« PreviousContinue »
GALLERY OF PAINTINGS.
THETIS BRINGING THE ARMOUR TO ACHILLES.
“ Th' immortal arms the goddess-mother bears
Swift to her son: her son she finds in tears,
Suppress (my son) this rage of grief, and know
Then drops the radiant burden on the ground;
Goddess (he cried) these glorious arms that shine
The great Poets having described their heroes with the utmost force and grace of language, and endowed them with the highest qualities of mind and body, the mere mention of their names excites sentiments and feelings of admiration.
In the delineation, therefore, of these high and immortalized beings, the energies and beauties of the pencil must correspond with those traced by the pen of the poet : the utmost truth and vigour of drawing must be united to the highest conception of character, and a poetic spirit must inform and exalt the piece to such an adequate representation, that the eyes may seem to behold what the imagination has so often fancied with enthusiasm. Such is the impression here made by the graceful form of Thetis, as she bends with sympathetic respect and maternal tenderness over her son ; and such is the effect produced by the energetic graces of Achilles, by his deep dejection at the death of his friend, his inflexible resentment, the pathetic prostration of Patroclus, and by the pervading truth, beauty, and animation of the entire piece.
From the inevitable nature of everything human, the greatest talents are allied to imperfection, and they exhibit them perhaps most conspicuously while in the display of their greatest excellencies. Thus, with respect to one of the greatest painters of Italy, it is impossible not to observe that the daring sublimity of Michael Angelo often degenerates into caricature. It is therefore a distinguished excellence of Mr. West, that in those subjects in which he exhibits some of his highest powers, and in which there is above all others the greatest danger of losing a chaste tone of expression, his judgment never suffers the ardour of his genius to carry his pencil beyond the boundaries of truth and propriety, but “ he begets a temperance in the very torrent and tempest of passion.” Thus, in this impassioned production, the animated form and stern countenance of Achilles display his ferocity and sullenness, without deviating into any of that intemperate expression which such glowing subjects so naturally induce. Some objections have been made to the proportion of the feet of Achilles ; but Mr. West has designated him agreeably to Homer's epithet of the swift-footed Achilles; his swiftness of foot arises from his strength; therefore, the swell of the thigh and calf of the leg, where motion and strength are seated, are comparatively larger in proportion to the feet, than in the common standard of men.
The classic truth of the armour, and the minute but suitable attention to the ornamental parts of the picture, are a full refutation of those, who, having no resolution to study, or no genius for proper combination, would insinuate, that studious correctness in small things is incompatible with a noble genius in great. Genius is indeed the soul of art, but study and science are the bodily powers, without which the hand in vain attempts what the mind would dictate.