Category Archives: Art

Item of the Day: Essays on the Nature and Principles of Taste (1812)

Full Title: Essays on the Nature and Principles of Taste. By Archibald Alison. From the Edinburgh Edition of 1811. Boston: Published by Cummings and Hilliard; Cambridge: Printed by Hilliard & Metcalf, 1812.

INTRODUCTION.

TASTE is in general considered as that faculty of the human mind, by which we perceive and enjoy whatever is BEAUTIFUL or SUBLIME in the works of nature or art.

The perception of these qualities is attended with an emotion of pleasure, very distinguishable from every other pleasure of our nature, and which is accordingly distinguished by the name of the EMOTION of TASTE. The distinction of the objects of taste, into the sublime and beautiful, has produced a similar division of this emotion, into the EMOTION of SUBLIMITY and the EMOTION of BEAUTY.

The qualities that produce these emotions, are to be found in almost every class of the objects of human knowledge, and the emotions themselves afford one of the most extensive sources of human delight. They occur to us, amid every variety of EXTERNAL scenery, and among many diversities of disposition and affection in the MIND of man. The most pleasing arts of human invention are altogether directed to their pursuit: and even the necessary arts are exalted into dignity, by the genius that can unite beauty with use. From the earliest period of society, to its last stage of improvement, they afford an innocent and elegant amusement to private life, at the same time that they increase the splendour of national character; and in the progress of nations, as well as of individuals, while they attract attention from the pleasures they bestow, they serve to exalt the human mind, from corporeal to intellectual pursuits.

These qualities, however, though so important to human happiness, are not the objects of immediate observation; and in the attempt to investigate them, various circumstances unite to perplex our research. They are often obscured under the number of qualities with which they are accidentally combined: They result often from peculiar combinations of the qualities of objects, or the relation of certain parts of objects to each other: They are still oftener, perhaps, dependent upon the state of our own minds, and vary in their effects with the dispositions in which they happen to be observed. In all cases, while we feel the emotions they excite, we are ignorant of the causes by which they are produced; and when we seek to discover them, we have no other method of discovery, than that varied and patient EXPERIMENT, by which, amid these complicated circumstances, we may gradually ascertain the peculiar qualities which, by the CONSTITUTION of our NATURE, are permanently connected with the emotions we feel. . . .

 

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Filed under 1810's, Art, Culture, Posted by Caroline Fuchs

Item of the Day: The Lives of Haydn and Mozart (1818)

Full Title: The Lives of Haydn and Mozart, with Observations on Metastasio, and on the Present State of Music in France and Italy. Translated from the French of L. A. C. Bombet. With Notes, by the Author of The Sacred Melodies. Second Edition. London: John Murray, Albemarle-Street, 1818.

LETTER VIII.

Salzburg, April 5, 1808.

At length, my dear friend, you have received my letters. The war, which surrounds me here on all sides, gave me some anxiety respecting them. My walks in the woods are disturbed by the sound of arms: at this moment, I distinctly hear the cannon firing, at the distance of a league and a half from hence, in the direction of Munich. Nevertheless, after some melancholy reflections on the circumstances which have deprived me of my company of grenadiers, and which , for twenty years past, have banished me from my country, I have seated myself upon the trunk of a large fallen oak. I find myself under the shade of a beautiful lime-tree; I see around me nothing but a delightful verdure, beautifully set off by the deep blue of the heavens; I take my little port-folio, and my pencil, and after a long silence, proceed with my account of our friend Haydn.

Do you know that I am almost ready to charge you with being schismatic? You seem to prefer him to the divine masters of the Ausonian lyre. Ah! my friend, the Pergoleses and Cimarosas have excelled in that department of our favourite art, which is at once the noblest, and the most affecting. You say that one reason why you prefer Haydn, is, that one may hear him at London, or at Paris, as well as at Vienna, while, for want of voices, France will never enjoy the Olimpiade of the divine Pergolese. In this respect, I am of your opinion. The rough organization of the English, and of our dear countrymen, may allow of their being good performers on instruments, but prevents them from ever excelling in singing. Here, on the contrary, in traversing the faubourg Leopoldstadt, I have just heard a very sweet voice singing, in a very pleasing style, the air

Nach dem tode jeh bin ich dein,

Even after death, I still am thine.

As for what concerns myself, I clearly see your malicious criticism through all your compliments. You still reproach me with that inconsistency, which was formerly the constant theme of your lectures. You say that I pretend to write to you about Haydn, and I forget only one thing, –that is, fairly to enter upon the style of this great master, and, as an inhabitant of Germany, to explain to you, as one of the unlearned, how it pleases, and why it pleases. In the first place, you are not one of the unlearned: you are passionately fond of music: and in the fine arts, this attachment is sufficient. You say that you can scarcely read an air. Are you not ashamed of this miserable objection? Do you take for an artist the antiquated mechanic, who, for twenty years, has given lessons on the piano, as his equal in genius has made clothes at the neighbouring tailor’s? Do you consider as an art, a mere trade, in which, as in others, success is obtained by a little address, and a great deal of patience?

Do yourself more justice. If your love for music continue, a year’s travelling in Italy will render you more learned than your savans of Paris. . . .

 

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Filed under 1660's, 1810's, Art, Culture, Eighteenth century, Music, Posted by Caroline Fuchs

Item of the Day: Hogarth Moralized (1768)

Full Title:

Hogarth Moralized. Being a Complete Edition of Hogarth’s Works. Containing near fourscore copper-plates, most elegantly engraved : with an explanation, pointing out the many beauties that may have hitherto escaped notice, and a comment on their moral tendency. Calculated to improve the minds of youth, and, convey instruction, under the mask of entertainment. Now first published, with approbation of Jane Hogarth, widow of the late Mr. Hogarth. London: Sold by S. Hooper, the East Corner of the New Church in the Strandl and, Mrs. Hogarth, at her House in Leicester-Fields. Price One Pound Sixteen Shillings, bound. Where may be also had, the originals complete. Price thirteen guineas bound. MDCCLXVII

The Rake’s Progress.

Of all the follies in human life, there is none greater, than that of extravagance, or, profuseness; it being constant labour, without the least ease, or, relaxation. It bears, indeed, the colour of that, which is commendable, and, would fain be thought to take its rise from laudable motives, searching, indefatigably, after true felicity : now, as there can be no true felicity without content, it is this, which every man is in constant hunt after; the learned, for instance, in his industrious quest after knowledge; the merchant, in his dangerous voyages; the ambitious, in his passionate pursuit of honour; the conqueror, in his earnest desires of victory; the politician, in his deep-laid designs; the wanton, in his pleasing charms of beauty; the covetous, in his unwearied heaping up of treasure; and the prodigal, in his general and extravagant indulgence.–Thus far it may be well;–but, so mistaken are we in our road, as, to run on in the, very opposite, tract, which leads, directly, to our ruin. Whatever else we indulge ourselves in, is attended with some small degree of relish, and, has some trifling satisfaction in the enjoyment; but, in this, the farther we go, the more we are lost; and, when arrived at the mark proposed, we are as far from the object we hunt, as when we first set out. Here, then, we are inexcusable, in not attending to the secret dictates of reason, and, in stopping our ears at the timely admonitions of friendship. Headstrong and ungovernable, we pursue our course withot intermission; thoughtless and unwary, we see not the dangers that lie, immediately, before us; but, hurry on, even, without sight of our object, till we bury ourselves in that gulph of woe, where perishes, at once, health, wealth, and, virtue; and, whose dreadful labyrinths admit of no return.

Struck with the foresight of that misery, attendant on a life of debauchery, which is, in fact, the off-spring of prodigality; our author has, in the scenes before us, attempted the reformation of the worldling, by stopping him, as it were, in his career, and, opening to his view, the many doleful calamities awaiting the prosecution of his proposed scheme of life : he has, I say, in hopes of reforming the prodigal, and, at the same time, deterring the rising generation, whom Providence may have blessed with earthly wealth, from entering, at all, into so iniquitous a course, traced out the life of a young man, hurried on, through a various succession of different pursuits, for the few years nature was able to support itself; and, this from the instant, he might be said to enter into the worl, till the time of his leaving it. But, as the vice of avarice is equal to that of prodigality, and, the ruin of children is, often, owing to the indiscretion of their parents, he has opened the piece with a scene, which at the same time, that it exposes the folly of the youth, shews us the imprudence of the father, who is supposed to have hurt the principles of his son, in depriving him of the necessary use of some of that gold, he had, with the greatest covetousness, been hoarding, to no kind of purpose, in his coffers.

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Filed under 1760's, Art, Posted by Matthew Williams, Satire

Item of the Day: Burke on the Sublime and Beautiful (1798)

Full Title: A Philosophical Enquiry Into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful. With an Introductory Discourse Concerning Taste; And Several Other Additions. By Edmund Burke, Esq. A New Edition. London: Printed for Vernor and Hood, F. and C. Rivington, T. N. Longman, Cadell and Davies, J. Cuthell, J. Walker, Lackington, Allen, and Co. Ogilvy and Son, and J. Nunn. MDCCXCVIII. [Originally 1757.]

Sect. XXVII.

THE SUBLIME AND BEAUTIFUL COMPARED.

On closing this general view of beauty it naturally occurs, that we should compare it with the sublime; and in this comparison there appears a remarkable contrast. For sublime objects are vast in their dimensions, beautiful ones comparatively small: beauty should be smooth and polished; the great, rugged and negligent: beauty should shun the right line, yet deviate from it insensibly; the great in many cases loves the right line; and when it deviates, it often makes a strong deviation; beauty should not be obscure; the great ought to be dark and gloomy: beauty should be light and delicate; the great ought to be solid, and even massive. They are indeed ideas of a very different nature, one being founded on pain, the other on pleasure; and however they may vary afterwards from the direct nature of their causes, yet these causes keep up an eternal distinction between then, a distinction never to be forgotten by anyone whose business it is to affect the passions. In the infinite variety of natural combinations, we must expect to find the qualities of things the most remote imaginable from each other united in the same object. We must expect also to find combinations of the same kind in works of art. But when we consider the power of an object upon our passions, we must know that when anything is intended to affect the mind by the force of some predominant property, the affection produced is like to be more uniform and perfect, if all the other properties and qualities of the object be of the same nature, and tending to the same design as the principal;

If black and white blend, soften and unite
A thousand ways, are there no black and white?

If the qualities of the sublime and beautiful are sometimes found united, does this prove that they are the same; does it prove that they are any way allied; does it prove that they are not opposite and contradictory? Black and white may soften, may blend; but they are not therefore the same. Nor, when they are so softened and blended with each other, or with different colours, is the power of black as black, or of white as white, so strong as when each stands uniform and distinguished.  

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Filed under 1750's, 1790's, Art, Criticism, Posted by Matthew Williams

Item of the Day: Etching of Mount Vernon by Isaac Weld, Junior (1798)

Full Title: Travels Through the States of North America, and the Provinces of Upper and Lower Canada, During the Years 1795, 1796, and 1797.

Plan of MOUNT VERNON, Seat of General Washington.
By Isaac Weld, Junior.
Published December 18, 1798 by J. Stockdale, Picadilly.

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Filed under 1790's, Art, Posted by Rebecca Dresser, Travel

Item of the Day: Hogarth Moralized (1768)

Full Title:

Hogarth Moralized. Being a Complete Edition of Hogarth’s Works. Containing near fourscore copper-plates, most elegantly engraved : with an explanation, pointing out the many beauties that may have hitherto escaped notice, and a comment on their moral tendency : calculated to improve the minds of youth, and, convey instruction, under the mask of entertainment : now first published, with approbation of Jane Hogarth, widow of the late Mr. Hogarth.

Commentary by John Trusler. With advertisement, preface, index. London: S. Hooper and Mrs. Hogarth, 1768.

From the description of Harlot’s Progress:

IN this age, when wickedness is in search, to entrap the unwary; and, man, that artful deceiver, racking his invention, for wiles to delude the innocent, and, rob them of their virtue; it is, more particularly, necessary, to warn the rising generation, of the impending danger; lay before the female world, the perils they are exposed to; open to their view, a sight of that wretchedness, that will, inevitably, be the consequence of their misconduct; and, by a timely admonition, prevent, if possible, the irrevocable misfortunes attendant on a life of prostitution, brought on by falling, perhaps, in an unguarded moment. This was the design of Hogarth, in the history of the Harlot before us, in the prosecution of which, he has, minutely, pictured out the most material scenes of her life, from the time, of her fall from virtue, to the hour of her death; a history full of such interesting circumstances, as must, certainly, give the unthinking maid, a sense of her danger, and, alarm her, lest she, also, becomes a prey to man.

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Filed under 1760's, Art, Posted by Carrie Shanafelt