Trivium Art History
William Hogarth

The Analysis of Beauty

by William Hogarth, 1753

The infinite complexities of the theory of beauty, distilled into six perfect principles. You read it here first, folks.

William Hogarth was a satarist, a writer and engraver who lampooned the politics and religion of his day through editorial cartoons and grotesque caricatures. In 1753 Hogarth published one of the most thoughtful and extensive aesthetic analyses of formal beauty ever written. In 17 chapters, Hogarth lays out six principles that independently affect the human perception of beauty, and continues to break down compositional techniques, and draftsmanship lessons for the human form, the human face, and depicting action. It's an incredibly complete and profoundly useful guidebook from the theoretical to the practical aspects of visual art.

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I shall endeavor to show what the principles are in nature, by which we are directed to call the forms of some bodies beautiful, others ugly

Chapter 1: Fitness

Fitness of design...either by art or nature, is first to be considered, as it is of the greatest consequence to the beauty of the whole.

Chapter 2: Variety

Plants, flowers, leaves, the paintings in butterflies wings, shells, etc. seem of little other use than entertaining the eye with the pleasure of variety.

Chapter 3: Uniformity

In which we learn that symmetry is over-rated and uniformity is boring.

Chapter 4: Simplicity

Simplicity, without variety, is wholly insipid, and at best does only not displease; but when variety is joined to it, then it pleases.

Chapter 5: Intricacy

Intricacy in form, therefore, I shall define to be that peculiarity in the lines, which compose it, that leads the eye a wanton kind of chase

Chapter 6: Quantity

Forms of magnitude, although ill-shaped, will however, on account of their vastness, draw our attention and raise our admiration.

Chapter 7: Lines

The straight line and the circular line, together with their different combinations and variations, circumscribe all visible objects.

Chapter 8: Composition

We will next show how lines may be put together, so as to make pleasing figures or compositions.

Chapter 9: The Waving Line

There is scarce a room in any house whatever, where one does not see the waving-line employed in some way or other.

Chapter 10: Compositions with the Waving Line

I beg the reader's patience while I lead him step by step into the knowledge of what I think the sublime in form, so remarkably displayed in the human body.

Chapter 11: Proportion

If anyone should ask, what it is that constitutes a fine proportioned human figure? how ready and seemingly decisive is the common answer...

Chapter 12: Light and Shadow

As light must always be supposed, I need only speak of such privations of it as are called shades or shadows

Chapter 13: Light, Shadow and Color

Under this head I shall attempt to show what it is that gives the appearance of that hollow or vacant space in which all things move so freely.

Chapter 14: Coloring Skin

The utmost beauty of coloring depends on the great principle of varying, and on the proper and artful union of that variety.

Chapter 15: The Face

Out of the great number of faces that have been formed since the creation of the world, no two have been so exactly alike...

Chapter 16: Attitude

The general idea of an action, as well as of an attitude, may be given with a pencil in very few lines.

Chapter 17: Action

Action is a sort of language which perhaps, one time or other, may come to be taught by a kind of grammar rules; but, at present, is only got by rote and imitation.