« PreviousContinue »
semblance of landscape in their painting and bas-reliefs. Even then the bits of landscape, often charming enough, lack the sense of relative truth. Very possibly the passion for pure outline drawing, such as we see on a vast array of vases of the best period, had contributed largely to this indifference towards relative truth. When in a chariot group of the frieze (N. xxiii.) the nearer hind leg of the second horse is seen to be closer to the front than the farther leg of the first horse, it lessens our surprise to remember that on the contemporary vases, with their excellent outline drawings of chariot groups, it is barely possible to recognise any degree of distance.
In later art, such as that of the Mausoleum frieze, we may observe instances of a warrior whose nearer leg is sculptured in almost its full roundness, while the farther leg is little more than a thin slice. The principle there followed is that the nearest plane should be the most pronounced. Yet, however natural that may appear, we cannot accept the thin farther leg as a reasonable rendering of distance. There is nothing .so glaring on the Parthenon frieze, where the opposite principle is mainly pursued of making the nearest plane the thinnest, the effect being that each figure or group rises from the background in a solid, compact mass. It is in fact one of the great charms of that frieze to watch the extraordinary skill with which the sculptor effects his transitions from one plane to another, but nowhere perhaps is this more noticeable than in the east frieze. No doubt there are instances of very little care, as when the right arm of one of the officials in the left group, 18, has been simply carved out of his body, and that is not the only example. Still the fact remains that it is the thinness of the nearest plane which has given the sculptor his opportunity of displaying unrivalled refinement in the modelling of his surfaces.
In the seated deities of the east frieze the sculptor, true to his idea of dignity and repose, has allowed himself much space, and has avoided as far as possible superimposed planes. “Let us begin with Zeus,” 30. His left arm is thinned down to a minimum against his body, while his right thins away into the background of the relief. The same is true of the right arm of Poseidon, 38, and the left of Hermes, 24. In the Athenė, 36, on the contrary, her right arm is drawn back in full relief, while her left-farther from the spectator-is merely indicated so far as it comes into view at all. That we may allow is something in the manner of the Mausoleum frieze, and therefore not quite what we expect. In passing we may note that the drapery of two of the gods on the left, 25 and 27, appears at first sight as if it had been rubbed down till it has become flat on the surface. But that is not so. What has happened is this: the sculptor has not rightly reckoned the thickness of relief he was giving to these figures, and has found that when he came to the most projecting parts of the drapery he had reached the surface of his marble too soon. In the circumstances he was obliged to leave the most prominent folds of the drapery flat on the surface.
The next question we propose to consider is the different number of planes which the sculptor has employed. The greatest excess he has reached is in slab xli. of the north frieze. Here we count no less than five superimposed planes, and yet there is not the slightest confusion. Every
thing is as clear as a crystal pool. First, we have a horse's head relieved against drapery; next, drapery against the bare arm of the horseman; then the same bare arm against dress; then dress against a horse's head; and, finally, the horse's head against the background. On the next following slab (xlii.), where the crowding is far less, we see how possible it was to get into difficulties. There are two horsemen on it, one mounted, the other on foot. Of the former only his right hand is visible. His body may be supposed to be hidden behind the neck of the next horse, but his legs ought to have been visible across the belly of his horse. Clearly the sculptor wanted about here two spaces of background to give rest to the eye of the spectator, and at the same time to throw into prominence the splendid group of legs which come between.
In the impetuous movements of the horses on the long sides we expect, first, a large measure of uniformity in the action of horse and rider so as to carry the eye swiftly along; and, secondly, enough variety of detail to arrest the eye at numerous points under a more leisurely inspection. It is, in fact, this same combination of a strong undercurrent of variety of detail, with a more or less marked uniformity in the general design, which constitutes the charm of the contemporary Greek vases. The one element is based on a close observation of nature; the other on a distant view, in which the imagination comes into play. To our eyes there is no movement in nature so allusive in appearance as the legs of a horse in action. Even when he is merely walking we are tantalized at every moment if we try to follow and comprehend the system on which his steps are regulated.
Still more is this the case when he advances rapidly, except, of course, when he is at a gallop, when the action is more or less simple. Try as we may to assure ourselves that the nearer fore leg and the farther hind leg move consentaneously
-or the farther fore leg and the nearer hind leg—yet in fact the combined action entirely eludes our faculties of apprehension. There is a magic in the movement which surpasses our visual sense. We find that same magic in the horses of the north frieze, particularly in slabs xxxii., xxxv., xxxvii., and xxxviii.
In the cavalcade of the north frieze we observe two leading types of action in the horses. In the one the horse is made to display himself to the fullest possible extent (slabs xxviii., xxxii., xxxiii., xxxvii., and others). His chest is turned round towards the spectator in nearly threequarters view. His farther fore leg is raised so as to be clear of the nearer one, and thus entirely visible. Similarly, his farther hind leg is moved forward so as to be clear of the nearer hind leg. In the other type his chest is strictly in profile (slabs xxxi., xxxviii., and others). His nearer fore leg is raised, partially concealing the farther one, while the nearer hind leg is advanced, concealing in part the farther one. Both these actions would be wrong if it is true, as has often been said, that a horse at a canter moves simultaneously his nearer fore leg and his farther hind leg. But instantaneous photographs have shown that in reality there is nothing wrong in these Parthenon horses. In any case, it is apparent that the sculptor has chosen these two types of equitation from a desire to combine beauty of action with a measure of formality. He prefers the type in which the horse displays himself most. Slab xxviii. is an example which is more than usually interesting because of the exceeding lowness of the relief in the nearest plane, the modelling of the horse being surpassingly delicate and refined. At the same time there are occasional exceptions where both types of action are combined, as in slab ii. of the west frieze. This habit of making the nearest plane of the relief very thin and the modelling of the surface necessarily refined to the last degree, recalls to our mind a pellucid stream, where the water is shallow, showing every feature of the shelving rock beneath. The surface is apparently a smooth expanse, yet it is infinitely modulated, as we soon perceive. The surface of a relief is like that of a stream. It may be smooth or turbulent. If smooth, we see into the depths; if turbulent, we cannot see below. As a rule the sense of what was monumental in sculpture impelled the Greeks to broaden the nearest plane, and thus to approach as nearly as possible the idea of stability and permanency.
The ears of the horses may or may not be too small, but in any case the sculptor has been quick to perceive how the finely marked bone above the eye of a horse may be made to combine with the ear close above it, so as almost to suggest a decorative pattern, and yet be true to nature.
The manes are usually hogged, now carefully, now carelessly rendered. The one striking exception is the mare on the west frieze rubbing her nose against her fore leg (slab xii.). There the mane is uncut, is parted along the ridge of the neck, and falls on each side more formally than naturally. But on the west frieze, which was a scene of preparation and start, we expect greater finish in such details