« AnteriorContinuar »
"Lassù non eran mossi i piè nostri anco
DANTE, Purgatorio, Canto 10th.
Ne sutor ultra crepidam-" No man beyond his last," said I to myself, as, visiting the galleries and palaces of Rome, I felt an itching to put my Gothicisms on paper. What has a fellow like me to do writing about the arts, who sat in the tribune of the Florentine gallery without experiencing any extraordinary delight? There were the boasts of sculpture, the Medicean Venus, the Boxers, the Faun, the Apollino — all very natural, in features and attitude as expressive as marble can be; but they gave me no pleasure. They excited not one noble feeling, recalled no glory of the past, and foretold none of the future;—the massy blocks of Tarquin's cloaca and Romulus's brazen wolf were more eloquent to me. Certainly a higher idea is afterwards conceived by comparing these chef-d'oeuvres of art with all others, and finding them so superior: this speaks difficulty vanquished-speaks talent. But why admire a thing that pleases only because it shows talent? Here the argument comes home: we of the pen can admire, and sometimes do admire most voluminously, poems and 66 that prose ture" to the multitude, merely because we espy genius therein; and the unfortunate wight is scouted, who declares in most rational paradox, that he can see no beauty in such things. The fact is, we must give and take; and while we are as yet but learners in the school of connoisseurship, we must adopt either much taciturnity or much pretension.
The former would be most advisable, but to preserve it at this moment is impossible :-Canova is no more, the great artist, the amiable, the virtuous man. To visit his study was a pleasure I had long deferred, principally wishing to await his return from Venice, that I might enjoy the interest of the place, heightened by the presence of its celebrated master. October is with the Romans a continued holiday, a kind of yearly vacation, and Canova, like the rest of his fellow citizens, was accustomed to leave Rome in that month on some journey of recreation. Latterly he always went to Venice, his native country, and there, at the age of sixty-four, the stroke of death surprised him, originating, some say, in a cold caught while surveying the new church, which was building under his directions at Passagno, after the model of the Parthenon. This village, a town not far from Venice, was the birth-place of Canova, and this church will possess his remains, to the great regret of Rome.
A few days after the melancholy tidings had arrived; I went to visit the study of the celebrated artist, not without a fear that it was for ever closed. It was open, and the chisels of the numerous workmen as busy as ever. The first figure that struck me on entering was a colossal statue of the late Pope Braschi, intended for his monument in
St. Peter's. The etiquette of Rome forbids the monument of a pope to be erected in the life-time of his successor, during which interval a modest slab marks his remains. As soon, however, as Pius the Seventh shall be gathered to his forefathers, this monument, one of the last works of Canova, will be erected to Pius the Sixth, near to the great altar, where lies the body of St. Peter; for it seems that Pope Braschi was peculiarly devoted to this apostle, so much so, as to remain on his knees for hours without stirring beneath his bronze statue in the cathedral. The figure of Pius is little more than a copy of that of Rezzonico in St. Peter's, on the monument that Canova never equalled. The earnest kneeling figure of Rezzonico, with the apostolic crown laid aside in the hour of prayer, the humility of the attitude, increased by preserving the defect of the supplicant (Rezzonico being hump-backed), form a striking contrast with the monuments of the more ancient pontiffs, who are represented with mitre on head and menacing attitude, the true church militant here on earth. Every separate figure on the tomb of Rezzonico is a chef-d'œuvre :-the unequalled lions, the Religion, that ideal being which words cannot describe, is personified in a lovely yet awful figure, the genius of Death, so unlike the ghastly skeletons under which he was typified in a coward age, so graceful and beautiful-it reminds one of Mr. Cornwall's poem with the same title. I can scarce judge of the monument to the sister of the Emperor of Austria; but the weeping train that ascends to her pyramid can never equal the deposit of Rezzonico. That to the Cardinal of York and the Stuarts in St. Peter's is not admired; it however preserves the features of James the third and his sons, monarchs whose effigies are not preserved on our national coin. Another of Canova's monuments is that to Ganganelli in the Santi Apostoli; it is in the old tomb-taste of Rome, and little suited to the character of Ganganelli; but the weeping figure beneath, abandoned to grief, even in feet and hands and drapery is worthy of Canova. In the portico of the same church is a little tablet from the hand of the same artist, to the memory of Volputo: it speaks little more than his friendly heart. Among Canova's designs unexecuted is one for a monument to Nelson in St. Paul's, from its round figure evidently intended to be placed over the body in the middle of the great aisle. I know not whether fear of exciting the jealousy of native artists, or an after-thought of good taste, occasioned the counter-order. Both were sufficient causes. The design is not very beautiful in itself: to have been any thing, it must have been large, and if large, it would certainly have spoiled the church.
The next thing that struck me in the studio was a cast of Hercules and the Centaur, the original of which had just set off for Vienna. Numerous casts of recumbent nymphs lay around, upon some of which a monk was expatiating with his eyes and fingers in more taste than beseemed his snuff-coloured garb. I remarked an exquisite little St. John the Baptist, as an infant, the original belonging either to Lord Bentinck or Lord Cawdor, I forget which. Among the numerous busts, that of the Emperor of Austria* is one, a countenance truly noble; it inspired
* This is our correspondent's opinion of the Emperor of Austria's countenance in marble. The Editor has seen the original imperial head, and thought it one of the most unpromising in intellectual expression that he ever looked upon.
me with reverence for a personage, towards whom, previously, I had certainly felt but little. The bust of Napoleon is very fine, and must be singularly characteristic-the large, irregular head, and hanging features-one jaw lower and more strongly marked than another—the careless neck-handkerchief with the chin hanging over it ;-there is nothing of all this in the statue at Apsley House. In that statue, the features are idealised almost as much as the limbs, and, when they come to the print, form the mere commonplace Grecian head. I know not where is the original of this bust, or whether it is what it appears, the first real model: the domestic of Canova, who showed me round, was in his new garb of mourning, and, from grief, too oblivious to explain any thing. He was to me not the least interesting figure in the study-old, and lame, and little, his voice scarce audible as he went over the usual Ciceronisms by rote. His thought was with his lost master, and I honoured him for neglecting me.
Here, too, was a cast from the statue at Apsley House:-the hand of Canova formed this statue, but not his will; the artist had not forgiven the spoliation of Venice and the Vatican. Of the corresponding one of Maria Louisa, he had altered the features of his cast, not liking them, as my little friend in black observed. The original is at Parma, of a beauty bordering on the Egyptian. One is inclined to suspect a little hidden maliciousness in the artist; the stiff polished features are too like the Memnon's head, and the drapery arranged too priestess-like, not to have been a jot intentional. Here, too, are the Graces of Woburn Abbey, far superior to the famous antiques of the Ruspoli Gallery, that now adorn the new apartment of the Vatican, adorned and filled by the present Pontiff, and called after him Museo Chiaramonte. I saw no cast of the Cupid and Pysche that we so much admire in prints, and can scarce hope ever to see, the group being banished with the rest of the Carbonari to Siberia. Of Canova's two Venuses, Mr. Hope's is beyond comparison the superior-it is the work of the mature artist; that at Florence of one who makes a first essay. In the Pitti Venus, which was intended to supply the place of the Medicean, the obvious comparison seems to have repressed and intimidated Canova's genius, and he recurred almost wholly to nature, despairing to rival, without servility, the ideal of the Medicean. The Venus of the Pitti is the woman, the mere woman, and is but the essay; Hope's Venus is the perfection. Indeed, the Grand Duke seems not a little annoyed at having his Venus outshone by an English Signor, and accordingly has shut her up in a closet, where it is by no means easy to get a sight of her. At Florence, too, is the monument to Alfieri, which, travellers assert, does little honour to Canova. Perhaps expensive workmanship was not demanded, and the one figure, notwithstanding the objection of Mr. Hobhouse, representing "the Colossal Cybele of Italy" weeping over the poet, is a universal, national sorrow, simply expressed.
"All the artists of Rome," says Forsyth, "yield the palm to Canova; yet here he is admired only as the sculptor of the Graces.""Some critics limit his powers to the beautiful alone. But will the Hercules and Lychas admit this limitation? Whatever critics may say of the anatomy, the expression of the group is sublime, and the contrast of passion and suffering is terrific." This noble group was intended first for Naples, then for Bavaria, but was left in the artist's study till Forlonia
bought it.* The King of Naples preferred adorning his capital with statues of himself; Canova executed one, and surely never was helmet put on the head of such a vulgar-looking Lazzaroni. The group of Mars and Venus, intended for our present Majesty, was finished ere the artist left Rome, and may be said to be the last of his works which he saw perfected. The study is crowded with embryo statues of Nymphs, Fauns, &c., intended all for one milord or another, on which the workmen were busily employed. Mars and Venus, at least the figure of the former, is a difficult subject, that never has been mastered. Canova's group is as superior to the pretended Mars and Venus in the Campidoglio, as his own falls beneath our ideas. In fact, what is any Mars without his helmet and armour ?-he cannot infringe upon the strength of the Hercules to express his propensity in limb, and, while he is placed regarding a Venus, he can scarce be the god of war in expression of features. In that situation he is no more than any other young gentleman. Canova, however, had a propensity to the delicate, and whenever his subject is not positively terrific, he always inclines to the feminine side of manliness.
His head of Washington is fine-how could it be otherwise?-and the figure, to an artist, elegant, but is it appropriate? The American patriot looks more as if he were drawing a landscape, than creating an empire independent. The statue of the Princess Esterhazy, is to me the most beautiful and most graceful from the hand of Canova; the attitude, strange to say, of the beautiful princess, is little different from that of Washington. The Perseus of the Vatican is too fine, too delicate, for a warrior; but, considering that the steed he bestrode was Pegasus, and that the enemy he vanquished was the owner of the beautiful head he holds, the form was, perhaps, strong enough for the purpose; but there is no meaning in the pretty little Grecian profile he presents. The first impulse of an Englishman, on beholding those two marble gentlemen, Creugas and Damossenus, the pugilists, in the same cabinet with the Perseus, is to laugh outright. Be they classic or not, as boxers they are ridiculous. One holds his fist clenched, and resting on the top of his head; the other has his right hand open, with the fingers straight, in act to leap upon his antagonist, and claw him like a tiger; the furious faces have the same tiger-like expression, more like a woman scolding than a man combating-lips, eyes, and veins protrude. How different the figure of two real pugilists, calm, determined, and vigilant in features, limbs firm, yet at ease;-Canova's pair are like two windmills about to engage. "This posture," says Forsyth, open for the blow, accords, with Pausanias, and suited Canova. It developes the whole figure, which your scientific wards would tend to collect, and pinch, and stiffen." Mr. Forsyth had no fancy; that art neither pinches nor stiffens, nor can there be finer, freer, or more open attitudes in the world, than those presented by our pugilists. The boxers in the Florentine gallery would answer us, but that we disdain
* Mr. Forsyth praises the statue, but abuses the possessor-Why? It surely ill becomes an Englishman to abuse a foreigner, who is in every respect a gentleman, especially in his attention to the English, merely because he has made his fortune by banking. What would many of our Dukes and Lords think of an Italian tourist visiting them, and then inquiring, and publishing to the world, who were their sires and grandsires, and how they became men of rank?
to strike a man when down. Is it not a wonder that some of our noble amateurs do not join a love of art to a love of fancy, and adorn their galleries with a series of English pugilists? Their profession forms a national amusement, with all the manliness, and little of the horrors, of the ancient gladiators' show: to immortalize this by the sculptor's aid, would be more to our honour than cramming rooms with those by-gone figures of exhausted mythology.
Canova has left a bust of himself, from his own chisel; it is expressive, looking upwards, the mouth open with earnestness-it speaks the artist's goodness and genius, his heart and head. Canova was a second "Man of Ross;" his charities were immense. Even before he received the Marquisate of Ischia from the Pope, a revenue of about a thousand pounds a year, his charity was extensive; and this addition to his fortune he is said to have wholly expended upon the young and aged of his profession, educating the one, and allowing stipends to the other. He also, for a long time, supported his step-father, whose cruelty towards him in infancy was great.
Canova was never married: he has left two brothers, sons of his mother, by her second husband. One is an ecclesiastic; the other, an architect, is supposed to succeed to his study and fortune.-Who shall inherit his fame?
LINES WRITTEN BY T. CAMPBELL,
And inscribed on the Monument lately finished by Mr. CHANTREY, which has been erected by the Widow of Admiral Sir G. CAMPBELL, K. C. B. to the memory of her husband.
To him, whose loyal, brave, and gentle heart,