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To supply this defect in English biography, respecting the lives and works of our Painters, was the present performance undertaken ; for which Mr. Vertue employed himself several years in collecting materials. As he conversed and corresponded with most of the virtuosi in England, and was personally acquainted with the oldest perforiners in the science, he minuted down every thing he heard from them; visiting, as we are told, every collection, making catalogues of them, attending sales, copying every paper he could find relative to the art, searching offices, registers of parishes and registers of wills, for births and deaths, turning over all our own authors, and translating those of other countries which related to his subject. Thus writing down every thing he heard, saw, or read, his collection amounted to near forty volumes of manuscript; his intention of compiling such a work being suggested fo early as the year 1713, and asliduously continued till his death, in the year 1757.
Indebted, however, as the lovers of this elegant art may think themselves to Mr. Vertue, for his assiduity and application, there is yet another circumstance which adds a value to the materials he so laboriously collected. This is his integrity, which, we are told, exceeded even his industry: no man living, so bigotted to a vocation, being so incapable of falshood. He did not deal even in hypothesis, scarce in conjecture. He visited and revisited every picture, every monument that was an object of his researches ;, and being so little a Nave to his own imagination, was cautious of trusting to that of others. In his memorandums he always put a query against whatever was told him of suspicious aspect, and never gave credit to it till he received the fullest satisfaction.
Thus (proceeds our Author) whatever trifles the Reader finds in this work, he will have the comfort of knowing that the greatest part at least are of most genuine authority. Whenever I have added to the Compiler's stores, I have generally taken care to quote as religiously the source of my intelligence; and here and there have tried to enliven the dryness of the subject, by inserting facts not totally foreign to it.” It is not, however, only by the insertion of entertaining facts that our Author hath enlivened and embellished the barren collection of the Compiler: the many pertinent reflections, and interesting sentiments, occasionally interspersed throughout this work, manifesting equally the critical sagacity and refined taste of the Writer. Very different from the common run of Editors, whose narrow minds or confined talents are R 2
limited limited to a particular ftudy, we find him perpetually throwing out those general reficctions which naturally arise from the occasion; and which, though not absolutely necessary to the subject, display that liberal turn which is only acquired from an acquaintance with men as well as the arts, from the ftudy of human nature as well as the sciences. His thoughts on the past and present state of the arts in England, together with their moral tendency, particularly that of Painting, are extremely sencible and juit.
“ It perhaps would be dificult (says he) to afsign a phyfical reason why a nation that produced Shakespear, should owe its glory in another walk of genius to Holbein and Vandyke. It cannot be imputed to wint of protection: Who countenanced the arts more than Charles the First? That prince, who is censured for his want of taste in pensioning Quarles, is celebrated by the same pen for employing Bernini; but want of protection is the apology for want of genius. Milton and Fontaine did not write in the bask of court favour. A Poet or a Painter may want an equipage or a villa, by wanting protection; they can always afford to buy ink and paper, colours and pencils. Hogarth has received no honours, but universal admiration.”
Considering the arts and sciences in a moral and political light, he oblerves, it is no bad indication of the flourishing ftate of a country, that it daily makes improvements in their cultivation. They may be attended indeed by luxury, but, they are certainly produced by wealth and happiness *. The conveniencies, the decorations of life are not studied in Siberia, or under a Nero. “ If severe morality (fays he would at any time expect to establish a thorough reformation, I fear it must chuse inhospitable climates, and abolish all latitude from the laws. A corporation of merchants would never have kept their oaths to Lycurgus, of observing his statutes till he returned. A good government, that indulges its subjects in the exercise of their own thoughts, will lee à thousand inventions springing up, refinements will follow, and much pleasure and fatisfaction will be produced at least before that
* Does not this seem a little contradiflory to what is said just above concerning the intlucnce of protection and the sun-fhine of court. favour?--But perhaps wealth and luxury may have a tendency to the improvement of the arts in general, different from their influence on the profesiors of those ares as individuals. The arts may flourish noit in wealılıy itate", while the poorcit arciis may display the greatest kiitis.
excess arrives, which is so justly said to be the fore-runner of ruin. But all this is in the common course of things, which tend to perfection, and then degenerate. He would be an absurd legislator, who should pretend to set bounds to his country's welfare, left it should perish by knowing no bounds. Poverty will stint itself; riches will be left to their own dis*cretion; they depend upon trade, and to circumscribe trade is to annihilate it. It is not rigid nor Roman to say it, but a people had better be unhappy by their own fault, than by that of their government. A cenfor morum is not a much greater blessing than an arliter elegantiarum. The world, I believe, is not at all agreed that the austerities of the Presbyteriaris were preferable to the licentiousness under Charles II. I pretend to defend the one no more than the other, but I am sure that in the body politic, symptoms that prognosticate ill, may indicate well. All I meant to say was, that the disposition to improvements in this country is the consequence of its vigour. The establishment of a society for the encouragement of arts, will produce great benefits before they are perverted to mischiefs.”
With respect to Painting in particular, Mr. Walpole endeavours to obviate the objections which fanatics, and others of as little taste, have made to this beautiful art. “This (says he) is one of the least likely to be perverted : Painting has feldom been employed to any bad purpose. Pictures are but the scenery of devotion. I question if Raphael himself could ever have made one convert, though he had exhausted all the expression of his cloquent pencil on a feries of Popish doctrines and miracles. Pictures cannot adapt themselves to the meanest capacities, as unhappily the tongue can. Nonsense may make an apprentice a catholic or methodist; but the apprentice would see that a very bad Picture of St. Francis was not like truth : and a very good Picture would be above his feeling. Pictures may serve as helps to religion; but are only an appendix to idolatry: for the people must be taught to • believe in false Gods and in the power of saints, before they will learn to worthin their images. I do not doubt but if some of the first reformers had been at liberty to say exactly what they thought, and no more than they thought, they would have permitted one of the most ingenious arts, implanted in the heart of man by the Supreme Being, to be employed towards his praise. But Calvin, by his tenure, as head of a sect, was obliged to go all lengths. The vulgar will not list but for total contradictions. They are not struck
I . by by seeing religion shaded only a little darker or a little lighter. It was at Constantinople alone where the very shop-keepers had subtilty enough to fight for a letter more or less in a Greek adjective *, that expressed an abstract idea.”
« Happily (continues our Author) there is at this time fo total a extinction of all party-animosity both in religion and politics, that' men are at liberty to propose whatever may be useful to their country, without its being imputed to them as à crime, and to invent what they mean should give pleasure, without danger of displeasing by the very attempt.”
We could with this latter reflection altogether so true as is intimated; but we fear, though the zeal of party in politics and religion is at present much subsided, the liberal arts run no little danger of suffering equally by the illiberal practices of venality and avarice. While the insinuations of prejudice and self-interest are attended to, partiality will prevail in all decisions respecting merit: and in an age and country where every thing is bought and sold, it is no wonder the productions of taste and science should meet with the same fate as all other commodities that are brought to market. And whoever knows the delicacy of the opening bud of true genius, cannot be surprized it should close again in disgust, at seeing itself depreciated by the insolence of partiality, or the artifices of sale : while not unfrequently, cheapened like a bunch of radishes, it is thrown aside by the undistinguishing purchaser, for a more lumping penny-worth of gaudy trash. Hence we cannot help differing from our ingenious Author, in thinking this an epoch in which we may reasonably expect to see the arts Alourish and rise to as proud a height as they attained at Athens, Rome, or Florence. We very readily subscribe, however, to those great encomiums he hath justly bestowed on the eminent patrons and artists, that do honour to our age and country,
What we have hitherto borrowed from our Author is contained in his Preface. We come now to the work itself, in which the state of Painting in England is traced back to its earliest period : they who undertake to write the History of any art being, as he observes, fond of carrying its origin as far back as possible. This, indeed, when it tends to thew
* In the decline of the empi:e, there were two sects who proceeded to the greatest violences against each other in the dispute, whether the nature of the second Person was 'Opacosos, co-essentialis ; or 'Oubiégios, fimilis effentiæ.
anted geniuhaps his Cilcovery
the improvements made in it, by comparing latter works with the first rude inventions, may be of service; but it often happens that the Historian thinks the antiquity of a discovery reflects honour on his country, though perhaps his country has been so careless, or has wanted genius so much, as to have refined very little on the original hints. Some men, he remarks, push this farther, and venerate the first dawnings of an art more than its productions in a riper age. This, it seems, was the case, in some degree, with Mr. Vertue, who had taken great pains to prove, that Painting exifted in England before the restoration of it in Italy by Cimabue. Mr. Walpole, however, though confessedly an Antiquarian, justly observes that, notwithstanding the inventor may have had more genius, the performance of the improver must be more perfect.
If what we pofTeffed of it (says he) in those ignorant times could be called Painting, I suppose Italy and every nation in Europe retained enough of the deformity of the art, to contest with us in point of antiquity. That we had gone backwards in the science, farther almost than any other country, is evident from our coins, on which there is no more of human fimilitude, than in an infant's first scrawl of the pro- ! file of a face; and so far therefore as badness of drawing approaches to antiquity of ignorance, we may lay in our claim to very antient poffeffion. As Italy has so long excelled us in the refinement of the art, she may leave us the enjoyment of original imperfection.”
The lovers of British antiquities may find some entertainment in the perusal of the records relating to Architecture, Painting, and Sculpture, contained in the first Chapter of this performance; wherein, among many other particulars, we are informed that the lions in the arms of England were originally leopards; and that Windsor was a place of note even before the reign of Henry III. consequently long before it was beautified by Edward Isl. In the frequent occafions, however, which the Writer takes to throw new lights on the characters in English History, consists, in our opinion, a considerable part, if not the chief, merit of the whole work. Having spoken of the great encouragement given by Henry III. to Cavalini, and other artists, he makes the fol. lowing application of circumstances to elucidate his character.
“ From all the testimonies above recited, Henry III. appears in a new light from what has hitherto been known of him. That he was a weak prince, in point of government,