The Analysis of Beauty

Chapter 12: Light and Shadow

William Hogarth



Although both this and the next chapter may seem more particularly relative to the art of painting, than any of the foregoing, yet, as hitherto, I have endeavored to be understood by every reader, so here also I shall avoid, as much as the subject will permit, speaking of what would only be well-conceived by painters.

There is such a subtle variety in the nature of appearances, that probably we shall not be able to gain much ground by this inquiry, unless we exert and apply the full use of every sense, that will convey to us any information concerning them.

So far as we have already gone, the sense of feeling, as well as that of seeing, has been applied to; so that perhaps a man born blind, may, by his better touch than is common to those who have their sight, together with the regular process that has been here given of lines, so feel out the nature of forms, as to make a tolerable judgment of what is beautiful to sight.

Here again our other senses must assist us, notwithstanding in this chapter we shall be more confined to what is communicated to the eye by rays of light; and though things must now be considered as appearances only; produced and made out merely by means of lights, shades, and colors.

By the various circumstances of which, every one knows we have represented on the flat surface of the looking-glass, pictures equal to the originals reflected by it. The painter too, by proper dispositions of lights, shades, and colors, on his canvas, will raise the like ideas. Even prints, by means of lights and shades alone, will perfectly inform the eye of every shape and distance whatsoever, in which even lines must be considered as narrow parts of shade, a number of them, drawn or engraved neatly side by side, called hatching, serve as shades in prints, and when they are artfully managed, are a kind of pleasing succedaneum to the delicacy of nature's.

Could mezzo-tinto prints be wrought as accurately as those with the graver, they would come nearest to nature, because they are done without strokes or lines.

I have often thought that a landscape, in the process of this way of representing it, does a little resemble the first coming on of day. The copperplate it is done upon, when the artist first takes it into hand, is wrought all over with an edged tool, so as to make it print one even black, like night: and his whole work after this, is merely introducing the lights into it; which he does by scraping off the rough grain according to his design, artfully smoothing it most where light is most required: but as he proceeds in burnishing the lights, and clearing up the shades, he is obliged to take off frequent impressions to prove the progress of the work, so that each proof appears like the different times of a foggy morning, till one becomes so finished as to be distinct and clear enough to imitate a daylight piece. I have given this description, because I think the whole operation, in the simplest manner, shows what lights and shades alone will do.

As light must always be supposed, I need only speak of such privations of it as are called shades or shadows, wherein I shall endeavor to point out and regularly describe a certain order and arrangement in their appearance, in which order we may conceive different kinds of softenings and modulations of the rays of light, which are said to fall upon the eye from every object it sees, and to cause those more or less pleasing vibrations of the optic nerves, which serve to inform the mind concerning every different shape or figure that presents itself.

The best light for seeing the shadows of objects truly, is that which comes in at a common sized window, where the sun does not shine; I shall therefore speak of their order as seen by this kind . of light : and shall take the liberty, in the present and following chapter, to consider colors but as variegated shades, which, together with common shades, will now be divided into two general parts or branches.

The first we shall call prime tints, by which is meant any color or colors on the surfaces of objects; and the use we shall make of these different hues will be to consider them as shades to one another. Thus gold is a shade to silver, etc. exclusive of those additional shades which may be made in any degree by the privation of light.

The second branch may be called retiring shades, which gradate or go off by degrees, figures 3 and 4, plate 23. These shades, as they vary more or less, produce beauty, whether they are occasioned by the privation of light, or made by the pencilings . of art or nature.

When I come to treat of coloring, I shall particularly show in what manner the gradating of prime tints serve to the making a beautiful complexion; in this place we shall only observe how nature has by these gradating shades ornamented the surfaces of animals; fish generally have this kind of shade from their backs downward; birds have their feathers enriched with it; and many flowers, particularly the rose, show it by the gradually increasing colors of their petals.

The sky always gradates one way or other, and the rising or setting sun exhibits it in great perfection, the imitating of which was Claude de Loraine*s peculiar excellence, and is now Mr. Lambert's: there is so much of what is called harmony to the eye to be produced by this shade, that I believe we may venture to say, that in art, it is the painter's gamut, which nature has sweetly pointed out to us in what we call the eyes of a peacock's tail: and the nicest needle-workers are taught to weave it into every flower and leaf, right or wrong, as if it was as constantly to be observed as it is seen in flames of fire; because it is always found to entertain the eye. There is a sort of needle-work called Irish-stitch, done in these shades only which pleases still, though it has long been out of fashion.

There is so strict an analogy between shade and sound, that they may well serve to illustrate each other's qualities: for as sounds gradually decreasing and increasing give the idea of progression from, or to the ear, just so do retiring shades show progression, by figuring it to the eye. Thus, as by objects growing still fainter, we judge of distances in prospects, so by the decreasing noise of thimder, we form the idea of its moving further from us. And with regard to their similitude in beauty, like as the gradating shade pleases the eye, so the increasing, or swelling note, delights the ear.

I have called it the retiring shade, because by the successive, or continual change in its appearance, it is equally instrumental with converging lines, such as the two converging lines from the ship, to the point C, figure 2, plate 8, in showing how much objects, or any parts of them, retire or recede from the eye; without which, a floor, or horizontal-plane, would often seem to stand upright like a wall. And notwithstanding all the other ways by which we learn to know at what distances things are from us, frequent deceptions happen to the eye on account of deficiencies in this shade: for if the light chances to be so disposed on objects as not to give this shade its true gradating appearance, not only spaces are confounded, but round things appear flat, and flat ones round.

But although the retiring shade has this property, when seen with converging lines, yet if it describes no particular form, as none of those do in figure 1, plate 24, it can only appear as a flatpenciled shade; but being inclosed within some known boundary or outline, such as may signify a wall, a road, a globe, or any other form in perspective where the parts retire, it will then show its retiring quality: as for example, the retiring shade on the floor, in the frontispiece, which gradates from the dog's feet to those of the dancers, shows, that by this means a level appearance is given to the ground : so when a cube is put into true perspective on paper, with lines only, which do but barely hint the directions every face of it is meant to take, these shades make them seem to retire just as the perspective lines direct; thus mutually completing the idea of those recessions which neither of them alone could do.

Moreover, the outline of a globe is but a circle on the paper; yet, according to the manner of filling up the space within it, with this shade, it may be made to appear either flat, globular, or concave, in any of its positions with the eye ; and as each manner of filling up the circle for those purposes must be very different, it evidently shows the necessity of distinguishing this shade into as many species or kinds, as there are classes or species of lines, with which they may have a correspondence.

In doing which, it will be found, that, by their correspondency with, and conformity to objects, either composed of straight, curved, waving, or serpentine-lines, they of course take such appearances of variety as are adequate to the variety made by those lines; and by this conformity of shades we have the same ideas of any of the objects composed of the above lines in their front aspects, as we have of them by their profiles; which otherwise could not be without feeling them.

Now instead of giving engraved examples of each species of shade, as I have done of lines, I have found that they may be more satisfactorily pointed out and described by having recourse to the life.

But in order to the better and more precisely fixing upon what may be there seen, as the distinct species, of which all the shades of the retiring kind in nature partake, in some degree or other. the following scheme is offered, and intended as an additional means of making such simple impressions in the mind, as may be thought adequate to the four species of lines described in chapter VII. Wherein we are to suppose imperceptible degrees of shade gradating from one figure to another. The first species to be represented by, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, the second by, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and the third by, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, gradating from the dots underneath, repeated either way.

As the first species varies or gradates but one way, it is, therefore, least ornamental, and equal only to straight lines.

The second gradating contrary ways, doubling the other's variety, is consequently twice as pleasing, and thereby equal to curved lines.

The third species gradating doubly contrary ways, is thereby still more pleasing in proportion to that quadruple variety which makes it become capable of conveying to the mind an equivalent in shade, which expresses the beauty of the waving line, when it cannot be seen as a line.

The retiring shade, adequate to the serpentineline, now should follow; but as the line itself could not be expressed on paper, without the figure of a cone, figure 4, plate 12, so neither can this shade be described without the assistance of a proper form, and therefore must be deferred a little longer.

When only the ornamental quality of shades is Spoken of, for the sake of distinguishing them from retiring shades, let them be considered as pencilings only; whence another advantage will arise, which is, that then all the intervening mixtures, with their degrees of beauty between each species, may be as easily conceived, as those have been between each class of lines.

And now let us have recourse to the experiments, in life, for such examples as may explain the retiring power of each species; since, as has been before observed, they must be considered together with their proper forms, or else their properties cannot be well distinguished.

All the degrees of obliquity that planes, or flat surfaces are capable of moving into, have their appearances of recession perfected by the first species of retiring shades, which may evidently be seen by sitting opposite a door, as it is opening outwards from the eye, and fronting one light.

But it will be proper to premise, that when it is quite shut, and flat or parallel to the eye and window it will have only a penciling shade gradating upon it, and spreading all around from the middle, but which will not have the power of giving the idea of recession any way, as when it opens, and the lines run in perspective to a point; because the square figure, or parallel Hnes of the door, do not correspond with such shade; but let a door be circular in the same situation, and all outside, or round about it, painted of any other color, to make its figure more distinctly seen, and it will immediately appear concave like a basin, the shade continually retiring; because this circular species of shade would then be accompanied by its corresponding form, a circle.

Note, if the light were to come in at a very little hole not far from the door, so as to make the gradation sudden and strong, like what may be made with a small candle held near a wall or a wainscot, the basin would appear the deeper for it.

Note also, that when planes are seen parallel to the eye in open daylight, they have scarce any round gradating or penciling shade at all, but appear merely as uniform prime tints, because the rays of light are equally diffused upon them. Nevertheless, give them but obliquity, they will more or less exhibit the retiring shade.

But to return; we observed that all the degrees of obliquity in the moving of planes or fiat surfaces, have the appearances of their recession perfected to the eye by the first species of retiring shade. For example, when the door opens, and goes from its parallel situation with the eye, the shade last spoken of may be observed to alter and change its round gradating appearance, into that of gradating one way only; as when a standing water takes a current upon the least power given it to descend.

Note, if the light should come in at the doorway, instead of the window, the gradation then would be reversed, but still the effect of recession would be just the same, as this shade ever complies with the perspective lines.

In the next place, let us observe the ovolo, or quarter-round in a cornice, fronting the eye in like manner, by which may be seen an example of the second species; where, on its most projecting part, a line of light is seen, from whence these shades retire contrary ways, by which the curvature is understood.

And, perhaps, in the very same cornice may be seen an example of the third species, in that ornamental member called by the architects cyma recta, or talon, which indeed is no more than a larger sort of waving or ogee moulding; wherein, by the convex parts gently gliding into the concave, you may see four contrasted gradating shades, showing so many varied recessions from the eye ; by which we are made as sensible of its waving form as if we saw the profile outline of some corner of it where it is mitered, as the joiners term it. Note, when these objects have a little gloss on them, these appearances are most distinct.

Lastly, the serpentine shade may be seen — ^light and situation as before — by the help of the following figure, as thus; imagine the horn, figure 2, plate 18, to be of so soft a nature, that with the fingers only, it might be pressed into any shape; then beginning gently from the middle of the dotted line, but pressing harder and harder all the way Up the lesser end, by such pressure there would be as much concave above, as would remain convex below, which would bring it equal in variety or beauty to the ogee moulding; but after this, by giving the whole a twist, like figure 3, these shades must unavoidably change their appearances, and in some measure, twist about as the concave and convex parts are twisted, and consequently thereby add that variety, which of course will give this species of shade, as much the preference to the foregoing, as forms composed of serpentine lines have, to those composed only of the waving. See Chapters IX and X.

I should not have given my reader the trouble of completing, by the help of his imagination, the foregoing figure, but as it may contribute to the more ready and particular conception of that intricate variety which twisted figures give to this species of shade, and to facilitate his understanding the cause of its beauty, wherever it may be seen on surfaces of ornament, when it will be found nowhere more conspicuous than in a fine face, as will be seen upon further inquiry.

The dotted line, figure 1, plate 27 which begins from the concave part, under the arch of the brow, near the nose, and from thence winding down by the comer of the eye, and there turning obliquely with the round of the cheek, shows the course of that twist of shades in a face, which was before described by the horn; and which may be most perfectly seen in the life, or in a marble bust together with the following additional circumstances still remaining to be described.

Though I have advised observing objects by a front light, for the sake of better distinguishing our four fundamental species of shades, yet objects in general are more advantageously, and agreeably seen by light coming sideways upon them, and therefore generally chosen in paintings; as it gives an additional reflected softness, not unlike the gentle tone of an echo in music.

As a face is for the most part round, it is therefore apt to receive reflected light on its shadowy side, which not only adds more beauty by another pleasing tender gradation, but also serves to distinguish the roundness of the cheeks, etc. from such parts as sink and fall in : because concavities do not admit of reflections, as convex forms do.

As an instance that convex and concave would appear the same, if the former were to have no reflection thrown upon, observe the ovolo and cavetto, or channel, in a cornice, placed near together, and seen by a front light, when they will each of them, by turns, appear either concave, or convex, as fancy shall direct.

I have now only to add, that as before observed, in Chapter IV, that the oval has a noble simplicity in it, more equal to its variety than any other object in nature; and of which the general form of a face is composed; therefore, from what has been now shown, the general gradation shade belonging to it, must consequently be adequate thereto, and which evidently gives a delicate softness to the whole composition of a face ; insomuch that every little dent, crack, or scratch, the form receives, its shadows also suffer with it, and help to show the blemish. Even the least roughness interrupts and damages that soft gradating play of shades which fall upon it. Mr. Dryden, describing the light and shades of a face, in his epistle to Sir Godfrey Kneller, the portrait painter, seems, by the penetration of his incomparable genius, to have understood that language in the works of nature, which the latter, by means of an exact eye and a strict obeying hand, could only faithfully transcribe; when he says.

Where light to shades descending, plays, not strives, Dies by degrees, and by degrees revives.

SymmetryArt Theory