Letter from JAMES BARRY to EDMUND BURKE, written 13 January 1771, at Parma

Source: Fryer, Works of Barry, i. 199-206.

Barry continues his journey through the north of Italy after leaving Rome in April 1770; he had visited Florence, Bologna, Venice and now Parma. Here he was joined again by his friend and fellow student, the painter John Francis Rigaud (1742-1810), a native of Turin; they left on 17 January, spent a day in Milan and arrived in Turin on 23 January.1

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Parma, January 13, 1771

My Dear Sirs,


I have had fears upon me for some time past that you were dissatisfied with my picture of Adam and Eve,3 and that it has not answered the opinion that your friendship and partiality entertained of my abilities; I believe it, but however, if you consider the time that I did it, and the many advantages of improvement I have had since, perhaps it will not be unreasonable to suppose that the next picture you see of mine may be less defective, and have more merit; as I can now say, that the mechanical parts of the art, design and colouring, &c., I have studied separately one after the other, and from the best examples of each; I have been attentive and industrious, and what I shall do when I go home will best tell how far I have succeeded. I am now just quitting Italy, and I am happy at it, as I am burning with a desire to see what I am able to do, and what is to be the consequence of all my hard labour, and of all the money you have expended to give the labour its proper direction.4 I have reason to believe that you will say I have neither deceived you nor myself.

When I arrived at Modena about a month ago, by the means of a letter in my favour, to Signor Pagani, who is keeper of the duke's gallery of pictures, drawings, &c.,5 I had a fair opportunity of seeing every thing, and satisfying myself in some particulars which I wanted to know. There is in the gallery at Modena, a Venus foreshortened by Annibal Carrache,6which is in every respect worthy of him, and there is also a Pluto by Agostino,7 that is still better than the Venus of Annibal: the Pluto smells a little of the academy, and indeed this is a defect that in my opinion runs through the greatest part of the works of these two Carraches. Ludovico 8 is more natural and simple, but then he has not the elevation of character and dignity of the other two. It might be objected here to me, that this elevation and dignity of the other two Carraches is owing to the very particular, which I point out as a fault; but it is not so, for there is in the antique 9 statues all that is estimable as to the designing part of the three Carraches without the faults. There is also here a picture by Ludovico, but I did not like it—there is nothing in it of that great merit which is so justly admired in his pictures at Bologna. There is also in the gallery a most extensive and excellent collection of drawings—but those of Polidore Caravaggio, Parmegiano and Raffael pleased me the most.10 Parmegiano I am in love with. These drawings of him shew all elegance, spirit, and mastery imaginable. There is a study in black chalk by Raffael of one of his figures in the Transfiguration, but my favourite of all is Raffael's drawing of the Calumny of Apelles.11 This drawing (to speak only of the execution of it) is elegant and beautiful, and at the same time it is correct and true. Shortly after Raffael's time this manner of drawing had been laid aside by the great masters; what with sketching, flourishing, and masterly strokes, the truth and exact scrupulous correctness of form and contorno,12 have hardly been attended to by any artist, and I have seen them all; Hussey13 has been the only man that has strode in Raffael's steps. I do not speak of Hussey's invention, for I do not remember well his two figures at Northumberland house,14 but I will say that he was able to correct in some places this drawing of Raffael's (glorious as it is); and that by his intense study of the antique, of anatomy, (which he made an elegant and true use of) he was by a great deal more knowing in the naked than Raffael has shewn himself in this or in any other work. But to return to Raffael's Calumny, there is a print published of it in Crozat's collection, 15 which was done from a drawing that is now in the possession of the king of France; whether that in France be original or not is more than I know at present. Vasari, in his life of Benvenuto Garofalo, mentions a drawing of this subject, which Raffael gave to Benvenuto:16 perhaps it is this at Modena.

Doctor Pagani the painter, to whom, as I told you before, I was recommended, is publishing an account of the pictures, &c. of Modena.17 This I was happy at, as I expected through his means to find out something of the works of Francesco Bianchi, who was so much celebrated by Vidriani,18 &c. According to them he was also Corregio's master,19 and they praised his works for those very particulars of colouring, &c. which we admire in the pictures of Corregio at present; but Pagani and I searched all those places mentioned by Vidriani, and there does not now remain the least vestige of him. The church has been rebuilt, another has been white-washed over, and all is gone. However, according to these writers, and to George Vasari, Corregio must have been better off as to masters, than any artist of Italy. 20 Francesco Bianchi had beautiful colouring, graceful attitudes, great invention, &c. and Andrea Mantegna,21 his other master, was the best draftsman, and had more of the antique than any other artist of his time, so that there is but little faith to be given to the vulgar story of his doing every thing by the force of genius, and what not, which Mr. Webb has inserted in his book.22 I am afraid all other stories about great geniuses are as groundless as this, if the truth was known.

I have seen here those figures of terra cotta by Antonio Begarelli23, and I think the compliment that Michael Angelo paid them was extremely idle and ridiculous.24 He said that if these terra cottas were marble, they would destroy the credit of the antiques. Angelo's statues are in marble, and they are ten thousand degrees beyond Begarelli, and yet much inferior to the antiques. The truth is, that Begarelli was a good sculptor, he had tolerable good notions of the whole of a figure together, he had a little of gusto25 in his attitudes; his women in particular— some merit in his draperies, and little or none at all in the naked—so that what could have tempted Michael Angelo to give him such a character is out of my power to divine.

The last works of Parmegiano26 are here in Parma, at the Madonna della Steccata. They are six detached figures, a Moses, three Sybils, and an Adam and Eve,27 though I will charitably believe Eve was by somebody else; I am at a loss about what I shall say of these figures, for fear you will think that I forgot what I have often wrote to you about the superior talents of Raffael and Michael Angelo in the designing part; but no matter, the truth is to be preferred to any consideration. At the time he did those figures, he seems to have got over (or laid aside) the caricatura of perfection and elegance, which are to be found in many of his former works, and in many of his designs. This Moses28 is of a most noble and enthusiastical gusto, and regular design; two of the Sybils Sibyls please me beyond description, they are in the true Greek taste, and of about the same degree of merit for the finish and execution as the Juno of the Campidoglio, or the Farnese Flora,29 or any other excellent antique of the second class; the proportion is good; the heads are in profile, and highly beautiful, and the drapery is executed with a lightness, taste, and spirit, that I never saw in any painted work before. I thought Raffael was the best painter of drapery; it may be so in general; but then I must be allowed to except these two Sybils.30 I do not know how it has happened, but the other Sybil, which is in front,31 does not please me near so much. The same thing struck me also in his picture at St. Margarita, in Bologna.32 The St. Margarita, which is in profile, is beautiful, and perfect to a very great degree; and the Madonna, which is in front, appeared to me clumsy, inferior, and ill understood, which is the identical fault of this Sybil. Even the Moses, which is in front also, wonderful as it is, might, perhaps, be criticised in the left thigh, which is too long for the view that it is painted in. The Adam is also a figure of uncommon merit. It is true, these figures are only in chiaro scuro;33 they are besides considerably raised above the sight, and in dark weather, can hardly be seen, so that they are not likely to become dilettanti pictures.34 Notwithstanding, I am not ashamed to say, that, if instead of losing himself upon his curst alchymy alchemy ,35 he had painted the entire arch, so as to produce a mass of work altogether, which would be extensive enough to force itself upon people's attention, he would undoubtedly have made as great an eclat36 in the world, and with as much justice, as any painter has done since the restoration of the arts; and for my own part, I see talents in this man, which give flatly the lie to an opinion, which is very general, viz. that the perfection of art rested with Michael Angelo and Raffael, because it was impossible that modern genius could go beyond them. The few works that remain of Parmegiano are not to be sure more valuable than the works of Raffael and Michael Angelo. This was impossible, from the unhappy accidental concurrence of circumstances in his time, yet there is discernible in him powers imprisoned of a superior kind to what the others have shewn, and they had full opportunity of shewing all they knew.

I delayed here (Parma)37 six weeks, as I saw that it would be extremely useful for me to make a copy, or rather a study of some parts of the celebrated picture of Correggio here.38 It was three weeks before I could get to work at it, as I was obliged to wait until another who was there before me, had finished his copy. However, I have now finished what I proposed doing, and I shall set out in two or three days, when it is dry enough to roll up. I shall not stop any more on my journey, except three or four days in Paris, so that with the blessing of God I shall be soon at home. I shall give you my opinion of Correggio probably by the fire side, as I want to see some pictures that are in Paris before I speak out.

As Milan is in my way to Turin I shall stop there a few hours, to examine the picture of Da Vinci:39 at present, I know not what to think about it. Vasari mentions, that in his time, many of Leonardo's pictures, painted in oil upon the walls, were much ruined, either by the purgation of the walls, or by something that he used among his colours.40 Raffael du Fresne says that this picture of the Supper, at Milan, was ruined in his time,41 which is more than a hundred years ago, and if I do not forget, it is asserted by others before him, that this picture was much in decay. On the other hand, I have been informed by many artists who have lately seen this picture, that it is at present fresh and in good condition. I hope to be able to account for this when I see the picture, as I think I know Leonardo's hand-writing. The story of this picture being white-washed over is almost incredible to me.

There is at the Capuchins here, in Parma, a most excellent picture of Hannibal Carrache,42 in which an attempt at uniting the different styles of the great schools of Italy is palpably evident. There are at the garden palace three pictures by Agostino Carrache, which pleased me infinitely.43 One, where Cupid is stringing his bow, with a little love on each side of him pointing the arrows, and dipping them in a fountain, Helicon, I suppose.44 The Cupid is designed with great beauty and correctness, and the other two pictures shew the most masterly abilities in the chiaro scuro, colouring and invention. These pictures make one regret that he has not left more works of the kind behind him, for he has a sweeter and more poetically pleasing invention than either Hannibal or Ludovico; and these works, and his pictures at St. Salvatore, in Bologna, shew that he was not inferior to them in all the rest.

I am happy to find, by your letter, that the family are all alive and well. My father's letter brings me an account of the death of Dr. Sleigh.45 O God! I am concerned, you cannot imagine how much. I flattered myself with the hopes of making him sensible by some means or other of my love, esteem, and gratitude; but he is dead, and has put it out of my power; and I ought to be d—d for not writing to him oftener,46 but my cursed application to study prevented it, as I thought, that endeavouring to obtain abilities was the greatest pleasure I could do him, O God ! his death, and the death of my brother47 have been deep wounds to me.

I cannot understand how one of my cases should be lost,48 I have been consulting with myself, which of them I could be most content to give up, the Laocoon, or the Torso, 49 or the Gladiator,50 or the heads, or the books, drawings, prints, and studies; as I cannot say—the loss of any of them would be the destruction of the little peace of mind that is remaining to me, as I almost foresee that I am likely to be but little out of my art. I am very sorry that I must be obliged to draw for twenty pounds in order to get to England, as what, with my delays in Bologna and here, there will be but little of the former sum remaining.

I am, &c.

J.B.James Barry..