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GEOGRAPHY. Memoir concerning a New Chart of the Caspian Sea. By M. D'ANVILLE. This Memoir is designed to rectify, in some points, the famous chart of the Caspian Sea, sent to the Academy by Czar Peter the Great, by means of the astronomical observations that were made by Olearius on the coasts of that fea, in the beginning of the 17th century.
The eulogies of Messrs. De la Condamine and Quesnay are prefixed to the Memoirs of this volume. The former deserves a separate Article, which, we think, will be acceptable to the greatest part of our Readers.
Art. II. Opere di Antonio Raffaele Mengs, &c. i. e. The Works of ANTHONY RAPHAEL MENGS, first Painter to his Majesty Charles III. King of Spain. Published by D. Joseph Nicholas D’Azara. Parma. 2 vols. in 4to, the ift containing 325 pages, and the 2d 302.-— 1780. .
This great Artist, who was more indebted to application and ftudy than to natural genius, for the high rank he has deservedly obtained in the first class of painters, has left us here a monument that will perhaps even outlast the noble productions of his pencil. His pictures and his writings would not certainly have led the connoisseur to judge that Nature had bestowed upon him her gift of inspiration with a parfimonious breath; for he has blended art lo admirably with the pictance she had given him, that the gift and its improvement carry one undivided aspect, and it is perhaps only from his own confeffion, that (at least) an ordinary connoiffeur would learn, that Nature had done nothing very uncommon in his behalf. An artist whose pencil aspired to the imitation of Raphael, whose pen dared to inftruet in the manner of Da Vinci, and whose ambition in both lines has met with applause, is, and muft be secured from oblivion. The English Virtuoso has only to go to Northumberland House, and to peruse the work now before s, in order to be persuaded that MENGs, as well as our REYNOLDS and WEST, will go down to lad pofterity, if the arts survive this iron age of corruption and discord. There are, however, Itrange things in the work before us.
The first volume of this publication, beside the life of the author composed by Mr. D’Azara, and a catalogue of all the pictures which Mr. Mengs drew in Spain, contains four Treatises, whose titles are as follows. Ift, Concerning Beauty in general, and Taste in painting. 2d, Reflexions on the Three great Painters, Raphael, Corregio, and Titian, and also on the ancient Artists. 3d, Fragment of a Discourse concerning the means of raising the fine Arts to a flourishing State in Spain. 419, A Letter to M. Falconet, French Sculptor at Petersburg. We had almost
forgot the dedication to the King of Spain, prefixed to this volume. . We shall not attempt any analytical.account of these treatises. We shall only give some specimens of the Author's manner of thinking and judging with respect to the art in which he so eminently excelled. ---Notwithstanding the great merit of the work in general, we do not think that it is every where beyond the reach of criticism.
Mr. Mengs's ideas of beauty in the first treatise are, upon the whole, just and philosophical; these are contained in the first part of this treatise, in which, among other things, the Author observes, that Art may surpass Nature; and this he il. lustrates by several proofs and examples. The Apollo of Belvidera, and the Venus of Florence, which the anatomist Cheselden considered as perfect forms, are alleged as proofs of this proposition : and the propofition is undoubtedly true, if we confine it to the forms that actually exist (in our part of the sphere of Nature) taken individually. It is, however, true, at the same time, that no form, however perfect, can proceed from the pencil or the chisel, that does not derive its beauty from Nature, taken in a more extensive sense, of which the Helen of Zeuxis is a proof, as several parts of aclual Nature (not to speak of ideal) were combined in this happy composition.
The second part of this treatise contains several nice disquisi. tions relative to taste and manner, of which we would give an account, if we did not apprehend that abridgment would be attended with obscurity
A good taste in painting takes place, according to our Author, where the principal objects are well expressed, and where the facility of the artist removes all appearance of art and labour, We do not think this definition satisfactory. The Author comes certainly nearer to the point, when, distinguishing true taste from manner, he says, that the former consists in the choice of Nature in her best aspects, and in attending always to what is elsential in an object. Manner is relative to something factitious; it mixes the peculiar cast of mind, the habitual turn of the artist (whatever it be) with his representazion of Nature. True taste, by a happy choice, can often raise common Nature to high degrees of elegance and refinement, as may be eafily perceived when we compare the landscapes of Teniers with those of Salvator Rofa. Our Autbor judges well, when he says, that the union of the ideal with the power of imitation constitutes the great artist; but when he tells us, that by the ideal he understands no more than the happy choice of natural objects, and not the invention of new ones, we would defire a farther explication of his meaning. If he means by natural objects (as he seems to do), objects actually existing without the mind of the artist, we think his notion of the ideal too confined : for, after all, the original source of true beauty lies within us;—the beautiful, the good, the delicate, the graceful, the noble, the sublime, are perceptions essential to mind; the external objects only develope and unfold them; and in those minds where these perceptions or capacities of perception lie the least dormant, and are in the greatest vigour, they will often excite imagination to conceive the external forms in Nature that correspond with them, even where these forms have not been contemplated as actually existing in individual objects. In more ordinary geniuses the indivi. dual objects must strike the eye before the perceptions will arise, and even here, if the capacity had not been previous to the objects, they would not arise at all. It is here that we must look for the true theory of ideal beauty in the productions of the pencil and or ideal capacity in the artist. Michael Angelo saw no where such living figures as he cut in marble; and it may be boldly affirmed, that the Apollo of Belvidera, 'had no prototype out of the mind of the sculptor. What model, said a Bolognese nobleman to Guido, supplies you with the divine and graceful airs of your female heads ? I'll Thew you, replied the Artist, and calling his colour-grinder, a great lubberly brawny fellow, with a brutal countenance, he bad him fit down, turn his head, and look up to the sky; and then, taking his chalk, drew a Magdalen: and when the nobleman saw, with astonishment, an angelic figure arising from the attitude, lights and shadows of the colourgrinder, Guido addressed him in the following words : " My « dear Count, there is no enchantment here; but tell your « painter, that the beautiful and pure idea must be in the mind, 6 and then it is no matter what the model be,” we add, nor where the mind got it.
The Chevalier Mengs examines, in this treatise, the progress of taste in painting, and gives many useful inftrudions to artists to affist them in forming a true taste. He also employs eight chapters in observations on the drawing, chiaro-ofiuro, colouring, composition, and draperies of Raphael, Corregio, and Titian, and forms a comparison between the taste and intention of the antient and modern artists. Many things are to be learned, and some to be rectified in these chapters. As the three great artists, now mentioned, are the principal objects of our Author's admiration, he employs the whole of his second treatise in displaying their respective excellencies and defects. This treatise bas great merit, though it does not seem to have received the finishing couches of its author; but, on the other hand, it contains strange paradoxes relative to Raphael, which we could not have expected from one of his most zealous admirers and imitators. Rey, Aug. 1785.
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After having examined all the branches of the art, as practised by these three great masters, and given Raphael the preference, he lays down the general rules by which we are to judge of the merit of a painter, and the precepts that must be followed in order to arrive at an eminent degree of perfection in that enchanting art. In treating of the excellencies and defects of Raphael, he enlarges particularly on his drawing or design, which he esteems highly, but judges less perfect than that of the ancients.- Be it so. But hear his reason for this judgment : Because (says he) Raphael had not imbibed the spirit of the Greeks, and had not the knowledge of ideal beauty. Now this is the very first time that we have heard this defect imputed to Raphael, who is known to have studied the Grecian ftatues with peculiar attention and ardour. We have also been accustomed to hear Raphael mentioned as the artist that excelled all others in ideal beauty: he is generally supposed to have carried it to a degree of enthusiasm, to have infused it not only in his produce tions, but also to have treated of it in his epistolary correspondence and writinys, with a kind of myftical, platonic elevation of phrase, that rendered him sometimes unintelligible to those who did not conceive and feel like him. The Chevalier Mengs seems to found this judgment of the Plato of the painters merely on a letter of Raphael to the Count Balthasar Castiglioni, concerning the famous Galatea ; but the Chevalier was certainly in a hurry when he read this letter; for though one part of it seems to favour his judgment, the passage that immediately follows overturns it entirely. Raphael, indeed, says, “ To represent a per“ fect beauty I must examine several fine women, and I wish « your Excellency was present to assist me in selecting the most “ beautiful parts of each figure.” So far the letter seems to make for our Author, Hear, however, what the sublime artist adds: “ But as there is a scarcity of truly fine women, and, per“ haps, a ftill greater scarcity of true judges, whose counsels “ might be of use to me, I am obliged to have recourse to a cer“ tain MODEL OF PERFECT BEAUTY, that I have formed in My « own MIND.”- From whatever circumstance this error of our Author was derived, it has had a sinister influence on his judgment concerning many of the productions of Raphaei's pencil. He tells us, for example, that this unacquaintance with ideal beauty, was the reason why that great artist succeeded better in his figures of apostles and philosophers, than in those of the Deities; and the reason is good, if the fact be true; for it is undoubtedly in the delineation of exalted, invisible beings, that the ideal has the propereft field for its exertions, though it can breathe its charm also on common and known objects. But is the fact true? We do not pretend to oppose our judgment to
that of the Chevalier Mengs, but we cannot help opposing to it the judgment of Fred. Zucchero, who affirms that Raphael is superior to all other painters in his heads, excepting those of his devils.
Our Author's account of the perfections of Raphael is indeed excellent; and his admiration of that immortal artist rises to enthusiası, the noble enthusiasm of taste and genius; but he can. not keep out of the region of paradox, when he speaks of his defects. We have so often heard the graceful tempering the great mentioned as the eminent and distinguishing characteristics of Raphael's pencil, that we are surprised to learn from Mr. MENGS that there is always something gross and ordinary in his figures. His ideas of Raphael's colouring are new, and we leave them to the judgment of our Academy. That he may have neglected sometimes this branch of the art, in confequence of a food attention to others, we do not deny, and our Author alleges examples of this which we do not pretend to conteft ; but if we can credit travellers, and the best writers on the fine arts, the Madona in the gallery of Florence (commonly called Madona della sedia) is a strong proof of Raphael's high merit even with respect to colouring. Mr. Mengs does not think that there exists a single picture in oil-colours that was entirely painted by Raphael's own hand, and we never heard, before this moment, that the groupe of the demoniac in the immortal picture of the transfiguration was painted by Giulio Romano. It is most fingular of all, that our Author's arguments in favour of what he has alleged against the colouring of Raphael should be principally drawn from certain corrections in the famous picture last mentioned, since we have more than once heard connoisseurs observe that these corrections rather prove the contrary.
Corregio next passes in review ; and he never appears without exciting a certain degree of pleasing emotion mixed with pain; for his heart was as meek, amiable, and candid as his pencil was tender, graceful, and sublime; and yet he lived almost unnoticed, and, to the shame of his time, died in penury, after a short life of toil and hard labour. Our Author's obfervations on this charming painter are peculiarly interesting, full of intelligence and judgment, and denote a masterly critic in the art. He powerfully combats an opinion commonly received, that Corregio had no knowledge of the Antique, and that he never was at Rome. These are matters of fact which depend on testimony more than induction : it is, however, on the latter that the Chevalier founds his opinion. He thinks the remarkable difference between the first and the last pictures of Corregio a sufficient reason to believe that this artist had studied the antique in the latter part of his life, and he points out the peculiarities that distinguilla bis taste and manner of design from that of the ancients. L 2