The Serpentine Line
The Analysis of Beauty, Plate 1, by Willam Hogarth
William Hogarth was an eighteenth-century English artist and writer known for his paintings and engravings, and theories on beauty and aesthetics which he developed and published in his 1753 treaties on art, The Analysis of Beauty. In this volume, Hogarth grounds his analysis on the theory that the essence of beauty lies in The Serpentine Line. This Serpentine Line, or Line of Beauty, takes the form of an S-shaped curve as illustrated below, evoking movement and liveliness, one which ‘leads the eye in a pleasing manner along the continuity of its variety’, in contrast to the listlessness or stillness of the straight line and right angles.
Hogarth's 'Line of Beauty'
Variety was one of a number of principles which Hogarth saw as affecting beauty, the others being fitness, regularity, simplicity, intricacy and quantity. To his mind, each had its own effect on beauty and could be applied to works of fine and decorative art to improve their aesthetic quality.
The Serpentine Line is clearly distinguishable in many of the artist’s paintings and engravings and is also visible in numerous elements of Georgian furniture. It is most evident in the cabriole leg, portrayed in the first plate of Hogarth’s engraving The Analysis of Beauty, illustrated at the top of the page, with a series of cabriole legs visible at the top, just right of centre. The George II walnut side chair, pictured above, is raised on such cabriole legs, where the Line of Beauty is clearly visible.
Beyond this ubiquitous style of leg, the Line of Beauty features in elements of cabinet and case furniture, as well as table-tops on display in the showrooms of Reindeer Antiques. The sycamore and marquetry pier commode attributed to Mayhew and Ince (above) displays a serpentine from, giving it a refined elegance and matching the curves of the marquetry. Additionally, the Serpentine Line gives the Sheraton period pembroke table (below) its distinctive the butterfly shaped top adding to the graceful and sophisticated design.
Hogarth’s Line of Beauty appears in many art forms any many styles of furniture from different periods, such as Baroque and Rococo, and in more restrained iterations in Georgian furniture. Once you see it, you’ll not cease to notice it.