Plate XL - Head of Achilles

Plate XL is an attempt to give a fac-simile of the head of Achilles, traced on transparent paper upon the original. The head of Briseis, which was also beautiful, had unfortunately suffered from the fall of a beam intended to preserve it.

The extreme vivacity, dignity, and beauty of the head of Achilles are but faintly expressed in this engraving, and all those faults seem exaggerated which the skill of the artist and the colouring of the original concealed. One of the eyes, in particular, is larger than the other ; and there may be other defects, which totally disappear when observed with the entire painting, leaving the impression of the finest youthful head in existence.

The picture is four feet two inches high by four feet wide. This may be a proper place for stating that the author cannot presume, in attempting to preserve a memorial and record of these paintings, to imagine that any thing more than a faint idea of them can be furnished to the reader. An artist of the first skill would find it a difficult task to preserve in scanty outlines the traces of the force or expression of the original where there is often no outline at all, it being shaded off till the forms become indistinct. Indeed, where it can be done, nothing is so difficult as to trace an outline from the originals, even on the most transparent paper. At an immense expense only, and on a large scale, could any idea be furnished of the touch and style of the painters of antiquity. Many are also incorrect as to drawing, yet the additions of shade and colour diminish the defect which, in outline, becomes glaring. Those, however, who wish to study the grouping and composition of the ancients, will here find great assistance, and history and poetry may be illustrated upon authority instead of from fancy.

There is, no doubt, a certain degree of sameness even in the coloured originals - a defect which must be more visible in outline. The Romans only copied themselves and the Greeks ; therefore they had not that range over all ages and all situations which is open to modern art. The Greeks, who only depicted themselves, and an occasional Persian or Amazon, were still more confined as to models. The shading of a modern picture is generally artificially contrived by a light let in by a small window, or even a small hole in a shutter purposely closed, and which produces an effect rarely observed in nature. The ancients, on the contrary, seem to have preferred the light of day for their works, and one curious advantage is gained by it. The pictures of the ancients produce a pleasing effect when only surrounded by a simple line of red, while the very best of modern paintings is very much indebted to the carver and gilder for its gorgeous and burnished frame, without which its beauties are so much diminished that it almost ceases to be a decoration to an apartment.