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I, may be reasonably expected that I should say something on my own behalf, in respect to my present undertaking. First then, the reader may be pleased to know, that it was not of my own choice that I undertook this work. Many of our most skilful painters, and other artists, were pleased to recommend this author to me, as one who perfectly understood the rules of painting; who gave
* This Essay was prefixed to our author's prose translation of Mons. Du Fresnoy's Latin poem, DE ARTE GRAPHICA, and was first published in quarto in 1695. In the Dedication of the second edition of that work in 8vo. in 1716, Mr. Richard Graham observes to Lord Burlington, that the misfortune which attended Dryden in his translation was, “that for want of a competent knowledge in painting, he suffered himself to be misled by an unskilful guide. Mons. de Piles told him in his preface, that his French version was made at the request of the author himself; and altered by him, till it was wholly to his mind. This Mr. Dryden taking upon content, thought there was nothing more incumbent on him, than to put it into the best English he could; and
the best and most concise instructions for performance, and the surest to inform the judgment of all who loved this noble art: that they who before were rather fond of it, than knowingly admired it, might defend their inclination by their reason; that they might understand those excellencies which they blindly valued, so as not to be farther imposed on by bad pieces, and to know when nature was well imitated by the most able masters. It is true indeed, and they acknowledge it, that beside the rules which are given in this treatise, or which can be given in any other, to make a perfect judgment of good pictures, and to value them more or less, when compared with one another, there is farther required a long conversation with the best pieces, which are not very frequent either in France or England; yet some we have, not only from the hands of Holbein, Rubens, and Vandyck, (one of them admirable for history
accordingly performed his part here (as in every thing else) with accuracy.”—The French translator, however, having frequently mistaken the sense of his author, led Dryden, who followed him, into some errours, which in the second edition were corrected by Mr. Jervas, with the assistance, as it is said, of his friend and scholar, Pope; who addressed to him those elegant verses, which first appeared in the republication of Du Fresnoy's work above-mentioned. A poetical translation of Du Fresnoy's poem, by the late Mr. Mason, was published in 1782, with very valuable notes by Sir Joshua Reynolds : both which now form a part of that great painter's works.
painting, and the other two for portraits) but of many Flemish masters, and those not inconsiderable, though for design not equal to the Italians. And of these latter also, we are not unfurnished with some pieces of Raffaelle, Titian, Correggio, Michael Angelo, and others. But to return to my own undertaking of this translation. I freely own that I thought myself uncapable of performing it, either to their satisfaction, or my own credit. Not but that I understood the original Latin, and the French author, perhaps as well as most Englishmen; but I was not sufficiently versed in the terms of art; and therefore thought that many of those persons who put this honourable task on me, were more able to perform it themselves, as undoubtedly they were. But they assuring me of their assistance in correcting my faults, where I spoke improperly, I was encouraged to attempt it; that I might not be wanting in what I could, to satisfy the desires of so many gentlemen, who were willing to give the world this useful work. They have effectually performed their promise to me, and I have been as careful on my side to take their advice in all things; so that the reader may assure himself of a tolerable translation,-not elegant, for I proposed not that to myself, but familiar, clear, and instructive: in any of which parts if I have failed, the fault lies wholly at my door. In this one particular only, I must beg the reader's pardon. The prose translation of this poem is not free from poetical expressions, and I dare not promise that some of them are not fustian, or at least highly metaphorical ; but this being a fault in the first digestion, (that is, the original Latin,) was not to be remedied in the second, viz. the translation. And I may confidently say, that whoever had attempted it must have fallen into the same inconvenience, or a much greater, that of a false version. When I undertook this work, I was already engaged in the translation of Virgil," from whom I have borrowed only two months; and am now returning to that which I ought to understand better. In the mean time I beg the reader's pardon, for entertaining him so long with myself: it is an usual part of ill manners in all authors, and almost in all mankind, to trouble others with their business; and I was so sensible of it beforehand, that I had not now committed it, unless some concernments of the reader's had been interwoven with my own. But I know not, while I am atoning for one errour, if I am not falling into another; for I have been importuned to say something farther of this art; and to make some observations on it, in relation to the likeness and agreement which it has with poetry, its sister. But before I proceed, it will not be amiss, if I copy from Bellori, (a most ingenious author yet living,) some
part of his IDEA of A PAINTER,” which cannot be unpleasing, at least to such who are conversant in the philosophy of Plato; and to avoid tediousness I will not translate the whole discourse, but take and leave as I find occasion. * GoD Almighty, in the fabrick of the universe, ‘ first contemplated himself, and reflected on his own excellencies; from which he drew and constituted those first forms which are called ideas; so that every species which was afterwards ex* pressed, was produced from that first idea, form‘ing that wonderful contexture of all created be‘ings. But the celestial bodies above the moon ‘ being incorruptible, and not subject to change, * remained for ever fair, and in perpetual order. ‘On the contrary, all things which are sublunary ‘ are subject to change, to deformity, and to ‘ decay. And though Nature always intends a * consummate beauty in her productions, yet • through the inequality of the matter, the forms ‘ are altered; and in particular, human beauty * suffers alteration for the worse, as we see to our ‘mortification, in the deformities and dispropor‘tions which are in us. For which reason the
*In May 1664, Gio. Pietro Bellori read a Discourse in the Academy of St. Luke at Rome, (Carlo Maratti being then President,) entitled—L'Idea del Pittore, dello Scultore, e dell’Architetto, scelta dalle bellezze naturali superiore alla Natura. This Discourse, from which the following extract is taken, was afterwards prefixed to LE VITE DE PITTORE, &c. by the same author, printed at Rom in 4to, 1672.