The Garden Guide

Book: Designs for the pavilion at Brighton, 1808
Chapter: An Inquiry Into The Changes In Architecture

Imitation, copying and Quatremere de Quincy

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Such is the love of exact imitation in common minds, that copies are made from copies, without end. For this reason, houses are built to resemble castles, and abbeys, and Grecian or Roman temples, forgetting their uses, and overlooking the general forms of each, while their minutest detail of enrichment is copied and misapplied. In works of art we can only use the FORMS of nature, not the EXACTNESS. Thus, in furniture, if we introduce the head or the foot of an animal, it may be graceful; but if we cover it with hair, or feathers, it becomes ridiculous. And in the parts taken from the vegetable kingdom, to enrich the ornaments of architecture, imitation goes no farther than the general forms, since we scarcely know the individual plant; although some writers have mentioned the reed, the acanthus, and the lotus*. *[In this and the preceding paragraph, Mr. Repton appears to have obtained a glimpse of the Theory of Imitation, so beautifully developed by Quatremere de Quincy. The fundamental principle of this theory is-"To imitate in the fine arts is to produce the resemblance of a thing, but in some other thing, which becomes the image of it." When a thing is imitated, in such a manner as renders the imitation liable to be mistaken for the thing imitated, the object so produced has no claim to be considered as belonging to the fine arts. In general it may be said, that resemblance, by means of an image, renders an object artistical; while similarity, by means of identity, constitutes an object a mere mechanical production. Hence it is, that the close imitation of nature in park scenery, by planting indigenous trees, ferns, thorns, &c., and by breaking the ground, and otherwise introducing or modifying objects, so as to produce a picturesque effect, has but a very subordinate claim to be considered the work of an artist. It has little more claim to this kind of merit, than figures of coloured wax-work dressed so as to imitate life. There are only two modes by which landscape gardening can be brought within the pale of the fine arts. The first is, by the disposition of the indigenous trees and shrubs of a country in a manner decidedly artificial, as in the geometrical style of laying out grounds; and the second is, by employing trees and shrubs foreign to the country in which the landscape is to be produced, as shewn in the "Gardener's Magazine," vol. x. p. 558. The planting these exotic trees, shrubs, and plants, is not less a mechanical operation than planting indigenous ones; but the similarity to nature would not be quite so identical as in the other case: art would, at all times, be recognised in the production, and when the trees were fully grown, and the effect at once picturesque and exotic, the result, we think, might be considered as belonging to the fine arts; or, at all events, as something superior to the mere mechanical art of fac simile imitation. In this view of the subject, the modern style of landscape gardening is just as artificial as the ancient style, and this it ought undoubtedly to be. in order to bring it within the pale of the fine arts. See our Introduction to this volume. J. C. L.]