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A*T. VI. A Selection of Twelve Heads from the Last Judgment of Michael Angela. By R. Dupj.a, F.S.A. Imperial Folio. 4I. 4s. Boards. Robinsons. 1801.
In palliation, if not in justification, of the extravagancies which genius often commits, many persons have quoted this couplet from Pope's Essay on Criticism;
"Great wits rflay sometimes gloriously offend,
Those glorious offences, however, of which the true critic must not presume to suggest a correction, are extremely rare; 2nd perhaps, after all the declamation of poets and orators in favour of indefinable sublimity, men of a chastised and accurate taste will feel the necessity of reprobating even the "greatest wits," when they prefer the flights of imagination to the suggestions of judgment and the dictates of the understanding. In an age of reason, no name nor maxim will secure respect to absurdity. The great masters of painting and music, as well as the most celebrated poets, are intitled to no more praise than just criticism will bestow; and we cannot be too careful in distinguishing between their excellences and defects. When the professor of the harmonic art endeavours to express by sound that which sound cannot possibly convey, when the painter attempts to exhibit that which the pencil cannot delineate; when the orator mistakes the veriest bathos for the truest sublime ;—if the loud clamour of the multitude should call us to admire, let the "still small voice of reason" inspire us with resolution to condemn.
It would be deemed invidious, perhaps, to illustrate these remarks by applying them to any efforts of art in the present day, and indeed, as excited by the work before us, they seem rather to be restricted to more distant exemplification. We mutt observe, then, that, among the absurdities of pictorial representation, we cannot but reckon the Last Judgment, by Michael Angelo, which decorates the chapel of the Vatican. The distinguished talents of that artist are eminent in the painting of each distinct figure, but, as a whole, the composition is extravagant and disgusting. The subject itself, as predicted by the Sacred Scriptures, is indeed too vast and awful for human delineation: but it ought at least to have been attempted with strict attention to decorum and propriety. In such a picture,. no playfulness of design should have been admitted ;• and Charon, the ferryman of the Styx, should never have been allowed to make his appearance in a scene intended to be expressive of the Christian's dav of final retribution, The idea * • or of a fiend guiding; a boat full of condemned beings, to the confines of perdition, is borrowed from pagan mythology.
These strictures, however, do not affect Michael Angelo's general merit as a painter; and we do not wonder that, while Mr. Duppa was cultivating the fine arts at Rome, his attention ahould be particularly fixed on this representation of the Last Judgment. He appears to have contemplated it with great care; and the present selection of heads, from the immense groupe of which Angelo's picture consists, is intended to supply a set of studies tor artists, rather than to excite the indiscriminate admiration of the public. The style in which they are executed does high credit to Mr.Duppa; and his general observations evince so much good taste, and are so well written, that we shall with pleasure extract a part of them.
After having remarked that, when Michael Angelo is mentioned as a painter, it must be with reference only to his fresco works j--—that he disliked painting in oil;—that his scholar and biographer,Condivi, distinctly records only two easel pictures of his painting ;—that his oil pictures even in Italy are certainly very limited ;—and that the authenticity of those which are ascribed to him in foreign countries is strongly impeached ;—the author directs the lover of the fine arts to this fresco painting in the Vatican, whence the most certain information of Angelo's powers as a painter may be obtained. Mr. Duppa «lces not attempt a minute criticism of this extensive picture. but his account of it is extremely judicious:
'Amidst such an assemblage of figures, (he says) some groupes may reasonably be expected more admirable than others, more justly conceived, cr happily executed: and it cannot be denied that there are many parts which shew the plenitude of Michael Angelo's talents: yet, upon the whole, comparing him with himself, it may be questioned, whether this picture, stupendous as it is, does not rather mark the decline than the acme of his genius. The satire of Salvator Rosa, in these lines, is well known; and though put into the mouth of the critic Biagio Martinelli, appears not to be wholly ill founded:
"Michel' Angiolo mio, non parlo in gioco;
* In addition to his adopting the unphilosophical notions of the barker ages to comply with the vulgar prejudices of his time, the painter ha-; also injudiciously added some ludicrous embellishments of
*'' * Good Michael Angelo, I do not jest, Thy pepcil a great judgment has exprest;
Bat in that painting thou, alas! hast shown
Av7 little judgment of thy own. . - hil bis own. But the most serious exception made to the general composition by his contemporaries, was that of violating decorum, f» representing so many figures without drapery. The first person who made this objection was the Pope's master of the ceremonies, who, seeing the picture when three parts linisltcd, and being asked his opinion, told his Holiness that it was more fit for a brothel than the Pope's chapel. This circumstance caused Michael Atlgelo to introduce his portrait into the picture with asses' ears; and not overlooking the duties of his temporal office, he represented him as Master of the Ceremonies in die lower world, ordering and directing the disposal of the damned; and to heighten the character, wrtathed him with a serpent, Dante's well known attribute of Minos. (Inferno, Canto V.) N
• It is recorded, that the Monsignorc petitioned the Pope to have fhis portrait taken out of the picture, and that of the painter put in its stead; to which the Pope is said to have replied, " had you been in purgatory, there might have been sonic remedy, but from hell "nulla est reJemptk." :,
On the effect ef the picture, and Om the merit of the painter, Mr. Duppa observes:
« From the high character and notoriety of the Last Judgment, the amateur might expect at first view to receive the strongest and most sensible impressions, but in this picture the means of art best calculated for that end are least attended to. The raind is divides} and distracted by the want of a great concentrating principle of tffect; and the prevailing hue of colour is of too low a tone to be impressive; added to which, it is partially damaged and obscured by smoke, and is therefore now, doubtless, less harmonious than when originalry painted.
• Possessing the most important requisites of his art, Michael Angelo appears often regardless of the subordinate qualifications. In his happiest efforts his subject is imagined with a strength of thought peculiar to himself, and his hand seems at once to have traced and decided the image of his mind, without exhibiting any attractive powers of mechanical excellence; and as Reynolds justly observes, th3t mind was so rich and abundant that lie never needed, or seemed to disdain to look around him for foreign help. Guided only by nature, his own genius amply supplied the necessity of hi* referring to the works of his predecessors. No artist perhaps that ever lived, was freer from plagiarism; and it may be interesting to. observe, that in the Last Judgment, which was painted nearly at the close of a long life *, he seems evidently to have had individual nature constantly before him, and to have referred to it more than to any fixed principles which he had formed by his previous practice. There a.e few heads which do not appear to have been more or less copied from nature.'—
• The superior abilities of Michael Angelo are shewn ra the sub* limity of his conceptions, and the power and facility with which they are executed: correctness, in the uitial signification of the word,
* Michael Angelo was born in 1474 and died in 1564.
/'■■ 0 aide tnade no part of his admired talent, and his knowledge of the human figure is not marked by attention to aggregate beauty or elegance of proportion. In composition, action and expression, he often embraces the whole range of creative power, and yet has shewn that inequality which is so often the attendant on soaring minds; for whilst his Prophets and Sibyls in the vault of the Sistine Chapel are idealized to the utmost verge of sublimity, those perfect characters to whom he has assigned a plact in Heaven in the Last Judgment, are all simple copies of imperfect and individual nature.'
Hence it follows that, overlooking the defects of design and general composition, the artist must regard each figure as a separate study; and such has been Mr. Duppa's practice. As he attended the lectures of Dr. Marshal (to whom this work is dedicated) in London, in order to learn the correct anatomy of the human frame, so at Rome he attentively examined the drawings of Michael Angelo, for the purpose of acquiring precise ideas of the accurate delineation of the human figure in various attitudes. The heads here selected (he says) are facsimiles of a few of those studies which were made in Rome, to enable him to form a more perfect knowlege of the particular character of Michael Angelo as a painter; and they were intended merely as outlines, with just as much shadow as would serve more fully to mark the expression, and give the general principle of Chiar'-oscuro. « If so far they may be found to possess the merit of fidelity, it is hoped, in a country where the originals are imperfectly known, they may impart some share of that information which was the object of his own research.'
To the student in painting, these delineations will no doubt form a desirable acquisition; and their value is much enhanced by Mr. Duppa's sensible prefatory observations. This introductory matteris printed in the most beautiful and superb form 5 and it is preceded by a truly magnificent title-page containing a vignette designed to represent the ' Gate of Hell.' To us, however, it more resembles the entrance of a necromancer's cave. Indeed, the Editor says that, being disappointed of an appropriate design from an artist eminent in the line of excentricity, he availed himself of the description of Dante, in giving a sketch of his own, which he must allow to be more picturesque than sublime; and for which the poet must be the apologist.—We confess that we do not perceive the propriety of exhibiting a view of hell's gate as a vignette to this work: such a subject, seriously contemplated, is fit only to be referred to the imagination by the sublimity of poetry; and the painter will incur the almost inevitable danger of falling into the ludicrous, when 'he at.tempts-a. grandeur beyond the reach, of art."
t »S9 3Art. VII. Sermnu, by Hugh Blair, D.D. F.R.S. Ed. One of the Ministers of the High Church, and Professor of Rhetoric and Belles Lettres in the University, of Edinburgh. Vol. V.; to which is added a short Account of the Life and Character of the Author, by James Finlayson, D. D. 8vo. pp. 520. 7 ». Boards. Cadelljun. and Davies. 1801.
TVjo preacher of our own times has obtained such high celebrity in the composition of sermons, as the late Dr. Blair had universally acquired; and,iodeed,the numerous and largeeditions, through which the preceding volumes of his d iscourses have passed, form so unequivocal a testimony of the public opinion, that they appear to supersede the necessity of now repeating our evidence in favour of Dr. Blair as a writer. In delineating the operation of the good and evil affections on the formation of different characters, and in the production of the happiness or misery of human life, he has certainly displayed singular felicity; and though his representations of the folly of vice, and of the wisdom of religion, could scarcely be recommended by novelty of sentiment, they have the merit of being elegant and striking. His divisions are few and natural: his periods are short: his argument is clear; and his manner of discussing serious subjects is peculiarly agreeable. All his sermons, however, have not an uniform character *, nor can we pronounce the latter gleanings equal to the prime gatherings of the vintage: but they preserve the same distinguishing flavour, and bespeak the same soil which produced the former. We have no doubt, therefore, that this volume will be equally well received by the public ; while it will excite the regret of all the admirers of Dr. Blair, as being his last legacy to the world. It is introduced by an address to the reader, written by the Doctor himself; who, for some time before his death, had been employed in preparing these discourses for the press. His motives and apologies shall here be stated in his own words:
.• After the very favourable reception which the Four former Volumes of my Sermons have met with, both at home and abroad, I had resolved not to presume on offering any more to the Publick. To this publication of another Volume, my present situation gave rise. Being now, by the infirmity of very advanced age, laid aside from all the labours of the pulpit, and possessing, of course, more retirement and leisure than formerly, it occurred to me, sometimes, to look back into Sermons, most of which had been composed a great many years ago, with a view to observe how far they agreed in the strain of thought with those which I had written at a later period. In reviewing them, passages sometimes appeared which I imagined might be serviceable, either for admonition or consolation V* various- dasss* of persona; and the thought began to arise in my