Originally published in 1970.
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Ordering of the Arts in Eighteenth-Century England
By Lawrence I. Lipking
PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESSCopyright © 1970 Princeton University Press
All rights reserved.
Franciscus Junius, George Turnbull, and the Passing of Humanistic Order
WHEN in 1638 Franciscus Junius the Younger transformed his own De pictura veterum into The Painting of the Ancients, he brought British study of the arts into the demesne of humanistic scholarship. For the first time in history an English work had attempted to deal comprehensively with the whole art of painting, to order it according to the best principles of research. Junius was superbly qualified for this task; he had every advantage. Born and educated on the continent among a race of scholars, he had been bred to a profound knowledge of the classics and of painting. His friends included Rubens, Van Dyck, and Inigo Jones. In England, he was librarian and curator for Thomas Howard, second Earl of Arundel, the great English collector of ancient statuary. He was intelligent, he wrote well, and he was so industrious that he began his studies daily at 4 a.m. No wonder that more than a hundred years later, when the race of scholars from whom he sprang had vanished from the earth, the name of Junius still conjured up a giant. His work was a monument, a masterpiece. But by then no one believed in its kind of order, and no one read it through.
What had happened to The Painting of the Ancients} Evidently it had entered a world where its gifts seemed somehow be side the point. No scholar had surpassed Junius; his learning remained definitive. Yet readers of the eighteenth century wanted a work constructed on different principles, a work which would teach them a different sort of truth about painting. The conversation about art that Junius had begun had left Junius behind. Slowly his labors receded into a legendary past.
In a sense they had always belonged to legend. Although Junius, as Arundel's resident expert, must have known whatever little was to be known about actual remnants of ancient paintings, that was not a knowledge he cared to preserve. He had never seen an ancient painting in all its colors, and he preferred the pictures and visions made by the mind. Indeed, the very insubstantiality of antique art as it appears to moderns, the obliteration of anything tangible, seems part of its attraction for him. Ancient painting is quite literally a scholar's dream. Since it deals with no material object, only with words and intellect, its secrets belong to the imagination, and Junius is not only the master of his subject but the sorcerer who creates it according to his fancy.
Thus The Painting of the Ancients is both more and less than its title implies: more, because it offers a general theory not only of ancient painting but of all painting and kindred arts; less, because it relies entirely on what it calls "Historicall Observations and Examples," not at all on any observation or example of an actual painting. "The first booke toucheth the first beginnings of Picture. The second booke propoundeth diverse meanes tending to the advancement of this Art. The third booke speaketh of the maine grounds of Art, the which being well observed by the old Artificers, made them come neerer to the height of perfection." The structure is philosophical. No records and measurements, no chronology, no evaluations of existent pictures are allowed to intrude upon perfection. Instead, Junius compiles references made to the arts by the most unexceptionable texts of Greek and Latin literature, texts whose classical authority needs no corroboration and brooks no dissent. Such authority is beyond cavil, and so is what the mind makes from it: a single, internally consistent theory of the ideal to which painters should aspire and of the moral imperatives which can raise men to that ideal.
The search for an ideal of painting is timeless. And The Painting of the Ancients is not a historical work. Though Junius cannot help but impress with the weight and passion of his learning, he confirms his imperatives not by any discernible rules of evidence, but by two kinds of sanction: the prestige of classical authors, and the anagogical wisdom contained in ancient stories. An endless stream of anecdotes from Quintilian and Pliny the Elder and Pliny the Younger and Cicero and the Philostrati carries every argument before it. Nor does Junius differentiate history from philosophy, fact from legend. In the lengthy catalogue or index of ancient comments on particular "artificers" which he later assembled for the sumptuous, posthumously published 1694 edition of De pictura veterum, he paid equal attention to Phidias and Daedalus, and made no attempt to distinguish between man and myth. Junius does not wish to explore the world of ancient painting; he wishes to demonstrate that its soul still lives.
Thus for Junius the sum of ancient painting equals the sum of lessons about painting to be drawn from classical writers. With a theological conviction that truth lies in the explication of consecrated repositories of wisdom, with an equal conviction that truth must be what truth ought to be, he distills for mortal men the immortality of ancient painters, perfect and unchallengeable because they survive only in literary encomia. No man can touch, nor any man match, the grapes of Zeuxis.
Within a few months of the publication of De pictura veterum, Peter Paul Rubens wrote a letter to Junius in which the panegyric flickers with delicate intimations of irony.
Expressed with admirable erudition, a most elegant style, and in correct order, this entire work is carried out with the greatest perfection and care, even to the slightest details. But since those examples of the ancient painters can now be followed only in the imagination, and comprehended by each one of us, more or less, for himself, I wish that some such treatise on the paintings of the Italian masters might be carried out with similar care. For examples or models of their work are publicly exhibited even today; one may point to them with the finger and say, "There they are." Those things which are perceived by the senses produce a sharper and more durable impression, require a closer examination, and afford a richer material for study than those which present themselves to us only in the imagination, like dreams, or so obscured by words that we try in vain to grasp them (as Orpheus the shade of Eurydice), but which often elude us and thwart our hopes.
Mortal painters need real objects to imitate, and connoisseurs need real paintings to look at. That Junius had constructed a worthy ideal, no one doubted; that a classical theory of painting was necessary as a prelude to creation, few would deny; but only scholars believed that the idea of painting could substitute for its reality.
In the course of more than a century The Painting of the Ancients was never mentioned without respect. Yet Rubens was not the only reader who would have traded its glory for something more useful. Freart de Chambray, like Junius, hunted An Idea of the Perfection of Painting (1662; trans. J. Evelyn, 1668), but his enthusiasm waned in the face of Junius' principles of art, "being treated of in so general Terms, that it were almost impossible, our Workmen should derive the Fruit and Instruction which is so necessary for them to practise; I will here explain them in Order, and more at large, and endeavour to render them intelligible, both by Reasons and Examples." The Abbé Du Bos, in 1719, pointed to the impossibility of forming judgments about painting from knowledge like that disseminated by Junius: "Les Ecrivains modernes qui ont traité de la peinture antique, nous rendent plus scavans sans nous rendre plus capables de juger la question de la supériorité des Peintres de l'antiquité sur les Peintres modernes." G. E. Lessing, in the toils of his Laokoon (1766), thought that Winckelmann had been led astray by relying on Junius, "ein sehr verfänglicher Autor; sein ganzes Werk ist ein Cento, und da er immer mit den Worten der Alten reden will, so wendet er nicht selten Stellen aus ihnen auf die Malerei an, die an ihrem Orte von nichts weniger als von der Malerei handeln." Sir Joshua Reynolds plucked classical precepts from his own well-thumbed copy of The Painting of the Ancients, and forgot to acknowledge where he had found them. The successors of Junius drew freely upon his learning; but as time passed they could not accept the form of his work nor the philosophy behind it.
The form of The Painting of the Ancients is not easy to define. Part treatise, part history, part sermon, it piles quotation upon quotation as relentlessly as the Anatomy of Melancholy; and like the Anatomy it moves beyond the sense of its title into the realm of miscellany and eventually philosophical disquisition. Junius' principle of organization is not so much logical as microcosmic. He begins with the universal prevalence of the arts of imitation: God was the first painter, and "Man, whom many ancient Authors call the little world, is not made after the image of God to resemble the wilde beasts in following of their lusts, but that the memory of his originall should lift up his noble soule to the love of a vertuous desire of glory" (3). Thus painting is inherent in the very constitution of man and in the world about him. From the sense that painting is a microcosm of at least the moral world, The Painting of the Ancients derives its three-part order: the birth of painting in man's nature, its proper nurture, its eventual triumph or apotheosis in the works of the ancients. It is no accident that the book concludes after an extended discussion of grace, the uniting of all individual perfections into one; "never any artificer could attaine the least shadow of this grace, without the mutuall support of Art and Nature" (334). As man ends with a day of judgment, so must painting, and only the graceful will be chosen. The ancients compose an ideal for Junius because the idea of their work, unlike the obliterated works themselves, has been forever saved. In writing about classical art, the scholar traces the accomplished pattern of artistic virtue as he would trace the pattern of a virtuous life.
The formal advantage of taking a microcosmic view of painting is that every piece of information becomes potentially relevant. When painting like the world is seen to be charged with moral significance, no element of painting can or need be excluded from consideration, because the slightest fact may contain the greatest wisdom. The Painting of the Ancients evidently originated as a commonplace book, a storehouse of classical quotations, yet even Junius' cataloguing implies a synthesizing imagination as well as scholarship. Moreover, the conviction that the ancients neared the height of perfection allows him to make a work that is definitive and complete, because humanistically idealized, a kind of celestial mathematics: "Indeed God the maker and framer of the Universe hath in all his creatures imprinted plaine and evident footsteps of this most beautifull Harmonie, which all Artificers endeavour to follow" (259). For such certitude, Junius pays a price, the elusiveness and inflexibility complained of by Rubens. What he gains is a dignity and authority which many later writers on painting would have bought at any price.
Considered as a treatise, The Painting of the Ancients defines that perfection which is the consummation of painting. Yet the lesson it offered contemporary Englishmen was far more immediate. Junius had proclaimed that painting must be acknowledged a liberal art, that "among so many Arts as doe procure us everlasting glory, this Art is none of the meanest" (5). He was not, of course, the first to say so. The dignity of painting had been a constant theme of Italian artists and theoreticians, and it is insistently, even resentfully, pressed by such English works as Richard Haydocke's version (1598) of Lomazzo and Nicholas Hilliard's Arte of Limning (ca. 1600). But in England this argument had fallen upon stony ground. Whatever the theoretical justification for painting, its social place remained menial.
The contrast between theoretical dignity and practical subordination is displayed by the writings of another Arundel dependent, Henry Peacham. The titles of his works alone tell most of the story. The Art of Drawing ... and Limning (1606) was enlarged and ennobled in Graphice (1612), issued again the same year as The Gentleman's Exercise, and eventually incorporated into The Compleat Gentleman (1622). Peacham pleads the cause of painting, and he transmits some bits of Vasari's Lives, the hagiography of the art. Yet all his praise cannot dispel the clear implication that arises from the context: the highest aspiration of painting is to while away a few of the gentleman's heavy hours. Though Peacham had been commissioned to provide the shortest way to courtesy, heraldry was the art he described most fully. English painting survived as an art in servitude.
The prestige of Van Dyck altered this situation. At least for a time, one painter could consort with English nobility. And friends of painting and painters caught some of his luster. In one version of Van Dyck's magnificent "Madagascar Portrait" of Thomas Howard and his wife [Plate 2], the figure of Junius hovers in the background with emblems of his trade: scroll and skull and antique bust. Ghostly and discreet in black robes, he is evidently there as an afterthought; but there he is. Under the aegis of a discerning patronage, the painter and the scholar join forces.
Indeed, such a collaboration seems part of Junius' intention. He combines the scholar's dream of ancient painting with the artist's invocation of a pristine reality. Again and again we are told that painting comes from the mind, not from the hands and eyes: "as it is a very great matter to carry in our mind the true images both of living and lifelesse creatures, so is it a greater matter to worke out a true and lively similitude of those inward images" (5-6); that the imagination is superior to mere imitation: "how much these Artes are advanced by a well-ordered Imagination; for it is brought to passe by her meanes that the most lively and forward among the Artificers, leaving the barren and fruitlesse labour of an ordinarie Imitation, give their minds to a more couragious boldnesse" (40); that "a good Artist may justly be esteemed a wise man" or even a demiurge: "The greatest part of invention consisteth in the force of our minde; seeing our minde must first of all be moved, our mind must conceive the images of things, our minde must in a manner bee transformed unto the nature of the conceived things" (231). As we gaze upon the image of this ideal artist we see him change before our eyes into a humanist scholar.
In the effort to establish the worthiness of painting and the learning required by painters, Junius may have overstated his case. After all, "the learned painter is a highly theoretical personage who, if he cannot be called an actual figment of the imagination, has never had much more than a partial basis in reality," 16 and a mere insistence upon the universal perfection achieved by ancient painters has no power to convince a skeptic that perfection exists. Nevertheless, Junius' very extravagance helped to pull English estimates of painting into the Renaissance. Real or unreal, here was a world of learning, here was a bountiful intellectual heritage. An art that has become the subject of scholarly debate has ceased to be beneath serious notice.
Painters required the professional dignity to which Junius exhorted them, and both Rubens and Van Dyck were grateful for his condescension. Yet they might have preferred a work that did not protest quite so much. Like Sir Philip Sidney's apology for poetry, Junius' apology for painting is a theoretical manifesto in reply to a practical objection, and such arguments tend to be at once too grand and too playful to be altogether convincing. Thus Junius borrows Sidney's aid for a touch of mystification: "Poesie and Picture ... are very neere of the selfe same nature. Both doe follow a secret instinct of Nature" (45) The would-be gentleman, having once been told that he must dabble in painting to complete the round of his accomplishments, was now to learn that he needed knowledge of painting to complete his soul. But that sort of claim, like The Painting of the Ancients itself, was so lofty that a sensible man could only admire it and ignore it.
Moreover, the apology for painting also reflects a kind of servitude. In the subject matter of scholarly rebuttal, as in other types of warfare, we often come to resemble our enemies. Junius' tributes to art evidently take shape from the nature of the opposition, from his attempt to meet a vast indifference with a transfiguring zeal.
In this respect he anticipates much of the aesthetic discourse of the next century. The development of English writing about the arts was determined largely by theories designed to counter three indictments: poetry is immoral; the skills involved in painting are manual; music is an idle (or sacrilegious) amusement. As a result, critics throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries are likely to argue that poetry is supremely and primarily moral, that painting is the result of intellectual contemplation, and that music is important (or holy) work. Whatever the rights and wrongs of these arguments, critical debate was founded upon them. Only when painting had acquired a place of its own, its own appropriate respectability, could the successors of Junius relax their pretensions and begin to speak as equals to equals, as men to men.
Excerpted from Ordering of the Arts in Eighteenth-Century England by Lawrence I. Lipking. Copyright © 1970 Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission of PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS.
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Table of Contents
- Frontmatter, pg. i
- Preface, pg. vii
- List of Illustrations, pg. ix
- Contents, pg. xi
- Abbreviations, pg. xiv
- Introduction, pg. 1
- Part One. THEMES AND PRECEDENTS, pg. 21
- Part Two. THE ORDERING OF PAINTING, pg. 107
- Part Three. THE ORDERING OF MUSIC, pg. 209
- Part Four. THE ORDERING OF POETRY, pg. 325
- Epilogue, pg. 463
- Bibliographical Sketch, pg. 473
- Index, pg. 489