The strict province or distinctive department of the art of sculpturein which also the eye is the organ of sense that is availed of is to represent real objects in nature as regards their form or shape, which is the main element of sculpture, in which it is absolutely complete and perfect ; but light and shade are important auxiliary elements here. Ideal characters or subjects may be also portrayed by sculpture; although of course in the representation they are described as real.
Sculpture is not only of all the arts the most suggestive in its nature ; but it is calculated to carry its suggestions further and deeper than do any other of the arts, inasmuch as it is much more in suggestion than in direct actual representation that it is able to produce effect. All that it accomplishes in the way of representation is the mere form,the most important indeed of all the elements of representation. It sets the mind at work, as it were, from this grand centre, and leaves the imagination to proceed onward in one particular direction, according to the impetus thus afforded. But although form is the main element in sculpture, yet there are some forms which it is not only below painting in portraying, but which it is peculiarly inadapted to describe; such as the delicate folds of fine drapery, feathers, and robes flowing in the wind, as also flowers and foliage, which, from their minuteness, do not admit fully of being thus represented, and in the appearance of which colour is the main feature. This principle, however, admits more or less of modification. For instance, in bas-reliefs, which in some respects approach near to painting, certain compositions may be effected which in pure sculpture should not be attempted. The simplicity in character of the material should control also the design.
Sculpture is but imperfectly adapted for the representation of transactions in which a large number of persons are en-gaged, or a considerable space of ground is occupied, inasmuch as it is destitute of colouring, and to a great extent of the aid of perspective. Among the Greeks, however, many of their statues were painted, as in our wax-work figures, and precious stones were introduced into their eyes to give them lustre. Indeed, at that period, buildings as well as figures appear to have been occasionally painted. Wooden figures, with faces coloured with vermilion, are mentioned in the ` Wisdom’ of Solomon.
That the ancient Greeks coloured their statues is evident from the traces of paint discovered on some of them, as also from the fact of an inscription to a maker of eyes for statues having been discovered on a Greek tomb.
The principle of colouring statues appears, nevertheless, not to proceed from the desire to attempt thereby to resemble, much less to imitate actual nature, but from a wish merely to bestow such a tint upon the marble as will serve to distinguish it from the ordinary substance, which gives a degree of life to it, although without absolutely endeavouring to delude any one into the supposition that the real living form is before him. In this respect, colouring statues differs essentially from wax-work, which is an effort not only to represent, but to copy animated nature, and that to an extent amounting to illusion.
In illustration of what was observed in the first section of this chapter as to the desirableness of keeping distinct each department of the arts, it may here be remarked that what sculpture gains by borrowing from the other arts, such as colour and perspective from painting, it loses as regards its own character. Sculpture has the advantage of exhibiting the whole shape of any subject which it represents, so that it may be viewed in different positions, while painting only allows us to see a portion of each figure; although, on the other hand, the one view which the latter art presents is that which is the most effective and striking. Sculpture, possessing the quality of form, has more actual reality about it than painting; although want of colour and the constant sameness of position in what-ever direction the statue is viewed, give to it an air of lifelessness and stiffness. Although there are, doubtless, a great many exceptions to this general rule, yet, on the whole, it will probably be found that, while painting appears well fitted for the portrayal of action, sculpture is best adapted for the representation of repose.
If painting is useful in handing down to posterity the effigies of the great men and heroes of any particular age, sculpture is even still more valuable in the opportunities which it affords us for raising monumental tributes to their memory, and preserving, through the durability of the material employed, the real form and stature of the individual to the remotest period. It is, moreover, adapted for works of every site, and for all situations, whether the interior of buildings or the open air.
This art, equally with painting, is capable of conveying ideas of the sublimest and the most beautiful nature, although, perhaps, it is not to the same extent adapted for being applied to each variety of subject. Indeed, to painting there is a limit, owing to the nature of the art; and with regard to sculpture this limit is still further carried. It may, perhaps, be laid down that whatever may be represented in sculpture, may be re-presented in painting; but that many topics proper for painting are unfitted for sculpture. Its inadaptation for the introduction of perspective is, perhaps, its greatest deficiency as compared with painting. While variety is the characteristic feature of painting, simplicity is that of sculpture. The former is generally more agreeable, the latter more striking, to which its simplicity mainly conduces ; the former attains the utmost beauty, the latter the highest grandeur.
Sculpture has been contended by some to aim at higher excellence than painting, as from its material its works are all necessarily of greater importance, and because it is less able to avail itself of meretricious ornaments, those especially connected with colour and chiaro-oscuro, which may be resorted to to set off an indifferent painting. But this, although true to a certain extent, admits of exceptions ; as a great composition in painting, considering the study required for it, the time demanded in its de-sign and completion, and the labour which it entails, is hardly less important than a work of corresponding magnitude in sculpture, which generally consists of a single figure only. And in respect to meretricious ornament, although colour and chiarooscuro may not be resorted to by the sculptor, yet many trivial excellences, to the disregard of higher considerations, may be and often are availed of by him, such as extravagance of expression or attitude, high finish, even in the dress, and display of mechanical skill, to the neglect of intellectual effort. Painting, on the other hand, must rely on the merit of the individual performance, to give it that rank which a work in sculpture assumes from the very nature of its material.