Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XXXII.: CELEBRATED ARTISTS AND MUSICIANS. - The Works of Voltaire, Vol. XII (Age of Louis XIV)
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CHAPTER XXXII.: CELEBRATED ARTISTS AND MUSICIANS. - Voltaire, The Works of Voltaire, Vol. XII (Age of Louis XIV) 
The Works of Voltaire. A Contemporary Version. A Critique and Biography by John Morley, notes by Tobias Smollett, trans. William F. Fleming (New York: E.R. DuMont, 1901). In 21 vols. Vol. XII.
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CELEBRATED ARTISTS AND MUSICIANS.
[The foregoing review of the progress made in the arts and sciences would be incomplete without a glance at the leading artists in painting and music. Each nation has its peculiar theories of art, which fact tends to the formation of schools, modified by conditions of national life, scenery, climate, and largely by patriotic enthusiasms. In no art are national characteristics more marked than in that of music.]
French music, especially the vocal, is disliked by all other nations. It cannot be otherwise, because the French prosody or versification differs from that of every other country of Europe. We make the pauses always upon the last syllable, whereas all others make it upon the penult, or antepenult, as the Italians. Our language is the only one that has words terminating in e mute, and those e’s that are not pronounced in ordinary discourse, yet are uniformerly so in music, as gloire, victoire, etc. Hence it comes, that most of our airs and recitative are insupportable to those who have not been accustomed to them. The climate denies us that flexibility of voice which it gives the Italians, and it is not custom among us, as at Rome and other Italian courts, to make eunuchs of men, in order to render their voices finer than those of women. All these things, joined to the slowness of our singing, which, by the bye, forms a strange contrast with our native vivacity, will always make the French music disagreeable to any but Frenchmen.
After all, foreigners who have resided some considerable time in France, acknowledge that our musicians have performed wonders in adapting their airs to our words, and also that the music is very expressive; but only so to ears that have been some time accustomed to it, and besides, the execution must be very good.
Our instrumental music is not altogether free from the monotony and slowness of the vocal; but many of our symphonies and tunes have been relished by foreigners. They are admitted into many of the Italian operas, and scarcely any others are in use at the court of a king who has one of the best operas in Europe, and who, among his other extraordinary talents, has a fine taste for music, which he cultivates with great assiduity.
Jean Baptiste Lulli, who was born at Florence in 1633, and came to France at the age of fourteen, when he could perform on no instrument but the violin, was the parent of true French music. He knew how to suit his art to the genius of the language, which was the only sure way to succeed: but at that time the Italian music had not begun to deviate from that gravity and noble simplicity which we still admire in Lulli’s recitative. Nothing resembles these recitatives more than the “Motet” of Lugi, sung in Italy with so much success in the seventeenth century, which begins thus:
It must be observed, that in this pure recitative music, which is the mélopée of the ancients, the beauty of the singing is principally owing to the natural melody of the words; no words but such as are musical can well have a place in recitative. But of this they were not sufficiently sensible in the days of Quinault and Lulli. The poets were jealous of these gentlemen as poets, but not as musicians. Boileau thus addresses Quinault:
The tender passions, which Quinault expressed so well, were much rather a striking picture of the human heart, than a loose morality; his diction animated the music still more than Lulli’s art did the words. These two, with the help of actors, have, of some scenes of Atys, Armida, and Roland, made an entertainment such as no people, ancient or modern, can match. Detached airs and ariettes did not at all come up to the perfections of these grand scenes. They very much resembled our Christmas carols, or the Venetian barcaroles; and yet they were contented with them at that time. The more artless the music then was, the fonder they were of it.
After Lulli, all our musicians, such as Colasse, Campra, Destouches, and others, copied after him, till at last one appeared, who far excels them in sublime harmony, and has vastly altered and improved the art of music.
With regard to sacred music, though we have had some celebrated composers in France, yet their pieces have not been executed anywhere but in the king’s chapel.
The case is not the same with regard to painting as with music. The latter may be such as to please none but the natives, because the genius of the language is incompatible with any other; but painters should represent nature, which is the same everywhere, and seen with the same eyes.
The only true test of a painter’s merit is the judgment of foreigners. It is not enough that he has a party, and is praised by scribblers; his works must be in request, and bear a high price. What sometimes hampers the genius of painters one would be apt to imagine would elevate and enlarge it, I mean the particular taste or manner of the school, or of those who preside in it. Academies are, without doubt, extremely useful to form pupils, especially when the directors aim at the sublime in painting; but if they are men of grovelling taste, if their manner is dry and minute, if their figures are ungraceful, their pieces painted like fans; their pupils are the dupes of imagination, or aiming at the applause of a bad master. There is a sort of fatality attending academies. None of the works styled academic, of any kind, have been works of genius. Suppose an artist extremely solicitous lest he should not hit the manner of his fellow academicians, his productions will infallibly be stiff and disgusting. But if a man is free from these prejudices, and aims only at copying nature, it is ten to one that he succeeds. Almost all the eminent painters either flourished before the establishment of academies, or got the better of the prejudices contracted there.
Corneille, Racine, Despréaux, and Lemoyne took a route quite different from their brethren, and in consequence had most of them for their enemies.
Nicholas Poussin was born at Andelys in Normandy, in 1599. Nature gave him a genius for painting, which he improved at Rome. He is called the painter of men of sense; with equal justice may he be denominated that of men of taste. His only defect is his heightening of the dismal and solemn in the coloring of the Roman school. He was the greatest painter in Europe in his time. He was invited from Rome to Paris; but was forced to give way to envy and cabal, and to withdraw, as many other ingenious men have done. He went back to Rome, where he lived poor, but contented, his philosophy enabling him to despise the frowns of fortune. He died in 1665.
Le Sueur, born at Paris in 1617, had no other master than Vouet, and yet became a celebrated painter. He carried the art to a high degree of perfection, when he was taken off the stage of time at the age of thirty-eight years, in 1655.
Bourdon and Valentin were eminent men. Three of the best pictures that adorn the church of St. Peter at Rome, are by Poussin, Bourdon, and Valentin.
Charles Lebrun, born at Paris in 1619, had scarcely begun to display his talent, when Superintendent Fouquet, one of the most generous, and at the same time most unhappy men that ever lived, gave him a pension of twenty-four thousand livres present money. His picture of the family of Darius at Versailles is little short, in point of coloring, of that of Paul Veronese, which faces it; and in design, composition, dignity, expression, and observance of costume, surpasses it. His battles of Alexander, engraved, are still more in request than those of Constantine by Raphael and Julio Romano. He died in 1690.
Peter Mignard, born at Troyes, in Champagne, in 1610, rivalled Lebrun for some time; but he is now considered as much below him. He died in 1695.
Claude Lorrain.—His father, when he would have made a pastry-cook of him, did not foresee that he would one day be reckoned one of the greatest landscape painters that ever Europe had produced. He died at Rome in 1682.
Case.—We have some pieces of his that begin to be highly valued. We do not do justice to ingenious men in France as soon as we should. Their indifferent performances often prevent us from seeing the beauties of their masterpieces. On the contrary, the Italians extol what is great and excellent, without taking notice of what is indifferent. Every nation seeks to promote its own glory and renown, except the French. They value nothing but what is foreign.
Joseph Parrocel, born in 1648, was a good painter, but inferior to his son. He died in 1704.
John Jouvenet, born at Rouen in 1644, was Lebrun’s pupil, and a good painter, but not to be compared to his master. He has painted almost everything yellow; for by some extraordinary conformation of his organs, they appeared to him of that color. He died in 1717.
Jean Baptiste Santerre.—There are some admirable pictures of his, the color of which is just and delicate. His picture of Adam and Eve is one of the finest in Europe: that of St. Theresa, in the chapel of Versailles, is a very noble piece, but rather luscious for an altarpiece.
Lafosse distinguished himself much in the same way.
Bon Boullongne was an excellent painter, of which the high price and great demand for his pieces are an evidence.
Louis Boullongne.—His works, though not without merit, yet are not so much admired as his brother’s.
Raoux.—His pieces are not all of equal merit. In some of them he is nothing short of Rembrandt.
Rigaud.—Though he excelled chiefly in portraits, yet his piece of Cardinal Bouillon opening the jubilee, is not at all inferior to any of Rubens.
Detroy.—He painted in Rigaud’s manner. There are some good historical pieces by his son.
Watteau.—He excelled as much in the graceful as Teniers did in the grotesque. Some of his pupils have done him honor.
Lemoine.—His “Hercules’ Apotheosis,” at Versailles, is perhaps superior to anything I have yet mentioned. It was intended as a compliment to Cardinal Hercules de Fleury, who, by the way, had nothing in common with the fabulous Hercules. It would have been more apropos to have represented the apotheosis of Henry IV. in the falcon of a French king. Lemoine, being envied by his brethren, and thinking himself ill-reputed by the cardinal, died of grief and despair.
Besides these there have been some other painters, who excelled in still life, or in painting animals, as Desportes and Oudry; others in miniature, and others in portraits. At present we have some that distinguish themselves in the grand and sublime, and posterity, in all appearance, will have them, too.
Sculptors, Architects, and Engravers.
Under Louis XIV. sculpture was carried to perfection, in which it still continues under Louis XV.
James Sarazin, born in 1590, executed some masterpieces at Rome for Pope Clement VIII., and at Paris he was equally successful. He died in 1660.
Peter Puget, born in 1622, was an architect, sculptor, and painter. He is celebrated chiefly for his “Andromeda,” and “Milo of Crotona.” He died in 1694.
Italy is indebted to Legros and Theodon for many of its embellishments.
Francis Girardon, born in 1630.—Antiquity can boast of nothing superior to his “Bath of Hercules,” and his “Tomb of Cardinal Richelieu.” He died in 1715.
Coysevox and Coustou were eminent in their way; yet we have three or four sculptors at present that excel them.
Chauveau, Nanteuil, Vermeulen, Audran, Hedlinger, Leclerc, les Drevet, Poilly, Picart, Duchange, though they have been outdone, yet were ingenious men, and their engravings supply the want of original pictures, etc., all over Europe.
There were also some goldsmiths, such as Ballin and Germain, who, on account of the beauty of their designs, and elegance of execution, deserve to be ranked among the most celebrated artists.
It is more difficult for one born with a genius for architecture to make his talent appear, than for any other artist. Unless he is set to work by princes he has no opportunity to display his taste and skill in any work of grandeur and magnificence. Thus have the talents of many an architect been entirely useless to him.
Francis Mansard was one of the best architects of Europe. The château, or palace of Maisons, near St.-Germain’s, is a masterpiece, because he was at liberty to give full scope to his genius.
Jules Hardouin Mansard, his nephew, was superintendent of the buildings under Louis XV. and made an immense fortune. The beautiful chapel of the Invalides is a design of his. As to the palace of Versailles, he could not display his talents to advantag in it, by reason of the situation.
Foreigners say that the city of Paris has only two fountains in good taste; the old one of John Gougeon, and the new of Bouchardon; and even these are badly situated. Neither has it any magnificent theatre besides that of the Louvre, which is not used. The places for the public diversions and representations have neither proportion, taste, nor ornament; and their situation is as bad as their contrivance, notwithstanding the example that has been set us by some cities in the provinces, but which we have not yet thought fit to follow. France, however, can boast of magnificent buildings of another sort, and of more importance, such as stately hospitals, storehouses, stone bridges, quays, dikes for checking the inundations of rivers, canals, sluices, ports, and especially the fortifications of the frontier towns, in which beauty is united with solidity.
The magnificent structures erected from the designs of Perrault, Levau, and Dorbay are too well known to require mention.
The art of gardening was in a manner invented and perfected by Lenôtre, and de la Quintinie; by the former with respect of beauty and ornament, and by the latter with regard to utility.
Engraving of precious stones, coining of medals, and casting of types for printing have kept pace with the other arts in point of improvement.
Clocks and watches, the makers of which may be considered as a sort of practical naturalists, have likewise been carried to a very high degree of perfection.
The watering of stuffs, and the gold with which they are embellished and enriched, displays such rare ingenuity and taste that what is worn only from vanity and luxury deserves to be preserved as a monument of industry.
The making of porcelain was set on foot at St. Cloud before it was attempted anywhere else in Europe.
In fine, the last age has taught the present how to unite, and transmit as a sacred deposit to posterity, the whole assemblage of the arts and sciences, each of them carried to the utmost perfection possible; and to do so is actually the object and aim of numbers of learned and ingenious men at this day. But such is the brevity of human life, that the execution of part of the immense and immortal design must be left to posterity.Four champions fierce,Strive here for mastery, and to battle bringTheir embryon atoms.—Paradise Lost.