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Delilah, seated between both, fixed by the weight of Samson, warily turns her head towards a troop of warriors in the back ground; with the left arm stretched out she beckons their leader, with the finger of the right hand she presses her lip to enjoin silence and noiseless approach. The Herculean make and lion port of Samson, his perturbed though ponderous sleep, the quivering agility of the curled favourite employed, the harlot graces and meretricious elegance, contrasted by equal firmness and sense of danger, in Delilah, the attitude and look of the grim veteran who heads the ambush, while they give us the clew to all that followed, keep us in anxious suspense—we palpitate in breathless expectation: this is the plot.
"The terrors which Julio made us forbode, Vandyke summons to our eyes. The mysterious lock is cut; the dreaded victim is roused from the lap of the harlot-priestess. Starting unconscious of his departed power, he attempts to spring forward, and with one effort of his mighty breast and expanded arms to dash his foes to the ground and fling the alarmed traitress from him—in vain; shorn of his strength, he is borne down by the weight of the mailed chief that throws himself upon him, and overpowered by a throng of infuriate satellites. But though overpowered, less aghast than indignant, his eye flashes reproach on the perfidious female whose wheedling caresses drew the fatal secret from his breast; the plot is unfolded, and what succeeds, too horrible for the sense, is left to fancy to brood upon, or drop it.
"This moment of horror the gigantic but barbarous genius of Rembrandt chose, and, without a metaphor, executed a subject, which humanity, judgment, and taste taught his rivals only to treat; he displays a scene which no eye but that of Domitian or Nero could wish or bear to see. Samson, stretched on the ground, is held by one Philistine under him, while another chains his right arm, and a third, clenching his beard with one, drives a dagger into his eye with the other hand. The pain that blasts him, darts expression—from the contortions of the mouth and his gnashing teeth, to the crampy convulsions of the leg dashed high into the air. Some fiend-like features glare through the gloomy light which discovers Delilah, her work now done, sliding off, the shears in her left, the locks of Samson in her right hand. If her figure, elegant, attractive, such as Rembrandt never conceived before or after, deserve our wonder rather than our praise, no words can do justice to the expression that animates her face, and shows her less shrinking from the horrid scene, than exulting in being its cause. Such is the work, whose magic of colour, tone, and chiaro-scuro irresistibly entrap the eye, while we detest the brutal choice of the moment.
"Let us, in conclusion, contrast the stern pathos of this scenery with the placid emotions of a milder subject, in the celebrated pictures which represent the Communion or Death of St. Jerome, by Agostino Caracci, and his scholar, Domenichino, that an altar-piece in the Certosa, near Bologna, this in the church of St. Girolamo della Carita at Rome; but for some time both exhibited in the gallery of the Louvre at Paris. What I have to say on the invention, expression, characters, tone, and colour of either, is the result of observations lately made on both in that gallery, where then they were placed nearly opposite to each other.
"In each picture, St. Jerome, brought from his cell to receive the sacrament, is represented on his knees, supported by devout attendants; in each the officiating priest is in the act of administering to the dying saint; the same clerical society fills the portico of the temple in both; in both the scene is witnessed from above by infant angels.
"The general opinion is in favour of the pupil; but if in the economy of the whole Domenichino surpasses his master, he appears to me greatly inferior both in the character and expression of the hero. Domenichino has represented Piety scarcely struggling with Decay, Agostino triumphant over it: his saint becomes in the place where he is a superior being, and is inspired by the approaching god: that of Domenichino seems divided between resignation, mental and bodily imbecility, and desire. The saint of Agostino is a lion, that of Domenichino a lamb.
"In the sacerdotal figure administering the viaticum, Domenichino has less improved than corrected the unworthy choice of his master. The priest of Agostino is one of the Frati Godenti of Dante, before they received the infernal hood; a gross, fat, self-conceited, terrestrial feature, a countenance equally proof to elevation, pity, or thought. The priest of Domenichino is a minister of grace, stamped with the sacred humility that characterized his master, and penetrated by the function of which be is the instrument.
"We are more impressed with the graces of youth than the energies of manhood verging on age: in this respect, as well as that of contrast with the decrepitude of St. Jerome, the placid contemplative beauty of the young deacon on the foreground of Domenichino will probably please more than the poetic trance of the assistant friar with the lighted taper in the foreground of Agostino. This must, however, be observed, that as Domenichino thought proper to introduce supernatural witnesses of the ceremony in imitation of his master, their effect seems less ornamental and more interwoven with the plan, by being perceived by the actors themselves.
"If the attendant characters in the picture of Agostino are more numerous, and have on the whole furnished the hints of admission, to those of
Domenichino, this, with one exception, may be said to have used more propriety and judgment in the choice. Both have introduced a man with a turban, and opened a portico to characterize an Asiatic scene.
"With regard to composition, Domenichino undoubtedly gains the palm. The disposition on the whole he owes to his master, though he reversed it; but he has cleared it of that oppressive bustle, which rather involves and crowds the principal actors, in Agostino, than attends them. He spreads tranquillity with space, and repose without vacuity.
"With this corresponds the tone of the whole. The evening freshness of an oriental day tinges every part; the medium of Agostino partakes too much of the fumigated inside of a Catholic chapel.
"The draperies of both are characteristic and unite subordination with dignity, but their colour is chosen with more judgment by Domenichino, the imbrowned gold and ample folds of the robe of the administering priest are more genial than the cold blue, white, and yellow on the priest of his master; in both, perhaps, the white draperies on the foreground figures have too little strength for the central colours, but it is more perceived in Caracci than in Domenichino.
"The forms of the saint in Caracci are grander and more ideal than in the saint of Domenichino— some have even thought them too vigorous: both, in my opinion, are in harmony with the emotion of the face and expression of either. The eagerness that animates the countenance of the one may be supposed to spread a momentary vigour over his frame. The mental dereliction of countenance in flie other with equal propriety relaxes, and palsies, Jhe limbs which depend on it.
"The colour of Caracci's saint is much more chasacteristic of fleshy though nearly bloodless substance, than that chosen by his rival, which is withered, shrivelled, leathery in the lights, and earthy in the shade; but the head of the officiating priest in Domenichino, whether considered as a specimen of colour independent of the rest, or as set off by it, for truth, tone, freshness, energy, is not only the best Domenichino ever painted, but perhaps the best that can be conceived."
During the brief peace of 1802 Fuseli visited Paris, and saw, in common with thousands of his adopted countrymen, the well-filled galleries of Napoleon. He remained there so long, that he collected materials for a dissertation on the subject, and on his return to London proceeded to arrange them. But the renewal of the war, or the apathy of his booksellers, discouraged him so effectually, that he discontinued these labours, and employed his talents on a new edition of Pilkington's Dictionary of Painters. This work, which appeared in 1805, added little to the reputation of Fuseli. He introduced indeed about two hundred new artists as candidates for fame; but most of them were obscure, and their names were strange to the world. It was a sufficient claim, he seems to have thought, to this distinction that a painter had fried the historic style. On the other hand, he affected not to know the Christian name of Gainsborough, though all the world knew it was Thomas; he was grossly unjust also to that elegant artist's merits; nay, such was his haughty bigotry, that he classed the works of Hogarth among the daily vulgarities of common minds. His admiration of the eminent painters of historic or poetic compositions was strained and exaggerated, and his contempt for those who sought to win fame by humbler works was still more out of harmony with the ordinary views and feelings of his readers.
Having conceived an affection for the poetry of Gray—which, however, was confined chiefly to the translations—he painted The Bard, The Descent of