(IV) FRENCH WRITERS ON AESTHETICS
French Writers on Aesthetics. Partial Discussions of the Problem. Charles Batteux. Denis Diderot. Claude Buffier. Hippolyte Taine.
In passing from German to French writers on aesthetical topics we find, as might be expected, much less of metaphysical assumption and a clearer perception of the scientific character of the problem. At the same time, the authors are but few, and their works mostly of a fragmentary character.
Passing by the Jesuit André, who sought to rehabilitate Augustuns theory of the Beautiful, we first light on the name of Batteux. In his Cours de Belles Lettres (1765) he seeks to determine the aims of art by elucidating the meaning and value of the imitation of nature. He classifies the arts according to the forms of space and time, those of either division being capable of combining among themselves, but not with those of the other. Thus architecture, sculpture, and painting may co-operate in one visible effect; also music, poetry, and the dance.
Diderot, again, in the Encyclopédie, sought to define beauty by making it to consist in the perception of relations. In his Essais sur la Peinture he follows Batteux in extolling naturalness, or fidelity to nature.
Another very inadequate theory of beauty was propounded by Père Buffier. He said it is the type of a species which gives the measure of beauty. A beautiful face, though rare, is nevertheless the model after which the largest number is formed.
Not unlike this theory is a doctrine propounded by H. Taine. In his work, De lIdéal dans lArt, he proceeds in the manner of a botanist to determine a scale of characters in the physical and moral man, according to the embodiment of which a work of art becomes ideal. The degree of universality or importance, and the degree of beneficence or adaptation to the ends of life in a character, give it its measure of aesthetic value, and render the work of art, which seeks to represent it in its purity, an ideal work.
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