Studies: On the aim of painting

Francisco Pacheco

On the aim of painting.

[Francesco Pacheco's (1564 - 1654) "El arte de la pintura" was published at Seville in 1649. The translation given here was taken from: "Italy and Spain 1600-1750" by R. Enggass, and J. Brown, Prentice Hall, Inc. 1970. ]

When dealing with the aim of painting (as we have proposed to do), it is necessary to borrow a distinction used by the doctors of the Church, which serves to clarify our purpose. They distinguish between the aim of the work and the aim of the worker. Following this doctrine, I would like to distinguish between the aim of the painting and the aim of the painter. The aim of the painter, in his capacity as an artisan, will be by means of his art to earn a living, acheve fame or renown, to afford pleasure or service to another or to work for his own enjoyment. The end of painting (in general) will be, by means of imitation, to represent a given subject with all the power and propriety possible. Some people call this the soul of painting, because it makes it seem alieve, so that the beauty and variety of colours and other embellishments become of secondary importance. Hence Aristotle said that, of two paintings, one inaccurate but displaying beauriful colour and the other true to life but simply drawn, the former will be inferior and the latter superior, because the former contains the incidental and the latter incorporates the fundamental and substantial, which consists of reproducing perfectly, by means of good drawing, that which one wishes to imitate.

But considering the aim of the painter as a Christian artisan (which is our present task), he may have two goals or ends: one primary, the other secondary. The latter, and less important, will be to exercise his art for gain or renown or for other reasons (as I have said above), but controlled by factors of time, place and circumstance, so that on one may accuse him of abusing this art or of working against the highest good. The principal goal will be to acheive a state of grace through the study and practice of this profession; because the Christian, born to achieve high things, is not content to restrict his activities to lower things, attending only to human rewards and eartly comfort. Rather, raising his eyes heavenward, he dedicates himself to a greater and more excellent goal that is found in things eternal. And this is why St Paul often cautioned the serfs and all other men that, when ministering unto others, they should remember that they did so chiefly for the sake of God, saying: " Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters in the flesh, not with eyeservice, as men pleasers; but as servants of Christ, knowing that whatsoever good any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord [Ephesians, vi, 5-8]." And elsewhere: "Whatsoever yd do, do it heartily, as to the lord, and not unto men; knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance [Collosians, iii, 23-4]."

And if the aim of painting (speaking of it now as an art), is, as we have said, to approximate what it intends to imitate, let us now add that when it is practised as a Christian work, it acquires another more noble form and by this means advances to the highes order of virtue. This privilege is born of the gratness of God's law, me means of which all actions (which otherwise would be considered vile), committed with thoughrfulness and directed to the final goal, become grater and are adorned with the rewards of virtue. But do not think that art is destroyed or denied by this; rather it is elevated and ennobled and receives new perfection. Thus, speaking of our problem, we can say that paining, which before had imitation as its sole aim, now, as an act of virtue, takes on new and rich trappings; and, in addition ot imitation, elevates itself to a supreme end - the contemplation of eternal glory. And as it keeps men from vice, so does ti lead them to the true devotion of God our Lord.

Thus we see that Christian images are directed not only towards God, but also towards ourselves and our fellow man. For there is no doubt that all virtuous works may serve simultaneously the golry of God, our own education and the edification of our fellow man. And the more these three elements are present, the more will the work be esteemed, for in these elements exists the totality of Christian perfection.

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