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Degree of resemblance proposed.—Chief object of imitation. adopted were either greatly conventional or dictated such a choice of nature as was best calculated to supply the absent quality.
It will first be necessary to inquire what degree of resemblance was proposed in the imitation of the living form. In the fine examples of sculpture the surface of the skin, though free from minute accidents, is imitated closely. The polish is, however, uniform; first, because any varieties in this respect could not be distinguished at a due distance; and secondly, because a rough surface on marble in the open air is sure to hasten the corroding effect of time, by affording minute receptacles for dust r rain, while in interiors the rough portions would be soonest soiled.
In polishing the marble, the ancient sculptors were sometimes careful not to obliterate or soften too much the sharp ridges of the features, such as the edges of the eyelids, lips, &c. These sharpnesses were preserved, and occasionally exaggerated, in order to insure a distinct light and shade on the features at a considerable distance. Such contrivances, it is almost needless to say, were in a great measure dispensed with in statues intended for near inspection. Lastly, the marble received a varnish rather to protect the surface than to give it gloss.
These modes of finishing the surface are detailed, because it is of importance to remark, that this was the extent of the imitation. The varnish, doubtless, would give mellowness to the colour of the marble; but it may be assumed that a statue thus finished was nearly white.
The flesh is always the master-object of imitation in the antique statues; the other substances, drapery, armory, hair, or whatever they may be, are treated as accessories, to give value and truth to the naked. In nature it is possible for hair to be so smooth as to offer scarcely any difference in surface from flesh. Indiscriminate imitation in this particular, has also had its advo
Relative effect in sculpture of the time of Hadrian.
cates, and many Italian statues want colour to make the hair distinct from the face. The hair in the antique, whether crisp in its undulations, like that of the Venus of Milo; or soft, like that of the Medicean Venus; or bristled in unequal masses like that of the Dying Gladiator; or elaborately true, like that of the Lucius Venus; or whether even, as in the early Greek works, it is represented by undulating scratches, or by a series of regular curls, it is always more or less rough and channelled, so as to present a surface, sometimes from its deep shades almost approaching a mass of dark, opposed to the face. All this is only a judicious choice, and a skilful translation of nature.
In these and similar modes of distinction, as the accessories are treated in a relative and comparative manner; they cannot possibly approach so near to nature as the flesh. This relative effect is generally compatible with the admission of one or more of the proper qualities of the accessories; but it sometimes happens that, in them, the relative effect alone is studied. Thus, a detached portion of the hair of the Laocoon, or of the Dying Gladiator, would hardly be recognized for what it represents; the same might be said of detached portions of some draperies. This large principle of imitation is not to be recognized in less perfect examples of the art. The sculpture of the time of Hadrian, even when of colossal size, and requiring to be seen at some distance, is indiscriminately finished throughout. The master-object of imitation is consequently less effective.
The possibility of imitating drapery literally, accounts for some of the practices of the ancient sculptors, which, though judicious, have been sometimes objected to. Difficult as it may be supposed to be, to imitate a flexible substance in stone, the surface which drapery presents, in a quiescent state, may be copied in marble so as to produce illusion; for the surface being completely rendered,
Imitation of drapery.-Conventional treatment.
we have only to suppose the original drapery to be white, and the imitation in white marble is at once on a level with all absolute fac-similies. The consequence would be, that in a white marble statue with drapery thus literally copied from nature, we should immediately discover that the flesh was not of the natural colour, a discovery which we should never be permitted to make. The flesh from wanting colour, sets out with a departure from nature, and the conditions of imitation require that no other substance should surpass it in resemblance to its prototypes. As before observed, this generally follows when the accessories are treated in a merely relative manner. We should therefore pause before condemning the occasional squareness, straightness, and parallelism of the folds in some antique specimens, since this treatment not only serves to distinguish the drapery from the undulating outline and roundness of the limbs, but gives it that degree of conventional treatment, which prevents it from surpassing the flesh in mere truth of imitation. Thus the art is true to its own conditions; and this, at whatever cost attained, is necessary to constitute style.
The consequence of the direct and unrestrained imitation of the details is, that the flesh, however finished, looks petrified and colourless; for objects of very inferior importance, even to the buttons, are much nearer to nature. The objection to these details, from their unpleasant or unmeaning forms, is here left out of the account.
The boldness with which the ancient sculptors overcame difficulties is remarkable. Thus, to take an extreme case, rocks, which in marble can be easily made identical with nature, (thereby betraying the incompleteness of the art in other respects,) are generally conventional in fine sculpture-witness the bassorelievo of Perseus and Andromeda, and various examples in
Armour.-Portions of architecture, &c.
statues where rocks are introduced for the support of the figures. In order to reduce literal reality to the conditions of art, the substance is in this instance, so to speak, uncharacterized. The same liberty is observable in sculptured armour, as treated by the ancients. Sharpness is avoided; and the polish does not surpass, sometimes does not equal, that of the flesh. In like manner, steps, or any portions of architecture, are irregular and not geometrically true in their lines and angles. On a similar principle, probably, the inscriptions on the finest antique medals are rudely formed; for it cannot be supposed that the artists who could treat the figures and heads so exquisitely, could have been at a loss to execute mechanical details with precision.
In Canova's monument to the archduchess Maria Christina, at Vienna, figures are represented ascending real steps, and entering the open door of a real tomb-all executed with a builder's precision. It is plain that, to keep pace with the literal truth of these circumstances, the figures should at least have colour, life, and motion. The want of all these is injudiciously made apparent by the comparison in question, and some pains are taken to convince the spectator that he is looking at marble statues.
In the antique, on the contrary, it will generally be found that the employment of conventional methods (as opposed to the more direct truth of representation) increases in proportion, as objects are easily imitable, and consequently in danger of interfering with the higher aim.
The contrivances which are intended to give the impression of reality to the master-object of imitation, as exemplified in the best works of the ancients, thus point out the course to be pursued in the difficult treatment of statues in modern costume.
very existence of imitation (however successful its results
Imitation complete.—Limits of representation.
may be) depends on the condition, that its means should be different from those of nature. But sculpture, at the outset, gives substance for substance. A common quality being thus unavoidable, art is immediately on the watch to maintain its independence, by laying a stress on all the differences in its power, that are consistent with imitation. Accordingly, the form of the substance assumes peculiar beauty; it is thus removed, at least, from ordinary nature. The colour-in the imitation of the human figure is altogether different from nature. Other qualities in the substance being given, the opposite qualities in nature are, in like manner, selected for imitation. The lifelessness, hardness, and rigidity of the material, point out the elastic surface of life and flexible substances, as the fittest objects for the artist's skill. Imitation is complete when we forget that the marble is white, lifeless, and inflexible. But if we are compelled to remember this, by the introduction of qualities common to nature and to the marble, (mere substance being already common) the first principle of art, as such, is violated. The selection of qualities differing from the nature of the material in which they are imitated, has, necessarily, its limits. Flying drapery, foliage, water, clouds, smoke, are opposed, but may be too much opposed, to the artificial substance to render imitation possible. The spectator is, in this case, again reminded of the material.
Even in single figures, the distinction between the drapery and the flesh is chiefly expressed where they meet, and are immediately opposed to each other; in other parts remote from the flesh, the drapery exhibits nearly the same surface as the flesh. Again, where the drapery clings to the form, (a contrivance particularly objected to by Falconet,) it is the limb, rather than the drapery, which is apparent. There are, however, examples in the antique, where the entire surface of the drapery is