have ranged with the great
pillars and supporters of our art.

Men who, although thus bound down by the almost invincible powers of
early habits, have still exerted extraordinary abilities within their
narrow and confined circle; and have, from the natural vigour of their
mind, given a very interesting expression and great force and energy to
their works; though they cannot be recommended to be exactly imitated,
may yet invite an artist to endeavour to transfer, by a kind of parody,
their excellences to his own performances. Whoever has acquired the
power of making this use of the Flemish, Venetian, and French schools,
is a real genius, and has sources of knowledge open to him which were
wanting to the great artists who lived in the great age of painting.

To find excellences, however dispersed; to discover beauties, however
concealed by the multitude of defects with which they are surrounded,
can be the work only of him who, having a mind always alive to his art,
has extended his views to all ages and to all schools; and has acquired
from that comprehensive mass which he has thus gathered to himself, a
well-digested and perfect idea of his art, to which everything is
referred. Like a sovereign judge and arbiter of art, he is possessed of
that presiding power which separates and attracts every excellence from
every school; selects both from what is great, and what is little;
brings home knowledge from the East and from the West; making the
universe tributary towards furnishing his mind and enriching his works
with originality and variety of inventions.

Thus I have ventured to give my opinion of what appears to me the true
and only method by which an artist makes himself master of his
profession; which I hold ought to be one continued course of imitation,
that is not to cease but with his life.

Those, who either from their own engagements and hurry of business, or
from indolence, or from conceit and vanity, have neglected looking out
of themselves, as far as my experience and observation reaches, have
from that time, not only ceased to advance, and improve in their
performances, but have gone backward. They may be compared to men who
have lived upon their principal, till they are reduced to beggary, and
left without resources.

I can recommend nothing better, therefore, than that you endeavour to
infuse into your works what you learn from the contemplation of the
works of others. To recommend this has the appearance of needless and
superfluous advice; but it has fallen within my own knowledge, that
artists, though they were not wanting in a sincere love for their art,
though they had great pleasure in seeing good pictures, and were well
skilled to distinguish what was excellent or defective in them, yet have
gone on in their own manner, without any endeavour to give a little of
those beauties, which they admired in others, to their own works. It is
difficult to conceive how the present Italian painters, who live in the
midst of the treasures of art, should be contented with their own style.
They proceed in their commonplace inventions, and never think it worth
while to visit the works of those great artists with which they are

I remember, several years ago, to have conversed at Rome with an artist
of great fame throughout Europe; he was not without a considerable
degree of abilities, but those abilities were by no means equal to his
own opinion of them. From the reputation he had acquired, he too fondly
concluded that he stood in the same rank, when compared with his
predecessors, as he held with regard to his miserable contemporary
rivals. In conversation about some particulars of the works of
Raffaelle, he seemed to have, or to affect to have, a very obscure
memory of them. He told me that he had not set his foot in the Vatican
for fifteen years together; that he had been in treaty to copy a capital
picture of Raffaelle, but that the business had gone off; however, if
the agreement had held, his copy would have greatly exceeded the
original. The merit of this artist, however great we may suppose it, I
am sure would have been far greater, and his presumption would have
been far less, if he had visited the Vatican, as in reason he ought to
have done, at least once every month of his life.

I address myself, gentlemen, to you who have made some progress in the
art, and are to be, for the future, under the guidance of your own
judgment and discretion. I consider you as arrived at that period, when
you have a right to think for yourselves, and to presume that every man
is fallible; to study the masters with a suspicion, that great men are
not always exempt from great faults; to criticise, compare, and rank
their works in your own estimation, as they approach to, or recede from,
that standard of perfection which you have formed in your own minds, but
which those masters themselves, it must be remembered, have taught you
to make; and which you will cease to make with correctness, when you
cease to study them. It is their excellences which have taught you their

I would wish you to forget where you are, and who it is that speaks to
you; I only direct you to higher models and better advisers. We can
teach you here but very little; you are henceforth to be your own
teachers. Do this justice, however, to the English Academy; to bear in
mind, that in this place you contracted no narrow habits, no false
ideas, nothing that could lead you to the imitation of any living
master, who may be the fashionable darling of the day. As you have not
been taught to flatter us, do not learn to flatter yourselves. We have
endeavoured to lead you to the admiration of nothing but what is truly
admirable. If you choose inferior patterns, or if you make your own
_former_ works your patterns for your _latter_, it is your own fault.

The purport of this discourse, and, indeed, of most of my other
discourses, is, to caution you against that false opinion, but too
prevalent among artists, of the imaginary powers of native genius, and
its sufficiency in great works. This opinion, according to the temper of
mind it meets with, almost always produces, either a vain confidence, or
a sluggish despair, both equally fatal to all proficiency.

Study therefore the great works of the great masters, for ever. Study as
nearly as you can, in the order, in the manner, and on the principles,
on which they studied. Study nature attentively, but always with those
masters in your company; consider them as models which you are to
imitate, and at the same time as rivals with whom you are to contend.


     _Delivered to the Students of the Royal Academy, on the
     Distribution of the Prizes, December 10, 1776._

     The Reality of a Standard of Taste, as well as of Corporal Beauty.
     Besides this Immutable Truth, there are Secondary Truths, which are
     Variable; both requiring the Attention of the Artist, in Proportion
     to their Stability or their Influence.


It has been my uniform endeavour, since I first addressed you from this
place, to impress you strongly with one ruling idea. I wished you to be
persuaded, that success in your art depends almost entirely on your own
industry; but the industry which I principally recommended, is not the
industry of the _hands_, but of the _mind_.

As our art is not a divine _gift_, so neither is it a mechanical
_trade_. Its foundations are laid in solid science: and practice, though
essential to perfection, can never attain that to which it aims, unless
it works under the direction of principle.

Some writers upon art carry this point too far, and suppose that such a
body of universal and profound learning is requisite, that the very
enumeration of its kinds is enough to frighten a beginner. Vitruvius,
after going through the many accomplishments of nature, and the many
acquirements of learning, necessary to an architect, proceeds with great
gravity to assert that he ought to be well skilled in the civil law;
that he may not be cheated in the title of the ground he builds on. But
without such exaggeration we may go so far as to assert that a painter
stands in need of more knowledge than is to be picked off his palette,
or collected by looking on his model, whether it be in life or in
picture. He can never be a great artist, who is grossly illiterate.

Every man whose business is description ought to be tolerably conversant
with the poets, in some language or other; that he may imbibe a poetical
spirit, and enlarge his stock of ideas. He ought to acquire a habit of
comparing and digesting his notions. He ought not to be wholly
unacquainted with that part of philosophy which gives an insight into
human nature, and relates to the manners, characters, passions, and
affections. He ought to know _something_ concerning the mind, as well as
_a great deal_ concerning the body of man. For this purpose, it is not
necessary that he should go into such a compass of reading, as must, by
distracting his attention, disqualify him for the practical part of his
profession, and make him sink the performer in the critic. Reading, if
it can be made the favourite recreation of his leisure hours, will
improve and enlarge his mind, without retarding his actual industry.
What such partial and desultory reading cannot afford, may be supplied
by the conversation of learned and ingenious men, which is the best of
all substitutes for those who have not the means or opportunities of
deep study. There are many such men in this age; and they will be
pleased with communicating their ideas to artists, when they see them
curious and docile, if they are treated with that respect and deference
which is so justly their due. Into such society, young artists, if they
make it the point of their ambition, will by degrees be admitted. There,
without formal teaching, they will insensibly come to feel and reason
like those they live with, and find a rational and systematic taste
imperceptibly formed in their minds, which they will know how to reduce
to a standard, by applying general truth to their own purposes, better
perhaps than those to whom they owed the original sentiment.

Of these studies, and this conversation, the desire and legitimate
offspring is a power of distinguishing right from wrong; which power,
applied to works of art, is denominated Taste. Let me then, without
further introduction, enter upon an examination, whether taste be so far
beyond our reach, as to be unattainable by care; or be so very vague and
capricious, that no care ought to be employed about it.

It has been the fate of arts to be enveloped in mysterious and
incomprehensible language, as if it was thought necessary that even the
terms should correspond to the idea entertained of the instability and
uncertainty of the rules which they expressed.

To speak of genius and taste, as in any way connected with reason or
common sense, would be, in the opinion of some towering talkers, to
speak like a man who possessed neither; who had never felt that
enthusiasm, or, to use their own inflated language, was never warmed by
that Promethean fire, which animates the canvas and vivifies the marble.

If, in order to be intelligible, I appear to degrade art by bringing her
down from her visionary situation in the clouds, it is only to give her
a more solid mansion upon the earth. It is necessary that at some time
or other we should see things as they really are, and not impose on
ourselves by that false magnitude with which objects appear when viewed
indistinctly as through a mist.

We will allow a poet to express his meaning, when his meaning is not
well known to himself, with a certain degree of obscurity, as it is one
source of the sublime. But when, in plain prose, we gravely talk of
courting the Muse in shady bowers; waiting the call and inspiration of
genius, finding out where he inhabits, and where he is to be invoked
with the greatest success; of attending to times and seasons when the
imagination shoots with the greatest vigour, whether at the summer
solstice or the vernal equinox; sagaciously observing how much the wild
freedom and liberty of imagination is cramped by attention to
established rules; and how this same imagination begins to grow dim in
advanced age, smothered and deadened by too much judgment; when we talk
such language, or entertain such sentiments as these, we generally rest
contented with mere words, or at best entertain notions not only
groundless but pernicious.

If all this means, what it is very possible was originally intended only
to be meant, that in order to cultivate an art, a man secludes himself
from the commerce of the world, and retires into the country at
particular seasons; or that at one time of the year his body is in
better health, and consequently his mind fitter for the business of hard
thinking than at another time; or that the mind may be fatigued and grow
confused by long and unremitted application; this I can understand. I
can likewise believe, that a man eminent when young for possessing
poetical imagination, may, from having taken another road, so neglect
its cultivation, as to show less of its powers in his latter life. But
I am persuaded, that scarce a poet is to be found, from Homer down to
Dryden, who preserved a sound mind in a sound body, and continued
practising his profession to the very last, whose latter works are not
as replete with the fire of imagination, as those which were produced in
his more youthful days.

To understand literally these metaphors or ideas expressed in poetical
language seems to be equally absurd as to conclude, that because
painters sometimes represent poets writing from the dictates of a little
winged boy or genius, that this same genius did really inform him in a
whisper what he was to write; and that he is himself but a mere machine,
unconscious of the operations of his own mind.

Opinions generally received and floating in the world, whether true or
false, we naturally adopt and make our own; they may be considered as a
kind of inheritance to which we succeed and are tenants for life, and
which we leave to our posterity very nearly in the condition in which we
received it; it not being much in any one man’s power either to impair
or improve it. The greatest part of these opinions, like current coin in
its circulation, we are used to take without weighing or examining; but
by this inevitable inattention many adulterated pieces are received,
which, when we seriously estimate our wealth, we must throw away. So the
collector of popular opinions, when he embodies his knowledge, and forms
a system, must separate those which are true from those which are only
plausible. But it becomes more peculiarly a duty to the professors of
art not to let any opinions relating to _that_ art pass unexamined. The
caution and circumspection required in such examination we shall
presently have an opportunity of explaining.

Genius and taste, in their common acceptation, appear to be very nearly
related; the difference lies only in this, that genius has superadded
to it a habit or power of execution: or we may say, that taste, when
this power is added, changes its name, and is called genius. They both,
in the popular opinion, pretend to an entire exemption from the
restraint of rules. It is supposed that their powers are intuitive; that
under the name of genius great works are produced, and under the name of
taste an exact judgment is given, without our knowing why, and without
our being under the least obligation to reason, precept, or experience.

One can scarce state these opinions without exposing their absurdity;
yet they are constantly in the mouths of men, and particularly of
artists. They who have thought seriously on this subject do not carry
the point so far; yet I am persuaded, that even among those few who may
be called thinkers, the prevalent opinion allows less than it ought to
the powers of reason; and considers the principles of taste, which give
all their authority to the rules of art, as more fluctuating, and as
having less solid foundations, than we shall find, upon examination,
they really have.

The common saying, that _tastes are not to be disputed_, owes its
influence, and its general reception, to the same error which leads us
to imagine this faculty of too high an original to submit to the
authority of an earthly tribunal. It likewise corresponds with the
notions of those who consider it as a mere phantom of the imagination,
so devoid of substance as to elude all criticism.

We often appear to differ in sentiments from each other, merely from the
inaccuracy of terms, as we are not obliged to speak always with critical
exactness. Something of this too may arise from want of words in the
language in which we speak, to express the more nice discriminations
which a deep investigation discovers. A great deal, however, of this
difference vanishes when each opinion is tolerably explained and
understood, by constancy and precision in the use of terms.

We apply the term Taste to that act of the mind by which we like or
dislike, whatever be the subject. Our judgment upon an airy nothing, a
fancy which has no foundation, is called by the same name which we give
to our determination concerning those truths which refer to the most
general and most unalterable principles of human nature; to the works
which are only to be produced by the greatest efforts of the human
understanding. However inconvenient this may be, we are obliged to take
words as we find them; all we can do is to distinguish the things to
which they are applied.

We may let pass those things which are at once subjects of taste and
sense, and which, having as much certainty as the senses themselves,
give no occasion to inquiry or dispute. The natural appetite or taste of
the human mind is for Truth; whether that truth results from the real
agreement or equality of original ideas among themselves; from the
agreement of the representation of any object with the thing
represented; or from the correspondence of the several parts of any
arrangement with each other. It is the very same taste which relishes a
demonstration in geometry, that is pleased with the resemblance of a
picture to an original, and touched with the harmony of music.

All these have unalterable and fixed foundations in nature, and are
therefore equally investigated by reason, and known by study; some with
more, some with less clearness, but all exactly in the same way. A
picture that is unlike is false. Disproportionate ordonnance of parts is
not right; because it cannot be true, until it ceases to be a
contradiction to assert, that the parts have no relation to the whole.
Colouring is true, when it is naturally adapted to the eye, from
brightness, from softness, from harmony, from resemblance; because these
agree with their object, Nature, and therefore are true; as true as
mathematical demonstration; but known to be true only to those who study
these things.

But besides real, there is also apparent truth, or opinion, or
prejudice. With regard to real truth, when it is known, the taste which
conforms to it is, and must be, uniform. With regard to the second sort
of truth, which may be called truth upon sufferance, or truth by
courtesy, it is not fixed, but variable. However, whilst these opinions
and prejudices, on which it is founded, continue, they operate as truth;
and the art, whose office it is to please the mind, as well as instruct
it, must direct itself according to opinion, or it will not attain its

In proportion as these prejudices are known to be generally diffused, or
long received, the taste which conforms to them approaches nearer to
certainty, and to a sort of resemblance to real science, even where
opinions are found to be no better than prejudices. And since they
deserve, on account of their duration and extent, to be considered as
really true, they become capable of no small degree of stability and
determination, by their permanent and uniform nature.

As these prejudices become more narrow, more local, more transitory,
this secondary taste becomes more and more fantastical; recedes from
real science; is less to be approved by reason, and less followed in
practice; though in no case perhaps to be wholly neglected, where it
does not stand, as it sometimes does, in direct defiance of the most
respectable opinions received amongst mankind.

Having laid down these positions, I shall proceed with less method,
because less will serve to explain and apply them.

We will take it for granted, that reason is something invariable and
fixed in the nature of things; and without endeavouring to go back to an
account of first principles, which for ever will elude our search, we
will conclude, that whatever goes under the name of taste, which we can
fairly bring under the dominion of reason, must be considered as equally
exempt from change. If therefore, in the course of this inquiry, we can
show that there are rules for the conduct of the artist which are fixed
and invariable, it follows of course, that the art of the connoisseur,
or, in other words, taste, has likewise invariable principles.

Of the judgment which we make on the works of art, and the preference
that we give to one class of art over another, if a reason be demanded,
the question is perhaps evaded by answering, I judge from my taste; but
it does not follow that a better answer cannot be given, though, for
common gazers, this may be sufficient. Every man is not obliged to
investigate the causes of his approbation or dislike.

The arts would lie open for ever to caprice and casualty, if those who
are to judge of their excellences had no settled principles by which
they are to regulate their decisions, and the merit or defect of
performances were to be determined by unguided fancy. And indeed we may
venture to assert, that whatever speculative knowledge is necessary to
the artist, is equally and indispensably necessary to the connoisseur.

The first idea that occurs in the consideration of what is fixed in art,
or in taste, is that presiding principle of which I have so frequently
spoken in former discourses--the general idea of nature. The beginning,
the middle, and the end of everything that is valuable in taste, is
comprised in the knowledge of what is truly nature; for whatever
notions are not conformable to those of nature, or universal opinion,
must be considered as more or less capricious.

My notion of nature comprehends not only the forms which nature
produces, but also the nature and internal fabric and organisation, as I
may call it, of the human mind and imagination. The terms beauty, or
nature, which are general ideas, are but different modes of expressing
the same thing, whether we apply these terms to statues, poetry, or
pictures. Deformity is not nature, but an accidental deviation from her
accustomed practice. This general idea therefore ought to be called
nature; and nothing else, correctly speaking, has a right to that name.
But we are so far from speaking, in common conversation, with any such
accuracy, that, on the contrary, when we criticise Rembrandt and other
Dutch painters, who introduced into their historical pictures exact
representations of individual objects with all their imperfections, we
say,--though it is not in a good taste, yet it is nature.

This misapplication of terms must be very often perplexing to the young
student. Is not art, he may say, an imitation of nature? Must he not
therefore, who imitates her with the greatest fidelity, be the best
artist? By this mode of reasoning Rembrandt has a higher place than
Raffaelle. But a very little reflection will serve to show us, that
these particularities cannot be nature: for how can that be the nature
of man, in which no two individuals are the same?

It plainly appears, that as a work is conducted under the influence of
general ideas, or partial, it is principally to be considered as the
effect of a good or a bad taste.

As beauty therefore does not consist in taking what lies immediately
before you, so neither, in our pursuit of taste, are those opinions
which we first received and adopted, the best choice, or the most
natural to the mind and imagination. In the infancy of our knowledge we
seize with greediness the good that is within our reach; it is by
after-consideration, and in consequence of discipline, that we refuse
the present for a greater good at a distance. The nobility or elevation
of all arts, like the excellence of virtue itself, consists in adopting
this enlarged and comprehensive idea; and all criticism built upon the
more confined view of what is natural, may properly be called _shallow_
criticism, rather than false: its defect is, that the truth is not
sufficiently extensive.

It has sometimes happened, that some of the greatest men in our art have
been betrayed into errors by this confined mode of reasoning. Poussin,
who, upon the whole, may be produced as an artist strictly attentive to
the most enlarged and extensive ideas of nature, from not having settled
principles on this point, has in one instance at least, I think,
deserted truth for prejudice. He is said to have vindicated the conduct
of Giulio Romano for his inattention to the masses of light and shade,
or grouping the figures in the Battle of Constantine, as if designedly
neglected, the better to correspond with the hurry and confusion of a
battle. Poussin’s own conduct in many of his pictures makes us more
easily give credit to this report. That it was too much his own
practice, the Sacrifice to Silenus, and the Triumph of Bacchus and
Ariadne,[9] may be produced as instances; but this principle is still
more apparent, and may be said to be even more ostentatiously displayed,
in his Perseus and Medusa’s Head.[10]

This is undoubtedly a subject of great bustle and tumult, and that the
first effect of the picture may correspond to the subject, every
principle of composition is violated; there is no principal figure, no
principal light, no groups; everything is dispersed, and in such a state
of confusion, that the eye finds no repose anywhere. In consequence of
the forbidding appearance, I remember turning from it with disgust, and
should not have looked a second time, if I had not been called back to a
closer inspection. I then indeed found, what we may expect always to
find in the works of Poussin, correct drawing, forcible expression, and
just character; in short, all the excellences which so much distinguish
the works of this learned painter.

This conduct of Poussin I hold to be entirely improper to imitate. A
picture should please at first sight, and appear to invite the
spectator’s attention: if on the contrary the general effect offends the
eye, a second view is not always sought, whatever more substantial and
intrinsic merit it may possess.

Perhaps no apology ought to be received for offences committed against
the vehicle (whether it be the organ of seeing or of hearing) by which
our pleasures are conveyed to the mind. We must take care that the eye
be not perplexed and distracted by a confusion of equal parts, or equal
lights, or offended by an unharmonious mixture of colours, as we should
guard against offending the ear by unharmonious sounds. We may venture
to be more confident of the truth of this observation, since we find
that Shakspeare, on a parallel occasion, has made Hamlet recommend to
the players a precept of the same kind,--never to offend the ear by
harsh sounds: _In the very torrent, tempest, and whirlwind of your
passion_, says he, _you must acquire and beget a temperance that may
give it smoothness_. And yet, at the same time, he very justly
observes, _The end of playing, both at the first and now, was and is, to
hold, as ’twere, the mirror up to nature_. No one can deny, that violent
passions will naturally emit harsh and disagreeable tones: yet this
great poet and critic thought that this imitation of nature would cost
too much, if purchased at the expense of disagreeable sensations, or, as
he expresses it, of _splitting the ear_. The poet and actor, as well as
the painter of genius who is well acquainted with all the variety and
sources of pleasure in the mind and imagination, has little regard or
attention to common nature, or creeping after common sense. By
overleaping those narrow bounds, he more effectually seizes the whole
mind, and more powerfully accomplishes his purpose. This success is
ignorantly imagined to proceed from inattention to all rules, and a
defiance of reason and judgment; whereas it is in truth acting according
to the best rules and the justest reason.

He who thinks nature, in the narrow sense of the word, is alone to be
followed, will produce but a scanty entertainment for the imagination:
everything is to be done with which it is natural for the mind to be
pleased, whether it proceeds from simplicity or variety, uniformity or
irregularity; whether the scenes are familiar or exotic; rude and wild,
or enriched and cultivated; for it is natural for the mind to be pleased
with all these in their turn. In short, whatever pleases has in it what
is analogous to the mind, and is therefore, in the highest and best
sense of the word, natural.

It is the sense of nature or truth, which ought more particularly to be
cultivated by the professors of art; and it may be observed, that many
wise and learned men, who have accustomed their minds to admit nothing
for truth but what can be proved by mathematical demonstration, have
seldom any relish for those arts which address themselves to the fancy,
the rectitude and truth of which is known by another kind of proof: and
we may add, that the acquisition of this knowledge requires as much
circumspection and sagacity, as is necessary to attain those truths
which are more capable of demonstration. Reason must ultimately
determine our choice on every occasion; but this reason may still be
exerted ineffectually by applying to taste principles which, though
right as far as they go, yet do not reach the object. No man, for
instance, can deny, that it seems at first view very reasonable, that a
statue which is to carry down to posterity the resemblance of an
individual, should be dressed in the fashion of the times, in the dress
which he himself wore: this would certainly be true, if the dress were
part of the man: but after a time, the dress is only an amusement for an
antiquarian; and if it obstructs the general design of the piece, it is
to be disregarded by the artist. Common sense must here give way to a
higher sense. In the naked form, and in the disposition of the drapery,
the difference between one artist and another is principally seen. But
if he is compelled to exhibit the modern dress, the naked form is
entirely hid, and the drapery is already disposed by the skill of the
tailor. Were a Phidias to obey such absurd commands, he would please no
more than an ordinary sculptor; since, in the inferior parts of every
art, the learned and the ignorant are nearly upon a level.

These were probably among the reasons that induced the sculptor of that
wonderful figure of Laocoon to exhibit him naked, notwithstanding he was
surprised in the act of sacrificing to Apollo, and consequently ought to
have been shown in his sacerdotal habits, if those greater reasons had
not preponderated. Art is not yet in so high estimation with us, as to
obtain so great a sacrifice as the ancients made, especially the
Grecians; who suffered themselves to be represented naked, whether they
were generals, lawgivers, or kings.

Under this head of balancing and choosing the greater reason, or of two
evils taking the least, we may consider the conduct of Rubens in the
Luxembourg gallery, where he has mixed allegorical figures with the
representations of real personages, which must be acknowledged to be a
fault; yet, if the artist considered himself as engaged to furnish this
gallery with a rich, various, and splendid ornament, this could not be
done, at least in an equal degree, without peopling the air and water
with these allegorical figures: he therefore accomplished all that he
purposed. In this case all lesser considerations, which tend to obstruct
the great end of the work, must yield and give way.

The variety which portraits and modern dresses, mixed with allegorical
figures, produce, is not to be slightly given up upon a punctilio of
reason, when that reason deprives the art in a manner of its very
existence. It must always be remembered that the business of a great
painter is to produce a great picture; he must therefore take special
care not to be cajoled by specious arguments out of his materials.

What has been so often said to the disadvantage of allegorical
poetry,--that it is tedious and uninteresting,--cannot with the same
propriety be applied to painting, where the interest is of a different
kind. If allegorical painting produces a greater variety of ideal
beauty, a richer, a more various and delightful composition, and gives
to the artist a greater opportunity of exhibiting his skill, all the
interest he wishes for is accomplished; such a picture not only
attracts, but fixes the attention.

If it be objected that Rubens judged ill at first in thinking it
necessary to make his work so very ornamental, this puts the question
upon new ground. It was his peculiar style; he could paint in no other;
and he was selected for that work, probably, because it was his style.
Nobody will dispute but some of the best of the Roman or Bolognian
schools would have produced a more learned and more noble work.

This leads us to another important province of taste, that of weighing
the value of the different classes of the art, and of estimating them

All arts have means within them of applying themselves with success both
to the intellectual and sensitive part of our natures. It cannot be
disputed, supposing both these means put in practice with equal
abilities, to which we ought to give the preference; to him who
represents the heroic arts and more dignified passions of man, or to him
who, by the help of meretricious ornaments, however elegant and
graceful, captivates the sensuality, as it may be called, of our taste.
Thus the Roman and Bolognian schools are reasonably preferred to the
Venetian, Flemish or Dutch schools, as they address themselves to our
best and noblest faculties.

Well-turned periods in eloquence, or harmony of numbers in poetry, which
are in those arts what colouring is in painting, however highly we may
esteem them, can never be considered as of equal importance with the art
of unfolding truths that are useful to mankind, and which make us better
or wiser. Nor can those works which remind us of the poverty and
meanness of our nature, be considered as of equal rank with what excites
ideas of grandeur, or raises and dignifies humanity; or, in the words of
a late poet, which makes the beholder learn to venerate himself as

It is reason and good sense, therefore, which ranks and estimates every
art, and every part of that art, according to its importance, from the
painter of animated, down to inanimated nature. We will not allow a man,
who shall prefer the inferior style, to say it is his taste; taste here
has nothing, or at least ought to have nothing, to do with the question.
He wants not taste, but sense, and soundness of judgment.

Indeed perfection in an inferior style may be reasonably preferred to
mediocrity in the highest walks of art. A landscape of Claude Lorrain
may be preferred to a history by Luca Giordano; but hence appears the
necessity of the connoisseur’s knowing in what consists the excellence
of each class, in order to judge how near it approaches to perfection.

Even in works of the same kind, as in history-painting, which is
composed of various parts, excellence of an inferior species, carried to
a very high degree, will make a work very valuable, and in some measure
compensate for the absence of the higher kinds of merit. It is the duty
of the connoisseur to know and esteem, as much as it may deserve, every
part of painting: he will not then think even Bassano unworthy of his
notice; who, though totally devoid of expression, sense, grace, or
elegance, may be esteemed on account of his admirable taste of colours,
which, in his best works, are little inferior to those of Titian.

Since I have mentioned Bassano, we must do him likewise the justice to
acknowledge, that though he did not aspire to the dignity of expressing
the characters and passions of men, yet, with respect to facility and
truth in his manner of touching animals of all kinds, and giving them
what painters call _their character_, few have ever excelled him.

To Bassano we may add Paul Veronese and Tintoret, for their entire
inattention to what is justly thought the most essential part of our
art, the expression of the passions. Notwithstanding these glaring
deficiencies, we justly esteem their works; but it must be remembered,
that they do not please from those defects, but from their great
excellences of another kind, and in spite of such transgressions. These
excellences too, as far as they go, are founded in the truth of
_general_ nature: they tell the _truth_, though not _the whole truth_.

By these considerations, which can never be too frequently impressed,
may be obviated two errors, which I observed to have been, formerly at
least, the most prevalent, and to be most injurious to artists; that of
thinking taste and genius to have nothing to do with reason, and that of
taking particular living objects for nature.

I shall now say something on that part of _taste_, which, as I have
hinted to you before, does not belong so much to the external form of
things, but is addressed to the mind, and depends on its original frame,
or to use the expression, the organisation of the soul; I mean the
imagination and the passions. The principles of these are as invariable
as the former, and are to be known and reasoned upon in the same manner,
by an appeal to common sense deciding upon the common feelings of
mankind. This sense, and these feelings, appear to me of equal
authority, and equally conclusive. Now this appeal implies a general
uniformity and agreement in the minds of men. It would be else an idle
and vain endeavour to establish rules of art; it would be pursuing a
phantom, to attempt to move affections with which we were entirely
unacquainted. We have no reason to suspect there is a greater difference
between our minds than between our forms; of which, though there are no
two alike, yet there is a general similitude that goes through the whole
race of mankind; and those who have cultivated their taste, can
distinguish what is beautiful or deformed, or, in other words, what
agrees with or deviates from the general idea of nature, in one case, as
well as in the other.

The internal fabric of our minds, as well as the external form of our
bodies, being nearly uniform; it seems then to follow of course, that as
the imagination is incapable of producing anything originally of itself,
and can only vary and combine those ideas with which it is furnished by
means of the senses, there will be necessarily an agreement in the
imaginations, as in the senses of men. There being this agreement, it
follows, that in all cases, in our lightest amusements, as well as in
our most serious actions and engagements of life, we must regulate our
affections of every kind by that of others. The well-disciplined mind
acknowledges this authority, and submits its own opinion to the public
voice. It is from knowing what are the general feelings and passions of
mankind, that we acquire a true idea of what imagination is; though it
appears as if we had nothing to do but to consult our own particular
sensations, and these were sufficient to ensure us from all error and

A knowledge of the disposition and character of the human mind can be
acquired only by experience: a great deal will be learned, I admit, by a
habit of examining what passes in our bosoms, what are our own motives
of action, and of what kind of sentiments we are conscious on any
occasion. We may suppose a uniformity, and conclude that the same effect
will be produced by the same cause in the minds of others. This
examination will contribute to suggest to us matters of inquiry; but we
can never be sure that our own sensations are true and right, till they
are confirmed by more extensive observation. One man opposing another
determines nothing; but a general union of minds, like a general
combination of the forces of all mankind, makes a strength that is
irresistible. In fact, as he who does not know himself, does not know
others, so it may be said with equal truth, that he who does not know
others, knows himself but very imperfectly.

A man who thinks he is guarding himself against prejudices by resisting
the authority of others, leaves open every avenue to singularity,
vanity, self-conceit, obstinacy, and many other vices, all tending to
warp the judgment, and prevent the natural operation of his faculties.
This submission to others is a deference which we owe, and indeed are
forced involuntarily to pay. In fact, we never are satisfied with our
opinions, whatever we may pretend, till they are ratified and confirmed
by the suffrages of the rest of mankind. We dispute and wrangle for
ever; we endeavour to get men to come to us, when we do not go to them.

He therefore who is acquainted with the works which have pleased
different ages and different countries, and has formed his opinion on
them, has more materials, and more means of knowing what is analogous to
the mind of man, than he who is conversant only with the works of his
own age or country. What has pleased, and continues to please, is likely
to please again: hence are derived the rules of art, and on this
immovable foundation they must ever stand.

This search and study of the history of the mind ought not to be
confined to one art only. It is by the analogy that one art bears to
another, that many things are ascertained, which either were but faintly
seen, or, perhaps, would not have been discovered at all, if the
inventor had not received the first hints from the practices of a sister
art on a similar occasion.[12] The frequent allusions which every man
who treats of any art is obliged to make to others, in order to
illustrate and confirm his principles, sufficiently show their near
connection and inseparable relation.

All arts having the same general end, which is to please; and addressing
themselves to the same faculties through the medium of the senses; it
follows that their rules and principles must have as great affinity, as
the different materials and the different organs or vehicles by which
they pass to the mind, will permit them to retain.[13]

We may therefore conclude, that the real substance, as it may be called,
of what goes under the name of taste, is fixed and established in the
nature of things; that there are certain and regular causes by which the
imagination and passions of men are affected; and that the knowledge of
these causes is acquired by a laborious and diligent investigation of
nature, and by the same slow progress as wisdom or knowledge of every
kind, however instantaneous its operations may appear when thus

It has been often observed, that the good and virtuous man alone can
acquire this true or just relish even of works of art. This opinion will
not appear entirely without foundation, when we consider that the same
habit of mind, which is acquired by our search after truth in the more
serious duties of life, is only transferred to the pursuit of lighter
amusements. The same disposition, the same desire to find something
steady, substantial, and durable, on which the mind can lean as it were,
and rest with safety, actuates us in both cases. The subject only is
changed. We pursue the same method in our search after the idea of
beauty and perfection in each; of virtue, by looking forwards beyond
ourselves to society, and to the whole; of arts, by extending our views
in the same manner to all ages and all times.

Every art, like our own, has in its composition fluctuating as well as
fixed principles. It is an attentive inquiry into their difference that
will enable us to determine how far we are influenced by custom and
habit, and what is fixed in the nature of things.

To distinguish how much has solid foundation, we may have recourse to
the same proof by which some hold that wit ought to be tried; whether it
preserves itself when translated. That wit is false, which can subsist
only in one language; and that picture which pleases only one age or one
nation owes its reception to some local or accidental association of

We may apply this to every custom and habit of life. Thus the general
principles of urbanity, politeness, or civility, have been the same in
all nations; but the mode in which they are dressed is continually
varying. The general idea of showing respect is by making yourself less;
but the manner, whether by bowing the body, kneeling, prostration,
pulling off the upper part of our dress, or taking away the lower,[14]
is a matter of custom.

Thus, in regard to ornaments,--it would be unjust to conclude that
because they were at first arbitrarily contrived, they are therefore
undeserving of our attention; on the contrary, he who neglects the
cultivation of those ornaments, acts contrary to nature and reason. As
life would be imperfect without its highest ornaments, the arts, so
these arts themselves would be imperfect without _their_ ornaments.
Though we by no means ought to rank these with positive and substantial
beauties, yet it must be allowed, that a knowledge of both is
essentially requisite towards forming a complete, whole and perfect
taste. It is in reality from the ornaments, that arts receive their
peculiar character and complexion; we may add, that in them we find the
characteristical mark of a national taste; as by throwing up a feather
in the air, we know which way the wind blows, better than by a more
heavy matter.

The striking distinction between the works of the Roman, Bolognian, and
Venetian schools, consists more in that general effect which is produced
by colours, than in the more profound excellences of the art; at least
it is from thence that each is distinguished and known at first sight.
Thus it is the ornaments, rather than the proportions of architecture,
which at the first glance distinguish the different orders from each
other; the Doric is known by its triglyphs, the Ionic by its volutes,
and the Corinthian by its acanthus.

What distinguishes oratory from a cold narration is a more liberal,
though chaste, use of those ornaments which go under the name of
figurative and metaphorical expressions; and poetry distinguishes itself
from oratory, by words and expressions still more ardent and glowing.
What separates and distinguishes poetry is more particularly the
ornament of _verse_: it is this which gives it its character, and is an
essential without which it cannot exist. Custom has appropriated
different metre to different kinds of composition, in which the world is
not perfectly agreed. In England the dispute is not yet settled, which
is to be preferred, rhyme or blank verse. But however we disagree about
what these metrical ornaments shall be, that some metre is essentially
necessary is universally acknowledged.

In poetry or eloquence, to determine how far figurative or metaphorical
language may proceed, and when it begins to be affectation or beside the
truth, must be determined by taste; though this taste, we must never
forget, is regulated and formed by the presiding feelings of
mankind,--by those works which have approved themselves to all times and
all persons. Thus, though eloquence has undoubtedly an essential and
intrinsic excellence, and immovable principles common to all languages,
founded in the nature of our passions and affections; yet it has its
ornaments and modes of address, which are merely arbitrary. What is
approved in the eastern nations as grand and majestic, would be
considered by the Greeks and Romans as turgid and inflated; and they, in
return, would be thought by the Orientals to express themselves in a
cold and insipid manner.

We may add likewise to the credit of ornaments, that it is by their
means that art itself accomplishes its purpose. Fresnoy calls colouring,
which is one of the chief ornaments of painting, _lena sororis_, that
which procures lovers and admirers to the more valuable excellences of
the art.

It appears to be the same right turn of mind which enables a man to
acquire the _truth_, or the just idea of what is right, in the
ornaments, as in the more stable principles of art. It has still the
same centre of perfection, though it is the centre of a smaller circle.

To illustrate this by the fashion of dress, in which there is allowed to
be a good or bad taste. The component parts of dress are continually
changing from great to little, from short to long; but the general form
still remains; it is still the same general dress, which is
comparatively fixed, though on a very slender foundation; but it is on
this which fashion must rest. He who invents with the most success, or
dresses in the best taste, would probably, from the same sagacity
employed to greater purposes, have discovered equal skill, or have
formed the same correct taste, in the highest labours of art.

I have mentioned taste in dress, which is certainly one of the lowest
subjects to which this word is applied; yet, as I have before observed,
there is a right even here, however narrow its foundation respecting the
fashion of any particular nation. But we have still more slender means
of determining, to which of the different customs of different ages or
countries we ought to give the preference, since they seem to be all
equally removed from nature. If a European, when he has cut off his
beard, and put false hair on his head, or bound up his own natural hair
in regular hard knots, as unlike nature as he can possibly make it; and
after having rendered them immovable by the help of the fat of hogs, has
covered the whole with flour, laid on by a machine with the utmost
regularity; if, when thus attired, he issues forth, and meets a Cherokee
Indian, who has bestowed as much time at his toilet, and laid on with
equal care and attention his yellow and red ochre on particular parts of
his forehead or cheeks, as he judges most becoming: whoever of these two
despises the other for this attention to the fashion of his country,
which ever first feels himself provoked to laugh, is the barbarian.

All these fashions are very innocent; neither worth disquisition, nor
any endeavour to alter them; as the charge would, in all probability, be
equally distant from nature. The only circumstance against which
indignation may reasonably be removed, is, where the operation is
painful or destructive of health; such as some of the practices at
Otaheite, and the strait-lacing of the English ladies; of the last of
which practices, how destructive it must be to health and long life, the
Professor of Anatomy took an opportunity of proving a few days since in
this Academy.

It is in dress, as in things of greater consequence. Fashions originate
from those only who have the high and powerful advantages of rank,
birth, and fortune. Many of the ornaments of art, those at least for
which no reason can be given, are transmitted to us, are adopted, and
acquire their consequence from the company in which we have been used to
see them. As Greece and Rome are the fountains from whence have flowed
all kinds of excellence, to that veneration which they have a right to
claim for the pleasure and knowledge which they have afforded us, we
voluntarily add our approbation of every ornament and every custom that
belonged to them, even to the fashion of their dress. For it may be
observed that, not satisfied with them in their own place, we make no
difficulty of dressing statues of modern heroes or senators in the
fashion of the Roman armour or peaceful robe; we go so far as hardly to
bear a statue in any other drapery.

The figures of the great men of those nations have come down to us in
sculpture. In sculpture remain almost all the excellent specimens of
ancient art. We have so far associated personal dignity to the persons
thus represented, and the truth of art to their manner of
representation, that it is not in our power any longer to separate them.
This is not so in painting; because having no excellent ancient
portraits, that connection was never formed. Indeed we could no more
venture to paint a general officer in a Roman military habit, than we
could make a statue in the present uniform. But since we have no ancient
portraits,--to show how ready we are to adopt those kind of prejudices,
we make the best authority among the modern serve the same purpose. The
great variety of excellent portraits with which Vandyck has enriched
this nation, we are not content to admire for their real excellence,
but extend our approbation even to the dress which happened to be the
fashion of that age. We all very well remember how common it was a few
years ago for portraits to be drawn in this fantastic dress; and this
custom is not yet entirely laid aside. By this means it must be
acknowledged very ordinary pictures acquired something of the air and
effect of the works of Vandyck, and appeared therefore at first sight to
be better pictures than they really were: they appeared so, however, to
those only who had the means of making this association; and when made,
it was irresistible. But this association is nature, and refers to that
secondary truth that comes from conformity to general prejudice and
opinion; it is therefore not merely fantastical. Besides the prejudice
which we have in favour of ancient dresses, there may be likewise other
reasons for the effect which they produce; among which we may justly
rank the simplicity of them, consisting of little more than one single
piece of drapery, without those whimsical capricious forms by which all
other dresses are embarrassed.

Thus, though it is from the prejudice we have in favour of the ancients,
who have taught us architecture, that we have adopted likewise their
ornaments; and though we are satisfied that neither nature nor reason
are the foundation of those beauties which we imagine we see in that
art, yet if anyone, persuaded of this truth, should therefore invent new
orders of equal beauty, which we will suppose to be possible they would
not please; nor ought he to complain, since the old has that great
advantage of having custom and prejudice on its side. In this case we
leave what has every prejudice in its favour, to take that which will
have no advantage over what we have left, but novelty: which soon
destroys itself, and at any rate is but a weak antagonist against

Ancient ornaments, having the right of possession, ought not to be
removed, unless to make room for that which not only has higher
pretensions, but such pretensions as will balance the evil and confusion
which innovation always brings with it.

To this we may add, that even the durability of the materials will often
contribute to give a superiority to one object over another. Ornaments
in buildings, with which taste is principally concerned, are composed of
materials which last longer than those of which dress is composed; the
former therefore make higher pretensions to our favour and prejudice.

Some attention is surely due to what we can no more get rid of, than we
can go out of ourselves. We are creatures of prejudice; we neither can
nor ought to eradicate it; we must only regulate it by reason; which
kind of regulation is indeed little more than obliging the lesser, the
local and temporary prejudices, to give way to those which are more
durable and lasting.

He, therefore, who in his practice of portrait-painting wishes to
dignify his subject, which we will suppose to be a lady, will not paint
her in the modern dress, the familiarity of which alone is sufficient to
destroy all dignity. He takes care that his work shall correspond to
those ideas and that imagination which he knows will regulate the
judgment of others; and therefore dresses his figure something with the
general air of the antique for the sake of dignity, and preserves
something of the modern for the sake of likeness. By this conduct his
works correspond with those prejudices which we have in favour of what
we continually see; and the relish of the antique simplicity corresponds
with what we may call the more learned and scientific prejudice.

There was a statue made not long since of Voltaire, which the sculptor,
not having that respect for the prejudices of mankind which he ought to
have had, made entirely naked, and as meagre and emaciated as the
original is said to be. The consequence was what might have been
expected; it remained in the sculptor’s shop, though it was intended as
a public ornament and a public honour to Voltaire, for it was procured
at the expense of his contemporary wits and admirers.

Whoever would reform a nation, supposing a bad taste to prevail in it,
will not accomplish his purpose by going directly against the stream of
their prejudices. Men’s minds must be prepared to receive what is new to
them. Reformation is a work of time. A national taste, however wrong it
may be, cannot be totally changed at once; we must yield a little to the
prepossession which has taken hold on the mind, and we may then bring
people to adopt what would offend them, if endeavoured to be introduced
by violence. When Battista Franco was employed, in conjunction with
Titian, Paul Veronese, and Tintoret, to adorn the library of St. Mark’s,
his work, Vasari says, gave less satisfaction than any of the others:
the dry manner of the Roman school was very ill calculated to please
eyes that had been accustomed to the luxuriance, splendour, and richness
of Venetian colouring. Had the Romans been the judges of this work,
probably the determination would have been just contrary; for in the
more noble parts of the art, Battista Franco was perhaps not inferior to
any of his rivals.

Gentlemen, It has been the main scope and principal end of this
discourse to demonstrate the reality of a standard in taste, as well as
in corporeal beauty; that a false or depraved taste is a thing as well
known, as easily discovered, as anything that is deformed, mis-shapen,
or wrong, in our form or outward make; and that this knowledge is
derived from the uniformity of sentiments among mankind, from whence
proceeds the knowledge of what are the general habits of nature; the
result of which is an idea of perfect beauty.

If what has been advanced be true,--that besides this beauty or truth,
which is formed on the uniform, eternal, and immutable laws of nature,
and which of necessity can be but _one_; that besides this one immutable
verity there are likewise what we have called apparent or secondary
truths, proceeding from local and temporary prejudices, fancies,
fashions or accidental connection of ideas; if it appears that these
last have still their foundation, however slender, in the original
fabric of our minds; it follows that all these truths or beauties
deserve and require the attention of the artist, in proportion to their
stability or duration, or as their influence is more or less extensive.
And let me add, that as they ought not to pass their just bounds, so
neither do they, in a well-regulated taste, at all prevent or weaken the
influence of those general principles, which alone can give to art its
true and permanent dignity.

To form this just taste is undoubtedly in your own power, but it is to
reason and philosophy that you must have recourse; from them you must
borrow the balance, by which is to be weighed and estimated the value of
every pretension that intrudes itself on your notice.

The general objection which is made to the introduction of philosophy
into the regions of taste, is, that it checks and restrains the flights
of the imagination, and gives that timidity, which an over-carefulness
not to err or act contrary to reason is likely to produce. It is not so.
Fear is neither reason nor philosophy. The true spirit of philosophy, by
giving knowledge, gives a manly confidence, and substitutes rational
firmness in the place of vain presumption. A man of real taste is
always a man of judgment in other respects; and those inventions which
either disdain or shrink from reason, are generally, I fear, more like
the dreams of a distempered brain, than the exalted enthusiasm of a
sound and true genius. In the midst of the highest flights of fancy or
imagination, reason ought to preside from first to last, though I admit
her more powerful operation is upon reflection.

Let me add, that some of the greatest names of antiquity, and those who
have most distinguished themselves in works of genius and imagination,
were equally eminent for their critical skill. Plato, Aristotle, Cicero,
and Horace; and among the moderns, Boileau, Corneille, Pope, and Dryden,
are at least instances of genius not being destroyed by attention or
subjection to rules and science. I should hope therefore that the
natural consequence of what has been said, would be to excite in you a
desire of knowing the principles and conduct of the great masters of our
art, and respect and veneration for them when known.


     _Delivered to the Students of the Royal Academy, on the
     Distribution of the Prizes, December 10, 1778._

     The Principles of Art, whether Poetry or Painting, have their
     Foundation in the Mind; such as Novelty, Variety, and Contrast;
     these in their Excess become Defects.--Simplicity. Its Excess
     Disagreeable.--Rules not to be always observed in their Literal
     Sense: Sufficient to preserve the Spirit of the Law.--Observations
     on the Prize Pictures.


I have recommended in former discourses,[15] that artists should learn
their profession by endeavouring to form an idea of perfection from the
different excellences which lie dispersed in the various schools of
painting. Some difficulty will still occur, to know what is beauty, and
where it may be found: one would wish not to be obliged to take it
entirely on the credit of fame; though to this, I acknowledge, the
younger students must unavoidably submit. Any suspicion in them of the
chance of their being deceived, will have more tendency to obstruct
their advancement, than even an enthusiastic confidence in the
perfection of their models. But to the more advanced in the art, who
wish to stand on more stable and firmer ground, and to establish
principles on a stronger foundation than authority, however venerable or
powerful, it may be safely told, that there is still a higher tribunal,
to which those great masters themselves must submit, and to which indeed
every excellence in art must be ultimately referred. He who is ambitious
to enlarge the boundaries of his art must extend his views, beyond the
precepts which are found in books or may be drawn from the practice of
his predecessors, to a knowledge of those precepts in the mind, those
operations of intellectual nature, to which everything that aspires to
please must be proportioned and accommodated.

Poetry having a more extensive power than our art, exerts its influence
over almost all the passions; among those may be reckoned one of our
most prevalent dispositions, anxiety for the future. Poetry operates by
raising our curiosity, engaging the mind by degrees to take an interest
in the event, keeping that event suspended, and surprising at last with
an unexpected catastrophe.

The painter’s art is more confined, and has nothing that corresponds
with, or perhaps is equivalent to, this power and advantage of leading
the mind on, till attention is totally engaged. What is done by
painting, must be done at one blow; curiosity has received at once all
the satisfaction it can ever have. There are, however, other
intellectual qualities and dispositions which the painter can satisfy
and affect as powerfully as the poet: among those we may reckon our love
of novelty, variety, and contrast; these qualities, on examination, will
be found to refer to a certain activity and restlessness, which has a
pleasure and delight in being exercised and put in motion: art therefore
only administers to those wants and desires of the mind.

It requires no long disquisition to show, that the dispositions which I
have stated actually subsist in the human mind. Variety reanimates the
attention, which is apt to languish under a continual sameness. Novelty
makes a more forcible impression on the mind, than can be made by the
representation of what we have often seen before; and contrasts rouse
the power of comparison by opposition. All this is obvious; but, on the
other hand, it must be remembered, that the mind, though an active
principle, has likewise a disposition to indolence; and though it loves
exercise, loves it only to a certain degree, beyond which it is very
unwilling to be led, or driven; the pursuit therefore of novelty and
variety may be carried to excess. When variety entirely destroys the
pleasure proceeding from uniformity and repetition, and when novelty
counteracts and shuts out the pleasure arising from old habits and
customs, they oppose too much the indolence of our disposition: the mind
therefore can bear with pleasure but a small portion of novelty at a
time. The main part of the work must be in the mode to which we have
been used. An affection to old habits and customs I take to be the
predominant disposition of the mind, and novelty comes as an exception:
where all is novelty, the attention, the exercise of the mind is too
violent. Contrast, in the same manner, when it exceeds certain limits,
is as disagreeable as a violent and perpetual opposition; it gives to
the senses, in their progress, a more sudden change than they can bear
with pleasure.

It is then apparent, that those qualities, however they contribute to
the perfection of art, when kept within certain bounds, if they are
carried to excess, become defects, and require correction: a work
consequently will not proceed better and better as it is more varied;
variety can never be the groundwork and principle of the performance--it
must be only employed to recreate and relieve.

To apply these general observations, which belong equally to all arts,
to ours in particular. In a composition, when the objects are scattered
and divided into many equal parts, the eye is perplexed and fatigued,
from not knowing where to rest, where to find the principal action, or
which is the principal figure; for where all are making equal
pretensions to notice, all are in equal danger of neglect.

The expression which is used very often on these occasions is, the piece
wants repose; a word which perfectly expresses a relief of the mind from
that state of hurry and anxiety which it suffers, when looking at a work
of this character.

On the other hand, absolute unity, that is, a large work, consisting of
one group or mass of light only, would be as defective as an heroic poem
without episode, or any collateral incidents to recreate the mind with
that variety which it always requires.

An instance occurs to me of two painters (Rembrandt and Poussin), of
characters totally opposite to each other in every respect, but in
nothing more than in their mode of composition, and management of light
and shadow. Rembrandt’s manner is absolute unity; he often has but one
group, and exhibits little more than one spot of light in the midst of a
large quantity of shadow: if he has a second mass, that second bears no
proportion to the principal. Poussin, on the contrary, has scarce any
principal mass of light at all, and his figures are often too much
dispersed, without sufficient attention to place them in groups.

The conduct of these two painters is entirely the reverse of what might
be expected from their general style and character; the works of Poussin
being as much distinguished for simplicity, as those of Rembrandt for
combination. Even this conduct of Poussin might proceed from too great
an affection to simplicity of _another kind_; too great a desire to
avoid that ostentation of art, with regard to light and shadow, on which
Rembrandt so much wished to draw the attention: however, each of them
ran into contrary extremes, and it is difficult to determine which is
the most reprehensible, both being equally distant from the demands of
nature, and the purposes of art.

The same just moderation must be observed in regard to ornaments;
nothing will contribute more to destroy repose than profusion, of
whatever kind, whether it consists in the multiplicity of objects, or
the variety and brightness of colours. On the other hand, a work without
ornament, instead of simplicity, to which it makes pretensions, has
rather the appearance of poverty. The degree to which ornaments are
admissible must be regulated by the professed style of the work; but we
may be sure of this truth,--that the most ornamental style requires
repose to set off even its ornaments to advantage. I cannot avoid
mentioning here an instance of repose in that faithful and accurate
painter of nature, Shakspeare; the short dialogue between Duncan and
Banquo, whilst they are approaching the gates of Macbeth’s castle. Their
conversation very naturally turns upon the beauty of its situation, and
the pleasantness of the air: and Banquo, observing the martlets’ nests
in every recess of the cornice, remarks, that where those birds most
breed and haunt, the air is delicate. The subject of this quiet and easy
conversation gives that repose so necessary to the mind, after the
tumultuous bustle of the preceding scenes, and perfectly contrasts the
scene of horror that immediately succeeds. It seems as if Shakspeare
asked himself, What is a prince likely to say to his attendants on such
an occasion? The modern writers seem, on the contrary, to be always
searching for new thoughts, such as never could occur to men in the
situation represented. This is also frequently the practice of Homer;
who, from the midst of battles and horrors, relieves and refreshes the
mind of the reader, by introducing some quiet rural image, or picture of
familiar domestic life. The writers of every age and country, where
taste has begun to decline, paint and adorn every object they touch; are
always on the stretch; never deviate or sink a moment from the pompous
and the brilliant. Lucan, Statius, and Claudian (as a learned critic has
observed), are examples of this bad taste and want of judgment; they
never soften their tones, or condescend to be natural: all is
exaggeration and perpetual splendour, without affording repose of any

As we are speaking of excesses, it will not be remote from our purpose
to say a few words upon simplicity; which, in one of the senses in which
it is used, is considered as the general corrector of excess. We shall
at present forbear to consider it as implying that exact conduct which
proceeds from an intimate knowledge of simple unadulterated nature, as
it is then only another word for perfection, which neither stops short
of, nor oversteps, reality and truth.

In our inquiry after simplicity, as in many other inquiries of this
nature, we can best explain what is right, by showing what is wrong;
and, indeed, in this case it seems to be absolutely necessary:
simplicity, being only a negative virtue, cannot be described or
defined. We must therefore explain its nature, and show the advantage
and beauty which is derived from it, by showing the deformity which
proceeds from its neglect.

Though instances of this neglect might be expected to be found in
practice, we should not expect to find in the works of critics precepts
that bid defiance to simplicity and everything that relates to it. De
Piles recommends to us portrait-painters to add grace and dignity to the
characters of those whose pictures we draw: so far he is undoubtedly
right; but, unluckily, he descends to particulars, and gives his own
idea of grace and dignity. “_If_,” says he, “_you draw persons of high
character and dignity, they ought to be drawn in such an attitude that
the portraits must seem to speak to us of themselves, and, as it were,
to say to us, ‘Stop, take notice of me, I am that invincible King,
surrounded by Majesty’_: _‘I am that valiant commander, who struck
terror everywhere’_; _‘I am that great minister, who knew all the
springs of politics’_: _‘I am that magistrate of consummate wisdom and
probity.’_” He goes on in this manner, with all the characters he can
think on. We may contrast the tumour of this presumptuous loftiness with
the natural unaffected air of the portraits of Titian, where dignity,
seeming to be natural and inherent, draws spontaneous reverence, and
instead of being thus vainly assumed, has the appearance of an
unalienable adjunct; whereas such pompous and laboured insolence of
grandeur is so far from creating respect, that it betrays vulgarity and
meanness, and new-acquired consequence.

The painters, many of them at least, have not been backward in adopting
the notions contained in these precepts. The portraits of Rigaud are
perfect examples of an implicit observance of these rules of De Piles;
so that though he was a painter of great merit in many respects, yet
that merit is entirely overpowered by a total absence of simplicity in
every sense.

Not to multiply instances, which might be produced for this purpose,
from the works of history-painters, I shall mention only one,--a picture
which I have seen, of the Supreme Being by Coypell.

This subject the Roman Catholic painters have taken the liberty to
represent, however indecent the attempt, and however obvious the
impossibility of any approach to an adequate representation: but here
the air and character, which the painter has given, and he has doubtless
given the highest he could conceive, are so degraded by an attempt at
such dignity as De Piles has recommended, that we are enraged at the
folly and presumption of the artist, and consider it as little less than

As we have passed to a neighbouring nation for instances of want of this
quality, we must acknowledge, at the same time, that they have produced
great examples of simplicity, in Poussin and Le Sueur. But as we are
speaking of the most refined and subtle notion of perfection, may we not
inquire, whether a curious eye cannot discern some faults, even in those
great men? I can fancy, that even Poussin, by abhorring that affectation
and that want of simplicity, which he observed in his countrymen, has,
in certain particulars, fallen into the contrary extreme, so far as to
approach to a kind of affectation;--to what, in writing, would be called

When simplicity, instead of being a corrector, seems to set up for
herself; that is, when an artist seems to value himself solely upon this
quality; such an ostentatious display of simplicity becomes then as
disagreeable and nauseous as any other kind of affectation. He is,
however, in this case, likely enough to sit down contented with his own
work; for though he finds the world look at it with indifference or
dislike, as being destitute of every quality that can recreate or give
pleasure to the mind, yet he consoles himself, that it has simplicity, a
beauty of too pure and chaste a nature to be relished by vulgar minds.

It is in art as in morals; no character would inspire us with an
enthusiastic admiration of his virtue, if that virtue consisted only in
an absence of vice; something more is required; a man must do more than
merely his duty, to be a hero.

Those works of the ancients, which are in the highest esteem, have
something beside mere simplicity to recommend them. The Apollo, the
Venus, the Laocoon, the Gladiator, have a certain composition of action,
have contrasts sufficient to give grace and energy in a high degree; but
it must be confessed of the many thousand antique statues which we have,
that their general characteristic is bordering at least on inanimate

Simplicity, when so very inartificial as to seem to evade the
difficulties of art, is a very suspicious virtue.

I do not, however, wish to degrade simplicity from the high estimation
in which it has been ever justly held. It is our barrier against that
great enemy to truth and nature, affectation, which is ever clinging to
the pencil, and ready to drop in and poison everything it touches.

Our love and affection to simplicity proceeds in a great measure from
our aversion to every kind of affectation. There is likewise another
reason why so much stress is laid upon this virtue; the propensity which
artists have to fall into the contrary extreme; we therefore set a guard
on that side which is most assailable. When a young artist is first
told, that his composition and his attitudes must be contrasted, that he
must turn the head contrary to the position of the body, in order to
produce grace and animation; that his outline must be undulating, and
swelling, to give grandeur; and that the eye must be gratified with a
variety of colours; when he is told this, with certain animating words,
of spirit, dignity, energy, grace, greatness of style, and brilliancy of
tints, he becomes suddenly vain of his newly acquired knowledge, and
never thinks he can carry those rules too far. It is then that the aid
of simplicity ought to be called in, to correct the exuberance of
youthful ardour.

The same may be said in regard to colouring, which in its pre-eminence
is particularly applied to flesh. An artist, in his first essay of
imitating nature, would make the whole mass of one colour, as the oldest
painters did; till he is taught to observe not only the variety of
tints, which are in the object itself, but the differences produced by
the gradual decline of light to shadow: he then immediately puts his
instruction in practice, and introduces a variety of distinct colours.
He must then be again corrected and told, that though there is this
variety, yet the effect of the whole upon the eye must have the union
and simplicity of the colouring of nature.

And here we may observe that the progress of an individual student bears
a great resemblance to the progress and advancement of the art itself.
Want of simplicity would probably be not one of the defects of an artist
who had studied nature only, as it was not of the old masters, who lived
in the time preceding the great art of painting; on the contrary, their
works are too simple and too inartificial.

The art in its infancy, like the first work of a student, was dry, hard,
and simple. But this kind of barbarous simplicity would be better named
penury, as it proceeds from mere want; from want of knowledge, want of
resources, want of abilities to be otherwise: their simplicity was the
offspring, not of choice, but necessity.

In the second stage they were sensible of this poverty; and those who
were the most sensible of the want were the best judges of the measure
of the supply. There were painters who emerged from poverty without
falling into luxury. Their success induced others, who probably never
would of themselves have had strength of mind to discover the original
defect, to endeavour at the remedy by an abuse; and they ran into the
contrary extreme. But however they may have strayed, we cannot recommend
to them to return to that simplicity which they have justly quitted; but
to deal out their abundance with a more sparing hand, with that dignity
which makes no parade, either of its riches, or of its art. It is not
easy to give a rule which may serve to fix this just and correct medium;
because when we may have fixed, or nearly fixed the middle point, taken
as a general principle, circumstances may oblige us to depart from it,
either on the side of simplicity or on that of variety and decoration.

I thought it necessary in a former discourse, speaking of the difference
of the sublime and ornamental style of painting,--in order to excite
your attention to the more manly, noble, and dignified manner, to leave
perhaps an impression too contemptuous of those ornamental parts of our
art, for which many have valued themselves, and many works are much
valued and esteemed.

I said then, what I thought it was right at that time to say; I supposed
the disposition of young men more inclinable to splendid negligence,
than perseverance in laborious application to acquire correctness; and
therefore did as we do in making what is crooked straight, by bending
it the contrary way, in order that it may remain straight at last.

For this purpose, then, and to correct excess or neglect of any kind, we
may here add, that it is not enough that a work be learned; it must be
pleasing: the painter must add grace to strength, if he desires to
secure the first impression in his favour. Our taste has a kind of
sensuality about it, as well as a love of the sublime; both these
qualities of the mind are to have their proper consequence, as far as
they do not counteract each other; for that is the grand error which
much care ought to be taken to avoid.

There are some rules, whose absolute authority, like that of our nurses,
continues no longer than while we are in a state of childhood. One of
the first rules, for instance, that I believe every master would give to
a young pupil, respecting his conduct and management of light and
shadow, would be what Lionardo da Vinci has actually given; that you
must oppose a light ground to the shadowed side of your figure, and a
dark ground to the light side. If Lionardo had lived to see the superior
splendour and effect which has been since produced by the exactly
contrary conduct,--by joining light to light, and shadow to
shadow,--though without doubt he would have admired it, yet, as it ought
not, so probably it would not, be the first rule with which he would
have begun his instructions.

Again: in the artificial management of the figures, it is directed that
they shall contrast each other according to the rules generally given;
that if one figure opposes his front to the spectator, the next figure
is to have his back turned, and that the limbs of each individual figure
be contrasted; that is, if the right leg be put forward, the right arm
is to be drawn back.

It is very proper that those rules should be given in the Academy; it is
proper the young students should be informed that some research is to
be made, and that they should be habituated to consider every excellence
as reducible to principles. Besides, it is the natural progress of
instruction to teach first what is obvious and perceptible to the
senses, and from hence proceed gradually to notions large, liberal, and
complete, such as comprise the more refined and higher excellences in
art. But when students are more advanced, they will find that the
greatest beauties of character and expression are produced without
contrast; nay, more, that this contrast would ruin and destroy that
natural energy of men engaged in real action, unsolicitous of grace. St.
Paul preaching at Athens in one of the cartoons, far from any affected
academical contrast of limbs, stands equally on both legs, and both
hands are in the same attitude: add contrast, and the whole energy and
unaffected grace of the figure is destroyed. Elymas the sorcerer
stretches both hands forward in the same direction, which gives
perfectly the expression intended. Indeed you never will find in the
works of Raffaelle any of those schoolboy affected contrasts. Whatever
contrast there is, appears without any seeming agency of art, by the
natural chance of things.

What has been said of the evil of excesses of all kinds, whether of
simplicity, variety, of contrast, naturally suggests to the painter the
necessity of a general inquiry into the true meaning and cause of rules,
and how they operate on those faculties to which they are addressed: by
knowing their general purpose and meaning, he will often find that he
need not confine himself to the literal sense; it will be sufficient if
he preserve the spirit of the law.

Critical remarks are not always understood without examples: it may not
be improper therefore to give instances where the rule itself, though
generally received, is false, or where a narrow conception of it may
lead the artist into great errors.

It is given as a rule by Fresnoy, that _the principal figure of a
subject must appear in the midst of the picture, under the principal
light, to distinguish it from the rest_. A painter who should think
himself obliged strictly to follow this rule would encumber himself with
needless difficulties; he would be confined to great uniformity of
composition, and be deprived of many beauties which are incompatible
with its observance. The meaning of this rule extends, or ought to
extend, no further than this: that the principal figure should be
immediately distinguished at the first glance of the eye; but there is
no necessity that the principal light should fall on the principal
figure, or that the principal figure should be in the middle of the
picture. It is sufficient that it be distinguished by its place, or by
the attention of other figures pointing it out to the spectator. So far
is this rule from being indispensable, that it is very seldom practised,
other considerations of greater consequence often standing in the way.
Examples in opposition to this rule are found in the cartoons, in
Christ’s Charge to Peter, the Preaching of St. Paul, and Elymas the
Sorcerer, who is undoubtedly the principal object in that picture. In
none of those compositions is the principal figure in the midst of the
picture. In the very admirable composition of the Tent of Darius, by Le
Brun, Alexander is not in the middle of the picture, nor does the
principal light fall on him; but the attention of all the other figures
immediately distinguishes him, and distinguishes him more properly; the
greatest light falls on the daughter of Darius, who is in the middle of
the picture, where it is more necessary the principal light should be

It is very extraordinary that Felibien, who has given a very minute
description of this picture, but indeed such a description as may be
rather called panegyric than criticism, thinking it necessary (according
to the precept of Fresnoy) that Alexander should possess the principal
light, has accordingly given it to him; he might with equal truth have
said that he was placed in the middle of the picture, as he seemed
resolved to give this piece every kind of excellence which he conceived
to be necessary to perfection. His generosity is here unluckily
misapplied, as it would have destroyed in a great measure the beauty of
the composition.

Another instance occurs to me, where equal liberty may be taken in
regard to the management of light. Though the general practice is to
make a large mass about the middle of the picture surrounded by shadow,
the reverse may be practised, and the spirit of the rule may still be
preserved. Examples of this principle reversed may be found very
frequently in the works of the Venetian school. In the great composition
of Paul Veronese, the Marriage at Cana, the figures are for the most
part in half shadow; the great light is in the sky; and indeed the
general effect of this picture, which is so striking, is no more than
what we often see in landscapes, in small pictures of fairs and country
feasts; but those principles of light and shadow, being transferred to a
large scale, to a space containing near a hundred figures as large as
life, and conducted to all appearance with as much facility, and with an
attention as steadily fixed upon _the whole together_, as if it were a
small picture immediately under the eye, the work justly excites our
admiration; the difficulty being increased as the extent is enlarged.

The various modes of composition are infinite; sometimes it shall
consist of one large group in the middle of the picture, and the smaller
groups on each side; or a plain space in the middle, and the groups of
figures ranked round this vacuity.

Whether this principal broad light be in the middle space of ground, as
in the School of Athens, or in the sky, as in the Marriage at Cana, in
the Andromeda, and in most of the pictures of Paul Veronese; or whether
the light be on the groups; whatever mode of composition is adopted,
every variety and licence is allowable: this only is indisputably
necessary, that to prevent the eye from being distracted and confused by
a multiplicity of objects of equal magnitude, those objects, whether
they consist of lights, shadows, or figures, must be disposed in large
masses and groups properly varied and contrasted; that to a certain
quantity of action a proportioned space of plain ground is required;
that light is to be supported by sufficient shadow; and, we may add,
that a certain quantity of cold colours is necessary to give value and
lustre to the warm colours: what those proportions are cannot be so well
learnt by precept as by observation on pictures, and in this knowledge
bad pictures will instruct as well as good. Our inquiry why pictures
have a bad effect may be as advantageous as the inquiry why they have a
good effect; each will corroborate the principles that are suggested by
the other.

Though it is not my _business_ to enter into the detail of our art, yet
I must take this opportunity of mentioning one of the means of producing
that great effect which we observe in the works of the Venetian
painters, as I think it is not generally known or observed. It ought, in
my opinion, to be indispensably observed, that the masses of light in a
picture be always of a warm mellow colour, yellow, red, or a
yellowish-white; and that the blue, the grey, or the green colours be
kept almost entirely out of these masses, and be used only to support
and set off these warm colours; and for this purpose, a small
proportion of cold colours will be sufficient.

Let this conduct be reversed; let the light be cold, and the surrounding
colours warm, as we often see in the works of the Roman and Florentine
painters, and it will be out of the power of art, even in the hands of
Rubens or Titian, to make a picture splendid and harmonious.

Le Brun and Carlo Maratti were two painters of great merit, and
particularly what may be called academical merit, but were both
deficient in this management of colours: the want of observing this rule
is one of the causes of that heaviness of effect which is so observable
in their works. The principal light in the picture of Le Brun, which I
just now mentioned, falls on Statira, who is dressed very injudiciously
in a pale blue drapery: it is true, he has heightened this blue with
gold, but that is not enough; the whole picture has a heavy air, and by
no means answers the expectation raised by the print. Poussin often made
a spot of blue drapery, when the general hue of the picture was
inclinable to brown or yellow; which shows sufficiently, that harmony of
colouring was not a part of the art that had much engaged the attention
of that great painter.

The conduct of Titian in the picture of Bacchus and Ariadne has been
much celebrated, and justly, for the harmony of colouring. To Ariadne is
given (say the critics) a red scarf, to relieve the figure from the sea,
which is behind her. It is not for that reason alone, but for another of
much greater consequence; for the sake of the general harmony and effect
of the picture. The figure of Ariadne is separated from the great group,
and is dressed in blue, which, added to the colour of the sea, makes
that quantity of cold colour which Titian thought necessary for the
support and brilliancy of the great group; which group is composed,
with very little exception, entirely of mellow colours. But as the
picture in this case would be divided into two distinct parts, one half
cold, and the other warm, it was necessary to carry some of the mellow
colours of the great group into the cold part of the picture, and a part
of the cold into the great group; accordingly Titian gave Ariadne a red
scarf, and to one of the Bacchante a little blue drapery.

The light of the picture, as I observed, ought to be of a warm colour;
for though white may be used for the principal light, as was the
practice of many of the Dutch and Flemish painters, yet it is better to
suppose _that white_ illumined by the yellow rays of the setting sun, as
was the manner of Titian. The superiority of which manner is never more
striking, than when in a collection of pictures we chance to see a
portrait of Titian’s hanging by the side of a Flemish picture (even
though that should be of the hand of Vandyck), which, however admirable
in other respects, becomes cold and grey in the comparison.

The illuminated parts of objects are in nature of a warmer tint than
those that are in the shade: what I have recommended therefore is no
more, than that the same conduct be observed in the whole, which is
acknowledged to be necessary in every individual part. It is presenting
to the eye the same effect as that which it has been _accustomed_ to
feel, which in this case, as in every other, will always produce beauty;
no principle therefore in our art can be more certain, or is derived
from a higher source.

What I just now mentioned of the supposed reason why Ariadne has part of
her drapery red gives me occasion here to observe, that this favourite
quality of giving objects relief, and which De Piles and all the critics
have considered as a requisite of the utmost importance, was not one of
those objects which much engaged the attention of Titian; painters of
an inferior rank have far exceeded him in producing this effect. This
was a great object of attention, when art was in its infant state; as it
is at present with the vulgar and ignorant, who feel the highest
satisfaction in seeing a figure, which, as they say, looks as if they
could walk round it. But however low I may rate this pleasure of
deception, I should not oppose it, did it not oppose itself to a quality
of a much higher kind, by counteracting entirely that fulness of manner
which is so difficult to express in words, but which is found in
perfection in the best works of Correggio, and, we may add, of
Rembrandt. This effect is produced by melting and losing the shadows in
a ground still darker than those shadows; whereas that relief is
produced by opposing and separating the ground from the figure either by
light, or shadow, or colour. This conduct of inlaying, as it may be
called, figures on their ground, in order to produce relief, was the
practice of the old painters, such as Andrea Mantegna, Pietro Perugino,
and Albert Dürer; and to these we may add, the first manner of Lionardo
da Vinci, Giorgione, and even Correggio; but these three were among the
first who began to correct themselves in dryness of style, by no longer
considering relief as a principal object. As those two qualities, relief
and fulness of effect, can hardly exist together, it is not very
difficult to determine to which we ought to give the preference. An
artist is obliged for ever to hold a balance in his hand, by which he
must determine the value of different qualities; that, when _some_ fault
must be committed, he may choose the least. Those painters who have best
understood the art of producing a good effect, have adopted one
principle that seems perfectly conformable to reason; that a part may be
sacrificed for the good of the whole. Thus, whether the masses consist
of light or shadow, it is necessary that they should be compact and of
a pleasing shape: to this end, some parts may be made darker and some
lighter, and reflections stronger than nature would warrant. Paul
Veronese took great liberties of this kind. It is said, that being once
asked, why certain figures were painted in shade, as no cause was seen
in the picture itself, he turned off the inquiry by answering “_una
nuevola che passa_,” a cloud is passing which has overshadowed them.

But I cannot give a better instance of this practice than a picture
which I have of Rubens; it is a representation of a moonlight. Rubens
has not only diffused more light over the picture than is in nature, but
has bestowed on it those warm glowing colours by which his works are so
much distinguished. It is so unlike what any other painters have given
us of moonlight, that it might be easily mistaken, if he had not
likewise added stars, for a fainter setting sun.--Rubens thought the eye
ought to be satisfied in this case, above all other considerations: he
might indeed have made it more natural, but it would have been at the
expense of what he thought of much greater consequence,--the harmony
proceeding from the contrast and variety of colours.

This same picture will furnish us with another instance, where we must
depart from nature for a greater advantage. The moon in this picture
does not preserve so great a superiority in regard to its lightness over
the object which it illumines, as it does in nature; this is likewise an
intended deviation, and for the same reason. If Rubens had preserved the
same scale of gradation of light between the moon and the objects, which
is found in nature, the picture must have consisted of one small spot of
light only, and at a little distance from the picture nothing but this
spot would have been seen. It may be said, indeed, that this being the
case, it is a subject that ought not to be painted: but then, for the
same reason, neither armour, nor anything shining, ought ever to be
painted; for though pure white is used in order to represent the
greatest light of shining objects, it will not in the picture preserve
the same superiority over flesh, as it has in nature, without keeping
that flesh-colour of a very low tint. Rembrandt, who thought it of more
consequence to paint light than the objects that are seen by it, has
done this in a picture of Achilles which I have. The head is kept down
to a very low tint, in order to preserve this due gradation and
distinction between the armour and the face; the consequence of which
is, that upon the whole the picture is too black. Surely too much is
sacrificed here to this narrow conception of nature: allowing the
contrary conduct a fault, yet it must be acknowledged a less fault, than
making a picture so dark that it cannot be seen without a peculiar
light, and then with difficulty. The merit or demerit of the different
conduct of Rubens and Rembrandt in those instances which I have given,
is not to be determined by the narrow principles of nature, separated
from its effect on the human mind. Reason and common sense tell us, that
before, and above all other considerations, it is necessary that the
work should be seen, not only without difficulty or inconvenience, but
with pleasure and satisfaction; and every obstacle which stands in the
way of this pleasure and convenience must be removed.

The tendency of this discourse, with the instances which have been
given, is not so much to place the artist above rules, as to teach him
their reason; to prevent him from entertaining a narrow confined
conception of art; to clear his mind from a perplexed variety of rules
and their exceptions, by directing his attention to an intimate
acquaintance with the passions and affections of the mind, from which
all rules arise, and to which they are all referable. Art effects its
purpose by their means; an accurate knowledge therefore of those
passions and dispositions of the mind is necessary to him who desires to
effect them upon sure and solid principles.

A complete essay or inquiry into the connection between the rules of
art, and the eternal and immutable dispositions of our passions, would
be indeed going at once to the foundation of criticism;[16] but I am too
well convinced what extensive knowledge, what subtle and penetrating
judgment would be required, to engage in such an undertaking: it is
enough for me, if, in the language of painters, I have produced a slight
sketch of a part of this vast composition, but that sufficiently
distinct to show the usefulness of such a theory, and its

Before I conclude, I cannot avoid making one observation on the pictures
now before us. I have observed, that every candidate has copied the
celebrated invention of Timanthes in hiding the face of Agamemnon in his
mantle; indeed such lavish encomiums have been bestowed on this thought,
and that too by men of the highest character in critical
knowledge,--Cicero, Quintilian, Valerius Maximus, and Pliny,--and have
been since re-echoed by almost every modern that has written on the
arts, that your adopting it can neither be wondered at, nor blamed. It
appears now to be so much connected with the subject, that the spectator
would perhaps be disappointed in not finding united in the picture what
he always united in his mind, and considered as indispensably belonging
to the subject. But it may be observed, that those who praise this
circumstance were not painters. They use it as an illustration only of
their own art; it served their purpose, and it was certainly not their
business to enter into the objections that lie against it in another
art. I fear _we_ have but very scanty means of exciting those powers
over the imagination which make so very considerable and refined a part
of poetry. It is a doubt with me, whether we should even make the
attempt. The chief, if not the only occasion which the painter has for
this artifice, is, when the subject is improper to be more fully
represented, either for the sake of decency, or to avoid what would be
disagreeable to be seen; and this is not to raise or increase the
passions, which is the reason that is given for this practice, but on
the contrary to diminish their effect.

It is true, sketches, or such drawings as painters generally make for
their works, give this pleasure of imagination to a high degree. From a
slight undetermined drawing, where the ideas of the composition and
character are, as I may say, only just touched upon, the imagination
supplies more than the painter himself, probably, could produce; and we
accordingly often find that the finished work disappoints the
expectation that was raised from the sketch; and this power of the
imagination is one of the causes of the great pleasure we have in
viewing a collection of drawings by great painters. These general ideas,
which are expressed in sketches, correspond very well to the art often
used in poetry. A great part of the beauty of the celebrated description
of Eve in Milton’s _Paradise Lost_, consists in using only general
indistinct expressions, every reader making out the detail according to
his own particular imagination,--his own idea of beauty, grace,
expression, dignity, or loveliness: but a painter, when he represents
Eve on a canvas, is obliged to give a determined form, and his own idea
of beauty distinctly expressed.

We cannot on this occasion, nor indeed on any other, recommend an
undeterminate manner, or vague ideas of any kind, in a complete and
finished picture. This notion, therefore, of leaving anything to the
imagination, opposes a very fixed and indispensable rule in our
art,--that everything shall be carefully and distinctly expressed, as if
the painter knew, with correctness and precision, the exact form and
character of whatever is introduced into the picture. This is what with
us is called science and learning: which must not be sacrificed and
given up for an uncertain and doubtful beauty, which, not naturally
belonging to our art, will probably be sought for without success.

Mr. Falconet has observed, in a note on this passage in his translation
of Pliny, that the circumstance of covering the face of Agamemnon was
probably not in consequence of any fine imagination of the
painter,--which he considers as a discovery of the critics,--but merely
copied from the description of the sacrifice, as it is found in

The words from which the picture is supposed to be taken are these:
_Agamemnon saw Iphigenia advance towards the fatal altar; he groaned, he
turned aside his head, he shed tears, and covered his face with his

Falconet does not at all acquiesce in the praise that is bestowed on
Timanthes; not only because it is not his invention, but because he
thinks meanly of this trick of concealing, except in instances of blood,
where the objects would be too horrible to be seen; but, says he, “in an
afflicted father, in a king, in Agamemnon, you, who are a painter,
conceal from me the most interesting circumstance, and then put me off
with sophistry and a veil. You are” (he adds) “a feeble painter, without
resource: you do not know even those of your art: I care not what veil
it is, whether closed hands, arms raised, or any other action that
conceals from me the countenance of the hero. You think of veiling
Agamemnon; you have unveiled your own ignorance. A painter who
represents Agamemnon veiled is as ridiculous as a poet would be, who in
a pathetic situation, in order to satisfy my expectations, and rid
himself of the business, should say, that the sentiments of his hero are
so far above whatever can be said on the occasion, that he shall say

To what Falconet has said, we may add, that supposing this method of
leaving the expression of grief to the imagination, to be, as it was
thought to be, the invention of the painter, and that it deserves all
the praise that has been given it, still it is a trick that will serve
but once; whoever does it a second time will not only want novelty, but
be justly suspected of using artifice to evade difficulties. If
difficulties overcome make a great part of the merit of art,
difficulties evaded can deserve but little commendation.


_Delivered at the Opening of the Royal Academy, in Somerset Place,
October 16, 1780._

     On the Removal of the Royal Academy to Somerset Place.--The
     Advantages to Society from cultivating Intellectual Pleasure.


The honour which the arts acquire by being permitted to take possession
of this noble habitation, is one of the most considerable of the many
instances we have received of his Majesty’s protection; and the
strongest proof of his desire to make the Academy respectable.

Nothing has been left undone, that might contribute to excite our
pursuit, or to reward our attainments. We have already the happiness of
seeing the arts in a state to which they never before arrived in this
nation. This building, in which we are now assembled, will remain to
many future ages an illustrious specimen of the architect’s[17]
abilities. It is our duty to endeavour that those who gaze with wonder
at the structure, may not be disappointed when they visit the
apartments. It will be no small addition to the glory, which this nation
has already acquired from having given birth to eminent men in every
part of science, if it should be enabled to produce, in consequence of
this institution, a school of English artists. The estimation in which
we stand in respect to our neighbours, will be in proportion to the
degree in which we excel or are inferior to them in the acquisition of
intellectual excellence, of which trade and its consequential riches
must be acknowledged to give the means; but a people whose whole
attention is absorbed in those means, and who forget the end, can aspire
but little above the rank of a barbarous nation. Every establishment
that tends to the cultivation of the pleasures of the mind, as distinct
from those of sense, may be considered as an inferior school of
morality, where the mind is polished and prepared for higher

Let us for a moment take a short survey of the progress of the mind
towards what is, or ought to be, its true object of attention. Man, in
his lowest state, has no pleasures but those of sense, and no wants but
those of appetite; afterwards, when society is divided into different
ranks, and some are appointed to labour for the support of others, those
whom their superiority sets free from labour begin to look for
intellectual entertainments. Thus, whilst the shepherds were attending
their flocks, their masters made the first astronomical observations;
so music is said to have had its origin from a man at leisure listening
to the strokes of a hammer.

As the senses, in the lowest state of nature, are necessary to direct us
to our support, when that support is once secure there is danger in
following them further; to him who has no rule of action but the
gratification of the senses, plenty is always dangerous: it is therefore
necessary to the happiness of individuals, and still more necessary to
the security of society, that the mind should be elevated to the idea of
general beauty, and the contemplation of general truth; by this pursuit
the mind is always carried forward in search of something more excellent
than it finds, and obtains its proper superiority over the common senses
of life, by learning to feel itself capable of higher aims and nobler
enjoyments. In this gradual exaltation of human nature, every art
contributes its contingent towards the general supply of mental
pleasure. Whatever abstracts the thoughts from sensual gratifications,
whatever teaches us to look for happiness within ourselves, must advance
in some measure the dignity of our nature.

Perhaps there is no higher proof of the excellence of man than
this,--that to a mind properly cultivated whatever is bounded is little.
The mind is continually labouring to advance, step by step, through
successive gradations of excellence, towards perfection, which is dimly
seen, at a great though not hopeless distance, and which we must always
follow because we never can attain; but the pursuit rewards itself: one
truth teaches another, and our store is always increasing, though nature
can never be exhausted. Our art, like all arts which address the
imagination, is applied to somewhat a lower faculty of the mind, which
approaches nearer to sensuality; but through sense and fancy it must
make its way to reason; for such is the progress of thought, that we
perceive by sense, we combine by fancy, and distinguish by reason: and
without carrying our art out of its natural and true character, the more
we purify it from everything that is gross in sense, in that proportion
we advance its use and dignity; and in proportion as we lower it to mere
sensuality, we pervert its nature, and degrade it from the rank of a
liberal art; and this is what every artist ought well to remember. Let
him remember also, that he deserves just so much encouragement in the
State as he makes himself a member of it virtuously useful, and
contributes in his sphere to the general purpose and perfection of

The art which we profess has beauty for its object; this it is our
business to discover and to express; the beauty of which we are in quest
is general and intellectual; it is an idea that subsists only in the
mind; the sight never beheld it, nor has the hand expressed it: it is an
idea residing in the breast of the artist, which he is always labouring
to impart, and which he dies at last without imparting; but which he is
yet so far able to communicate, as to raise the thoughts, and extend the
views of the spectator; and which, by a succession of art, may be so far
diffused, that its effects may extend themselves imperceptibly into
public benefits, and be among the means of bestowing on whole nations
refinement of taste: which, if it does not lead directly to purity of
manners, obviates at least their greatest depravation, by disentangling
the mind from appetite, and conducting the thoughts through successive
stages of excellence, till that contemplation of universal rectitude and
harmony which began by taste may, as it is exalted and refined, conclude
in virtue.


_Delivered to the Students of the Royal Academy, on the Distribution of
the Prizes, December 11, 1780._

     Sculpture:--Has but One Style.--Its Objects, Form, and
     Character.--Ineffectual Attempts of the Modern Sculptors to improve
     the Art.--Ill Effects of Modern Dress in Sculpture.


I shall now, as it has been customary on this day, and on this occasion,
communicate to you such observations as have occurred to me on the
theory of art.

If these observations have hitherto referred principally to painting,
let it be remembered that this art is much more extensive and
complicated than sculpture, and affords therefore a more ample field for
criticism; and as the greater includes the less, the leading principles
of sculpture are comprised in those of painting.

However, I wish now to make some remarks with particular relation to
sculpture; to consider wherein, or in what manner, its principles and
those of painting agree or differ; what is within its power of
performing, and what it is vain or improper to attempt; that it may be
clearly and distinctly known what ought to be the great purpose of the
sculptor’s labours.

Sculpture is an art of much more simplicity and uniformity than
painting; it cannot with propriety, and the best effect, be applied to
many subjects. The object of its pursuit may be comprised in two words,
form and character; and those qualities are presented to us but in one
manner, or in one style only; whereas the powers of painting, as they
are more various and extensive, so they are exhibited in as great a
variety of manners. The Roman, Lombard, Florentine, Venetian, and
Flemish schools, all pursue the same end by different means. But
sculpture, having but one style, can only to one style of painting have
any relation; and to this (which is indeed the highest and most
dignified that painting can boast) it has a relation so close, that it
may be said to be almost the same art operating upon different
materials. The sculptors of the last age, from not attending
sufficiently to this discrimination of the different styles of painting,
have been led into many errors. Though they well knew that they were
allowed to imitate, or take ideas for the improvement of their own art
from the grand style of painting, they were not aware that it was not
permitted to borrow in the same manner from the ornamental. When they
endeavour to copy the picturesque effects, contrasts, or petty
excellences of whatever kind, which not improperly find a place in the
inferior branches of painting, they doubtless imagine themselves
improving and extending the boundaries of their art by this imitation;
but they are in reality violating its essential character, by giving a
different direction to its operations, and proposing to themselves
either what is unattainable, or at best a meaner object of pursuit. The
grave and austere character of sculpture requires the utmost degree of
formality in composition; picturesque contrasts have here no place;
everything is carefully weighed and measured, one side making almost an
exact equipoise to the other: a child is not a proper balance to a
full-grown figure, nor is a figure sitting or stooping a companion to an
upright figure.

The excellence of every art must consist in the complete accomplishment
of its purpose; and if by a false imitation of nature, or mean ambition
of producing a picturesque effect or illusion of any kind, all the
grandeur of ideas which this art endeavours to excite be degraded or
destroyed, we may boldly oppose ourselves to any such innovation. If the
producing of a deception is the summit of this art, let us at once give
to statues the addition of colour; which will contribute more towards
accomplishing this end, than all those artifices which have been
introduced and professedly defended, on no other principle but that of
rendering the work more natural. But as colour is universally rejected,
every practice liable to the same objection must fall with it. If the
business of sculpture were to administer pleasure to ignorance, or a
mere entertainment to the senses, the Venus of Medicis might certainly
receive much improvement by colour; but the character of sculpture makes
it her duty to afford delight of a different, and, perhaps, of a higher
kind; the delight resulting from the contemplation of perfect beauty:
and this, which is in truth an intellectual pleasure, is in many
respects incompatible with what is merely addressed to the senses, such
as that with which ignorance and levity contemplate elegance of form.

The sculptor may be safely allowed to practise every means within the
power of his art to produce a deception, provided this practice does not
interfere with or destroy higher excellences; on these conditions he
will be forced, however loth, to acknowledge that the boundaries of his
art have long been fixed, and that all endeavours will be vain that hope
to pass beyond the best works which remain of ancient sculpture.

Imitation is the means, and not the end, of art; it is employed by the
sculptor as the language by which his ideas are presented to the mind of
the spectator. Poetry and elocution of every sort make use of signs, but
those signs are arbitrary and conventional. The sculptor employs the
representation of the thing itself; but still as a means to a higher
end,--as a gradual ascent always advancing towards faultless form and
perfect beauty. It may be thought at the first view, that even this
form, however perfectly represented, is to be valued and take its rank
only for the sake of a still higher object, that of conveying sentiment
and character, as they are exhibited by attitude, and expression of the
passions. But we are sure from experience, that the beauty of form
alone, without the assistance of any other quality, makes of itself a
great work, and justly claims our esteem and admiration. As a proof of
the high value we set on the mere excellence of form, we may produce the
greatest part of the works of Michael Angelo, both in painting and
sculpture; as well as most of the antique statues, which are justly
esteemed in a very high degree, though no very marked or striking
character or expression of any kind is represented.

But, as a stronger instance that this excellence alone inspires
sentiment, what artist ever looked at the Torso without feeling a warmth
of enthusiasm, as from the highest efforts of poetry? From whence does
this proceed? What is there in this fragment that produces this effect,
but the perfection of this science of abstract form?

A mind elevated to the contemplation of excellence perceives in this
defaced and shattered fragment, _disjecti membra poetæ_, the traces of
superlative genius, the relics of a work on which succeeding ages can
only gaze with inadequate admiration.

It may be said that this pleasure is reserved only to those who have
spent their whole life in the study and contemplation of this art; but
the truth is, that all would feel its effects, if they could divest
themselves of the expectation of _deception_, and look only for what it
really is, a _partial_ representation of nature. The only impediment of
their judgment must then proceed from their being uncertain to what
rank, or rather kind of excellence, it aspires; and to what sort of
approbation it has a right. This state of darkness is, without doubt,
irksome to every mind; but by attention to works of this kind the
knowledge of what is aimed at comes of itself, without being taught, and
almost without being perceived.

The sculptor’s art is limited in comparison of others, but it has its
variety and intricacy within its proper bounds. Its essence is
correctness: and when to correct and perfect form is added the ornament
of grace, dignity of character, and appropriated expression, as in the
Apollo, the Venus, the Laocoon, the Moses of Michael Angelo, and many
others, this art may be said to have accomplished its purpose.

What grace is, how it is to be acquired or conceived, are in speculation
difficult questions; but _causa latet, res est notissima:_ without any
perplexing inquiry, the effect is hourly perceived. I shall only
observe, that its natural foundation is correctness of design; and
though grace may be sometimes united with incorrectness, it cannot
proceed from it.

But to come nearer to our present subject. It has been said that the
grace of the Apollo depends on a certain degree of incorrectness; that
the head is not anatomically placed between the shoulders; and that the
lower half of the figure is longer than just proportion allows.

I know that Correggio and Parmegiano are often produced as authorities
to support this opinion; but very little attention will convince us,
that the incorrectness of some parts which we find in their works, does
not contribute to grace, but rather tends to destroy it. The Madonna,
with the sleeping Infant, and beautiful group of angels, by Parmegiano,
in the Palazzo Piti, would not have lost any of its excellence, if the
neck, fingers, and indeed the whole figure of the Virgin, instead of
being so very long and incorrect, had preserved their due proportion.

In opposition to the first of these remarks, I have the authority of a
very able sculptor of this Academy, who has copied that figure,
consequently measured and carefully examined it, to declare, that the
criticism is not true. In regard to the last, it must be remembered,
that Apollo is here in the exertion of one of his peculiar powers, which
is swiftness; he has therefore that proportion which is best adapted to
that character. This is no more incorrectness than when there is given
to a Hercules an extraordinary swelling and strength of muscles.

The art of discovering and expressing grace is difficult enough of
itself, without perplexing ourselves with what is incomprehensible. A
supposition of such a monster as grace, begot by deformity, is poison to
the mind of a young artist, and may make him neglect what is essential
to his art, correctness of design, in order to pursue a phantom, which
has no existence but in the imagination of affected and refined

I cannot quit the Apollo without making one observation on the character
of this figure. He is supposed to have just discharged his arrow at the
python; and, by the head retreating a little towards the right shoulder,
he appears attentive to its effect. What I would remark, is the
difference of this attention from that of the Discobolus, who is engaged
in the same purpose, watching the effect of his discus. The graceful,
negligent, though animated, air of the one, and the vulgar eagerness of
the other, furnish a signal instance of the judgment of the ancient
sculptors in their nice discrimination of character. They are both
equally true to nature, and equally admirable.

It may be remarked that grace, character, and expression, though words
of different sense and meaning, and so understood when applied to the
works of painters, are indiscriminately used when we speak of sculpture.
This indecision we may suspect to proceed from the undetermined effects
of the art itself; those qualities are exhibited in sculpture rather by
form and attitude than by the features, and can therefore be expressed
but in a very general manner.

Though the Laocoon and his two sons have more expression in the
countenance than perhaps any other antique statues, yet it is only the
general expression of pain; and this passion is still more strongly
expressed by the writhing and contortion of the body than by the

It has been observed in a late publication, that if the attention of the
father in this group had been occupied more by the distress of his
children, than by his own sufferings, it would have raised a much
greater interest in the spectator. Though this observation comes from a
person whose opinion, in everything relating to the arts, carries with
it the highest authority, yet I cannot but suspect that such refined
expression is scarce within the province of this art; and in attempting
it, the artist will run great risk of enfeebling expression, and making
it less intelligible to the spectator.

As the general figure presents itself in a more conspicuous manner than
the features, it is there we must principally look for expression or
character; _patuit in corpore vultus_; and, in this respect, the
sculptor’s art is not unlike that of dancing, where the attention of the
spectator is principally engaged by the attitude and action of the
performer; and it is there he must look for whatever expression that art
is capable of exhibiting. The dancers themselves acknowledge this, by
often wearing masks, with little diminution in the expression. The face
bears so very inconsiderable a proportion to the effect of the whole
figure, that the ancient sculptors neglected to animate the features,
even with the general expression of the passions. Of this the group of
the Boxers is a remarkable instance; they are engaged in the most
animated action with the greatest serenity of countenance. This is not
recommended for imitation (for there can be no reason why the
countenance should not correspond with the attitude and expression of
the figure), but is mentioned in order to infer from hence, that this
frequent deficiency in ancient sculpture could proceed from nothing but
a habit of inattention to what was considered as comparatively

Those who think sculpture can express more than we have allowed, may
ask, by what means we discover, at the first glance, the character that
is represented in a bust, cameo, or intaglio? I suspect it will be
found, on close examination, by him who is resolved not to see more than
he really does see, that the figures are distinguished by their
_insignia_ more than by any variety of form or beauty. Take from Apollo
his lyre, from Bacchus his thyrsus and vine-leaves, and Meleager the
board’s head, and there will remain little or no difference in their
characters. In a Juno, Minerva, or Flora, the idea of the artist seems
to have gone no further than representing perfect beauty, and afterwards
adding the proper attributes, with a total indifference to which they
gave them. Thus John De Bologna, after he had finished a group of a
young man holding up a young woman in his arms, with an old man at his
feet, called his friends together, to tell him what name he should give
it, and it was agreed to call it The Rape of the Sabines;[18] and this
is the celebrated group which now stands before the old Palace at
Florence. The figures have the same general expression which is to be
found in most of the antique sculpture; and yet it would be no wonder if
future critics should find out delicacy of expression which was never
intended; and go so far as to see, in the old man’s countenance, the
exact relation which he bore to the woman who appears to be taken from

Though painting and sculpture are, like many other arts, governed by the
same general principles, yet in the detail, or what may be called the
by-laws of each art, there seems to be no longer any connection between
them. The different materials upon which those two arts exert their
powers must infallibly create a proportional difference in their
practice. There are many petty excellences which the painter attains
with ease, but which are impracticable in sculpture; and which, even if
it could accomplish them, would add nothing to the true value and
dignity of the work.

Of the ineffectual attempts which the modern sculptors have made by way
of improvement, these seem to be the principal; The practice of
detaching drapery from the figure, in order to give the appearance of
flying in the air;

Of making different plans in the same bas-relievos;

Of attempting to represent the effects of perspective:--

To these we may add the ill effect of figures clothed in a modern dress.

The folly of attempting to make stone sport and flutter in the air is so
apparent, that it carries with it its own reprehension; and yet to
accomplish this seemed to be the great ambition of many modern
sculptors, particularly Bernini: his heart was so much set on overcoming
this difficulty, that he was for ever attempting it, though by that
attempt he risked everything that was valuable in the art.

Bernini stands in the first class of modern sculptors, and therefore it
is the business of criticism to prevent the ill effects of so powerful
an example.

From his very early work of Apollo and Daphne, the world justly expected
he would rival the best productions of ancient Greece; but he soon
strayed from the right path. And though there is in his works something
which always distinguishes him from the common herd, yet he appears in
his latter performances to have lost his way. Instead of pursuing the
study of that ideal beauty with which he had so successfully begun, he
turned his mind to an injudicious quest of novelty; attempted what was
not within the province of the art, and endeavoured to overcome the
hardness and obstinacy of his materials; which even supposing he had
accomplished, so far as to make this species of drapery appear natural,
the ill effect and confusion occasioned by its being detached from the
figure to which it belongs, ought to have been alone a sufficient reason
to have deterred him from that practice.

We have not, I think, in our Academy, any of Bernini’s works, except a
cast of the head of his Neptune;[19] this will be sufficient to serve us
for an example of the mischief produced by this attempt of representing
the effects of the wind. The locks of the hair are flying abroad in all
directions, insomuch that it is not a superficial view that can discover
what the object is which is represented, or distinguish those flying
locks from the features, as they are all of the same colour, of equal
solidity, and consequently project with equal force.

The same entangled confusion which is here occasioned by the hair is
produced by drapery flying off; which the eye must, for the same reason,
inevitably mingle and confound with the principal parts of the figure.

It is a general rule, equally true in both arts, that the form and
attitude of the figure should be seen clearly, and without any
ambiguity, at the first glance of the eye. This the painter can easily
do by colour, by losing parts in the ground, or keeping them so obscure
as to prevent them from interfering with the more principal objects. The
sculptor has no other means of preventing this confusion than by
attaching the drapery for the greater part close to the figure; the
folds of which following the order of the limbs, whenever the drapery is
seen, the eye is led to trace the form and attitude of the figure at the
same time.

The drapery of the Apollo, though it makes a large mass, and is
separated from the figure, does not affect the present question, from
the very circumstance of its being so completely separated; and from the
regularity and simplicity of its form, it does not in the least
interfere with a distinct view of the figure. In reality, it is no more
a part of it than a pedestal, a trunk of a tree, or an animal, which we
often see joined to statues.

The principal use of those appendages is to strengthen and preserve the
statue from accidents; and many are of opinion that the mantle which
falls from the Apollo’s arm is for the same end; but surely it answers a
much greater purpose, by preventing that dryness of effect which would
inevitably attend a naked arm, extended almost at full length; to which
we may add, the disagreeable effect which would proceed from the body
and arm making a right angle.

The Apostles, in the church of St. John Lateran, appear to me to fall
under the censure of an injudicious imitation of the manner of the
painters. The drapery of those figures, from being disposed in large
masses, gives undoubtedly that air of grandeur which magnitude or
quantity is sure to produce. But though it should be acknowledged that
it is managed with great skill and intelligence, and contrived to appear
as light as the materials will allow, yet the weight and solidity of
stone was not to be overcome.

Those figures are much in the style of Carlo Maratti, and such as we may
imagine he would have made, if he had attempted sculpture; and when we
know he had the superintendence of that work, and was an intimate friend
of one of the principal sculptors, we may suspect that his taste had
some influence, if he did not even give the designs. No man can look at
those figures without recognising the manner of Carlo Maratti. They have
the same defect which his works so often have, of being overloaded with
drapery, and that too artificially disposed. I cannot but believe, that
if Ruscono, Le Gros, Monot, and the rest of the sculptors employed in
that work, had taken for their guide the simple dress, such as we see in
the antique statues of the philosophers, it would have given more real
grandeur to their figures, and would certainly have been more suitable
to the characters of the Apostles.

Though there is no remedy for the ill effect of those solid projections
which flying drapery in stone must always produce in statues, yet in
basso-relievos it is totally different; those detached parts of drapery
the sculptor has here as much power over as the painter, by uniting and
losing it in the ground, so that it shall not in the least entangle and
confuse the figure.

But here again the sculptor, not content with this successful imitation,
if it may be so called, proceeds to represent figures or groups of
figures on different plans; that is, some on the foreground, and some
at a greater distance, in the manner of painters in historical
compositions. To do this he has no other means than by making the
distant figures of less dimensions, and relieving them in a less degree
from the surface; but this is not adequate to the end; they will still
appear only as figures on a less scale, but equally near the eye with
those in the front of the piece.

Nor does the mischief of this attempt, which never accomplishes its
intention, rest here: by this division of the work into many minute
parts, the grandeur of its general effect is inevitably destroyed.

Perhaps the only circumstance in which the modern have excelled the
ancient sculptors is the management of a single group in basso-relievo;
the art of gradually raising the group from the flat surface, till it
imperceptibly emerges into alto-relievo. Of this there is no ancient
example remaining that discovers any approach to the skill which Le Gros
has shown in an altar in the Jesuits’ Church at Rome. Different plans or
degrees of relief in the same group have, as we see in this instance, a
good effect, though the contrary happens when the groups are separated,
and are at some distance behind each other.

This improvement in the art of composing a group in basso-relievo was
probably first suggested by the practice of the modern painters, who
relieve their figures, or groups of figures, from their ground, by the
same gentle gradation; and it is accomplished in every respect by the
same general principles; but as the marble has no colour, it is the
composition itself that must give it its light and shadow. The ancient
sculptors could not borrow this advantage from their painters, for this
was an art with which they appear to have been entirely unacquainted;
and in the basso-relievos of Lorenzo Ghiberti, the casts of which we
have in the Academy, this art is no more attempted than it was by the
painters of his age.

The next imaginary improvement of the moderns is the representing the
effects of perspective in bas-relief. Of this little need be said; all
must recollect how ineffectual has been the attempt of modern sculptors
to turn the buildings which they have introduced as seen from their
angle, with a view to make them appear to recede from the eye in
perspective. This, though it may show indeed their eager desire to
encounter difficulties, shows at the same time how inadequate their
materials are even to this their humble ambition.

The ancients, with great judgment, represented only the elevation of
whatever architecture they introduced into their bas-reliefs, which is
composed of little more than horizontal or perpendicular lines; whereas
the interruption of crossed lines, or whatever causes a multiplicity of
subordinate parts, destroys that regularity and firmness of effect on
which grandeur of style so much depends.

We come now to the last consideration; in what manner statues are to be
dressed, which are made in honour of men, either now living, or lately

This is a question which might employ a long discourse of itself: I
shall at present only observe, that he who wishes not to obstruct the
artist, and prevent his exhibiting his abilities to their greatest
advantage, will certainly not desire a modern dress.

The desire of transmitting to posterity the shape of modern dress must
be acknowledged to be purchased at a prodigious price, even the price of
everything that is valuable in art.

Working in stone is a very serious business; and it seems to be scarce
worth while to employ such durable materials in conveying to posterity a
fashion of which the longest existence scarce exceeds a year.

However agreeable it may be to the antiquary’s principles of equity and
gratitude, that as he has received great pleasure from the contemplation
of the fashions of dress of former ages, he wishes to give the same
satisfaction to future antiquaries: yet methinks pictures of an inferior
style, or prints, may be considered as quite sufficient, without
prostituting this great art to such mean purposes.

In this town may be seen an equestrian statue in a modern dress, which
may be sufficient to deter future artists from any such attempt: even
supposing no other objection, the familiarity of the modern dress by no
means agrees with the dignity and gravity of sculpture.

Sculpture is formal, regular, and austere; disdains all familiar
objects, as incompatible with its dignity; and is an enemy to every
species of affectation, or appearance of academical art. All contrast,
therefore, of one figure to another, or of the limbs of a single figure,
or even in the folds of the drapery, must be sparingly employed. In
short, whatever partakes of fancy or caprice, or goes under the
denomination of picturesque (however to be admired in its proper place),
is incompatible with that sobriety and gravity which is peculiarly the
characteristic of this art.

There is no circumstance which more distinguishes a well-regulated and
sound taste, than a settled uniformity of design, where all the parts
are compact, and fitted to each other, everything being of a piece. This
principle extends itself to all habits of life, as well as to all works
of art. Upon this general ground therefore we may safely venture to
pronounce, that the uniformity and simplicity of the materials on which
the sculptor labours (which are only white marble) prescribes bounds to
his art, and teaches him to confine himself to a proportionable
simplicity of design.


_Delivered to the Students of the Royal Academy, on the
Distribution of the Prizes, December 10, 1782._

Genius.--Consists principally in the Comprehension of a
whole; in taking General Ideas only.


The highest ambition of every artist is to be thought a man of genius.
As long as this flattering quality is joined to his name, he can bear
with patience the imputation of carelessness, incorrectness, or defects
of whatever kind.

So far indeed is the presence of genius from implying an absence of
faults, that they are considered by many as its inseparable companions.
Some go such lengths as to take indication from them, and not only
excuse faults on account of genius, but presume genius from the
existence of certain faults.

It is certainly true, that a work may justly claim the character of
genius, though full of errors; and it is equally true, that it may be
faultless, and yet not exhibit the least spark of genius. This naturally
suggests an inquiry, a desire at least of inquiring, what qualities of a
work and of a workman may justly entitle a painter to that character.

I have in a former discourse[20] endeavoured to impress you with a fixed
opinion, that a comprehensive and critical knowledge of the works of
nature is the only source of beauty and grandeur. But when we speak to
painters, we must always consider this rule, and all rules, with a
reference to the mechanical practice of their own particular art. It is
not properly in the learning, the taste, and the dignity of the ideas,
that genius appears as belonging to a painter. There is a genius
particular and appropriated to his own trade (as I may call it)
distinguished from all others. For that power, which enables the artist
to conceive his subject with dignity, may be said to belong to general
education; and is as much the genius of a poet, or the professor of any
other liberal art, or even a good critic in any of those arts, as of a
painter. Whatever sublime ideas may fill his mind, he is a painter only
as he can put in practice what he knows, and communicate those ideas by
visible representation.

If my expression can convey my idea, I wish to distinguish excellence of
this kind by calling it the genius of mechanical performance. This
genius consists, I conceive, in the power of expressing that which
employs your pencil, whatever it may be, _as a whole_; so that the
general effect and power of the whole may take possession of the mind,
and for a while suspend the consideration of the subordinate and
particular beauties or defects.

The advantage of this method of considering objects is what I wish now
more particularly to enforce. At the same time I do not forget, that a
painter must have the power of contracting as well as dilating his
sight; because, he that does not at all express particulars, expresses
nothing; yet it is certain, that a nice discrimination of minute
circumstances, and a punctilious delineation of them, whatever
excellence it may have (and I do not mean to detract from it), never did
confer on the artist the character of genius.

Besides those minute differences in things which are frequently not
observed at all, and when they are, make little impression, there are in
all considerable objects great characteristic distinctions, which press
strongly on the senses, and therefore fix the imagination. These are by
no means, as some persons think, an aggregate of all the small
discriminating particulars: nor will such an accumulation of particulars
ever express them. These answer to what I have heard great lawyers call
the leading points in a case or the leading cases relative to those

The detail of particulars, which does not assist the expression of the
main characteristic, is worse than useless; it is mischievous, as it
dissipates the attention, and draws it from the principal point. It may
be remarked, that the impression which is left on our mind, even of
things which are familiar to us, is seldom more than their general
effect; beyond which we do not look in recognising such objects. To
express this in painting is to express what is congenial and natural to
the mind of man, and what gives him by reflection his own mode of
conceiving. The other presupposes _nicety_ and _research_, which are
only the business of the curious and attentive, and therefore does not
speak to the general sense of the whole species; in which common, and,
as I may so call it, mother tongue, every thing grand and comprehensive
must be uttered.

I do not mean to prescribe what degree of attention ought to be paid to
the minute parts; this it is hard to settle. We are sure that it is
expressing the general effect of the whole, which alone can give to
objects their true and touching character; and wherever this is
observed, whatever else may be neglected, we acknowledge the hand of a
master. We may even go further, and observe, that when the general
effect only is presented to us by a skilful hand, it appears to express
the object represented in a more lively manner than the minutest
resemblance would do.

These observations may lead to very deep questions, which I do not mean
here to discuss; among others, it may lead to an inquiry, why we are not
always pleased with the most absolute possible resemblance of an
imitation to its original object. Cases may exist in which such a
resemblance may be even disagreeable. I shall only observe that the
effect of figures in waxwork, though certainly a more exact
representation than can be given by painting or sculpture, is a
sufficient proof that the pleasure we receive from imitation is not
increased merely in proportion as it approaches to minute and detailed
reality; we are pleased, on the contrary, by seeing ends accomplished by
seemingly inadequate means.

To express protuberance by actual relief, to express the softness of
flesh by the softness of wax, seems rude and inartificial, and creates
no grateful surprise. But to express distances on a plain surface,
softness by hard bodies, and particular colouring by materials which are
not singly of that colour, produces that magic which is the prize and
triumph of art.

Carry this principle a step further. Suppose the effect of imitation to
be fully compassed by means still more inadequate; let the power of a
few well-chosen strokes, which supersede labour by judgment and
direction, produce a complete impression of all that the mind demands in
an object; we are charmed with such an unexpected happiness of
execution, and begin to be tired with the superfluous diligence, which
in vain solicits an appetite already satiated.

The properties of all objects, as far as a painter is concerned with
them, are the outline or drawing, the colour, and the light and shade.
The drawing gives the form, the colour its visible quality, and the
light and shade its solidity.

Excellence in any one of these parts of art will never be acquired by an
artist, unless he has the habit of looking upon objects at large, and
observing the effect which they have on the eye when it is dilated, and
employed upon the whole, without seeing any one of the parts distinctly.
It is by this that we obtain the ruling characteristic, and that we
learn to imitate it by short and dextrous methods. I do not mean by
dexterity a trick or mechanical habit, formed by guess, and established
by custom; but that science, which, by a profound knowledge of ends and
means, discovers the shortest and surest way to its own purpose.

If we examine with a critical view the manner of those painters whom we
consider as patterns, we shall find that their great fame does not
proceed from their works being more highly finished than those of other
artists, or from a more minute attention to details, but from that
enlarged comprehension which sees the whole object at once, and that
energy of art which gives its characteristic effect by adequate

Raffaelle and Titian are two names which stand the highest in our art;
one for drawing, the other for painting. The most considerable and the
most esteemed works of Raffaelle are the cartoons and his fresco works
in the Vatican; those, as we all know, are far from being minutely
finished: his principal care and attention seems to have been fixed upon
the adjustment of the whole, whether it was the general composition, or
the composition of each individual figure; for every figure may be said
to be a lesser whole, though in regard to the general work to which it
belongs, it is but a part; the same may be said of the head, of the
hands, and feet. Though he possessed this art of seeing and
comprehending the whole, as far as form is concerned, he did not exert
the same faculty in regard to the general effect, which is presented to
the eye by colour, and light and shade. Of this the deficiency of his
oil pictures, where this excellence is more expected than in fresco, is
a sufficient proof.

It is to Titian we must turn our eyes to find excellence with regard to
colour, and light and shade, in the highest degree. He was both the
first and the greatest master of this art. By a few strokes he knew how
to mark the general image and character of whatever object he attempted;
and produced, by this alone, a truer representation than his master
Giovanni Bellini, or any of his predecessors, who finished every hair.
His great care was to express the general colour, to preserve the masses
of light and shade, and to give by opposition the idea of that solidity
which is inseparable from natural objects. When those are preserved,
though the work should possess no other merit, it will have in a proper
place its complete effect; but where any of these are wanting, however
minutely laboured the picture may be in the detail, the whole will have
a false and even an unfinished appearance, at whatever distance, or in
whatever light, it can be shown.

It is vain to attend to the variation of tints, if, in that attention,
the general hue of flesh is lost; or to finish ever so minutely the
parts, if the masses are not observed, or the whole not well put

Vasari seems to have had no great disposition to favour the Venetian
painters, yet he everywhere justly commends _il modo di fare, la
maniera, la bella pratica_; that is, the admirable manner and practice
of that school. On Titian, in particular, he bestows the epithets of
_giudicioso_, _bello_, _e stupendo_.

This manner was then new to the world, but that unshaken truth on which
it is founded, has fixed it as a model to all succeeding painters: and
those who will examine into the artifice, will find it to consist in the
power of generalising, and in the shortness and simplicity of the means

Many artists, as Vasari likewise observes, have ignorantly imagined they
are imitating the manner of Titian, when they leave their colours rough,
and neglect the detail; but, not possessing the principles on which he
wrought, they have produced what he calls _goffe pitture_, absurd
foolish pictures; for such will always be the consequence of affecting
dexterity without science, without selection, and without fixed

Raffaelle and Titian seem to have looked at nature for different
purposes; they both had the power of extending their view to the whole;
but one looked only for the general effect as produced by form, the
other as produced by colour.

We cannot entirely refuse to Titian the merit of attending to the
general _form_ of his object, as well as colour; but his deficiency lay,
a deficiency at least when he is compared with Raffaelle, in not
possessing the power, like him, of correcting the form of his model by
any general idea of beauty in his own mind. Of this his St. Sebastian is
a particular instance. This figure appears to be a most exact
representation both of the form and the colour of the model, which he
then happened to have before him; it has all the force of nature, and
the colouring is flesh itself; but, unluckily, the model was of a bad
form, especially the legs. Titian has with as much care preserved these
defects, as he has imitated the beauty and brilliancy of the colouring.
In his colouring he was large and general, as in his design he was
minute and partial; in the one he was a genius, in the other not much
above a copier. I do not, however, speak now of all his pictures;
instances enough may be produced in his works, where those observations
on his defects could not with any propriety be applied: but it is in the
manner or language, as it may be called, in which Titian and others of
that school express themselves, that their chief excellence lies. This
manner is in reality, in painting, what language is in poetry; we are
all sensible how differently the imagination is affected by the same
sentiment expressed in different words, and how mean or how grand the
same object appears when presented to us by different painters. Whether
it is the human figure, an animal, or even inanimate objects, there is
nothing, however unpromising in appearance, but may be raised into
dignity, convey sentiment, and produce emotion, in the hands of a
painter of genius. What was said of Virgil, that he threw even the dung
about the ground with an air of dignity, may be applied to Titian:
whatever he touched, however naturally mean, and habitually familiar, by
a kind of magic he invested with grandeur and importance.

I must here observe, that I am not recommending a neglect of the detail;
indeed it would be difficult, if not impossible, to prescribe _certain_
bounds, and tell how far, or when it is to be observed or neglected;
much must, at last, be left to the taste and judgment of the artist. I
am well aware that a judicious detail will sometimes give the force of
truth to the work, and consequently interest the spectator. I only wish
to impress on your minds the true distinction between essential and
subordinate powers; and to show what qualities in the art claim your
_chief_ attention, and what may, with the least injury to your
reputation, be neglected. Something, perhaps, always must be neglected;
the lesser ought then to give way to the greater; and since every work
can have but a limited time allotted to it (for even supposing a whole
life to be employed about one picture, it is still limited), it appears
more reasonable to employ that time to the best advantage, in contriving
various methods of composing the work,--in trying different effect of
light and shadow,--and employing the labour of correction in heightening
by a judicious adjustment of the parts the effects of the whole,--than
that the time should be taken up in minutely finishing those parts.

But there is another kind of high finishing, which may safely be
condemned, as it seems to counteract its own purpose; that is, when the
artist, to avoid that hardness which proceeds from the outline cutting
against the ground, softens and blends the colours to excess: this is
what the ignorant call high finishing, but which tends to destroy the
brilliancy of colour, and the true effect of representation; which
consists very much in preserving the same proportion of sharpness and
bluntness that is found in natural objects. This extreme softening,
instead of producing the effect of softness, gives the appearance of
ivory, or some other hard substance, highly polished.

The portraits of Cornelius Jansen appear to have this defect, and
consequently want that suppleness which is the characteristic of flesh;
whereas in the works of Vandyck we find that true mixture of softness
and hardness perfectly observed. The same defect may be found in the
manner of Vanderwerf, in opposition to that of Teniers; and such also,
we may add, is the manner of Raffaelle in his oil pictures, in
comparison with that of Titian.

The name which Raffaelle has so justly maintained as the first of
painters, we may venture to say was not acquired by this laborious
attention. His apology may be made by saying that it was the manner of
his country; but if he had expressed his ideas with the facility and
eloquence, as it may be called, of Titian, his works would certainly
not have been less excellent; and that praise, which ages and nations
have poured out upon him, for possessing genius in the higher
attainments of art, would have been extended to them all.

Those who are not conversant in works of art are often surprised at the
high value set by connoisseurs on drawings which appear careless, and in
every respect unfinished; but they are truly valuable; and their value
arises from this, that they give the idea of a whole; and this whole is
often expressed by a dexterous facility which indicates the true power
of a painter, even though roughly exerted: whether it consists in the
general composition, or the general form of each figure, or the turn of
the attitude which bestows grace and elegance. All this we may see fully
exemplified in the very skilful drawings of Parmegiano and Correggio. On
whatever account we value these drawings, it is certainly not for high
finishing, or a minute attention to particulars.

Excellence in every part, and in every province of our art, from the
highest style of history down to the resemblances of still-life, will
depend on this power of extending the attention at once to the whole,
without which the greatest diligence is vain.

I wish you to bear in mind, that when I speak of a whole, I do not mean
simply a _whole_ as belonging to composition, but a _whole_ with respect
to the general style of colouring; a _whole_ with regard to the light
and shade; a _whole_ of everything which may separately become the main
object of a painter.

I remember a landscape-painter in Rome, who was known by the name of
Studio, from his patience in high finishing, in which he thought the
whole excellence of art consisted; so that he once endeavoured, as he
said, to represent every individual leaf on a tree. This picture I
never saw; but I am very sure that an artist, who looked only at the
general character of the species, the order of the branches, and the
masses of the foliage, would in a few minutes produce a more true
resemblance of trees, than this painter in as many months.

A landscape-painter certainly ought to study anatomically (if I may use
the expression) all the objects which he paints; but when he is to turn
his studies to use, his skill, as a man of genius, will be displayed in
showing the general effect, preserving the same degree of hardness and
softness which the objects have in nature; for he applies himself to the
imagination, not to the curiosity, and works not for the virtuoso or the
naturalist, but for the common observer of life and nature. When he
knows his subject, he will know not only what to describe, but what to
omit; and this skill in leaving out is, in all things, a great part of
knowledge and wisdom.

The same excellence of manner which Titian displayed in history or
portrait-painting is equally conspicuous in his landscapes, whether they
are professedly such, or serve only as backgrounds. One of the most
eminent of this latter kind is to be found in the picture of St. Pietro
Martire. The large trees, which are here introduced, are plainly
distinguished from each other by the different manner with which the
branches shoot from their trunks, as well as by their different foliage;
and the weeds in the foreground are varied in the same manner, just as
much as variety requires, and no more. When Algarotti, speaking of this
picture, praises it for the minute discriminations of the leaves and
plants, even, as he says, to excite the admiration of a botanist, his
intention was undoubtedly to give praise even at the expense of truth;
for he must have known, that this is not the character of the picture;
but connoisseurs will always find in pictures what they think they ought
to find: he was not aware that he was giving a description injurious to
the reputation of Titian.

Such accounts may be very hurtful to young artists, who never have had
an opportunity of seeing the work described; and they may possibly
conclude, that this great artist acquired the name of the Divine Titian
from his eminent attention to such trifling circumstances, which, in
reality, would not raise him above the level of the most ordinary

We may extend these observations even to what seems to have but a
single, and that an individual object. The excellence of
portrait-painting, and we may add even the likeness, the character, and
countenance, as I have observed in another place, depend more upon the
general effect produced by the painter, than on the exact expression of
the peculiarities, or minute discrimination of the parts. The chief
attention of the artist is therefore employed in planting the features
in their proper places, which so much contributes to giving the effect
and true impression of the whole. The very peculiarities may be reduced
to classes and general descriptions; and there are therefore large ideas
to be found even in this contracted subject. He may afterwards labour
single features to what degree he thinks proper, but let him not forget
continually to examine, whether in finishing the parts he is not
destroying the general effect.

It is certainly a thing to be wished, that all excellence were applied
to illustrate subjects that are interesting and worthy of being
commemorated; whereas, of half the pictures that are in the world, the
subject can be valued only as an occasion which set the artist to work:
and yet, our high estimation of such pictures, without considering or
perhaps without knowing the subject, shows how much our attention is
engaged by the art alone.

Perhaps nothing that we can say will so clearly show the advantage and
excellence of this faculty, as that it confers the character of genius
on works that pretend to no other merit; in which is neither expression,
character nor dignity, and where none are interested in the subject. We
cannot refuse the character of genius to the Marriage of Paolo Veronese,
without opposing the general sense of mankind (great authorities have
called it the Triumph of Painting), or to the altar of St. Augustine at
Antwerp, by Rubens, which equally deserves that title, and for the same
reason. Neither of those pictures have any interesting story to support
them. That of Paolo Veronese is only a representation of a great
concourse of people at a dinner; and the subject of Rubens, if it may be
called a subject where nothing is doing, is an assembly of various
saints that lived in different ages. The whole excellence of those
pictures consists in mechanical dexterity, working, however, under the
influence of that comprehensive faculty which I have so often mentioned.

It is by this, and this alone, that the mechanical power is ennobled,
and raised much above its natural rank. And it appears to me, that with
propriety it acquires this character, as an instance of that superiority
with which mind predominates over matter, by contracting into one whole
what nature has made multifarious.

The great advantage of this idea of a whole is, that a greater quantity
of truth may be said to be contained and expressed in a few lines or
touches, than in the most laborious finishing of the parts, where this
is not regarded. It is upon this foundation that it stands; and the
justness of the observation would be confirmed by the ignorant in art,
if it were possible to take their opinions unseduced by some false
notion of what they imagine they ought to see in a picture. As it is an
art, they think they ought to be pleased in proportion as they see that
art ostentatiously displayed; they will, from this supposition, prefer
neatness, high finishing, and gaudy colouring, to the truth, simplicity,
and unity of nature. Perhaps too, the totally ignorant beholder, like
the ignorant artist, cannot comprehend a whole, nor even what it means.
But if false notions do not anticipate their perceptions, they who are
capable of observation, and who, pretending to no skill, look only
straight forward, will praise and condemn in proportion as the painter
has succeeded in the effect of the whole. Here, general satisfaction, or
general dislike, though perhaps despised by the painter, as proceeding
from the ignorance of the principles of art, may yet help to regulate
his conduct, and bring back his attention to that which ought to be his
principal object, and from which he has deviated for the sake of minuter

An instance of this right judgment I once saw in a child, in going
through a gallery where there were many portraits of the last ages,
which, though neatly put out of hand, were very ill put together. The
child paid no attention to the neat finishing or naturalness of any bit
of drapery, but appeared to observe only the ungracefulness of the
persons represented, and put herself in the posture of every figure
which she saw in a forced and awkward attitude. The censure of nature,
uninformed, fastened upon the greatest fault that could be in a picture,
because it related to the character and management of the whole.

I should be sorry, if what has been said should be understood to have
any tendency to encourage that carelessness which leaves work in an
unfinished state. I commend nothing for the want of exactness; I mean
to point out that kind of exactness which is the best, and which is
alone truly to be so esteemed.

So far is my disquisition from giving countenance to idleness, that
there is nothing in our art which enforces such continual exertion and
circumspection, as an attention to the general effect of the whole. It
requires much study and much practice; it requires the painter’s entire
mind; whereas the parts may be finishing by nice touches, while his mind
is engaged on other matters; he may even hear a play or a novel read
without much disturbance. The artist who flatters his own indolence will
continually find himself evading this active exertion, and applying his
thoughts to the ease and laziness of highly finishing the parts;
producing at last what Cowley calls “laborious effects of idleness.”

No work can be too much finished, provided the diligence employed be
directed to its proper object; but I have observed that an excessive
labour in the detail has, nine times in ten, been pernicious to the
general effect, even when it has been the labour of great masters. It
indicates a bad choice, which is an ill setting out in any undertaking.

To give a right direction to your industry has been my principal purpose
in this discourse. It is this, which I am confident often makes the
difference between two students of equal capacities and of equal
industry. While the one is employing his labour on minute objects of
little consequence, the other is acquiring the art, and perfecting the
habit, of seeing nature in an extensive view, in its proper proportions,
and its due subordination of parts.

Before I conclude, I must make one observation sufficiently connected
with the present subject.

The same extension of mind which gives the excellence of genius to the
theory and mechanical practice of the art, will direct him likewise in
the method of study, and give him the superiority over those who
narrowly follow a more confined track of partial imitation. Whoever, in
order to finish his education, should travel to Italy, and spend his
whole time there only in copying pictures, and measuring statues or
buildings (though these things are not to be neglected), would return
with little improvement. He that imitates the Iliad, says Dr. Young, is
not imitating Homer. It is not by laying up in the memory the particular
details of any of the great works of art, that any man becomes a great
artist, if he stops without making himself master of the general
principles on which these works are conducted. If he even hopes to rival
those whom he admires, he must consider their works as the means of
teaching him the true art of seeing nature. When this is acquired, he
then may be said to have appropriated their powers, or at least the
foundation of their powers, to himself; the rest must depend upon his
own industry and application. The great business of study is to form a
_mind_, adapted and adequate to all times and all occasions; to which
all nature is then laid open, and which may be said to possess the key
of her inexhaustible riches.


_Delivered to the Students of the Royal Academy, on the Distribution of
the Prizes, December 10, 1784._

     Particular Methods of Study of Little Consequence.--Little of the
     Art can be taught.--Love of Method often a Love of Idleness.
     Pittori Improvvisatori apt to be Careless and Incorrect; seldom
     Original and Striking. This proceeds from their not studying the
     Works of Other Masters.


In consequence of the situation in which I have the honour to be placed
in this Academy, it has often happened, that I have been consulted by
the young students who intend to spend some years in Italy, concerning
the method of regulating their studies. I am, as I ought to be,
solicitously desirous to communicate the entire result of my experience
and observation; and though my openness and facility in giving my
opinions might make some amends for whatever was defective in them, yet
I fear my answers have not often given satisfaction. Indeed I have never
been sure that I understood perfectly what they meant, and was not
without some suspicion that they had not themselves very distinct ideas
of the object of their inquiry.

If the information required was, by what means the path that leads to
excellence could be discovered; if they wished to know whom they were to
take for their guides; what to adhere to, and what to avoid; where they
were to bait, and where they were to take up their rest; what was to be
tasted only, and what should be their diet; such general directions are
certainly proper for a student to ask, and for me, to the best of my
capacity, to give; but these rules have been already given: they have in
reality been the subject of almost all my discourses from this place.
But I am rather inclined to think, that by _method of study_, it was
meant (as several do mean), that the times and the seasons should be
prescribed, and the order settled, in which everything was to be done:
that it might be useful to point out to what degree of excellence one
part of the art was to be carried, before the student proceeded to the
next; how long he was to continue to draw from the ancient statues, when
to begin to compose, and when to apply to the study of colouring.

Such a detail of instruction might be extended with a great deal of
plausible and ostentatious amplification. But it would at best be
useless. Our studies will be for ever, in a very great degree, under the
direction of chance; like travellers, we must take what we can get, and
when we can get it; whether it is or is not administered to us in the
most commodious manner, in the most proper place, or at the exact minute
when we would wish to have it.

Treatises on education, and method of study, have always appeared to me
to have one general fault. They proceed upon a false supposition of
life; as if we possessed not only a power over events and circumstances,
but had a greater power over ourselves than I believe any of us will be
found to possess. Instead of supposing ourselves to be perfect patterns
of wisdom and virtue, it seems to me more reasonable to treat ourselves
(as I am sure we must now and then treat others) like humoursome
children, whose fancies are often to be indulged, in order to keep them
in good humour with themselves and their pursuits. It is necessary to
use some artifice of this kind in all processes which by their very
nature are long, tedious, and complex, in order to prevent our taking
that aversion to our studies which the continual shackles of methodical
restraint are sure to produce.

I would rather wish a student, as soon as he goes abroad, to employ
himself upon whatever he has been incited to by any immediate impulse,
than to go sluggishly about a prescribed task: whatever he does in such
a state of mind, little advantage accrues from it, as nothing sinks deep
enough to leave any lasting impression; and it is impossible that
anything should be well understood, or well done, that is taken into a
reluctant understanding, and executed with a servile hand.

It is desirable, and indeed is necessary to intellectual health, that
the mind should be recreated and refreshed with a variety in our
studies; that in the irksomeness of uniform pursuit we should be
relieved, and, if I may so say, deceived, as much as possible. Besides,
the minds of men are so very differently constituted, that it is
impossible to find one method which shall be suitable to all. It is of
no use to prescribe to those who have no talents; and those who have
talents will find methods for themselves--methods dictated to them by
their own particular dispositions, and by the experience of their own
particular necessities.

However, I would not be understood to extend this doctrine to the
younger students. The first part of the life of a student, like that of
other schoolboys, must necessarily be a life of restraint. The grammar,
the rudiments, however unpalatable, must at all events be mastered.
After a habit is acquired of drawing correctly from the model (whatever
it may be) which he has before him, the rest, I think, may be safely
left to chance; always supposing that the student is _employed_, and
that his studies are directed to the proper object.

A passion for his art, and an eager desire to excel, will more than
supply the place of method. By leaving a student to himself, he may
possibly indeed be led to undertake matters above his strength: but the
trial will at least have this advantage, it will discover to himself his
own deficiencies; and this discovery alone is a very considerable
acquisition. One inconvenience, I acknowledge, may attend bold and
arduous attempts; frequent failure may discourage. This evil, however,
is not more pernicious than the slow proficiency which is the natural
consequence of too easy tasks.

Whatever advantages method may have in dispatch of business (and there
it certainly has many), I have but little confidence of its efficacy in
acquiring excellence in any art whatever. Indeed, I have always strongly
suspected that this love of method, on which some persons appear to
place so great dependence, is, in reality, at the bottom, a love of
idleness; a want of sufficient energy to put themselves into immediate
action: it is a sort of an apology to themselves for doing nothing. I
have known artists who may truly be said to have spent their whole
lives, or at least the most precious part of their lives, in planning
methods of study, without ever beginning; resolving, however, to put it
all in practice at some time or other,--when a certain period
arrives,--when proper conveniences are procured,--or when they remove to
a certain place better calculated for study. It is not uncommon for such
persons to go abroad with the most honest and sincere resolution of
studying hard, when they shall arrive at the end of their journey. The
same want of exertion, arising from the same cause which made them at
home put off the day of labour until they had found a proper scheme for
it, still continues in Italy, and they consequently return home with
little, if any, improvement.

In the practice of art, as well as in morals, it is necessary to keep a
watchful and jealous eye over ourselves: idleness, assuming the specious
disguise of industry, will lull to sleep all suspicion of our want of
an active exertion of strength. A provision of endless apparatus, a
bustle of infinite inquiry and research, or even the mere mechanical
labour of copying, may be employed, to evade and shuffle off real
labour,--the real labour of thinking.

I have declined for these reasons to point out any particular method and
course of study to young artists on their arrival in Italy. I have left
it to their own prudence, a prudence which will grow and improve upon
them in the course of unremitted, ardent industry, directed by a real
love of their profession, and an unfeigned admiration of those who have
been universally admitted as patterns of excellence in the art.

In the exercise of that general prudence, I shall here submit to their
consideration such miscellaneous observations as have occurred to me on
considering the mistaken notions or evil habits, which have prevented
that progress towards excellence, which the natural abilities of several
artists might otherwise have enabled them to make.

False opinions and vicious habits have done far more mischief to
students, and to professors too, than any wrong methods of study.

Under the influence of sloth, or of some mistaken notion, is that
disposition which always wants to lean on other men. Such students are
always talking of the prodigious progress they should make, if they
could but have the advantage of being taught by some particular eminent
master. To him they would wish to transfer that care which they ought
and must take of themselves. Such are to be told, that after the
rudiments are past, very little of our art can be taught by others. The
most skilful master can do little more than put the end of the clue into
the hands of his scholar, by which he must conduct himself.

It is true the beauties and defects of the works of our predecessors
may be pointed out; the principles on which their works are conducted
may be explained; the great examples of ancient art may be spread out
before them; but the most sumptuous entertainment is prepared in vain,
if the guests will not take the trouble of helping themselves.

Even the Academy itself, where every convenience for study is procured,
and laid before them, may, from that very circumstance, from leaving no
difficulties to be encountered in the pursuit, cause a remission of
their industry. It is not uncommon to see young artists, whilst they are
struggling with every obstacle in their way, exert themselves with such
success as to outstrip competitors possessed of every means of
improvement. The promising expectation which was formed, on so much
being done with so little means, has recommended them to a patron, who
has supplied them with every convenience of study; from that time their
industry and eagerness of pursuit has forsaken them; they stand still,
and see others rush on before them.

Such men are like certain animals, who will feed only when there is but
little provender, and that got at with difficulty through the bars of a
rack, but refuse to touch it when there is an abundance before them.

Perhaps such a falling off may proceed from the faculties being
overpowered by the immensity of the materials; as the traveller despairs
ever to arrive at the end of his journey, when the whole extent of the
road which he is to pass is at once displayed to his view.

Among the first moral qualities, therefore, which a student ought to
cultivate, is a just and manly confidence in himself, or rather in the
effects of that persevering industry when he is resolved to possess.

When Raffaelle, by means of his connection with Bramante, the Pope’s
architect, was fixed upon to adorn the Vatican with his works, he had
done nothing that marked in him any great superiority over his
contemporaries; though he was then but young, he had under his direction
the most considerable artists of his age; and we know what kind of men
those were: a lesser mind would have sunk under such a weight; and if we
should judge from the meek and gentle disposition which we are told was
the character of Raffaelle, we might expect this would have happened to
him; but his strength appeared to increase in proportion as exertion was
required; and it is not improbable that we are indebted to the good
fortune which first placed him in that conspicuous situation, for those
great examples of excellence which he has left us.

The observations to which I formerly wished, and now desire, to point
your attention, relate not to errors which are committed by those who
have no claim to merit, but to those inadvertences into which men of
parts only can fall by the overrating or the abuse of some real, though
perhaps subordinate, excellence. The errors last alluded to are those of
backward, timid characters; what I shall now speak of belong to another
class, to those artists who are distinguished for the readiness and
facility of their invention. It is undoubtedly a splendid and desirable
accomplishment to be able to design instantaneously any given subject.
It is an excellence that I believe every artist would wish to possess;
but unluckily, the manner in which this dexterity is acquired,
habituates the mind to be contented with first thoughts without choice
or selection. The judgment, after it has been long passive, by degrees
loses its power of becoming active when exertion is necessary.

Whoever, therefore, has this talent, must in some measure undo what he
has had the habit of doing, or at least give a new turn to his mind:
great works, which are to live and stand the criticism of posterity,
are not performed at a heat. A proportionable time is required for
deliberation and circumspection. I remember when I was at Rome looking
at the fighting gladiator, in company with an eminent sculptor, and I
expressed my admiration of the skill with which the whole is composed,
and the minute attention of the artist to the change of every muscle in
that momentary exertion of strength, he was of opinion that a work so
perfect required nearly the whole life of man to perform.

I believe, if we look around us, we shall find, that in the sister art
of poetry, what has been soon done has been as soon forgotten. The
judgment and practice of a great poet on this occasion is worthy
attention. Metastasio, who has so much and justly distinguished himself
throughout Europe, at his outset was an _improvvisatore_, or extempore
poet, a description of men not uncommon in Italy: it is not long since
he was asked by a friend if he did not think the custom of inventing and
reciting _extempore_, which he practised when a boy in his character of
an _improvvisatore_, might not be considered as a happy beginning of his
education; he thought it, on the contrary, a disadvantage to him: he
said that he had acquired by that habit a carelessness and
incorrectness, which it cost him much trouble to overcome, and to
substitute in the place of it a totally different habit, that of
thinking with selection, and of expressing himself with correctness and

However extraordinary it may appear, it is certainly true, that the
inventions of the _pittori improvvisatori_, as they may be called,
have,--notwithstanding the common boast of their authors that all is
spun from their own brain,--very rarely anything that has in the least
the air of originality:--their compositions are generally commonplace,
uninteresting, without character or expression, like those flowery
speeches that we sometimes hear, which impress no new ideas on the mind.

I would not be thought, however, by what has been said, to oppose the
use, the advantage, the necessity there is, of a painter’s being readily
able to express his ideas by sketching. The further he can carry such
designs, the better. The evil to be apprehended is his resting there,
and not correcting them afterwards from nature, or taking the trouble to
look about him for whatever assistance the works of others will afford

We are not to suppose, that when a painter sits down to deliberate on
any work, he has all his knowledge to seek; he must not only be able to
draw _extempore_ the human figure in every variety of action, but he
must be acquainted likewise with the general principles of composition,
and possess a habit of foreseeing, while he is composing, the effect of
the masses of light and shadow, that will attend such a disposition. His
mind is entirely occupied by his attention to the whole. It is a
subsequent consideration to determine the attitude and expression of
individual figures. It is in this period of his work that I would
recommend to every artist to look over his portfolio, or pocket-book, in
which he has treasured up all the happy inventions, all the
extraordinary and expressive attitudes that he has met with in the
course of his studies; not only for the sake of borrowing from those
studies whatever may be applicable to his own work, but likewise on
account of the great advantage he will receive by bringing the ideas of
great artists more distinctly before his mind, which will teach him to
invent other figures in a similar style.

Sir Francis Bacon speaks with approbation of the provisionary methods
Demosthenes and Cicero employed to assist their invention: and
illustrates their use by a quaint comparison after his manner. These
particular _Studios_ being not immediately connected with our art, I
need not cite the passage I allude to, and shall only observe that such
preparation totally opposes the general received opinions that are
floating in the world concerning genius and inspiration. The same great
man in another place, speaking of his own essays, remarks, that they
treat of “those things, wherein both men’s lives and persons are most
conversant, whereof a man shall find much in experience, but little in
books”; they are then what an artist would naturally call invention; and
yet we may suspect that even the genius of Bacon, great as it was, would
never have been enabled to have made those observations, if his mind had
not been trained and disciplined by reading the observations of others.
Nor could he without such reading have known that those opinions were
not to be found in other books.

I know there are many artists of great fame, who appear never to have
looked out of themselves, and who probably would think it derogatory to
their character, to be supposed to borrow from any other painter. But
when we recollect, and compare the works of such men with those who took
to their assistance the inventions of others, we shall be convinced of
the great advantage of this latter practice.

The two men most eminent for readiness of invention, that occur to me,
are Luca Giordano and La Fage; one in painting, and the other in

To such extraordinary powers as were possessed by both of those artists,
we cannot refuse the character of genius; at the same time, it must be
acknowledged that it was that kind of mechanic genius which operates
without much assistance of the head. In all their works, which are (as
might be expected) very numerous, we may look in vain for anything that
can be said to be original and striking; and yet, according to the
ordinary ideas of originality, they have as good pretensions as most
painters; for they borrowed very little from others, and still less will
any artist, that can distinguish between excellence and insipidity, ever
borrow from them.

To those men, and all such, let us oppose the practice of the first of
painters. I suppose we shall all agree that no man ever possessed a
greater power of invention, and stood less in need of foreign
assistance, than Raffaelle; and yet, when he was designing one of his
greatest as well as latest works, the cartoons, it is very apparent that
he had the studies which he had made from Masaccio before him. Two noble
figures of St. Paul, which he found there, he adopted in his own work:
one of them he took for St. Paul preaching at Athens; and the other for
the same saint, when chastising the sorcerer Elymas. Another figure in
the same work, whose head is sunk in his breast, with his eyes shut,
appearing deeply wrapped up in thought, was introduced amongst the
listeners to the preaching of St. Paul. The most material alteration
that is made in those two figures of St. Paul is the addition of the
left hands, which are not seen in the original. It is a rule that
Raffaelle observed (and indeed ought never to be dispensed with), in a
principal figure, to show both hands; that it should never be a
question, what is become of the other hand. For the Sacrifice at Listra,
he took the whole ceremony much as it stands in an ancient
basso-relievo, since published in the _Admiranda_.

I have given examples from those pictures only of Raffaelle which we
have among us, though many other instances might be produced of this
great painter’s not disdaining assistance: indeed his known wealth was
so great, that he might borrow where he pleased without loss of credit.

It may be remarked, that this work of Masaccio, from which he has
borrowed so freely, was a public work, and at no farther distance from
Rome than Florence; so that if he had considered it a disgraceful theft,
he was sure to be detected; but he was well satisfied that his character
for invention would be little affected by such a discovery; nor is it,
except in the opinion of those who are ignorant of the manner in which
great works are built.

Those who steal from mere poverty; who, having nothing of their own,
cannot exist a minute without making such depredations; who are so poor
that they have no place in which they can even deposit what they have
taken; to men of this description nothing can be said: but such artists
as those to whom I suppose myself now speaking, men whom I consider as
competently provided with all the necessaries and conveniences of art,
and who do not desire to steal baubles and common trash, but wish only
to possess peculiar rarities which they select to ornament their
cabinets, and take care to enrich the general store with materials of
equal or of greater value than what they have taken; such men surely
need not be ashamed of that friendly intercourse which ought to exist
among artists, of receiving from the dead and giving to the living, and
perhaps to those who are yet unborn.

The daily food and nourishment of the mind of an artist is found in the
great works of his predecessors. There is no other way for him to become
great himself. _Serpens, nisi serpentem comederit, non fit draco_,[21]
is a remark of a whimsical Natural History, which I have read, though I
do not recollect its title; however false as to dragons, it is
applicable enough to artists.

Raffaelle, as appears from what has been said, had carefully studied the
works of Masaccio; and indeed there was no other, if we except Michael
Angelo (whom he likewise imitated), so worthy of his attention; and
though his manner was dry and hard, his compositions formal, and not
enough diversified, according to the custom of painters in that early
period, yet his works possess that grandeur and simplicity which
accompany, and even sometimes proceed from, regularity and hardness of
manner. We must consider the barbarous state of the arts before his
time, when skill in drawing was so little understood, that the best of
the painters could not even foreshorten the foot, but every figure
appeared to stand upon his toes; and what served for drapery had, from
the hardness and smallness of the folds, too much the appearance of
cords clinging round the body. He first introduced large drapery,
flowing in an easy and natural manner: indeed he appears to be the first
who discovered the path that leads to every excellence to which the art
afterwards arrived, and may therefore be justly considered as one of the
great fathers of modern art.

Though I have been led on to a longer digression respecting this great
painter than I intended, yet I cannot avoid mentioning another
excellence which he possessed in a very eminent degree; he was as much
distinguished among his contemporaries for his diligence and industry,
as he was for the natural faculties of his mind. We are told, that his
whole attention was absorbed in the pursuit of his art, and that he
acquired the name of Masaccio[22] from his total disregard to his dress,
his person, and all the common concerns of life. He is indeed a signal
instance of what well-directed diligence will do in a short time; he
lived but twenty-seven years; yet in that short space carried the art so
far beyond what it had before reached, that he appears to stand alone as
a model for his successors. Vasari gives a long catalogue of painters
and sculptors, who formed their taste, and learned their art, by
studying his works; among those, he names Michael Angelo, Lionardo da
Vinci, Pietro Perugino, Raffaelle, Bartolomeo, Andrea del Sarto, Il
Rosso, and Pierino del Vaga.

The habit of contemplating and brooding over the ideas of great
geniuses, till you find yourself warmed by the contact, is the true
method of forming an artist-like mind; it is impossible, in the presence
of those great men, to think, or invent in a mean manner; a state of
mind is acquired that receives those ideas only which relish of grandeur
and simplicity.

Beside the general advantage of forming the taste by such an
intercourse, there is another of a particular kind, which was suggested
to me by the practice of Raffaelle, when imitating the work of which I
have been speaking. The figure of the Pro-consul, Sergius Paulus, is
taken from the Felix of Masaccio, though one is a front figure, and the
other seen in profile; the action is likewise somewhat changed; but it
is plain Raffaelle had that figure in his mind. There is a circumstance
indeed, which I mention by the bye, which marks it very particularly;
Sergius Paulus wears a crown of laurel; this is hardly reconcilable to
strict propriety and the _costume_, of which Raffaelle was in general a
good observer; but he found it so in Masaccio, and he did not bestow so
much pains in disguise as to change it. It appears to me to be an
excellent practice, thus to suppose the figures which you wish to adopt
in the works of those great painters to be statues; and to give, as
Raffaelle has here given, another view, taking care to preserve all the
spirit and grace you find in the original.

I should hope, from what has been lately said, that it is not necessary
to guard myself against any supposition of recommending an entire
dependence upon former masters. I do not desire that you should get
other people to do your business, or to think for you; I only wish you
to consult with, to call in, as counsellors, men the most distinguished
for their knowledge and experience, the result of which counsel must
ultimately depend upon yourself. Such conduct in the commerce of life
has never been considered as disgraceful, or in any respect to imply
intellectual imbecility; it is a sign rather of that true wisdom, which
feels individual imperfection, and is conscious to itself how much
collective observation is necessary to fill the immense extent, and to
comprehend the infinite variety, of nature. I recommend neither
self-dependence nor plagiarism. I advise you only to take that
assistance which every human being wants, and which, as appears from the
examples that have been given, the greatest painters have not disdained
to accept. Let me add, that the diligence required in the search, and
the exertion subsequent in accommodating those ideas to your own
purpose, is a business which idleness will not, and ignorance cannot,
perform. But in order more distinctly to explain what kind of borrowing
I mean, when I recommend so anxiously the study of the works of great
masters, let us for a minute return again to Raffaelle, consider his
method of practice, and endeavour to imitate him, in his manner of
imitating others.

The two figures of St. Paul which I lately mentioned, are so nobly
conceived by Masaccio, that perhaps it was not in the power even of
Raffaelle himself to raise and improve them, nor has he attempted it;
but he has had the address to change in some measure without
diminishing the grandeur of their character; he has substituted, in the
place of a serene composed dignity, that animated expression which was
necessary to the more active employment he has assigned them.

In the same manner he has given more animation to the figure of Sergius
Paulus, and to that which is introduced in the picture of St. Paul
preaching, of which little more than hints are given by Masaccio, which
Raffaelle has finished. The closing the eyes of this figure, which in
Masaccio might be easily mistaken for sleeping, is not in the least
ambiguous in the cartoon: his eyes indeed are closed, but they are
closed with such vehemence, that the agitation of a mind _perplexed in
the extreme_ is seen at the first glance; but what is most
extraordinary, and I think particularly to be admired, is, that the same
idea is continued through the whole figure, even to the drapery, which
is so closely muffled about him, that even his hands are not seen; by
this happy correspondence between the expression of the countenance, and
the disposition of the parts, the figure appears to think from head to
foot. Men of superior talents alone are capable of thus using and
adapting other men’s minds to their own purposes, or are able to make
out and finish what was only in the original a hint or imperfect
conception. A readiness in taking such hints, which escape the dull and
ignorant, makes in my opinion no inconsiderable part of that faculty of
the mind which is called genius.

It often happens that hints may be taken and employed in a situation
totally different from that in which they were originally employed.
There is a figure of a Bacchante leaning backward, her head thrown quite
behind her, which seems to be a favourite invention, as it is so
frequently repeated in basso-relievos, cameos, and intaglios; it is
intended to express an enthusiastic frantic kind of joy. This figure
Baccio Bandinelli, in a drawing that I have of that master, of the
Descent from the Cross, has adopted (and he knew very well what was
worth borrowing) for one of the Marys, to express frantic agony of
grief. It is curious to observe, and it is certainly true, that the
extremes of contrary passions are with very little variation expressed
by the same action.

If I were to recommend method in any part of the study of a painter, it
would be in regard to invention; that young students should not presume
to think themselves qualified to invent, till they were acquainted with
those stores of invention the world already possesses, and had by that
means accumulated sufficient materials for the mind to work with. It
would certainly be no improper method of forming the mind of a young
artist, to begin with such exercises as the Italians call a _pasticcio_
composition of the different excellences which are dispersed in all
other works of the same kind. It is not supposed that he is to stop
here, but that he is to acquire by this means the art of selecting,
first what is truly excellent in art, and then what is still more
excellent in nature; a task which, without this previous study, he will
be but ill qualified to perform.

The doctrine which is here advanced, is acknowledged to be new, and to
many may appear strange. But I only demand for it the reception of a
stranger; a favourable and attentive consideration, without that entire
confidence which might be claimed under authoritative recommendation.

After you have taken a figure, or any idea of a figure, from any of
those great painters, there is another operation still remaining, which
I hold to be indispensably necessary, that is, never to neglect
finishing from nature every part of the work. What is taken from a
model, though the first idea may have been suggested by another, you
have a just right to consider as your own property. And here I cannot
avoid mentioning a circumstance in placing the model, though to some it
may appear trifling. It is better to possess the model with the attitude
you require, than to place him with your own hands: by this means it
happens often that the model puts himself in an action superior to your
own imagination. It is a great matter to be in the way of accident, and
to be watchful and ready to take advantage of it: besides, when you fix
the position of a model, there is danger of putting him in an attitude
into which no man would naturally fall. This extends even to drapery. We
must be cautious in touching and altering a fold of the stuff, which
serves as a model, for fear of giving it inadvertently a forced form;
and it is perhaps better to take the chance of another casual throw,
than to alter the position in which it was at first accidentally cast.

Rembrandt, in order to take the advantage of accident, appears often to
have used the palette-knife to lay his colours on the canvas, instead of
the pencil. Whether it is the knife or any other instrument, it suffices
if it is something that does not follow exactly the will. Accident in
the hands of an artist who knows how to take the advantage of its hints,
will often produce bold and capricious beauties of handling and
facility, such as he would not have thought of, or ventured, with his
pencil, under the regular restraint of his hand. However, this is fit
only on occasions where no correctness of form is required, such as
clouds, stumps of trees, rocks, or broken ground. Works produced in an
accidental manner will have the same free unrestrained air as the works
of nature, whose particular combinations seem to depend upon accident.

I again repeat, you are never to lose sight of nature; the instant you
do, you are all abroad, at the mercy of every gust of fashion, without
knowing or seeing the point to which you ought to steer. Whatever trips
you make, you must still have nature in your eye. Such deviations as art
necessarily requires, I hope in a future discourse to be able to
explain. In the meantime, let me recommend to you, not to have too great
dependence on your practice or memory, however strong those impressions
may have been which are there deposited. They are for ever wearing out,
and will be at last obliterated, unless they are continually refreshed
and repaired.

It is not uncommon to meet with artists who, from a long neglect of
cultivating this necessary intimacy with nature, do not even know her
when they see her; she appearing a stranger to them, from their being so
long habituated to their own representation of her. I have heard
painters acknowledge, though in that acknowledgment no degradation of
themselves was intended, that they could do better without nature than
with her; or, as they expressed it themselves, _that it only put them
out_. A painter with such ideas and such habits is indeed in a most
hopeless state. _The art of seeing nature_, or, in other words, the art
of using models, is in reality the great object, the point to which all
our studies are directed. As for the power of being able to do tolerably
well, from practice alone, let it be valued according to its worth. But
I do not see in what manner it can be sufficient for the production of
correct, excellent, and finished pictures. Works deserving this
character never were produced, nor ever will arise, from memory alone;
and I will venture to say, that an artist who brings to his work a mind
tolerably furnished with the general principles of art, and a taste
formed upon the works of good artists, in short, who knows in what
excellence consists, will with the assistance of models, which we will
likewise suppose he has learned the art of using, be an over-match for
the greatest painter that ever lived who should be debarred such

Our neighbours, the French, are much in this practice of _extempore_
invention, and their dexterity is such as even to excite admiration, if
not envy; but how rarely can this praise be given to their finished

The late Director of their Academy, _Boucher_, was eminent in this way.
When I visited him some years since, in France, I found him at work on a
very large picture, without drawings or models of any kind. On my
remarking this particular circumstance, he said, when he was young,
studying his art, he found it necessary to use models; but he had left
them off for many years.

Such pictures as this was, and such as I fear always will be produced by
those who work solely from practice or memory, may be a convincing proof
of the necessity of the conduct which I have recommended. However, in
justice I cannot quit this painter without adding, that in the former
part of his life, when he was in the habit of having recourse to nature,
he was not without a considerable degree of merit,--enough to make half
the painters of his country his imitators; he had often grace and
beauty, and good skill in composition; but, I think all under the
influence of a bad taste: his imitators are indeed abominable.

Those artists who have quitted the service of nature (whose service,
when well understood, is _perfect freedom_), and have put themselves
under the direction of I know not what capricious fantastical mistress,
who fascinates and overpowers their whole mind, and from whose dominion
there are no hopes of their being ever reclaimed (since they appear
perfectly satisfied, and not at all conscious of their forlorn
situation), like the transformed followers of Comus,--

    Not once perceive their foul disfigurement;
    But boast themselves more comely than before.

Methinks such men, who have found out so short a path, have no reason to
complain of the shortness of life, and the extent of art; since life is
so much longer than is wanted for their improvement, or indeed is
necessary for the accomplishment of their idea of perfection. On the
contrary, he who recurs to nature, at every recurrence renews his
strength. The rules of art he is never likely to forget; they are few
and simple; but nature is refined, subtle, and infinitely various,
beyond the power and retention of memory; it is necessary, therefore, to
have continual recourse to her. In this intercourse, there is no end of
his improvement; the longer he lives, the nearer he approaches to the
true and perfect idea of art.


_Delivered to the Students of the Royal Academy, on the Distribution of
the Prizes, December 11, 1786._

Art not merely Imitation, but under the Direction of the Imagination.
In what Manner Poetry, Painting, Acting, Gardening, and Architecture
depart from Nature.


To discover beauties, or to point out faults, in the works of celebrated
masters, and to compare the conduct of one artist with another, is
certainly no mean or inconsiderable part of criticism; but this is still
no more than to know the art through the artist. This test of
investigation must have two capital defects; it must be narrow, and it
must be uncertain. To enlarge the boundaries of the art of painting, as
well as to fix its principles, it will be necessary, that _that_ art and
_those_ principles should be considered in their correspondence with the
principles of the other arts which, like this, address themselves
primarily and principally to the imagination. When those connected and
kindred principles are brought together to be compared, another
comparison will grow out of this; that is, the comparison of them all
with those of human nature, from whence arts derive the materials upon
which they are to produce their effects.

When this comparison of art with art, and of all arts with the nature of
man, is once made with success, our guiding lines are as well
ascertained and established, as they can be in matters of this

This, as it is the highest style of criticism, is at the same time the
soundest; for it refers to the eternal and immutable nature of things.

You are not to imagine that I mean to open to you at large, or to
recommend to your research, the whole of this vast field of science. It
is certainly much above my faculties to reach it; and though it may not
be above yours to comprehend it fully, if it were fully and properly
brought before you, yet perhaps the most perfect criticism requires
habits of speculation and abstraction, not very consistent with the
employment which ought to occupy and the habits of mind which ought to
prevail in a practical artist. I only point out to you these things,
that when you do criticise (as all who work on a plan will criticise
more or less), your criticism may be built on the foundation of true
principles; and that though you may not always travel a great way, the
way that you do travel may be the right road.

I observe, as a fundamental ground, common to all the arts with which
we have any concern in this discourse, that they address themselves only
to two faculties of the mind, its imagination and its sensibility.

All theories which attempt to direct or to control the art, upon any
principles falsely called rational, which we form to ourselves upon a
supposition of what ought in reason to be the end or means of art,
independent of the known first effect produced by objects on the
imagination, must be false and delusive. For though it may appear bold
to say it, the imagination is here the residence of truth. If the
imagination be affected, the conclusion is fairly drawn; if it be not
affected, the reasoning is erroneous, because the end is not obtained;
the effect itself being the test, and the only test, of the truth and
efficacy of the means.

There is in the commerce of life, as in art, a sagacity which is far
from being contradictory to right reason, and is superior to any
occasional exercise of that faculty; which supersedes it; and does not
wait for the slow progress of deduction, but goes at once, by what
appears a kind of intuition, to the conclusion. A man endowed with this
faculty feels and acknowledges the truth, though it is not always in his
power, perhaps, to give a reason for it; because he cannot recollect and
bring before him all the materials that gave birth to his opinion; for
very many and very intricate considerations may unite to form the
principle, even of small and minute parts, involved in, or dependent on,
a great system of things: though these in process of time are forgotten,
the right impression still remains fixed in his mind.

This impression is the result of the accumulated experience of our whole
life, and has been collected, we do not always know how, or when. But
this mass of collective observation, however acquired, ought to prevail
over that reason, which, however powerfully exerted on any particular
occasion, will probably comprehend but a partial view of the subject;
and our conduct in life as well as in the arts is, or ought to be,
generally governed by this habitual reason: it is our happiness that we
are enabled to draw on such funds. If we were obliged to enter into a
theoretical deliberation on every occasion, before we act, life would be
at a stand, and art would be impracticable.

It appears to me, therefore, that our first thoughts, that is, the
effect which anything produces on our minds, on its first appearance, is
never to be forgotten; and it demands for that reason, because it is the
first, to be laid up with care. If this be not done, the artist may
happen to impose on himself by partial reasoning; by a cold
consideration of those animated thoughts which proceed, not perhaps from
caprice or rashness (as he may afterwards conceit), but from the fulness
of his mind, enriched with the copious stores of all the various
inventions which he had ever seen, or had ever passed in his mind. These
ideas are infused into his design, without any conscious effort; but if
he be not on his guard, he may reconsider and correct them, till the
whole matter is reduced to a commonplace invention.

This is sometimes the effect of what I mean to caution you against; that
is to say, an unfounded distrust of the imagination and feeling, in
favour of narrow, partial, confined, argumentative theories; and of
principles that seem to apply to the design in hand; without considering
those general impressions on the fancy in which real principles of
_sound reason_, and of much more weight and importance, are involved,
and, as it were, lie hid, under the appearance of a sort of vulgar

Reason, without doubt, must ultimately determine everything; at this
minute it is required to inform us when that very reason is to give way
to feeling.

Though I have often spoken of that mean conception of our art which
confines it to mere imitation, I must add, that it may be narrowed to
such a mere matter of experiment, as to exclude from it the application
of science, which alone gives dignity and compass to any art. But to
find proper foundations for science is neither to narrow nor to
vulgarise it; and this is sufficiently exemplified in the success of
experimental philosophy. It is the false system of reasoning, grounded
on a partial view of things, against which I would most earnestly guard
you. And I do it the rather, because those narrow theories, so
coincident with the poorest and most miserable practice, and which are
adopted to give it countenance, have not had their origin in the poorest
minds, but in the mistakes, or possibly in the mistaken interpretations,
of great and commanding authorities. We are not therefore in this case
misled by feeling, but by false speculation.

When such a man as Plato speaks of painting as only an imitative art,
and that our pleasure proceeds from observing and acknowledging the
truth of the imitation, I think he misleads us by a partial theory. It
is in this poor, partial, and so far false view of the art, that
Cardinal Bembo has chosen to distinguish even Raffaelle himself, whom
our enthusiasm honours with the name of Divine. The same sentiment is
adopted by Pope in his epitaph on Sir Godfrey Kneller; and he turns the
panegyric solely on imitation, as it is a sort of deception.

I shall not think my time misemployed, if by any means I may contribute
to confirm your opinion of what ought to be the object of your pursuit;
because, though the best critics must always have exploded this strange
idea, yet I know that there is a disposition towards a perpetual
recurrence to it, on account of its simplicity and superficial
plausibility. For this reason I shall beg leave to lay before you a few
thoughts on this subject; to throw out some hints that may lead your
minds to an opinion (which I take to be the truth), that painting is not
only to be considered as an imitation, operating by deception, but that
it is, and ought to be, in many points of view, and strictly speaking,
no imitation at all of external nature. Perhaps it ought to be as far
removed from the vulgar idea of imitation, as the refined civilised
state in which we live, is removed from a gross state of nature; and
those who have not cultivated their imaginations, which the majority of
mankind certainly have not, may be said, in regard to arts, to continue
in this state of nature. Such men will always prefer imitation to that
excellence which is addressed to another faculty that they do not
possess; but these are not the persons to whom a painter is to look, any
more than a judge of morals and manners ought to refer controverted
points upon those subjects to the opinions of people taken from the
banks of the Ohio, or from New Holland.

It is the lowest style only of arts, whether of painting, poetry, or
music, that may be said, in the vulgar sense, to be naturally pleasing.
The higher efforts of those arts, we know by experience, do not affect
minds wholly uncultivated. This refined taste is the consequence of
education and habit; we are born only with a capacity of entertaining
this refinement, as we are born with a disposition to receive and obey
all the rules and regulations of society; and so far it may be said to
be natural to us, and no further.

What has been said, may show the artist how necessary it is, when he
looks about him for the advice and criticism of his friends, to make
some distinction of the character, taste, experience, and observation in
this art of those from whom it is received. An ignorant uneducated man
may, like Apelles’s critic, be a competent judge of the truth of the
representation of a sandal; or to go somewhat higher, like Molière’s old
woman, may decide upon what is nature, in regard to comic humour; but a
critic in the higher style of art ought to possess the same refined
taste, which directed the artist in his work.

To illustrate this principle by a comparison with other arts, I shall
now produce some instances to show, that they, as well as our own art,
renounce the narrow idea of nature, and the narrow theories derived from
that mistaken principle, and apply to that reason only which informs us
not what imitation is,--a natural representation of a given object,--but
what it is natural for the imagination to be delighted with. And perhaps
there is no better way of acquiring this knowledge, than by this kind of
analogy: each art will corroborate and mutually reflect the truth on the
other. Such a kind of juxtaposition may likewise have this use, that
whilst the artist is amusing himself in the contemplation of other arts,
he may habitually transfer the principles of those arts to that which he
professes; which ought to be always present to his mind, and to which
everything is to be referred.

So far is art from being derived from, or having any immediate
intercourse with, particular nature as its model, that there are many
arts that set out with a professed deviation from it.

This is certainly not so exactly true in regard to painting and
sculpture. Our elements are laid in gross common nature,--an exact
imitation of what is before us: but when we advance to the higher state,
we consider this power of imitation, though first in the order of
acquisition, as by no means the highest in the scale of perfection.

Poetry addresses itself to the same faculties and the same dispositions
as painting, though by different means. The object of both is to
accommodate itself to all the natural propensities and inclinations of
the mind. The very existence of poetry depends on the licence it assumes
of deviating from actual nature, in order to gratify natural
propensities by other means, which are found by experience full as
capable of affording such gratification. It sets out with a language in
the highest degree artificial, a construction of measured words, such as
never is, nor ever was used by man. Let this measure be what it may,
whether hexameter or any other metre used in Latin or Greek--or rhyme,
or blank verse varied with pauses and accents, in modern
languages,--they are all equally removed from nature, and equally a
violation of common speech. When this artificial mode has been
established as the vehicle of sentiment, there is another principle in
the human mind, to which the work must be referred, which still renders
it more artificial, carries it still further from common nature, and
deviates only to render it more perfect. That principle is the sense of
congruity, coherence, and consistency, which is a real existing
principle in man; and it must be gratified. Therefore having once
adopted a style and a measure not found in common discourse, it is
required that the sentiments also should be in the same proportion
elevated above common nature, from the necessity of there being an
agreement of the parts among themselves, that one uniform whole may be

To correspond therefore with this general system of deviation from
nature, the manner in which poetry is offered to the ear, the tone in
which it is recited, should be as far removed from the tone of
conversation, as the words of which that poetry is composed. This
naturally suggests the idea of modulating the voice by art, which I
suppose may be considered as accomplished to the highest degree of
excellence in the recitative of the Italian Opera; as we may conjecture
it was in the chorus that attended the ancient drama. And though the
most violent passions, the highest distress, even death itself, are
expressed in singing or recitative, I would not admit as sound criticism
the condemnation of such exhibitions on account of their being

If it is natural for our senses, and our imaginations, to be delighted
with singing, with instrumental music, with poetry, and with graceful
action, taken separately (none of them being in the vulgar sense
natural, even in that separate state); it is conformable to experience,
and therefore agreeable to reason as connected with and referred to
experience, that we should also be delighted with this union of music,
poetry, and graceful action, joined to every circumstance of pomp and
magnificence calculated to strike the senses of the spectator. Shall
reason stand in the way, and tell us that we ought not to like what we
know we do like, and prevent us from feeling the full effect of this
complicated exertion of art? This is what I would understand by poets
and painters being allowed to dare everything; for what can be more
daring, than accomplishing the purpose and end of art, by a complication
of means, none of which have their archetypes in actual nature?

So far therefore is servile imitation from being necessary, that
whatever is familiar, or in any way reminds us of what we see and hear
every day, perhaps does not belong to the higher provinces of art,
either in poetry or painting. The mind is to be transported, as
Shakspeare expresses it, _beyond the ignorant present_ to ages past.
Another and a higher order of beings is supposed; and to those beings
everything which is introduced into the work must correspond. Of this
conduct, under these circumstances, the Roman and Florentine schools
afford sufficient examples. Their style by this means is raised and
elevated above all others; and by the same means the compass of art
itself is enlarged.

We often see grave and great subjects attempted by artists of another
school; who, though excellent in the lower class of art, proceeding on
the principles which regulate that class, and not recollecting, or not
knowing, that they were to address themselves to another faculty of the
mind, have become perfectly ridiculous.

The picture which I have at present in my thoughts is a sacrifice of
Iphigenia, painted by Jan Steen, a painter of whom I have formerly had
occasion to speak with the highest approbation; and even in this
picture, the subject of which is by no means adapted to his genius,
there is nature and expression; but it is such expression, and the
countenances are so familiar, and consequently so vulgar, and the whole
accompanied with such finery of silks and velvets, that one would be
almost tempted to doubt, whether the artist did not purposely intend to
burlesque his subject.

Instances of the same kind we frequently see in poetry. Parts of
Hobbes’s translation of Homer are remembered and repeated merely for the
familiarity and meanness of their phraseology, so ill corresponding with
the ideas which ought to have been expressed, and, as I conceive, with
the style of the original.

We may proceed in the same manner through the comparatively inferior
branches of art. There are in works of that class, the same distinction
of a higher and a lower style; and they take their rank and degree in
proportion as the artist departs more, or less, from common nature, and
makes it an object of his attention to strike the imagination of the
spectator by ways belonging specially to art,--unobserved and untaught
out of the school of its practice.

If our judgments are to be directed by narrow, vulgar, untaught, or
rather ill-taught reason, we must prefer a portrait by Denner or any
other high finisher, to those of Titian or Vandyck; and a landscape of
Vanderheyden to those of Titian or Rubens; for they are certainly more
exact representations of nature.

If we suppose a view of nature represented with all the truth of the
_camera obscura_, and the same scene represented by a great artist, how
little and mean will the one appear in comparison of the other, where no
superiority is supposed from the choice of the subject. The scene shall
be the same, the difference only will be in the manner in which it is
presented to the eye. With what additional superiority then will the
same artist appear when he has the power of selecting his materials, as
well as elevating his style? Like Nicolas Poussin, he transports us to
the environs of ancient Rome, with all the objects which a literary
education makes so precious and interesting to man: or, like Sebastian
Bourdon, he leads us to the dark antiquity of the Pyramids of Egypt; or,
like Claude Lorrain, he conducts us to the tranquillity of arcadian
scenes and fairyland.

Like the history-painter, a painter of landscapes in this style and with
this conduct sends the imagination back into antiquity; and, like the
poet, he makes the elements sympathise with his subject; whether the
clouds roll in volumes, like those of Titian or Salvator Rosa, or, like
those of Claude, are gilded with the setting sun; whether the mountains
have sudden and bold projections, or are gently sloped; whether the
branches of his trees shoot out abruptly in right angles from their
trunks, or follow each other with only a gentle inclination. All these
circumstances contribute to the general character of the work, whether
it be of the elegant, or of the more sublime kind. If we add to this the
powerful materials of lightness and darkness, over which the artist has
complete dominion, to vary and dispose them as he pleases; to diminish,
or increase them, as will best suit his purpose, and correspond to the
general idea of his work; a landscape thus conducted, under the
influence of a poetical mind, will have the same superiority over the
more ordinary and common views, as Milton’s _Allegro_ and _Penseroso_
have over a cold prosaic narration or description; and such a picture
would make a more forcible impression on the mind than the real scenes,
were they presented before us.

If we look abroad to other arts, we may observe the same distinction,
the same division into two classes; each of them acting under the
influence of two different principles, in which the one follows nature,
the other varies it, and sometimes departs from it.

The theatre, which is said _to hold the mirror up to nature_,
comprehends both those ideas. The lower kind of comedy or farce, like
the inferior style of painting, the more naturally it is represented,
the better; but the higher appears to me to aim no more at imitation, so
far as it belongs to anything like deception, or to expect that the
spectators should think that the events there represented are really
passing before them, than Raffaelle in his cartoons, or Poussin in his
sacraments, expected it to be believed, even for a moment, that what
they exhibited were real figures.

For want of this distinction, the world is filled with false criticism.
Raffaelle is praised for naturalness and deception, which he certainly
has not accomplished, and as certainly never intended; and our late
great actor, Garrick, has been as ignorantly praised by his friend
Fielding; who doubtless imagined he had hit upon an ingenious device, by
introducing in one of his novels (otherwise a work of the highest merit)
an ignorant man, mistaking Garrick’s representation of a scene in Hamlet
for reality. A very little reflection will convince us, that there is
not one circumstance in the whole scene that is of the nature of
deception. The merit and excellence of Shakspeare, and of Garrick, when
they were engaged in such scenes, is of a different and much higher
kind. But what adds to the falsity of this intended compliment is that
the best stage-representation appears even more unnatural to a person of
such a character, who is supposed never to have seen a play before, than
it does to those who have had a habit of allowing for those necessary
deviations from nature which the art requires.

In theatric representation, great allowances must always be made for the
place in which the exhibition is represented; for the surrounding
company, the lighted candles, the scenes visibly shifted in your sight,
and the language of blank verse, so different from common English; which
merely as English must appear surprising in the mouths of Hamlet, and
all the court and natives of Denmark. These allowances are made; but
their being made puts an end to all manner of deception: and further, we
know that the more low, illiterate, and vulgar any person is, the less
he will be disposed to make these allowances, and of course to be
deceived by any imitation; the things in which the trespass against
nature and common probability is made in favour of the theatre being
quite within the sphere of such uninformed men.

Though I have no intention of entering into all the circumstances of
unnaturalness in theatrical representations, I must observe, that even
the expression of violent passion is not always the most excellent in
proportion as it is the most natural; so great terror and such
disagreeable sensations may be communicated to the audience, that the
balance may be destroyed by which pleasure is preserved, and holds its
predominance in the mind: violent distortion of action, harsh screamings
of the voice, however great the occasion, or however natural on such
occasion, are therefore not admissible in the theatric art. Many of
these allowed deviations from nature arise from the necessity which
there is, that everything should be raised and enlarged beyond its
natural state; that the full effect may come home to the spectator,
which otherwise would be lost in the comparatively extensive space of
the theatre. Hence the deliberate and stately step, the studied grace of
action, which seems to enlarge the dimensions of the actor, and alone to
fill the stage. All this unnaturalness, though right and proper in its
place, would appear affected and ridiculous in a private room; _quid
enim deformius, quam scenam in vitam transferre?_

And here I must observe, and I believe it may be considered as a general
rule, that no art can be engrafted with success on another art. For
though they all profess the same origin, and to proceed from the same
stock, yet each has its own peculiar modes both of imitating nature, and
of deviating from it, each for the accomplishment of its own particular
purpose. These deviations, more especially, will not bear
transplantation to another soil.

If a painter should endeavour to copy the theatrical pomp and parade of
dress and attitude, instead of that simplicity, which is not a greater
beauty in life than it is in painting, we should condemn such pictures,
as painted in the meanest style.

So also gardening, as far as gardening is an art, or entitled to that
appellation, is a deviation from nature; for if the true taste consists,
as many hold, in banishing every appearance of art, or any traces of the
footsteps of man, it would then be no longer a garden. Even though we
define it, “Nature to advantage dress’d,” and in some sense is such, and
much more beautiful and commodious for the recreation of man; it is,
however, when so dressed, no longer a subject for the pencil of a
landscape-painter, as all landscape-painters know, who love to have
recourse to nature herself, and to dress her according to the principles
of their own art; which are far different from those of gardening, even
when conducted according to the most approved principles; and such as a
landscape-painter himself would adopt in the disposition of his own
grounds, for his own private satisfaction.

I have brought together as many instances as appear necessary to make
out the several points which I wished to suggest to your consideration
in this discourse, that your own thoughts may lead you further in the
use that may be made of the analogy of the arts, and of the restraint
which a full understanding of the diversity of many of their principles
ought to impose on the employment of that analogy.

The great end of all those arts is, to make an impression on the
imagination and the feeling. The imitation of nature frequently does
this. Sometimes it fails, and something else succeeds. I think therefore
the true test of all the arts is not solely whether the production is a
true copy of nature, but whether it answers the end of art, which is to
produce a pleasing effect upon the mind.

It remains only to speak a few words of architecture, which does not
come under the denomination of an imitative art. It applies itself, like
music (and I believe we may add poetry), directly to the imagination,
without the intervention of any kind of imitation.

There is in architecture, as in painting, an inferior branch of art, in
which the imagination appears to have no concern. It does not, however,
acquire the name of a polite and liberal art, from its usefulness, or
administering to our wants or necessities, but from some higher
principle: we are sure that in the hands of a man of genius it is
capable of inspiring sentiment, and of filling the mind with great and
sublime ideas.

It may be worth the attention of artists to consider what materials are
in their hands, that may contribute to this end; and whether this art
has it not in its power to address itself to the imagination with
effect, by more ways than are generally employed by architects.

To pass over the effect produced by that general symmetry and
proportion, by which the eye is delighted, as the ear is with music,
architecture certainly possesses many principles in common with poetry
and painting. Among those which may be reckoned as the first is that of
affecting the imagination by means of association of ideas. Thus, for
instance, as we have naturally a veneration for antiquity, whatever
building brings to our remembrance ancient customs and manners, such as
the castles of the barons of ancient chivalry, is sure to give this
delight. Hence it is that _towers and battlements_[23] are so often
selected by the painter and the poet, to make a part of the composition
of their ideal landscape; and it is from hence in a great degree, that
in the buildings of Vanbrugh, who was a poet as well as an architect,
there is a greater display of imagination than we shall find perhaps in
any other, and this is the ground of the effect we feel in many of his
works, notwithstanding the faults with which many of them are justly
charged. For this purpose, Vanbrugh appears to have had recourse to some
of the principles of the Gothic architecture; which, though not so
ancient as the Grecian, is more so to our imagination, with which the
artist is more concerned than with absolute truth.

The barbaric splendour of those Asiatic buildings, which are now
publishing by a member of this Academy,[24] may possibly, in the same
manner, furnish an architect, not with models to copy, but with hints of
composition and general effect, which would not otherwise have occurred.

It is, I know, a delicate and hazardous thing (and as such I have
already pointed it out), to carry the principles of one art to another,
or even to reconcile in one object the various modes of the same art,
when they proceed on different principles. The sound rules of the
Grecian architecture are not to be lightly sacrificed. A deviation from
them, or even an addition to them, is like a deviation or addition to,
or from, the rules of other arts,--fit only for a great master, who is
thoroughly conversant in the nature of man, as well as all combinations
in his own art.

It may not be amiss for the architect to take advantage _sometimes_ of
that to which I am sure the painter ought always to have his eyes open,
I mean the use of accidents; to follow when they lead, and to improve
them, rather than always to trust to a regular plan. It often happens
that additions have been made to houses, at various times, for use or
pleasure. As such buildings depart from regularity, they now and then
acquire something of scenery by this accident, which I should think
might not unsuccessfully be adopted by an architect, in an original
plan, if it does not too much interfere with convenience. Variety and
intricacy is a beauty and excellence in every other of the arts which
address the imagination; and why not in architecture?

The forms and turnings of the streets of London, and other old towns,
are produced by accident, without any original plan or design; but they
are not always the less pleasant to the walker or spectator, on that
account. On the contrary, if the city had been built on the regular plan
of Sir Christopher Wren, the effect might have been, as we know it is in
some new parts of the town, rather unpleasing; the uniformity might have
produced weariness, and a slight degree of disgust.

I can pretend to no skill in the detail of architecture. I judge now of
the art, merely as a painter. When I speak of Vanbrugh, I mean to speak
of him in the language of our art. To speak then of Vanbrugh in the
language of a painter, he had originality of invention, he understood
light and shadow, and had great skill in composition. To support his
principal object he produced his second and third groups or masses; he
perfectly understood in his art what is the most difficult in ours, the
conduct of the background, by which the design and invention is set off
to the greatest advantage. What the background is in painting, in
architecture is the real ground on which the building is erected; and no
architect took greater care than he that his work should not appear
crude and hard: that is, it did not abruptly start out of the ground
without expectation or preparation.

This is a tribute which a painter owes to an architect who composed
like a painter; and was defrauded of the due reward of his merit by the
wits of his time, who did not understand the principles of composition
in poetry better than he; and who knew little or nothing of what he
understood perfectly, the general ruling principles of architecture and
painting. His fate was that of the great Perrault; both were the objects
of the petulant sarcasms of factious men of letters; and both have left
some of the fairest ornaments which to this day decorate their several
countries; the façade of the Louvre, Blenheim, and Castle Howard.

Upon the whole, it seems to me, that the object and intention of all the
arts is to supply the natural imperfection of things, and often to
gratify the mind by realising and embodying what never existed but in
the imagination.

It is allowed on all hands, that facts and events, however they may bind
the historian, have no dominion over the poet or the painter. With us,
history is made to bend and conform to this great idea of art. And why?
Because these arts, in their highest province, are not addressed to the
gross senses, but to the desires of the mind, to that spark of divinity
which we have within, impatient of being circumscribed and pent up by
the world which is about us. Just so much as our art has of this, just
so much of dignity, I had almost said of divinity, it exhibits; and
those of our artists who possessed this mark of distinction in the
highest degree acquired from thence the glorious appellation of Divine.


_Delivered to the Students of the Royal Academy, on the Distribution of
the Prizes, December 10, 1788._

Character of Gainsborough;--His Excellences and Defects.


In the study of our art, as in the study of all arts, something is the
result of _our own_ observation of nature; something, and that not
little, the effect of the example of those who have studied the same
nature before us, and who have cultivated before us the same art, with
diligence and success. The less we confine ourselves in the choice of
those examples, the more advantage we shall derive from them; and the
nearer we shall bring our performances to a correspondence with nature
and the great general rules of art. When we draw our examples from
remote and revered antiquity,--with some advantage undoubtedly in that
selection,--we subject ourselves to some inconveniences. We may suffer
ourselves to be too much led away by great names, and to be too much
subdued by overbearing authority. Our learning, in that case, is not so
much an exercise of our judgment, as a proof of our docility. We find
ourselves, perhaps, too much overshadowed; and the character of our
pursuits is rather distinguished by the tameness of the follower, than
animated by the spirit of emulation. It is sometimes of service, that
our examples should be near us; and such as raise a reverence,
sufficient to induce us carefully to observe them, yet not so great as
to prevent us from engaging with them in something like a generous

We have lately lost Mr. Gainsborough, one of the greatest ornaments of
our Academy. It is not our business here to make panegyrics on the
living, or even on the dead who were of our body. The praise of the
former might bear appearance of adulation; and the latter, of untimely
justice; perhaps of envy to those whom we have still the happiness to
enjoy, by an oblique suggestion of invidious comparisons. In discoursing
therefore on the talents of the late Mr. Gainsborough, my object is, not
so much to praise or to blame him, as to draw from his excellences and
defects matter of instruction to the students in our Academy. If ever
this nation should produce genius sufficient to acquire to us the
honourable distinction of an English School, the name of Gainsborough
will be transmitted to posterity, in the history of the art, among the
very first of that rising name. That our reputation in the arts is now
only rising must be acknowledged; and we must expect our advances to be
attended with old prejudices, as adversaries, and not as supporters;
standing in this respect in a very different situation from the late
artists of the Roman school, to whose reputation ancient prejudices have
certainly contributed: the way was prepared for them, and they may be
said rather to have lived in the reputation of their country, than to
have contributed to it; whilst whatever celebrity is obtained by English
artists can arise only from the operation of a fair and true comparison.
And when they communicate to their country a share of their reputation,
it is a portion of fame not borrowed from others, but solely acquired by
their own labour and talents. As Italy has undoubtedly a prescriptive
right to an administration bordering on prejudice, as a soil peculiarly
adapted, congenial, and, we may add, destined to the production of men
of great genius in our art, we may not unreasonably suspect that a
portion of the great fame of some of their late artists has been owing
to the general readiness and disposition of mankind to acquiesce in
their original prepossessions in favour of the productions of the Roman

On this ground, however unsafe, I will venture to prophesy, that two of
the last distinguished painters of that country, I mean Pompeio Battoni
and Raffaelle Mengs, however great their names may at present sound in
our ears, will very soon fall into the rank of Imperiale, Sebastian
Concha, Placido Constanza, Massuccio, and the rest of their immediate
predecessors; whose names, though equally renowned in their lifetime,
are now fallen into what is little short of total oblivion. I do not say
that those painters were not superior to the artist I allude to, and
whose loss we lament, in a certain routine of practice, which, to the
eyes of common observers, has the air of a learned composition, and
bears a sort of superficial resemblance to the manner of the great men
who went before them. I know this perfectly well; but I know likewise,
that a man, looking for real and lasting reputation, must unlearn much
of the commonplace method so observable in the works of the artists whom
I have named. For my own part, I confess, I take more interest in, and
am more captivated with the powerful impression of nature, which
Gainsborough exhibited in his portraits and in his landscapes, and the
interesting simplicity and elegance of his little ordinary
beggar-children, than with any of the works of that school, since the
time of Andrea Sacchi, or perhaps we may say Carlo Maratti, two painters
who may truly be said to be _Ultimi Romanorum_.

I am well aware how much I lay myself open to the censure and ridicule
of the academical professors of other nations, in preferring the humble
attempts of Gainsborough to the works of those regular graduates in the
great historical style. But we have the sanction of all mankind in
preferring genius in a lower rank of art, to feebleness and insipidity
in the highest.

It would not be to the present purpose, even if I had the means and
materials, which I have not, to enter into the private life of Mr.
Gainsborough. The history of his gradual advancement, and the means by
which he acquired such excellence in his art, would come nearer to our
purposes and wishes, if it were by any means attainable; but the slow
progress of advancement is in general imperceptible to the man himself
who makes it; it is the consequence of an accumulation of various ideas
which his mind has received, he does not perhaps know how or when.
Sometimes indeed it happens, that he may be able to mark the time when
from the sight of a picture, a passage in an author, or a hint in
conversation, he has received, as it were, some new and guiding light,
something like inspiration, by which his mind has been expanded; and is
morally sure that his whole life and conduct has been affected by that
accidental circumstance. Such interesting accounts we may, however,
sometimes obtain from a man who has acquired an uncommon habit of
self-examination, and has attended to the progress of his own

It may not be improper to make mention of some of the customs and habits
of this extraordinary man; points which come more within the reach of an
observer; I, however, mean such only as are connected with his art, and
indeed were, as I apprehend, the causes of his arriving to that high
degree of excellence, which we see and acknowledge in his works. Of
these causes we must state, as the fundamental, the love which he had to
his art; to which, indeed, his whole mind appears to have been devoted,
and to which everything was referred; and this we may fairly conclude
from various circumstances of his life, which were known to his
intimate friends. Among others he had a habit of continually remarking
to those who happened to be about him, whatever peculiarity of
countenance, whatever accidental combination of figure, or happy effects
of light and shadow, occurred in prospects, in the sky, in walking the
streets, or in company. If, in his walks, he found a character that he
liked, and whose attendance was to be obtained, he ordered him to his
house: and from the fields he brought into his painting-room stumps of
trees, weeds, and animals of various kinds; and designed them, not from
memory, but immediately from the objects. He even framed a kind of model
of landscapes on his table; composed of broken stones, dried herbs, and
pieces of looking-glass, which he magnified and improved into rocks,
trees, and water. How far this latter practice may be useful in giving
hints, the professors of landscape can best determine. Like every other
technical practice, it seems to me wholly to depend on the general
talent of him who uses it. Such methods may be nothing better than
contemptible and mischievous trifling; or they may be aids. I think upon
the whole, unless we constantly refer to real nature, that practice may
be more likely to do harm than good. I mention it only, as it shows the
solicitude and extreme activity which he had about everything that
related to his art; that he wished to have his objects embodied, as it
were, and distinctly before him; that he neglected nothing which could
keep his faculties in exercise, and derived hints from every sort of

We must not forget whilst we are on this subject, to make some remarks
on his custom of painting by night, which confirms what I have already
mentioned,--his great affection to his art; since he could not amuse
himself in the evening by any other means so agreeable to himself. I am
indeed much inclined to believe that it is a practice very advantageous
and improving to an artist; for by this means he will acquire a new and
a higher perception of what is great and beautiful in nature. By
candle-light, not only objects appear more beautiful, but from their
being in a greater breadth of light and shadow, as well as having a
greater breadth and uniformity of colour, nature appears in a higher
style; and even the flesh seems to take a higher and richer tone of
colour. Judgment is to direct us in the use to be made of this method of
study; but the method itself is, I am very sure, advantageous. I have
often imagined that the two great colourists, Titian and Correggio,
though I do not know that they painted by night, formed their high ideas
of colouring from the effects of objects by this artificial light: but I
am more assured, that whoever attentively studies the first and best
manner of Guercino, will be convinced that he either painted by this
light, or formed his manner on this conception.

Another practice Gainsborough had, which is worth mentioning, as it is
certainly worthy of imitation; I mean his manner of forming all the
parts of his picture together; the whole going on at the same time, in
the same manner as nature creates her works. Though this method is not
uncommon to those who have been regularly educated, yet probably it was
suggested to him by his own natural sagacity. That this custom is not
universal appears from the practice of a painter whom I have just
mentioned, Pompeio Battoni, who finished his historical pictures part
after part; and in his portraits completely finished one feature before
he proceeded to another. The consequence was, as might be expected, the
countenance was never well expressed; and, as the painters say, the
whole was not well put together.

The first thing required to excel in our art, or, I believe, in any
art, is not only a love for it, but even an enthusiastic ambition to
excel in it. This never fails of success proportioned to the natural
abilities with which the artist has been endowed by Providence. Of
Gainsborough, we certainly know, that his passion was not the
acquirement of riches, but excellence in his art; and to enjoy that
honourable fame which is sure to attend it.--That _he felt this ruling
passion strong in death_ I am myself a witness. A few days before he
died, he wrote me a letter, to express his acknowledgments for the good
opinion I entertained of his abilities, and the manner in which (he had
been informed) I always spoke of him; and desired he might see me, once
more, before he died. I am aware how flattering it is to myself to be
thus connected with the dying testimony which this excellent painter
bore to his art. But I cannot prevail on myself to suppress, that I was
not connected with him by any habits of familiarity: if any little
jealousies had subsisted between us, they were forgotten in those
moments of sincerity; and he turned towards me as one who was engrossed
by the same pursuits, and who deserved his good opinion, by being
sensible of his excellence. Without entering into a detail of what
passed at this last interview, the impression of it upon my mind was,
that his regret at losing life was principally the regret of leaving his
art; and more especially as he now began, he said, to see what his
deficiencies were; which, he said, he flattered himself in his last
works were in some measure supplied.

When such a man as Gainsborough arrives to great fame, without the
assistance of an academical education, without travelling to Italy, or
any of those preparatory studies which have been so often recommended,
he is produced as an instance, how little such studies are necessary,
since so great excellence may be acquired without them. This is an
inference not warranted by the success of any individual; and I trust it
will not be thought that I wish to make this use of it.

It must be remembered that the style and department of art which
Gainsborough chose, and in which he so much excelled, did not require
that he should go out of his own country for the objects of his study;
they were everywhere about him; he found them in the streets, and in the
fields; and from the models thus accidentally found, he selected with
great judgment such as suited his purpose. As his studies were directed
to the living world principally, he did not pay a general attention to
the works of the various masters, though they are, in my opinion, always
of great use, even when the character of our subject requires us to
depart from some of their principles. It cannot be denied, that
excellence in the department of the art which he professed may exist
without them; that in such subjects, and in the manner that belongs to
them, the want of them is supplied, and more than supplied, by natural
sagacity, and a minute observation of particular nature. If Gainsborough
did not look at nature with a poet’s eye, it must be acknowledged that
he saw her with the eye of a painter; and gave a faithful, if not a
poetical, representation of what he had before him.

Though he did not much attend to the works of the great historical
painters of former ages, yet he was well aware that the language of the
art,--the art of imitation,--must be learned somewhere; and as he knew
that he could not learn it in an equal degree from his contemporaries,
he very judiciously applied himself to the Flemish school, who are
undoubtedly the greatest masters of one necessary branch of art; and he
did not need to go out of his own country for examples of that school:
from that he learned the harmony of colouring, the management and
disposition of light and shadow, and every means which the masters of it
practised, to ornament and give splendour to their works. And to satisfy
himself as well as others, how well he knew the mechanism and artifice
which they employed to bring out that tone of colour which we so much
admired in their works, he occasionally made copies from Rubens,
Teniers, and Vandyck, which it would be no disgrace to the most accurate
connoisseur to mistake, at the first sight, for the works of those
masters. What he thus learned, he applied to the originals of nature,
which he saw with his own eyes; and imitated, not in the manner of those
masters, but in his own.

Whether he most excelled in portraits, landscapes, or fancy-pictures, it
is difficult to determine: whether his portraits were most admirable for
exact truth of resemblance, or his landscapes for a portrait-like
representation of nature, such as we see in the works of Rubens,
Ruysdaal, and others of those schools. In his fancy-pictures, whence had
fixed on his object of imitation, whether it was the mean and vulgar
form of a wood-cutter, or a child of an interesting character, as he did
not attempt to raise the one, so neither did he lose any of the natural
grace and elegance of the other; such a grace, and such an elegance, as
are more frequently found in cottages than in courts. This excellence
was his own, the result of his particular observation and taste; for
this he was certainly not indebted to the Flemish school, nor indeed to
any school; for his grace was not academical or antique, but selected by
himself from the great school of nature; and there are yet a thousand
modes of grace, which are neither theirs nor his, but lie open in the
multiplied scenes and figures of life, to be brought out by skilful and
faithful observers.

Upon the whole, we may justly say, that whatever he attempted he
carried to a high degree of excellence. It is to the credit of his good
sense and judgment that he never did attempt that style of historical
painting for which his previous studies had made no preparation.

And here it naturally occurs to oppose the sensible conduct of
Gainsborough in this respect to that of our late excellent Hogarth, who,
with all his extraordinary talents, was not blessed with this knowledge
of his own deficiency or of the bounds which were set to the extent of
his own powers. After this admirable artist had spent the greatest part
of his life in an active, busy, and, we may add, successful attention to
the ridicule of life; after he had invented a new species of dramatic
painting, in which probably he will never be equalled, and had stored
his mind with infinite materials to explain and illustrate the domestic
and familiar scenes of common life, which were generally, and ought to
have been always, the subject of his pencil; he very imprudently, or
rather presumptuously, attempted the great historical style, for which
his previous habits had by no means prepared him: he was indeed so
entirely unacquainted with the principles of this style, that he was not
even aware that any artificial preparation was at all necessary. It is
to be regretted that any part of the life of such a genius should be
fruitlessly employed. Let his failure teach us not to indulge ourselves
in the vain imagination, that by a momentary resolution we can give
either dexterity to the hand, or a new habit to the mind.

I have, however, little doubt but that the same sagacity which enabled
those two extraordinary men to discover their true object, and the
peculiar excellence of that branch of art which they cultivated, would
have been equally effectual in discovering the principles of the higher
style; if they had investigated those principles with the same eager
industry, which they exerted in their own department. As Gainsborough
never attempted the heroic style, so neither did he destroy the
character and uniformity of his own style, by the idle affectation of
introducing mythological learning in any of his pictures. Of this boyish
folly we see instances enough, even in the works of great painters. When
the Dutch school attempt this poetry of our art in their landscapes,
their performances are beneath criticism; they become only an object of
laughter. This practice is hardly excusable, even in Claude Lorrain, who
had shown more discretion, if he had never meddled with such subjects.

Our late ingenious Academician, Wilson, has I fear, been guilty, like
many of his predecessors, of introducing gods and goddesses, ideal
beings, into scenes which were by no means prepared to receive such
personages. His landscapes were in reality too near common nature to
admit supernatural objects. In consequence of this mistake, in a very
admirable picture of a storm which I have seen of his hand, many figures
are introduced in the foreground, some in apparent distress, and some
struck dead, as a spectator would naturally suppose, by the lightning;
had not the painter injudiciously (as I think) rather chosen that their
death should be imputed to a little Apollo, who appears in the sky, with
his bent bow, and that those figures should be considered as the
children of Niobe.

To manage a subject of this kind, a peculiar style of art is required;
and it can only be done without impropriety, or even without ridicule,
when we adapt the character of the landscape, and that too, in all its
parts, to the historical or poetical representation. This is a very
difficult adventure, and it requires a mind thrown back two thousand
years, and as it were naturalised in antiquity, like that of Nicolas
Poussin, to achieve it. In the picture alluded to, the first idea that
presents itself is that of wonder, at seeing a figure in so uncommon a
situation as that in which the Apollo is placed; for the clouds on which
he kneels have not the appearance of being able to support him; they
have neither the substance nor the form fit for the receptacle of a
human figure; and they do not possess in any respect that romantic
character which is appropriated to such an object, and which alone can
harmonise with poetical stories.

It appears to me that such conduct is no less absurd, than if a plain
man, giving a relation of a real distress, occasioned by an inundation
accompanied with thunder and lightning, should, instead of simply
relating the event, take it into his head, in order to give a grace to
his narration, to talk of Jupiter Pluvius, or Jupiter and his
thunder-bolts, or any other figurative idea; an intermixture which,
though in poetry, with its proper preparations and accompaniments, it
might be managed with effect, yet in the instance before us would
counteract the purpose of the narrator, and instead of being
interesting, would be only ridiculous.

The Dutch and Flemish style of landscape, not even excepting those of
Rubens, is unfit for poetical subjects; but to explain in what this
ineptitude consists, or to point out all the circumstances that give
nobleness, grandeur, and the poetic character to style, in landscape,
would require a long discourse of itself; and the end would be then
perhaps but imperfectly attained. The painter who is ambitious of this
perilous excellence must catch his inspiration from those who have
cultivated with success the poetry, as it may be called, of the art; and
they are few indeed.

I cannot quit this subject without mentioning two examples which occur
to me at present, in which the poetical style of landscape may be seen
happily executed; the one is Jacob’s Dream, by Salvator Rosa, and the
other the Return of the Ark from Captivity, by Sebastian Bourdon.[25]
With whatever dignity those histories are presented to us in the
language of Scripture, this style of painting possesses the same power
of inspiring sentiments of grandeur and sublimity, and is able to
communicate them to subjects which appear by no means adapted to receive
them. A ladder against the sky has no very promising appearance of
possessing a capacity to excite any heroic ideas; and the Ark, in the
hands of a second-rate master, would have little more effect than a
common waggon on the highway; yet those subjects are so poetically
treated throughout, the parts have such a correspondence with each
other, and the whole and every part of the scene is so visionary, that
it is impossible to look at them without feeling, in some measure, the
enthusiasm which seems to have inspired the painters.

By continual contemplation of such works, a sense of the higher
excellences of art will by degrees dawn on the imagination; at every
review that sense will become more and more assured, until we come to
enjoy a sober certainty of the real existence (if I may so express
myself) of those almost ideal beauties; and the artist will then find no
difficulty in fixing in his mind the principles by which the impression
is produced, which he will feel and practise, though they are perhaps
too delicate and refined, and too peculiar to the imitative art, to be
conveyed to the mind by any other means.

To return to Gainsborough: the peculiarity of his manner, or style, or
we may call it the language in which he expressed his ideas, has been
considered by many as his greatest defect. But without altogether
wishing to enter into the discussion--whether this peculiarity was a
defect or not, intermixed, as it was, with great beauties, of some of
which it was probably the cause--it becomes a proper subject of
criticism and inquiry to a painter.

A novelty and peculiarity of manner, as it is often a cause of our
approbation, so likewise it is often a ground of censure; as being
contrary to the practice of other painters, in whose manner we have been
initiated, and in whose favour we have perhaps been prepossessed from
our infancy; for, fond as we are of novelty, we are upon the whole
creatures of habit. However, it is certain, that all those odd scratches
and marks, which on a close examination are so observable in
Gainsborough’s pictures, and which even to experienced painters appear
rather the effect of accident than design; this chaos, this uncouth and
shapeless appearance, by a kind of magic, at a certain distance assumes
form, and all the parts seem to drop into their proper places; so that
we can hardly refuse acknowledging the full effect of diligence, under
the appearance of chance and hasty negligence. That Gainsborough himself
considered this peculiarity in his manner, and the power it possesses of
exciting surprise, as a beauty in his works, I think may be inferred
from the eager desire which we know he always expressed, that his
pictures, at the exhibition, should be seen near, as well as at a

The slightness which we see in his best works cannot always be imputed
to negligence. However they may appear to superficial observers,
painters know very well that a steady attention to the general effect
takes up more time, and is much more laborious to the mind, than any
mode of high finishing or smoothness, without such attention. His
_handling, the manner of leaving the colours_, or, in other words, the
methods he used for producing the effect, had very much the appearance
of the work of an artist who had never learned from others the usual and
regular practice belonging to the art; but still, like a man of strong
intuitive perception of what was required, he found out a way of his own
to accomplish his purpose.

It is no disgrace to the genius of Gainsborough, to compare him to such
men as we sometimes meet with, whose natural eloquence appears even in
speaking a language which they can scarce be said to understand; and
who, without knowing the appropriate expression of almost any one idea,
contrive to communicate the lively and forcible impressions of an
energetic mind.

I think some apology may reasonably be made for his manner, without
violating truth, or running any risk of poisoning the minds of the
younger students, by propagating false criticism, for the sake of
raising the character of a favourite artist. It must be allowed, that
this hatching manner of Gainsborough did very much contribute to the
lightness of effect which is so eminent a beauty in his pictures; as, on
the contrary, much smoothness, and uniting the colours, is apt to
produce heaviness. Every artist must have remarked, how often that
lightness of hand which was in his dead-colour, or first painting,
escaped in the finishing, when he had determined the parts with more
precision: and another loss he often experiences, which is of greater
consequence; whilst he is employed in the detail, the effect of the
whole together is either forgotten or neglected. The likeness of a
portrait, as I have formerly observed, consists more in preserving the
general effect of the countenance, than in the most minute finishing of
the features, or any of the particular parts. Now Gainsborough’s
portraits were often little more, in regard to finishing, or determining
the form of the features, than what generally attends a dead-colour;
but as he was always attentive to the general effect, or whole together,
I have often imagined that this unfinished manner contributed even to
that striking resemblance for which his portraits are so remarkable.
Though this opinion may be considered as fanciful, yet I think a
plausible reason may be given, why such a mode of painting should have
such an effect. It is pre-supposed that in this undetermined manner
there is the general effect; enough to remind the spectator of the
original; the imagination supplies the rest, and perhaps more
satisfactorily to himself, if not more exactly, than the artist, with
all his care, could possibly have done. At the same time it must be
acknowledged there is one evil attending this mode: that if the portrait
were seen, previous to any knowledge of the original, different persons
would form different ideas, and all would be disappointed at not finding
the original correspond with their own conceptions, under the great
latitude which indistinctness gives to the imagination to assume almost
what character or form it pleases.

Every artist has some favourite part, on which he fixes his attention,
and which he pursues with such eagerness, that it absorbs every other
consideration; and he often falls into the opposite error of that which
he would avoid, which is always ready to receive him. Now Gainsborough,
having truly a painter’s eye for colouring, cultivated those effects of
the art which proceed from colours; and sometimes appears to be
indifferent to or to neglect other excellences. Whatever defects are
acknowledged, let him still experience from us the same candour that we
so freely give upon similar occasions to the ancient masters; let us not
encourage that fastidious disposition, which is discontented with
everything short of perfection, and unreasonably require, as we
sometimes do, a union of excellences, not perhaps quite compatible with
each other.--We may, on this ground, say even of the divine Raffaelle,
that he might have finished his picture as highly and as correctly as
was his custom, without heaviness of manner; and that Poussin might have
preserved all his precision without hardness or dryness.

To show the difficulty of uniting solidity with lightness of manner, we
may produce a picture of Rubens in the Church of St. Judule, at
Brussels, as an example; the subject is _Christ’s charge to Peter_,
which, as it is the highest, and smoothest, finished picture I remember
to have seen of that master, so it is by far the heaviest; and if I had
found it in any other place, I should have suspected it to be a copy;
for painters know very well that it is principally by this air of
facility, or the want of it, that originals are distinguished from
copies.--A lightness of effect, produced by colour, and that produced by
facility of handling, are generally united; a copy may preserve
something of the one, it is true, but hardly ever of the other; a
connoisseur therefore finds it often necessary to look carefully into
the picture before he determines on its originality. Gainsborough
possessed this quality of lightness of manner and effect, I think, to an
unexampled degree of excellence; but it must be acknowledged, at the
same time, that the sacrifice which he made to this ornament of our art
was too great; it was, in reality, preferring the lesser excellences to
the greater.

To conclude. However we may apologise for the deficiencies of
Gainsborough (I mean particularly his want of precision and finishing),
who so ingeniously contrived to cover his defects by his beauties; and
who cultivated that department of art, where such defects are more
easily excused; you are to remember, that no apology can be made for
this deficiency, in that style which this Academy teaches, and which
ought to be the object of your pursuit. It will be necessary for you, in
the first place, never to lose sight of the great rules and principles
of the art, as they are collected from the full body of the best general
practice, and the most constant and uniform experience; this must be the
groundwork of all your studies; afterwards you may profit, as in this
case I wish you to profit, by the peculiar experience and personal
talents of artists living and dead; you may derive lights, and catch
hints, from their practice; but the moment you turn them into models,
you fall infinitely below them; you may be corrupted by excellences, not
so much belonging to the art, as personal and appropriated to the
artist; and become bad copies of good painters, instead of excellent
imitators of the great universal truth of things.


_Delivered to the Students of the Royal Academy, on the Distribution of
the Prizes, December 10, 1790._

     The President takes Leave of the Academy.--A Review of the
     Discourses.--The Study of the Works of Michael Angelo recommended.


The intimate connection which I have had with the Royal Academy ever
since its establishment, the social duties in which we have all mutually
engaged for so many years, make any profession of attachment to this
Institution, on my part, altogether superfluous; the influence of habit
alone in such a connection would naturally have produced it.

Among men united in the same body, and engaged in the same pursuit,
along with permanent friendship occasional differences will arise. In
these disputes men are naturally too favourable to themselves, and
think perhaps too hardly of their antagonists. But composed and
constituted as we are, those little contentions will be lost to others,
and they ought certainly to be lost amongst ourselves, in mutual esteem
for talents and acquirements: every controversy ought to be, and I am
persuaded will be, sunk in our zeal for the perfection of our common

In parting with the Academy, I shall remember with pride, affection, and
gratitude, the support with which I have almost uniformly been honoured
from the commencement of our intercourse. I shall leave you, gentlemen,
with unaffected cordial wishes for your future concord, and with a
well-founded hope, that in that concord the auspicious and not obscure
origin of our Academy may be forgotten in the splendour of your
succeeding prospects.

My age, and my infirmities still more than my age, make it probable that
this will be the last time I shall have the honour of addressing you
from this place. Excluded as I am, _spatiis iniquis_, from indulging my
imagination with a distant and forward perspective of life, I may be
excused if I turn my eyes back on the way which I have passed.

We may assume to ourselves, I should hope, the credit of having
endeavoured, at least, to fill with propriety that middle station which
we hold in the general connection of things. Our predecessors have
laboured for our advantage, we labour for our successors; and though we
have done no more in this mutual intercourse and reciprocation of
benefits, than has been effected by other societies formed in this
nation for the advancement of useful and ornamental knowledge, yet there
is one circumstance which appears to give us a higher claim than the
credit of merely doing our duty. What I at present allude to, is the
honour of having been, some of us the first contrivers, and all of us
the promoters and supporters, of the annual exhibition. This scheme
could only have originated from artists already in possession of the
favour of the public, as it would not have been so much in the power of
others to have excited curiosity. It must be remembered, that for the
sake of bringing forward into notice concealed merit, they incurred the
risk of producing rivals to themselves; they voluntarily entered the
lists, and ran the race a second time for the prize which they had
already won.

When we take a review of the several departments of the Institution, I
think we may safely congratulate ourselves on our good fortune in having
hitherto seen the chairs of our professors filled with men of
distinguished abilities, and who have so well acquitted themselves of
their duty in their several departments. I look upon it to be of
importance, that none of them should be ever left unfilled: a neglect to
provide for qualified persons is to produce a neglect of qualifications.

In this honourable rank of professors, I have not presumed to class
myself; though in the discourses which I have had the honour of
delivering from this place, while in one respect I may be considered as
a volunteer, in another view it seems as if I was involuntarily pressed
into this service. If prizes were to be given, it appeared not only
proper, but almost indispensably necessary, that something should be
said by the President on the delivery of those prizes: and the President
for his own credit would wish to say something more than mere words of
compliment, which, by being frequently repeated, would soon become flat
and uninteresting, and by being uttered to many, would at last become a
distinction to none: I thought, therefore, if I were to preface this
compliment with some instructive observations on the art, when we
crowned merit in the artists whom we rewarded, I might do something to
animate and guide them in their future attempts.

I am truly sensible how unequal I have been to the expression of my own
ideas. To develop the latent excellences, and draw out the interior
principles, of our art, requires more skill and practice in writing,
than is likely to be possessed by a man perpetually occupied in the use
of the pencil and the palette. It is for that reason, perhaps, that the
sister art has had the advantage of better criticism. Poets are
naturally writers of prose. They may be said to be practising only an
inferior department of their own art, when they are explaining and
expatiating upon its most refined principles. But still such
difficulties ought not to deter artists who are not prevented by other
engagements from putting their thoughts in order as well as they can,
and from giving to the public the result of their experience. The
knowledge which an artist has of his subject will more than compensate
for any want of elegance in the manner of treating it, or even of
perspicuity, which is still more essential; and I am convinced that one
short essay written by a painter will contribute more to advance the
theory of our art, than a thousand volumes such as we sometimes see; the
purpose of which appears to be rather to display the refinement of the
author’s own conceptions of impossible practice, than to convey useful
knowledge or instruction of any kind whatever. An artist knows what is,
and what is not, within the province of his art to perform; and is not
likely to be for ever teasing the poor student with the beauties of
mixed passions, or to perplex him with an imaginary union of excellences
incompatible with each other.

To this work, however, I could not be said to come totally unprovided
with materials. I had seen much, and I had thought much upon what I had
seen; I had something of a habit of investigation, and a disposition to
reduce all that I observed and felt in my own mind to method and system;
but never having seen what I myself knew, distinctly placed before me on
paper, I knew nothing correctly. To put those ideas into something like
order was, to my inexperience, no easy task. The composition, the
_ponere totum_ even of a single discourse, as well as of a single
statue, was the most difficult part, as perhaps it is of every other
art, and most requires the hand of a master.

For the manner, whatever deficiency there was, I might reasonably expect
indulgence; but I thought it indispensably necessary well to consider
the opinions which were to be given out from this place, and under the
sanction of a Royal Academy. I therefore examined not only my own
opinions, but likewise the opinions of others. I found in the course of
this research many precepts and rules established in our art, which did
not seem to me altogether reconcilable with each other, yet each seemed
in itself to have the same claim of being supported by truth and nature;
and this claim, irreconcilable as they may be thought, they do in
reality alike possess.

To clear away those difficulties, and reconcile those contrary opinions,
it became necessary to distinguish the greater truth, as it may be
called, from the lesser truth; the larger and more liberal idea of
nature from the more narrow and confined; that which addresses itself to
the imagination, from that which is solely addressed to the eye. In
consequence of this discrimination, the different branches of our art,
to which those different truths were referred, were perceived to make so
wide a separation, and put on so new an appearance, that they seemed
scarcely to have proceeded from the same general stock. The different
rules and regulations, which presided over each department of art,
followed of course: every mode of excellence, from the grand style of
the Roman and Florentine schools down to the lowest rank of still-life,
had its due weight and value,--fitted some class or other; and nothing
was thrown away. By this disposition of our art into classes, that
perplexity and confusion, which I apprehend every artist has at some
time experienced from the variety of styles, and the variety of
excellence with which he is surrounded, is, I should hope, in some
measure removed, and the student better enabled to judge for himself,
what peculiarly belongs to his own particular pursuit.

In reviewing my discourses, it is no small satisfaction to be assured
that I have, in no part of them, lent my assistance to foster
_newly-hatched unfledged_ opinions, or endeavoured to support paradoxes,
however tempting may have been their novelty; or however ingenious I
might, for the minute, fancy them to be; nor shall I, I hope, anywhere
be found to have imposed on the minds of young students declamation for
argument, a smooth period for a sound precept. I have pursued a plain
and _honest method_; I have taken up the art simply as I found it
exemplified in the practice of the most approved painters. That
approbation which the world has uniformly given, I have endeavoured to
justify by such proofs as questions of this kind will admit; by the
analogy which painting holds with the sister arts, and consequently by
the common congeniality which they all bear to our nature. And though in
what has been done no new discovery is pretended, I may still flatter
myself, that from the discoveries which others have made by their own
intuitive good sense and native rectitude of judgment, I have succeeded
in establishing the rules and principles of our art on a more firm and
lasting foundation than that on which they had formerly been placed.

Without wishing to divert the student from the practice of his art to
speculative theory, to make him a mere connoisseur instead of a painter,
I cannot but remark, that he will certainly find an account in
considering once for all, on what ground the fabric of our art is built.
Uncertain, confused, or erroneous opinions are not only detrimental to
an artist in their immediate operation, but may possibly have very
serious consequences; affect his conduct, and give a peculiar character
(as it may be called) to his taste, and to his pursuits, through his
whole life.

I was acquainted at Rome, in the early part of my life, with a student
of the French Academy, who appeared to me to possess all the qualities
requisite to make a great artist, if he had suffered his taste and
feelings, and I may add even his prejudices, to have fair play. He saw
and felt the excellences of the great works of art with which we were
surrounded, but lamented that there was not to be found that nature
which is so admirable in the inferior schools; and he supposed with
Felibien, Du Piles, and other Theorists, that such a union of different
excellences would be the perfection of art. He was not aware, that the
narrow idea of nature, of which he lamented the absence in the works of
those great artists, would have destroyed the grandeur of the general
ideas which he admired, and which was indeed the cause of his
admiration. My opinions being then confused and unsettled, I was in
danger of being borne down by this kind of plausible reasoning, though I
remember I then had a dawning of suspicion that it was not sound
doctrine; and at the same time I was unwilling obstinately to refuse
assent to what I was unable to confute.

That the young artist may not be seduced from the right path, by
following what, at first view, he may think the light of reason and
which is indeed reason in part, but not in the whole, has been much the
object of these discourses.

I have taken every opportunity of recommending a rational method of
study, as of the last importance. The great, I may say the sole, use of
an academy is, to put, and for some time to keep, the students in that
course, that too much indulgence may not be given to peculiarity, and
that a young man may not be taught to believe that what is generally
good for others is not good for him.

I have strongly inculcated in my former discourses, as I do in this my
last, the wisdom and necessity of previously obtaining the appropriated
instruments of the art, in a first correct design and a plain manly
colouring, before anything more is attempted. But by this I would not
wish to cramp and fetter the mind, or discourage those who follow (as
most of us may at one time have followed) the suggestion of a strong
inclination: something must be conceded to great and irresistible
impulses: perhaps every student must not be strictly bound to general
methods, if they strongly thwart the peculiar turn of his own mind. I
must confess that it is not absolutely of much consequence, whether he
proceeds in the general method of seeking first to acquire mechanical
accuracy, before he attempts poetical flights, provided he diligently
studies to attain the full perfection of the style he pursues; whether,
like Parmeggiano, he endeavours at grace and grandeur of manner before
he has learned correctness of drawing, if, like him, he feels his own
wants, and will labour, as that eminent artist did, to supply those
wants; whether he starts from the east or from the west, if he relaxes
in no exertion to arrive ultimately at the same goal. The first public
work of Parmeggiano is the St. Eustachius, in the Church of St.
Petronius in Bologna, and was done when he was a boy; and one of the
last of his works is the Moses breaking the Tables, in Parma. In the
former there is certainly something of grandeur in the outline, or in
the conception of the figure, which discovers the dawnings of future
greatness; of a young mind impregnated with the sublimity of Michael
Angelo, whose style he here attempts to imitate, though he could not
then draw the human figure with any common degree of correctness. But
this same Parmeggiano, when in his more mature age he painted the Moses,
had so completely supplied his first defects, that we are here at a loss
which to admire most, the correctness of drawing, or the grandeur of the
conception. As a confirmation of its great excellence, and of the
impression which it leaves on the minds of elegant spectators, I may
observe, that our great lyric poet, when he conceived his sublime idea
of the indignant Welsh bard, acknowledged, that though many years had
intervened, he had warmed his imagination with the remembrance of this
noble figure of Parmeggiano.

When we consider that Michael Angelo was the great archetype to whom
Parmeggiano was indebted for that grandeur which we find in his works,
and from whom all his contemporaries and successors have derived
whatever they have possessed of the dignified and the majestic; that he
was the bright luminary, from whom painting has borrowed a new lustre;
that under his hands it assumed a new appearance, and is become another
and superior art; I may be excused if I take this opportunity, as I have
hitherto taken every occasion, to turn your attention to this exalted
founder and father of modern art, of which he was not only the inventor,
but which, by the divine energy of his own mind, he carried at once to
its highest point of possible perfection.

The sudden maturity to which Michael Angelo brought our art, and the
comparative feebleness of his followers and imitators, might perhaps be
reasonably, at least plausibly explained, if we had time for such an
examination. At present I shall only observe, that the subordinate parts
of our art, and perhaps of other arts, expand themselves by a slow and
progressive growth; but those which depend on a native vigour of
imagination generally burst forth at once in fulness of beauty. Of this
Homer probably, and Shakespeare most assuredly, are signal examples.
Michael Angelo possessed the poetical part of our art in a most eminent
degree: and the same daring spirit, which urged him first to explore the
unknown regions of the imagination, delighted with the novelty, and
animated by the success of his discoveries, could not have failed to
stimulate and impel him forward in his career beyond those limits which
his followers, destitute of the same incentives, had not strength to

To distinguish between correctness of drawing, and that part which
respects the imagination, we may say the one approaches to the
mechanical (which in its way too may make just pretensions to genius)
and the other to the poetical. To encourage a solid and vigorous course
of study, it may not be amiss to suggest, that perhaps a confidence in
the mechanic produces a boldness in the poetic. He that is sure of the
goodness of his ship and tackle, puts out fearlessly from the shore; and
he who knows that his hand can execute whatever his fancy can suggest,
sports with more freedom in embodying the visionary forms of his own
creation. I will not say Michael Angelo was eminently poetical, only
because he was greatly mechanical; but I am sure that mechanic
excellence invigorated and emboldened his mind to carry painting into
the regions of poetry, and to emulate that art in its most adventurous
flights. Michael Angelo equally possessed both qualifications. Yet of
mechanic excellence there were certainly great examples to be found in
ancient sculpture, and particularly in the fragment known by the name of
the Torso of Michael Angelo; but of that grandeur of character, air, and
attitude, which he threw into all his figures, and which so well
corresponds with the grandeur of his outline, there was no example; it
could therefore proceed only from the most poetical and sublime

It is impossible not to express some surprise, that the race of painters
who preceded Michael Angelo, men of acknowledged great abilities, should
never have thought of transferring a little of that grandeur of outline
which they could not but see and admire in ancient sculpture, into their
own works; but they appear to have considered sculpture as the later
schools of artists look at the inventions of Michael Angelo,--as
something to be admired, but with which they have nothing to do: _quod
super nos, nihil ad nos_.--The artists of that age, even Raffaelle
himself, seemed to be going on very contentedly in the dry manner of
Pietro Perugino; and if Michael Angelo had never appeared, the art might
still have continued in the same style.

Besides Rome and Florence, where the grandeur of this style was first
displayed, it was on this foundation that the Caracci built the truly
great academical Bolognian school, of which the first stone was laid by
Pellegrino Tibaldi. He first introduced this style amongst them; and
many instances might be given in which he appears to have possessed, as
by inheritance, the true, genuine, noble, and elevated mind of Michael
Angelo. Though we cannot venture to speak of him with the same fondness
as his countrymen, and call him, as the Caracci did, _Nostro Michael
Angelo riformato_, yet he has a right to be considered amongst the first
and greatest of his followers: there are certainly many drawings and
inventions of his, of which Michael Angelo himself might not disdain to
be supposed the author, or that they should be, as in fact they often
are, mistaken for his. I will mention one particular instance, because
it is found in a book which is in every young artist’s hands--Bishop’s
_Ancient Statues_. He there has introduced a print, representing
Polyphemus, from a drawing of Tibaldi, and has inscribed it with the
name of Michael Angelo, to whom he has also in the same book attributed
a Sibyl of Raffaelle. Both these figures, it is true, are professedly in
Michael Angelo’s style and spirit, and even worthy of his hand. But we
know that the former is painted in the _Institute a Bologna_ by Tibaldi,
and the other in the _Pace_ by Raffaelle.

The Caracci, it is acknowledged, adopted the mechanical part with
sufficient success. But the divine part which addresses itself to the
imagination, as possessed by Michael Angelo or Tibaldi, was beyond their
grasp: they formed, however, a most respectable school, a style more on
the level, and calculated to please a greater number; and if excellence
of this kind is to be valued according to the number rather than the
weight and quality of admirers, it would assume even a higher rank in
art. The same, in some sort, may be said of Tintoret, Paolo Veronese,
and others of the Venetian painters. They certainly much advanced the
dignity of their style by adding to their fascinating powers of
colouring something of the strength of Michael Angelo; at the same time
it may still be a doubt, how far their ornamental elegance would be an
advantageous addition to his grandeur. But if there is any manner of
painting which may be said to unite kindly with his style, it is that of
Titian. His handling, the manner in which his colours are left on the
canvas, appears to proceed (as far as that goes) from a congenial mind,
equally disdainful of vulgar criticism.

Michael Angelo’s strength thus qualified, and made more palatable to
the general taste, reminds me of an observation which I heard a learned
critic[26] make, when it was incidentally remarked that our translation
of Homer, however excellent, did not convey the character, nor had the
grand air of the original. He replied that if Pope had not clothed the
naked majesty of Homer with the graces and elegances of modern
fashions--though the real dignity of Homer was degraded by such a
dress--his translation would not have met with such a favourable
reception, and he must have been contented with fewer readers.

Many of the Flemish painters, who studied at Rome in that great era of
our art, such as Francis Floris, Hemskerk, Michael Coxis, Jerom Cock,
and others, returned to their own country with as much of this grandeur
as they could carry. But, like seeds falling on a soil not prepared or
adapted to their nature, the manner of Michael Angelo thrived but little
with them; perhaps, however, they contributed to prepare the way for
that free, unconstrained, and liberal outline, which was afterwards
introduced by Rubens, through the medium of the Venetian painters.

This grandeur of style has been in different degrees disseminated over
all Europe. Some caught it by living at the time, and coming into
contact with the original author, whilst others received it at second
hand; and being everywhere adopted, it has totally changed the whole
taste and style of design, if there could be said to be any style before
his time. Our art, in consequence, now assumes a rank to which it could
never have dared to aspire, if Michael Angelo had not discovered to the
world the hidden powers which it possessed. Without his assistance we
never could have been convinced that painting was capable of producing
an adequate representation of the persons and actions of the heroes of
the Iliad.

I would ask any man qualified to judge of such works, whether he can
look with indifference at the personification of the Supreme Being in
the centre of the Capella Sestina, or the figures of the Sibyls which
surround that chapel, to which we may add the statue of Moses; and
whether the same sensations are not excited by those works, as what he
may remember to have felt from the most sublime passages of Homer? I
mention those figures more particularly, as they come nearer to a
comparison with his Jupiter, his demi-gods, and heroes; those Sibyls and
prophets being a kind of intermediate beings between men and angels.
Though instances may be produced in the works of other painters, which
may justly stand in competition with those I have mentioned, such as the
Isaiah and the vision of Ezekiel, by Raffaelle, the St. Mark of Frate
Bartolommeo, and many others; yet these, it must be allowed, are
inventions so much in Michael Angelo’s manner of thinking, that they may
be truly considered as so many rays, which discover manifestly the
centre from whence they emanated.

The sublime in painting, as in poetry, so overpowers, and takes such a
possession of the whole mind, that no room is left for attention to
minute criticism. The little elegances of art, in the presence of these
great ideas thus greatly expressed, lose all their value, and are, for
the instant at least, felt to be unworthy of our notice. The correct
judgment, the purity of taste, which characterise Raffaelle, the
exquisite grace of Correggio and Parmeggiano, all disappear before them.

That Michael Angelo was capricious in his inventions cannot be denied;
and this may make some circumspection necessary in studying his works;
for though they appear to become him, an imitation of them is always
dangerous, and will prove sometimes ridiculous. “Within that circle none
durst walk but he.” To me, I confess, his caprice does not lower the
estimation of his genius, even though it is sometimes, I acknowledge,
carried to the extreme: and however those eccentric excursions are
considered, we must at the same time recollect, that those faults, if
they are faults, are such as never could occur to a mean and vulgar
mind: that they flowed from the same source which produced his greatest
beauties, and were therefore such as none but himself was capable of
committing: they were the powerful impulses of a mind unused to
subjection of any kind, and too high to be controlled by cold criticism.

Many see his daring extravagance who can see nothing else. A young
artist finds the works of Michael Angelo so totally different from those
of his own master, or of those with whom he is surrounded, that he may
be easily persuaded to abandon and neglect studying a style which
appears to him wild, mysterious, and above his comprehension, and which
he therefore feels no disposition to admire; a good disposition, which
he concludes that he should naturally have, if the style deserved it. It
is necessary therefore that students should be prepared for the
disappointment which they may experience at their first setting out; and
they must be cautioned, that probably they will not, at first sight,

It must be remembered that this great style itself is artificial in the
highest degree; it presupposes in the spectator a cultivated and
prepared artificial state of mind. It is an absurdity therefore to
suppose that we are born with this taste, though we are with the seeds
of it, which, by the heat and kindly influence of his genius, may be
ripened in us.

A late philosopher and critic[27] has observed, speaking of taste, that
_we are on no account to expect that fine things should descend to
us_--our taste, if possible, must be made to ascend to them. The same
learned writer recommends to us _even to feign a relish, till we find a
relish come; and feel, that what began in fiction, terminates in
reality_. If there be in our art anything of that agreement or compact,
such as I apprehend there is in music, with which the critic is
necessarily required previously to be acquainted, in order to form a
correct judgment: the comparison with this art will illustrate what I
have said on these points, and tend to show the probability, we may say
the certainty, that men are not born with a relish for those arts in
their most refined state, which as they cannot understand, they cannot
be impressed with their effects. This great style of Michael Angelo is
as far removed from the simple representation of the common objects of
nature, as the most refined Italian music is from the inartificial notes
of nature, from whence they both profess to originate. But without such
a supposed compact, we may be very confident that the highest state of
refinement in either of those arts will not be relished without a long
and industrious attention.

In pursuing this great art, it must be acknowledged that we labour under
greater difficulties than those who were born in the age of its
discovery, and whose minds from their infancy were habituated to this
style; who learned it as language, as their mother tongue. They had no
mean taste to unlearn; they needed no persuasive discourse to allure
them to a favourable reception of it, no abstruse investigation of its
principles to convince them of the great latent truths on which it is
founded. We are constrained, in these latter days, to have recourse to a
sort of grammar and dictionary, as the only means of recovering a dead
language. It was by them learned by rote, and perhaps better learned
that way than by precept.

The style of Michael Angelo, which I have compared to language, and
which may, poetically speaking, be called the language of the gods, now
no longer exists, as it did in the fifteenth century; yet, with the aid
of diligence, we may in a great measure supply the deficiency which I
mentioned--of not having his works so perpetually before our eyes--by
having recourse to casts from his models and designs in sculpture; to
drawings or even copies of those drawings; to prints, which, however ill
executed, still convey something by which this taste may be formed, and
a relish may be fixed and established in our minds for this grand style
of invention. Some examples of this kind we have in the Academy; and I
sincerely wish there were more, that the younger students might in their
first nourishment imbibe this taste; whilst others, though settled in
the practice of the commonplace style of painters, might infuse, by this
means, a grandeur into their works.

I shall now make some remarks on the course which I think most proper to
be pursued in such a study. I wish you not to go so much to the
derivative streams, as to the fountain-head; though the copies are not
to be neglected; because they may give you hints in what manner you may
copy, and how the genius of one man may be made to fit the peculiar
manner of another.

To recover this lost taste, I would recommend young artists to study the
works of Michael Angelo, as he himself did the works of the ancient
sculptors; he began, when a child, a copy of a mutilated Satyr’s head,
and finished in his model what was wanting in the original. In the same
manner, the first exercise that I would recommend to the young artist
when he first attempts invention is to select every figure, if possible,
from the inventions of Michael Angelo. If such borrowed figures will not
bend to his purpose, and he is constrained to make a change to supply a
figure himself, that figure will necessarily be in the same style with
the rest; and his taste will by this means be naturally initiated, and
nursed in the lap of grandeur. He will sooner perceive what constitutes
this grand style by one practical trial than by a thousand speculations,
and he will in some sort procure to himself that advantage which in
these later ages has been denied him, the advantage of having the
greatest of artists for his master and instructor.

The next lesson should be, to change the purpose of the figures without
changing the attitude, as Tintoret has done with the Samson of Michael
Angelo. Instead of the figure which Samson bestrides, he has placed an
eagle under him; and instead of the jaw-bone, thunder and lightning in
his right hand; and thus it becomes a Jupiter. Titian, in the same
manner, has taken the figure which represents God dividing the light
from the darkness in the vault of the Capella Sestina, and has
introduced it in the famous Battle of Cadore, so much celebrated by
Vasari; and, extraordinary as it may seem, it is here converted to a
general falling from his horse. A real judge who should look at this
picture would immediately pronounce the attitude of that figure to be in
a greater style than any other figure of the composition. These two
instances may be sufficient, though many more might be given in their
works, as well as in those of other great artists.

When the student has been habituated to this grand conception of the
art, when the relish for this style is established, makes a part of
himself, and is woven into his mind, he will, by this time, have got a
power of selecting from whatever occurs in nature that is grand, and
corresponds with that taste which he has now acquired; and will pass
over whatever is commonplace and insipid. He may then bring to the mart
such works of his own proper invention as may enrich and increase the
general stock of invention in our art.

I am confident of the truth and propriety of the advice which I have
recommended; at the same time I am aware, how much by this advice I have
laid myself open to the sarcasms of those critics who imagine our art to
be a matter of inspiration. But I should be sorry it should appear even
to myself that I wanted that courage which I have recommended to the
students in another way: equal courage perhaps is required in the
adviser and the advised; they both must equally dare and bid defiance to
narrow criticism and vulgar opinion.

That the art has been in a gradual state of decline, from the age of
Michael Angelo to the present, must be acknowledged; and we may
reasonably impute this declension to the same cause to which the ancient
critics and philosophers have imputed the corruption of eloquence.
Indeed the same causes are likely at all times and in all ages to
produce the same effects: indolence,--not taking the same pains as our
great predecessors took,--desiring to find a shorter way,--are the
general imputed causes. The words of Petronius[28] are very remarkable.
After opposing the natural chaste beauty of the eloquence of former ages
to the strained inflated style then in fashion, “Neither,” says he, “has
the art in painting had a better fate, after the boldness of the
Egyptians had found out a compendious way to execute so great an art.”

By _compendious_, I understand him to mean a mode of painting, such as
has infected the style of the later painters of Italy and France;
commonplace, without thought, and with as little trouble, working as by
a receipt; in contradistinction to that style for which even a relish
cannot be acquired without care and long attention, and most certainly
the power of executing cannot be obtained without the most laborious

I have endeavoured to stimulate the ambition of artists to tread in this
great path of glory, and, as well as I can, have pointed out the track
which leads to it, and have at the same time told them the price at
which it may be obtained. It is an ancient saying that labour is the
price which the gods have set upon everything valuable.

The great artist who has been so much the subject of the present
discourse was distinguished even from his infancy for his indefatigable
diligence; and this was continued through his whole life, till prevented
by extreme old age. The poorest of men, as he observed himself, did not
labour from necessity, more than he did from choice. Indeed, from all
the circumstances related of his life, he appears not to have had the
least conception that his art was to be acquired by any other means than
great labour; and yet he, of all men that ever lived, might make the
greatest pretensions to the efficacy of native genius and inspiration. I
have no doubt that he would have thought it no disgrace, that it should
be said of him, as he himself said of Raffaelle, that he did not possess
his art from nature, but by long study.[29] He was conscious that the
great excellence to which he arrived was gained by dint of labour, and
was unwilling to have it thought that any transcendent skill, however
natural its effects might seem, could be purchased at a cheaper price
than he had paid for it. This seems to have been the true drift of his
observation. We cannot suppose it made with any intention of
depreciating the genius of Raffaelle, of whom he always spoke, as
Condivi says, with the greatest respect: though they were rivals, no
such illiberality existed between them; and Raffaelle on his part
entertained the greatest veneration for Michael Angelo, as appears from
the speech which is recorded of him, that he congratulated himself, and
thanked God, that he was born in the same age with that painter.

If the high esteem and veneration, in which Michael Angelo has been held
by all nations and in all ages, should be put to the account of
prejudice, it must still be granted that those prejudices could not have
been entertained without a cause: the ground of our prejudice then
becomes the source of our admiration. But from whatever it proceeds, or
whatever it is called, it will not, I hope, be thought presumptuous in
me to appear in the train, I cannot say of his imitators, but of his
admirers. I have taken another course, one more suited to my abilities,
and to the taste of the times in which I live. Yet however unequal I
feel myself to that attempt, were I now to begin the world again, I
would tread in the steps of that great master: to kiss the hem of his
garment, to catch the slightest of his perfections, would be glory and
distinction enough for an ambitious man.

I feel a self-congratulation in knowing myself capable of such
sensations as he intended to excite. I reflect, not without vanity, that
these discourses bear testimony of my admiration of that truly divine
man; and I should desire that the last words which I should pronounce in
this Academy, and from this place, might be the name of--Michael

                      THE END OF THE DISCOURSES.

                           BUNGAY, SUFFOLK.

                     *       *       *       *       *

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  Abbott’s Rollo at Work, etc., 275

  Addison’s Spectator, 164-167

  Æschylus’ Lyrical Dramas, 62

  Æsop’s and Other Fables, 657

  Aimard’s The Indian Scout, 428

  Ainsworth’s Tower of London, 400
      “       Old St. Paul’s, 522
      “       Windsor Castle, 709
      “       The Admirable Crichton, 804

  A’Kempis’ Imitation of Christ, 484

  Alcott’s Little Women, and Good Wives, 248
      “    Little Men, 512

  Alpine Club. Peaks, Passes and Glaciers, 778

  Andersen’s Fairy Tales, 4

  Anglo-Saxon Poetry, 794

  Anson’s Voyages, 510

  Aristophanes’ The Acharnians, etc., 344
       “        The Frogs, etc., 516

  Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, 547
      “       Politics, 605

  Arnold’s (Matthew) Essays, 115
          “          Poems, 334
          “          Study of Celtic Literature, etc., 458

  Augustine’s (Saint) Confessions, 200

  Aurelius’ (Marcus) Golden Book, 9

  Austen’s (Jane) Sense and Sensibility, 21
      “    Pride and Prejudice, 22
      “    Mansfield Park, 23
      “    Emma, 24
      “    Northanger Abbey, and Persuasion, 25

  Bacon’s Essays, 10
     “    Advancement of Learning, 719

  Bagehot’s Literary Studies, 520, 521

  Baker’s (Sir S. W.) Cast up by the Sea, 539

  Ballantyne’s Coral Island, 245
       “       Martin Rattler, 246
       “       Ungava, 276

  Balzac’s Wild Ass’s Skin, 26
      “    Eugénie Grandet, 169
      “    Old Goriot, 170
      “    Atheist’s Mass, etc., 229
      “    Christ in Flanders, etc., 284
      “    The Chouans, 285
      “    Quest of the Absolute, 286
      “    Cat and Racket, etc., 349
      “    Catherine de Medici, 419
      “    Cousin Pons, 463
      “    The Country Doctor, 530
      “    Rise and Fall of César Birotteau, 596
      “    Lost Illusions, 656
      “    The Country Parson, 686
      “    Ursule Mirouët, 733

  Barbusse’s Under Fire, 798

  Barca’s (Mme. C. de la) Life in Mexico, 664

  Bates’ Naturalist on the Amazons, 446

  Beaumont and Fletcher’s Select Plays, 506

  Beaumont’s (Mary) Joan Seaton, 597

  Bede’s Ecclesiastical History, etc., 479

  Belt’s The Naturalist in Nicaragua, 561

  Berkeley’s (Bishop) Principles of Human Knowledge, New
      Theory of Vision, etc., 483

  Berlioz (Hector), Life of, 602

  Binns’ Life of Abraham Lincoln, 783

  Björnson’s Plays, 625, 696

  Blackmore’s Lorna Doone, 304
        “     Springhaven, 350

  Blackwell’s Pioneer Work for Women, 667

  Blake’s Poems and Prophecies, 792

  Boehme’s The Signature of All Things, etc., 569

  Bonaventura’s The Little Flowers, The Life of St. Francis, etc., 485

  Borrow’s Wild Wales, 49
      “    Lavengro, 119
      “    Romany Rye, 120
      “    Bible in Spain, 151
      “    Gypsies in Spain, 697

  Boswell’s Life of Johnson, 1, 2
      “     Tour in the Hebrides, etc., 387

  Boult’s Asgard and Norse Heroes, 689

  Boyle’s The Sceptical Chymist, 559

  Bright’s (John) Speeches, 252

  Brontë’s (A.) The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, 685

  Brontë’s (C.) Jane Eyre, 287
       “        Shirley, 288
       “        Villette, 351
       “        The Professor, 417

  Brontë’s (E.) Wuthering Heights, 243

  Brooke’s (Stopford A.) Theology in the English Poets, 493

  Brown’s (Dr. John) Rab and His Friends, etc., 116

  Browne’s (Frances) Grannie’s Wonderful Chair, 112

  Browne’s (Sir Thos.) Religio Medici, etc., 92

  Browning’s Poems, 1833-1844, 41
      “        “    1844-1864, 42
      “      The Ring and the Book, 502

  Buchanan’s Life and Adventures of Audubon, 601

  Bulfinch’s The Age of Fable, 472
       “     Legends of Charlemagne, 556

  Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, 204

  Burke’s American Speeches and Letters, 340
    “     Reflections on the French Revolution, etc., 460

  Burnet’s History of His Own Times, 85

  Burney’s Evelina, 352

  Burns’ Poems and Songs, 94

  Burrell’s Volume of Heroic Verse, 574

  Burton’s East Africa, 500

  Butler’s Analogy of Religion, 90

  Buxton’s Memoirs, 773

  Byron’s Complete Poetical and Dramatic Works, 486-488

  Cæsar’s Gallic War, etc., 702

  Canton’s Child’s Book of Saints, 61

  Canton’s Invisible Playmate, etc., 566

  Carlyle’s French Revolution, 31, 32
      “     Letters, etc., of Cromwell, 266-268
      “     Sartor Resartus, 278
      “     Past and Present, 608
      “     Essays, 703, 704

  Cellini’s Autobiography, 51

  Cervantes’ Don Quixote, 385, 386

  Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, 307

  Chrétien de Troyes’ Eric and Enid, 698

  Cibber’s Apology for his Life, 668

  Cicero’s Select Letters and Orations, 345

  Clarke’s Tales from Chaucer, 537
      “    Shakespeare’s Heroines, 109-111

  Cobbett’s Rural Rides, 638, 639

  Coleridge’s Biographia, 11
      “       Golden Book, 43
      “       Lectures on Shakespeare, 162

  Collins’ Woman in White, 464

  Collodi’s Pinocchio, 538

  Converse’s Long Will, 328

  Cook’s Voyages, 99

  Cooper’s The Deerslayer, 77
      “    The Pathfinder, 78
      “    Last of the Mohicans, 79
      “    The Pioneer, 171
      “    The Prairie, 172

  Cousin’s Biographical Dictionary of English Literature, 449

  Cowper’s Letters, 774

  Cox’s Tales of Ancient Greece, 721

  Craik’s Manual of English Literature, 346

  Craik (Mrs.). _See_ Mulock.

  Creasy’s Fifteen Decisive Battles, 300

  Crèvecœur’s Letters from an American Farmer, 640

  Curtis’s Prue and I, and Lotus, 418

  Dana’s Two Years Before the Mast, 588

  Dante’s Divine Comedy, 308

  Darwin’s Voyage of the Beagle, 104

  Dasent’s The Story of Burnt Njal, 558

  Daudet’s Tartarin of Tarascon, 423

  Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, 59
      “   Captain Singleton, 74
      “    Memoirs of a Cavalier, 283
      “    Journal of Plague, 289

  De Joinville’s Memoirs of the Crusades, 333

  Demosthenes’ Select Orations, 546

  Dennis’ Cities and Cemeteries of Etruria, 183, 184

  De Quincey’s Lake Poets, 163
       “       Opium-Eater, 223
       “       English Mail Coach, etc., 609

  De Retz (Cardinal), Memoirs of, 735, 736

  Descartes’ Discourse on Method, 570

  Dickens’ Barnaby Rudge, 76
      “    Tale of Two Cities, 102
      “    Old Curiosity Shop, 173
      “    Oliver Twist, 233
      “    Great Expectations, 234
      “    Pickwick Papers, 235
      “    Bleak House, 236
      “    Sketches by Boz, 237
      “    Nicholas Nickleby, 238
      “    Christmas Books, 239
      “    Dombey & Son, 240
      “    Martin Chuzzlewit, 241
      “    David Copperfield, 242
      “    American Notes, 290
      “    Child’s History of England, 291
      “    Hard Times, 292
      “    Little Dorrit, 293
      “    Our Mutual Friend, 294
      “    Christmas Stories, 414
      “    Uncommercial Traveller, 536
      “    Edwin Drood, 725
      “    Reprinted Pieces, 744

  Disraeli’s Coningsby, 535

  Dixon’s Fairy Tales from Arabian Nights, 249

  Dodge’s Hans Brinker, or the Silver Skates, 620

  Dostoieffsky’s Crime and Punishment, 501
        “        The House of the Dead, or Prison Life in Siberia, 533
        “        Letters from the Underworld, etc., 654
        “        The Idiot, 682
        “        Poor Folk, and The Gambler, 711
        “        The Brothers Karamazov, 802, 803

  Dowden’s Life of R. Browning, 701

  Dryden’s Dramatic Essays, 568

  Dufferin’s Letters from High Latitudes, 499

  Dumas’ The Three Musketeers, 81
     “   The Black Tulip, 174
     “   Twenty Years After, 175
     “   Marguerite de Valois, 326
     “   The Count of Monte Cristo, 393, 394
     “   The Forty-Five, 420
     “   Chicot the Jester, 421
     “   Vicomte de Bragelonne, 593-595
     “   Le Chevalier de Maison Rouge, 614

  Duruy’s History of France, 737, 738

  Edgar’s Cressy and Poictiers, 17
     “    Runnymede and Lincoln Fair, 320
     “    Heroes of England, 471

  Edgeworth’s Castle Rackrent, etc., 410

  Edwardes’ Dictionary of Non-Classical Mythology, 632

  Eliot’s Adam Bede, 27
     “    Silas Marner, 121
     “    Romola, 231
     “    Mill on the Floss, 325
     “    Felix Holt, 353
     “    Scenes of Clerical Life, 468

  Elyot’s Gouernour, 227

  Emerson’s Essays, 12
      “     Representative Men, 279
      “     Nature, Conduct of Life, etc., 322
      “     Society and Solitude, etc., 567
      “     Poems, 715

  Epictetus’ Moral Discourses, etc., 404

  Erckmann-Chatrian’s The Conscript and Waterloo, 354
          “           Story of a Peasant, 706, 707

  Euripides’ Plays, 63, 271

  Evelyn’s Diary, 220, 221

  Ewing’s (Mrs.) Mrs. Overtheway’s Remembrances, and other Stories, 730
        “        Jackanapes, Daddy Darwin’s Dovecot, and The Story
     of a Short Life, 731

  Faraday’s Experimental Researches in Electricity, 576

  Fielding’s Tom Jones, 355, 356
      “      Joseph Andrews, 467

  Finlay’s Byzantine Empire, 33
      “    Greece under the Romans, 185

  Fletcher’s (Beaumont and) Select Plays, 506

  Ford’s Gatherings from Spain, 152

  Forster’s Life of Dickens, 781, 782

  Fox’s Journal, 754

  Fox’s Selected Speeches, 759

  Franklin’s Journey to Polar Sea, 447

  Freeman’s Old English History for Children, 540

  Froissart’s Chronicles, 57

  Froude’s Short Studies, 13, 705
      “    Henry VIII., 372-374
      “    Edward VI., 375
      “    Mary Tudor, 477
      “    History of Queen Elizabeth’s Reign, 583-587
      “    Life of Benjamin Disraeli, Lord Beaconsfield, 666

  Galt’s Annals of the Parish, 427

  Galton’s Inquiries into Human Faculty, 263

  Gaskell’s Cranford, 83
      “     Charlotte Brontë, 318
      “     Sylvia’s Lovers, 524
      “     Mary Barton, 598
      “     Cousin Phillis, etc., 615
      “     North and South, 680

  Gatty’s Parables from Nature, 158

  Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Histories of the Kings of Britain, 577

  George’s Progress and Poverty, 560

  Gibbon’s Roman Empire, 434-436, 474-476
      “    Autobiography, 511

  Gilfillan’s Literary Portraits, 348

  Giraldus Cambrensis, 272

  Gleig’s Life of Wellington, 341
      “   The Subaltern, 708

  Goethe’s Faust (Parts I. and II.), 335
      “    Wilhelm Meister, 599, 600

  Gogol’s Dead Souls, 726
      “   Taras Bulba, 740

  Goldsmith’s Vicar of Wakefield, 295
       “      Poems and Plays, 415

  Gorki’s Through Russia, 741

  Gosse’s Restoration Plays, 604

  Gotthelf’s Ulric the Farm Servant, 228

  Gray’s Poems and Letters, 628

  Green’s Short History of the English People, 727, 728
    The cloth edition is in 2 vols. or 1 vol.
    All other editions are in 1 vol.

  Grimms’ Fairy Tales, 56

  Grote’s History of Greece, 186-197

  Guest’s (Lady) Mabinogion, 97

  Hahnemann’s The Organon of the Rational Art of Healing, 663

  Hakluyt’s Voyages, 264, 265, 313, 314, 338, 339, 388, 389

  Hallam’s Constitutional History, 621-623

  Hamilton’s The Federalist, 519

  Harte’s Luck of Roaring Camp, 681

  Harvey’s Circulation of Blood, 262

  Hawthorne’s Wonder Book, 5
       “      The Scarlet Letter, 122
       “      House of Seven Gables, 176
       “      The Marble Faun, 424
       “      Twice Told Tales, 531
       “      Blithedale Romance, 592

  Hazlitt’s Shakespeare’s Characters, 65
      “     Table Talk, 321
      “     Lectures, 411
      “     Spirit of the Age and Lectures on English Poets, 459

  Hebbel’s Plays, 694

  Helps’ (Sir Arthur) Life of Columbus, 332

  Herbert’s Temple, 309

  Herodotus (Rawlinson’s), 405, 406

  Herrick’s Hesperides, 310

  Hobbes’ Leviathan, 691

  Holinshed’s Chronicle, 800

  Holmes’ Life of Mozart, 564

  Holmes’ (O. W.) Autocrat, 66
        “         Professor, 67
        “         Poet, 68

  Homer’s Iliad, 453
     “    Odyssey, 454

  Hooker’s Ecclesiastical Polity, 201, 202

  Horace’s Complete Poetical Works, 515

  Houghton’s Life and Letters of Keats, 801

  Hughes’ Tom Brown’s Schooldays, 58

  Hugo’s (Victor) Les Misérables, 363, 364
        “         Notre Dame, 422
        “         Toilers of the Sea, 509

  Hume’s Treatise of Human Nature, etc., 548, 549

  Hutchinson’s (Col.) Memoirs, 317

  Hutchinson’s (W. M. L.) Muses’ Pageant, 581, 606, 671

  Huxley’s Man’s Place in Nature, 47
      “    Select Lectures and Lay Sermons, 498

  Ibsen’s The Doll’s House, etc., 494
     “    Ghosts, etc., 552
     “    Pretenders, Pillars of Society, etc., 659
     “    Brand, 716
     “    Lady Inger, etc., 729
     “    Peer Gynt, 747

  Ingelow’s Mopsa the Fairy, 619

  Ingram’s Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, 624

  Irving’s Sketch Book, 117
      “    Conquest of Granada, 478
      “    Life of Mahomet, 513

  James’ (G. P. R.) Richelieu, 357

  James (Wm.), Selections from, 739

  Johnson’s (Dr.) Lives of the Poets, 770-771

  Johnson’s (R. B.) Book of English Ballads, 572

  Jonson’s (Ben) Plays, 489, 490

  Josephus’ Wars of the Jews, 712

  Kalidasa’s Shakuntala, 629

  Keats’ Poems, 101

  Keble’s Christian Year, 690

  King’s Life of Mazzini, 562

  Kinglake’s Eothen, 337

  Kingsley’s (Chas.) Westward Ho! 20
          “          Heroes, 113
          “          Hypatia, 230
          “          Water Babies and Glaucus, 277
          “          Hereward the Wake, 296
          “          Alton Locke, 462
          “          Yeast, 611
          “          Madam How and Lady Why, 777
          “          Poems, 793

  Kingsley’s (Henry) Ravenshoe, 28
          “          Geoffrey Hamlyn, 416

  Kingston’s Peter the Whaler, 6
       “     Three Midshipmen, 7

  Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare, 8
     “   Essays of Elia, 14
     “   Letters, 342, 343

  Lane’s Modern Egyptians, 315

  Langland’s Piers Plowman, 571

  Latimer’s Sermons, 40

  Law’s Serious Call, 91

  Layamon’s (Wace and) Arthurian Chronicles, 578

  Lear (and others), A Book of Nonsense, 806

  Le Sage’s Gil Blas, 437, 438

  Leslie’s Memoirs of John Constable, 563

  Lever’s Harry Lorrequer, 177

  Lewes’ Life of Goethe, 269

  Lincoln’s Speeches, etc., 206

  Livy’s History of Rome, 603, 669, 670, 749, 755, 756

  Locke’s Civil Government, 751

  Lockhart’s Life of Napoleon, 3
       “     Life of Scott, 55
       “     Burns, 156

  Longfellow’s Poems, 382

  Lönnrott’s Kalevala, 259, 260

  Lover’s Handy Andy, 178

  Lowell’s Among My Books, 607

  Lucretius: Of the Nature of Things, 750

  Lützow’s History of Bohemia, 432

  Lyell’s Antiquity of Man, 700

  Lytton’s Harold, 15
      “    Last of the Barons, 18
      “    Last Days of Pompeii, 80
      “    Pilgrims of the Rhine, 390
      “    Rienzi, 532

  Macaulay’s England, 34-36
      “      Essays, 225, 226
      “      Speeches on Politics, etc., 399
      “      Miscellaneous Essays, 439

  MacDonald’s Sir Gibbie, 678
       “      Phantastes, 732

  Machiavelli’s Prince, 280
        “       Florence, 376

  Maine’s Ancient Law, 734

  Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur, 45, 46

  Malthus on the Principles of Population, 692, 693

  Manning’s Sir Thomas More, 19
      “     Mary Powell, and Deborah’s Diary, 324

  Marcus Aurelius’ Golden Book, 9

  Marlowe’s Plays and Poems, 383

  Marryat’s Mr. Midshipman Easy, 82
      “     Little Savage, 159
      “     Masterman Ready, 160
      “     Peter Simple, 232
      “     Children of New Forest, 247
      “     Percival Keene, 358
      “     Settlers in Canada, 370
      “     King’s Own, 580

  Marryat’s Jacob Faithful, 618

  Martineau’s Feats on the Fjords, 429

  Martinengo-Cesaresco’s Folk-Lore and Other Essays, 673

  Maurice’s Kingdom of Christ, 146, 147

  Mazzini’s Duties of Man, etc., 224

  Melville’s Moby Dick, 178
      “      Typee, 180
      “      Omoo, 297

  Merivale’s History of Rome, 433

  Mignet’s French Revolution, 713

  Mill’s Utilitarianism, Liberty, Representative Government, 482

  Miller’s Old Red Sandstone, 103

  Milman’s History of the Jews, 377, 378

  Milton’s Areopagitica and other Prose Works, 795

  Milton’s Poems, 384

  Mommsen’s History of Rome, 542-545

  Montagu’s (Lady) Letters, 69

  Montaigne, Florio’s, 440-442

  More’s Utopia, and Dialogue of Comfort against Tribulation, 461

  Morier’s Hajji Baba, 679

  Morris’ (Wm.) Early Romances, 261
       “        Life and Death of Jason, 575

  Motley’s Dutch Republic, 86-88

  Mulock’s John Halifax, 123

  Neale’s Fall of Constantinople, 655

  Newcastle’s (Margaret, Duchess of) Life of the First Duke of
      Newcastle, etc., 722

  Newman’s Apologia Pro Vita Sua, 636
     “     On the Scope and Nature of University Education,
      and a Paper on Christianity and Scientific Investigation, 723

  Oliphant’s Salem Chapel, 244

  Osborne (Dorothy), Letters of, 674

  Owen’s A New View of Society, etc., 799

  Paine’s Rights of Man, 718

  Palgrave’s Golden Treasury, 96

  Paltock’s Peter Wilkins, 676

  Park (Mungo), Travels of, 205

  Parkman’s Conspiracy of Pontiac, 302, 303

  Parry’s Letters of Dorothy Osborne, 674

  Paston’s Letters, 752, 753

  Paton’s Two Morte D’Arthur Romances, 634

  Peacock’s Headlong Hall, 327

  Penn’s The Peace of Europe, Some Fruits of Solitude, etc., 724

  Pepys’ Diary, 53, 54

  Percy’s Reliques, 148, 149

  Pitt’s Orations, 145

  Plato’s Republic, 64
     “    Dialogues, 456, 457

  Plutarch’s Lives, 407-409
       “     Moralia, 565

  Poe’s Tales of Mystery and Imagination, 336

  Poe’s Poems and Essays, 791

  Polo’s (Marco) Travels, 306

  Pope’s Complete Poetical Works, 760

  Prelude to Poetry, 789

  Prescott’s Conquest of Peru, 301
       “     Conquest of Mexico, 397, 398

  Procter’s Legends and Lyrics, 150

  Rawlinson’s Herodotus, 405, 406

  Reade’s The Cloister and the Hearth, 29
     “    Peg Woffington, 299

  Reid’s (Mayne) Boy Hunters of the Mississippi, 582

  Reid’s (Mayne) The Boy Slaves, 797

  Renan’s Life of Jesus, 805

  Reynolds’ Discourses, 118

  Rhys’ Fairy Gold, 157
    “   New Golden Treasury, 695
    “   Anthology of British Historical Speeches and Orations, 714
    “   Political Liberty, 745
    “   Golden Treasury of Longer Poems, 746

  Ricardo’s Principles of Political Economy and Taxation, 590

  Richardson’s Pamela, 683, 684

  Roberts’ (Morley) Western Avernus, 762

  Robertson’s Religion and Life, 37
      “       Christian Doctrine, 38
      “       Bible Subjects, 39

  Robinson’s (Wade) Sermons, 637

  Roget’s Thesaurus, 630, 631

  Rossetti’s (D. G.) Poems, 627

  Rousseau’s Emile, on Education, 518
       “     Social Contract and Other Essays, 660

  Ruskin’s Seven Lamps of Architecture, 207
     “     Modern Painters, 208-212
     “     Stones of Venice, 213-215
     “     Unto this Last, etc., 216
     “     Elements of Drawing, etc., 217
     “     Pre-Raphaelitism, etc., 218
     “     Sesame and Lilies, 219
     “     Ethics of the Dust, 282
     “     Crown of Wild Olive, and Cestus of Aglaia, 323
     “     Time and Tide, with other Essays, 450
     “     The Two Boyhoods, 688

  Russell’s Life of Gladstone, 661

  Russian Short Stories, 758

  Sand’s (George) The Devil’s Pool, and François the Waif, 534

  Scheffel’s Ekkehard: A Tale of the 10th Century, 529

  Scott’s (M.) Tom Cringle’s Log, 710

  Scott’s (Sir W.) Ivanhoe, 16
         “         Fortunes of Nigel, 71
         “         Woodstock, 72
         “         Waverley, 75
         “         The Abbot, 124
         “         Anne of Geierstein, 125
         “         The Antiquary, 126
         “         Highland Widow, and Betrothed, 127
         “         Black Dwarf, Legend of Montrose, 128
         “         Bride of Lammermoor, 129
         “         Castle Dangerous, Surgeon’s Daughter, 130
         “         Robert of Paris, 131
         “         Fair Maid of Perth, 132
         “         Guy Mannering, 133
         “         Heart of Midlothian, 134
         “         Kenilworth, 135
         “         The Monastery, 136
         “         Old Mortality, 137
         “         Peveril of the Peak, 138
         “         The Pirate, 139
         “         Quentin Durward, 140
         “         Redgauntlet, 141
         “         Rob Roy, 142
         “         St. Ronan’s Well, 143
         “         The Talisman, 144
         “         Lives of the Novelists, 331
         “         Poems and Plays, 550, 551

  Seebohm’s Oxford Reformers, 665

  Seeley’s Ecce Homo, 305

  Sewell’s (Anna) Black Beauty, 748

  Shakespeare’s Comedies, 153
        “       Histories, etc., 154
        “       Tragedies, 155

  Shelley’s Poetical Works, 257, 258

  Shelley’s (Mrs.) Frankenstein, 616

  Sheppard’s Charles Auchester, 505

  Sheridan’s Plays, 95

  Sismondi’s Italian Republics, 250

  Smeaton’s Life of Shakespeare, 514

  Smith’s A Dictionary of Dates, 554

  Smith’s Wealth of Nations, 412, 413

  Smith’s (George) Life of Wm. Carey, 395

  Smith’s (Sir Wm.) Smaller Classical Dictionary, 495

  Smollett’s Roderick Random, 790

  Sophocles, Young’s, 114

  Southey’s Life of Nelson, 52

  Speke’s Source of the Nile, 50

  Spence’s Dictionary of Non-Classical Mythology, 632

  Spencer’s (Herbert) Essays on Education, 504

  Spenser’s Faerie Queene, 443, 444

  Spinoza’s Ethics, etc., 481

  Spyri’s Heidi, 431

  Stanley’s Memorials of Canterbury, 89
      “     Eastern Church, 251

  Steele’s The Spectator, 164-167

  Sterne’s Tristram Shandy, 617

  Sterne’s Sentimental Journey and Journal to Eliza, 796

  Stevenson’s Treasure Island and Kidnapped, 763
       “      Master of Ballantrae and the Black Arrow, 764
       “      Virginibus Puerisque and Familiar Studies of Men and Books, 765
       “      An Inland Voyage, Travels with a Donkey, and Silverado
      Squatters, 766
       “      Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Merry Men, etc., 767
       “      Poems, 768
       “      In the South Seas and Island Nights’ Entertainments, 769

  St. Francis, The Little Flowers of, etc., 485

  Stopford Brooke’s Theology in the English Poets, 493

  Stow’s Survey of London, 589

  Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, 371

  Strickland’s Queen Elizabeth, 100

  Swedenborg’s Heaven and Hell, 379
       “       Divine Love and Wisdom, 635
       “       Divine Providence, 658

  Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, 60
    “     Journal to Stella, 757
    “     Tale of a Tub, etc., 347

  Tacitus’ Annals, 273
      “    Agricola and Germania, 274

  Taylor’s Words and Places, 517

  Tennyson’s Poems, 44, 626

  Thackeray’s Esmond, 73
      “       Vanity Fair, 298
      “       Christmas Books, 359
      “       Pendennis, 425, 426
      “       Newcomes, 465, 466
      “       The Virginians, 507, 508
      “       English Humorists, and The Four Georges, 610
      “       Roundabout Papers, 687

  Thierry’s Norman Conquest, 198, 199

  Thoreau’s Walden, 281

  Thucydides’ Peloponnesian War, 455

  Tolstoy’s Master and Man, and Other Parables and Tales, 469
      “     War and Peace, 525-527
      “     Childhood, Boyhood and Youth, 591
      “     Anna Karenina, 612, 613

  Trench’s On the Study of Words and English Past and Present, 788

  Trollope’s Barchester Towers, 30
      “      Framley Parsonage, 181
      “      Golden Lion of Granpere, 761
      “      The Warden, 182
      “      Dr. Thorne, 360
      “      Small House at Allington, 361
      “      Last Chronicles of Barset, 391, 392

  Trotter’s The Bayard of India, 396
      “     Hodson, of Hodson’s Horse, 401
      “     Warren Hastings, 452

  Turgeniev’s Virgin Soil, 528
       “      Liza, 677
       “      Fathers and Sons, 742

  Tyndall’s Glaciers of the Alps, 98

  Tytler’s Principles of Translation, 168

  Vasari’s Lives of the Painters, 784-7

  Verne’s (Jules) Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea, 319
     “    Dropped from the Clouds, 367
     “    Abandoned, 368
     “    The Secret of the Island, 369
     “    Five Weeks in a Balloon and Around the World in Eighty Days, 779

  Virgil’s Æneid, 161
     “     Eclogues and Georgics, 222

  Voltaire’s Life of Charles XII., 270
       “     Age of Louis XIV., 780

  Wace and Layamon’s Arthurian Chronicles, 578

  Walpole’s Letters, 775

  Walton’s Compleat Angler, 70

  Waterton’s Wanderings in South America, 772

  Wesley’s Journal, 105-108

  White’s Selborne, 48

  Whitman’s Leaves of Grass (I.) and Democratic Vistas, etc., 573

  Whyte-Melville’s Gladiators, 523

  Wood’s (Mrs. Henry) The Channings, 84

  Woolman’s Journal, etc., 402

  Wordsworth’s Shorter Poems, 203
       “       Longer Poems, 311

  Wright’s An Encyclopædia of Gardening, 555

  Xenophon’s Cyropædia, 672

  Yonge’s The Dove in the Eagle’s Nest, 329
     “    The Book of Golden Deeds, 330
     “    The Heir of Redclyffe, 362
     “    The Little Duke, 470
     “    The Lances of Lynwood, 579

  Young’s (Arthur) Travels in France and Italy, 720

  Young’s (Sir George) Sophocles, 114

  The New Testament, 93.

  Ancient Hebrew Literature, 4 vols., 253-256.

  English Short Stories. An Anthology, 743.

  Everyman’s English Dictionary, 776

       NOTE.--The following numbers are at present out of print:

  110, 111, 118, 146, 324, 331, 348, 390, 505, 529, 581, 597, 641-52

                  PUBLISHED BY J. M. DENT & SONS LTD.



 [1] Lib. 2. in Timæum Platonis, as cited by Junius de Pictura Veterum.

 [2] Essays, p. 252, edit. 1625.

 [3] “Those,” says Quintilian, “who are taken with the outward show of
 things, think that there is more beauty in persons, who are trimmed,
 curled, and painted, than uncorrupt nature can give; as if beauty were
 merely the effect of the corruption of manners.” R.

 [4] Dicendo, che molto gli piaceva il colorito suo, e la maniera;
 mà che era un peccato, che a Venezia non s’imparasse da principio a
 disegnare bene, e che non havessano que’ pittori miglior modo nello
 studio. Vas. tom. iii. p. 226. Vita di Tiziano.

 [5] Nelle cose della pittura, stravagante, capriccioso, presto, e
 resoluto, et il più terrible cervello, che habbia havuto mai la
 pittura, come si può vedere in tutte le sue opere; e ne’ componimenti
 delle storie, fantastiche, e fatte da lui diversamente, e fuori
 dell’ uso degli altri pittori: anzi hà superato la stravaganza, con
 le nuove, e capricciose inventioni, e strani ghiribizzi del suo
 intelleto, che ha lavorato a caso, e senza disegno, quasi monstrando
 che quest’ arte è una baia.

 [6] Que cette application singulière n’était qu’un obstacle pour
 empêcher de parvenir au véritable but de la peinture, et celui qui
 s’attache au principal, acquiert par la pratique une assez belle
 manière de peindre. Conférence de l’Acad. Franç.

 [7] A more detailed character of Rubens may be found in the “Journey
 to Flanders and Holland,” near the conclusion. M.

 [8] Sed non qui maxime imitandus, etiam solus imitandus

 [9] In the Cabinet of the Earl of Ashburnham.

 [10] In the Cabinet of Sir Peter Burrel.

 [11] Dr. Goldsmith.

 [12] Nulla ars, non alterius artis, aut mater, aut propinqua
 est.--TERTULL, as cited by JUNIUS.

 [13] Omnes artes quæ ad humanitatem pertinent, habent quoddam commune
 vinculum, et quasi cognatione inter se continentur.--CICERO.

 [14] Put off thy shoes from off thy feet; for the place whereon thou
 standest is holy ground.--EXODUS, iii. 5.

 [15] Discourses II. and VI.

 [16] This was inadvertently said. I did not recollect the admirable
 treatise “On the Sublime and Beautiful.”

 [17] Sir William Chambers.

 [18] See “Il reposo di Raffaelle Borghini.”

 [19] Some years after this Discourse was written, Bernini’s “Neptune”
 was purchased for our author at Rome, and brought to England. After
 his death it was sold by his Executors for £500 to Charles Anderson
 Pelham, Esq., now Lord Yarborough. M.

 [20] Discourse III.

 [21] In Ben Jonson’s “Catiline” we find this aphorism, with a slight

    “A serpent, ere he comes to be a dragon,
     Must eat a bat.” M.

 [22] The addition of _accio_ denotes some deformity or imperfection
 attending that person to whom it is applied. R.


    Towers and battlements it sees
    Bosom’d high in tufted trees.--MILTON, “L’Allegro.” R.

 [24] Mr. Hodges.

 [25] This fine picture was in our author’s collection; and was
 bequeathed by him to Sir George Beaumont, Bart. M.

 [26] Dr. Johnson.

 [27] James Harris, Esq. R.

 [28] Pictura quoque non alium exitum fecit, postquam Ægyptiorum
 audacia tam magnæ artis compendiariam invenit. R.

 [29] _Che Raffaelle non ebbe quest’ arte da natura, ma per longo
 studio._ R.

 [30] Unfortunately for mankind, these _were_ the last words pronounced
 by this great painter from the Academical chair. He died about
 fourteen months after this Discourse was delivered. M.

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