Read LECTURE V of Aratra Pentelici‚ Seven Lectures on the Elements of Sculpture, free online book, by John Ruskin, on


December, 1870.

143. On previous occasions of addressing you, I have endeavored to show you, first, how sculpture is distinguished from other arts; then its proper subjects; then its proper method in the realization of these subjects. To-day, we must, in the fourth place, consider the means at its command for the accomplishment of these ends; the nature of its materials; and the mechanical or other difficulties of their treatment.

And however doubtful we may have remained as to the justice of Greek ideals, or propriety of Greek methods of representing them, we may be certain that the example of the Greeks will be instructive in all practical matters relating to this great art, peculiarly their own. I think even the evidence I have already laid before you is enough to convince you that it was by rightness and reality, not by idealism or delightfulness only, that their minds were finally guided; and I am sure that, before closing the present course, I shall be able so far to complete that evidence, as to prove to you that the commonly received notions of classic art are, not only unfounded, but even, in many respects, directly contrary to the truth. You are constantly told that Greece idealized whatever she contemplated. She did the exact contrary: she realized and verified it. You are constantly told she sought only the beautiful. She sought, indeed, with all her heart; but she found, because she never doubted that the search was to be consistent with propriety and common sense. And the first thing you will always discern in Greek work is the first which you ought to discern in all work; namely, that the object of it has been rational, and has been obtained by simple and unostentatious means.

144. “That the object of the work has been rational”! Consider how much that implies. That it should be by all means seen to have been determined upon, and carried through, with sense and discretion; these being gifts of intellect far more precious than any knowledge of mathematics, or of the mechanical resources of art. Therefore, also, that it should be a modest and temperate work, a structure fitted to the actual state of men; proportioned to their actual size, as animals, to their average strength, to their true necessities, and to the degree of easy command they have over the forces and substances of nature.

145. You see how much this law excludes! All that is fondly magnificent, insolently ambitious, or vainly difficult. There is, indeed, such a thing as Magnanimity in design, but never unless it be joined also with modesty, and Equanimity. Nothing extravagant, monstrous, strained, or singular, can be structurally beautiful. No towers of Babel envious of the skies; no pyramids in mimicry of the mountains of the earth; no streets that are a weariness to traverse, nor temples that make pigmies of the worshipers.

It is one of the primal merits and decencies of Greek work, that it was, on the whole, singularly small in scale, and wholly within reach of sight, to its finest details. And, indeed, the best buildings that I know are thus modest; and some of the best are minute jewel cases for sweet sculpture. The Parthenon would hardly attract notice, if it were set by the Charing Cross Railway Station: the Church of the Miracoli, at Venice, the Chapel of the Rose, at Lucca, and the Chapel of the Thorn, at Pisa, would not, I suppose, all three together, fill the tenth part, cube, of a transept of the Crystal Palace. And they are better so.

146. In the chapter on Power in the ‘Seven Lamps of Architecture,’ I have stated what seems, at first, the reverse of what I am saying now; namely, that it is better to have one grand building than any number of mean ones. And that is true: but you cannot command grandeur by size till you can command grace in minuteness; and least of all, remember, will you so command it to-day, when magnitude has become the chief exponent of folly and misery, coordinate in the fraternal enormities of the Factory and Poorhouse, the Barracks and Hospital. And the final law in this matter is that, if you require edifices only for the grace and health of mankind, and build them without pretense and without chicanery, they will be sublime on a modest scale, and lovely with little decoration.

147. From these principles of simplicity and temperance, two very severely fixed laws of construction follow; namely, first, that our structure, to be beautiful, must be produced with tools of men; and, secondly, that it must be composed of natural substances. First, I say, produced with tools of men. All fine art requires the application of the whole strength and subtlety of the body, so that such art is not possible to any sickly person, but involves the action and force of a strong man’s arm from the shoulder, as well as the delicatest touch of his fingers: and it is the evidence that this full and fine strength has been spent on it which makes the art executively noble; so that no instrument must be used, habitually, which is either too heavy to be delicately restrained, or too small and weak to transmit a vigorous impulse; much less any mechanical aid, such as would render the sensibility of the fingers ineffectual.

148. Of course, any kind of work in glass, or in metal, on a large scale, involves some painful endurance of heat; and working in clay, some habitual endurance of cold; but the point beyond which the effort must not be carried is marked by loss of power of manipulation. As long as the eyes and fingers have complete command of the material, (as a glass-blower has, for instance, in doing fine ornamental work,) the law is not violated; but all our great engine and furnace work, in gun-making and the like, is degrading to the intellect; and no nation can long persist in it without losing many of its human faculties. Nay, even the use of machinery other than the common rope and pulley, for the lifting of weights, is degrading to architecture; the invention of expedients for the raising of enormous stones has always been a characteristic of partly savage or corrupted races. A block of marble not larger than a cart with a couple of oxen could carry, and a cross-beam, with a couple of pulleys, raise, is as large as should generally be used in any building. The employment of large masses is sure to lead to vulgar exhibitions of geometrical arrangement, and to draw away the attention from the sculpture. In general, rocks naturally break into such pieces as the human beings that have to build with them can easily lift; and no larger should be sought for.

149. In this respect, and in many other subtle ways, the law that the work is to be with tools of men is connected with the farther condition of its modesty, that it is to be wrought in substance provided by Nature, and to have a faithful respect to all the essential qualities of such substance.

And here I must ask your attention to the idea, and, more than idea, the fact, involved in that infinitely misused term, ‘Providentia,’ when applied to the Divine power. In its truest sense and scholarly use, it is a human virtue,; the personal type of it is in Prometheus, and all the first power of, is from him, as compared to the weakness of days when men without foresight “.” But, so far as we use the word ‘Providence’ as an attribute of the Maker and Giver of all things, it does not mean that in a shipwreck He takes care of the passengers who are to be saved, and takes none of those who are to be drowned; but it does mean that every race of creatures is born into the world under circumstances of approximate adaptation to its necessities; and, beyond all others, the ingenious and observant race of man is surrounded with elements naturally good for his food, pleasant to his sight, and suitable for the subjects of his ingenuity; the stone, metal, and clay of the earth he walks upon lending themselves at once to his hand, for all manner of workmanship.

150. Thus, his truest respect for the law of the entire creation is shown by his making the most of what he can get most easily; and there is no virtue of art, nor application of common sense, more sacredly necessary than this respect to the beauty of natural substance, and the ease of local use; neither are there any other precepts of construction so vital as these that you show all the strength of your material, tempt none of its weaknesses, and do with it only what can be simply and permanently done.

151. Thus, all good building will be with rocks, or pebbles, or burnt clay, but with no artificial compound; all good painting with common oils and pigments on common canvas, paper, plaster, or wood, admitting sometimes, for precious work, precious things, but all applied in a simple and visible way. The highest imitative art should not, indeed, at first sight, call attention to the means of it; but even that, at length, should do so distinctly, and provoke the observer to take pleasure in seeing how completely the workman is master of the particular material he has used, and how beautiful and desirable a substance it was, for work of that kind. In oil painting, its unctuous quality is to be delighted in; in fresco, its chalky quality; in glass, its transparency; in wood, its grain; in marble, its softness; in porphyry, its hardness; in iron, its toughness. In a flint country, one should feel the delightfulness of having flints to pick up, and fasten together into rugged walls. In a marble country, one should be always more and more astonished at the exquisite color and structure of marble; in a slate country, one should feel as if every rock cleft itself only for the sake of being built with conveniently.

152. Now, for sculpture, there are, briefly, two materials Clay, and Stone; for glass is only a clay that gets clear and brittle as it cools, and metal a clay that gets opaque and tough as it cools. Indeed, the true use of gold in this world is only as a very pretty and very ductile clay, which you can spread as flat as you like, spin as fine as you like, and which will neither crack nor tarnish.

All the arts of sculpture in clay may be summed up under the word ‘Plastic,’ and all of those in stone, under the word ‘Glyptic.’

153. Sculpture in clay will accordingly include all cast brickwork, pottery, and tile-work a somewhat important branch of human skill. Next to the potter’s work, you have all the arts in porcelain, glass, enamel, and metal, everything, that is to say, playful and familiar in design, much of what is most felicitously inventive, and, in bronze or gold, most precious and permanent.

154. Sculpture in stone, whether granite, gem, or marble, while we accurately use the general term ‘glyptic’ for it, may be thought of with, perhaps, the most clear force under the English word ‘engraving.’ For, from the mere angular incision which the Greek consecrated in the triglyphs of his greatest order of architecture, grow forth all the arts of bas-relief, and methods of localized groups of sculpture connected with each other and with architecture: as, in another direction, the arts of engraving and wood-cutting themselves.

155. Over all this vast field of human skill the laws which I have enunciated to you rule with inevitable authority, embracing the greatest, and consenting to the humblest, exertion; strong to repress the ambition of nations, if fantastic and vain, but gentle to approve the efforts of children, made in accordance with the visible intention of the Maker of all flesh, and the Giver of all Intelligence. These laws, therefore, I now repeat, and beg of you to observe them as irrefragable.

1. That the work is to be with tools of men.

2. That it is to be in natural materials.

3. That it is to exhibit the virtues of those materials, and aim at no quality inconsistent with them.

4. That its temper is to be quiet and gentle, in harmony with common needs, and in consent to common intelligence.

We will now observe the bearing of these laws on the elementary conditions of the art at present under discussion.

156. There is, first, work in baked clay, which contracts, as it dries, and is very easily frangible. Then you must put no work into it requiring niceness in dimension, nor any so elaborate that it would be a great loss if it were broken; but as the clay yields at once to the hand, and the sculptor can do anything with it he likes, it is a material for him to sketch with and play with, to record his fancies in, before they escape him, and to express roughly, for people who can enjoy such sketches, what he has not time to complete in marble. The clay, being ductile, lends itself to all softness of line; being easily frangible, it would be ridiculous to give it sharp edges, so that a blunt and massive rendering of graceful gesture will be its natural function: but as it can be pinched, or pulled, or thrust in a moment into projection which it would take hours of chiseling to get in stone, it will also properly be used for all fantastic and grotesque form, not involving sharp edges. Therefore, what is true of chalk and charcoal, for painters, is equally true of clay, for sculptors; they are all most precious materials for true masters, but tempt the false ones into fatal license; and to judge rightly of terra-cotta work is a far higher reach of skill in sculpture-criticism than to distinguish the merits of a finished statue.

157. We have, secondly, work in bronze, iron, gold, and other metals; in which the laws of structure are still more definite.

All kinds of twisted and wreathen work on every scale become delightful when wrought in ductile or tenacious metal; but metal which is to be hammered into form separates itself into two great divisions solid, and flat.

A. In solid metal-work, i.e., metal cast thick enough to resist bending, whether it be hollow or not, violent and various projection may be admitted, which would be offensive in marble; but no sharp edges, because it is difficult to produce them with the hammer. But since the permanence of the material justifies exquisiteness of workmanship, whatever delicate ornamentation can be wrought with rounded surfaces may be advisedly introduced; and since the color of bronze or any other metal is not so pleasantly representative of flesh as that of marble, a wise sculptor will depend less on flesh contour, and more on picturesque accessories, which, though they would be vulgar if attempted in stone, are rightly entertaining in bronze or silver. Verrocchio’s statue of Colleone at Venice, Cellini’s Perseus at Florence, and Ghiberti’s gates at Florence, are models of bronze treatment.

B. When metal is beaten thin, it becomes what is technically called ‘plate,’ (the flattened thing,) and may be treated advisably in two ways: one, by beating it out into bosses, the other by cutting it into strips and ramifications. The vast schools of goldsmiths work and of iron decoration, founded on these two principles, have had the most powerful influences over general taste in all ages and countries. One of the simplest and most interesting elementary examples of the treatment of flat metal by cutting is the common branched iron bar used to close small apertures in countries possessing any good primitive style of ironwork, formed by alternate cuts on its sides, and the bending down of the severed portions. The ordinary domestic window balcony of Verona is formed by mere ribbons of iron, bent into curves as studiously refined as those of a Greek vase, and decorated merely by their own terminations in spiral volutes.

All cast work in metal, unfinished by hand, is inadmissible in any school of living art, since it cannot possess the perfection of form due to a permanent substance; and the continual sight of it is destructive of the faculty of taste: but metal stamped with precision, as in coins, is to sculpture what engraving is to painting.

158. Thirdly. Stone-sculpture divides itself into three schools: one in very hard material; one in very soft; and one in that of centrally useful consistence.

A. The virtue of work in hard material is the expression of form in shallow relief, or in broad contours: deep cutting in hard material is inadmissible; and the art, at once pompous and trivial, of gem engraving, has been in the last degree destructive of the honor and service of sculpture.

B. The virtue of work in soft material is deep cutting, with studiously graceful disposition of the masses of light and shade. The greater number of flamboyant churches of France are cut out of an adhesive chalk; and the fantasy of their latest decoration was, in great part, induced by the facility of obtaining contrast of black space, undercut, with white tracery easily left in sweeping and interwoven rods the lavish use of wood in domestic architecture materially increasing the habit of delight in branched complexity of line. These points, however, I must reserve for illustration in my Lectures on Architecture. To-day, I shall limit myself to the illustration of elementary sculptural structure in the best material, that is to say, in crystalline marble, neither soft enough to encourage the caprice of the workman, nor hard enough to resist his will.

159. C. By the true ‘Providence’ of Nature, the rock which is thus submissive has been in some places stained with the fairest colors, and in others blanched into the fairest absence of color that can be found to give harmony to inlaying, or dignity to form. The possession by the Greeks of their was indeed the first circumstance regulating the development of their art; it enabled them at once to express their passion for light by executing the faces, hands, and feet of their dark wooden statues in white marble, so that what we look upon only with pleasure for fineness of texture was to them an imitation of the luminous body of the deity shining from behind its dark robes; and ivory afterwards is employed in their best statues for its yet more soft and flesh-like brightness, receptive also of the most delicate color (therefore to this day the favorite ground of miniature painters). In like manner, the existence of quarries of peach-colored marble within twelve miles of Verona, and of white marble and green serpentine between Pisa and Genoa, defined the manner both of sculpture and architecture for all the Gothic buildings of Italy. No subtlety of education could have formed a high school of art without these materials.

160. Next to the color, the fineness of substance which will take a perfectly sharp edge, is essential; and this not merely to admit fine delineation in the sculpture itself, but to secure a delightful precision in placing the blocks of which it is composed. For the possession of too fine marble, as far as regards the work itself, is a temptation instead of an advantage to an inferior sculptor; and the abuse of the facility of undercutting, especially of undercutting so as to leave profiles defined by an edge against shadow, is one of the chief causes of decline of style in such incrusted bas-reliefs as those of the Certosa of Pavia and its contemporary monuments. But no undue temptation ever exists as to the fineness of block fitting; nothing contributes to give so pure and healthy a tone to sculpture as the attention of the builder to the jointing of his stones; and his having both the power to make them fit so perfectly as not to admit of the slightest portion of cement showing externally, and the skill to insure, if needful, and to suggest always, their stability in cementless construction. It represents a piece of entirely fine Lombardic building, the central portion of the arch in the Duomo in Verona, which corresponds to that of the porch of San Zenone. In both these pieces of building, the only line that traces the architrave round the arch, is that of the masonry joint; yet this line is drawn with extremest subtlety, with intention of delighting the eye by its relation of varied curvature to the arch itself; and it is just as much considered as the finest pen-line of a Raphael drawing. Every joint of the stone is used, in like manner, as a thin black line, which the slightest sign of cement would spoil like a blot. And so proud is the builder of his fine jointing, and so fearless of any distortion or strain spoiling the adjustment afterwards, that in one place he runs his joint quite gratuitously through a bas-relief, and gives the keystone its only sign of preeminence by the minute inlaying of the head of the Lamb into the stone of the course above.

161. Proceeding from this fine jointing to fine draughtsmanship, you have, in the very outset and earliest stage of sculpture, your flat stone surface given you as a sheet of white paper, on which you are required to produce the utmost effect you can with the simplest means, cutting away as little of the stone as may be, to save both time and trouble; and above all, leaving the block itself, when shaped, as solid as you can, that its surface may better resist weather, and the carved parts be as much protected as possible by the masses left around them.

162. The first thing to be done is clearly to trace the outline of subject with an incision approximating in section to that of the furrow of a plow, only more equal-sided. A fine sculptor strikes it, as his chisel leans, freely, on marble; an Egyptian, in hard rock, cuts it sharp, as in cuneiform inscriptions. In any case, you have a result in which I show you the most elementary indication of form possible, by cutting the outline of the typical archaic Greek head with an incision like that of a Greek triglyph, only not so precise in edge or slope, as it is to be modified afterwards.

163. Now, the simplest thing we can do next is to round off the flat surface within the incision, and put what form we can get into the feebler projection of it thus obtained. The Egyptians do this, often with exquisite skill, and then, as I showed you in a former Lecture, color the whole using the incision as an outline. Such a method of treatment is capable of good service in representing, at little cost of pains, subjects in distant effect; and common, or merely picturesque, subjects even near. To show you what it is capable of, and what colored sculpture would be in its rudest type, I have prepared the colored relief of the John Dory as a natural history drawing for distant effect. You know, also, that I meant him to be ugly as ugly as any creature can well be. In time, I hope to show you prettier things peacocks and kingfishers, butterflies and flowers, on grounds of gold, and the like, as they were in Byzantine work. I shall expect you, in right use of your aesthetic faculties, to like those better than what I show you to-day. But it is now a question of method only; and if you will look, after the Lecture, first at the mere white relief, and then see how much may be gained by a few dashes of color, such as a practiced workman could lay in a quarter of an hour, the whole forming, if well done, almost a deceptive image, you will, at least, have the range of power in Egyptian sculpture clearly expressed to you.

164. But for fine sculpture, we must advance by far other methods. If we carve the subject with real delicacy, the cast shadow of the incision will interfere with its outline, so that, for representation of beautiful things you must clear away the ground about it, at all events for a little distance. As the law of work is to use the least pains possible, you clear it only just as far back as you need, and then, for the sake of order and finish, you give the space a geometrical outline. By taking, in this case, the simplest I can, a circle, I can clear the head with little labor in the removal of surface round it.

165. Now, these are the first terms of all well-constructed bas-relief. The mass you have to treat consists of a piece of stone which, however you afterwards carve it, can but, at its most projecting point, reach the level of the external plane surface out of which it was mapped, and defined by a depression round it; that depression being at first a mere trench, then a moat of a certain width, of which the outer sloping bank is in contact, as a limiting geometrical line, with the laterally salient portions of sculpture. This, I repeat, is the primal construction of good bas-relief, implying, first, perfect protection to its surface from any transverse blow, and a geometrically limited space to be occupied by the design, into which it shall pleasantly (and as you shall ultimately see, ingeniously,) contract itself: implying, secondly, a determined depth of projection, which it shall rarely reach, and never exceed: and implying, finally, the production of the whole piece with the least possible labor of chisel and loss of stone.

166. And these, which are the first, are very nearly the last constructive laws of sculpture. You will be surprised to find how much they include, and how much of minor propriety in treatment their observance involves.

In a very interesting essay on the architecture of the Parthenon, by the Professor of Architecture of the Ecole Polytechnique, M. Emile Boutmy, you will find it noticed that the Greeks do not usually weaken, by carving, the constructive masses of their building; but put their chief sculpture in the empty spaces between the triglyphs, or beneath the roof. This is true; but in so doing, they merely build their panel instead of carving it; they accept, no less than the Goths, the laws of recess and limitation, as being vital to the safety and dignity of their design; and their noblest recumbent statues are, constructively, the fillings of the acute extremity of a panel in the form of an obtusely summited triangle.

167. In gradual descent from that severest type, you will find that an immense quantity of sculpture of all times and styles may be generally embraced under the notion of a mass hewn out of, or, at least, placed in, a panel or recess, deepening, it may be, into a niche; the sculpture being always designed with reference to its position in such recess: and, therefore, to the effect of the building out of which the recess is hewn.

But, for the sake of simplifying our inquiry, I will at first suppose no surrounding protective ledge to exist, and that the area of stone we have to deal with is simply a flat slab, extant from a flat surface depressed all round it.

168. A flat slab, observe. The flatness of surface is essential to the problem of bas-relief. The lateral limit of the panel may, or may not, be required; but the vertical limit of surface must be expressed; and the art of bas-relief is to give the effect of true form on that condition. For observe, if nothing more were needed than to make first a cast of a solid form, then cut it in half, and apply the half of it to the flat surface; if, for instance, to carve a bas-relief of an apple, all I had to do was to cut my sculpture of the whole apple in half, and pin it to the wall, any ordinarily trained sculptor, or even a mechanical workman, could produce bas-relief; but the business is to carve a round thing out of a flat thing; to carve an apple out of a biscuit! to conquer, as a subtle Florentine has here conquered, his marble, so as not only to get motion into what is most rigidly fixed, but to get boundlessness into what is most narrowly bounded; and carve Madonna and Child, rolling clouds, flying angels, and space of heavenly air behind all, out of a film of stone not the third of an inch thick where it is thickest.

169. Carried, however, to such a degree of subtlety as this, and with so ambitious and extravagant aim, bas-relief becomes a tour-de-force; and, you know, I have just told you all tours-de-force are wrong. The true law of bas-relief is to begin with a depth of incision proportioned justly to the distance of the observer and the character of the subject, and out of that rationally determined depth, neither increased for ostentation of effect, nor diminished for ostentation of skill, to do the utmost that will be easily visible to an observer, supposing him to give an average human amount of attention, but not to peer into, or critically scrutinize, the work.

170. I cannot arrest you to-day by the statement of any of the laws of sight and distance which determine the proper depth of bas-relief. Suppose that depth fixed; then observe what a pretty problem, or, rather, continually varying cluster of problems, will be offered to us. You might, at first, imagine that, given what we may call our scale of solidity, or scale of depth, the diminution from nature would be in regular proportion, as, for instance, if the real depth of your subject be, suppose, a foot, and the depth of your bas-relief an inch, then the parts of the real subject which were six inches round the side of it would be carved, you might imagine, at the depth of half an inch, and so the whole thing mechanically reduced to scale. But not a bit of it. Here is a Greek bas-relief of a chariot with two horses. Your whole subject has therefore the depth of two horses side by side, say six or eight feet. Your bas-relief has, on this scale, say the depth of a third of an inch. Now, if you gave only the sixth of an inch for the depth of the off horse, and, dividing him again, only the twelfth of an inch for that of each foreleg, you would make him look a mile away from the other, and his own forelegs a mile apart. Actually, the Greek has made the near leg of the off horse project much beyond the off leg of the near horse; and has put nearly the whole depth and power of his relief into the breast of the off horse, while for the whole distance from the head of the nearest to the neck of the other, he has allowed himself only a shallow line; knowing that, if he deepened that, he would give the nearest horse the look of having a thick nose; whereas, by keeping that line down, he has not only made the head itself more delicate, but detached it from the other by giving no cast shadow, and left the shadow below to serve for thickness of breast, cutting it as sharp down as he possibly can, to make it bolder.

171. Here is a fine piece of business we have got into! even supposing that all this selection and adaptation were to be contrived under constant laws, and related only to the expression of given forms. But the Greek sculptor, all this while, is not only debating and deciding how to show what he wants, but, much more, debating and deciding what, as he can’t show everything, he will choose to show at all. Thus, being himself interested, and supposing that you will be, in the manner of the driving, he takes great pains to carve the reins, to show you where they are knotted, and how they are fastened round the driver’s waist, (you recollect how Hippolytus was lost by doing that); but he does not care the least bit about the chariot, and having rather more geometry than he likes in the cross and circle of one wheel of it, entirely omits the other!

172. I think you must see by this time that the sculptor’s is not quite a trade which you can teach like brickmaking; nor its produce an article of which you can supply any quantity ‘demanded’ for the next railroad waiting-room. It may perhaps, indeed, seem to you that, in the difficulties thus presented by it, bas-relief involves more direct exertion of intellect than finished solid sculpture. It is not so, however. The questions involved by bas-relief are of a more curious and amusing kind, requiring great variety of expedients; though none except such as a true workmanly instinct delights in inventing, and invents easily; but design in solid sculpture involves considerations of weight in mass, of balance, of perspective and opposition, in projecting forms, and of restraint for those which must not project, such as none but the greatest masters have ever completely solved; and they, not always; the difficulty of arranging the composition so as to be agreeable from points of view on all sides of it, being, itself, arduous enough.

173. Thus far, I have been speaking only of the laws of structure relating to the projection of the mass which becomes itself the sculpture. Another most interesting group of constructive laws governs its relation to the line that contains or defines it.

In your Standard Series I have placed a photograph of the south transept of Rouen Cathedral. Strictly speaking, all standards of Gothic are of the thirteenth century; but, in the fourteenth, certain qualities of richness are obtained by the diminution of restraint; out of which we must choose what is best in their kinds. The pedestals of the statues which once occupied the lateral recesses are, as you see, covered with groups of figures, inclosed each in a quatrefoil panel; the spaces between this panel and the inclosing square being filled with sculptures of animals.

You cannot anywhere find a more lovely piece of fancy, or more illustrative of the quantity of result, than may be obtained with low and simple chiseling. The figures are all perfectly simple in drapery, the story told by lines of action only in the main group, no accessories being admitted. There is no undercutting anywhere, nor exhibition of technical skill, but the fondest and tenderest appliance of it; and one of the principal charms of the whole is the adaptation of every subject to its quaint limit. The tale must be told within the four petals of the quatrefoil, and the wildest and playfulest beasts must never come out of their narrow corners. The attention with which spaces of this kind are filled by the Gothic designers is not merely a beautiful compliance with architectural requirements, but a definite assertion of their delight in the restraint of law; for, in illuminating books, although, if they chose it, they might have designed floral ornaments, as we now usually do, rambling loosely over the leaves, and although, in later works, such license is often taken by them, in all books of the fine time the wandering tendrils are inclosed by limits approximately rectilinear, and in gracefulest branching often detach themselves from the right line only by curvature of extreme severity.

174. Since the darkness and extent of shadow by which the sculpture is relieved necessarily vary with the depth of the recess, there arise a series of problems, in deciding which the wholesome desire for emphasis by means of shadow is too often exaggerated by the ambition of the sculptor to show his skill in undercutting. The extreme of vulgarity is usually reached when the entire bas-relief is cut hollow underneath, as in much Indian and Chinese work, so as to relieve its forms against an absolute darkness; but no formal law can ever be given; for exactly the same thing may be beautifully done for a wise purpose, by one person, which is basely done, and to no purpose, or to a bad one, by another. Thus, the desire for emphasis itself may be the craving of a deadened imagination, or the passion of a vigorous one; and relief against shadow may be sought by one man only for sensation, and by another for intelligibility. John of Pisa undercuts fiercely, in order to bring out the vigor of life which no level contour could render; the Lombardi of Venice undercut delicately, in order to obtain beautiful lines and edges of faultless precision; but the base Indian craftsmen undercut only that people may wonder how the chiseling was done through the holes, or that they may see every monster white against black.

175. Yet, here again we are met by another necessity for discrimination. There may be a true delight in the inlaying of white on dark, as there is a true delight in vigorous rounding. Nevertheless, the general law is always, that, the lighter the incisions, and the broader the surface, the grander, caeteris paribus, will be the work. Of the structural terms of that work you now know enough to understand that the schools of good sculpture, considered in relation to projection, divide themselves into four entirely distinct groups:

1st. Flat Relief, in which the surface is, in many places, absolutely flat; and the expression depends greatly on the lines of its outer contour, and on fine incisions within them.

2d. Round Relief, in which, as in the best coins, the sculptured mass projects so as to be capable of complete modulation into form, but is not anywhere undercut. The formation of a coin by the blow of a die necessitates, of course, the severest obedience to this law.

3d. Edged Relief. Undercutting admitted, so as to throw out the forms against a background of shadow.

4th. Full Relief. The statue completely solid in form, and unreduced in retreating depth of it, yet connected locally with some definite part of the building, so as to be still dependent on the shadow of its background and direction of protective line.

176. Let me recommend you at once to take what pains may be needful to enable you to distinguish these four kinds of sculpture, for the distinctions between them are not founded on mere differences in gradation of depth. They are truly four species, or orders, of sculpture, separated from each other by determined characters. I have used, you may have noted, hitherto in my Lectures, the word ‘bas-relief’ almost indiscriminately for all, because the degree of lowness or highness of relief is not the question, but the method of relief. Observe again, therefore

A. If a portion of the surface is absolutely flat, you have the first order Flat Relief.

B. If every portion of the surface is rounded, but none undercut, you have Round Relief essentially that of seals and coins.

C. If any part of the edges be undercut, but the general protection of solid form reduced, you have what I think you may conveniently call Foliate Relief, the parts of the design overlapping each other, in places, like edges of leaves.

D. If the undercutting is bold and deep, and the projection of solid form unreduced, you have Full Relief.

Learn these four names at once by heart:

Flat Relief.
Round Relief.
Foliate Relief.
Full Relief.

And whenever you look at any piece of sculpture, determine first to which of these classes it belongs; and then consider how the sculptor has treated it with reference to the necessary structure that reference, remember, being partly to the mechanical conditions of the material, partly to the means of light and shade at his command.

177. To take a single instance. You know, for these many years, I have been telling our architects, with all the force of voice I had in me, that they could design nothing until they could carve natural forms rightly. Many imagined that work was easy; but judge for yourselves whether it be or not. I have drawn, with approximate accuracy, a cluster of Phillyrea leaves as they grow, Now, if we wanted to cut them in bas-relief, the first thing we should have to consider would be the position of their outline on the marble; here it is, as far down as the spring of the leaves. But do you suppose that is what an ordinary sculptor could either lay for his first sketch, or contemplate as a limit to be worked down to? Then consider how the interlacing and springing of the leaves can be expressed within this outline. It must be done by leaving such projection in the marble as will take the light in the same proportion as the drawing does; and a Florentine workman could do it, for close sight, without driving one incision deeper, or raising a single surface higher, than the eighth of an inch. Indeed, no sculptor of the finest time would design such a complex cluster of leaves as this, except for bronze or iron work; they would take simpler contours for marble; but the laws of treatment would, under these conditions, remain just as strict: and you may, perhaps, believe me now when I tell you that, in any piece of fine structural sculpture by the great masters, there is more subtlety and noble obedience to lovely laws than could be explained to you if I took twenty lectures to do it in, instead of one.

178. There remains yet a point of mechanical treatment on which I have not yet touched at all; nor that the least important, namely, the actual method and style of handling. A great sculptor uses his tool exactly as a painter his pencil, and you may recognize the decision of his thought, and glow of his temper, no less in the workmanship than the design. The modern system of modeling the work in clay, getting it into form by machinery, and by the hands of subordinates, and touching it at last, if indeed the (so-called) sculptor touch it at all, only to correct their inefficiencies, renders the production of good work in marble a physical impossibility. The first result of it is that the sculptor thinks in clay instead of marble, and loses his instinctive sense of the proper treatment of a brittle substance. The second is that neither he nor the public recognize the touch of the chisel as expressive of personal feeling of power, and that nothing is looked for except mechanical polish.

179. The perfectly simple piece of Greek relief, will enable you to understand at once, examination of the original, at your leisure, will prevent you, I trust, from ever forgetting, what is meant by the virtue of handling in sculpture.

The projection of the heads of the four horses, one behind the other, is certainly not more, altogether, than three-quarters of an inch from the flat ground, and the one in front does not in reality project more than the one behind it, yet, by mere drawing, you see the sculptor has got them to appear to recede in due order, and by the soft rounding of the flesh surfaces, and modulation of the veins, he has taken away all look of flatness from the necks. He has drawn the eyes and nostrils with dark incision, careful as the finest touches of a painter’s pencil: and then, at last, when he comes to the manes, he has let fly hand and chisel with their full force; and where a base workman, (above all, if he had modeled the thing in clay first,) would have lost himself in laborious imitation of hair, the Greek has struck the tresses out with angular incisions, deep driven, every one in appointed place and deliberate curve, yet flowing so free under his noble hand that you cannot alter, without harm, the bending of any single ridge, nor contract, nor extend, a point of them. And if you will look back. You will see the difference between this sharp incision, used to express horse-hair, and the soft incision with intervening rounded ridge, used to express the hair of Apollo Chrysocomes; and, beneath, the obliquely ridged incision used to express the plumes of his swan; in both these cases the handling being much more slow, because the engraving is in metal; but the structural importance of incision, as the means of effect, never lost sight of. Finally, here are two actual examples of the work in marble of the two great schools of the world; one, a little Fortune, standing tiptoe on the globe of the Earth, its surface traced with lines in hexagons; not chaotic under Fortune’s feet; Greek, this, and by a trained workman; dug up in the temple of Neptune at Corfu; and here, a Florentine portrait-marble, found in the recent alterations, face downwards, under the pavement of Sta. Maria Novella; both of them first-rate of their kind; and both of them, while exquisitely finished at the telling points, showing, on all their unregarded surfaces, the rough furrow of the fast-driven chisel, as distinctly as the edge of a common paving-stone.

180. Let me suggest to you, in conclusion, one most interesting point of mental expression in these necessary aspects of finely executed sculpture. I have already again and again pressed on your attention the beginning of the arts of men in the make and use of the plowshare. Read more carefully you might indeed do well to learn at once by heart, the twenty-seven lines of the Fourth Pythian, which describe the plowing of Jason. There is nothing grander extant in human fancy, nor set down in human words: but this great mythical expression of the conquest of the earth-clay and brute-force by vital human energy, will become yet more interesting to you when you reflect what enchantment has been cut, on whiter clay, by the tracing of finer furrows; what the delicate and consummate arts of man have done by the plowing of marble, and granite, and iron. You will learn daily more and more, as you advance in actual practice, how the primary manual art of engraving, in the steadiness, clearness, and irrevocableness of it, is the best art-discipline that can be given either to mind or hand; you will recognize one law of right, pronouncing itself in the well-resolved work of every age; you will see the firmly traced and irrevocable incision determining, not only the forms, but, in great part, the moral temper, of all vitally progressive art; you will trace the same principle and power in the furrows which the oblique sun shows on the granite of his own Egyptian city, in the white scratch of the stylus through the color on a Greek vase in the first delineation, on the wet wall, of the groups of an Italian fresco; in the unerring and unalterable touch of the great engraver of Nuremberg, and in the deep-driven and deep-bitten ravines of metal by which Turner closed, in embossed limits, the shadows of the Liber Studiorum.

Learn, therefore, in its full extent, the force of the great Greek word; and give me pardon, if you think pardon needed, that I ask you also to learn the full meaning of the English word derived from it. Here, at the Ford of the Oxen of Jason, are other furrows to be driven than these in the marble of Pentelicus. The fruitfulest, or the fatalest, of all plowing is that by the thoughts of your youth, on the white field of its Imagination. For by these, either down to the disturbed spirit, “;” or around the quiet spirit, and on all the laws of conduct that hold it, as a fair vase its frankincense, are ordained the pure colors, and engraved the just characters, of AEonian life.