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IT cannot be considered as superfluous or assuming to present the reader of the following lectures with a succinct characteristic sketch of the principal technic instruction, ancient and modern, which we possess: I say, a sketch, for an elaborate and methodical survey, or a plan well digested and strictly followed, would demand a volume. These observations, less written for the man of letters and cultivated taste, than for the student who wishes to inform himself of the history and progress of his art, are to direct him to the sources from which my principles are deduced, to enable him, by comparing my authors with myself, to judge how far the theory which I deliver, may be depended on as genuine, or ought to be rejected as erroneous or false.
The works, or fragments of works, which we possess, are either purely elementary, critically historical, biographic, or mixed up of all three. On the books purely elementary, the van of which is led by Lionardo da Vinci and Albert Durer, and the rear by Gherard Lairesse, as the principles which they detail must be supposed to be already in the student's possession, or are occasionally interwoven with the topics of the Lectures, I shall not expatiate, but immediately proceed to the historically critical writers; who consist of all the ancients yet remaining, Pausanias excepted.
We may thank Destiny that, in the general wreck of ancient art, a sufficient number of entire and mutilated monuments have escaped the savage rage of barbarous conquest, and the still more savage hand of superstition, not only to prove that the principles which we deliver, formed the body of ancient art, but to furnish us with their standard of style. For if we had nothing to rely on to prove its existence than the historic and critical information left us, such is the chaos of assertion and contradiction, such the chronologic confusion, and dissonance of dates, that nothing short of a miracle could
guide us through the labyrinth, and the whole would assume a fabulous aspect. Add to this the occupation and character of the writers, none of them a professional man. For the rules of Parrhasius, the volumes of Pamphilus, Apelles, Metrodorus, all irrecoverably lost, we must rely on the hasty compilations of a warrior, or the incidental remarks of an orator, Pliny and Quintilian. Pliny, authoritative in his verdicts, a Roman in decision, was rather desirous of knowing much, than of knowing well; the other, though, as appears, a man of exquisite taste, was too much occupied by his own art to allow ours more than a rapid glance. In Pliny, it is necessary, and for an artist not very difficult, to distinguish when he speaks from himself and when he delivers an extract, however short; whenever he does the first, he is seldom able to separate the kernel from the husk; he is credulous, irrelevant, ludicrous. The Jupiter of Phidias, the Doryphorus of Polycletus, the Aphrodite of Praxiteles, the Demos of Parrhasius, the Venus of Apelles, provoke his admiration in no greater degree than the cord drawn over the horns and muzzle of the bull in the group of Amphion, Zetus, and