Eastlake's Methods and Materials of Painting of the Great Schools and Masters
Eastlake, Sir Charles Lock [One-time President of the Royal Academy], Methods and Materials of Painting of the Great Schools and Masters [Formerly titled: Materials for a History of Oil Painting]. Vol. One. New York; Dover Publications, Inc. 1960 [Originally published by Longman, Brown, Green and Longmans in 1847]
One thing is certain, that whatever the end of art may be, whatever feelings in men it may address, its means must be ever the same. These are not measured by the temper of society in any age, but by the nature of the art itself, which is immutable. If it is not itself it will be surpassed by something else, either by Sculpture or by Poetry. There [p. 407] can be no question or no difficulty in settling the question as to what the strength and character and beauty of painting consist in--as a means. But what end these means shall serve,--in short what feeling in man should be addressed, is the question. It would at first appear that as the senses must necessarily be addressed and pleased, some feeling connected with the mere enjoyment of nature ought not constitute the strongest impression made by the arts. This would, however, at once involve the necessity [in theory] of suppressing them altogether. It is evident, therefore, that they can be only fitted for the refined enjoyment of human beings when they correct the indispensable appeal to the senses by a pure moral impression.
This is almost what the Memlings and Van Eycks do; their notion of colour is of the largest kind [making some allowance for the general in fancy of art], the true character of things is everywhere expressed [black is never lighted--flesh is always transparent--white is always brilliant], and while the sense is charmed with this large and true view of nature, which might give tenfold interest to a subject of more beauty, the end of all this serves is of the most solemn, pure, innocent and noble kind. The beauties of nature and all the pleasures of sense may be presented in the same way, for we know it is quite possible for human beings to love Nature in her attractive forms, without sensual associations, and if it were not so, [p. 409] our reason would be useless to us. By attractive forms are not meant voluptuous ones, for these are in their nature unfit for imitation; but there is no more reason why a pure subject should not be connected with the whole attractions of art in colour, &c., than that the beauties of nature should not be compatible with an innocent feeling. It is the privilege of reasonable beings to unite the two: united they must ever be, more or less, for the attempt to suppress the attractions of sense in life, is only as absurd as to attempt to reject colour from Painting. It comes then to this that, as the method or language of Painting is one, immutable, and indispensable, the great object is to take care that the end be noble, human, refined; for the means will take care of themselves. The end is defined by the nature of the feelings, excited, and no matter what the subject is [if always sufficiently beautiful to the eye] so long as the feelings excited are noble and elevated. If they excite human sympathy in its pleasing degrees, all that is permanently graceful or refined, all that is rational and intellectual in joy, and all that is dignified in sorrow--all in short that is human and religious--the end of art may be safely said to be accomplished in any age, for the human and Christian character is as certain in its definition as the character of the art. It appears then that the means are determined by examining the nature of the art itself,--as it were blindly, implicitly [p. 409] with a docile and passive spirit of enquiry--independently of any other consideration, and from this determination there is no appeal. The end, on the other hand, is measured by the general feeling in the human spectator to be addressed, and as the senses must be sensual, the end cannot be too high and pure, provided it be within our sympathies, and sufficiently analogous to human sensibilities. This is using the imitation of nature as wise men tell us to use nature itself--viz., in sbordination to our immortal and not natural being. The union of the two in Painting is extremely pleasing, because the very means by which the sense is delighted [as is elsewhere shown] make the ruling impression more strong. The more perfect the appeal to the sense in the means, the more impressive will be the end. The Greeks seem to have contented themselves with clearly defining the nature of the means, and the means and end were one with them. Nature only existed to be enjoyed; there was no moral monitor to check the indulgence of what nature offered; but let it not be supposed that their art is therefore more consistent and perfect; it was more easily made consistent, it is true, with the then existing state of things. Still, there is not more impossibility, as before said, in uniting a pure end with the indispensable means of art, than there is for a man to live for the health of body and mind, and not for his appetites: and, moreover, if accomplished, such a style of art would be more [p. 411] strictly human and characteristic of our nature,--more fitted for beings made of body and soul together. If brutes could draw and model they would minister to earthly objects only; but beings who confess immortal aspirations must distinguish even their abstract idea of Nature from such as mere mortals would arrive at. The Greeks defined the object of the hopes of mere mortals to consist in the enjoyment of nature--they defined them consistently, accurately, perfectly, as addressed to the sense and the imagination. They defined too the feelings of the natural man to which their works were addressed--his pride, his dignity, his courage, his love, his taste--but his soul-felt trust, his peace, his faith, his humility, his contrition, they could not address, because they knew them not. They could represent the joys of nature, and the feelings of the natural man harmonized then with those joys as they do now; but evil in any shape was without solace to them: without resignation, without comprehension, without submission, the exhibition of evil in art appeals to human sympathies as if there were none else to help. Thus evil or pain if represented in antique sculpture either underwent modifications suited to the art, or was a means only to exhibit the human form in finer action. [pp. 407-411]
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