- Part I - Physiological Colours
- I. Effects of Light and Darkness on the Eye
- II. Effects of Black and White Objects on the Eye
- III. Grey Surfaces and Objects
- IV. Dazzling Colourless Objects
- V. Coloured Objects
- VI. Coloured Shadows
- VII. Faint Lights
- VIII. Subjective Halos
- Appendix: Pathological Colours
- Goethe's Footnotes
- Eastlake's Footnotes
- Seabeck's Footnotes
- TheoryOfColor.org's Footnotes
Part I - Physiological Colours
I. Effects of Light and Darkness on the Eye
The fact that the eye is not susceptible to faint impressions of light, if we pass from light to comparative darkness, has led to curious mistakes in scientific observations. Thus an observer, whose eyes required some time to recover their tone, was long under the impression that rotten wood did not emit light at noon-day, even in a dark room. The fact was, he did not see the faint light, because he was in the habit of passing from bright sunshine to the dark room, and only subsequently remained so long there that the eye had time to recover itself.
If we pass from a totally dark place to one illumined by the sun, we are dazzled. In coming from a lesser degree of darkness to light that is not dazzling, we perceive all objects clearer and better: hence eyes that have been in a state of repose are in all cases better able to perceive moderately distinct appearances.Prisoners who have been long confined in darkness acquire so great a susceptibility of the retina, that even in the dark (probably a darkness very slightly illumined) they can still distinguish objects.
II. Effects of Black and White Objects on the Eye
Black, as the equivalent of darkness, leaves the organ in a state of repose; white, as the representative of light, excites it. We may, perhaps, conclude from the above experiment 16 that the unexcited retina, if left to itself, is drawn together, and occupies a less space than in its active state, produced by the excitement of light.
Hence Kepler says very beautifully:
Certum est vel in retinâ caussâ picturæ, vel in spiritibus caussâ impressionis, exsistere dilatationem lucidorum.—Paralip. in Vitellionem, p. 220. Scherfer expresses a similar conjecture.a
The scientific men who made observations in the Cordilleras saw a bright appearance round the shadows of their heads on some clouds. This example is a case in point; for, while they fixed their eyes on the dark shadow, and at the same time moved from the spot, the compensatory light image appeared to float round the real dark one. If we look at a black disk on a light grey surface, we shall presently, by changing the direction of the eyes in the slightest degree, see a bright halo floating round the dark circle.
A similar circumstance happened to myself: for while, as I sat in the open air, I was talking to a man who stood at a little distance from me relieved on a grey sky, it appeared to me, as I slightly altered the direction of my eyes, after having for some time looked fixedly at him, that his head was encircled with a dazzling light.
In the same way probably might be explained the circumstance that persons crossing dewy meadows at sunrise see a brightness round each other’s heads;4 the brightness in this case may be also iridescent, as the phenomena of refraction come into the account.
Thus again it has been asserted that the shadows of a balloon thrown on clouds were bordered with bright and somewhat variegated circles.
Beccaria made use of a paper kite in some experiments on electricity. Round this kite appeared a small shining cloud varying in size; the same brightness was even observed round part of the string. Sometimes it disappeared, and if the kite moved faster the light appeared to float to and fro for a few moments on the place before occupied. This appearance, which could not be explained by those who observed it at the time, was the image which the eye retained of the kite relieved as a dark mass on a bright sky; that image being changed into a light mass on a comparatively dark background.In optical and especially in chromatic experiments, where the observer has to do with bright lights whether colourless or coloured, great care should be taken that the spectrum which the eye retains in consequence of a previous observation does not mix with the succeeding one, and thus affect the distinctness and purity of the impression.
III. Grey Surfaces and Objects
IV. Dazzling Colourless Objects
Let a room be made as dark as possible; let there be a circular opening in the window shutter about three inches in diameter, which may be closed or not at pleasure. The sun being suffered to shine through this on a white surface, let the spectator from some little distance fix his eyes on the bright circle thus admitted. The hole being then closed, let him look towards the darkest part of the room; a circular image will now be seen to float before him. The middle of this circle will appear bright, colourless, or somewhat yellow, but the border will at the same moment appear red.After a time this red, increasing towards the centre, covers the whole circle, and at last the bright central point. No sooner, however, is the whole circle red than the edge begins to be blue, and the blue gradually encroaches inwards on the red. When the whole is blue the edge becomes dark and colourless. This darker edge again slowly encroaches on the blue till the whole circle appears colourless. The image then becomes gradually fainter, and at the same time diminishes in size. Here again we see how the retina recovers itself by a succession of vibrations after the powerful external impression it received. 25 26
By several repetitions similar in result, I found the comparative duration of these appearances in my own case to be as follows:—
I looked on the bright circle five seconds, and then, having closed the aperture, saw the coloured visionary circle floating before me. After thirteen seconds it was altogether red; twenty-nine seconds next elapsed till the whole was blue, and forty-eight seconds till it appeared colourless. By shutting and opening the eye I constantly revived the image 27, so that it did not quite disappear till seven minutes had elapsed.Future observers may find these periods shorter or longer as their eyes may be stronger or weaker 23, but it would be very remarkable if, notwithstanding such variations, a corresponding proportion as to relative duration should be found to exist.
But this remarkable phenomenon no sooner excites our attention than we observe a new modification of it.If we receive the impression of the bright circle as before, and then look on a light grey surface in a moderately lighted room, an image again floats before us; but in this instance a dark one: by degrees it is encircled by a green border that gradually spreads inwards over the whole circle, as the red did in the former instance. As soon as this has taken place a dingy yellow appears, and, filling the space as the blue did before, is finally lost in a negative shade.
V. Coloured Objects
A phenomenon which has before excited attention among the observers of nature is to be attributed, I am persuaded, to the same cause.
It has been stated that certain flowers, towards evening in summer, coruscate, become phosphorescent, or emit a momentary light. Some persons have described their observation of this minutely. I had often endeavoured to witness it myself, and had even resorted to artificial contrivances to produce it.
On the 19th of June, 1799, late in the evening, when the twilight was deepening into a clear night, as I was walking up and down the garden with a friend, we very distinctly observed a flame-like appearance near the oriental poppy, the flowers of which are remarkable for their powerful red colour. We approached the place and looked attentively at the flowers, but could perceive nothing further, till at last, by passing and repassing repeatedly, while we looked sideways on them, we succeeded in renewing the appearance as often as we pleased. It proved to be a physiological phenomenon, such as others we have described, and the apparent coruscation was nothing but the spectrum of the flower in the compensatory blue-green colour.
In looking directly at a flower the image is not produced, but it appears immediately as the direction of the eye is altered. Again, by looking sideways on the object, a double image is seen for a moment, for the spectrum then appears near and on the real object.The twilight accounts for the eye being in a perfect state of repose, and thus very susceptible, and the colour of the poppy is sufficiently powerful in the summer twilight of the longest days to act with full effect and produce a compensatory image. I have no doubt these appearances might be reduced to experiment, and the same effect produced by pieces of coloured paper. Those who wish to take the most effectual means for observing the appearance in nature—suppose in a garden—should fix the eyes on the bright flowers selected for the purpose, and, immediately after, look on the gravel path. This will be seen studded with spots of the opposite colour. The experiment is practicable on a cloudy day, and even in the brightest sunshine, for the sun-light, by enhancing the brilliancy of the flower, renders it fit to produce the compensatory colour sufficiently distinct to be perceptible even in a bright light. Thus, peonies produce beautiful green, marigolds vivid blue spectra.
VI. Coloured Shadows
De Saussure, in the description of his ascent of Mont Blanc, says:
A second remark, which may not be uninteresting, relates to the colour of the shadows. These, notwithstanding the most attentive observation, we never found dark blue, although this had been frequently the case in the plain. On the contrary, in fifty-nine instances we saw them once yellowish, six times pale bluish, eighteen times colourless or black, and thirty-four times pale violet. Some natural philosophers suppose that these colours arise from accidental vapours diffused in the air, which communicate their own hues to the shadows; not that the colours of the shadows are occasioned by the reflection of any given sky colour or interposition of any given air colour: the above observations seem to favour this opinion.
The instances given by De Saussure may be now explained and classed with analogous examples without difficulty.At a great elevation the sky was generally free from vapours, the sun shone in full force on the snow, so that it appeared perfectly white to the eye: in this case they saw the shadows quite colourless. If the air was charged with a certain degree of vapour, in consequence of which the light snow would assume a yellowish tone, the shadows were violet-coloured, and this effect, it appears, occurred oftenest. They saw also bluish shadows, but this happened less frequently; and that the blue and violet were pale was owing to the surrounding brightness, by which the strength of the shadows was mitigated. Once only they saw the shadow yellowish: in this case, as we have already seen 70, the shadow is cast by a colourless light, and slightly illumined by a coloured one.
In travelling over the Harz in winter, I happened to descend from the Brocken towards evening; the wide slopes extending above and below me, the heath, every insulated tree and projecting rock, and all masses of both, were covered with snow or hoar-frost. The sun was sinking towards the Oder ponds37 . During the day, owing to the yellowish hue of the snow, shadows tending to violet had already been observable; these might now be pronounced to be decidedly blue, as the illumined parts exhibited a yellow deepening to orange.But as the sun at last was about to set, and its rays, greatly mitigated by the thicker vapours, began to diffuse a most beautiful red colour over the whole scene around me, the shadow colour changed to a green, in lightness to be compared to a sea-green, in beauty to the green of the emerald. The appearance became more and more vivid: one might have imagined oneself in a fairy world, for every object had clothed itself in the two vivid and so beautifully harmonising colours, till at last, as the sun went down, the magnificent spectacle was lost in a grey twilight, and by degrees in a clear moon-and-starlight night.
Another very interesting experiment may conclude these examples. If we take a piece of green glass of some thickness, and hold it so that the window bars be reflected in it, they will appear double owing to the thickness of the glass. The image which is reflected from the under surface of the glass will be green; the image which is reflected from the upper surface, and which should be colourless, will appear red.The experiment may be very satisfactorily made by pouring water into a vessel, the inner surface of which can act as a mirror; for both reflections may first be seen colourless while the water is pure, and then by tinging it, they will exhibit two opposite hues.
VII. Faint Lights
VIII. Subjective Halos
Appendix: Pathological Colours
In conclusion we may, however, at once advert to some peculiar states or dispositions of the organ.There are painters who, instead of rendering the colours of nature, diffuse a general tone, a warm or cold hue, over the picture. In some, again, a predilection for certain colours displays itself; in others a want of feeling for harmony.
Every treatise on the harmonious combination of colours contains the diagram of the chromatic circle more or less elaborately constructed. These diagrams, if intended to exhibit the contrasts produced by the action and re-action of the retina, have one common defect. The opposite colours are made equal in intensity; whereas the complements! colour pictured on the retina is always less vivid, and always darker or lighter than the original colour. This variety undoubtedly accords more with harmonious effects in painting.
The opposition of two pure hues of equal intensity, differing only in the abstract quality of colour, would immediately be pronounced crude and inharmonious. It would not, however, be strictly correct to say that such a contrast is too violent; on the contrary, it appears the contrast is not carried far enough, for though differing in colour, the two hues may be exactly similar in purity and intensity. Complete contrast, on the other hand, supposes dissimilarity in all respects.
In addition to the mere difference of hue, the eye, it seems, requires difference in the lightness or darkness of the hue. The spectrum of a colour relieved as a dark on a light ground, is a light colour on a dark ground, and vice versâ. Thus, if we look at a bright red wafer on the whitest surface, the complemental image will be still lighter than the white surface; if the same wafer is placed on a black surface, the complemental image will be still darker. The colour of both these spectra may be called greenish, but it is evident that a colour must be scarcely appreciable as such, if it is lighter than white and darker than black. It is, however, to be remarked, that the white surface round the light greenish image seems tinged with a reddish hue, and the black surface round the dark image becomes slightly illuminated with the same colour, thus in both cases assisting to render the image apparent 58.
The difficulty or impossibility of describing degrees of colour in words, has also had a tendency to mislead, by conveying the idea of more positive hues than the physiological contrast warrants. Thus, supposing scarlet to be relieved as a dark, the complemental colour is so light in degree and so faint in colour, that it should be called a pearly grey; whereas the theorists, looking at the quality of colour abstractedly, would call it a green-blue, and the diagram would falsely present such a hue equal in intensity to scarlet, or as nearly equal as possible.
Even the difference of mass which good taste requires may be suggested by the physiological phenomena, for unless the complemental image is suffered to fall on a surface precisely as near to the eye as that on which the original colour was displayed, it appears larger or smaller than the original object 22, and this in a rapidly increasing proportion. Lastly, the shape itself soon becomes changed 26.
That vivid colour demands the comparative absence of colour, either on a lighter or darker scale, as its contrast, may be inferred again from the fact that bright colourless objects produce strongly coloured spectra. In darkness, the spectrum which is first white, or nearly white, is followed by red: in light, the spectrum which is first black, is followed by green 39 40 41 42 43 44. All colour, as the author observes 259, is to be considered as half-light, inasmuch as it is in every case lighter than black and darker than white. Hence no contrast of colour with colour, or even of colour with black or white, can be so great (as regards lightness or darkness) as the contrast of black and white, or light and dark abstractedly. This distinction between the differences of degree and the differences of kind is important, since a just application of contrast in colour may be counteracted by an undue difference in lightness or darkness. The mere contrast of colour is happily employed in some of Guido's lighter pictures, but if intense darks had been opposed to his delicate carnations, their comparative whiteness would have been unpleasantly apparent. On the other hand, the flesh colour in Giorgione, Sebastian del Piombo (his best imitator), and Titian, was sometimes so extremely glowing6 that the deepest colours, and black, were indispensable accompaniments. The manner of Titian as distinguished from his imitation of Giorgione, is golden rather than fiery, and his biographers are quite correct in saying that he was fond of opposing red (lake) and blue to his flesh,7 The correspondence of these contrasts with the physiological phenomena will be immediately apparent, while the occasional practice of Rubens in opposing bright red to a still cooler flesh-colour, will be seen to be equally consistent.
The effect of white drapery (the comparative absence of colour) in enhancing the glow of Titian's flesh-colour, has been frequently pointed out:8 the shadows of white thus opposed to flesh, often present, again, the physiological contrast, however delicately, according to the hue of the carnation. The lights, on the other hand, are not, and probably never were, quite white, but from the first, partook of the quality of depth, a quality assumed by the colourists to pervade every part of a picture more or less.9
It was before observed that the description of colours in words may often convey ideas of too positive a nature, and it may be remarked generally that the colours employed by the great masters are, in their ultimate effect, more or less subdued or broken. The physiological contrasts are, however, still applicable in the most comparatively neutral scale. Again, the works of the colourists show that these oppositions are not confined to large masses (except perhaps in works to be seen only at a great distance); on the contrary, they are more or less apparent in every part, and when at last the direct and intentional operations of the artist may have been insufficient to produce them in their minuter degrees, the accidental results of glazing and other methods may be said to extend the contrasts to infinity. In such productions where every smallest portion is an epitome of the whole, the eye still appreciates the fascinating effect of contrast, and the work is pronounced to be true and complete, in the best sense of the words.
The Venetian method of scumbling and glazing exhibits these minuter contrasts within each other, and is thus generally considered more refined than the system of breaking the colours, since it ensures a fuller gradation of hues, and produces another class of contrasts, those, namely, which result from degrees of transparence and opacity. In some of the Flemish and Dutch masters, and sometimes in Reynolds, the two methods are combined in great perfection.
The chromatic diagram does not appear to be older than the last century. It is one of those happy adaptations of exacter principles to the objects of taste which might have been expected from Leonardo da Vinci. That its true principle was duly felt is abundantly evident from the works of the colourists, as well as from the general observations of early writers.I The more practical directions occasionally to be met with in the treatises of Leon Battista Alberti, Leonardo da Vinci and others, are conformable to the same system. Some Italian works, not written by painters, which pretend to describe this harmony, are, however, very imperfect.II A passage in Lodovico Dolce’s Dialogue on Colours is perhaps the only one worth quoting. "He," says that writer,
who wishes to combine colours that are agreeable to the eye, will put grey next dusky orange; yellow-green next rose-colour; blue next orange; dark purple, black, next dark-green; white next black, and white next flesh-colour.III early
The Dialogue on Painting, by the same author, has the reputation of containing some of Titian’s precepts: if the above passage may be traced to the same source, it must be confessed that it is almost the only one of the kind in the treatise from which it is taken.
Two great authorities, divided by more than three centuries, Leon Battista Alberti and Reynolds, have recommended this subdued treatment of white. "It is to be remembered," says the first,
that no surface should be made so white that it cannot be made more so. In white dresses again, it is necessary to stop far short of the last degree of whiteness. —Delta Pittwa, 1. ii., compare with Reynolds, vol. i. die. 8.
In some of these cases there can be no doubt that Goethe attributes the contrast too exclusively to the physiological cause, without making sufficient allowance for the actual difference in the colour of the lights. The purely physical nature of some coloured shadows was pointed out by Pohlmann; and Dr. Eckermann took some pains to convince Goethe of the necessity of making such a distinction. Goethe at first adhered to his extreme view, but some time afterwards confessed to Dr. Eckermann, that in the case of the blue shadows of snow 74, the reflection of the sky was undoubtedly to be taken into the account. "Both causes may, however, operate together," he observed, "and the contrast which a warm yellow light demands may heighten the effect of the blue." This was all his opponent contended.11 With a few such exceptions, the general theory of Goethe with regard to coloured shadows is undoubtedly correct; the experiments with two candles 68, and with coloured glass and fluids 80, as well as the observations on the shadows of snow 75, are conclusive, for in all these cases only one light is actually changed in colour, while the other still assumes the complemental hue. "Coloured shadows," Dr. J. Müller observes, "are usually ascribed to the physiological influence of contrast; the complementary colour presented by the shadow being regarded as the effect of internal causes acting on that part of the retina, and not of the impression of coloured rays from without. This explanation is the one adopted by Rumford, Goethe, Grotthuss, Brandes, Tourtual, Pohlmann, and most authors who have studied the subject.”12 In the Historical Part the author gives an account of a scarce French work, "Observations sur les Ombres Colorées," Paris, 1782. The writer13 concludes that "the colour of shadows is as much owing to the light that causes them as to that which (more faintly) illumines them."
In order to see the general proposition in its true point of view, it will be necessary to forget the arbitrary distinctions of light and shade, and to consider all such modifications between highest brightness and absolute darkness only as so many lesser degrees of light.15 The author, indeed, by the word shadow, always understands a lesser light.
The received notion, as stated by Du Fresnoy,16 is much too positive and unconditional, and is only true when we understand the "displaying" light to comprehend certain degrees of half or reflected light, and the "destroying" shade to mean the intensest degree of obscurity.
There are degrees of brightness which destroy colour as well as degrees of darkness.17 In general, colour resides in a mitigated light, but a very little observation shows us that different colours require different degrees of light to display them. Leonardo da Vinci frequently inculcates the general principle above alluded to, but he as frequently qualifies it; for he not only remarks that the highest light may be comparative privation of colour, but observes, with great truth, that some hues are best displayed in their fully illumined parts, some in their reflections, and some in their halflights; and again, that every colour is most beautiful when lit by reflections from its own surface, or from a hue similar to its own.18
The Venetians went further than Leonardo in this view and practice; and he seems to allude to them when he criticises certain painters, who, in aiming at clearness and fulness of colour, neglected what, in his eyes, was of superior importance, namely, gradation and force of chiaroscuro.19
That increase of colour supposes increase of darkness, as so often stated by Goethe, may be granted without difficulty. To what extent, on the other hand, increase of darkness, or rather diminution of light, is accompanied by increase of colour, is a question which has been variously answered by various schools. Examples of the total negation of the principle are not wanting, nor are they confined to the infancy of the art. Instances, again, of the opposite tendency are frequent in Venetian and early Flemish pictures resembling the augmenting richness of gems or of stained glass20 indeed, it is not impossible that the increase of colour in shade, which is so remarkable in the pictures alluded to, may have been originally suggested by the rich and fascinating effect of stained glass; and the Venetians, in this as in many other respects, may have improved on a hint borrowed from the early German painters, many of whom painted on glass.21
At all events, the principle of still increasing in colour in certain hues seems to have been adopted in Flanders and in Venice at an early period;22 while Giorgione, in carrying the style to the most daring extent, still recommended it by corresponding grandeur of treatment in other respects.
The same general tendency, except that the technical methods are less transparent, is, however, very striking in some of the painters of the school of Umbria, the instructors or early companions of Raphael.23 The influence of these examples, as well as that of Fra Bartolommeo, in Florence, is distinctly to be traced in the works of the great artist just named, but neither is so marked as the effect of his emulation of a Venetian painter at a later period. The glowing colour, sometimes bordering on exaggeration, which Raphael adopted in Rome, is undoubtedly to be attributed to the rivalry of Sebastian del Piombo. This painter, the best of Giorgione’s imitators, arrived in Rome, invited by Agostini Chigi, in 1511, and the most powerful of Raphael’s frescoes, the Heliodorus and Mass of Bolsena, as well as some portraits in the same style, were painted in the two following years. In the hands of some of Raphaels scholars, again, this extreme warmth was occasionally carried to excess, particularly by Pierino del Vaga, with whom it often degenerated into redness. The representative of the glowing manner in Florence was Fra Bartolommeo, and, in the same quality, considered abstractedly, some painters of the school of Ferrara were second to none.
In another Note (par. 177) some further considerations are offered, which may partly explain the prevalence of this style in the beginning of the sixteenth century; here we merely add, that the conditions under which the appearance itself is most apparent in nature are perhaps more obvious in Venice than elsewhere. The colour of general nature may be observed in all places with almost equal convenience, but with regard to an important quality in living nature, namely, the colour of flesh, perhaps there are no circumstances in which its effects at different distances can be so conveniently compared as when the observer and the observed gradually approach and glide past each other on so smooth an element and in so undisturbed a manner as on the canals and in the gondolas of Venice;24 the complexions, from the peculiar mellow carnations of the Italian women to the sun-burnt features and limbs of the mariners, presenting at the same time the fullest variety in another sense.
At a certain distance—the colour being always assumed to be unimpaired by interposed atmosphere—the reflections appear kindled to intenser warmth; the fiery glow of Giorgione is strikingly apparent; the colour is seen in its largest relation; the macchia25 , an expression so emphatically used by Italian writers, appears in all its quantity, and the reflections being the focus of warmth, the hue seems to deepen in shade.
A nearer view gives the detail of cooler tints more perceptibly,26 and the forms are at the same time more distinct. Hence Lanzi is quite correct when, in distinguishing the style of Titian from that of Giorgione, he says that Titian’s was at once more defined and less fiery.27 In a still nearer observation the eye detects the minute lights which Leonardo da Vinci says are incompatible with effects such as those we have described,28 and which, accordingly, we never find in Giorgione and Titian. This large impression of colour, which seems to require the condition of comparative distance for its full effect, was most fitly employed by the same great artists in works painted in the open air or for large altar-pieces. Their celebrated frescoes on the exterior of the Fondaco de’ Tedeschi at Venice, to judge from their faint remains and the descriptions of earlier writers, were remarkable for extreme warmth in the shadows. The old frescoes in the open air throughout Friuli have often the same character, and, owing to the fulness of effect which this treatment ensures, are conspicuous at a very great distance.29
In assuming that the Venetian painters may have acquired a taste for this breadth30 of colour under the circumstances above alluded to, it is moreover to be remembered that the time for this agreeable study was the evening; when the sun had already set behind the hills of Bassano; when the light was glowing but diffused; when shadows were soft—conditions all agreeing with the character of their colouring:31 above all, when the hour invited the fairer portion of the population to betake themselves in their gondolas to the lagunes. The scene of this "promenade" was to the north of Venice, the quarter in which Titian at one time lived. A letter exists written by Francesco Priscianese, giving an account of his supping with the great painter in company with Jacopo Nardi, Pietro Aretino, the sculptor Sansovino, and others. The writer speaks of the beauty of the garden, where the table was prepared, looking over the lagunes towards Murano, "which part of the sea," he continues, "as soon as the sun was down, was covered with a thousand gondolas, graced with beautiful women, and enlivened by the harmony of voices and instruments, which lasted till midnight, forming a pleasing accompaniment to our cheerful repast."32
To return to Goethe: perhaps the foregoing remarks may warrant the conclusion that his idea of colour in shadow is not irreconcileable with the occasional practice of the best painters. The highest examples of the style thus defined are, or were, to be found in the works of Giorgione33 and Titian, and hence the style itself, though "within that circle" few "dare walk" is to be considered the grandest and most perfect. Its possible defects or abuse are not to be dissembled: in addition to the danger of exaggeration34 it is seldom united with the plenitude of light and shade, or with roundness; yet, where fine examples of both modes of treatment may be compared, the charm of colour has perhaps the advantage.V The difficulty of uniting qualities so different in their nature, is proved by the very rare instances in which it has been accomplished. Tintoret in endeavouring to add chiaro-scuro to Venetian colour, in almost every instance fell short of the glowing richness of Titian.35 Giacomo Bassan and his imitators, even in their dark effects, still had the principle of the gem in view: their light, in certain hues, is the minimum of colour, their lower tones are rich, their darks intense, and all is sparkling.36 Of the great painters who, beginning, on the other hand, with chiaroscuro, sought to combine with it the full richness of colour, Correggio, in the opinion of many, approached perfection nearest; but we may perhaps conclude with greater justice that the desired excellence was more completely attained by Rembrandt than by any of the Italians.
N. B. The same edition before described has been consulted throughout.
Lux varium vivumque dabit, nullum umbra colorem.
Know first that light displays and shade destroys Refulgent nature’s variegated dies.Mason's Translation
Andrea di Luigi, called L’Ingegno, and Niccolo di Fuligno, are cited as the most prominent examples. See Rumohr, "Italienische Forschungen." Perugino himself occasionally adopted a very glowing colour.
The early Italian schools which adhered most to the Byzantine types appear to have been also the most remarkable for depth, or rather darkness, of colour. This fidelity to customary representation was sometimes, as in the schools of Umbria, and to a certain extent in those of Siena and Bologna, the result of a religious veneration for the ancient examples; in others, as in Venice, the circumstance of frequent intercourse with the Levant is also to be taken into the account. The Greek pictures of the Madonna, not to mention other representations, were extremely dark, in exaggerated conformity, it is supposed, with the tradition respecting her real complexion (see D’Agincourt, vol. iv. p. 1); a belief which obtained so late as Lomasso’s time, for, speaking of the Madonna, he observes, “Leggesi perd che fu alquanto bruna." Giotto, who with the independence of genius betrayed a certain contempt for these traditions, failed perhaps to unite improvement with novelty when he substituted a pale white flesh-colour for the traditional brown. Some specimens of his works, still existing at Padua, present a remarkable contrast in this respect with the earliest productions of the Venetian and Paduan artists. His works at Florence differ as widely from those of the earlier painters of Tuscany. This peculiarity was inherited by his imitators, and at one time almost characterised the Florentine school. Leon Battista Alberti was not perhaps the first who objected to it (" Vorrei io che dai pittori fosse comperato il color bianco assai pifi caro che le preziosissime gemme."—Della Pittura, 1. ii.) The attachment of Fra Bartolommeo to the grave character of the Christian types is exemplified in his deep colouring, as well as in other respects.
"Mono sfumato, men focoso." — Storia Pitt orient
Christophori Sancti speciem quicumque tuetur, Illo namque die nullo languors tenetur.
Hence the practice of painting the figure on the outside of churches, hence its colossal size, and hence the powerful qualities in colour above described. See Maniago, "Storia delle Belle Arti Friulane."
Teneano essi (alcuni maestri) per cosa certa, che in molte opere Tiziano volesse fingere il lume—quale si vede nell’ inclinarsi del sole verso la sera. Oli orizzonti assai luminosi dietro le montagne, le ombre incerte e pifl le carnagioni brunette e roaseggianti delle figure, gl’induceano a creder questo.— Lib. ii.Leonardo da Vinci observes,
Quel corpo che si troveri in mediocre lume fia in lui poca differenza da' lumi all’ ombre. E questo accade sul far della sera—e queste opere sono dolci ed hacci grazia ogni quality di volto," etc.—p. 336.Elsewhere, "Le ombre fatte dal sole od altri lumi particolari sono senza grazia." —p. 357; see also p. 247.
Zanetti and Lodovico Dolce mention Lorenzo Lotto as an instance of the excess of Giorgione’s style. Titian himself sometimes overstepped the mark, as his biographers confess, and as appears, among other instances, from the head of St. Peter in the picture (now in the Vatican) in which the celebrated St. Sebastian is introduced. Raphael was criticised by some cardinals for a similar defect. See "Castiglione, II Cortigiano," 1. ii.
In the same paragraph to which the present observations refer, the authority of Kircher is quoted; his treatise, "Ars magna lucis et umbrae,” was published in Rome in 1646. In a portrait of Nicholas Poussin, engraved by Clouet, the painter is represented holding a book, which, from the title and the circumstance of Poussin having lived in Rome in Kircher’s time, Goethe supposes to be the work in question. The abuse of the principle above alluded to, is perhaps exemplified in the red half-tints observable in some of Poussin’s figures.
The augmentation of colour in subdued light was still more directly taught by Lomaxzo. He composes the half-tints of flesh merely by diminishing the quantity of white, the proportions of the other colours employed (for he enters into minute details) remaining unaltered. See his " Trattato della arte della Pittura," Milan, 1584, p. 301.
The author, in these instances, seems to be anticipating his subsequent explanations on the effect of semi-transparent mediums. For an explanation of the general view contained in these paragraphs respecting the gradual increase of colour from high light, see the [note to 69 - sup.]
The anonymous French work before alluded to, among other interesting examples, contains a chapter on shadows cast by the upper light of the sky and coloured by the setting sun. The effect of this remarkable combination is, that the light on a wall is most coloured immediately under a projecting roof, and becomes comparatively neutralised in proportion to its distance from the edge of the darkest shade.
The simplest case of the phenomenon, which Goethe calls a subjective halo, and one which at once explains its cause, is the following. Regard a red wafer on a sheet of white paper, keeping the eye stedfastly fixed on a point at its center. When the retina is fatigued, withdraw the head a little from the paper, and a green halo will appear to surround the wafer. By this slight increase of distance the image of the wafer itself on the retina becomes smaller, and the ocular spectrum which before coincided with the direct image, being now relatively larger, is seen as a surrounding ring.—S. F.Goethe mentions cases of this kind, but does not class them with subjective halos. 30
Leonardo da Vinci observes that "a light object relieved on a dark ground appears magnified;" and again:
Objects seen at a distance appear out of proportion; this is because the light parts transmit their rays to the eye more powerfully than the dark. A woman's white head-dress once appeared to me much wider than her shoulders, owing to their being dressed in black.2
It is now generally admitted that the excitation produced by light is propagated on the retina a little beyond the outline of the image. Professor Plateau, of Ghent, has devoted a very interesting special memoir to the description and explanation of phenomena of this nature. See his 'Mémoire sur l'Irradiation,' published in the 11th vol. of the Transactions of the Royal Academy of Sciences at Brussels.3
The second of these examples is more curious and far more confirmatory of his truth. After those half delirious experiences in the dungeon of S. Angelo, when he saw visions and thought that angels ministered to his sick body, he fancied himself under God's special guidance. As a sign of this peculiar grace, he relates the following circumstance:
Since that time till now an aureole of glory (marvellous to relate) has rested on my head. This is visible to every sort of men to whom I have chosen to point it out; but these have been very few. This halo can be observed above my shadow in the morning, from the rising of the sun for about two hours, and far better when the grass is drenched with dew. It is also visible at evening about sunset. I became aware of it in France, at Paris; for the air in those countries is so much freer from mist that one can see it there far better manifested than in Italy, mists being far more frequent among us. However, I am always able to see it, and to show it to others, but not so well as in the country I have mentioned.
Critics have taken for granted that this is a mere piece of audacious mendacity meant to glorify himself, whereas it is really the record of a very accurate but misinterpreted observation. Any one who walks abroad in grassy places when the light is low, as at sunrise or at sunset, can satisfy himself that his shadow cast on dewy sward is surrounded with a rim of glory like a lunar rainbow. But if he goes with companions, he will not see their shadows encircled with the same light, because his own body is the point which focusses the diffused rays.ε He, therefore, might well imagine that the aureole is given to himself alone; and, in order to exhibit it, he must make his comrade take a place behind him, where the halo becomes at once visible to both. Long before I attended to the above passage in Cellini, I noticed this phenomenon, and pointed it out to friends, finding that some of them were too deficient in powers of observation to perceive it, while others at once recognised the singular and beautiful effect. What makes the example interesting for the light it casts on Cellini's habit of mind is that he starts by saying the aureole surrounds his head, and then very ingenuously proceeds to tell us that it only surrounds the shadow of his head at certain times and in certain places. Those times and places are just what the experience of one who has observed the same phenomenon would lead him to expect. Again, he sets up a false theory to explain why he could see it better in France than in Italy. It is not that there is more mist in the latter than the former country, but that low-lying humidity of atmosphere and heavy dews on deep grass are favourable to the production of the appearance, and these conditions may be met with more frequently in a country like France than in the provinces of Middle Italy. It was upon the Alpine meadows, where I am now writing, at the season of early autumn frosts, that I first noticed it; and I can predict with some confidence when it is pretty certain to be reproduced. In my opinion, the very hesitancies of Cellini in this test-passage are undesigned corroborations of his general veracity. A man who deliberately invents something to glorify himself and mystify the world does not go about his work in this fashion. He does not describe a natural phenomenon so exactly that all the limiting conditions, which he regarded as inexplicable imperfections in the grace conferred upon him, shall confirm the truth of his observation.
On the appearance of this passage in the Fortnightly Review for January, I received a communication from H. D. Pearsall, Esq., of 3 Cursitor Street, expressing some interest in my account of Cellini's aureole. He says:
I observed the phenomenon some years ago in India, and the attendant circumstances were such as you mention. It is curious, as illustrating the want of observation of most people, that I have never yet met with any one but yourself who had observed it.
In explanation of the aureole he adds:
It appeared to me that the cause was simply the reflection of the direct rays of the sun from the wet surface of the blades of grass. The reason why a spectator at one side cannot see it would, therefore, not be that the illuminated person's body focussed the diffused rays, but simply the direct consequence of the law of reflection of light (angle of incidence = angle of refraction), so that the reflected rays would reach the eye of the object, but not that of any person at a little distance to one side. The aureole never extended lower than my shoulder, evidently for the same reason.
This explanation is so obviously superior to that suggested by my own vague and unscientific phrase in the text, that I am grateful for the permission to report it in Mr. Pearsall's own words. It is worth adding, perhaps, that when the object finds himself at a considerable distance from the reflecting surface of wet grass, as when, for instance, he is driving in a carriage above a grassy meadow, the aureole will extend somewhat lower than his shoulder. This I have observed.
That such was actually the case is proved by de Thou, who relates an extraordinary speech made by the King at the Louvre, in 1599, on the occasion of the promulgation of the Edict of Nantes, to the deputies of the Parliament of Paris; in the course of which he declared that, twenty-six years previously, when he was residing at the court of Charles IX., he was about to cast the dice with Henry of Lorraine, Duke de Guise, his relative, amid a large circle of nobles, when at the instant in which they were prepared to commence their game, drops of blood appeared upon the table, which were renewed without any apparent agency as fast as they were wiped away. Each party carefully ascertained that it could- not proceed from any of the individuals present; and the phenomenon was so frequently repeated, that Henry, as he averred, at once amazed and disturbed, declined to persevere in the pastime, considering the circumstance as an evil omen.f Whatever may be the opinion of the reader as to the actual cause of this apparent prodigy, it is at least certain that it was verified by subsequent events; and well as the extraordinary and multiplied prophecy that the King himself would meeet his death in a coach.