« PreviousContinue »
common feature of humanity; and perhaps it may not be in vain to offer a few remarks upon the meaning of ornament, and the propriety of its introduction.
Though he who is fond of ornament, invariably degrades the art in which he labors, yet the word implies a high degree of beauty; and beauty being the chief end of the æsthetic arts, the question stands thus :—How can ornament, if beautiful in itself, ever be wrong? The word has several applications. The most common acceptation of it, is beauty additional to the essential beauty of the subject; but very often anything beautiful in itself, when added to another, is thought to be an ornament. Few, of any pretension to taste, will advocate the propriety of the latter; yet from false notions concerning the former, many are guilty of errors equally great in both their criticisms and original productions. I shall employ the word in that meaning, which implies an admissible principle in art, for no advantage could accrue from the discussion of a verbal abuse. Let us understand then by ornament, that which is conceived of as adding a grace to something else, though not essential to its integrity.
With this understanding let us look upon a fine house, and consider how we could make it finer, without adding to its essentials. We observe its chief component parts, the basement, walls, and pillars and roof. The first being little exposed to the eye, is hardly a proper place for ornament. The second has for its object the inclosure of the area of the house and support of the roof. All that can be called essential to it is that it be strong and tight enough for those purposes, and the essential beauty of it must lie in the perfectness of its adaptation. But then this part of the house may consist of any of a variety of materials. It may be wood, or stone, or brick, or metal. If wood, there may be a beauty consulted in the grain or color of the wood, in the shape of the beams or boards, or the manner of their disposal, which, while it affects not the main object of the wall or pillar, may very pleasantly affect the eye of the observer. Suppose it a pillar. It may be of requisite strength to support the incumbent weight and not more, and may not occupy more space than proper; and thus be without fault; but in addition to this essential excellence, it may be of a smooth or fluted surface, at the option of the owner, nothing in the nature of things demanding the one rather than the other. It may have a base with a molding, or not. It may have a simple slab at the top, or a voluted capital, with equal fitness for the object of its erection. The volute is evidently a proper ornament. For while not more essential than the rough slab, it occupies the place with equal appropriateness, and is in itself more beautiful. So, of the incumbent parts: the beams resting upon the pillars may be plain, or may be covered with sculpture, while the most fastidious critic might find it difficult to give a satisfactory reason for the condemnation of either.
But there is a limit, beyond which ornament in architecture is faulty. Few persons can look with unmingled, pleasure upon a pillar cut into the figure of a human being. Because it is not the proper office of a man or a woman to stand all the days of their lives supporting the roof of a house; and the very thought of such a thing is painful. Neither can we behold without some degree of uneasiness, the figures of human beings perched upon the most dangerous pinnacles of the roof. Such are false ornaments; because at variance with the object of a house, which is erected, not for men to stand upon, nor to be carried upon their heads, but for them to dwell in. Thus the limit to ornament in architecture is the design of a house, and the nature of the materials employed, as well as the particular kind of house, between which and its ornaments a certain propriety must be maintained.
As architecture, so dress is imitative of nothing in nature, being a creation for the convenience of man, which nature has not supplied. Provided the chief end of dress is kept in view, and nothing is introduced at variance with that, no objection can be presented to any article of dress in itself graceful. No reason can be drawn from the nature of things why a man should wear pantaloons and coat, rather than the toga, hyke, or highland plaid, unless we say that they are respectively best adapted to the habits of the people who use them. But, the leading articles once chosen, no ornament can be proper which does not appear to conduce
to their utility, or some way or other enhance an essential beauty.
In a garden, also, many things may be properly introduced which are not necessary to the production of fruit and vegetables. The luxuriance of vegetation under careful culture, renders it perfectly proper to admit many things in a garden which are calculated only to give pleasure to the eye. Because in nature there are many objects which apparently have no higher purpose. This propriety is limited by the fact, that it is not the end of cultivation to contradict, but to follow nature. The ornaments of a garden must be of such a kind as result from the careful cultivation of nature, in accordance with her own principles. A garden is not a mere imitation of any natural scene, but an improvement. Improvement, however, can only be made by carrying out natural principles to greater perfection, and with less mixture than in nature. Therefore, the ornaments of a garden can never properly be of that kind so common in the Roman gardens, in the latter days of the Republic, and under the Empire, in which every thing was fashioned after the whim of the gardener, no tree or shrub was permitted to grow in its own way, but all were compelled into fantastic forms of birds, beasts, pieces of cabinet work, and letters of the alphabet-conceits which held their place in modern gardens until little more than a century ago.
It is clear that the dissatisfaction occasioned by such
objects, arises from their opposition to nature. Animals may be very beautiful in themselves, and in their proper place; but it is not the nature of a tree to grow into such a shape. The ornaments of a garden are, therefore, limited, not only by the character of the chief object, but also by a due regard to the principles of vegetable nature. Whatever, in its collocation, is evidently useless, or at variance with nature, however beautiful in itself, can never be anything but a blemish.
When, from these arts, we turn our attention to painting, we find the field of ornament greatly limited. For the chief object of painting being relative truth, nothing in it can be proper, which does not represent some other visible object, something conceived to be visible, or associated with visible objects. While in landscape it is limited in the same manner as gardening; in draped human figures, as the art of dressing; and in pictures of buildings, as that of architecture; in itself it entirely excludes ornament. Because, in order faithfully to represent visible things, it dare not add one quality or adjunct, which does not really belong to them. It must not represent a tree, or a horse, with any quality or adjunct which a tree or a horse was never known to have. It may picture any given horse as more beautiful than he really is; but that is not ornament. It may deck him with fine caparisons. That is ornament indeed; but it belongs not to painting, but to the art of harnessing horses. Painting