One hundred masterpieces of sculpture - PDF book by George Francis Hill

One hundred masterpieces of sculpture

Bust of maiden from the book
Bust of a maiden from the book


from the sixth century B. C. to the time of Michelangelo


This book is in the first and last place a picture- book. Such a confession ought perhaps to be enough. But lest anyone should still mistake the purpose of the Introduction, as by supposing that it claims to provide the newest information, or some¬ thing original in the way of criticism, or a history of the art, or a sermon on art and morals, it seems desirable to protest that it is meant to do none of these things. If it appears otherwise, that must be put down to the unskilfulness of the writer. 

It is merely a commentary intended to link together the various subjects and to state some of the obvious general principles which they illustrate. The reader who thinks it is scrappy and incoherent “ writing to the pictures ” has the writer’s consent and sympathy.

Each illustration is accompanied by brief text, with a reference back to the Introduction. If the text some¬ times repeats what has been said in the Introduction, it may be urged in excuse that few people are likely to read both. 

The selection begins with the sixth century before Christ and ends with Michelangelo. Why it stops then will probably be clear to such readers as wrestle with the introduction to the end. At least, I may say here, it is not because it is to be supposed that no works of the first rank were produced after Michelangelo. The word “ masterpieces ” is of course used in the loose sense, which allows the possibility of more than one to each artist. 

The number of plates has been limited to one hundred, so that subsidiary illustrations have been reluctantly ruled out. Where the material of the sculptures is not otherwise described, it must be understood to be marble. In the selection of Greek sculpture, we are some¬ times, by the perversity of fate which has destroyed the originals and preserved the copies, thrown back on the Roman copyist’s or adaptor’s renderings.

 Although for the specialist student of Greek sculpture nothing can be more pernicious than the practice of basing his studies on Roman copies, these copies are in themselves often so beautiful that in a book like this there is every excuse for including them, for lack of the Greek originals. From a book which had as its object the history of the technical development of sculpture, all but originals ought to be rigidly excluded. Too many friends who have assisted me in various ways in the preparation of the volume;

It is unnecessary, in a volume that does not profess to be historical, to apologize for ignor¬ ing the Oriental predecessors of Greek art. The whole of the work of western sculptors—eccentricities of no moment excepted—is based on the art of the Greeks. How much the Greeks owed to the East is another question; this much concern us, and is certain, that what they owed to it is not what made their work the canon of the beautiful in pure form. 

Yet it is not in Greece proper, not in cities like Athens, Corinth, Argos, which were in after days famous for their schools of sculpture, that the art first shows signs of emancipation from primitive helplessness. Intellectually as well as physically a race very often begins to develop in hitherto unsuspected directions where it comes into contact with other races. 

On the border, then, between East and West, on the Ionian coast of Asia Minor, there flourished in the seventh and sixth centuries a civilization of a marked type, distinguished by elegance and refinement rather than by robustness, by melancholy and fire or passion rather than by reserved strength. Emotional poets like Mimnermus, Sappho, Alcaeus, Anacreon, compared with the masculine, sturdy, and unimaginative Tyrtaeus or Solon or Theognis, give the key to the understanding of the Ionian mind. In the Ionian sculpture of the latter half of the sixth century, a delicate sense of beauty is plainly visible to the educated eye. 

By the educated eye must be understood the eye which instinctively makes allowances for the undue stress which the primitive artist lays on certain aspects, rather than others, of his subject, and for his consequent failure to reconstruct it as an organic whole. It is this lack of organic grasp which, since the hand is the servant of the mind, is the cause of what we call the misleading name of the undeveloped or inefficient technique. 

The Ionian art—to return—is a little languid and melancholy; for in sculpture, at so early a period, the more tranquil and not the more violent emotions find expression. In no relief, of whatever degree of technical achievement, is there more sense of the aesthetic value of tranquil movement, of graceful figures in procession combined and contrasted with others in dignified rest, than in the slab from the “Harpy Monument” 

 The sculptor may have no idea of anatomy, of the manner in which hands are joined to arms, or of how drapery hangs on a figure; but these things will come in time, even if it is not he, the Ionian or pupil of an Ionian, working for the Lycian prince in remote Xanthus, who will learn them, but someone who transfers the gentle Ionian grace to the keen air of Attica. 

But nevertheless, he realizes, with Bacon, that in “ decent and gracious motion ” is the principal part of beauty; and of the full-blooded forms of women, of the delights of soft raiment and sweet perfume he is able to tell us something. That is not a great message, nor the message of art that has a great future before it. But this Ionian element of graceful luxury, of afipoTri$, carried across the Aegean and united, in the stimulating Attic atmosphere, with the sterner Dorian character, was never quite lost. 

We see it in the charts of the early Attic statues of women; later it reveals itself in little touches in the maidens of the procession on the Parthenon frieze (PI. 16), or in the studied refinement of the reliefs on the balustrade of the Temple of the Wingless Victory (PI. 23); and in the fourth century, it triumphs in the more than half feminine type of the Praxitelean Apollo.

the book details :
  • Author: George Francis Hill
  • Publication date:1909
  • Company: London, Methuen & Co

  • Download One hundred masterpieces of sculpture - 21 MB with illustrations 
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