Fresnoy, Charles Alphonsus Du

, a celebrated French poet and painter, was born at Paris in 1611. His father, who was an eminent apothecary in that city, intended him for the medical profession, and during the first year which he spent at college, he made very considerable progress in his studies; but as soon as he was raised to the highest classes, and began to contract a taste for poetry, his genius for it appeared, and he carried all the prizes of it, which were proposed to excite the emulation of his fellow-students. His inclination for poetry was heightened by exercise; and his earliest performances shewed that he was capable of attaining very considerable fame in this pursuit, if his love of painting, which equally possessed him, had not divided his time and application. At last he laid aside all thoughts of the study of physic, and declared absolutely for that of painting, notwithstanding the opposition of his parents, who by all kinds of severity endeavoured to divert him from pursuing that art, the profession of which they unjustly considered in a very contemptible light. But the strength of his inclination defeating all the measures taken to suppress it, he took the first opportunity of cultivating his favourite study.

He was nineteen or twenty years of age when he began to learn to design under Francis Perier, and having spent two years in the school of that painter, and of Simon Vouet, he thought proper to take a journey into Italy, where he arrived at the end of 1633, or the beginning of 1634. As he had di.ring his studies, applied himself very much to that of geometry, he began upon his coming to Rome to paint landscapes, buildings, and ancient ruins. But, for the first two years residence in that city, he had the utmost difficulty to support himself, being abandoned by his parents, who resented his having rejected their advice in the choice of his profession; and the little stock of money which he had provided before he left France, proving scarce sufficient for the expences of his journey to Italy. 3eing destitute therefore of friends and acquaintance at Rome, he was reduced to such distress, that | his chief subsistence for the greatest part of that time was bread, and a small quantity of cheese. But he diverted the sense of uneasy circumstances by an intense and indefatigable application to painting, until the arrival of the celebrated Peter Mignard, who had been the companion of his studies under Vouet, set him more at ease. They immediately engaged in the strictest friendship, living together in the same house, and being commonly known at Rome by the name of the Inseparables. They were employed by the cardinal of Lyons in copying all the best pieces in the Farnese palace. But their principal study was the works of Raffaelle and other great masters, and the antiques; and they were constant in their attendance every evening at the academy, in designing after models. Mignard had superior talents in practice; but Du Fresnoy was a great master of the rules, history, and theory of his profession. They communicated to each other their remarks and sentiments; Du Fresnoy furnishing his friend with noble and excellent ideas, and the latter instructing the former to paint with greater expedition and ease.

Poetry shared with painting the time and thoughts of Du Fresnoy, who, as he penetrated into the secrets of the latter art, wrote down his observations; and having at last acquired a full knowledge of the subject, formed a design of writing a poem upon it, which he did not finish till many years afterwards, when he had consulted the best writers, and examined with the utmost care the most admired pictures in Italy. While he resided there he painted several pictures, particularly the “Ruins of the Campo Vaccino,” with the city of Rome in the figure of a woman: a young woman of Athens going to see the monument of Jher lover, &c. One of his best pieces is “Mars finding Lavinia sleeping.” He had a peculiar esteem for the works of Titian, several of which he copied, imitating that xcellent painfer in his colouring, as he did Caracci in his designs. About 1653 he went to Venice, and travelled through Lombardy, after which he returned to France. He had read his poem to the best painters in all places through which he passed, and particularly to Albano and Guercino, then at Bologna, and he consulted several men famous for their skill in polite literature. He arrived at Paris in 1656, where he painted several pictures, and continued to revi&e his poem, on which he bestowed so much attention as frequently to interrupt his professional | labours. But, though he was desirous to see his work published, he thought it improper to print the Latin without a French translation, which was at length made by De Piles. Du Fresrioy had just begun a commentary upon it, when he was seized with a palsy; and after languishing four or five months under it, died at the house of one of his brothers, at Villiers-le-bel, four leagues from Paris, in 1665. From the time of Mignard’s return to Paris in 1658, the two friends continued to live together uutil death separated them.

His poem was not published till three years after his death, at Paris, 12mo, with the French version, and remarks of Mons. Du Piles, and it has been justly admired for its elegance, perspicuity, and the utility of the instruction it contains. In 1694, Dryden made a prose translation of it into English, which he accompanied with his ingenious parallel between poetry and painting. It was again translated into English by Mr. Wills, a painter, who gave it in metre without rhyme. He attempted to produce the sense of his author in an equal number of lines, and thus cramped his own skill; and produced a work unequal in itself, in which, however well he appears to hare understood the original text, he fails to impress it on his reader. It is now almost totally forgotten. More ample justice has been done in our language to the talents of Du Fresnoy, by our late skilful poet, William Mason, M. A.; by whom, in 1782, he was first clothed in an English dress suited to his elevated pretensions. And still greater honour was done to him by the hand of that extraordinary genius of our isle in the art of painting, sir Joshua Reynolds, for whose more valuable remarks upon the most important points in the poem, Mr. Mason was induced to discard those of Mons. Du Piles. By the union of the talents of two men so renowned in the arts of poetry and painting, Du Fresnoy is rendered for ever dear to the English reader; and the thorough knowledge he has exhibited of the best principles of the art of painting, is become more agreeably and more extensively diffused. 1


Life prefixed to Maura’s translation. —Moreri. D’Argenville.