Page images
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors]

door, seem no bigger than children ; but when you approach nearer, you perceive they are six feet high. We make no such mistake on seeing a living man at the same, or a greater distance ; because the knowledge we have of a man's real size precludes the possibility of our being mistaken, and we make allowance for the diminution which distance occasions; but angels, and other figures in sculpture, having no determined standard, but being under the arbitrary will of the statuary, who gives them the bulk of giants or dwarfs as best suits his purpose, we do not know what allowance to make; and the eye, unused to such large masses, is confounded, and incapacitated from forming a right judgment of an object six feet high, or of any other dimensions, which it was not previously acquainted with.

It is not my design to attempt a description of the statues, basso relievos, columns, pictures, and various ornaments of this church; such an account, faithfully executed, would fill volumes. The finest of all the ornaments have a probability of being longer preserved than would once have been imagined, by the astonishing improvements which have of late been made in the art of copying pictures in Mosaic. Some of the artists here, have already made copies with a degree of accuracy, which nobody could believe who had not seen the performances. By this means, the works of Raphael, and other great painters, will be transmitted to a later posterity than they themselves expected ; and although all the beauty of the originals cannot be retained in the copy, it would be gross affectation to deny that a great part of it is. How happy would it make the real lovers of the art in this age, to have such specimens of the genius of Zeuxis, Apelles, and other ancient painters !

It has been frequently remarked, that the proportions of this church are so fine, and the symmetry of its different parts so exquisite, that the whole seems considerably small. er than it really is. It was, however, certainly intended to appear a great and sublime object, and to produce ad..

miration by the vastness of its dimensions. I cannot, therefore, be of opinion, that any thing which has a tendency to defeat this effect, can with propriety be called an excellence. I should on the contrary imagine, that if the architect could have made the church appear larger than it is in reality, this would have been a more desirable effect; provided it could have been produced without diminishing our admiration in some more material point. If this could not be accomplished ; if it is absolutely certain, that those proportions in architecture, which produce the most beautiful effect on the whole, always make a building seem smaller than it is; this ought rather to be mentioned as an unfortunate than as a fortunate circumstance. The more I reflect on this, it appears to me the -more certain, that no system of proportions, which has the effect of making a large building appear small, is therefore excellent. If the property of reducing great things to little ones is inherent in all harmonious proportions; it is, in my opinion, an imperfection, and much to be lamented. In small buildings, where we expect to derive our pleasure from grace and elegance, the evil may be borne ; but in edifices of vast dimensions, capable of sublimity from their bulk, the vice of diminishing is not to be compensated by harmony. The sublime has no equivalent.

LETTER XXXVIII.

Rome

The grand procession of the Possesso took place a few days ago. This is a ceremony performed by every pope, as soon as conveniency will permit, after the conclave has declared in his favour. It is equivalent to the coronation in England, or the consecration at Rheims. On this occasion, the pope goes to the Basilica of St John Lateran, and, as the phrase is, takes possession of it. This church, they tell you, is the most ancient of all the churches in Rome, and the mother of all the churches in Christen,

/

dom. When he has got possession of this, therefore, he must be the real head of the Christian church, and Christ's vicegerent upon earth. From St. John Lateran's, he pro ceeds to the Capitol, and receives the keys of that fortress; after which, it is equally clear, that as an earthly prince, he ought, like the ancient possessors of the Capitol, to have a supremacy over all kings.

The prince Guistiniani procured a place for us, at the senator's house in the Capitol, from whence we might see the procession to the greatest advantage. On arriving, we were surprised to find the main body of the palace, as well as the Palazzo dé Conservatori, and the museum, which form the two wings, all hung with crimson silk, Jaced with gold. The bases and capitals of the pillars and pilasters, where the silk could not be accurately applied, were gilt. Only imagine, what a figure the Farnesian Hercules would make, dressed in a silk suit, like a French petit-maitre. To cover the noble simplicity of Michael Angelo's architecture with such frippery by way of ornament, is, in my mind, a piece of refinement equally laudable,

Throwing an eye on the Pantheon, and comparing it with the Campidoglio in its present dress, the beauty and justness of the following lines seemed more striking than

ever.

Mark, how the dread Pantheon stands,
Amid the domes of modern hands,
Amid the toys of idle state,

How simply, how severely great! We were led to a balcony, where a number of ladies of the first distinction in Rome were assembled. There were no men excepting a very few strangers; most part of the Roman noblemen have some function in the cession. The instant of his holiness's departure from the Vatican, was announced by a discharge of canuon from the castle of St. Angelo; on the top of which, the standard of the church had been flying ever since morning. We had a full view of the cavalcade, on its return from

pro

the church, as it ascended to the Capitol. The officers of the pope's horse-guards were dressed in a style equally rich and becoming. It was something between the Hungarian and Spanish dress. I do not know whether the king of Prussia would approve of the great profusion of plumage they wore in their hats ; but it is picturesque, and showy qualities are the most essential to the guards of his holiness. The Swiss guards were, on this occasion, dressed with less propriety; their uniforms were real coats of mail, with iron helmets on their heads, as if they had been to take the Capitol by storm, and expected a vigorous resistance. Their appearance was strongly contrasted with that of the Roman barons, who were on horseback, without boots, and in full dress; each of them was preceded by four pages, their hair hanging in regular ringlets to the middle of their backs: they were followed by a number of servants in rich liveries. Bishops and other ecclesiastics succeeded the barons; and then came the cardinals on horseback, in their purple robes, which covered every part of their horses, except the head. You may be sure that the horses employed at such ceremonies are the gentlest that can be found; for if they were at all unruly, they might not only injure the sur. rounding crowd, but throw their eminences, who are not celebrated for their skill in horsemanship. Last of all comes the pope himself, mounted on a milk-white mule, distributing blessings with an unsparing hand among the multitude, who follow him with acclamations of Viva il Santo Padre, and, prostrating themselves on the ground before his mule, Benedizione Santo Padre. The holy father took particular care to wave his hand in the form of the cross, that the blessings he pronounced at the same instant might have the greater efficacy. As his holiness is employed in this manner during the whole procession, he cannot be supposed to give the least attention to his mule, the bridle of which is held by two persons who walk by his side, with some others, to catch the infallible

[ocr errors]

father of the church, and prevent his being thrown to the ground, in case the mule should stumble.

At the entrance of the Capitol he was met by the senator of Rome, who, falling on his knees, delivered the keys into the hands of his holiness, who pronounced a blessing over him, and restored him the keys. Proceeding from the Capitol, the pope was met by a deputation of Jews, soon after he had passed through the arch of Titus. They were headed by the chief rabbi, who

presented him with a long scroll of parchment, on which is written the whole law of Moses in Hebrew. His holiness received the parchment in a very gracious manner, telling the rabbi at the same time, that he accepted his present out of respect to the law itself, but entirely rejected his interpretation ; for the ancient law, having been fulfilled by the coming of the Messiah, was no longer in force. As this was not a convenient time or place for the rabbi to enter into a controversy upon the subject, he bowed his head in silence, and retired with his countrymen, in the full conviction, that the falsehood of the pope's assertion would be made manifest to the whole universe in due time. His holiness, meanwhile, proceeded in triumph, through the principal streets to the Vatican.

This procession, I am told, is one of the most showy and magnificent which takes place, on any occasion, in this city; where there are certainly more solemn exhibitions of the same kind than in any other country; yet, on the whole, I own it did not afford me much satisfaction ; nor could all their pomp and finery prevent an uneasy recollection, not unmixed with sentiments of indignation, from obtruding on my mind. To feel unmixed admiration in beholding the pope and his cardinals marching in triumph to the Capitol, one must forget those who walked in triumph formerly to the same place; forget entirely that such men as Camillus, Scipio, Paulus Æmilius, and Pompey, ever existed ; they must forget Cato, whose campaign in Africa was so much admired by Lucan, that he declares, he would rather have had the glory of that sin

« PreviousContinue »