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Italy, the Magic LandByLilian Whiting
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Italy, the Magic Land
THE MAGIC LAND
I. THE PERIOD OF MODERN ART IN ROME
II. SOCIAL LIFE IN THE ETERNAL CITY
III. DAY-DREAMS IN NAPLES, AMALFI, AND CAPRI
IV. A PAGE DE CONTI FROM ISCHIA
V. VOICES OF ST. FRANCIS OF ASSISI
VI. THE GLORY OF A VENETIAN JUNE
VII. THE MAGIC LAND
TO ELLA (Mrs. Franklin Simmons)
WHOSE EARTHLY FORM REPOSES IN THE BEAUTIFUL ROMAN CEMETERY, WHERE POETIC ASSOCIATIONS WITH KEATS AND SHELLEY HAUNT THE AIR,—UNDER THE SCULPTURED “ANGEL OF THE RESURRECTION,” WITH ITS MAJESTIC SYMBOLISM OF THE TRIUMPH OF IMMORTALITY,—BUT WHOSE RADIANT PRESENCE STILL TRANSFIGURES THE LIFE THAT HELD HER IN IMMORTAL DEVOTION,— THESE PAGES ARE INSCRIBED,
WITH THE UNFORGETTING LOVE OF
Rome, Italy, May Days, 1907.
“Nor Life is ever lord of Death,And Love can never lose its own.”
That Florence, the “Flower City,” receives only a passing allusion in this record of various impressions that gleam and glow through the days after several visits to the Magic Land, is due to the fact that in a previous volume by the writer—one entitled “The Florence of Landor”—the lovely Tuscan town with its art, its ineffable beauty, and its choice social life, formed the subject matter of that volume. Any attempt to portray Florence in the present book would savor only of the repetition of loves and enthusiasms already recorded in the previous work in which Walter Savage Landor formed the central figure. For that reason no mention of Florence, beyond some mere allusion, is attempted in these pages, which only aim to present certain fragmentary impressions of various sojourns in Italy, refracted through the prism of memory. Whatever inconveniences or discomfort attend the traveller swiftly fade, and leave to him only the precious heritage of resplendent sunset skies, of poetic association, of artistic beauty. In spirit he is again lingering through long afternoons in St. Peter’s till the golden light through the far windows of the tribune is merged into the dusk of twilight in which the vast monumental groups gleam wraith-like. Again he is ascending the magnificent Scala Regia, and lingering in the Raphael Stanze, or in the wonderful sculpture galleries of the Vatican, or sauntering in the sunshine on the Palatine. In memory he is again spellbound by ancient and mediæval art. In the line of modern sculpture the work of Franklin Simmons in Rome is a feature of Italy that haunts the imagination. No lover of beauty would willingly miss his great studios in the Via San Nicolo da Tolentino, with their wealth of ideal creations that contribute new interest to the most divine of all the arts.
“The world of art is an ideal world,—The world I love, and that I fain would live in;So speak to me of artists and of art,Of all the painters, sculptors, and musiciansThat now illustrate Rome.”
The mystic charm of the pilgrimage to Assisi; the romance that reflects itself in the violet seas and flaming splendors of the sky on the shores of Ischia and Capri; the buried treasures of Amalfi; the magnetic impressiveness of the Eternal City,—all these enter into life as new forces to build and shape the future into undreamed-of destinies.
The Brunswick, Boston, October Days, 1907.
“Rest we content if whispers from the starsIn wafting of the incalculable windCome blown at midnight through our prison-bars.”
By woodland belt, by ocean bar,The full south breeze our forehead fanned;And, under many a yellow star,We dropped into the Magic Land.
We heard, far-off, the siren’s song;We caught the gleam of sea-maids’ hair;The glimmering isles and rocks amongWe moved through sparkling purple air.
Then Morning rose, and smote from farHer elfin harps o’er land and sea;And woodland belt, and ocean barTo one sweet note sighed—“Italy!”
But ah, that spring should vanish with the Rose!That youth’s sweet-scented manuscript should close?The nightingale that in the branches sang,Oh, where and whither flown again,—who knows?
Rome, as the picturesque city of the Popes in the middle years of the nineteenth century, was resplendent in local color. It was the Rome of sunny winters; the Rome of gay excursions over that haunted sea of the Campagna to pictorial points in the Alban and Sabine hills; the Rome of young artist life, which organized impromptu festas with Arcadian freedom, and utilized the shadow or the shelter of ruined temples or tombs in which to spread its picnic lunches and bring the glow of simple, friendly intercourse into the romantic lights of the poetic, historic, or tragic past. There were splendid Catholic processions and ceremonials that seemed organized as a part of the stage scenery that ensconced itself, also, with the nonchalance of easy possession, in the vast salons of historic palaces where tapestried walls and richly painted ceilings, arched high overhead, with statues dimly seen in niches here and there, and the bust of some crowned Antoninus, or radiant Juno, gleaming from a shadowy corner, all made up the mise-en-scène of familiar evenings. There were lingering hours in the gardens of the Villa Medici into whose shades one strolled by that beguiling path along the parapet on Monte Pincio, through the beautiful grove with its walks and fountains. The old ilex bosquet, with its tangled growth and air of complete seclusion, had its spell of fascination. Then, as now, the elevated temple, at the end of the main path, seemed the haunt of gods and muses. In all the incidental, as well as the ceremonial social meeting and mingling, art and religion were the general themes of discussion. This idyllic life—
“Comprehending, too, the soul’sAnd all the high necessities of art”—
has left its impress on the air as well as its record on many a page of the poet and the romancist. The names that made memorable those wonderful days touch chords of association that still vibrate in the life of the hour. For the most part the artists and their associates have gone their way—not into a Silent Land, a land of shadows and vague, wandering ghosts—but into that realm wherein is the “life more abundant,” of more intense energy and of nobler achievement; the realm in which every aspiration of earth enlarges its conception and every inspiration is exalted and endowed with new purpose; the realm where, as Browning says,—
“Power comes in full play.”
The poet’s vision recognizes the truth:—
“I know there shall dawn a day,—Is it here on homely earth?Is it yonder, worlds away,Where the strange and new have birth,That Power comes in full play?”
The names of sculptor, painter, and poet throng back, imaged in that retrospective mirror which reflects a vista of the past, rich in ideal creation. Beautiful forms emerge from the marble; pictorial scenes glow from the canvas; song and story and happy, historic days are in the very air. To Italy, land of romance and song, all the artists came trooping, and
“Under many a yellow Star”
they dropped into the Magic Land. If the wraiths of the centuries long since dead walked the streets, they were quite welcome to revisit the glimpses of the moon and contribute their mystery to the general artistic effectiveness of the Seven-hilled City. All this group of American idealists, from Allston and Page to Crawford, Story, Randolph Rogers, Vedder, Simmons, and to the latest comer of all, Charles Walter Stetson, recognized something of the artist’s native air in this Mecca of their pilgrimage.
It was, indeed, quite natural, on account of the stupendous work of Michael Angelo and the unrivalled museums of the Vatican, that Rome should have become pre-eminently the artistic centre of the nineteenth century and should have attracted students and lovers of art from all parts of the world. The immortal works of the two great periods, the Greek and the Renaissance,—the art that was forever great because it was the outgrowth of profound religious conviction,—were enshrined in the churches and the galleries of Rome. The leading countries of Europe sent here their aspiring students and established permanent academies for their residence. Germany, France, and England were thus represented. Thorwaldsen came as a pensioner from the Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen; and it was during his life, and that of the noble Canova, that Rome began to be recognized as the modern world-centre of art. Was it not a natural sequence that the early painters and sculptors who came to study under the stimulating influences of the great masterpieces of the past should linger on in the city whose very air became to them the breath of inspiring suggestion? Where but in Rome would have come to Crawford the vision of his “Orpheus” and of his noble Beethoven? or to Story his “Libyan Sibyl,” and that exquisite group, “Into the Silent Land”? or to Vedder his marvellous creations of “The Fates Gathering in the Stars,” the “Cumæan Sibyl,” or the “Dance of the Pleiades”? to Simmons his triumphant “Angel of the Resurrection,” and “The Genius of Progress Leading the Nations”? or to Stetson that ineffable vision of “The Child,” and that wonderful group called “Music”? whose coloring Titian or Giorgione might well mistake for their own.
Under the Pontifical régime the general character of Rome was mediæval and religious. The perpetual festas of the church made the streets constantly picturesque with their processions of monks, and friars, and priests, and these wonderful blendings of color and scenic effect stimulated the artistic sense. The expenses of living in Rome were then only a fraction of what the cost is at the present time; and as the city was the resort of the wealthy and cultured few, the artists were surrounded by the stimulus of critical appreciation and of patronage. Their work, their dreams, were the theme of literary discussion, and focussed the attention of the polite world. Their studios were among the important interests to every visitor in the Eternal City. In those days the traveller did not land with his touring car at Naples, make “the run” to Rome in a record that distanced any possibilities of railroad trains, pass two or three days in motoring about the city and its environs, seeing the exterior of everything in a dissolving view and the interior of nothing,—as within this time, at least, he must flash on in his touring car to Florence. On the contrary, the traveller proceeded to Rome with serious deliberation, and with a more realizing sense of undertaking a journey than Walter Wellman experiences in attempting to fly in his aero-car to the North Pole and send his observations across the polar seas by wireless telegraphy. The visitor went to Rome for a winter, for a year, and gave himself up to leisurely impressions. Rome was an atmosphere, not a spectacle, and it was to be entered with the lofty and reverent appreciation of the poet’s power and the artist’s vision.
In Rome, Thomas Cole painted some of his best pictures; and in Rome or Florence wrought a long list of painters and sculptors. Whether in the Eternal City or in the Flower City, their environment was alike Italy—the environment of the Magic Land. Among the more prominent of all these devotees of Beauty several nationalities were represented. Each might have said of his purpose, in the words of William Watson:—
“I follow Beauty; of her train am I,Beauty, whose voice is earth and sea and air;Who serveth, and her hands for all things ply;Who reigneth, and her throne is everywhere.”
Among these artists there flash upon memory the names of Vanderlyn, Benjamin West, Allston, Rauch, Ange, Veit, Tenerani, Overbeck, Schadow, Horace Vernet, Thorwaldsen, John Gibson, Hiram Powers, Crawford, Page, Clark Mills, Randolph Rogers, William Rinehart, Launt Thompson, Horatio and Richard Greenough, Thomas Ball, Anne Whitney, Larkin G. Mead, Paul Akers, William Wetmore Story, Harriet Hosmer, J. Rollin Tilton, and, later, Elihu Vedder, Moses Ezekiel, Franklin Simmons, Augustus St. Gaudens, and Charles Walter Stetson, the name of Mr. Stetson linking the long and interesting procession with the immediate life of to-day. Of these later artists Story, Miss Hosmer, Ezekiel, Vedder, Simmons, and Stetson are identified with Rome as being either their permanent or their prolonged residence. Mr. St. Gaudens was a transient student, returning to his own country to pursue his work; and of two young sculptors, Hendrick Christian Anderson and C. Percival Dietsch, time has not yet developed their powers beyond an experimental stage of brilliant promise.
The Rome of the artists of clay and canvas was also the Rome of the poets and romancists, of authors in all lines of literary achievement. How the names of the procession of visitors and sojourners in the Eternal City, from Milton, Goethe, and Mme. de Staël to Henry James, Marion Crawford, Richard Bagot, and Grace Ellery Channing (Mrs. Charles Walter Stetson), gleam from that resplendent panorama of the modern past of Rome! Like the words in electric fire that flash out of the darkness in city streets at night, there shine the names of Shelley and of Keats; of Gladstone, on whom in one memorable summer day, while strolling in Italian sunshine, there fell a vision of the sacredness and the significance of life and its infinite responsibility in the fulfilment of lofty purposes. What charming associations these guests and sojourners have left behind! Hawthorne, embodying in immortal romance the spirit of the scenic greatness of the Eternal City; Margaret Fuller, Marchesa d’Ossoli, allying herself in marriage with the country she loved, and living in Rome those troubled, mysterious years that were to close the earthly chapter of her life; Robert and Elizabeth Browning, the wedded poets, who sang of love and Italy; Harriet Beecher Stowe, finding on the enchanted Italian shores the material which she wove with such irresistible attraction into the romance of “Agnes of Sorrento;” Longfellow, with his poet’s vision, transmuting every vista and impression into some exquisite lyric; Lowell, bringing his philosophic as well as his poetic insight to penetrate the untold meaning of Rome; Thomas William Parsons, making the country of Dante fairly his own; Thackeray, with his brilliant interpretation of the comédie humaine; Emerson, who, oblivious of all the glories of art or the joys of nature, absorbed himself in writing transcendental letters to his eccentric, but high-souled aunt, Mary Moody Emerson; Ruskin, translating Italian art to Italy herself; Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe and his poet wife, Mrs. Julia Ward Howe, in the first flush of their bridal happiness, when Mrs. Howe’s impassioned love for the Seven-hilled City inspired many a lyric that mirrors the Roman atmosphere of that day; Kate Field, with a young girl’s glad enthusiasm over the marvellous loveliness of a Maytime in Rome, and her devotion to those great histrionic artists, Ristori and Salvini; George Stillman Hillard, leaving to literature the rich legacy of his “Six Months in Italy,”—a work that to this day holds precedence as a clear and comprehensive presentation of the scenic beauty, the notable monumental and architectural art, and the general life and resources of this land of painter and poet. Other names, too, throng upon memory—that of William Dean Howells, painting Italian life in his “Venetian Days,” and charming all the literary world by his choice art; and among later work, the interesting interpretations of Rome and of social life in Rome, by Marion Crawford, Henry James, and Richard Bagot,—in chronicle, in romance, or in biographical record. During the last quarter of the nineteenth century, indeed, the visitors to Rome—authors, artists, travellers of easy leisure—defy any numerical record. Mrs. Louise Chandler Moulton, poet, romancist, and delightful raconteur as well, has recorded some charming impressions of her various sojourns in Rome both in her “Random Rambles” and in “Lazy Tours.” Of the Palatine Hill we find her saying:—
“Sometimes we go to the Palace of the Cæsars, and look off upon the heights where the snow lingers and the warm light rests, making them shine like the Delectable Mountains. Nearer at hand are the almond trees, in flower, or the orange trees, bright at once with their white, sweet blossoms and their golden fruit.”
Mrs. Moulton writes of the “stately dwellers” in Rome whom time cannot change; and to whom, whenever she returns, she makes her first visit; some of whom are in the mighty palace of the Vatican and some of whom dwell in state in the Capitol.
“The beautiful Antoninus still wears his crown of lotus in Villa Albani and the Juno whom Goethe worshipped reigns forever at the Ludovisi,” she writes; “I can never put in words the pleasure I find in these immortals.” Mrs. Moulton loved to wander in the Villa Borghese “before the place is thronged with the beauty and fashion of Rome as it is in the late afternoon. I do not wonder that Miriam and Donatello could forget their fate in these enchanted glades,” she wrote, “and dance as the sunbeams danced with the shadows. Sometimes I seem to see them where the sun sifts through the young green leaves, and her beauty—her human, deep-souled beauty—and his fantastic grace are the only things here that cannot change.
“The walls will crumble; the busts of kings and heroes and poets will lose their contours, the lovely Roman ladies also grow old and fade, and vanish from sight and from memory; but still these two, hopeless yet happy, will dance in these wild glades immortally beyond the reach of the effacing years.”
The visit to Rome of the Rev. Dr. Phillips Brooks—later the Bishop of Massachusetts—is immortalized in the most lifelike portrait bust of the great preacher ever modelled; a bust in which the genius of the sculptor, Franklin Simmons, found one of its noblest expressions, and has perpetuated, with masterly power, the energy of thought, at once profound and intense, in the countenance of Bishop Brooks. These, and many another whom the gods have loved and dowered with gifts, rise before any retrospective glance over the comparatively recent past of Rome. Bishop Brooks passed there the Holy Week of one Lenten season, and of the Miserere in the Sistine Chapel he wrote that it was certainly the most wonderful music to which he had ever listened; and he added:—
“The Miserere in the Sistine, the Benediction from the balcony, the solemn moment of the elevation of the Host on Easter, and the illumination of St. Peter’s, these all seem to reach very remarkably the great ideal of the central religious commemoration of Christendom.”
It was in the winter of 1828 that Mr. Longfellow first visited Rome, which “is announced,” he wrote, “by Nero’s tomb,” and he quotes Dupaty’s lines:—
“Quoi! c’est là Rome? quoi!C’est le tombeau de Neron qui l’annonce.”
Mr. Longfellow expressed his love for the Eternal City, and in a personal letter he said:—
“I have been so delighted with Rome that I have extended my residence much beyond my original intention. There is so much in the city to delay the stranger; the villages in the environs are so beautiful, and there is such a quiet and stillness about everything that, were it in my power, I should be induced to remain the whole year round. You can imagine nothing equal to the ruins of Rome. The Forum and the Coliseum are beyond all I had ever fancied them; and the ruined temples and the mouldering aqueducts which are scattered over the Campagna; I do not believe there is a finer view in the world than that from the eastern gate of the city, embracing the Campagna, with its ruined aqueducts diverging in long broken arcades, and terminated by the sweep of the Albanian hills, sprinkled with their white villages, and celebrated in song and story! But the great charm of the scene springs from association; and though everything in Italy is really picturesque, yet strip the country of its historic recollections,—think merely of what it is, and not of what it has been,—and you will find the dream to be fading away.
“You would be shocked at the misery of the people, especially in the Pope’s dominions: but their element seems to be in rags and misery; and with the ceremonials of their religion and the holidays of the church, which average nearly three a week, they are poor—and lazy and happy. I mean, happy in their way.”
In a later visit the poet was domiciled in an hotel on the Piazza Barberini, where the wonderful view included then the entire city “to where St. Peter’s dome darkens against the sunset.” Of this visit his brother, Rev. Samuel Longfellow, writes:—
“Here Mr. Longfellow became for the season the centre of the group of American visitors and resident artists, whose well-known names need not be recounted. Here he made, also, acquaintances among the Italians,—especially the Duke of Sermoneta, the Dantean scholar, and Monsignore Nardi, of the papal court. The Pope himself he did not visit. An interesting acquaintance was that made with the Abbé Liszt, who was spending the winter in Rome, having rooms in the abandoned Convent of Santa Francesca, in the Forum. Calling there one evening, in company with Mr. Healy the artist, the inner door of the apartment was opened to them by Liszt himself, holding high in his hand a candle which illuminated his fine face. The picture was so striking that Mr. Longfellow begged his companion to put it upon canvas,—which he did; and the painting now hangs in the library of Craigie House. At a morning visit, Liszt delighted the party with a performance upon his Chickering pianoforte.
“To see Rome, as all travellers know, is a work for many months; and it was pursued with tolerable diligence. But Mr. Longfellow was never a good sight-seer. He was impatient of lingering in picture galleries, churches, or ruins. He saw quickly the essential points, and soon tired of any minuter examination.”
But long, indeed, before nineteenth-century artists and authors laid siege to the Eternal City, in the far-away years of 1638, Milton visited Rome, and there still remains the tablet, on the wall of the casa in the Via delle Quattro Fontane in which he stayed, a tablet bearing an inscription giving the date of his visit; as, also, in Via Machella, there is an inscription marking the place where Scott lived during his visit to Rome. Goethe made his memorable tour to Italy in 1786—fourteen years before the dawn of the nineteenth century—and wrote: “I feel the greatest longing to read Tacitus in Rome;” and again (an observation with which every visitor to the Eternal City will sympathize) he noted:—
“It grows more and more difficult for me to render an account of my residence in Rome, for as we always find the sea deeper the further we go, so it is with me in observation of this city. . . . Wherever we go and wherever we stand, we see about us a finished picture,—forms of every kind and style; palaces and ruins; gardens and wastes; the distant and the near houses; triumphal arches and columns,—often all so close together that they might be sketched on a single sheet. One should have a thousand points of steel with which to write, and what can a single pen do? and then in the evening one is weary and exhausted with the day of seeing and admiring. Here one reads history from within outward.”
Chateaubriand, who in his earliest youth had visited America as the guest of Washington, passed the winter of 1803-4 in Rome, and his pictorial transcriptions of the city and its environs are among the most exquisite things in literary record. As, for instance, this description of a sunset from Monte Mario:—
“I was never weary of seeing, from the Villa Borghese, the sun go down behind the cypresses of Monte Mario, and the pines of the Villa Pamphili planted by Le Notre. I have stood upon the Ponte Molle to enjoy the sublime spectacle of the close of day. The summits of the Sabine hills appeared of lapis lazuli and pale gold, while their bases and sides were bathed in vapors of violet or purple. Sometimes lovely clouds, like fairy cars, borne along by the evening wind with inimitable grace, recall the mythological tales of the descent of the deities of Olympus. Sometimes old Rome seems to have spread all over the west the purple of her consuls and her Cæsars, beneath the last steps of the god of day. This rich decoration does not vanish so quickly as in our climate. When we think the hues are about to disappear they revive on some other point of the horizon; one twilight follows another and the magic of sunset is prolonged.”
It was in the same year that Mme. de Staël visited Rome and recorded, in her glowing romance, “Corinne,” the impressions she received. In the spring of 1817 Lord Byron found in Rome the inspiration that he transmitted into that wonderful line in “Childe Harold”:—
“The Niobe of Nations! There she stands.”
It was two years later that Shelley passed the spring in the Seven-hilled City, retiring to Leghorn later, to write his tragedy of “The Cenci.”
In Rome the visitor follows Michael Angelo and Raphael through the various churches and museums. The celebrated sibyls of Raphael are in the Santa Maria della Pace; his “Isaiah” is in San Agostino and his “Entombment” in the Casino of the Villa Borghese. While the sublime work of Michael Angelo in the Sistine Chapel is always one of the first things in Rome to which the traveller goes to study that incomparable work portraying the Creation—the Prophets and the Sibyls, the Angels and the Genii, that record the impassioned power of the master—yet all footsteps turn quickly, too, to the church called San Pietro in Vincoli, near the house in which Lucrezia Borgia lived, in which is the colossal Moses of Michael Angelo. As it stands, it fails to convey the first design of the great sculptor. Originally intended for the tomb of Pope Julius II, the plan included a massive block of marble (some forty by twenty feet) surmounted by a cornice and having its niches, its columns, and its statues, of which the Moses was to have been one. It would then have been judged relatively to the entire group, while now it is seen alone, and thus out of the proportions that were in the mind of the artist. The entire conception, indeed, was to unite sculpture and architecture into one splendid combination. “Thus the statue of Moses was meant to have been raised considerably above the eye of the spectator,” writes Mr. Hillard, “and to have been a single object in a colossal structure of architecture and sculpture, which would have had a foreground and a background, and been crowned with a mass at once dome-like and pyramidal. Torn, as it is, from its proper place; divorced from its proportionate companionship; stuck against the wall of a church; and brought face to face with the observer,—what wonder that so many of those who see it turn away with no other impressions than those of caricature and exaggeration!”
Mr. Hillard adds:—
“But who that can appreciate the sublime in art will fail to bow down before it as embodied in this wonderful statue? The majestic character of the head, the prodigious muscles of the chest and arms, and the beard that flows like a torrent to the waist, represent a being of more than mortal port and power, speaking with the authority, and frowning with the sanctions of incarnate law. The drapery of the lower part of the figure is inferior to the anatomy of the upper part. Remarkable as the execution of the statue is, the expression is yet more so; for notwithstanding its colossal proportions, its prominent characteristic is the embodiment of intellectual power. It is the great leader and lawgiver of his people that we see, whose voice was command, and whose outstretched arm sustained a nation’s infant steps. He looks as if he might control the energies of nature as well as shape the mould in which the character of his people should be formed. That any one should stand before this statue in a scoffing mood is to me perfectly inexplicable. My own emotions were more nearly akin to absolute bodily fear. At an irreverent word, I should have expected the brow to contract into a darker frown, and the marble lips to unclose in rebuke.”
William Watson condenses his impressions of this majestic sculpture in the following quatrain.—
“The captain’s might, and mystery of the seer—Remoteness of Jehovah’s colloquist,Nearness of man’s heaven-advocate—are here:Alone Mount Nebo’s harsh foreshadow is miss’d.”
The impressive group of sculptures and buildings on the Campidoglio—where once the shrine of Jupiter Capitolinus stood—owes its present picturesque scheme largely to Michael Angelo. The fascination of the long flights of steps leading from the Piazza Aracöeli to the Capitoline, where the ancient bronze equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius forever keeps guard, is indescribable. The historic statues of Castor and Pollux mark the portals; on either hand there are seen the Muses of ancient sculpture, the Palazzo . There is in the entire world no more classic ground than is found in this impressive grouping of art and architecture.
The genius of Raphael has recorded itself in those brilliant and imperishable works that enthrall the student of art in the Raphael stanze in the Vatican. He was imbued with the spirit of Greek art, and while Titian is a greater colorist, while Correggio, Botticelli, Perugino, and other artists that could be named equal or exceed Raphael in certain lines, yet as the interpreter of the profoundest thought, and for his philosophic grasp and his power to endow his conceptions with the most brilliant animation, he stands alone. The religious exaltation of “The Transfiguration” reveals the supreme degree of the divine genius of Raphael. That this painting was the last work of his life, that it was placed above his body as it lay in state, and was carried in his funeral procession, invests it with peculiar interest.
As a draftsman Raphael was second only to Michael Angelo, with whom he must forever share the immortality of fame. The Academy in Venice holds some of his choicest drawings, and in the Venetian sketch-book in the National Gallery in London are many of his small pictures, including that of the “Knight’s Dream.”
It was in the autumn of 1508, when Raphael was in his twenty-fifth year, that he was called to Rome in the service of the Pope. The Pontiff at this time was Pope Julius II, whose successor was Leo X, and under their pontificates (from 1508 to 1520) Raphael produced these masterpieces which stand unrivalled in the world save by the creations of Michael Angelo in the Capella Sistina. The celebrated “Four Sibyls” of Raphael are not, however, in the stanze of the Vatican, but in the Church of San Maria della Pace. In the Palazzo Vaticano these four wonderful stanze entrance the visitor; the Stanza della Signatura, the Stanza d’Eliodoro, the Stanza dell’Incendio and the Sala di Constantino.
For the decoration of these stanze several painters from Umbria had been summoned,—Perugino, Sodoma, Signorelli, and others; but when Raphael had produced the “Disputa” in the Sala della Signatura, Pope Julius II recognized the work as so transcendent that he ordered the other artists to cease and even had some of their paintings obliterated that there might be more space for the exercise of Raphael’s genius. In the “Disputa” are glorified the highest expressions of the human intellect—the domain portrayed being that of Theology, Philosophy, Poetry, and Justice. The splendor of this creation transcends all attempts of interpretation in language. Against a background of gold mosaic are portrayed these typical figures enthroned on clouds where genii flit to and fro bearing tablets with inscriptions. Theology holds in the left hand a book, while the other points to the vision of angels; Poetry, laurel-crowned, is seen seated on a throne with books and lyre; Philosophy wears a diadem, and Justice, with her balance and her sword, is also crowned. The title of this marvellous work is misleading. Its message is not that of disputation but of beatitude. At the altar are grouped the congregation; the mystic spell of heavenly enthusiasm enfolds the scene as an atmosphere, as above the heavens open and the glorified Christ, surrounded by the saints who have kept the faith, is disclosed to the devotees kneeling below, while a choir of listening angels bend over them from the distant clouds in the background.
Under Poetry are grouped Apollo and the Muses, and the figures of Homer, Dante and Virgil, of Petrarcha, Anacreon and Sappho, of Pindar and of Horace are recognized. The great scholars seen in the Philosophy include Plato and Aristotle, while in the groups under Justice, Moses and Solon are seen.
“Raphael seems to have never known despair,” remarked Franklin Simmons of the work of this divine genius. “His paintings reveal no struggle, but seem to have been produced without effort, as if brought into existence by an enchanter’s wand.”
No observation could more vividly interpret the wonderful effect produced on the student by Raphael, and he cannot but recall the truth expressed in these lines of Festus:—
“All aspiration is a toil;But inspiration cometh from aboveAnd is no labor.”
The inspiration of Raphael was of the noblest order. His genius, his kindling enthusiasm, his ecstasy of religious devotion, have left an imperishable heritage to art. By his transcendent gifts he represents the highest manifestation of the art of painting in the Renaissance. For the true note in art lies in spiritual perception. Not so brilliant a colorist as Titian, he was more the interpreter of the extension of human activity into that realm of the life more abundant, and with his extraordinary facility of execution he united exquisite refinement and unerring sense of beauty and the masterly power in composition that fairly created for the spectator the visions that his soul beheld. “I say to you,” said Mr. Bryce recently in a press interview,—“I say to you, each oncoming tide of life requires and needs men of lofty thought who shall dream for it, sing for it, who shall gather up its tendencies, formulate its ideals and voice its spirit.” One of those men of lofty thought who thus dream for the ages was Raphael, and his power and glory have left an ineffaceable impress upon human life. He was the divinely appointed messenger of beauty, and he was never disobedient to the heavenly vision.
“Time hath no tide but must abideThe servant of Thy will;Tide hath no time, for to Thy rhymeThe ranging stars stand still.”
The decline of art after Michael Angelo and Raphael was marked. The very splendor and power of their creations, instead of inspiring those who immediately followed them, produced almost the inertia of despair. In the reverence and awe and admiration with which these transcendent masterpieces were approached any power to originate seemed futile by contrast. Imitation rather than creation became the method adopted, resulting in an increased poverty of design and feeble execution. The art of the sixteenth century deteriorated rapidly till the baroco style was in evidence. One reason, too, for the decline was in that art was no longer so exclusively dedicated to the high service of religion, but aimed, instead, to please and to procure patrons, and thus were all worthy standards lowered to pernicious levels.
ANGEL, CHURCH OF SAN ANDREA DELLE FRATTE, ROME Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini
A sculptor who left his impress upon the sixteenth-century art was Lorenzo Bernini, a Neapolitan (born in 1598) who died in Rome in 1685. The work of Bernini has a certain fascination and airy touch that, while it sometimes degenerates into the merely fantastic and even into tawdry and puerile affectations, has at its best a refinement and grace that lend to his sculptures an enduring charm, as seen in his “Apollo and Daphne” (a work executed in his eighteenth year) which is now in the Casino of the Villa Borghese. Bernini’s name is perpetuated in the colossal statues on the colonnade of St. Peter’s, the great bronze angels with their draperies streaming to the winds on the Ponte San Angelo, and in the vast fountain in the Piazza Navona. In the court of the Palazzo Bernini is one of the most interesting of his works—a colossal figure, allegorical in significance, illustrating “Truth Brought to Light by Time.” One of the most important works of Bernini—now placed in the Museo Nazionale—is the group of “Pluto and Proserpine.”
The influence that was to reform and regenerate the art of sculpture in the sixteenth century came with the great and good Canova, with which was united that of Flaxman and of Thorwaldsen. The heavenly messengers are always sent and appear at the time they are most needed. Neither Truth nor Art is ever left without a witness.
“God sends his teachers unto every age,To every clime, and every race of men,With revelations fitted to their growthAnd shape of mind; nor gives the realm of truthInto the selfish rule of one sole race.”
DETAIL FROM STUART MONUMENT, ST. PETER’S, ROME Antonio Canova
Canova’s genius and services were widely recognized. In 1719 he was made a Senator; he was ennobled with the title of Marchese of Ischia and granted a yearly allowance of three thousand scudi; and his noble and generous enthusiasms, not less than his genius, have left their record on life as well as on art. When he died (in Venice, Oct. 3, 1822) his work included fifty-nine statues, fourteen groups, twenty-two monuments, and fifty-four busts. The statue of Pius V and the tomb of Clement XIII are his greatest works, and the latter is perhaps even increasingly held as a masterpiece of the ages.
Canova, warned by the fatal influence of imitation in art in the sixteenth century, frequently counselled his pupils against copying his own style and constantly urged them to study from the Greeks. He advised them to visit frequently the studios of other artists, “and especially,” he would add, “the studios of Thorwaldsen, who is a very great artist.”
In the early part of the nineteenth century contemporary sculpture in Rome was led by the three great artists,—Canova, Thorwaldsen, and Gibson. In 1829 Gibson had the honor of being elected a member of the Accadémia di San Luca in place of the sculptor Massimiliano, who had then just died. Cammuccini, the historical painter, proposed Gibson, and with the ardent assistance of Thorwaldsen he was elected resident Academician of merit. “Like Canova, Thorwaldsen was most generous to young artists,” says Gibson of the great Danish master, “and he freely visited all who required his advice. I profited greatly by the knowledge which this splendid sculptor had of his art. On every occasion when I was modelling a new work he came to me, and corrected whatever he thought amiss. I also often went to his studio and contemplated his glorious works, always in the noblest style, full of pure and severe simplicity. His studio was a safe school for the young, and was the resort of artists and lovers of art from all nations. The old man’s person can never be forgotten by those who saw him. Tall and strong,—he never lost a tooth in his life,—he was most venerable looking. His kind countenance was marked with hard thinking, his eyes were gray, and his white locks lay upon his broad shoulders. At great assemblies his breast was covered with orders.”
Thorwaldsen (born in Copenhagen, Nov. 19, 1770) went to Rome in 1797—sent by the government of Denmark as a pensioner. It is said that, in his enthusiasm for Rome, Thorwaldsen dated his birth from the hour he entered the Eternal City. “Before that day,” he exclaimed, “I existed; I did not live.” For nearly fifty years—until his death in 1844—he lived and worked in Rome, occupying at one time the studio in Via Babuino that had formerly been that of Flaxman.
John Gibson, who went to Rome in 1817,—twenty years after Thorwaldsen first arrived,—had the good fortune to be for five years a pupil of Canova, whose death in 1822 terminated this inestimable privilege. The elevation of purpose that characterized the young English student made his progress and development a matter of peculiar interest to the master. Gibson, also, bears his testimony to the stimulus of the Roman environment. “Rome above all other cities,” he says, “has a peculiar influence upon and charm for the real student; he feels himself in the very university of art, where it is the one thing talked about and thought about. Constantly did I feel the presence of this influence. Every morning I rose with the sun, my soul gladdened by a new day of a happy and delightful pursuit; and as I walked to my breakfast at the Caffè Greco and watched with new pleasure the tops of the churches and palaces gilt by the morning sun, I was inspired with a sense of daily renovated youth, and fresh enthusiasm, and returned joyfully to the combat, to the invigorating strife with the difficulties of art. Nor did the worm of envy creep round my heart whenever I saw a beautiful idea skilfully executed by any of my young rivals, but constantly spurred on by the talent around me I returned to my studio with fresh resolution.”
Again to a friend Gibson writes:—
“I renewed my visits to the Vatican, refreshing my spirits in that Pantheon of the gods, demigods, and heroes of Hellas. . . . In the art of sculpture the Greeks were gods. . . . In the Vatican we go from statue to statue, from fragment to fragment, like the bee from flower to flower.”
These five years in which Canova, Thorwaldsen, and Gibson lived and wrought together—although the youngest of this trio was still in his student life—form a definite period in the history of modern art in Rome. The dreams, the enthusiasm, the devotion to ideal beauty which characterized their work left its impress and its vitality of influence—a mystic power ready to incarnate itself again through the facility of expression of the artists yet to come. To the young men whose steps were turned toward Rome in these early years of the century just passed, how great was the privilege of coming into close range of the influence of such artists as these; to study their methods; to hear the expression of their views on art in familiar meeting and conversation! These artists were closely in touch with that “lovely and faithful dream which came with Italian Renaissance in the works of Pisani, Mino di Fiesole, Donatello, Michael Angelo, and Giovanni da Bologna—all who caught the spirit of Greek art.” Artistic truth was the keynote of the hour, and it is this truth which is the basis of the highest conception of life.
“Art’s a service,—mark:A silver key is given to thy claspAnd thou shalt stand unwearied night and day,And fix it in the hard, slow-turning wardsTo open, so that intermediate doorBetwixt the different planes of sensuous formAnd form insensuous, that inferior menMay learn to feel on still through these to those,And bless thy ministration. The world waits for help.”
In their true relation art and ethics meet in their ministry to humanity, for only in their union can they best serve man. All the nobler culture has its responsibility in service. “Many a man has a blind notion of stewardship about his property, but very few have it about their knowledge,” said Bishop Phillips Brooks, and he added: “One grows tired of seeing cultivated people with all their culture cursed by selfishness.” To the true idealist—as distinct from the mere emotionalist with æsthetic tastes—selfishness is an impossible prison. The only spiritual freedom lies in the perpetual sharing of the fuller life. The gift shared is the gift doubled. Art is the spiritual glory of life; the supreme manifestation, the very influence of spiritual achievement. Mr. Stillman, discussing the revival of art, has questioned: “Does the world want art any longer? Has it, in the present state of human progress, any place which will justify devotion to it?”
He questions as to whether man is still
“Apparelled in celestial light,”
or whether he has lost “the glory and the freshness” of his dreams.
“No one can admit,” continues Mr. Stillman, “that the human intellect is weaker than it was five or twenty centuries ago; but it is certain that if we take the pains to study what was done five centuries ago in painting, or twenty centuries ago in sculpture, and compare it with the best work of to-day, we shall find the latter trivial and ’prentice work compared with the ordinary work of men whose names are lost in the lustre of a school.
“Then, little men inspired by the Zeitgeist, painted greatly; now, our great men fail to reach the technical achievement of the little men of them. There is only one living painter who can treat a portrait as a Venetian artist of 1550 A.D. would have done it, and how differently in the mastery of his material! If we go to the work of wider range, the Campo Santo of Pisa, the Stanze, the Sistine Chapel, the distance becomes an abyss; the simplest fragment of a Greek statue of 450 B.C. shows us that the best sculpture of this century, even the French, is only a happy child-work, not even to be put in sight of Donatello or Michael Angelo. The reason is simple, and already indicated. The early men grew up in a system in which the power of expression was taught from childhood; they acquired method as the musician does now, and the tendency of the opinion of their time was to keep them in the good method.”
Is this not too narrow and sweeping a judgment? The art of portraiture certainly did not die with the Venetian painters of 1550, however great their work; and if there be but “one living painter” who can treat portrait art like the early Venetians, there are scores of artists who achieve signal success by other methods of treatment.
At all events, these three men, Canova, Thorwaldsen, and Gibson, worked with the conviction that art is service. With Victor Hugo, Canova could have said: “Genius is not made for genius; it is made for men. . . . Let him have wings for the infinite provided he has feet for the earth, and that, after having been seen flying, he is seen walking. After he has been seen an archangel, let him be still more a brother. . . . To be the servant of God in the march of progress—such is the law which regulates the growth of genius.”
They worked and taught by this creed. Thorwaldsen, on first arriving in Rome, wandered for three years, it is said, among the statues of gods and heroes, like a man in a dream. The atmosphere of the earlier day when Titian was employed by the king of Portugal and Raphael by the Pope to create works of great public importance still lingered and exerted over Thorwaldsen, and over all artists susceptible to its subtle influence, a peculiar spell. Its power was revealed in his subsequent works—the “Christ;” the sculptured groups for tombs in St. Peter’s and in other churches; the poetic reliefs symbolizing “Day” and “Night;” “Ganymede Watering the Eagle;” the “Three Graces,” “Hebe,” and many others.
TOMB OF CLEMENT XIII, ST. PETER’S, ROME Antonio Canova
Among Canova’s works his immortal masterpiece is the monumental memorial group for the tomb of Pope Clement XIII in St. Peter’s. The Pope is represented as kneeling in prayer. The modelling of the entire figure is instinct with expression. The fine and beautiful hands express reverence and trust. The countenance is pervaded with that peace only known to the soul that is in complete harmony with the divine power. The Holy Father has taken the tiara from his head and it lies before him on the cushion on which he kneels. Although the entire portrayal of the figure reveals that devotion expressed in the solemn and searching words of the church service, “And here we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, ourselves, our souls and bodies to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice unto thee,”—although it is the very utmost rendering of the soul to God, it is yet the deliberate, the joyful, the living acceptance of divine love and no mere trance of ecstasy. No more wonderful figure in all the range of sculpture has been created than the Clement XIII of Canova.
“THE GENIUS OF DEATH,” DETAIL FROM TOMB OF CLEMENT XIII, ST. PETER’S, ROME Antonio Canova
The group is completed by two symbolic figures representing Religion and Death. The former is personified as a female figure holding a cross; the latter sits with his torch reversed. Grief, but not hopeless and despairing sorrow, is portrayed; it is the grief companioned by faith which ever sees
“The stars shine through the cypress trees.”
The base of the monument represents a chapel guarded by lions. Pistolesi, the great Italian authority on the sculpture of St. Peter’s and the Vatican galleries, notes that the lions typify the firmness and the force and the courage, “la fortezza dell’anima,” that so signally characterized Clement XIII. There is probably no sacred monument in the realm of all modern art which can equal this creation in its delicacy, its lofty beauty, and the noble message that it conveys.
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