By John Denis Macdonald, M.D., F. R. S.,
London:Longmans, Green, Reader, and Dyer.
Gosport:Groves, High Street 1869.
A kindredness observable in the arts of Music & Painting
It is remarkable that the great masters should have so uniformly expressed their pictorial ideas in strict accordance with the laws of harmony;but we must note the fact, that what is termed " gusto " in colouring is intuitive to the painter of genius, just as a musical taste is a natural gift to the born musician, who may compose and harmonize pleasingly, though ignorant of all rules.
Many of the great masters were practical musicians as well as painters, and profitted accordingly. In this connection the following short notices may not be uninteresting:
Sebastian del Piombo enjoyed great reputation as a musician. Bassano and his son Leandro were admired for their attainments in music, as well as their skill in Painting. Tintorretto and his daughter Tintoretta made both music and painting their beloved studies. Bordone, a disciple of Titian, Antonio Tempesta, (patronized by Pope Greg. XIII) and Augustine Carracci were skilled in music. Carl Antonio and his son Ercole were devoted to music and painting, and distinguished for their appreciation of harmony in both arts. Bamboccio Georgione and Andrea Verocchio were eminent as painters and musical performers. Salvator Piosa was a painter, a poet and a musician. Dominichino was a scholar in the theory of music;his talent lay principally in the correctness of his style and his power of expressing the passions and affections of the mind. Guido Keni was a profound musician, and his taste in the harmony of colours has probably never been surpassed. His works were said to have been made by "hands divine." Parmigiano, whose pencil was the most graceful and elegant of his day, delighted and excelled in music;he was patronized by the Emperor Charles V. Eosso, a celebrated Florentine painter, and a favourite of Francis I, of France, was well skilled in music;he exercised great judgment in the mixture of his colours, and in chiaro oscuro, by the artful distribution of his lights and shadows. Julio Eomano, said to be the most excellent of Raphael's disciples, was cherished by the muses;and Leonardo da Vinci was esteemed both a skilful musician and an able poet. Finally, Peter van Laer excelled in music, and was a painter in every line of the art. It would be easy to add other important names to those already quoted, but these will suffice to show the close relationship of musical and artistic taste. We shall bye and bye refer to the chef d'oeuvres of Reubens, Titian, Guido, Veronese, Da Vinci and others, with the view of discovering how far they proceeded intuitively, in accordance with musical rule, as applicable to painting.
Ordinary Vision and Hearing.
The fine arts and music enter more into the philosophy of vision and hearing than people are commonly aware of, including the perspective of visible things and sounds, as well as the special adaptations required for the perception of detail by the eye and the ear.
In surveying objects presenting an extensive surface, the eye is engaged with vigilant activity, passing from centre to circumference, and traversing the most interesting points, obedient to the will. Thus, we are enabled to appreciate the merits and beauties of artistic performances;but although the general effect may be perceived at a glance, yet only one small point can be distinctly seen at any particular moment. Standing before an architectural edifice, if we inspect the figures on the pediment we have a confused idea of the cornice and mouldings;if we direct our attention to the architrave and frieze we almost lose sight of the columns;in counting the number of nifches our perception of all other accessaries is in abeyance, and it is not until we have carefully inspected the several parts in relation to the whole and committed them to memory, that we can obtain an adequate idea of the object. The auditory process in acquiring the air of a song or other musical composition is of exactly the same nature. A performer may play a piece in our hearing, but such cannot become thoroughly known to ordinary capacities until they have committed it to memory bar after bar, a work of time and careful study. Isolated sounds and simple objects (as a cube, a cone, or a sphere) may be perceived immediately, and there can be little difficulty in retaining them in the ind, but as they become more complicated and abstract, our powers of profitably hearing the former and seeing the latter require more practice. This analogy holds strictly good in most particulars, for we see and hear in detail, and the aid of memory is called in, to confirm and deepen the impressions made in both cases.
The central point of the retina is the seat of particular vision, and passing away from this point in every direction, objects in the general field become more and more obscure or ill defined. Hence it is that vignette pictures are so attractive, being somewhat circular, and fading off towards the circumference, while the central parts are carefully handled. Just as the convex mirror reflects the rays by " crescendo " with more fulness and strength towards the middle, the figures should stand out from the musical subject in bold and brilliant passages, as in pictorial representations, from the canvas or back ground. Titian told Tintoretta that a bunch of grapes was his surest guide, of course, from its rotundity, softness? central projection in light, and gradual dissipation towards the extremities. Ample broad lights encompassed with friendly shadows and delicacy in the management of his colours, raised Corregio to eminence, together with his having acquired the grand secret of knowing when to make an end of finishing;for frequently without this, nothing would ultimately remain of one's first ideas, particularly in painting.
Perspective of Natural Objects and Sounds.
As the rays of light and sound proceed in straight lines from their respective sources, their intensity must diminish as the squares of the distance and the principles of common linear perspective are applicable to both. At the vanishing point of sight and hearing, impinging on the blendid auditory and visual horizons, both natural objects and sounds cease to be discernible. Acute, medium, and deep sounds of appropriate strength and quality, may represent objects in perspective, which weaken in colour as they diminish in magnitude, receding from the eye. In some instances, however, the atmosphere is so clear, (i.e.) free from vapours and exhalations diffused through it, that distant mountains are nearly as well defined as near ones, and the most deceptive idea of distance may be formed.
This is particularly the case in Australian scenery, what is known as aerial perspective only occurring when the atmosphere is visibly dull. In such a case the slight opacity naturally existing, becomes more and more apparent as the distance increases, or as the mass of air intervening between the observer and distant objects becomes greater. In this way hill behind hill are the more delicately tinted as they pass off into mazy remoteness from the eye. A correct knowledge of the principles of aerial perspective, perhaps above all other things, enables the painter to show the imitative power of his art. Sunlight, though itself possessing no quality of opacity or shadow, often enhances the effect of aerial perspective by secondary radiation, thus:street views of considerable length, when sunny in the distance present a body of illuminated vapour, dense from bright reflection, while the more remote objects and buildings are, as it were allegorized en masse, and the detail is lost in soft and diffused light. A similar effect is also produced in vast interiors, as in lofty cathedrals, when oblique descending beams of sunshine enter the windows and gleam from floating atoms in the air, shedding a luminous haze over the objects in their course. Sounds also grow softer by distance, and are in like manner less articulate as natural causes impede or arrest their progress.
Resfrangibility of Colours.
Natural taste without demonstration has achieved great things in the graphic art, but when scientific rule can be established for its guidance, many persons not very highly favoured in that respect may take advantage of the principles, and develop results that they would little dream of otherwise. The study of the several degrees of refrangibility occurring in the prismatic scale will direct the painter in the grouping of his colours, and in carrying out numerous details in connection with his art, remembering that inversions of the chords of colour is quite as agreeable to the eye as those of the corresponding musical combinations are to the ear. In a general sense, however, colours of low refrangibihty appear to the eye to possess an approximating equality, and belong more especially to the foreground, while others seem to recede from the eye, and according to their position appertain to middle or more remote distance.
We have seen that red is the least refrangible of the primitives, blue the most so, while yellow is intermediate, both in this quality and in its position;now if three lamps, one of each colour, be submitted to arrangement in different planes of distance, the effect will be pleasing or otherwise, as their natural order is preserved or violated. Contending refrangibilities producing a more jarring effect upon the retina by displacement. This would resemble a trio executed by musical performers at such unequal distances from the hearers, that the accompaniments may be considerably nearer than the subject, which is proportionably weakened by its remoteness from the ear. Indeed, we find that musicians as a rule congregate in one locality, and when this is impracticable their performance will give rise to a result often noticed in cathedrals where the choir is divided by the middle aisle, in which case the voices appear to oscillate from side to side, or from wall to wall, the organ also probably being at some considerable distance from the singers.
Red chalk drawings, or monochrome prints of the human figure, &c, are always sightly and pleasing, because any single colour is easily taken in by the eye, being of uniform refrangibility, and on a white ground, which is indifferent to every other colour;for a like reason drawings in sepia and Indian ink are agreeable to the eye. Were pictures of this class bordered with bright positive colours, the effect would be fantastic and vulgar, inducing the eye to vier between the repose of the picture and the glaring colours surrounding them. To ordinary eyes such matters would appear to be trifles, but there are no trifles in the perfection of art.
An uneducated taste is most captivated with flaring effects, both in music and painting, preferring gaudy to subdued colouring, and the racket of fifes and drums to the harmony of the full military band.
The adaptive powers of the human eye are not only brought into exercise in passing from one prismatic colour to another, but also, as it would appear, in the appreciation of the numerous gradations between the extremes of light and shadow in each. The varieties of the red denomination, for instance, diversify its quality of tone, on the musical principle to be noticed hereafter. Moreover, colours like notes may be sharpened or flattened, forming passing notes, so called, which enhance the harmony without infringing grammatical rule. These accidents are of corresponding value in both cases. Colours of medium refrangibility call forth little or no exercise of the adaptive function;hence we find the overpowering influence of solar light on a bright summers day much neutralized, and pleasing relief experienced on surveying the green fields, from the sympathizing repose they afford to the eye.
In the natural landscape there would seem to be a localization of tints in accordance with their refrangibility, thus:mellow reds, yellow browns, madder, Vandyke, &c, are usually foreground colours, having the approximating qualities of their trebles. The milder tints, subdued greens, blues, &c, occupy the more central parts in middle distance, while the back ground, mountains, vapours, horizon, clouds and sky, are represented in the cool upper tints of the scale, and their compounds, comprehending every variety of gray to be found in works of a superior class, where landscape embelishes the subject, but particularly in the landscapes of Claude Lorraine. This great painter, who made nature his study, appears to have carried out the foregoing principles in his pictures. On the other hand, it may be necessary, in keeping with the circumstances of the case, to depart from the order here indicated, in illustration of which the picture of the marriage of Cana in Galilee, by Paul Veronese may be adduced. The Eedeemer, who is here the principal figure, is carried somewhat back in the picture, and the painter, who could not properly distinguish him by mere lights and shadows, clothed him in red, the least refrangible and therefore the most approximating colour of the scale, so as effectually to conduct the eye to that
figure. This is a striking instance of the musical and pictorial analogy, particularly in what is equivalent to an inversion of the common chord, which Paul Veronese seems to have accomplished with much musical perception.
In the perspective of colours the exercise of artistic skill is necessary, that every object may keep its own distance in the ground plane, thus:if one colour does not convene so soon as another, by approximating the one of least power, a compensation will be made, convening the less with the more refrangible colour at the same moment upon the retina. In this way blue in the foreground is equalized by red in the middle distance, which, with the mediant yellow, or simple white, will give a pictorial example of the inversion of a harmonic triad.
Determination of Key.
Any two notes taken together, with the exception of two semitones, will form an agreement, so that they may be referable to some key or other, as composing a part of a characteristic chord, but unless that particular key is indicated by some of its essential harmonies a discordant effect will ensue. Now the same principle is equally applicable to colours, so that there is an actual necessity for establishing a fixed key in painting, in order to suggest the employment of colours best suited for association and pictorial effect. In composing a musical piece the first object of the composer is to decide upon a key. Here the painter has a hint well worthy his attention, viz:to commence his colouring with a definite key note, red for example, and then arrange the proper according and dependent colours, which must be localized according to his own taste and judgment.
Red amongst colours is the equivalent of a musical tonic, which occurs so frequently, either expressed or felt in compositions that its impression is persistent upon the ear;and by analogy, taking the negative side of the proposition, in such pictures as we find the tonic of colouring too sparingly employed, the key being defective, the corresponding impression will be lost to the eye. The key note must necessarily hold the most central and conspicuous position in the picture, so as to determine the arrangement of the chords of the dominant (blue) and sub-dominant, (green), should such be employed. The best colourists amongst the old masters inculcated this practice, as is exemplefied in their works, and to illustrate this we would particularly refer to the celebrated picture - "the taking down from the cross," by Reubens. Here the central figure of the standing group is that of the disciple John, clothed, for the particular purpose in question, with red drapery. This figure was the key note of Reubens, and the colours in the immediate vicinity are in keeping with this idea, thus:to the left we find the other components of the perfect chord, and to the right the common chord of the sub-dominant, the first interval of which is given in the green drapery of a female figure kneeling. Such are some of the principal points occuring in the harmony of this sublime picture, which will be noticed more particularly in its proper place.
Change of key is effected by the introduction of certain notes characteristic of the modulation, thus:if it be desired to pass from C to F, the flat seventh, B flat beingintroduced entails the change. Modulation may also be effected in colours by adopting some similar expedient, but this of course would require more careful management.
Quality of Tone and Compass.
Musical instruments vary in their quality of tone, and even those of the same denomination manifest certain differences, apparent even to the uneducated ear. The great diversity occurring in this respect serves to enrich the harmony of a concert, and hence also arises the value of a solo on any particular instrument, all others being in subservience, by soft contrast giving prominence to its qualities. Colours vary as much in quality of tone or tint as the sounds of musical instruments, thus:there are many species of red, brick red, rose red, &c, varying considerably in hue though included under one denomination. In like maimer, C on tbe violin and on the flute is still the same note, yet how different it is in character and effect in the two cases.
The great organ represents most instruments in imitation, with stops ranging from the 15th to the base trumpet and stop diapason;in all these we find a wonderful variety of tone;one is soft, another sweet, and a third harsh, as in stops of the reed class. Timbry and metallic sounds also tend to neutralize or enhance the effect of others of a different quality. As far as colours are concerned this subject is perhaps one of the most difficult in the whole enquiry, for whatever quality may be observed in a single red, crimson, scarlet, saturnine red, indian red, Venetian red, light red, madder, cochineal, logwood, or any other kind, a similar quality should pervade its own scale, and all the other colours should be akin to it, so as to bear comparison, each for each with the intervals of the musical scale of any single instrument, the peculiar quality of which is as apparent in one note as in another. The value of colours is much enhanced by texture, thus crimson cashmere is vastly exceeded by crimson Genoa velvet, the brightest stuffs are surpassed by silks and satins of the same colour, so that texture imparts a quality to colours equivalent in some way to peculiarity of tone in sounds. It is above all things necessary that artists should be acquainted with the principle here spoken of, that the colours they employ may be equalized in quality and strength just as all the pipes of each particular stop are voiced to prevent undue prominence of any over the rest. The incongruity of colours of different quality taking fortuitous parts in a pictorial theme may be compared to the single notes of a melody rendered by the interchange of the flute, cornet, sacbut, and all kinds of music. The blind man mentioned by Locke, as forming a notion of colour through the medium of sound, had conceptions and associations in his own mind making the comparison less absurd than readers generally imagine. This man heard of some colours, as green, being soft and soothing to the eyes of others, and he would naturally associate something soft in sound with such colours, and thus connect a visual with an auditory impression. Likewise hearing of the harshness of red on the sight of others, and such phrases as red as fire, understood by him from its effect in conflagration to be a fierce devouring element, together with red being a military colour and associated with blood shed, the harsh trumpet, the prelude to the sanguinary charge, would afford the blind personage the best idea of the colour in question.
If we refer to the musical analogy we find that scarlet, equivalent to 0, when contrasted with a sober blue, (G) the true fifth of the scale, will induce an unpleasant effect on the eye, supported by the fact that a grating discord would result from such an altered relation of the tonic to its dominant.
Grace and Style.
The drawing of a picture is equivalent to the theme, or subject of a musicial piece, while the colouring represents the harmonious accompainments of a composition in score. We have seen that the quality of sounds is answerable to the tones of colour, either may be sweet, mellow, rich, harsh, &c, and both positive and broken colours in association, have their analogues in triads, chords sprinkled &c, more or less forcibly expressed, while fugues represent skilful and effective repetition in the arts.
Elegance and richness of tone, cadences, crescendo diminuendo and all the graces of style have their representatives in painting, so that a mutual gratification is administered to the senses of vision and hearing by a unity of expedients suited to affect the mind through two distinct organs. The lining of a garment is shewn with the same effect, when briefly indicated, as the appogiatura used in music for graceful embelishment. The colouring of Titian and Guido exhibits much of what may be compared to expression in music. Thus, we find purity of intonation, fine quality of tone and the power of modifying it through all the numerous shades of piano and forte for contrast and variety. We observe also judicious attention to accent and emphasis, to the former in order to mark the natural flow of the rhythm, and to the latter for the purpose of giving such occasional relief to certain notes in each musical sentence, as may serve to mark their relative importance. There is also in music a practice of introducing passing notes, which is of equal importance to the painter in reference to colours, though such elements in either case form no intrinsic part of the harmony, but are in fact most discordant when inadvertantly associated with it. Yet they are so transitory that they seem as emblishments to make concords still sweeter, and fill up vacant intervals ornamentally, without affecting the fundamental points of the musical or colorific agreements. We see then that passing colours are of great importance in the arts, and indeed are discernible, though to a limited extent, in the best paintings.
When the broad principles of accordances are attended to, it matters little what small portions of various colours may intervene between the grand chords, distinguishing the prominent groups and masses of the picture. No such passing colours should be broad or they would become too prominent, and usurp the places of the ligitimate harmonies. In music these harmonies are broad, and full, and in painting should be equally so. There is a variety in the touch or style of delivering the musical notes like what is known as handling in the arts, and implied by the terms legato, staccato, &c. Propriety and energy must be attended to in the performance of phrases, of melody, and sparkling brilliancy in those of mere execution so as to impart expression.
There is also in music and painting an identity in blending and softening, so that both may be included under one idea and expressed in the same language. The notes of the organ may be prolonged at pleasure, by holding down the keys, so that the performer is enabled to melt the tones of the instrument into each other;and in this he is especially assisted by the swell in the choir organ, which when judiciously used effects the feelings with tenderness, by its soft and fascinating impulses upon the ear. In a corresponding degree the painter avails himself of the means of softening peculiar to his art, blending his colours, while moist to attain a similar purpose.
Excess of this practice however, will neither apply in painting nor in music. The painter may be guided by the musician to use his privilege in moderation;for although it may be useful in certain cases, it cannot be admissible in all.
Mezzo-tinto engravings of the old school, were soft to mealiness, but to remedy this fault, etching has been very generally resorted to of late, to qualify the shadows and accessories. Grounding tools and roulettes cutting tissues of dotted lines are also now employed for a similar purpose. Mutes are used with wind instruments to enable the performers to imitate distant echos, and remote responses;to subdue certain musical phrases and cadences to a pianissimo point, and anon to give latitude to the qualities of sound, glazing in the arts is a mode of suppressing the obtrusivenes of colours, or toning them down, so as to mellow and refine them, mutes put sounds into perspective, and make them approach their vanishing points, and by judicious management in the hands of a clever artist a species of ventriloquism is produced, but with much more distant effect than mere vocal art can counterfeit.
Everything elegant and classic in art tends to make us appreciate the musical and pictorial analogy, for whatever delights the visual sense, finds sympathy in the auditory faculty, by judicious translation.
The accomplished lover of the arts sees much in pure classic architecture to feast his imagination, where perfect parts comprise a perfect whole. He observes the proportions of the pediment and the members composing it, and the shadows which they project wilh boldness and effect, upon the building itself, and should this be of some standard order, it will be sure to furnish a rich treat of light, middle-tint, shadow, and reflected light, duly appreciated by the connoisseur in such matters. The chastely ornamented and trimmed parts enrich the simple beauty of the design;while the columns, from their cylindrical form, exhibit every beautiful gradation of light and shade, crowned by the capitals, which in themselves are contrived on the noblest principles for displaying relief and majestic boldness, associated with the charms of beauty and grace. Contrast with this a more glowing musical picture, from the " Musical Union,"-" Le Desert de Felicien David.'"
"The performance of the ode symphonie (says the critic) will make a distinguished epoch in music, for David has sought his inspiratiens, not in the scores of past or contemporary writers, but be has gone forth in the freshness of his young genius, and gathered up the eloquent voices of nature in her might and lovliness;he has sought for kindred symbols therewith to interpret sounds.
The soft breathing of the eastern morning, the wild rushing of the withering simoom -the tramp of the caravan, with its heavy echo on the sandy ocean of the desert -the heaving of the patient dromedary, &c., expressed by sounds denoting the presence of things signified - the
burst of devotional feeling, and the shrieks and groans of the tempest-tossed way farers, are vividly and poetically expressed.
Felicien David has quafied deeply of the desert spring;he has positively imbued himself with the nomadic feeling of the Arabs' life. Shall we then judge of this musical picture by the prosaic principle, measure its combinations with the carpenters' rule, or count its pulsations with a metronome ? no ! we may not measure the rainbow nor analyze the tints of a summer evening. David has conceived a glowing episode of eastern life, and has clothed it in all the hues of the palate. The outline is so perfect, and the dramatic feeling so intense, that we are fearless to assert that the execution is as perfect as the design is original and grand."
Thus, as explained in the above admirable critique, our ideas of a subject full of poetry, are carried out by music;visible objects are, as it were, suggested to the mind's eye through the medium of sounds artfully chosen, ("kindred symbols") interpreting the soft breathing of the eastern morn - the wild rushing of the withering simoom, by "sounds denoting the presence of things signified."
In the painters' palate, and the musicians' gamut, are the materials for sublime representations and intellectual works. The musical force of painting is no more difficult to comprehend, than the graphic power of music, nevertheless, both may be duly appreciated by some favoured individuals, whose art and natural genius are far in advance of their science, for neither the comprehension of such principles, nor their modus operandi, have yet been placed within the pale of prescribed rules.
In the hands of a skilful composer, the few elements of the musical scale may be made to produce effects of exquisite refinement and feeling on the cultivated ear. At one time music may breathe the purest sentiments of affection, while at another, deep and melancholy thought may be depicted. So capable are sounds of developing pictures of benign fancy, or powerful imagination, by episodes, ingenious phrases, and impassioned strains, that the auditory may be dissolved in rapture, or overwhelmed with emotion. Thus, as a single illustration:the extraordinary effect of the semitone progression of the violincello, on the 4th string, ending with the u wild shriek " of a diminished 7th on the leading note of la melancholia, by Beethoven, defies description.
Basis of Shadow in Colours.
It is remarkable that the notes of the musical scale are of proportionate strength as they become graver, and singers aware of this fact increase the power of their voice as they ascend the scale.
The distant effect of colours also appears to increase as they pass towards the least refrangible end of the series, though by experiment, the greatest amount of illumination occurs between the yellow and the green.
The first note in a concert that strikes the ear at a little distance, is that of the lowest bass. The other sounds seem to affect us by chromatic gradation.
Band masters inform us that the most audible sound in a distant military band,, is that of the basoon, and this probably arises from the deep mellowness of tone produced bv the rumbling vibrations of the double reed, requiring considerable force in their production.
Deep vibrating basses are of the same use in a musical sense, as the deep tones of colour are in supporting the lights and middle tints of pictures, so that in the pictorial, as well as in the musical art, a rich bass is a sine qua non. This shows the value of that great mellowness of shadow always characterising the works of the old masters, and distinguishing them from those of more modern schools of art.
The great roasters, with intuitive taste for harmony in colouring, availed themselves of the better qualities of brown, in the general grounding, and middle tint shadows of their pictures. Black, as a rule, is intensely cold, unless tempered with the warmer parts of the scale;but the darkest recess of any daylight scene receives reflected lights from surrounding objects, to a greater extent than is generally perceived, so that the rejection of pure black as an ingredient of shadow in pictures is sanctioned by the rules of art. Dark brown, on the other hand, retains enough of the properties of black, to afford a good agreement with the more positive colours in general. They represent the shadows of projecting coloured objects, which could not be adequately expressed without them. Indeed, the want of light itself must have a representative in the arts, and the beauty of all objects in the presence of light depends on the contrast of shadow, to enhance its value. The numerous species of humming
birds are beautiful and pleasing to the eye, from the prismatic hues of their plumage, heightened by metalic lustre. To give due value to the golden and other tinting, the basses are intensely deep (dark). A volume of instructive references could be drawn from the plumage of tropical birds, and the feathered tribe generally. In the vast variety of this class, some description of black is found to constitute a considerable portion of their plumage, because as before mentioned, it accords in the way of contrast with all the prismatic colours. In particular, it adds the utmost value to the gem like parts, resembling ruby, amethyst, emerald, and tourquoise tints, with metalic reflections. The dark colours contrasting with the bright and metalic ones, go under the denomination of black, but on close inspection, they will be found in general to participate in a bluish purple, or yellowish cast, suitable for the purpose intended. In addition to the foregoing arguments', the practice of the great masters of the Roman, Venetian, and Flemish schools, confirm the principle advocated, to which may be added the approbation of the pjofoundest critics and connoisseurs, who are all in favour of brown, as a preparatory colour for grounding, half tinting, and shading all pictures, such as fruit, flowers, portraits, landscapes, marine views, and historical subjects;over this preparation are to be scumbled the local colouring and lights, on a drab ground, purposely preserved to receive them. Even in clouds, and the azure sky, the same preparatory grounding is required. This is particularly observable in the works of the Dutch school, but, the process has been mistaken in modern art by several who conceive that when the azure and clouds have been painted in their own positive colours, they should be subsequently mellowed (a la brun) by mixing vandyke brown as an ingredient in varnish, to create an effect, more admired perhaps than understood.
The result by the legitimate process is so mellow and effective as to give an indirect idea in the attempt to analyze it, and hence the misapprehension noticed.
The chef d'ouvres of our national collection are painted in the manner here advocated as simply a mechanical aid to approximate colouring, for the production of effects in the arts must be under the presiding taste of the painter, really such.
Black and White.
Black and white are of great importance in nature, defining outline by their contrast, and manifesting rotundity and depth, and may be considered as a matrix, in which colour is deposited in its more or less positive character. Black appears to be the result of the absorption of light, in a decomposed state, while the reflection of undecomposed light constitutes white. Neither may be called a proper colour;and this latter characteristic explains their power in supporting the true colours, and imparting to them varied degrees of intensity, corresponding with piano and forte in music.
White light, compounded of the vibrations of all the colours, is in an achromatic state, in which the properties of its constituents are, as it were, latent. On this depends its accomodating quality, acting as a mediant, in almost every instance where a mediant is required, and relieving any chord with which it may be associated.
White is usually qualified by painters with a slight admixture of yellow, because a positive white is only employed for some very peculiar purposes;even in moonlight scenes, the resemblance of the luminary is tinted with yellow. Sunshine imparts a yellowish tint to white, imitated in the arts by white and yellow in combination;indeed, white without yellow is a cold unmanageable colour. White then may be considered as a general mediant, while yellow is a special one between Red and blue.
It is a question whether there is in nature any pigment er body of a pure black, (i.e.) without any of the ingredients of the scale contained in it, exhibiting themselves in some way or other. Some colours called black are merely intense specimens of the fifth and sixth intervals, or the presence of red or yellow may be slightly perceptible. Hence we recognize Brown, yellow, and blue black, as descriptive terms. So difficult is it to obtain an unexceptionable black, that Japanners and other operatives neutralize the brown tint of the black paints of commerce, by finishing their work with a coating of blue;as varnish laid over black discloses its tendency to brown, however intense it may seem in a flat or opaque state. Even dyers cannot produce an approved black by one immersion, but finish with blue, to stand the test of a searching light. Were black to hold a position in the scale, it would probably be as an intense sixth, and white, as before mentioned, acts the part of a mediant, in common with yellow, between which and the green, we find the greatest amount of illumination in the spectrum.
Two dark colours lying in immediate proximity, require one of a lighter character to be interposed, that they may be the better distinguished from one another;and this is an important office of the medient yellow, for while it reconciles the contending refrangibilities of red and blue, it admits of their separate discrimination, being lighter in tone than either. When white and yellow, or indeed any two light colours are brought together, a dark medient may be required to separate them, if the chiaro oscuro of the picture be not thereby interfered with. This is the converse of the former principle, and may be instanced in the third position of the common chord of the sub-dominant, (E, green), in which the order is red, green, and indigo, the green serving as a medient. In the same way, the second position of the dominant chord takes orange as a medient, separating violet from blue, by a happy interposition. In matters of this kind, the colorific analogy may be of importance in music.
Special Reference to Works of Excellence.
That the practice of the great masters is favourable to the principles advocated in this essay, will appear obvious by reference to the best pictures in the national gallery, and gems of art in other collections. In these works we have the painters' counsel and opinions handed down to us, and the best advice as to the choice of colours for harmonious effect. Although there is no evidence that the authors of those achievements consulted musical science, as being available in the pictorial art, still we find their selections in accordance with musical principles, simply arising out of an innate gusto for the harmony of colours.
In the picture of the Virgin and Child, painted by " the ornament of his profession," as Titian himself styled Paul Veronese, we find instructive illustrations of the perfect chord of the natural key of colours, in different positions.
Harmonious intervals are everywhere employed to the exclusion of all that are nonaccordant, so that a musical translation would be simple and pleasing to the ear. In the admirable Bourgiois collection, there is a spirited picture by Vandyke,- " The Descent from the Cross." The harmony of this production is rich and glowing;the colours are positive, and the common chord of the tonic is conspicuous in different positions, the according intervals being so localized as to produce the happiest effect;the shadows are broad, dark, and mellow, like a full, deep, and well sustained bass, admirably contrasting with the clear, well articulated harmony of the treble parts. Had Vandyke and Paul Veronese, in the paintings alluded to, chosen the colours expressed by the intervals 1, 2, 7, 8, good taste might disapprove of the selection, and inconclusive arguments might be advanced, both for and against it, but without the help of the musical analogy, its disagreeable effect would be for ever inexplicable. This test, however, shews us that the 2nd and 7th are irreconcilable dischords with the key note, and so the problem is solved. Such intervals are often heard in the creaking of a door on rusty hinges.
The musical analogy extends to every branch of the pictorial art. In "Canalettis View, or the Grand Canal," (No. 127, nat. gal.,) the common chord of the tonic, and of the sub-dominant, alternate, and inverted, shew the skill of a contrapuntist. In this picture there is a multiplicity of according tones of colour, tinting the varied architectural masses. The sky supplies a dominant, to compensate for the want of it in the buildings, and is sufficiently near to complete the perfect chord;it contrasts also with the greenness of the water in the canal, which forms the sub-dominant, or 4th interval, according with qualities of the 6th and 8th, in the architectural part of the picture. The latter chord never fails to produce an agreeable effect, when it can be introduced with propriety.
Some of the richest specimens of pictorial harmony, occur in the works of Paolo Panini, representing ruins, and architectural beauties of ancient Greece, and Rome, with landscape. The observer is struck with the prismatic effect given in the tinting peculiar to lichen-grown and fractured pediments, architraves, and friezes, with all other accessories in time-worn and dilapidated edifices;but on closer inspection, inversions of musical chords expressed in broken colours, present themselves everywhere, and go hand in hand with tlie deliniation of the sculptured fragments.
In the Bourgeois collection, there is a remarkable flower painting, by Van Huysum, who flourished in Amsterdam, over a century ago, - (No. 140.) We particularly refer to this picture as illustrating the want of the mediant, or yellow interval. The group of flowers represented, is both cold and hard in colouring, and deliniation, and the absence of the mediant and its compounds must at once impress the beholder;the greens have a tendency to blue;no yellow green is to be found, nor is there a single flower in the mediant interval to enliven the picture. The drawing and handling are excellent, and the style is bold and masterly, but the defect mentioned leaves no perfect chord, and the 4th is a semitone nearer the 5th than the laws of musical harmony will sanction. Whenever a musical discord is apparent, the pictorial harmony is violated.
No. 121, in the Dulwich gallery, said to be by the same master, is less carefully drawn and handled than the former, but being prismatic in its colouring, and the mediant prevailing, to sustain the perfect chord, and otherwise act as an auxiliary, the representation of the objects is more natural and lively. The 4th in the former picture is equivalent to F sharp, and therefore a discord throughout;but in No. 121, the 4th is natural, like its equivalent in the natural key of music. The eye of the connoisseur will perceive the difference, and he may account for it, (in the language of criticism), more technically, than explanatory of the cause, but the musical analogy points out at once the nature of the defect, and its remedy. Thus, from the study of painting, the musical value of the mediant is manifest, while music, vice versa, demonstrates its importance in painting.
We shall now refer to some of the works of Titian, the most universal genius of the Lombard school, and esteemed by M. Du Fresnoy, as the best colourist of all the great masters. In his celebrated picture of St. Peter, we find the garments coloured in the 3rd and 5th intervals, and to introduce the 1st, the artist ingeniously brings forward the red flag of St. George, (an attendant figure). The flag is in quantity, as to colour, an appropriate balance to the mediant and dominant associated with it, in the most central part of the picture. Another important advantage arising out of this expedient, is that special attention is attracted to the principal figure of the piece. Subordinate, though still striking characteristics pervade this picture, in all its accessaries and details, justified by the musical analogy.
The picture of Bacchus and Ariadne, reckoned a masterpiece of Titian's, when translated into music, affords full harmonies;but there is an undue force in the dominant, as compared with the other intervals of the perfect chord. An excess of this kind is of course, quite as possible in music as in painting. Were the notes 1 and 3 sounding smoothly together, and a 5th, of inordinate strength then introduced, the latter would naturally counterbalance the other notes, and obtrude itself painfully on the ear.
Musical rule would prescribe a reduction of the power of the 5th, to equalize the harmony;and the same principle should be recognized in painting, viz.:- to preserve equality in the breadth and strength of the components of all colorific chords. Trusting to the truth of the musical analogy, we are in no fear of incurring the charge of presumption, in thus noticing a single defect in a noble picture, so often and very justly quoted by critics as a standard of art in colouring. In the Bourgeois collection, there is a companion to this picture, by Titian, - "Jupiter and Europa," painted exactly in the same key, in which the common chord is perfect, the dominant being kept within due limits, so that the harmony is complete.
Reverting to the "Taking Down from the Cross," by K^ubens, previously alluded to, in reference to a keynote in painting, we notice the skilful distribution of the in gradients of the common chord of the tonic, as follows:- there are nine figures in the picture, - St. John occupies a central position, befitting the tonic, and is appropriately clothed in red. The draperies of the three Marys are in the intervals of 5 and 3, mixed, that of the Virgin being in 5. The dress of Joseph of Arimathea, (a conspicuous character in the story) consists of 1, 5, and 3, and that of a disciple, of 5 and 1, while two assistants wear clothing of 1, 5, and 3. The figure representing the key note, St. John, gives value to the attending parts of the chord, in different positions, and the utmost harmony prevails everywhere. In suitable places, passing colours of limited extent are judiciously introduced, and promote rather than impair the general harmony, like passing notes in music, which fill up, contrast with, and set off the agreements. Add to these the graces of composition, the theme, the quietly flowing melody in sustained tenderness, and whatever is soothing and enchanting in music, and it will all be found pictorially expressed in this fine production.
In Cuyps' admired picture, - "The Prince of Orange going out in the morning," (alluded to by Burnet) we find an example of the common chord of the subdominant:the coat of the prince is red, 1st;that of his attendant, indigo, the 6th;and the dress of a groom in waiting is green, the 4th interval. The latter acts as a foil to the coat of the prince, enhancing its value, as purple and blue would respectively affect yellow and orange, their complementaries, or musically speaking, their 5ths.
Hogarth's portrait of himself is another example of a picture in which the dominant is excluded, and the chord of the sub- dominant, green, indigo, and red, commonly prevails. The coat being a brown red, has the value of a tonic, the quality of which is repeated. The curtains are in the 4th interval, while the accessaries, in broken colours extend the harmony. These consist of a volume of Swift, indicative of wit and drollery;one of Shakespeare, for ideal beauty and sublimity;and on the palette, the " line of beauty and grace " is appropriately introduced. Out of the palette a piece appears to have been knawed, as if in allusion to the fierce opposition Hogarth experienced in defending his enlightened and admirable theory on that subject. The dog, with a countenance of poetic watchfulness, adds to the interest of the picture, contributing by the colour of his skin to extend the mediant, and to balance the other colours employed. In point of harmony, this interesting portrait is complete.
So perfect was the gusto of Hogarth in colouring, agreeably with the principles of musical harmony, that to extend the mediant, he would resort to the expedient of representing an open music book lying on a chair, the interval being essential to fill up the perfect chord, and the more so when the key note is frequently repeated for vigorous effect. On another occasion a fallen chair, upholstered in red, to increase the force of the tonic, which would be otherwise too weak. This effect of art occms in the morning breakfast scene of the "Marriage a la mode." Hogarth was a man of consumate taste, for the age in which he lived, when the fine arts were at a lower ebb than they were in the periods immediately preceeding and following. If we refer to the costume of his day, it was grotesque and slovenly, and either as it respected the attire of ladies or gentlemen, was anything but classical. The ladies were incommoded with tokes and hoops, giving the female form the travesty appearance of a Dutch doll;and the habiliments of the men were all made too large, that they might be sure to fit. Another 'difficulty Hogarth laboured under, was the want of preliminary education in a school of design;but in despite of all disadvantages, he acquired by the aid of natural genius, an admirable taste. He was a proficient in perspective, and showed great skill in his grouping and the general expression of his subject. His attainments in colouring were of a high order, combined with a profound judgment of chiaro oscuro, and keeping. His style of painting has permanency, and is accordant in all points with musical harmony. In the " Contract of Marriage," anyone conversant with the analogy of music and colour, would be struck with his conceptions of the harmonious relationships of the pictorial intervals.
"Domestic Life after Marriage," (No. 114, nat. gal.,) affords a masterly management of the dominant, where blue pillars are employed, conducting the eye into a spacious inner appartment, in which numerous accessaries recreate the imagination. The architecture and perspective display good judgment and taste, and a musical translation of the colours would be harmonious and pleasing. The toilet scene, " Marriage a la mode," is excellent in colouring:the key note is full and repeated;the mediant also is of considerable breadth, but the dominant is restricted in tone;the common chord of the sub-dominant is most prevalent;but taking it altogether, the counterpoint is without a single discord.
That the balance of musical tones to preserve graceful harmony, is a guide to the painter, in a comparative degree, will more fully appear on applying the musical test to " The Death of the Earl of Chatham in the House of Lords," that justly esteemed picture, by Copley, which is a credit to British taste and genius, and has a deserved place in the national collection. The key note, red, which is necessarily so predominant, is too overwhelming to be subdued by any device. The harmony is affected by the absence of the dominant and mediant, for which the refined ingenuity of the artist could scarcely find a place. Variety and contrast are shut out, or appearing in such small degrees, in respect of the tonic, as to leave but one broad impression of red upon the eye, equivalent to a loud and continuous key note in the accompaniment to a delightful strain, exhibited in the truthful grouping of the picture.
Francesco Francia, (179 and 180) appears to have had an instinct for the selection and classification of his colours, in accordance with the musical analogy. His groups are balanced with scrupulous precision;from the peculiarity of his perceptions, as to rigid order and disposition, every figure and object being studiously arranged for inspection. His chords of colour are full, and exhibit such changes as clothed figures are susceptible of;one colour harmonizing with another, by strict attention to colorific affinity and effect. In other respects, his views and style are rigid, as might be expected from the stiffness of the period in which he flourished.
In the portrait of Pope Julius II, by Kaphael, (No. 27, nat. gal.) the sub-dominant supersedes the dominant, by necessity, though not perhaps by preference. The musical notation of the picture would be the key note and its fourth;the back ground being green, and the vestments of his Holiness, red;but as these are complementary colours, their combined effect is pleasing. The portrait, both in a pictorial and musical sense, is extremely simple. The key note is properly prominent, and repeated, while the 5th is utterly excluded, so that although containing no ingredient of discord, it exhibits but little richness of harmony;and the size of the picture, 2ft. 3in. by 3ft. 6in., would not admit of accessaries to enrich it.
Murillo's fine picture of " St. John and the Lamb," (176, nat. gal.) illustrates the effect of broken colours, the positive ones being excluded. That this lovely picture should be a favourite with the British public, is a compliment to the discrimination of the committee of selection, even at a cost of £2000, the sum paid for it. Contrasting this picture with the flare up practice, we see everything in it to be admired, for chasteness, nature, expression, and general effect.
In the Bourgeois collection, the "Peasant Boys," also by Murillo, is in the same style of painting, which for truth and nature, cannot be surpassed. No. 248, in this collection, the
The picture of " St. John, preaching in the wilderness," (No. 331, Dulwich collection), ascribed to Guido, is identical in style, conception, and handling, with the other pictures of Murillo, in the same gallery. Murillo appears to have adopted the method and treatment of Guido, whom he survived about 43 years. Both occasionally opted either the suppressed or the more positive styles. In the national collection, Guido's " Lot," and Murillo's " Holy Family," are quite prismatic, and widely different from the u Spanish peasant boys," and the ''Flower Girl."
The British national gallery is rich in possessing perhaps the best picture that Rembrandt ever painted:
" John viii, 27." There are two subjects in this picture, and they make a primary and a secondary light. The brightest light is central, and managed with a brilliancy of effect in chiaro oscuro, unequalled in any other picture in the collection. Judicious contrast of light, with a bold extent of shadow, and ample breadth of middle tint, is effected by superimposing the colouring upon a transparent brown ground, after the method subsequently to be described. The shadows are remarkable for their mellowness, warmth, and intensity, like the deepest musical basses, rendered with adequate richness of tone and judgment in performance.
The more brilliant focus consists of a flood of sunshine overspreading the group, when the story is told so plainly as to need no explanation.
The classification of the figures increases the charm, being executed neatly, and in the first style of art. The tenors are broad, full, and harmonious, and the basses sweet and clear in vibration, though profoundly deep;the treble articulations combing all the elements of pictorial harmony, like well executed instrumental performance in concert.
The secondary light comprehends a considerable focus, displaying the gorgeous alter of the temple, and a portion of the congregation assembled round an officiating priest. The colouring of this part of the picture is comparatively subdued, to set off the principal subject, just as a symphony would be employed in music, to give due effect to the theme.
Contrast in chiaro oscuro, peculiarly distinguishes the works of Eembrandt from those of the other great masters;and such contrasts in music, managed a la Rembrandt, by a skilful composer, would develop striking results. Here would be a model for producing an effective and brilliant subject, with a greater proportion of bass to treble, than musicians are in the habit of estimating
It is a maxim in the arts, that the lights should have a sufficient mass of shadow to support them;and such broad effects are called reposes, affording relief to the eye, which would be otherwise conducted from one bright object to another, so unceasingly as quickly to induce fatigue. Consistently with this principle, Rembrandt's " Adoration of the Shepherds," (No. 27), contains every variety of chord and modulation, sustained by rich basses, even suggesting the nature and quality of the instrumental parts best calculated to obtain an aural transcript of the visual impression. It is observable that the value of colours after Rembrandt's manner, is so enhanced that the lightest indication of a dulled prismatic hue tells for a clear positive one;and a constant artistic vigilance is required to suppress undue brilliancy;hence, the actual quantity of colour used by Rembrandt, was very small, compared with the extent of canvas covered.
The painter who works transparently in his grounding and shadows, only giving his high and subordinate lights due opacity, as was Rembrandt's practice, has acquhvd a secret worth knowing, as the best, and probably the only style leading to perfection in colouring. Transparency of colour in painting appears to be equivalent to clearness, or purity of tone in music.
An important peculiarity in this mode of colouring is the attainment of roundness or relief. Some of the portraits in the. national collection, painted by men of genius, were undoubtedly, expressive likenesses, when first they came from the easel, but they have since become dull and flat, having been painted on the opaque principle, in which permanent roundness is not attainable. Were such pictures placed near those painted in the style of the old masters, their flatness would be still more apparent. In the one case we are not for a moment deceived, but regard the representation as a mere painting;in the other, however, in an abstraction of thought, we may feel our senses cheated, by a head starting, as it were, from the canvas. Of this latter kind of painting, there is a noble specimen by Guido, in the Dulwich gallery, representing St. Sebastian, in which such relief is given to the figure, that it seems as though it would disengage itself from the background.
That modern paintings are absorbed into their canvases, and lose their colour after the lapse of a few years, is a calamity much to be deplored. In accounting for this evil, we would ascribe it to an erroneous principle in the mode of colouring, involving too many "processes." Again, the mixture and intermixture of tints cause mischievous effects, from the quantity thus supplied to promote chemical changes and their consequences. This would not occur, were the pictures painted on the transparent principle of the old masters, whose works after 150 or 200 years, are still, to all appearance, improvingin mellowness, and beauty.
A man of talent will accomplish a portrait in a very few sittings, and, in all probability, it would not admit of many more, without deterioration. Simplicity is the grand desideratum in colouring, and the effect should be such as we see in the portraits of Vandyke, Reubens, and Bigaud, combining excellence in style, with fidelity to nature.
The portraits by British painters in the Dulwich gallery, are much faded. The flesh tints have assumed a pale and sickly hue;the carnations are nearly gone, and the complexions are dying away. This is especially the case with Gainsborough's portraits. In those of Mrs. Tickle and Mrs. Sheridan, the flesh colours have altogether departed;and another picture:Mrs. Moody and her children, is so much faded, as to present the sad aspect of an unhealthy family.
In the paintings here alluded to, there is no such colour as the tonic, and the want of red, even in the faces and colour of the flesh, increases this effect, leaving to posterity but a sickly memorial of the persons represented. On the other hand, the paintings of Bassano, Vandyke, Maes, Vanderhelst, Hausman, &c, &c, stand the test of time, " in colours ever fresh and fair." As we go back to the time of Opie, the portraits grow flatter, and decay in clearness and strength of colouring, when, they should improve with age, and hold their original colours in primitive value. Duration, and even improvement by time, are qualities attainable in art, by reformation in the grounding, and simplicity in the subsequent operations;for what men could do in the 15th and 10th centuries, (if we take the trouble to find out bow they did it) may also be done in our own day.
It is very important to know whether the refined evanescent oils, now in general use, may not be at the bottom of the evil above alluded to. We have sufficient evidence from all that has been handed down to us, of the methods followed by the old masters, that pure linseed oil, both boiled and in the raw state, was the only vehicle for colour employed by them. There does not appear to be any proof that they ever mixed varnish of any kind with their paints, or used it in any such forced compound as maguelp.
When pigments in a finely levigated state, are mixed with oil, each molecule is, as it were, insulated by the vehicle, and thus preserved from the influence of extraneous agencies, and even from chemical changes, with the atoms of other pigments artistically commiegled with them in tinting. It stands to reason that every absorbing surface, as in the bibulous grounding material of some kind of prepared canvas, added to the want of binding, and the evanescent nature of the vehicle itself, will sooner or later deprive the pigments of their protective matrix, exposing them to the action of new affinities, to the utter destruction of the pictorial effects they were intended to sustain. Soap and water would very soon undermine such colouring, whereas they may be fearlessly employed if necessary, in the superficial cleansing of pictures painted with linseed oil.