The Royal Academy Exhibition 1857
Well done! Mr. Dyce, and many times well done! though it is of little use for any of us to say so to you; for when a man has gone through such a piece of work as this he knows he is right, and knows it so calmly that it does not matter much to him whether people see it or not. This is a notable picture in several ways, being, in the first place, the only one quite up to the high-water mark of Pre-Raphaelitism in the exhibition this year: for, although Mr. Carrick's (No. 135) is in several respects better painted, there are no difficulties of form and distance presented by his subject ; while Mr. Dyce has encountered all discoverable difficulties at once, and chosen a subject involving an amount of toil only endurable by the boundless love and patience which are the first among the Pre-Raphaelite characteristics.
In the second place, this is the first picture yet produced by the school in which the work has been at all affected by a sculpturesque sense of grace in form. Hitherto, every master who has ranked himself on this side, has been a colourist, and his subject has been chosen and treated with chief reference to colour, not intentionally, but because a colourist can do no otherwise; seeing, in all that he has to show, effects of light and hue first, and form secondarily. I cannot tell how far Mr. Dyce is capable of becoming a colourist, but he is not one yet; and although this deficiency is grievously hurtful to his work in many respects, in one it has advantaged it : he has rendered more of the finished grace and lovely composition of line in that oak foliage than has yet been seen in oak. If he could have coloured it better, he would have softened its edges, and carried the eye more to gleams of green and shades of purple, slightly losing the lines of leaf and branch; for art always loses something, or else we should not know it from reality, and it is interesting to see, for the first time, in the annals of the rising school, this inevitable loss taking place in colour instead of form, and the landscape painted with a sculptor's precision and a sculptor's love of grace.
Though, however, we may contentedly part with a little green and purple in oak leaves for the sake of exquisiteness in delineation, we cannot part so lightly with the blood of Titian: no boy could ever have coloured a Madonna's face who had so little colour in his own. And there was not the least need for this failure; because, though I do not think Mr. Dyce will ever himself colour like a Venetian, I see, by the way he has painted the flowers and the boy's dress, that he has quite as much eye for colour as ever Leonardo had; and he may paint flesh quite as well as Leonardo, if he likes.
Only one cavil more. Whatever Ridolfi may say(1) (I have not had time to look), Titian's actual first attempts must have been of a very different kind, and in another order of landscape. It was not in the green, delicate-leaved twilight of a lowland garden, nor among its sweet measurements of level grass, that the boy received his first impressions of colour, but among the strong trunks and rugged ground of the forests of Cadore, and in the dawns beyond its desolate mountains, when the massy clouds stood quiet between the burning and the blue. Nor would it have been a statue such as this which first made him dream of the Madonna ; but rather some fresco of a wayside chapel, where she stood with her hands folded, and the moon under her feet, and the companies of heaven around her, crown above crown, circlet beyond circlet gleaming golden in the arched shade.
(1)["Ridolfi states that Titian, when a little boy, gave the earliest indication of his future eminence as a colourist by drawing a Madonna, which he coloured with the juice of flowers." Note to the picture in the Academy Catalogue. The reference is to the life of Titian in Carlo Ridolfi's Le Maraviglie delf Arte: "ancor piccioletto col solo impulso della natura, fece co' sughi di fiori, entro ad un capitello sopra ad una strada della sua patria, la figure della Vergine."]
Conceding, however, Mr. Dyce's theory of the place, and accepting, with perhaps a little further demur, the graceful and undisturbed dress of the boy for such as the young Titian was likely to have worn to work in (particularly if the work began with flower-hunting), we may proceed to enjoy the picture heartily in all other respects the expression of the boy being excellent, and the flowers, grass, leafage, and dress, down to the minutest fold of the purple lining of the cap, painted so that no one need ever hope to do much better.
It will take about an hour to see this picture properly.
Works (14, 98-100)