Notebook, 1993-

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]

Professional Essays - Space

The flat surface is got rid of by composition, aided by linear and aerial perspective; by roundness and gradation; by colour; by execution; and by the nature of the vehicle.

As respects composition, it is got rid of by varying the places of objects and their parts in depth, as opposed to superficial, basrelief composition. Every object should mark a different degree of distance. If there are but few objects, still, they should never occupy precisely the same plane; and one object should, as often as possible, be [p. 323] placed obliquely with the plane of the picture, by which means every point of its extent marks a different distance from that plane. With regard to different objects, the same rule in composition which, in basrelief, dictates their not being placed horizontally or perpendicularly in a line with each other, requires that they should not be equidistant from the plane of the picture. When their position in depth is thus varied, their apparently superficial parallelism, either horizontally or vertically, is of less importance; but the same variety should be observed in every direction; in the horizontal and in the perpendicular direction, and in the direction at right angles with the plane of the picture--that is, in depth.

Architectural lines and surfaces are frequently parallel with the plane of the picture: the commonest case is a flat wall, or portion of one, directly opposite the eye. This is a case where the other modes of variety, above enumerated, are especially required, and where the flatness of the wall, which is unavoidable, should be shown to be quite distinct, and more or less distant, from the flat plane of the picture. To these modes of variety we shall return.

The representation of space is the abstract expression of that receding distance from the plane of the picture which should be marked by objects, when objects are introduced. In their absence much depends on gradation, colour, execution, and vehicle; and this is one of the instances where the [p. 325] effect of nature may be approached by means entirely belonging to the materials of art. The best example of this peculiar skill is Rembrandt. Gradation is applicable to a flat surface, and is therefore not in itself sufficient to produce the desired effect of space; gradation, in the case of the varied light and tones on a wall, does not alter its flatness; it would falsify the object if it did: all that it does is to show that the flat surface, so represented, is, as whole, more or less within and distant from the surface of the picture. It is quite allowable to give a greater impression of transparency and depth to the substance or texture of the wall than it really possesses, but not to falsify its general character. This character is easily maintained by a line of architecture across it, a cast shadow across it, an object suspended upon it, or any contrivance which expresses and defines its actual flatness, even though the execution should convey the impression, to a certain extent, of depth.

But, in the expression of actual depth, the gradation, which is more or less regular on a wall, is not necessarily so in space. Here the appearance which, on a solid surface, would give the effect of undulation rather than flatness is admissible to any extent, subject only to the effect of chiaroscuro required in representing space. The in-and-in look which Rembrandt expresses so well might doubtless be regular, like a quiet evening sky, but he rarely, if ever, represented such unbroken effects. His depth [p. 325] is contrived on the same principle as its expression by accidentally placed objects would be conveyed--that is, its indications are irregular, undulating, and not in unbroken succession and order. The most distant point [if it be permitted so to distinguish such vague measure of distance], whether expressed by darkness, by inward light, by retiring colour, or by execution--by the mutual relation of semi-superposed pigment, or by lucid vehicle marking real depth--that most distant point or place represents what, in composition, would be the most distant object, and so of nearer points or places. [pp. 323-326]



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