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LIMITS OF THE FIELD OF ART.
Though it is not to be presumed that every means of reaching the emotion of beauty has already been put in requisition, a classification of the arts according to the elements of human nature which they primarily call into activity, will show that genius has left few conceivable avenues unoccupied. Such a classification will also be the most complete and satisfactory.
1. To begin with our primary notions of the external world, we find a large group of arts, which seek the approbation of taste by means of gratifying the
Of these the various senses retain their own respective classes. Sight and hearing, however, are the chief purveyors for the mind: the other three are more concerned in attending to the safety and comfort of the body, and their capacities are narrower and lower. Refinement of mind exalts the worth and dignity of character; refinement in bodily gratifications works only voluptuousness and ultimate degradation of the moral nature.
II. A second group address themselves to the understanding, enlisting the work of the senses only in as far as sensible signs are necessary to communicate the thoughts of one mind to another. Under this head come all the varieties of oratory and elegant literature.
Subordinate to these orders, the individual arts arrange themselves under the particular elements of human nature from which they have sprung, each embodying some phase of the beautiful, peculiar to itself.
The arts belonging to the first class may be conveniently disposed under the five heads of Plastics, Graphics, Architectonics, Landscape Gardening, and Music: each constituting a separate language, and possessing its peculiar capabilities of expression, and holding its own proper field of ideas.
Plastic, in accordance with its Greek original, is applied to the art of shaping or modeling, which is consequently concerned with forms, especially organic, and its highest efforts are expended upon the human form, as the most beautiful and interesting to the human eye, as well as the most eloquent in varied meaning The primary branch, from which the generic name is derived, pertains to modeling in soft masses, as clay, wax, or gypsum. Clay was, perhaps, the earliest material employed. There are some very ancient figures of this kind, of Greek and Egyptian workmanship
The Roman ancestral images were commonly made of wax, and gypsum in stucco work is still found in ancient buildings.
Works cut in hard material, as wood, ivory and stone, constitute a second branch, to which the term sculpture is more properly applied; to which may be added, work on gems. The term statuary is properly limited to figures of living beings.
The productions of the art are sometimes slightly raised from a plane surface, and said to be in low relief: sometimes so much raised that they seem only attached to the ground, then called high relief; and sometimes they are entirely isolated.
Intaglio, or work in which the figure is lower than the surrounding surface, though less obviously embraced by the etymology of the word plastic, is included in the spirit of this department of art.
Relief and intaglio are much used on Egyptian monuments, in architectural ornaments, and on gems. Many great and beautiful works exist in relief, such as the sculptures in the frieze of the Parthenon, and the gate of the Baptistry of St. John at Florence. But the higher achievements of plastic art are to be found in the region of statuary.
Works in stone or metal have generally been first
modeled in clay, or some other soft material. The artist builds around a frame, made for the purpose, a quantity of moist clay, which he gradually models to the conception in his mind. This model is afterwards copied in the marble or the bronze in which it is to stand. The copying is a mechanical operation, and, to some extent, may be performed by an ordinary work
It is on the model that genius displays her power. When the copy is to be made in marble, care is exercised to find a block free from every blemish, of the finest, closest texture, and purest white. In Greece the quarries of Pentelicus and Paros furnished the varieties most highly valued. In the time of Vespasian, those of Carrara, in Italy, were discovered, and continue, to this day, to supply material for the most beautiful works. The marble block is wrought to a rough likeness of the statue, with the hammer and chisel, then smoothed with rasps and files, and finished by polishing with pumice stone.
Of metals, bronze is generally preferred, being well calculated to resist the effects of atmosphere and accidental violence. A mold of plaster and brick dust is made upon the model, lined with clay, of the thickness which the bronze is designed to be, then filled with a core, composed also of plaster and brick dust, which is fixed in its place by little bars of bronze passing through the mold. The intervening clay is carefully removed, and the melted metal, poured in through an aperture for the purpose, fills the space previously occupied by the clay. The work is afterwards polished mechanically.
Some statues are cast in gold, some in silver, and many in iron. In recent times iron castings have been carried to great perfection, especially at Berlin. The commonest material for copying statuary, and, next to marble, the most beautiful, is gypsum, though its frailty is a great objection to the use of it in exposed situations. Ivory was sometimes employed by the Greeks, even in large statues—being put as a covering upon some plainer material, as in the Minerva of the Acropolis, at Athens, and the Olympian Jupiter, both works by Phidias. The mass of the statue was of stone, and the ivory, after being polished, was neatly fastened, so as to look like one entire piece, on every part designed to be naked. The drapery was of gold, fitted on in a similar manner. These statues were also painted, and the eyes composed of precious stones. In view of this latter point, it is due to the great statuary to say that he had another end in view besides that which is truly artistic. His chief object, indeed, was to embody the Greek conception of Deity that life of spiritual activity and sublime bodily repose. The attitude of the figure, the calm features, and motionless material, furnished the one element, and the other Phidias attempted to produce by copying the lines of thought and colors of life with the light of
His success is attested by such men as Plato