THE early eighteenth century in England saw the rise of a systematic criticism of the fine arts. The previous century had produced musical handbooks, manuals of architecture and several important treatises on poetry. Some of the latter contained allusions to sculpture and occasionally to painting but criticism of the plastic arts did not go much beyond the casual praise and prejudice of a Pepys or an Evelyn. Theoretical opinion in so far as it referred to painting, sculpture or architecture relied exclusively on Italian or French authorities.
By 1730, however, a dozen or more books on art had appeared, most of them concerned with Italian painting or the classical or religious history which formed the subjects of famous pictures. 71 In so far as these were consciously critical, in so far as they defined and applied principles they still followed French or Italian guides. They differed only in the freedom of translation or slight adaptations to national taste. Self-conscious in manner and definitely on the defensive, the new criticism remained for several decades essentially derivative. Even the best of the new critics, Jonathan Richardson, who influenced Reynolds more than fifty years later, differed little from the French Du Piles or the Italian Du Fresnoy whose famous poem 2 on painting Dryden had been persuaded to translate in 1695. Richardson Essay on theTheory of Painting