If anyone should ask, what it is that constitutes a fine proportioned human figure? how ready and seemingly decisive is the common answer; a just symmetry and harmony of parts with respect to the whole. But as probably this vague answer took its rise from doctrines not belonging to form, or idle schemes built on them, I apprehend it will cease to be thought much to the purpose after a proper inquiry has been made.
Preparatory to which, it becomes necessary, in this place, to mention one reason more which may be added to those given in the introductory chapter, for my having persuaded the reader to consider objects scooped out like thin shells; which is, that partly by this conception, he may be the better able to separate and keep asunder the two following general ideas, as we will call them, belonging to form; which are apt to coincide and mix with each other in the mind, and which, for the sake of making each more fully and particularly clear, should be kept apart, and considered singly.
First, the general ideas of what has already been discussed in the foregoing chapters, which only comprehends the surface of form, viewing it in no other light than merely as being ornamental or not.
Secondly, that general idea, now to be discussed, which we commonly have of form altogether, as arising chiefly from a fitness to some designed purpose or use.
Hitherto our main drift has been to establish and illustrate the first idea only, by showing, first the nature of variety, and then its effects on the mind; with the manner how such impressions are made by means of the different feelings given to the eye, from its movements in tracing and coursing over surfaces of all kinds, as described in Chapter V, on Intricacy.
The surface of a piece of ornament, that has every turn in it that lines are capable of moving into, and at the same time no way applied, nor of any manner of use, but merely to entertain the eye, would be such an object as would answer to this first idea alone.
The figure like a leaf, figure 7, plate 19, is something of this kind; it was taken from an ash-tree, and was a sort of lusus naturcB, growing only like an excrescence, but so beautiful in the lines of its shell-like windings, as would have been above the power of a Gibbons to have equalled, even in its own materials; nor could the graver of an Edlinck, or Drevet, have done it justice on copper.
Note, the present taste of ornaments seems to have been partly taken from productions of this^sort, which are to be found about autumn among plants, particularly asparagus, when it is running to seed.
I shall now endeavor to explain what is included in what I have called, for distinction's sake, the second general idea of form, in a much fuller manner than was done in Chapter I, of Fitness. And begin with observing, that though surfaces will unavoidably be still included, yet we must no longer confine ourselves to the particular notice of them as surfaces only, as we heretofore have done; we must now open our view to general, as well as particular bulk and solidity; and also look into what may have filled up, or given rise thereto, such as certain given quantities and dimensions of parts, for inclosing any substance, or for performing of motion, purchase, steadfastness, and other matters of use to living beings, which, I apprehend, at length, will bring us to a tolerable conception of the word proportion.
As to these joint-sensations of bulk and motion, do we not at first sight almost, even without making trial, seem to feel when a lever of any kind is too weak, or not long enough to make such or such a purchase? or when a spring is not sufficient? and do not we find by experience what weight, or dimension should be given, or taken away, on this or that account? If so, as the general as well as particular bulks of form, are made up of materials moulded together under mechanical directions, for some known purpose or other; how naturally, from these considerations, shall we fall into a judgment of fit proportion; which is one part of beauty to the mind, though not always so to the eye.
Our necessities have taught us to mould matter into various shapes, and to give them fit proportions for particular uses, as bottles, glasses, knives, dishes, etc. Has not offence given rise to the form of the sword, and defence to that of the shield? And what else but proper fitness of parts has fixed the different dimensions of pistols, common guns, great guns, fowling-pieces, and blunderbusses; which differences, as to figure, may as properly be called the different characters of firearms, as the different shapes of men are called characters of men.
We find also that the profuse variety of shapes, which present themselves from the whole animal creation, arise chiefly from the nice fitness of their parts, designed for accomplishing the peculiar movements of each.
And here I think will be the proper place to speak of a most curious difference between the living machines of nature, in respect to fitness, and such poor ones, in comparison with them, as men are only capable of making; by means of which distinction, I am in hopes of showing what particularly constitutes the utmost beauty of proportion in the human figure.
A clock, by the government's order, has been made by Mr. Harrison, for the keeping of true time at sea; which perhaps is one of the most exquisite movements ever made. Happy the ingenuous contriver! although the form of the whole, or of every part of this curious machine, should be ever so confused, or displeasingly shaped to the eye; and although even its movements should be disagreeable to look at, provided it answers the end proposed: an ornamental composition was no part of his scheme, otherwise than as a polish might be necessary; if ornaments are required to be added to mend its shape, care must be taken that they are no obstruction to thq movement itself, and the more, as they would be superfluous, as to the main design. But in nature*s machines, how wonderfully do we see beauty and use go hand in hand!
Had a machine for this purpose been nature's work, the whole and every individual part might have had exquisite beauty of form without danger of destroying the exquisiteness of its motion, even as if ornament had been the sole aim; its movements too might have been graceful, without one superfluous tittle added for either of these lovely purposes. Now this is that curious difference between the fitness of nature's machines — one of which is man — and those made by mortal hands: which distinction is to lead us to our main point proposed; I mean, to the showing what constitutes the utmost beauty of proportion.
There was brought from France some years ago, a little clock-work machine, with a duck's head and legs fixed to it, which was so contrived as to have some resemblance of that fowl standing upon one foot, and stretching back its leg, turning its head, opening and shutting its bill, moving its wings, and shaking its tail; all of them the plainest and easiest directions in living movements, yet for the poorly performing of these few motions, this silly, but much extolled machine, being uncovered, appeared a most complicated, confused, and disagreeable object : nor would its being covered with a skin closely adhering to its parts, as that of a real duck does, have much mended its figure; at best, a bag of hob-nails, broken hinges, and patten-rings, would have looked as well, unless by other means it had been stufi^ed out to bring it into form.
Thus again you see, the more variety we pretend to give to our trifling movements, the more confused and unomamental the forms become; and chance but seldom helps them. How much the reverse are nature's! the greater the variety her movements have, the more beautiful are the parts that cause them.
The finny race of animals, as they have fewer motions than other creatures, so are their forms less remarkable for beauty. It is also to be noted of every species, that the handsomest of each move best: birds of a clumsy make seldom fly well, nor do lumpy fish glide so well through the water as those of a neater make; and beasts of the most elegant form, always excel in speed; of this, the horse and greyhound are beautiful examples: and even among themselves, the most elegantly made seldom fail of being the swiftest.
The war horse is more equally made for strength than the race horse, which surplus of power in the former, if supposed added to the latter, as it would throw more weight into improper parts for the business of mere speed, so of course it would lessen, in some degree, that admirable quality, and partly destroy that delicate fitness of his make; but then a quality in movement, superior to that of speed, would be given to him by the addition, as he would be rendered thereby more fit to move with ease in such varied, or graceful directions, as are so delightful to the eye in the carriage of the finely managed war horse ; and as at the same time, something stately and graceful would be added to his figure, which before coxild only be said to have an elegant neatness. This noble creature stands foremost among brutes; and it is but consistent with nature's propriety, that the most useful animal in the brute creation, should be thus signalized also for the most beauty.
Yet, properly speaking, no living creatures are capable of moving in such truly varied and graceful directions, as the human species; and it would be needless to say how much superior in beauty their forms and textures likewise are. And surely also, after what has been said relating to figure and motion, it is plain and evident that nature has thought fit to make beauty of proportion, and beauty of movement, necessary to each other; so that the observation before made on animals, will hold equally good with regard to man: i. e, that he who is most exquisitely well proportioned is most capable of exquisite movements, such as ease and grace in deportment, or in dancing.
It may be a sort of collateral confirmation of what has been said of this method of nature's working, as well as otherwise worth our notice, that when any parts belonging to the human body are concealed, and not immediately concerned in movement, all such ornamental shapes, as evidently appear in the muscles and bones, are totally neglected as unnecessary, for nature does nothing in vain! this is plainly the case of the internal organs, none of them having the least beauty, as to form, except the heart; which noble part, and indeed kind of first mover, is a simple and well- varied figure; conformable to which, some of the most elegant Roman urns and vases have been fashioned.
Now, thus much being kept in remembrance, our next step will be to speak of, first, general measurements; such as the whole height of the body to its breadth, or the length of a limb to its thickness: and, secondly, of such appearances of dimensions as are too intricately varied to admit of a description by lines. The former will be confined to a very few straight lines, crossing each other, which will easily be understood by everyone; but the latter will require somewhat more attention, because it will extend to the precision of every modification, bound, or limit, of the human figure.
To be somewhat more explicit. As to the first part, I shall begin with showing what practicable sort of measuring may be used in order to produce the most proper variety in the proportions of the parts of any body. I say, practicable, because the vast variety of intricately situated parts, belonging to the human form, will not admit of measuring the distances of one part by another, by lines or points, beyond a certain degree or number, without great perplexity in the operation itself, or confusion to the imagination. For instance, say, a line representing one breadth and a half of the wrist, would be equal to the true breadth of the thickest part of the arm above the elbow; may it not then be asked, what part of the wrist is meant? for if you place a pair of calipers a little nearer or further from the hand, the distance of the points will differ, and so they will if they are moved close to the wrist all round, because it is flatter one way than the other; but suppose, for argument sake, one certain diameter should be fixed upon; may it not again be asked, how is it to be applied, if to the flattest side of the arm or the roundest, and how far from the elbow, and must it be when the arm is extended or when it is bent? for this also will make a sensible difference, because in the latter position, the muscle, called the biceps, in the front of that part of the arm, swells up like a ball one way, and narrows itself another; no, all the muscles shift their appearances in different movements, so that whatever may have been pretended by some authors, no exact mathematical measurements by lines, can be given for the true proportion of a human body.
It comes then to this, that no longer than while we suppose all the lengths and breadths of the body, or limbs, to be as regular figures as cylinders, or as the leg, figure 4, plate 19, which is as round as a rolling-stone, are the measures of lengths to breadths practicable, or of any use to the knowledge of proportion; so that as all mathematical schemes are foreign to this purpose, we will endeavor to root them quite out of our way: therefore I must not omit taking notice that, Albert Durer, Lamozzo, — see two tasteless figures taken from their books of proportion, figure 2, plate 6, — and some others, have not only puzzled mankind with a heap of minute unnecessary divisions, but also with a strange notion that those divisions are governed by the laws of music ; which mistake they seem to have been led into, by having seen certain uniform and consonant divisions upon one string produce harmony to the ear, and by persuading themselves, that similar distances in lines belonging to form, would, in like manner, delight the eye. The very reverse of which has been shown to be true, in Chapter III, on Uniformity. "The length of the foot,'* say they, *'in respect to the breadth, makes a double suprabipartient, a diapason, and a diatesseron ;" which, in my opinion, would have been fully as applicable to the ear, or to a plant, or to a tree, or any other form whatsoever; yet these sort of notions have so far prevailed by time, that the words, harmony of parts, seem as applicable to form, as to music.
These authors assure you, that this curious method of measuring, will produce beauty far beyond any nature does afford. Lamozzo recommends also another scheme, with a triangle, to correct the poverty of nature, as they express themselves. These nature-menders put one in mind of Gulliver's tailor at Laputa, who, having taken measure of him for a suit of clothes with a rule, quadrant, and compasses, after a considerable time spent, brought them home ill-made.
Notwithstanding the absurdity of the above schemes, such measures as are to be taken from antique statues, may be of some service to painters and sculptors, especially to young beginners, but not nearly as useful to them, as the measures, taken the same way, from ancient buildings, have been, and are, to architects and builders; because the latter have to do with little else but plain geometrical figures; which measures, however, serve only in copying what has been done before.
The few measures I shall speak of, for the setting out the general dimensions of a figure, shall be taken by straight lines only, for the more easy conception of what may indeed be properly called, gauging the contents of the body, /supposing it solid like a marble statue, as the wires were described to do in figure 1, plate 8, by which plain method, clear ideas may be acquired of what alone seem to reqiiire measuring, of what certain lengths to what breadths make the most eligible proportions in, general.
The most general dimensions of a body, or limbs, are lengths, breadths, or thicknesses; now the whole gentility of a figure, according to its character, depends upon the first proportioning of these lines or wires — ^which are its measures — properly one to another; and the more varied these lines are with respect to each other, the more may the future divisions be varied likewise, that are to be made on them; and of course the less varied these lines are, the parts influenced by them, as they must conform themselves to them, must have less variety too. For example, the exact cross, figure 1, plate 23, of two equal lines, cutting each other in the middle, would confine the figure of a man, drawn conformable to them, to the disagreeable character of his being as broad as he is Jong. And the two lines crossing each other, to make the height and breadth of a figure, will want variety a contrary way, by one line being very short in proportion to the other, and therefore, also incapable of producing a figure of tolerable variety. To prove this, it will be very easy for the reader to make the experiment, by drawing a figure or two — though ever so imperfectly — confined within such limits.
There is a medium between these, proper for every character, which the eye will easily and accurately determine.
Thus, if the lines, figure 2, plate 23, were to be the measure of the extreme length and breadth, set out either for the figure of a man or a vase, the eye soon sees the longest of these is not quite sufficiently so, in proportion to the other, for a genteel man; and yet it would make a vase too taper to be elegant; no rule or compasses would decide this matter either so quickly or so precisely as a good eye. It may be observed, that minute differences in great lengths, are of little or no consequence as to proportion, because they are not to be discerned; for a man is half an inch shorter when he goes to bed at night, than when he rises in the morning, without the possibility of its being perceived. In case of a wager, the application of a rule or compasses may be necessary, but seldom on any other occasion.
Thus much, I apprehend, is sufficient for the consideration of general lengths to breadths. Where, by the way, I apprehend I have plainly shown, that there is no practicable rule, by lines, for minutely setting out proportions for the human body, and if there were, the eye alone must determine us in our choice of what is most pleasing to itself.
Thus having dispatched general dimension, which we may say is almost as much of proportion, as is to be seen when we have our clothes on: I shall in the second, and more extensive method proposed for considering it, set out in the familiar path of common observation, and appeal, as I go on, to our usual feeling, or joint-sensation, of figure and motion.
Perhaps, by mentioning two or three known instances, it will be found, that almost every one is farther advanced in the knowledge of this speculative part of proportion than he imagines; especially he who has been used to observe naked figures doing bodily exercise, and more especially if he be any way interested in the success of them ; and the better he is acquainted with the nature of the exercise itself, still the better judge he becomes of the figure that is to perform it. For this reason, no sooner are two boxers stripped to fight, but even a butcher, thus skilled, shows himself a considerable critic in proportion ; and, on this sort of judgment, often gives, or takes the odds, at bare sight only of the combatants. I have heard a blacksmith harangue like an anatomist, or sculptor, on the beauty of a boxer's figure, though not, perhaps, in the same terms; and I firmly believe, that one of our common proficients in the athletic art, would be able to instruct and direct the best sculptor living, who has not seen, or is wholly ignorant of this exercise, in what would give the statue of an English boxer a much better proportion, as to character, than is to be seen, even in the famous group of antique boxers, or, as some call them, Roman wrestlers, so much admired to this day.
Indeed, as many parts of the body are so con-stantly kept covered, the proportion of the whole cannot be equally known; but as stockings are so close and thin a covering, every one judges of the different shapes and proportions of legs with great accuracy. The ladies always speak skillfully of necks, hands, and arms; and often will point out such particular beauties or defects in their make, as might easily escape the observation of a man of science.
Surely, such determinations could not be made and pronounced with such critical truth, if the eye were not capable of measuring or judging of thicknesses by lengths, with great preciseness. Furthermore, in order to determine so nicely as they often do, it must also, at the same time, trace with some skill those delicate windings upon the surface which have been described in the latter part of Chapter X. which altogether may be observed to include the two general ideas mentioned at the beginning of this chapter.
If so, certainly it is in the power of a man of science, with as observing an eye, to go still further, and conceive, with a very little turn of thought, many other necessary circumstances concerning proportion, as of what size and in what manner the bones help to make up the bulk, and support the other parts; as well as what certain weights or dimensions of muscles are proper, according to the principle of the steelyard, to move such or such a length of arm, with this or that degree of swiftness or force.
But though much of this matter may be easily understood by common observation, assisted by science, still I fear it will be difficult to raise a very clear idea of what constitutes, or composes, the utmost beauty of proportion; such as is seen in the Antinous; which is allowed to be the most perfect, in this respect, of any of the antique statues; and though the lovely likewise seems to have been as much the sculptor's aim, as in the Venus; yet a manly strength in its proportion is equally expressed from head to foot in it.
Let us try, however, and as this masterpiece of art is so well known, we will set it up before us as a pattern, and endeavor to fabricate, or put together in the mind, such kind of parts as shall seem to build another figure like it. In doing which, we shall soon find that it is chiefly to be effected by means of the nice sensation we naturally have of what certain quantities, or dimensions of parts, are fittest to produce the utmost strength for moving, or supporting great weights; and of what are most fit for the utmost light agility, as also for every degree, between these two extremes.
He who has best perfected his ideas of these matters by common observations, and by the assistance of arts relative thereto, will probably be most precisely just and clear, in conceiving the application of the various parts and dimensions, that will occur to him, in the following descriptive manner of disposing of them, in order to form the idea of a fine-proportioned figure.
Having set up the Antinous as our pattern, we will suppose there were placed on one side of it, the unwieldy, elephant-like figure of an Atlas, made up of such thick bones and muscles, as would best fit him for supporting a vast weight, according to his character of extreme heavy strength: and, on the other side, imagine the slim figure of a Mercury, everywhere neatly formed for the utmost light agility, with slender bones and taper muscles fit for his nimble bounding from the ground. Both these figures must be supposed of equal height, and not exceeding six feet.
If the scale of either of these proportions were to exceed six feet in the life, the quality of strength in one, and agility in the other, would gradually decrease, the larger the person grew. There are sufficient proofs of this, both from mechanical reasonings and common observation.
Our extremes thus placed, now imagine the Atlas throwing off, by degrees, certain portions of bone and muscle, proper for the attainment of light agility, as if aiming at the Mercury's airy form and quality; while on the other hand, see the Mercury augmenting his taper figure by equal degrees, and growing towards an Atlas in equal time, by receiving to the like places from whence they came, the very quantities that the other had been casting off, when, as they approach each other in weight, their forms of course may be imagined to grow more and more alike, till, at a certain point of time, they meet in just similitude; which being an exact medium between the two extremes, we may thence conclude it to be the precise form of exact proportion, fittest for perfect, active strength, or graceful movement; such as the Antinous we proposed to imitate and figure in the mind.
The jockey who knows to an ounce what flesh or bone in a horse is fittest for speed or strength, will as easily conceive the like process between the strongest dray-horse and the fleetest racer, and soon conclude, that the fine war-horse must be the medium between the two extremes.
I am apprehensive that this part of my scheme, for explaining exact proportion, may not be thought so sufficiently determinate as could be wished: be this as it will, I must submit it to the reader, as my best resource in so difficult a case: and shall therefore beg leave to try to illustrate it a little more, by observing, that, in like manner, any two opposite colors in the rainbow, form a third between them, by thus imparting to each other their peculiar qualities; as, for example, the brightest yellow, and the lively blue that is placed at some distance from it, visibly approach, and blend by interchangeable degrees, and, as above, temper rather than destroy each other's vigor, till they meet in one firm combined; whence, at a certain point, the sight of what they were originally, is quite lost; but in their stead, a most pleasing green is found, which color nature has chosen for the vestment of the earth, and with the beauty of which the eye is never tired.
From the order of the ideas which the description of the above three figures may have raised in the mind, we may easily compose between them, various other proportions. And as the painter, by means of a certain order in the arrangement of the colors upon his pallet, readily mixes up what kind of tint he pleases, so may we mix up and compound in the imagination such fit parts as will be consistent with this or that particular character, or at least be able thereby to discover how such characters are composed, when we see them either in art or nature.
But perhaps even the word character, as it relates to form, may not be quite understood by every one, though it is so frequently used: nor do I remember to have seen it explained anywhere. Therefore on this account, and also as it will further show the use of thinking of form and motion together, it will not be improper to observe, that notwithstanding a character, in this sense, chiefly depends on a figure being remarkable as to its form, either in some particular part, or altogether; yet surely no figure, be it ever so singular, can be perfectly conceived as a character, till we find it connected with some remarkable circumstance or cause, for such particularity of appearance; for instance, a fat, bloated person, does not call to mind the character of a Silenus, till we have joined the idea of voluptuousness with it; so likewise strength to support, and clumsiness of figure, are united, as well in the character of an Atlas as in a porter.
When we consider the great weight chairmen often have to carry, do we not readily consent that there is a propriety and fitness in the Tuscan order of their legs, by which they properly become characters as to figure ?
Watermen, too, are of a distinct cast, or character, whose legs are no less remarkable for their smallness; for as there is naturally the greatest call for nutriment to the parts that are most exercised, so of course these that lie so much stretched out, are apt to dwindle, or not grow to their full size. There is scarcely a waterman that rows upon the Thames, whose figure does not confirm this observation. Therefore, were I to paint the character of a Charon, I would thus distinguish his make from that of a common man's; and, in spite of the word low, venture to give him a broad pair of shoulders, and spindle shanks, whether I had the authority of an antique statue, or basso-relievo, for it or not.
May be, I cannot throw a stronger light on what has been hitherto said of proportion, than by animadverting on a remarkable beauty in the ApolloBelvedere; which has given it the preference even to the Antinous : I mean a superaddition of greatness, to at least as much beauty and grace, as is found in the latter.
These two masterpieces of art, are seen together in the same palace at Rome, where the Antinous fills the spectator with admiration only, while the Apollo strikes him with surprise, and, as travelers express themselves, with an appearance of something more than human; which they of course are always at a loss to describe: and this effect, they say, is the more astonishing, as, upon examination, its disproportion is evident even to a common eye. One of the best sculptors we have in England, who lately went to see them, confirmed to me what has been now said, particularly as to the legs and thighs being too long, and too large for the upper parts. And Andrea Sacchi, one of the great Italian painters, seems to have been of the same opinion, or he would hardly have given his Apollo, crowning Pasquilini the musician, the exact proportion of the Antinous, in a famous picture of his now in England, as otherwise it seems to be a direct copy from the Apollo.
Although in very great works we often see an inferior part neglected, yet here it cannot be the case, because, in a fine statue, just proportion is one of its essential beauties : therefore it stands to reason, that these limbs must have been lengthened on purpose, otherwise it might easily have been avoided.
So that if we examine the beauties of this figure thoroughly, we may reasonably conclude, that what has been hitherto thought so unaccountably excellent in its general appearance, has been owing to what has seemed a blemish in a part of it: but let us endeavor to make this matter as clear as possible, as it may add more force to what has been said.
Statues by being bigger than life, as this one is, and larger than the Antinous, always gain some nobleness in effect, according to the principle of quantity as explained in Chapter VI, but this alone is not sufficient to give what is properly to be called, greatness in proportion; for were figures 1 and 2, in plate 10, to be drawn or carved by a scale of ten feet high, they would still be but pigmy proportions, as, on the other hand, a figure of but two inches, may represent a gigantic height. Therefore greatness of proportion must be considered, as depending on the application of quantity to those parts of the body where it can give more scope to its grace in movement, as to the neck for the larger and swan-like turns of the head, and to the legs and thighs, for the more ample sway of all the upper parts together.
By which we find that the Antinous's being equally magnified to the Apollo's height, would not sufficiently produce that superiority of effect, as to greatness, so evidently seen in the latter. The additions necessary to the production of this greatness in proportion, as it there appears added to grace, must then be, by the proper application of them, to the parts mentioned only.
I know not how further to prove this matter than by appealing to the reader's eye, and common observation, as before.
The Antinous being allowed to have the justest proportion possible, let us see what addition, upon the principle of quantity, can be made to it, without taking away any of its beauty.
If we imagine an addition of dimensions to the head, we shall immediately conceive it would only deform — if to the hands or feet, we are sensible of something gross and tmgenteel, — if to the whole lengths of the arms, we feel they would be dangling and awkward — ^if by an addition of length or breadth to the body, we know it would appear heavy and clumsy — there remains then only the neck, with the legs and thighs to speak of; but, to these we find, that not only certain additions may be admitted without causing any disagreeable effect, but that thereby greatness, the last perfection as to proportion, is given to the human form; as is evidently expressed in the Apollo: and may still be further confirmed by examining the drawings of Parmigiano, where these particulars are seen in excess; yet on this account his works are said, by all true connoisseurs, to have an inexpressible greatness of taste in them, though otherwise very incorrect.
Let us now return to the two general ideas we set out with at the beginning of this chapter, and recollect that under the first, on surface, I have shown in what manner, and how far human proportion is measurable, by varjdng the contents of the body conformable to the given proportion of two lines. And that under the second and more extensive general idea of form, as arising from fitness for movement, etc. I have endeavored to explain, by every means I could devise, that every particular and minute dimension of the body, should conform to such purposes of movement, etc. as have been first properly considered and determined: on which conjunctively, the true proportion of every character .must depend; and is found so to do, by our joint-sensation of bulk and motion. Which account of the proportion of the human body, however imperfect, may possibly stand its ground, till one more plausible shall be given.
As the Apollo, plate 22, has been only mentioned on account of the greatness of its proportion, I think in justice to so fine a performance, and also as it is not foreign to the point we have been upon, we may subjoin an observation or two on its perfections.
Besides, what is commonly allowed, if we consider it by the rules here given for constituting or composing character, it will discover the author's great sagacity, in choosing a proportion for this deity, which has served two noble purposes at once; in that these very dimensions, which appear to have given it so much dignity, are the same that are best fitted to produce the utmost speed. And what could characterize the god of day, either so strongly or elegantly, to be expressive in a statue, as superior swiftness, and beauty dignified? and how poetically does the action it is put into, carry on the allusion to speed, as he is lightly stepping forward, and seeming to shoot his arrows from him; if the arrows may be allowed to signify the sun's rays? This at least may as well be supposed as the common surmise, that he is killing the dragon. Python; which certainly is very inconsistent with so erect an attitude, and benign an aspect.
Nor are the inferior parts neglected : the drapery also that depends from his shoulders, and folds over his extended arm, has its treble office. At first, it assists in keeping the general appearance within the boundary of a pyramid, which being inverted, is, for a single figure, rather more natural and genteel than one upon its basis. Secondly it fills up the vacant angle under the arm, and takes off the straightness of the lines the arm necessarily makes with the body in such an action; and, lastly, spreading as it does, in pleasing folds, it helps to satisfy the eye with a noble quantity in the composition altogether, without depriving the beholder of any part of the beauties of the naked: in short, this figure might serve, were a lecture to be read over it, to exemplify every principle that has been hitherto advanced. We shall therefore close not only all we have to say on proportion with it, but our whole lineal account of form, except what we have particularly to offer as to the face: which it will be proper to defer, till we have spoken of light and shade and color.
As some of the ancient statues have been of such singular use to me, I shall beg leave to conclude this chapter with an observation or two on them in general.
It is allowed by the most skilful in the imitative arts, that though there are many of the remains of antiquity, that have great excellencies about them; yet there are not, moderately speaking, above twenty that may be justly called capital. There is one reason, nevertheless, besides the blind veneration that generally is paid to antiquity, for holding even many very imperfect pieces in some degree of estimation: I mean that peculiar taste of elegance which so visibly runs through them all, down to the most incorrect of their basso-relievos : which taste, I am persuaded, my reader will now conceive to have been entirely owing to the perfect knowledge the ancients must have had of the use of the precise serpentine-line.
But this cause of elegance not having been since sufficiently understood, no wonder such effects should have appeared mysterious, and have drawn mankind into a sort of religious esteem, and even bigotry, to the works of antiquity.
Nor have there been wanting of artful people, who have made good profit of those whose unbounded admiration has run them into enthusiasm. Nay there are, I believe, some who still carry on a comfortable trade in such originals as have been so defaced and maimed by time, that it would be impossible, without a pair of double-ground connoisseur-spectacles, to see whether they have ever been good or bad: they deal also in cooked-up copies, which they are very apt to put off for originals. And whoever dares be bold enough to detect such impositions, finds himself immediately branded, and given out as one of low ideas, ignorant of the truly sublime, self -conceited, envious, etc.
But a great many people seem to delight most in what they least understand; for aught I know, the emolument may be equal between the bubbler and the bubbled ; at least this seems to have been Butler's opinion:
Doubtless the pleasure is as great In being cheated, as to cheat.Public Domainarchive.orgSymmetryArt Theory