The Analysis of Beauty

Chapter 15: The Face

William Hogarth


Having thus spoken briefly of light, shade, and color, we now return to our lineal account of form, with regard to the face. Deferred from latter part of Chapter XI. It is an observation, that, out of the great number of faces that have been formed since the creation of the world, no two have been so exactly alike, but that the usual and common discernment of the eye would discover a difference between them: therefore it is not unreasonable to suppose, that this discernment is still capable of further improvements by instructions from a methodical inquiry; which the ingenious Mr. Richardson, in his treatise on painting, terms the art of seeing.

I shall begin with a description of such lines as compose the features of a face of the highest taste, and the reverse. See figure 1, plate 27, taken from an antique head, which stands in the first rank of estimation: in proof of this, Raphael, Urbin, and other great painters and sculptors, have imitated it for the characters of their heroes and other great men; and the old man's head, figure 5, plate 23, was modeled in clay, by Fiamingo — and not inferior, in its taste of lines, to the best antique — for the use of Andrea Sacchi, after which model he painted all the heads in his famous picture of St. Romoaldo's dream; and this picture has the reputation of being one of the best pictures in the world.

I must refer the reader to the casts of both these pieces of sculpture, which are to be found in the hands of the curious; because it is impossible to express all that I intend, with sufficient accuracy, in a print of this size, whatever pains might have been taken with it; or indeed in any print, were it ever so large.

These examples are here chosen to exemplify and confirm the force of serpentine-lines in a face ; and let it also be observed, that in these masterpieces of art, all the parts are otherwise consistent with the rules heretofore laid down : I shall therefore only show the effects and use of the line of beauty. One way of proving in what manner the serpentine-line appears to operate in this respect, may be by pressing several pieces of wire close up and down the different parts of the face and features of those casts; which wires will all come off so many serpentine-lines, as is partly marked in figure 1, plate 27, by the dotted lines. The beard and hair of the head, figure 5, plate 23, being a set of loose lines naturally, and therefore disposable at the painter *s or S9ulptor*s pleasure, are remarkably composed in this head of nothing else but a varied play of serpentine-lines, twisting together in a flame-like manner.

But as imperfections are easier to be imitated than perfections, we shall now have it in our power to explain the latter more fully; by showing the reverse in several degrees, down to the most contemptible meanness that lines can be formed into. In plate 27, figure 2 is the first degree of deviation from figure 1; where the lines are made straighter, and reduced in quantity; deviating still more in figure 3, more yet in figure 4, and yet more visibly in figure 5; figure 6, still more so; figure 1, plate 28, is totally divested of all lines of elegance, like a barber's block; and figure 2, plate 28, is composed merely of such plain lines as children make, when of themselves they begin to imitate in drawing a human face. It is evident, the inimitable Butler was sensible of the mean and ridiculous effect of such kind of lines, by the description he gives of the shape of Hudibras*s beard, figure 3, plate 28.

In cut and dye so like a tile, A sudden view it would beguile.

With regard to character and expression; we have daily many instances which confirm the common received opinion, that the face is the index of the mind; and this maxim is so rooted in us, we can scarce help — if our attention is a little raised — forming some particular conception of the person's mind whose face we are observing, even before we receive information by any other means. How often is it said, on the slightest view, that such a one looks like a good-natured man, that he has an honest open countenance, or looks like a cunning rogue; a man of sense, or a fool, etc. And how are our eyes riveted to the aspects of kings and heroes, murderers and saints; and as we contemplate their deeds, seldom fail making application to their looks. It is reasonable to believe that aspect to be a true and legible representation of the mind, which gives everyone the same idea at first sight; and is afterwards confirmed in fact: for instance, all concur in the same opinion, at first sight, of a downright idiot.

There is but little to be seen by children's faces, more than that they are heavy or lively; and scarcely that unless they are in motion. Very handsome faces of almost any age, will hide a foolish or a wicked mind till they betray themselves by their actions or their words: yet the frequent awkward movements of the muscles of the fool's face, though ever so handsome, are apt in time to leave such traces up and down it, as will distinguish a defect of mind upon examination: but the bad man, if he be a hypocrite, may so manage his muscles, by teaching them to contradict his heart, that little of his mind can be gathered from his countenance, so that the character of a hypocrite is entirely out of the power of the pencil, without some adjoining circumstance to discover him as smiling and stabbing at the same time, or the like.

It is by the natural and unaffected movements of the muscles, caused by the passions of the mind, that every man's character would in some measure be written in his face, by the time he arrives at forty years of age, were it not for certain accidents which often, though not always, prevent it. For the ill-natured man, by frequently frowning, and pouting out the muscles of his mouth, does in time bring those parts to a constant state of the appearance of ill-nature, which might have been prevented by the constant affectation of a smile ; and so of the other passions : though there are some that do not affect the muscles at all simply of themselves, as love and hope.

But lest I should be thought to lay too great a stress on outward show, like a physiognomist, take this with you, that it is acknowledged there are so many different causes which produce the same kind of movements and appearances of the features, and so many thwartings by accidental shapes in the make of faces, that the old adage, fronti nulla fides, will ever stand its ground upon the whole; and for very wisQ reasons nature has thought fit it should. But, on the other hand, as in many particular cases, we receive information from the expressions of the countenance, what follows is meant to give a lineal description of the language written therein.

It may not be amiss just to look over the passions of the mind, from tranquillity to extreme despair; as they are in order described in the common drawing book, called, Le Brun's Passions of the Mind; selected from that great master's works for the use of learners; where you may have a compendious view of all the common expressions at once. And although these are but imperfect copies, they will answer our purpose in this place better than any other thing I can refer you to; because the passions are there ranged in succession, and distinctly marked with lines only, the shadows being omitted.

Some features are formed so as to make this or that expression of a passion more or less legible ; for example, the little narrow Chinese eye suits a loving or laughing expression best, as a large full eye does those of fierceness and astonishment; and round rising muscles will appear with some degree of cheerfulness even in sorrow: the features thus suiting with the expressions that have been often repeated in the face, at length mark it with such lines as sufficiently distinguish the character of the mind.

The ancients in their lowest characters have shown as much judgment, and as great a degree of taste in the management and twisting of the lines of them, as in their statues of a sublimer kind; in the former, varying only from the precise line of grace in some parts where the character or action required it. The dying gladiator and the dancing form, the former a slave, the latter a wild clown, are sculptured in as high a taste of lines as the Antinous or the Apollo; with this difference, that the precise line of grace abounds more in the last two: notwithstanding which it is generally allowed there is equal merit in the former, as there is near as much judgment required for the execution of them. Human nature can hardly be represented more debased than in the character of the Silenus, figure 2, plate 11, where the bulging-line, No. 7, shown in figure 1, plate 16, rims through all the features of the face, as well as the other parts of his swinish body: whereas in the satyr of. the wood, though the ancients have joined the brute with the man, we still see preserved an elegant display of serpentine-lines, that make it a graceful figure.

Indeed the works of art have need of the whole advantage of this line to make up for its other deficiencies: for though in nature's works the line of beauty is often neglected, or mixed with plain lines, yet so far are they from being defective on this account, that by this means there is exhibited that infinite variety of human forms which always distinguishes the hand of nature from the limited and insufficient one of art; and as thus she, for the sake of variety, upon the whole, deviates sometimes into plain and inelegant lines, if the poor artist is but able now and then to correct and give a better taste to some particular part of what he imitates, by having learned so to do from her more perfect works, or copying from those that have, ten to one he grows vain upon it, and fancies himself a nature-mender: not considering, that even in these the meanest of her works, she is never wholly destitute of such lines of beauty and other delicacies, as are not only beyond his narrow reach, but are seen wanting even in the most celebrated attempts to rival her.

But to return. As to what we call plain lines, there is this remarkable effect constantly produced by them, that being more or less conspicuous in any kind of character or expression of the face, they bring along with them certain degrees of a foolish or ridiculous aspect.

It is the inelegance of these lines, which more properly belonging to inanimate bodies, being seen where lines of more beauty and taste are expected, that renders the face silly and ridiculous.

Children in infancy have movements in the muscles of their faces peculiar to their age, as an uninformed and unmeaning stare, an open mouth, and simple grin: all which expressions are chiefly formed of plain curves, and these movements and expressions idiots are apt to retain; so that in time they mark their faces with these uncouth lines; and when the lines coincide and agree with the natural forms of the features, it becomes a more apparent and confirmed character of an idiot. These plain shapes last mentioned, sometimes happen to people of the best sense, to some when the features are at rest, to others when they are put in motion; which a variety of constant regular movements, proceeding from a good understanding, and fashioned by a genteel education, will often by degrees correct into lines of more elegance.

That particular expression likewise of the face, or movement of a feature which becomes one person, shall be disagreeable in another, just as such expressions or turns chance to fall in with lines of beauty, or the reverse; for this reason there are pretty frowns and disagreeable smiles: the lines that form a pleasing smile about the corners of the mouth have gentle windings, figure 5, plate 28, but lose their beauty in the full laugh, figure 6, plate 28. The expression of excessive laughter, oftener than any other, gives a sensible face a silly or disagreeable look, as it is apt to form regular plain lines about the mouth, like a parenthesis, which sometimes appears like crying; as, on the contrary, I remember to have seen a beggar who had clouted up his head very artfully, and whose visage was thin and pale enough to excite pity, but his features were otherwise so unfortunately formed for his purpose, that what he intended for a grin of pain and misery, was rather a joyous laugh.

It is strange that nature has afforded us so many lines and shapes to indicate the deficiencies and blemishes of the mind, while there are none at all that point out the perfections of it beyond the appearance of common sense and placidity. Deportment, words, and actions, must speak the good, the wise, the witty, the humane, the generous, the merciful, and the brave. Nor are gravity and solemn looks always signs of wisdom : the mind much occupied with trifles will occasion as grave and sagacious an aspect, as if it were charged with mattersofthe utmost moment; the balance-master's attention to a single point, in order to preserve his balance, may look as wise at that time as the greatest philosopher in the depth of his studies.

All that the ancient sculptors could do, notwithstanding their enthusiastic endeavors to raise the characters of their deities to aspects of sagacity above human, was to give them features of beauty. Their god of wisdom has no more in his look than a handsome manliness; the Jupiter is carried somewhat higher, by giving it a little more severity than the Apollo, by a larger prominency of brow gently bending in seeming thoughtfulness, with an ample beard, which being added to the noble quantity of its other lines, invests that capital piece of sculpture with uncommon dignity, which, in the mysterious language of a profotmd connoisseur, is styled a divine idea, inconceivably great, and above nature.

Lastly, I shall show in what manner the lines of the face alter from infancy upwards, and specify the different ages. We are now to pay most attention to simplicity, as the difference of ages we are about to speak of, turn chiefly upon the use made of this principle in a greater or less degree, in the form of the lines.

From infancy till the body has done growing, the contents both of the body and the face, and every part of their surface, are daily changing into more variety, till they obtain a certain medium — see Chapter XI, on proportion, and figures 1 and 2, plate 23 — ^from which medium, figure 3, plate 29, if we return back to infancy, we shall see the variety decreasing, till by degrees that simplicity in the form, which gave variety its due limits, deviates into sameness ; so that all the parts of the face may be circumscribed in several circles, figure 1 , plate 29. Two intermediate ages are shown at the end of the Preface.

But there is another very extraordinary circumstance, perhaps never taken notice of before in this light, which nature has given us to distinguish one age from another by; which is, that though every feature grows larger and longer, till the whole person has done growing, the sight of the eye still keeps its original size; I mean the pupil, with its iris or ring; for the diameter of this circle continues still the same, and so becomes a fixed measure by which we, as it were, insensibly compare the daily perceived growings of the other parts of the face, and thereby determine a young person's age. You may sometimes find this part of the eye in a new bom infant, fully as large as in a man of six feet; nay, sometimes larger, see figure 4, plate 29, and figure 4, plate 28, which last represents three different sizes of the pupil of the eye ; the least was exactly taken from the eye of a large-featured man, aged 105; the biggest, from one of twenty, who had this part larger than ordinary; and the other is the common size. If this part of the eye in the pictures of Charles II and James II painted by Vandyke at Kensington, were to be measured with a pair of compasses, and compared with their pictures painted by Lilly when they were men, the diameters would be found in both pictures respectively the same.

In infancy the faces of boys and girls have no visible difference, but as they grow up, the features of the boy get the start, and grow faster in proportion to the ring of the eye, than those of the girl, which shows the distinction of the sex in the face. Boys who have larger features than ordinary, in proportion to the rings of their eyes, are what we call manly-featured children; as those who have the contrary, look more childish and younger than they really are. It is this proportion of the features with the eyes, that makes women, when they are dressed in men's clothes, look so young and boyish: but as nature does not always stick close to these particulars, we may be mistaken both in sexes and ages.

By these obvious appearances, and the differences of the whole size, we easily judge of ages till twenty, but not with such certainty afterwards; for the alterations from that age are of a different kind, subject to other changes by growing fatter or leaner, which, it is well known, often give a different turn to the look of the person, with regard to age.

The hair of the head, which encompasses a face as a frame does a picture, and contrasts with its uniform color the variegated inclosed composition, adding more or less beauty thereto, according as it is disposed by the rules of art, is another indication of advanced age.

What remains to be said on the different appearances of ages, being less pleasing than what has gone before, shall be described with more brevity. In the age from twenty to thirty, barring accidents, there appears but little change, either in the colors or the lines of the face ; for though the bloom tints may go off a little, yet, on the other hand, the make of the features often attain a sort of settled firmness in them, aided by an air of acquired sensibility; which makes ample amends for that loss, and keeps beauty till thirty pretty much upon a par; after this time, as the alternations grow more and more visible, we perceive the sweet simplicity of many rounding parts of the face, begin to break into dented shapes, with more sudden turns about the muscles, occasioned by their many repeated movements; as also by dividing the broad parts, and thereby taking off the large sweeps of the serpentine-lines; the shades of beauty also consequently suffering in their softness. Something of what is here meant between the two ages of thirty and fifty, see in figures, 5 and 6, plate 29 and what further havoc time continues to make after the age of fifty, is too remarkable to need describing: the strokes and cuts he then lays on are plain enough; however, in spite of all his malice, those lineaments that have once been elegant, retain their flowing turns in venerable age, leaving to the last a comely piece of ruins.

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SymmetryArt Theory