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Leon Battista Alberti – What art is like, that life should imitate it.

February 3, 2015

“As for me, I certainly consider a great appreciation of painting to be the best indication of a most perfect mind, even though it happens that this art is pleasing to the uneducated as well as to the educated. It occurs rarely in any other art that what delights the experienced also moves the inexperienced. …

It is useful to remember that avarice is always the enemy of virtue. Rarely can anyone given to acquisition of wealth acquire renown. I have seen many in the first flower of learning suddenly sink to money-making. As a result they acquire neither riches nor praise. However, if they had increased their talent with study, they would have easily soared into great renown. Then they would have acquired much riches and pleasure. …

I strongly approve in an istoria that which I see observed by tragic and comic poets. They tell a story with as few characters as possible. In my judgement no picture will be filled with so great a variety of things that nine or ten men are not able to act with dignity. I think that pertinent to this the statement of Varro who admitted no more than nine guests to a banquet in order to avoid confusion. …

[I]t frequently happens that the studious and desirous of learning become tired where they do not know how to learn. Because of this, fatigue increases. …

Never take the pencil or brush in hand if you have not first constituted with your mind all that you have to do and how you have to do it. It will certainly be better to correct the errors with the mind than to remove them from the painting. When you acquire the habit of doing nothing without first having ordered it, you will become a much faster painter than Aesclepiodoros, who, they say, was the most rapid of all ancient painters. …

I have seen some painters and sculptors, and even rhetoricians and poets – if there are rhetoricians and poets in this age – devote themselves to a work with zealous eagerness. Then their intellectual ardour cools off and they leave the rough and scarcely begun work to take up new things with renewed eagerness. I certainly censure such men. …

In few things is diligence prized more than intellect. But it is best to avoid the vitiating effect of those who wish to eliminate every weakness and make everything too polished. In their hands the work becomes old and squeezed dry before it is finished.”

(from On Painting [1435], translated by John R. Spencer)


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