Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

"Stopp'd upon the wing by sound

Of harmony, from heaven's remotest spheres."

Look more intently,-gaze into the shining depth of that ambient, aërial glory: it is alive, and thronged with radiant faces, the host of angels praising the Son of God! At this moment, blended with the rich organ tones of a neighbouring church, a strain is heard,

"As from numbers without number, sweet

As from blest voices uttering joy,"

the immortal Gloria in excelsis of the Twelfth Mass. The picture moves and breathes as though the dazzling life of the heavenly choir shot through it for a moment, and is gone!

were

Even such a picture did Raffaelle once behold, under some such circumstances as we have described, and fixed it on his canvass, for the eyes and souls of all generations of mankind for ever. We have a strong suspicion that the divine passage of Mozart to which we have just referred, was suggested by a reminiscence of the Sistine Madonna. In like manner we conjecture that the opening scenes of Goethe's "Faust" drawn, unconsciously no doubt, from the music of "Don Giovanni." Be this as it may, let us make peace with the lovers of high musical art, for the reluctant omission of the ampler notice which, if our limits permitted, we should be only too glad to bestow on the peculiar principles and virtues of their favourite pursuit, by quoting a confession of Mozart,-a confession that, if his works did not attest their author's claim to the distinction, would avail to place him in the foremost rank of profound and genial artists :

:

"You say," writes the great composer, "you should like to know my way of composing, and what method I follow in writing works of some extent. I can really say no more on this subject than the following: for I myself know no more about it, and cannot account for it. When I am, as it were, completely myself, entirely alone, and of good cheer, say, travelling in a carriage, or walking after a good meal, or during the night, when I cannot sleep; it is on such occasions that my ideas flow best and most abundantly. Whence and how they come, I know not; nor can I force them. Those ideas that please me I retain in memory, and am accustomed, as I have been told, to hum them to myself. If I continue in this way, it soon occurs to me how I may turn this or that morsel to account, so as to make a good dish of it, that is to say, agreeably to the rules of counterpoint, to the peculiarities of the various instruments, &c.

"All this fires my soul, and, provided I am not disturbed, my subject enlarges itself, becomes methodized and defined, and the whole, though it be long, stands almost complete and finished in my mind, so that I can survey it like a fine picture, or a beautiful statue, at a glance. Nor do I hear, in my imagination, the parts SUCCES

Madonna of the Dresden Gallery.

417

SIVELY, but I hear them all at once. What a delight this is, I cannot tell! All this inventing, this producing, takes place in a pleasing, lively dream. Still the actual hearing of the tout ensemble is, after all, the best. What has been thus produced I do not easily forget; and this is, perhaps, the best gift I have my Divine Maker to thank for."-Holmes's Life of Mozart.

We have particularly adverted to the Madonna of the Dresden Gallery, not merely because, in our judgment, it far excels all others that were ever painted, either by Raffaelle himself, or any of his illustrious compeers; but because, both in the Mother and the Christ, you have a superlative example of a power which the fewest of Christian artists have, to any extent, participated; the power, namely, of synthetic expression, of representing the co-existence, resolution, and interunion of two opposite natures or conditions in the same subject-origin-maternity-humanized Godhead. There is, I believe, an unauthenticated tradition that, in the first instance, -before his dream,-Raffaelle had traced a sketch of the Magi doing homage to the new-born Messiah, which he effaced for the sake of embodying the finer conception. If the title of the picture, as it stands, might be taken from the Christ, rather than from Mary, it might still be called the "Epiphony,"—" God manifested in the flesh." This power, the supreme accomplishment of pictorial genius, is equally observable in the Cartoons, which, in other respects, may be pronounced the most perfect of all extant designs. Some day we hope to have the satisfaction of giving a critical exposition of these wonderful compositions. For the present we must, perforce, be content with a passing indication of one remarkable feature. It is this. The principal figures in several of the Cartoons are such absolute types of character, the action being characteristic,-the expression integral and independent upon other portions of the work for its significance, and the moment one of which the interest is distinctive and peculiar to the person,-that they might be transferred to marble without alteration.

The Christ of the "Charge to Peter" would make a statue that should put Thorwaldsen to the blush. The Apostle raising the lame man in the Porch of the Temple,-the St. Paul flinging the lightning of heaven upon the face of Elymas, or preaching at Athens,-would tell their own story, if they stood by themselves, in sculptural isolation.

The province of Sculpture, narrower than that of Painting, is subject to a severer rule of ideal simplicity. But as the limits of the art are stricter, so are its aims proportionably higher,its intellectual relations more subtile and profound. It is conversant with abstractions; it incarnates the invisible. It embodies entities of the pure reason, and turns to shape the airiest inventions of poctic fancy. Whatever cannot be con

[blocks in formation]

ceived apart, entire and insulated; whatever owes its character to aught that is accessory, circumstantial, or extraneous to itself,-is alien to the business of the statuary. It is only where the idea is necessarily pluriform,-as in the Graces or the Parcæ, that the rigorous law of Sculpture admits of composite masses. You may show Hercules wrestling with Antæus, or Laocoon and his children writhing in the folds of the serpents; for there the thought is one, though complex: but if you placed a spectator on the pedestal, a dog watching the contest, or even a friend approaching to assist, or to deliver, you would commit an arbitrary solecism. You might as well pretend to constitute yourself a part of the work; any casual bystander would have quite as much to do with the design as your impertinent addition. What the sculptor has to accomplish is, to present an express image of some rational unity, some homogeneous conception, in which character can be revealed by form, as the soul by the body. And of all statuesque compositions it is the peremptory and abiding canon, that every individual figure or group, evidently contributing to the general import of the whole assemblage, must be so definitively characterized as to lose nothing of its distinguishable identity, if every other part of that composition were annihilated. The Juno must be Juno, whether she be seated by the side of the Thunderer, or left alone,-the Apollo none other than the god of light and harmony, whether his immortal brethren be around him or away. And inasmuch as Sculpture can but seize the mute action of an indivisible point of time, while to that action it imparts the duration of eternity, it is needful that the act selected should be one critically distinctive, supremely characteristic of the permanent being and spirit of the agent. Hence, if the might and worth of genius may be estimated by the difficulties which it solves, and the austere legislation which it conforms to, and, by conforming, renders subservient to its triumphant self-assertion, there can be no question that the great Athenian sculptures were the products of a genius transcendent and incomparable.

It is now about two thousand three hundred years since Phidias was commissioned by the Athenian people to superintend the restoration of the temples and monuments destroyed by the Persians in their second invasion, and the erection of new and more splendid ones than had before existed any where in Greece. Calling to his assistance his two scholars, Alcamenes and Agoracritus, he communicated to them the outlines of his intended operations, and allotted to each his share of labour; to Ictinus and Callicrates, the best architects of the age, he assigned the duty of preparing plans for the greater temple of the tutelary goddess; and committed to Mnesicles, a worthy rival of those eminent men, the task of raising the Pro

Greek Art, enthroned on the Acropolis.

419

pylæa, a hexastyle colonnade with wings, which was to serve as a sort of ornamental fortification to the Acropolis on its only accessible side, and, at the same time, to form a suitable approach to the magnificent shrines of the national worship. The site of those superb structures is a tabular rock,-about three hundred yards in length upon its surface, which stands in the midst of the ancient city, towering above the Street of Tripods to the height of one hundred and fifty feet, every where precipitous, except at its western extremity, where, says Stuart, "with no small labour and diligence, the entrance has been constructed." Nearly in the centre of the plateau, stood in its glory, as now in melancholy ruin, the stupendous frame of marble which the great artist had demanded for his mythic and commemorative sculptures; for it is not to be supposed that the statues and relievi which adorned the exterior of the building were mere architectural embellishments. On the contrary, the whole unrivalled edifice was regarded only as a proportionate stage or scaffolding for the due exhibition of the symbols of the religious faith, the traditional grandeurs, the ceremonial pomp, and the political ascendancy of Athens. It consisted of a naos, or cella, divided into two compartments, of which the smaller was used as a treasury, or place for depositing the dedicated spoils of war, the anterior and larger being sanctified by the presence of a chryselephantine idol, thirty feet in stature, of the deity to whom the Attic soil was consecrated,-surrounded by a Doric peristyle of forty-six columns, eight at each end, and seventeen on either side. The metopal, and the Panathenaic frieze, of which so large a portion of the relics is in the Elgin Saloon of the British Museum, are familiar to all visitors of that Institution. It is more than seven years since we last saw them, but (as Wordsworth sings of the lakes of Northern Italy) they have left their beauty with us; and, under a strong conviction of the important educational influences of art, we will conclude by submitting to the reader what appears to us a probable interpretation of the design of Phidias in the pediment of the eastern and principal front of the Temple.

To that design belong the marbles numbered ninety-one to ninety-eight, inclusive, in the Catalogue of the Elgin collection. Alas, that they should be so few! Many different accounts of the figures have been given, some of them simply absurd, others sufficiently ingenious, but either imperfect in themselves, or very imperfectly developed. Except in two or three not unimportant minutie, our own opinion differs little from that of Bröndsted, who, however, fails to furnish any adequate exposition of the meaning and specific designation of the whole.

The subject of these sculptures, we learn from Pausanias, was the birth of Minerva; and no explanation can be worthy of acceptance, which does not connect the action of every figure

in the groups with that event. The spectator placed in front of the Temple saw to his left, in the southern angle of the pediment, the head and shoulders of Hyperion, or Helios, (the sungod,) emerging from the sea, with arms stretched forward restraining the steeds of his chariot, as they rose, chafing and impetuous, from the billows. On the other side, the car of Night, (a female figure robed and veiled,) with its matchless horses, was sinking down into the waves. It has been conjectured that by the waves, at either extremity of the composition, the artist intended to denote the River ocean which was supposed to girdle the world, thereby intimating that the incident represented was of universal interest. But the obvious and material purpose of the two opposite groups was, doubtless, to signify the moment of dawn, or commencing sun-rise, the early day-break, synchronous with the lingering departure of nocturnal darkness.

Next to Hyperion was the statue commonly known as Theseus,- -a name to which it has no other title than the very equivocal circumstance of being seated on the skin of some wild animal. What the slayer of the Minotaur could have to do with the nativity of the goddess, so long antecedent to his own, it would be no easy matter to discover. Mythic chronology, it is true, was a thing conveniently indeterminate and accommodating; but unless some paramount necessity required the presence of Theseus in this place, it had, plainly, enough of authority to exclude him. Nor is this the only reason for rejecting the hypothesis. Of all the Attic heroes, Theseus is the one who was least specially favoured of Minerva: rather he was the protégé according to Euripides, the son-of Neptune. Neither would it have been compatible with the reverent decorum of mythological art to have exhibited a mere traditional demi-god, a canonized human being, who had once been subject to death, as witnessing or taking part in a transaction which concerned the internal relations of the family of the immortals,-the highest race of deities. Observe, too, as we proceed, that the other subsidiary figures are all symbolic, a consideration which precludes us from holding the statue in question to be that of Theseus, unless he can be shown to be a type or personification of some power or attribute, either of nature or divinity, appropriate to the occasion. Visconti calls this inimitable fragment," Hercules resting after his labours;" to which the one conclusive reply is, that the figure is not resting, as any body may satisfy himself by a glance at the erected neck, and the muscles of the right arm and leg. It is in the act to arise and move from his couch, like a man newly aroused from sleep; and in this particular it is finely contrasted with the recumbent Fate, which corresponds to it on the northern side, and in which you see the perfect abandon of female composure to repose. More

« ZurückWeiter »