Arrowsmith, Henry William / The house decorator and painter's guide; containing a series of designs for decorating apartments, suited to the various styles of architecture
[Interior decoration, continued], pp. 25-27
27 The manner in which the designs were grouped and arranged upon the walls of an apartment by a Roman artist has not been much improved, although so many ages have passed since their works were executed. They commonly divided the sides of their rooms into compartments or panels, in the centre of which some historical or other subject was delicately painted. The stiles and bands of these panels were ornamented with scrolls, frequently blended with representations of some fanciful or natural objects, all of which were remarkable as clever delineations, and gave evidence of strong and highly cultivated imaginations. The painting in encaustic colours was brought by the Romans to a state as near perfection as stucco or fresco painting seems to be capable of, even in the hands of modern artists; but transparency, which gives a peculiar charm to all the productions of the present school, was quite unknown to them. This want of transparency in the works of the Roman artists has been deplored, and ridiculously enough, even censured by some authors of the present day, who, judging of all works of art by a comparison with their own standard, which is frequently a faulty and singularly incorrect model, imagine there can be no excellence in colour without transparency. By such persons the Romans are blamed for not attaining to an impossibility; a term we are warranted in using, as that quality cannot now be obtained in fresco painting, although it has been repeatedly attempted by artists of great ingenuity and talent. When it is remembered that the Romans were accustomed to execute all their paintings upon the hardest and most enduring substances, and in fact, that their art was confined to the decoration of the walls and ceilings of buildings, we cannot be surprised that they failed in obtaining any refinement in the use of colours. But they earned a lasting distinction in the exquisite grace, beauty, and comprehensiveness of their designs, which are still un- equalled in form and composition. To those who are dissatisfied with their works, and find no beauty without transparency, we can only say, it is not to be seen in the fresco works of Raphael and the great masters of modern times.
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