Letter from JAMES BARRY to EDMUND BURKE, written 8 November 1769, at Rome

Source: Fryer, Works of Barry, i.166-68.

Barry sends Burke the letters he has just written to his parents and to their mutual friend Dr. Joseph Sleigh in Cork, who had told him about the death of his younger brother John.

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Rome, Nov. 8, 1769.

Dear Sirs,


If you just take the trouble to look over the two enclosed letters to Dr. Sleigh, and to my father, you will see all I have to say on the melancholy occasion of Dr. Sleigh's letter.

I have about a week ago finished my studies after the statues of the Belvedere and other places,2 and have nothing to detain me here at present, except a collection of antique heads, which I intend making studies of, and by about the latter end of January next, shall set out for Florence and Venice, where I hope to compleat3 my little scheme of art, and be with you, God willing, in May next.

When I was at the Laocoon,4 I had an opportunity of seeing into the absurdity of a modern remark and practice. There was in the time of Poussin and Fiamingo, at the villa Ludovisi, a picture of naked children painted by Titian, which Poussin and Fiamingo formed themselves upon, according to the opinion of several writers, and which I believe to be true, as there is in my neighbourhood, a very careful drawing of it by Poussin, and which agrees excessively well with the style of the boys, modelled by Fiamingo:5 the reputation of the boys of Fiamingo came in a little time to be so fixed in the world, that he became a standard for boys with all succeeding sculptors; these boys, though they may be acknowledged a good imitation of children about a year old, cannot therefore in reason be a good model for boys in a more advanced age, and yet the writers and people who find fault with the sons of the Laocoon, calling them little men, will find their criticism grounded on the above absurdity; for upon examination I never saw so happy a system of character and proportion for boys of sixteen and seventeen years old, as in the two sons of the Laocoon. And besides one thing which you will observe as a remarkable propriety in this, is the character and age of the father, which seems better to accord with sons of that number of years; as well as the consideration that these boys according to custom might attend at a sacrifice, where a child of a year old would be useless. The Meleager (commonly called the Antinous of the Belvedere) I often, as well as many others, thought had a little caricatura in the sway of the attitude.6 Upon a very narrow inspection, I see it was occasioned by the restoring and putting of the figure together. It grows late, and I shall refer any more to another opportunity. I am, dear sirs, with my whole heart, your obedient humble servant,

J.B.James Barry.