Letter from JAMES BARRY to EDMUND BURKE, written 8 September 1770, at Bologna

Source: Fryer, Works of Barry, i. 207-16.

After a short stay in Bologna, Barry went to Venice, principally to see Titian's work , [go] and then returned to Bologna from where he wrote this letter. Many of Titian's pictures mentioned here are commented on again in his 'Observations', Fryer, Works of Barry, ii. 44-48.

Barry's remark here that he has previously mentioned that 'the three Carraches are indeed very respectable' may seem to postdate remarks on 'the three Carraches' in his letter to the Burkes on 20 November. However the dating of the letter looks correct. Barry says here he 'might probably want money' for his onward journey; by November this calm mention of money had turned into a serious financial problem. Copeland follows the date at the head of the letter, 8 September, 'Alphabetical List of the Correspondents', Burke, Correspondence, x. 98.

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Bologna, September 8, 1770.

My Dear Sirs,


On my arrival at Venice, I received your letter, which had lain there some time, by which I found there was another letter for me lying in the post-house at Bologna.2 I wrote to a friend who sent it to me, and I cursed myself heartily for having neglected to examine before I left Bologna. The friendship and love you have and express for me, affects me: what am I ? or Or what can I say or do ? It has been the only means by which I was enabled to satisfy those longings after art, which burnt me up. It is flattering and grateful to my vanity; and if there is love and gratitude in my nature, it is likely to give me the pleasing sensations at least, of making them act within me.

As I had done nothing when I was at Bologna besides making a dissection, and procuring a copy of the little manuscript treatise of Hercolelelli Ercole Lelli 's upon anatomy,3I resolved when I had done with Titian 4 at Venice, to return back to Bologna, and give up Padua, Vicenza, Verona, Brescia, and Bergamo, as there is nothing to be learned in those places except in the article of colouring, and this, agreeable to my maxim of going always to the source, I was resolved to study in Titian alone, whose best works are at Venice. I have said formerly that I find Titian is the only modern who fills up an idea of perfection in any one part of the art. There is no example of any thing that goes beyond his colouring, whereas, the parts of the art in which Michael Angelo and Raffael excelled, are almost annihilated by the superiority of the antiques.5 This I long ago saw, and yet I was resolved to study both Raffael and Michael Angelo with as much avidity, as if I had not seen it; although I will honestly confess that I used some reserve in my choice of their works, and much have I laid aside, as they were not to be reconciled with the rigid Greek examples by which I would square my conduct. Seeing and examining have brought me into that state of mind, that if any man was hardy enough to assert that the study of the antiques and Titian alone (exclusive of all other painters) was the surest and most likely method of producing perfection, I would not, I could not contradict him.

The Mosaic pictures of the Christian Greeks at St. Mark's are just what Vasari describes them, without light and shadow, abominable drawing and proportion, and standing on the point of the toes;6 so that my notion of the prejudices of Vasari is likely to come to nothing; but then the Christian Greek pictures which are at Rome, and which I mentioned in my former letters,7 are the work of more early times, when the arts were not so very much fallen.

There is nothing now remaining of Georgione except two pictures: looking after him cost me infinite trouble and vexation. One of these pictures is at the Scuola de Sartori, the Virgin and Child, St. Barbara, &c.8 It is exactly what one would conceive of Georgione; the drawing exceedingly defective, and although the gusto of the colouring is of the highest and most beautiful kind, yet there is wanting the finesse and little artifices of Titian to make it as perfect as it is gustoso.9 Vasari says that Georgione took the first hint of this beautiful manner of relievo10 and colouring from Da Vinci11; and Ridolfi, who did not want the will to dispute Vasari's assertions, has passed this over in silence;12 but it is true indeed; and the pictures of Da Vinci that I have seen, and the picture of his scholar Bultrafio13 at Bologna justify it.

Titian's pictures of St. Peter the martyr, the annunciation at the school of St. Roch, the St. Lorenzo at the Jesuits, the assumption of the virgin at the Frari, and the Venus at Florence, are undoubtedly (for an union of all the parts of painting) his most complete and masterly performances, though I do not think they are his most valuable ones.14 The St. Peter martyr has no very gross defects in the drawing and understanding of the parts; there is on the contrary, much correctness and a great disposition towards a fine style in the forms of the limbs, great and noble expression, the greatest degree of enthusiasm, and strength, and the most sensible and manly conduct throughout the whole; for my own part I never look for any thing in Titian but his colouring; yet putting the subject, which admits of little variety, out of the question, if this picture was well examined and all its defects and excellencies, and the qualities and degrees of them weighed against even the defects and excellencies of the Transfiguration of Raffael,15 I will not pretend to determine which of them would turn the balance—but yet Raffael would outweigh him. He has in all his works a certain urbanity of character, a divine and pleasing soul, which nobody shares with him, except Da Vinci, and sometimes Parmeggiano.16

Titian's St. Lawrence17 at the Jesuits is also designed in a most masterly manner, the body and limbs of the martyr are throughout of the same beautiful, light and genteel character; the foreshortening is conducted with ability, and in many places is very Michelangelesque; but as it is a night scene, there is little to be learned from it in the article of colouring. The Annunciation at the school of St. Roch is a very great monument of the abilities of Titian; the ideas of the figures are beautiful and graceful, and it is conducted with an amazing management, care, and a compleat18 and delicate finish in every part of it. The Assumption of the Virgin at the Frari is also another work of Titian, remarkable for great excellence, independent of the colouring and clear obscure; the heads, necks, &c. are most of them of a great and noble character, much above common nature. The Madonna and little angels are extremely beautiful and well drawn, and the management of the chiaro scuro,19 and composition, is such, that notwithstanding it is in bad preservation, yet if it was put in the same room with Raffael's dispute of the Sacrament, and School of Athens,20 it would perhaps demonstrate a great deal of bad management, and much want of skill in some parts of the painting of those celebrated performances.

I remember when I was at Florence, that my regards for Raffael made me advise Bastianello, 21the custode of the gallery, to remove the St. John of Raffael22 into some other chamber, for as it hangs opposite to the Venus of Titian, it suffers much, and no intelligent person can help looking upon it with much coldness and indifference. These, and a few other pictures of Titian are of a style of character different from the general run of his works: there are, as I observed before, good qualities in them, independent of the colouring, &c., although the degree of perfection of those qualities is not carried to as great a length as they are in Raffael and Michael Angelo; and they seem to be in Titian effected rather by feeling than science.

There are other pictures of Titian, in which beauty, elegance, expression, truth, and character of drawing, are not so much attended to; but then the colouring, and management of those pictures is in the greatest imaginable perfection, even so as to please me more than the others, except the Venus; but notwithstanding all, I cannot heartily relish Titian's drawing. I have arrived at that unlucky pass that nothing will go down with me but perfection, at least in some one of the grand essentials of a picture. And this is enough to satisfy me in any work done since the restoration of the arts; although I am well convinced, from the practice of the Greeks, that men are capable of much more, and I am as firmly persuaded that the Italians also would have shown it, were it not that certain combinations of education and other accidental circumstances prevented it; what they have done, and the particular places in the arts where they have broke off short, and wandered away from the true scent, and the reasons that induced them to it ought to put the matter beyond all dispute, except with Winkleman, Du Bos, Montesquieu, and such visionary philosophers,23 who draw all their knowledge of the arts from the clouds and climates, and who appear to me in much the same situation as that of Dr. Sharpe,24 with a short stick in his hand, raking in the ordure of Naples, with the view to get information of the manners and way of thinking and acting of the inhabitants.

But to return to my other class of Titian's pictures, which are only remarkable for the painting. There is at the Salute, his picture of St. Mark, St. Roch, St. Sebastian, and Cosmo and Damian;25 his St. John at St. Maria Majore, 26 his Tobit and the Angel at St. Marcilliano,27 the St. Jerom Jerome at S. Maria Nova, 28 three pictures by him at the Borghese-palace, 29 his Bacchus and Ariadne at the Aldobrandini, 30 and the half figure of Christ,&c. at St. Roch's. This half figure of Christ is in one place ascribed by Vasari to Titian, and in another place to Giorgione;31 there is an exact duplicate of it at the Incurabili,32 which Boschini says is Giorgione's;33 now which is original or copy, or which belongs to Titian or Giorgione, I could not determine. Titian's pictures are divided by somebody or other,34 I forget whom, into three different manners; the first that of Bellini,35 his master, &c. But I have seen no pictures of Titian in the manner of Bellini. With respect to colouring, in the first works I can discover of him he has adopted the manner of Giorgione, which he kept to all his life after. The difference in Titian' s manners, if they will have it, is in the drawing and style of composition, expression, and character, and a greater or lesser degree of finish in his works. His early pictures are stiff and unvaried in their attitudes, some of them want truth, science, beauty, character, or expression in the whole together, or in certain parts in particular; and although he was never in any time of his life arrived to any other knowledge of these particulars than what was almost accidental and occasional, yet the differences in his works are in these matters, and, as I said before, in the greater or lesser care and finish which he employed in his works. In the latter part of his life his reputation only seems to have given a value to his works, for, as in drawing and in every thing that depended upon form, he never had arrived by a proper study to any sure and determined knowledge and principles, his pictures are contemptible, monstrous, and disgusting, when he laid aside his usual diligence and attention to nature. There are some pictures of his to be seen of this kind, particularly his St. Sebastian at the Barbarigo-Palace, which to me appears nothing more than a most disorderly mass of colours, jumbled together by the dashing and slobbering of a pencil.36 This is one of his last pictures, and his approaches to this manner, from the care, delicacy, and complete finish of his pictures in the early time of his life are very gradual, so that this is not the only bad picture of his, and yet horrible as this manner appears to me, it has not been without its admirers.

The greatest part of the works of Tintoret 37are considerably made up of this leaven, and the world has been taught to believe that it is the effect of true genius—that it is Maestroso,38 and such cant, as at once gives the lie to all our notions of sound art. From this absurd principle differently modified, may be traced out many of the seemingly different manners and corruptions of the Venetians, Romans, Florentines, Bolognese, &c. The greatest part of Tintoret's pictures are executed in this beastly manner: and yet his large work of the crucifixion at St. Roch,39 and his resurrection of Christ at the Doge's palace ought to be excepted out of this censure, as they really prove that he was capable of better things;40 however, you will say that this is so much the worse, as it vindicates the capacity at the expense of the morals, and shews that man to have been wanting in love and respect for his art; who could consent to the putting such indigested stuff in public and honourable places; while his accepting payment for them leaves us but a poor idea of his honesty.41

There is a picture by Sebastian del Piombo at the church of St. Gio Chrisostom, which has the highest kind of merit in it;42 it is a close and fine imitation of Giorgeone's manner of painting, united with a good deal of elegance and truth of drawing; it gives me a much greater idea of his merit than what he has done at Rome, after the designs of Michael Angelo.

The works of Palma Vecchio43 deserve great praise, they are regular and well conducted in every part. Paris Bordone44 is beyond all others the best imitator of Titian's manner of colouring, but then it is no where possible to find any man of character in art, who was so childish and uninstructed in the drawing and forms of his objects. Paul Veronese45 cannot be omitted in ever so slight an account of the Venetian painters; otherwise I would willingly pass him over, as I am afraid to speak my mind about him; he has a very great character in the world, and no doubt he deserves it; but there is a certain languid unfeeling coldness takes possession of me, when I look upon his works, that I can hardly suffer myself to examine either his excellences or his defects. He is different from Tintoret with regard to the finishing of his pictures, he is correctly attentive to the pursuing all his objects through all the parts that compose them with an execution (and as the Italians call it andamente46 of pencil) which is easy, spirited, and agreeable, but then Tintoret appears to me a man of infinitely more feeling, and his picture at the Scuola of St. Mark's,47 notwithstanding all his slobbering, interests me more than any thing I have seen of Paolo's. I can have the patience of sitting down to criticize and abuse this and other works of Tintoret; but of Paolo I do not know what to say: In in short, one painter is a very improper person to give an account of another that is out of the pale48 of his school: They they must think of one another, as the Calvinists and the Catholics do—all without doors in damnation;49 and as in the way of conceiving of a subject and all the figures and forms that compose it, I have hitherto endeavoured to abstract myself from every thing that is not Greek or like the Greeks, so perhaps it ought to be no disparagement to Paolo that I turn up my nose at many of his admired compositions, that I look upon what is called his grand machine, and the riches of his invention to be in truth, nothing more than a false grandeur and an affected splendor splendour, flowing out of brains more filled with trifles than solidity.

Rubens50 has made up his manner entirely from the pictures of Tintoret and Paolo, notwithstanding all the learning and fine poetical fancy discoverable in his pictures. He is in matters regarding taste, as vulgarly erroneous as Paolo. I can bear with Vittore, Scarpaccia, the Bellinis, &c.:51 one sees in them art not arrived to maturity, whatever they have is right, but they have not every thing. But when art comes to pass maturity, and manner and affectation get into play, it might be relished by the natives, who are growing up into more manner and greater affectation, but a stranger cannot like it, he has no principles that can reconcile it to him. I offer you this reason in order to avoid saying any more about the mannerists of Venice or Bologna. However, I will not forget old Bassano;52 there are many of his works which are very excellent.

I am got back again to Bologna. I have mentioned to you before, that I think the three Carraches53 are indeed very respectable for their great ability; I have a great opinion of Dominichino, and of Guido also.54 There is an excellent picture of the Murder of the Innocents by Guido, as St. Dominico,55 another in the Cardinal's palace56 &c. But there is here a picture of the Marriage of St. Catherine by Parmeggiano, which is a caput operae.57 It is worthy of Raffael or any man, and further, there is in no one part of it any affectation or caricatura of Grace. It is highly beautiful, exact and solid. There is no great matter in the two drawings that are here of Hussey,58 he was a young man when he did them. The academicians of Bologna have done me the honour to send me a diploma,59 but my admission into this body was more owing to the obliging dispositions of two friends of mine here, Mr. Keable and Signor Bianconi,60 than to any merit of mine, as it was done entirely without my knowledge. It will occasion my staying here for about three weeks longer, in order to paint a figure, which I intend presenting to the institute.61 As from my stay at Venice, this stay which I intend making at Bologna and a little at Parma, I might probably want money, I shall draw upon Mr. Nugent and Netterville62 this post.

A gentleman, Mr. Solis,63 obliged me the other day with a perusal of the Remarks on Grenville's state of the nation.64 Perhaps the ship is arrived before this time, I should be glad to know it, as I am in fear for the gessoes and some few of my studies after Titian, &c.65 If you was to write to me at the post house in Bologna, if I should not be there when your letter arrives, it will be sent after me to Parma. Is Mr. Richard set out?66 and how does little Richard (but he is a fine lusty fellow now) still go on with his Greek?67 He will be of great use in explaining Homer and Pindar to me, when you two will be taken up with the affairs of the nation.68 My dear friend the doctor,69 I hope, still remembers me. I long much for a tête a tête with him and Mrs. Burke. You and the family will, I hope, for ever consider as an indubitable part of their property. your property, your affectionate and humble servant,

J.B. James Barry.