The analysis of beauty: Written with a view of fixing the fluctuating ideas of taste. By William Hogarth.

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Title
The analysis of beauty: Written with a view of fixing the fluctuating ideas of taste. By William Hogarth.
Author
Hogarth, William, 1697-1764.
Publication
London :: printed by J. Reeves for the author, and sold by him at his house in Leicester-Fields,
1753.
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CHAP. VIII. Of what sort of PARTS, and how PLEASING FORMS are composed.

THUS far having endeavoured to open as large an idea as possible of the power of variety, by having partly shewn that those lines which have most variety in themselves, contribute most towards the production of beauty; we will next shew how lines may be put together, so as to make pleasing figures or compositions.

In order to be as clear as possible, we will give a few examples of the most familiar and easy sort, and let them serve as a clue to be pursued in the imagination: I say in the imagination chiefly, for the following me|thod is not meant always to be put in practice, or fol|low'd in every case, for indeed that could hardly be,

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and in some it would be ridiculously losing time if it could—Yet there may be cases where it may be ne|cessary to follow this method minutely; as for example, in architecture.

I am thoroughly convinc'd in myself, however it may startle some, that a completely new and harmonious order of architecture in all its parts, might be produced by the following method of composing, but hardly with certainty without it; and this I am the more apt to be|lieve, as upon the strictest examination, those four orders of the ancients, which are so well established for beauty and true proportion, perfectly agree with the scheme we shall now lay down.

This way of composing pleasing forms, is to be ac|complished by making choice of variety of lines, as to their shapes and dimensions; and then again by varying their situations with each other, by all the different ways that can be conceived: and at the same time (if a solid figure be the subject of the composition) the contents or space that is to be inclosed within those lines, must be duly consider'd and vary'd too, as much as possible, with propriety. In a word, it may be said, the art of composing well is the art of varying well. It is not expected that this should at first be perfectly compre|hended, yet I believe it will be made sufficiently clear by the help of the examples following.

The figure , represents the simple and pleasing figure of a bell; this shell, as we may call it, is composed of

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waving lines, encompassing, or bounding within it, the va|ried space marked with dotted lines: here you see the va|riety of the space within is equal to the beauty of its form without, and if the space, or contents, were to be more varied, the outward form would have still more beauty.

As a proof, see a composition of more parts, and a way by which those parts may be put together by a certain method of varying: i. e. how the one half of the socket of the candlestick A , may be varied as the other half B. Let a convenient and fit height be first given for a candlestick, as , then let the necessary size of the socket be determined, as at (a) after which, in order to give it a better form, let every distance or length of divisions differ from the length of the socket, as also vary in their distances from each other, as is seen by the points on the line under the socket (a); that is let any two points, signifying distance, be plac'd farthest from any other two near points, observing always that there should be one distance or part larger than all the rest; and you will readily see that variety could not be so complete without it.—In like manner, let the horizontal distances (always keeping within the bounds of fitness) be varied both as to distances and situations, as on the opposite side of the same figure (b); then unite and join all the several distances into a complete shell, by apply|ing several parts of curves and straight lines; varying them also by making them of different sizes, as (c): and apply them as at (d) in the same figure, and you have

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the candlestick , and with still more variations on the other side. If you divide the candlestick into many more parts, it will appear crouded, as it will want distinct|ness of form on a near view, and lose the effect of va|riety at a distance: this the eye will easily distinguish on removing pretty far from it.

Simplicity in composition, or distinctness of parts, is ever to be attended to, as it is one part of beauty, as has been already said: but that what I mean by distinct|ness of parts in this place, may be better understood, it will be proper to explain it by an example.

When you would compose an object of a great variety of parts, let several of those parts be distinguish'd by themselves, by their remarkable difference from the next adjoining, so as to make each of them, as it were, one well-shap'd quantity or part, as is marked by the dotted lines in figure (these are like what they call passages in music, and in writing paragraphs) by which means, not only the whole, but even every part, will be better understood by the eye: for confusion will hereby be avoided when the object is seen near, and the shapes will seem well varied, tho' fewer in number, at a distance; as figure supposed to be the same as the former, but removed so far off that the eye loses sight of the smaller members.

The parsley-leaf , in like manner, from whence a beautiful foliage in ornament was originally taken, is di|vided into three distinct passages; which are again divided

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into other odd numbers; and this method is observ'd, for the generality, in the leaves of all plants and flowers, the most simple of which are the trefoil and cinquefoil.

Light and shade, and colours, also must have their distinctness to make objects completely beautiful; but of these in their proper places—only I will give you a general idea of what is here meant by the beauty of distinctness of forms, lights, shades, and colours, by putting you in mind of the reverse effects in all them together.

Observe the well-composed nosegay how it loses all its distinctness when it dies; each leaf and flower then shrivels and loses its distinct shape; and the firm colours fade into a kind of sameness: so that the whole gradually becomes a confused heap.

If the general parts of objects are preserv'd large at first, they will always admit of farther enrichments of a small kind, but then they must be so small as not to confound the general masses or quantities.—thus you see variety is a check upon itself when overdone, which of course begets what is call'd a petit taste and a confu|sion to the eye.

It will not be amiss next to shew what effects an ob|ject or two will have that are put together without, or contrary to these rules of composing variety. Figure , is taken from one of those branches fixt to the sides of common old-fashion'd stove-grates by way of ornament, wherein you see how the parts have been varied by

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fancy only, and yet pretty well: close to which is another, with about the like number of parts; but as the shapes, neither are enough varied as to their contents, nor in their situations with each other, but one shape follows its exact likeness: it is therefore a disagreeable and tasteless figure, and for the same reason the candle|stick, fig. is still worse, as there is less variety in it. Nay, it would be better to be quite plain, as figure , than with such poor attempts at ornament.

These few examples, well understood, will, I imagine, be sufficient to put what was said at the beginning of this chapter out of all doubt, viz. that the art of com|posing well is no more than the art of varying well; and to shew, that the method which has been here explain'd, must consequently produce a pleasing proportion amongst the parts; as well as that all deviations from it will pro|duce the contrary. Yet to strengthen this latter asser|tion, let the following figures, taken from the life, be examin'd by the above rules for composing, and it will be found that the indian-fig or torch-thistle, figure , as well as all that tribe of uncouth shaped exotics, have the same reasons for being ugly, as the candlestick, fig. 41; as also that the beauties of the Lily and the calcidonian Iris proceeds from their being composed with great variety, and that the loss of variety, to a certain degree, in the imitations of those flowers underneath them (fig. 45 and 46) is the cause of the meanness of their shapes, tho' they retain enough to be call'd by the same names.

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Hitherto, with regard to composition, little else but forms made up of straight and curv'd lines have been spoken of, and though these lines have but little variety in themselves, yet by reason of the great diversifications that they are capable of in being join'd with one ano|ther; great variety of beauty of the more useful sort is produced by them, as in necessary utensils and building: but in my opinion, buildings as I before hinted, might be much more varied than they are, for after fitness hath been strictly and mechanically complied with, any addi|tional ornamental members, or parts, may, by the fore|going rules, be varied with equal elegance; nor can I help thinking, but that churches, palaces, hospitals, prisons, common houses and summer houses, might be built more in distinct characters than they are, by con|triving orders suitable to each; whereas were a modern architect to build a palace in Lapland, or the West-In|dies, Paladio must be his guide, nor would he dare to stir a step without his book.

Have not many gothic buildings a great deal of con|sistent beauty in them? perhaps acquired by a series of improvements made from time to time by the natural persuasion of the eye, which often very near answers the end of working by principles; and sometimes begets them. There is at present such a thirst after variety, that even paltry imitations of Chinese buildings have a kind of vogue, chiefly on account of their novelty: but not only these, but any other new-invented characters of

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building might be regulated by proper principles. The mere ornaments of buildings, to be sure, at least might be allow'd a greater latitude than they are at present; as capitals, frizes, &c. in order to increase the beauty of variety.

Nature, in shells and flowers, &c. affords an infinite choice of elegant hints for this purpose; as the original of the Corinthian capital was taken from nothing more, as is said, than some dock-leaves growing up against a basket. Even a capital composed of the aukward and confin'd forms of hats and periwigs, as fig. in a skilful hand might be made to have some beauty.

However, tho' the moderns have not made many additions to the art of building, with respect to mere beauty or ornament, yet it must be confess'd, they have carried simplicity, convenience, and neatness of work|manship, to a very great degree of perfection, particu|larly in England; where plain good sense hath prefer'd these more necessary parts of beauty, which every body can understand, to that richness of taste which is so much to be seen in other countries, and so often sub|stituted in their room.

St. Paul's cathedral is one of the noblest instances that can be produced of the most judicious application of every principle that has been spoken of. There you may see the utmost variety without confusion, simpli|city without nakedness, richness without taudriness, dis|tinctness without hardness, and quantity without ex|cess.

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Whence the eye is entertain'd throughout with the charming variety of all its parts together; the noble projecting quantity of a certain number of them, which presents bold and distinct parts at a distance, when the lesser parts within them disappear; and the grand few, but remarkably well-varied parts that continue to please the eye as long as the object is discernable, are evident proofs of the superior skill of Sir Christopher Wren, so justly esteem'd the prince of architects.

It will scarcely admit of a dispute, that the out|side of this building is much more perfect than that of St. Peter's at Rome: but the inside, though as fine and noble, as the space it stands on, and our religion will allow of, must give way to the splendor, shew, and magnificence of that of St. Peter's, on account of the sculptures and paintings, as well as the greater magni|tude of the whole, which makes it excel as to quantity.

There are many other churches of great beauty, the work of the same architect, which are hid in the heart of the city, whose steeples and spires are raised higher than ordinary, that they may be seen at a distance above the other buildings; and the great number of them dispers'd about the whole city, adorn the prospect of it, and give it an air of opulency and magnificence: on which account their shapes will be found to be parti|cularly beautiful. Of these, and perhaps of any in Europe, St. Mary-le-bow is the most elegantly varied. St. Bride's in Fleet-street diminishes sweetly by elegant

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degrees, but its variations, tho' very curious when you are near them, not being quite so bold, and distinct, as those of Bow, it too soon looses variety at a distance. Some gothic spires are finely and artfully varied, parti|cularly the famous steeple of Strasburg.

Westminster-Abbey is a good contrast to St. Paul's, with regard to simplicity and distinctness, the great number of its filligrean ornaments, and small divided and subdivided parts appear confused when nigh, and are totally lost at a moderate distance; yet there is never|theless such a consistency of parts altogether in a good gothic taste, and such propriety relative to the gloomy ideas, they were then calculated to convey, that they have at length acquir'd an establish'd and distinct cha|racter in building. It would be look'd upon as an im|propriety and as a kind of profanation to build places for mirth and entertainment in the same taste.

Notes

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