In the course of lectures which, by the courtesy of the members of this society, I am permitted to commence this evening, I propose, so far as is possible to me, to lay before you an historical account of the various methods which have been invented in successive ages and by diverse nations, to establish a rule of proportion for the human body. So far as 1 am able I shall endeavour to criticise these various methods, and in conclusion I shall supply you with the best authenticated information as to the proportions of the human body, with the varieties which are due to differences of age, sex, or race. I do not know whether in this place, and to such an audience as this, any defence is necessary for one who presumes to offer hard definite scientific facts to those interested in the study of art alone. Is science, using the term now in a restricted sense, really of any use to the true artist? or is the true artist he or she who is from power of observation and force of genius able to grasp so completely and reproduce so fully all the characters of the human body, in their constantly varying complexity, as to be independent of all outside knowledge of cognate subjects? The question has been so well dealt with by one who is at the same time one of the most charming of writers and a skilled artist, that you will, I am sure, pardon me if I give you his words instead of any of my own. 'The sciences of, perspective, optics and anatomy,' he says, 'are useful to artists just as the science of geography is useful to a traveller.
Take the very best of maps; what does it tell you of the countries you intend to explore? It is not a substitute for your observation as a traveller, but simply a reliable informant as to where the places lie, where you will find them, and a help to your topographic memory. After having studied the map you must observe the country itself in all its detail if you want to know its life. But the map has helped you, nevertheless, in the arrangement of the work before you. It has saved you time and trouble; it has prevented you from missing your way. "What a map is to the traveller, scientific study wisely pursued is to the artist. It can never serve him as a substitute for his own observation, but it may tell him when to apply his power as an observer and guard him against innumerable mistakes. If artists could always have nature before them exactly as they desired to paint it, they might dispense with the help of science altogether. Any artist who sees quite clearly in the artistic sense, sees also as much of organic structure as is necessary to his perfect performance.
But when nature is not present, or is constantly changing, which very nearly amounts to the same thing, artists need everything which may counteract the natural infirmities of the memory.'
Anatomy, rightly understood, whether for the artist or for the scientific student, is not merely the study of dry bones and the muscular masses which put them in motion, it is, or should be, far more. It includes the knowledge of the peculiarities of infancy, youth, or age; of sickness or robust health; of the contrasts between manly and muscular strength and feminine delicacy; of the appearances which pain or death presents. Such knowledge belongs to its province as much as the study of the muscles of the face when affected with emotion. And, as the writer just quoted proceeds, viewed in this comprehensive light, anatomy forms a science, not only of great interest, but one which will be sure to give the artist a true spirit of observation, teach him to distinguish what is essential to just expression, and direct his attention to appearances on which the effect and force, as well as the delicacy of his delineations will be found to depend. But whilst anatomy is, to use Bell's phrase, the grammar of art, a complete knowledge of anatomy will no more make an artist than deep learning in grammar will make a master of composition. The trained observation of the artist will sometimes discover farts which have been missed by the anatomist.
I may perhaps be permitted to make mention of an instance of this. An attack made upon the accuracy of the sculptor of the Venus of Milo on account of certain asymmetries in the face of that statue, led a German anatomist to examine the figure carefully. He found that whilst the portion lying below the nose was comparatively symmetrical, the upper part presented various deviations. Thus the nose deviates to the left, the left ear standi higher than the right, and the left eye is higher and nearer the middle line than the right. Struck by these facts, he was led to make careful observations of the measurements of skulls and of the heads of living persons. As a result he found that whilst symmetry of the lower half of the face is the rule, deviations such as those occurring in the statue commonly occur in the Upper half. Anatomy can supply the artist with hard and fast rules arrived at from the study of averages. It is the truly great sculptor or painter who, appreciating that 'Variety's the very spice of life, That gives it all its flavour,' and employing it, 'Not chaos-like together crushed and bruised, But as the world harmoniously confused, Where order in variety we see, And where, though all things differ, all agree,' produces the masterpiece of art to be a joy to all succeeding generations.