146. The plan of the divisions of art-schools which I gave you in the last lecture is of course only a first germ of classification, on which we are to found farther and more defined statement; but for this very reason it is necessary that every term of it should be very clear in your minds.
And especially I must explain, and ask you to note the sense in which I use the word "mass." Artists usually employ that word to express the spaces of light and darkness, or of colour, into which a picture is divided. But this habit of theirs arises partly from their always speaking of pictures in which the lights represent solid form. If they had instead been speaking of flat tints, as, for instance, of the gold and blue in this missal page, they would not have called them "masses," but "spaces" of colour. Now both for accuracy and convenience' sake, you will find it well to observe this distinction, and to call a simple flat tint a space of colour; and only the representation of solid or projecting form a mass.
I use, however, the word "line" rather than "space" in the second and third heads of our general scheme, at p. 94, because you cannot limit a flat tint but by a line, or the locus of a line: whereas a gradated tint, expressive of mass, may be lost at its edges in another, without any fixed limit; and practically is so, in the works of the greatest masters.
147. You have thus, in your hexagonal scheme, the expression of the universal manner of advance in painting: Line first; then line enclosing flat spaces coloured or shaded; then the lines vanish, and the solid forms are seen within the spaces. That is the universal law of advance:--1, line; 2, flat space; 3, massed or solid space. But as you see, this advance may be made, and has been made, by two different roads; one advancing always through colour, the other through light and shade. And these two roads are taken by two entirely different kinds of men. The way by colour is taken by men of cheerful, natural, and entirely sane disposition in body and mind, much resembling, even at its strongest, the temper of well-brought-up children:--too happy to think deeply, yet with powers of imagination by which they can live other lives than their actual ones: make-believe lives, while yet they remain conscious all the while that they _are_ making believe--therefore entirely sane. They are also absolutely contented; they ask for no more light than is immediately around them, and cannot see anything like darkness, but only green and blue, in the earth and sea.
148. The way by light and shade is, on the contrary, taken by men of the highest powers of thought, and most earnest desire for truth; they long for light, and for knowledge of all that light can show. But seeking for light, they perceive also darkness; seeking for truth and substance, they find vanity. They look for form in the earth,--for dawn in the sky; and seeking these, they find formlessness in the earth, and night in the sky.
Now remember, in these introductory lectures I am putting before you the roots of things, which are strange, and dark, and often, it may seem, unconnected with the branches. You may not at present think these metaphysical statements necessary; but as you go on, you will find that having hold of the clue to methods of work through their springs in human character, you may perceive unerringly where they lead, and what constitutes their wrongness and rightness; and when we have the main principles laid down, all others will develop themselves in due succession, and everything will become more clearly intelligible to you in the end, for having been apparently vague in the beginning. You know when one is laying the foundation of a house, it does not show directly where the rooms are to be.
149. You have then these two great divisions of human mind: one, content with the colours of things, whether they are dark or light; the other seeking light pure, as such, and dreading darkness as such. One, also, content with the coloured aspects and visionary shapes of things; the other seeking their form and substance. And, as I said, the school of knowledge, seeking light, perceives, and has to accept and deal with obscurity: and seeking form, it has to accept and deal with formlessness, or death.
Farther, the school of colour in Europe, using the word Gothic in its broadest sense, is essentially Gothic _Christian_; and full of comfort and peace. Again, the school of light is essentially Greek, and full of sorrow. I cannot tell you which is right, or least wrong. I tell you only what I know--this vital distinction between them: the Gothic or colour school is always cheerful, the Greek always oppressed by the shadow of death; and the stronger its masters are, the closer that body of death grips them. The strongest whose work I can show you in recent periods is Holbein; next to him is Lionardo; and then Duerer: but of the three Holbein is the strongest, and with his help I will put the two schools in their full character before you in a moment.
150. Here is, first, the photograph of an entirely characteristic piece of the great colour school. It is by Cima of Conegliano, a mountaineer, like Luini, born under the Alps of Friuli. His Christian name was John Baptist: he is here painting his name-Saint; the whole picture full of peace, and intense faith and hope, and deep joy in light of sky, and fruit and flower and weed of earth. It was painted for the church of Our Lady of the Garden at Venice, La Madonna dell' Orto (properly Madonna of the _Kitchen_ Garden), and it is full of simple flowers, and has the wild strawberry of Cima's native mountains gleaming through the grass.
Beside it I will put a piece of the strongest work of the school of light and shade--strongest because Holbein was a colourist also; but he belongs, nevertheless, essentially to the chiaroscuro school. You know that his name is connected, in ideal work, chiefly with his "Dance of Death." I will not show you any of the terror of that; only a photograph of his well-known "Dead Christ." It will at once show you how completely the Christian art of this school is oppressed by its veracity, and forced to see what is fearful, even in what it most trusts.
You may think I am showing you contrasts merely to fit my theories. But there is Duerer's "Knight and Death," his greatest plate; and if I had Lionardo's "Medusa" here, which he painted when only a boy, you would have seen how he was held by the same chain. And you cannot but wonder why, this being the melancholy temper of the great Greek or naturalistic school, I should have called it the school of light. I call it so because it is through its intense love of light that the darkness becomes apparent to it, and through its intense love of truth and form that all mystery becomes attractive to it. And when, having learned these things, it is joined to the school of colour, you have the perfect, though always, as I will show you, pensive, art of Titian and his followers.
151. But remember, its first development, and all its final power, depend on Greek sorrow, and Greek religion.
The school of light is founded in the Doric worship of Apollo, and the Ionic worship of Athena, as the spirits of life in the light, and of life in the air, opposed each to their own contrary deity of death--Apollo to the Python, Athena to the Gorgon--Apollo as life in light, to the earth spirit of corruption in darkness;--Athena, as life by motion, to the Gorgon spirit of death by pause, freezing or turning to stone: both of the great divinities taking their glory from the evil they have conquered; both of them, when angry, taking to men the form of the evil which is their opposite--Apollo slaying by poisoned arrow, by pestilence; Athena by cold, the black aegis on her breast.
These are the definite and direct expressions of the Greek thoughts respecting death and life. But underlying both these, and far more mysterious, dreadful, and yet beautiful, there is the Greek conception of _spiritual_ darkness; of the anger of fate, whether foredoomed or avenging; the root and theme of all Greek tragedy; the anger of the Erinnyes, and Demeter Erinnys, compared to which the anger either of Apollo or Athena is temporary and partial:--and also, while Apollo or Athena only slay, the power of Demeter and the Eumenides is over the whole life; so that in the stories of Bellerophon, of Hippolytus, of Orestes, of Oedipus, you have an incomparably deeper shadow than any that was possible to the thought of later ages, when the hope of the Resurrection had become definite. And if you keep this in mind, you will find every name and legend of the oldest history become full of meaning to you. All the mythic accounts of Greek sculpture begin in the legends of the family of Tantalus. The main one is the making of the ivory shoulder of Pelops after Demeter has eaten the shoulder of flesh. With that you have Broteas, the brother of Pelops, carving the first statue of the mother of the gods; and you have his sister, Niobe, weeping herself to stone under the anger of the deities of light. Then Pelops himself, the dark-faced, gives name to the Peloponnesus, which you may therefore read as the "isle of darkness;" but its central city, Sparta, the "sown city," is connected with all the ideas of the earth as life-giving. And from her you have Helen, the representative of light in beauty, and the Fratres Helenae--"lucida sidera;" and, on the other side of the hills, the brightness of Argos, with its correlative darkness over the Atreidae, marked to you by Helios turning away his face from the feast of Thyestes.
152. Then join with these the Northern legends connected with the air. It does not matter whether you take Dorus as the son of Apollo or the son of Helen; he equally symbolises the power of light: while his brother, AEolus, through all his descendants, chiefly in Sisyphus, is confused or associated with the real god of the winds, and represents to you the power of the air. And then, as this conception enters into art, you have the myths of Daedalus, the flight of Icarus, and the story of Phrixus and Helle, giving you continual associations of the physical air and light, ending in the power of Athena over Corinth as well as over Athens.
Now, once having the clue, you can work out the sequels for yourselves better than I can for you; and you will soon find even the earliest or slightest grotesques of Greek art become full of interest. For nothing is more wonderful than the depth of meaning which nations in their first days of thought, like children, can attach to the rudest symbols; and what to us is grotesque or ugly, like a little child's doll, can speak to them the loveliest things. I have brought you to-day a few more examples of early Greek vase painting, respecting which remember generally that its finest development is for the most part sepulchral. You have, in the first period, always energy in the figures, light in the sky or upon the figures; in the second period, while the conception of the divine power remains the same, it is thought of as in repose, and the light is in the god, not in the sky; in the time of decline, the divine power is gradually disbelieved, and all form and light are lost together. With that period I wish you to have nothing to do. You shall not have a single example of it set before you, but shall rather learn to recognise afterwards what is base by its strangeness. These, which are to come early in the third group of your Standard series, will enough represent to you the elements of early and late conception in the Greek mind of the deities of light.
[Footnote 13: See Note in the Catalogue on No. 201.]
153. First (S. 204), you have Apollo ascending from the sea; thought of as the physical sunrise: only a circle of light for his head; his chariot horses, seen foreshortened, black against the day-break, their feet not yet risen above the horizon. Underneath is the painting from the opposite side of the same vase: Athena as the morning breeze, and Hermes as the morning cloud, flying across the waves before the sunrise. At the distance I now hold them from you, it is scarcely possible for you to see that they are figures at all, so like are they to broken fragments of flying mist; and when you look close, you will see that as Apollo's face is invisible in the circle of light, Mercury's is invisible in the broken form of cloud: but I can tell you that it is conceived as reverted, looking back to Athena; the grotesque appearance of feature in the front is the outline of his hair.
These two paintings are excessively rude, and of the archaic period; the deities being yet thought of chiefly as physical powers in violent agency.
Underneath these two are Athena and Hermes, in the types attained about the time of Phidias; but, of course, rudely drawn on the vase, and still more rudely in this print from Le Normant and De Witte. For it is impossible (as you will soon find if you try for yourself) to give on a plane surface the grace of figures drawn on one of solid curvature, and adapted to all its curves: and among other minor differences, Athena's lance is in the original nearly twice as tall as herself, and has to be cut short to come into the print at all. Still, there is enough here to show you what I want you to see--the repose, and entirely realised personality, of the deities as conceived in the Phidian period. The relation of the two deities is, I believe, the same as in the painting above, though probably there is another added of more definite kind. But the physical meaning still remains--Athena unhelmeted, as the _gentle_ morning wind, commanding the cloud Hermes to slow flight. His petasus is slung at his back, meaning that the clouds are not yet opened or expanded in the sky.
154. Next (S. 205), you have Athena, again unhelmeted and crowned with leaves, walking between two nymphs, who are crowned also with leaves; and all the three hold flowers in their hands, and there is a fawn walking at Athena's feet.
This is still Athena as the morning air, but upon the earth instead of in the sky, with the nymphs of the dew beside her; the flowers and leaves opening as they breathe upon them. Note the white gleam of light on the fawn's breast; and compare it with the next following examples:--(underneath this one is the contest of Athena and Poseidon, which does not bear on our present subject).
Next (S. 206), Artemis as the moon of morning, walking low on the hills, and singing to her lyre; the fawn beside her, with the gleam of light and sunrise on its ear and breast. Those of you who are often out in the dawntime know that there is no moon so glorious as that gleaming crescent, though in its wane, ascending _before_ the sun.
Underneath, Artemis, and Apollo, of Phidian time.
Next (S. 207), Apollo walking on the earth, god of the morning, singing to his lyre; the fawn beside him, again with the gleam of light on its breast. And underneath, Apollo, crossing the sea to Delphi, of the Phidian time.
155. Now you cannot but be struck in these three examples with the similarity of action in Athena, Apollo, and Artemis, drawn as deities of the morning; and with the association in every case of the fawn with them. It has been said (I will not interrupt you with authorities) that the fawn belongs to Apollo and Diana because stags are sensitive to music; (are they?). But you see the fawn is here with Athena of the dew, though she has no lyre; and I have myself no doubt that in this particular relation to the gods of morning it always stands as the symbol of wavering and glancing motion on the ground, as well as of the light and shadow through the leaves, chequering the ground as the fawn is dappled. Similarly the spots on the nebris of Dionysus, thought of sometimes as stars (+apo tes ton astron poikilias+, Diodorus, I. 11), as well as those of his panthers, and the cloudings of the tortoise-shell of Hermes, are all significant of this light of the sky broken by cloud-shadow.
156. You observe also that in all the three examples the fawn has light on its ears, and face, as well as its breast. In the earliest Greek drawings of animals, bars of white are used as one means of detaching the figures from the ground; ordinarily on the under side of them, marking the lighter colour of the hair in wild animals. But the placing of this bar of white, or the direction of the face in deities of light, (the faces and flesh of women being always represented as white,) may become expressive of the direction of the light, when that direction is important. Thus we are enabled at once to read the intention of this Greek symbol of the course of a day (in the centre-piece of S. 208, which gives you the types of Hermes). At the top you have an archaic representation of Hermes stealing Io from Argus. Argus is here the Night; his grotesque features monstrous; his hair overshadowing his shoulders; Hermes on tip-toe, stealing upon him and taking the cord which is fastened to the horn of Io out of his hand without his feeling it. Then, underneath, you have the course of an entire day. Apollo first, on the left, dark, entering his chariot, the sun not yet risen. In front of him Artemis, as the moon, ascending before him, playing on her lyre, and looking back to the sun. In the centre, behind the horses, Hermes, as the cumulus cloud at mid-day, wearing his petasus heightened to a cone, and holding a flower in his right hand; indicating the nourishment of the flowers by the rain from the heat cloud. Finally, on the right, Latona, going down as the evening, lighted from the right by the sun, now sunk; and with her feet reverted, signifying the reluctance of the departing day.
Finally, underneath, you have Hermes of the Phidian period, as the floating cumulus cloud, almost shapeless (as you see him at this distance); with the tortoise-shell lyre in his hand, barred with black, and a fleece of white cloud, not level but _oblique_, under his feet. (Compare the "+dia ton koilon--plagiai+," and the relations of the "+aigidos eniochos Athana+," with the clouds as the moon's messengers, in Aristophanes; and note of Hermes generally, that you never find him flying as a Victory flies, but always, if moving fast at all, _clambering_ along, as it were, as a cloud gathers and heaps itself: the Gorgons stretch and stride in their flight, half kneeling, for the same reason, running or gliding shapelessly along in this stealthy way.)
157. And now take this last illustration, of a very different kind. Here is an effect of morning light by Turner (S. 301), on the rocks of Otley-hill, near Leeds, drawn long ago, when Apollo, and Artemis, and Athena, still sometimes were seen, and felt, even near Leeds. The original drawing is one of the great Farnley series, and entirely beautiful. I have shown, in the last volume of "Modern Painters," how well Turner knew the meaning of Greek legends:--he was not thinking of them, however, when he made this design; but, unintentionally, has given us the very effect of morning light we want: the glittering of the sunshine on dewy grass, half dark; and the narrow gleam of it on the sides and head of the stag and hind.
158. These few instances will be enough to show you how we may read in the early art of the Greeks their strong impressions of the power of light. You will find the subject entered into at somewhat greater length in my "Queen of the Air;" and if you will look at the beginning of the 7th book of Plato's "Polity," and read carefully the passages in the context respecting the sun and intellectual sight, you will see how intimately this physical love of light was connected with their philosophy, in its search, as blind and captive, for better knowledge. I shall not attempt to define for you to-day the more complex but much shallower forms which this love of light, and the philosophy that accompanies it, take in the mediaeval mind; only remember that in future, when I briefly speak of the Greek school of art with reference to questions of delineation, I mean the entire range of the schools, from Homer's days to our own, which concern themselves with the representation of light, and the effects it produces on material form--beginning practically for us with these Greek vase paintings, and closing practically for us with Turner's sunset on the Temeraire; being throughout a school of captivity and sadness, but of intense power; and which in its technical method of shadow on material form, as well as in its essential temper, is centrally represented to you by Duerer's two great engravings of the "Melencolia" and the "Knight and Death." On the other hand, when I briefly speak to you of the Gothic school, with reference to delineation, I mean the entire and much more extensive range of schools extending from the earliest art in Central Asia and Egypt down to our own day in India and China:--schools which have been content to obtain beautiful harmonies of colour without any representation of light; and which have, many of them, rested in such imperfect expressions of form as could be so obtained; schools usually in some measure childish, or restricted in intellect, and similarly childish or restricted in their philosophies or faiths: but contented in the restriction; and in the more powerful races, capable of advance to nobler development than the Greek schools, though the consummate art of Europe has only been accomplished by the union of both. How that union was effected, I will endeavour to show you in my next lecture; to-day I shall take note only of the points bearing on our immediate practice.
159. A certain number of you, by faculty and natural disposition,--and all, so far as you are interested in modern art,--will necessarily have to put yourselves under the discipline of the Greek or chiaroscuro school, which is directed primarily to the attainment of the power of representing form by pure contrast of light and shade. I say, the "discipline" of the Greek school, both because, followed faithfully, it is indeed a severe one, and because to follow it at all is, for persons fond of colour, often a course of painful self-denial, from which young students are eager to escape. And yet, when the laws of both schools are rightly obeyed, the most perfect discipline is that of the colourists; for they see and draw _everything_, while the chiaroscurists must leave much indeterminate in mystery, or invisible in gloom: and there are therefore many licentious and vulgar forms of art connected with the chiaroscuro school, both in painting and etching, which have no parallel among the colourists. But both schools, rightly followed, require first of all absolute accuracy of delineation. _This_ you need not hope to escape. Whether you fill your spaces with colours, or with shadows, they must equally be of the true outline and in true gradations. I have been thirty years telling modern students of art this in vain. I mean to say it to you only once, for the statement is too important to be weakened by repetition.
WITHOUT PERFECT DELINEATION OF FORM AND PERFECT GRADATION OF SPACE, NEITHER NOBLE COLOUR IS POSSIBLE, NOR NOBLE LIGHT.
160. It may make this more believable to you if I put beside each other a piece of detail from each school. I gave you the St. John of Cima da Conegliano for a type of the colour school. Here is my own study of the sprays of oak which rise against the sky of it in the distance, enlarged to about its real size (Edu. 12). I hope to draw it better for you at Venice; but this will show you with what perfect care the colourist has followed the outline of every leaf in the sky. Beside, I put a chiaroscurist drawing (at least, a photograph of one), Duerer's from nature, of the common wild wall-cabbage (Edu. 32). It is the most perfect piece of delineation by flat tint I have ever seen, in its mastery of the perspective of every leaf, and its attainment almost of the bloom of texture, merely by its exquisitely tender and decisive laying of the colour. These two examples ought, I think, to satisfy you as to the precision of outline of both schools, and the power of expression which may be obtained by flat tints laid within such outline.
161. Next, here are two examples of the gradated shading expressive of the forms within the outline, by two masters of the chiaroscuro school. The first (S. 12) shows you Lionardo's method of work, both with chalk and the silver point. The second (S. 302), Turner's work in mezzotint; both masters doing their best. Observe that this plate of Turner's, which he worked on so long that it was never published, is of a subject peculiarly depending on effects of mystery and concealment, the fall of the Reuss under the Devil's Bridge on the St. Gothard; (the _old_ bridge; you may still see it under the existing one, which was built since Turner's drawing was made). If ever outline could be dispensed with, you would think it might be so in this confusion of cloud, foam, and darkness. But here is Turner's own etching on the plate (Edu. 35 F), made under the mezzotint; and of all the studies of rock outline made by his hand, it is the most decisive and quietly complete.
162. Again; in the Lionardo sketches, many parts are lost in obscurity, or are left intentionally uncertain and mysterious, even in the light, and you might at first imagine some permission of escape had been here given you from the terrible law of delineation. But the slightest attempts to copy them will show you that the terminal lines are inimitably subtle, unaccusably true, and filled by gradations of shade so determined and measured that the addition of a grain of the lead or chalk as large as the filament of a moth's wing, would make an appreciable difference in them.
This is grievous, you think, and hopeless? No, it is delightful and full of hope: delightful, to see what marvellous things can be done by men; and full of hope, if your hope is the right one, of being one day able to rejoice more in what others have done, than in what you can yourself do, and more in the strength that is for ever above you, than in that you can never attain.
163. But you can attain much, if you will work reverently and patiently, and hope for no success through ill-regulated effort. It is, however, most assuredly at this point of your study that the full strain on your patience will begin. The exercises in line-drawing and flat laying of colour are irksome; but they are definite, and within certain limits, sure to be successful if practised with moderate care. But the expression of form by shadow requires more subtle patience, and involves the necessity of frequent and mortifying failure, not to speak of the self-denial which I said was needful in persons fond of colour, to draw in mere light and shade. If, indeed, you were going to be artists, or could give any great length of time to study, it might be possible for you to learn wholly in the Venetian school, and to reach form through colour. But without the most intense application this is not possible; and practically, it will be necessary for you, as soon as you have gained the power of outlining accurately, and of laying flat colour, to learn to express solid form as shown by light and shade only. And there is this great advantage in doing so, that many forms are more or less disguised by colour, and that we can only represent them completely to others, or rapidly and easily record them for ourselves, by the use of shade alone. A single instance will show you what I mean. Perhaps there are few flowers of which the impression on the eye is more definitely of flat colour, than the scarlet geranium. But you would find, if you were to try to paint it,--first, that no pigment could approach the beauty of its scarlet; and secondly, that the brightness of the hue dazzled the eye, and prevented its following the real arrangement of the cluster of flowers. I have drawn for you here (at least this is a mezzotint from my drawing), a single cluster of the scarlet geranium, in mere light and shade (Edu. 32 B.), and I think you will feel that its domed form, and the flat lying of the petals one over the other, in the vaulted roof of it, can be seen better thus than if they had been painted scarlet.
164. Also this study will be useful to you, in showing how entirely effects of light depend on delineation, and gradation of spaces, and not on methods of shading. And this is the second great practical matter I want you to remember to-day. All effects of light and shade depend not on the method or execution of shadows, but on their rightness of place, form, and depth. There is indeed a loveliness of execution _added_ to the rightness, by the great masters, but you cannot obtain that unless you become one of them. Shadow cannot be laid thoroughly well, any more than lines can be drawn steadily, but by a long-practised hand, and the attempts to imitate the shading of fine draughtsmen, by dotting and hatching, are just as ridiculous as it would be to endeavour to imitate their instantaneous lines by a series of re-touchings. You will often indeed see in Lionardo's work, and in Michael Angelo's, shadow wrought laboriously to an extreme of fineness; but when you look into it, you will find that they have always been drawing more and more form within the space, and never finishing for the sake of added texture, but of added fact. And all those effects of transparency and reflected light, aimed at in common chalk drawings, are wholly spurious. For since, as I told you, all lights are shades compared to higher lights, and lights only as compared to lower ones, it follows that there can be no difference in their quality as such; but that light is opaque when it expresses substance, and transparent when it expresses space; and shade is also opaque when it expresses substance, and transparent when it expresses space. But it is not, even then, transparent in the common sense of that word; nor is its appearance to be obtained by dotting or cross hatching, but by touches so tender as to look like mist. And now we find the use of having Lionardo for our guide. He is supreme in all questions of execution, and in his 28th chapter, you will find that shadows are to be "dolce e sfumose," to be tender, and look as if they were exhaled, or breathed on the paper. Then, look at any of Michael Angelo's finished drawings, or of Correggio's sketches, and you will see that the true nurse of light is in art, as in nature, the cloud; a misty and tender darkness, made lovely by gradation.
165. And how absolutely independent it is of material or method of production, how absolutely dependent on rightness of place and depth,--there are now before you instances enough to prove. Here is Duerer's work in flat colour, represented by the photograph in its smoky brown; Turner's, in washed sepia, and in mezzotint; Lionardo's, in pencil and in chalk; on the screen in front of you a large study in charcoal. In every one of these drawings, the material of shadow is absolutely opaque. But photograph-stain, chalk, lead, ink, or charcoal,--every one of them, laid by the master's hand, becomes full of light by gradation only. Here is a moonlight (Edu. 31 B.), in which you would think the moon shone through every cloud; yet the clouds are mere single dashes of sepia, imitated by the brown stain of a photograph; similarly, in these plates from the Liber Studiorum the white paper becomes transparent or opaque, exactly as the master chooses. Here, on the granite rock of the St. Gothard (S. 302), in white paper made opaque, every light represents solid bosses of rock, or balls of foam. But in this study of twilight (S. 303), the same white paper (coarse old stuff it is, too!) is made as transparent as crystal, and every fragment of it represents clear and far away light in the sky of evening in Italy.
From all which the practical conclusion for you is, that you are never to trouble yourselves with any questions as to the means of shade or light, but only with the right government of the means at your disposal. And it is a most grave error in the system of many of our public drawing-schools, that the students are permitted to spend weeks of labour in giving attractive appearance, by delicacy of texture, to chiaroscuro drawings in which every form is false, and every relation of depth, untrue. A most unhappy form of error; for it not only delays, and often wholly arrests, their advance in their own art; but it prevents what ought to take place correlatively with their executive practice, the formation of their taste by the accurate study of the models from which they draw. And I must so far anticipate what we shall discover when we come to the subject of sculpture, as to tell you the two main principles of good sculpture; first, that its masters think before all other matters of the right placing of masses; secondly, that they give life by flexure of surface, not by quantity of detail; for sculpture is indeed only light and shade drawing in stone.
166. Much that I have endeavoured to teach on this subject has been gravely misunderstood, by both young painters and sculptors, especially by the latter. Because I am always urging them to imitate organic forms, they think if they carve quantities of flowers and leaves, and copy them from the life, they have done all that is needed. But the difficulty is not to carve quantities of leaves. Anybody can do that. The difficulty is, never anywhere to have an _unnecessary_ leaf. Over the arch on the right, you see there is a cluster of seven, with their short stalks springing from a thick stem. Now, you could not turn one of those leaves a hair's-breadth out of its place, nor thicken one of their stems, nor alter the angle at which each slips over the next one, without spoiling the whole as much as you would a piece of melody by missing a note. That is disposition of masses. Again, in the group on the left, while the placing of every leaf is just as skilful, they are made more interesting yet by the lovely undulation of their surfaces, so that not one of them is in equal light with another. And that is so in all good sculpture, without exception. From the Elgin marbles down to the lightest tendril that curls round a capital in the thirteenth century, every piece of stone that has been touched by the hand of a master, becomes soft with under-life, not resembling nature merely in skin-texture, nor in fibres of leaf, or veins of flesh; but in the broad, tender, unspeakably subtle undulation of its organic form.
167. Returning then to the question of our own practice, I believe that all difficulties in method will vanish, if only you cultivate with care enough the habit of accurate observation, and if you think only of making your light and shade true, whether it be delicate or not. But there are three divisions or degrees of truth to be sought for, in light and shade, by three several modes of study, which I must ask you to distinguish carefully.
I. When objects are lighted by the direct rays of the sun, or by direct light entering from a window, one side of them is of course in light, the other in shade, and the forms in the mass are exhibited systematically by the force of the rays falling on it; (those having most power of illumination which strike most vertically;) and note that there is, therefore, to every solid curvature of surface, a necessarily proportioned gradation of light, the gradation on a parabolic solid being different from the gradation on an elliptical or spherical one. Now, when your purpose is to represent and learn the anatomy, or otherwise characteristic forms, of any object, it is best to place it in this kind of direct light, and to draw it as it is seen when we look at it in a direction at right angles to that of the ray. This is the ordinary academical way of studying form. Lionardo seldom practises any other in his real work, though he directs many others in his treatise.
168. The great importance of anatomical knowledge to the painters of the sixteenth century rendered this method of study very frequent with them; it almost wholly regulated their schools of engraving, and has been the most frequent system of drawing in art-schools since (to the very inexpedient exclusion of others). When you study objects in this way,--and it will indeed be well to do so often, though not exclusively,--observe always one main principle. Divide the light from the darkness frankly at first: all over the subject let there be no doubt which is which. Separate them one from the other as they are separated in the moon, or on the world itself, in day and night. Then gradate your lights with the utmost subtilty possible to you; but let your shadows alone, until near the termination of the drawing: then put quickly into them what farther energy they need, thus gaining the reflected lights out of their original flat gloom; but generally not looking much for reflected lights. Nearly all young students (and too many advanced masters) exaggerate them. It is good to see a drawing come out of its ground like a vision of light only; the shadows lost, or disregarded in the vague of space. In vulgar chiaroscuro the shades are so full of reflection that they look as if some one had been walking round the object with a candle, and the student, by that help, peering into its crannies.
169. II. But, in the reality of nature, very few objects are seen in this accurately lateral manner, or lighted by unconfused direct rays. Some are all in shadow, some all in light, some near, and vigorously defined; others dim and faint in aerial distance. The study of these various effects and forces of light, which we may call aerial chiaroscuro, is a far more subtle one than that of the rays exhibiting organic form (which for distinction's sake we may call "formal" chiaroscuro), since the degrees of light from the sun itself to the blackness of night, are far beyond any literal imitation. In order to produce a mental impression of the facts, two distinct methods may be followed:--the first, to shade downwards from the lights, making everything darker in due proportion, until the scale of our power being ended, the mass of the picture is lost in shade. The second, to assume the points of extreme darkness for a basis, and to light everything above these in due proportion, till the mass of the picture is lost in light.
170. Thus, in Turner's sepia drawing "Isis" (Edu. 31), he begins with the extreme light in the sky, and shades down from that till he is forced to represent the near trees and pool as one mass of blackness. In his drawing of the Greta (S. 2), he begins with the dark brown shadow of the bank on the left, and illuminates up from that, till, in his distance, trees, hills, sky, and clouds, are all lost in broad light, so that you can hardly see the distinction between hills and sky. The second of these methods is in general the best for colour, though great painters unite both in their practice, according to the character of their subject. The first method is never pursued in colour but by inferior painters. It is, nevertheless, of great importance to make studies of chiaroscuro in this first manner for some time, as a preparation for colouring; and this for many reasons, which it would take too long to state now. I shall expect you to have confidence in me when I assure you of the necessity of this study, and ask you to make good use of the examples from the Liber Studiorum which I have placed in your Educational series.
171. III. Whether in formal or aerial chiaroscuro, it is optional with the student to make the local colour of objects a part of his shadow, or to consider the high lights of every colour as white. For instance, a chiaroscurist of Lionardo's school, drawing a leopard, would take no notice whatever of the spots, but only give the shadows which expressed the anatomy. And it is indeed necessary to be able to do this, and to make drawings of the forms of things as if they were sculptured, and had no colour. But in general, and more especially in the practice which is to guide you to colour, it is better to regard the local colour as part of the general dark and light to be imitated; and, as I told you at first, to consider all nature merely as a mosaic of different colours, to be imitated one by one in simplicity. But good artists vary their methods according to their subject and material. In general, Duerer takes little account of local colour; but in woodcuts of armorial bearings (one with peacock's feathers I shall get for you some day) takes great delight in it; while one of the chief merits of Bewick is the ease and vigour with which he uses his black and white for the colours of plumes. Also, every great artist looks for, and expresses, that character of his subject which is best to be rendered by the instrument in his hand, and the material he works on. Give Velasquez or Veronese a leopard to paint, the first thing they think of will be its spots; give it to Duerer to engrave, and he will set himself at the fur and whiskers; give it a Greek to carve, and he will only think of its jaws and limbs; each doing what is absolutely best with the means at his disposal.
172. The details of practice in these various methods I will endeavour to explain to you by distinct examples in your Educational series, as we proceed in our work; for the present, let me, in closing, recommend to you once more with great earnestness the patient endeavour to render the chiaroscuro of landscape in the manner of the Liber Studiorum; and this the rather, because you might easily suppose that the facility of obtaining photographs which render such effects, as it seems, with absolute truth and with unapproachable subtilty, superseded the necessity of study, and the use of sketching. Let me assure you, once for all, that photographs supersede no single quality nor use of fine art, and have so much in common with Nature, that they even share her temper of parsimony, and will themselves give you nothing valuable that you do not work for. They supersede no good art, for the definition of art is "human labour regulated by human design," and this design, or evidence of active intellect in choice and arrangement, is the essential part of the work; which so long as you cannot perceive, you perceive no art whatsoever; which when once you do perceive, you will perceive also to be replaceable by no mechanism. But, farther, photographs will give you nothing you do not work for. They are invaluable for record of some kinds of facts, and for giving transcripts of drawings by great masters; but neither in the photographed scene, nor photographed drawing, will you see any true good, more than in the things themselves, until you have given the appointed price in your own attention and toil. And when once you have paid this price, you will not care for photographs of landscape. They are not true, though they seem so. They are merely spoiled nature. If it is not human design you are looking for, there is more beauty in the next wayside bank than in all the sun-blackened paper you could collect in a lifetime. Go and look at the real landscape, and take care of it; do not think you can get the good of it in a black stain portable in a folio. But if you care for human thought and passion, then learn yourselves to watch the course and fall of the light by whose influence you live, and to share in the joy of human spirits in the heavenly gifts of sunbeam and shade. For I tell you truly, that to a quiet heart, and healthy brain, and industrious hand, there is more delight, and use, in the dappling of one wood-glade with flowers and sunshine, than to the restless, heartless, and idle could be brought by a panorama of a belt of the world, photographed round the equator.
This work published before January 1, 1923 is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.