Notes to "The Subject in Art. No. II"

The Subject in Art

No. II

those principles ... first number of this essay
Tupper establishes two main principles in part I of "The Subject in Art." First, that art should represent natural objects: thus, anything in nature that excites our mental and moral faculties is the right subject for "Fine" or "High" art. Second, that ancient works should not awe us to the extent that we ignore contemporary subjects.

moral beauty
Although Robert Buchanan called The Germ "an unwholesome periodical" in his essay "The Fleshly School of Poetry" (1871), a number of the journal's debates on the current state of art and poetry reflect the moral aesthetics of the Brotherhood. As this essay by Tupper suggests, the Pre-Raphaelites, though waging a revolt against existing conditions of art, did not always abjure conventional moral sentiment. Tupper later proposes that Art, by portraying the conditions of contemporary life, will become "a more powerful engine of civilization" (122).

old world transcendency and golden age affairs
The Greek poet Hesiod was the first to describe earlier races or generations who lived in happier times than the present generation. He labelled the earliest generation, whose life was considered the most idyllic, the "Golden race," a race ruled not by Zeus but by his predecessor, Chronos. The Golden race was succeeded by progressively inferior races, those of silver, bronze, and iron. The Roman poets Horace, Virgil, and Ovid all borrowed this concept of a golden race or golden age.

Alfred's disguised visit ... Aulaff's visit to the Saxon
William of Malmesbury, in Book II, chapter 4 of Gesta Regum Anglorum, relates the story of Alfred in the Danish camp, an event which occurred c. AD 878-890:
"Accompanied only by one of his most faithful adherents, [Alfred] entered the tent of the Danish king under the disguise of a minstrel; and being admitted, as a professor of the mimic art, to the banqueting room, there was no object of secrecy that he did not minutely attend to both with eyes and ears. Remaining there several days, till he had satisfied his mind on every matter which he wished to know, he returned to Athelney ..."
The story of Alfred's surreptitious visit was very popular in the Middle Ages and became attached to a number of later figures.

In Book II, chapter 6, William tells a similar story of the Scandinavian king Anlaf, son of Sihtric, who visited the camp of Alfred's illustrious grandson Athelstan in the year 924. Anlaf is probably the "Aulaff" to whom Tupper alludes. William writes:

"Perceiving at length what danger hung over him when he assumed the character of a spy, laying aside his royal ensigns, and taking a harp in his hand, he proceeded to our king's tent: singing before the entrance, and at times touching the trembling strings in harmonious cadence, he was readily admitted, professing himself a minstrel, who procured his daily sustenance by such employment. Here he entertained the king and his companions for some time with his musical performance, carefully examining everything while occupied in singing. When satiety of eating had put an end to their sensual enjoyments, and the business of war was resumed among the nobles, he was ordered to depart, and received the recompense of his song; but disdaining to take it away, he hid it beneath him in the earth ..."

camera obscura
The camera obscura was an optical instrument consisting of a darkened chamber or box, into which light was admitted through a double convex lens, forming an image of external objects on a surface of paper, glass, etc., placed at the focus of the lens. It could be attached to the eyepiece of a microscope to enable the containment and tracing of an image. (OED) It was similar to the Claude-glass, the popular Romantic instrument which condensed a whole scene to an image within a frame, and which Ruskin regarded as "one of the most pestilent inventions for falsifying nature and degrading art which was ever put into an artist's hand." [See The Works of John Ruskin, ed. E.T. Cook and A. Wedderburn, (London, 1903-12). 6: 114-15, 262]

ocular spectra
The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was formed at a time when a culturally and historically complex optical discourse was manifesting itself in new photographic instruments and practices. Contemporary reviews of the first volume of Pre-Raphaelite poetry, Morris's The Defence of Guenevere, and Other Poems (1858), for example, blend their criticism of Morris's volume with commentary on Pre-Raphaelite painting, optical instruments, and photography. [See esp. The Saturday Review 20 November 1858: 507; The Spectator 31 (February 1858): 238; The Athenaeum 3 April 1858: 427-28; and A. Claudet, "Photography in its relation to the fine arts," The Photographic Journal 6 (15 June 1860).]

The claims of ancient ... at a future period.
After its fourth issue (May 1850), The Germ (or Art and Poetry) was discontinued. Tupper never continued this essay, as he evidently intended.