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the sun, has awakened in my mind a thought concerning nature's skill in painting. What a surprising representation is this of that bright body, imbibed and dissipated in a mirror of obscure vapours! Yet if we extend our observation further, we shall find an infinite variety of objects of this kind, which excite equal admiration and pleasure. With what wonderful success has nature painted all the scenes of this theatre, the world! How masterly are her designs, how strong and bold her draughts, how delicate her touches, and how rich and beautiful is her colouring! It is with inimitable skill that she manages and proportions her lights and shades, and mixes and works in her colours: the gardens smile with her fruits of different dye; and the verdure of the fields is beautifully varied by different flowers: what pencil can express the glowing blushes of the rose, the glossy white of the lily, or the rich crimson of the amaranth? what master · can delineate the changeable colours in the neck of the dove, and in the tail of the peacock, arising from the rays of light glancing and playing among the feathers?” Here Dr. Lacon pausing, Mr. Johnson said, ' Nature, no doubt, is an inimitable painter ; but when I reflect upon the beauty, variety, and harmony of the universe, I am apt to consider that as a fine poem, which you look on as a finished picture." This started a new subject of discourse; and gave us occasion to consider the various instances in which these two `arts, Painting and Poetry, resemble each other, till our conversation was broken off by a servant that called us to supper. The next morning I recollected the heads of our discourse, and formed them into the following essay.
Though the melody of the voice, and that of musical instruments, bear a great resemblance to the charms of Poetry, as they are expressed in harmonious numbers, and a pleasing cadence of words; yet the affinity between Poetry and Painting must be allowed to be much greater. 'Tis an universal observation, that there is a great similitude between these sister arts; but the parallel between them not having yet been drawn at length, I will give an imperfect sketch of some features and properties in which they agree, that have not, as I remember, been touched before.
It is obvious at first view, that the distinguishing difference of these arts from others consists in an imitation of nature; and that the more excellent and perfect they are, the nearer they approach to an entire resemblance of it. As moral truth is the conformity between our thoughts and assertions; so the truth of Painting
is founded in the similitude between the picture and the exemplar in the mind of the artist, where it is first imagined, and has an ideal existence previous to that on the canvass : but though a picture may be true in this agreement with its original in the painter's fancy, yet if that original is wrong conceived, and has a manifest difformity to nature, the picture is justly said to be false and ill conceived; and in this respect, Poetry exactly resembles her sister Painting.
The painter is a poet to the eye, and a poet a painter to the ear. One gives us pleasure by silent eloquence, the other by vocal imagery. One shews the art of drawing and colouring by the pen, the other with equal elegance expresses a poetical spirit by the pencil. When a poet has formed an admirable description of a palace, a river, or a grove, the reader in transport cries, what fine painting is this !
Painting is divided into various kinds, according to the variety of the objects it represents, and the different manner of representing them. Grotesque Painting, in which the Dutch excel, sometimes exhibits an assemblage of country drolls at a fair or a wedding, and sometimes the humours of a sot, or a hen-pecked blockhead: this species therefore has a great likeness to the low poets, who write humorous ballads,
farces, and burlesque verse, the end of both being to move laughter.
Another species of painters delineate landskips, and convey to the eye pleasant prospects; they abbreviate space, contract a country, and grace the apartments of a city palace with a variety of rural scenes: groves spread their branches, rivers flow, fountains weep, and shepherds tend their flocks, in rooms of state ; and sometimes the spectators are entertained with the views of solitary deserts, harmless monsters, and unfrightful terrors. And this sort may be justly compared to the writers of pastorals, whose province it is to exhibit to the imagination the same objects.
The face-painters, or limners of portraits, who express only the eyes, features, and air of the countenance, the posture of the body, and impassionate life, are not allied to any distinct species of poets ; but they resemble those that describe a graceful or a deformed man. But, they are more aptly compared to those poets, who, to celebrate the praises of the fair-one by whose beauty they are captivated, delineate her face, and describe the charms of her person: so is Lesbia drawn by Horace, and Laura by Petrarch.
But the similitude between Heroic and
Tragic Poetry, and Painting of History, the two most excellent kinds of imitating nature, is the most conspicuous. As the epick and tragic poets, by the warm ideas they convey, touch all the springs and movements of our minds, and take possession of our hearts, by propagating their own passions and transmitting their very souls into our bosoms, so the masters of the great manner in painting history, who express in their pieces great design, generous sentiments, and the dignity of the sublime style, animate their canvass with the most lively and active passions : all the emotions of the heart appear in the faces of their figures with the utmost spirit and vivacity, the whole soul is collected and exerted in the eyes, which sometimes flash with fury, and sometimes are transported with joy, or up-lifted with admiration : in one piece they are filled with horror and consternation, and in another they melt with tender affection.
What poetical design and description, what an epic imagination does Raphael shew in his celebrated piece of Constantine and Maxentius! and what masterly and admirable painting does Virgil express, when he describes the battle of the Latins and the Trojans !
LAY-MONASTERY, No. 31, Jan. 25, 1713.