« PreviousContinue »
are severely put to the test, by being placed in contiguity with the group of Laocoon and the Belvidere Apollo.
Much as I had heard of the former of these immortal works, the half had not been told me and the reality far exceeded my expectations. It is utterly impossible to convey either by words or copies an adequate idea of the original, which in my opinion is the ne plus ultra of human art, and the next step to creative power. Never was greater force of expression imparted to inanimate matter, which is here invested with all the attributes of feeling and suffering, except the vital principle itself. Every school-boy, who has read Virgil or heard of the Trojan horse, is familiar with the story of Laocoon. It is indeed highly probable, that the poet drew his animated description of the ill-fated son of Priam from this very statue, which is satisfactorily proved to have existed long before the Æneid was written. Pliny states it to be the joint production of three artists of Rhodes, who lived four hundred years before the Christian era. It was considered in his time as the greatest work of the kind, either in statuary or painting. His account of it leaves it in the Palace of Titus; and it was found in the Baths of that emperor, in the 16th century. The right arm was missing, which Michael Angelo attempted to restore, but could not satisfy himself, and after several trials gave up the undertaking. A higher compliment could not have been paid to the merits of the original. The defect was supplied by a cast of Bernini. Laocoon and his two sons, with a host of other antiques in this Museum, paid their court to Napoleon, and for several years enriched the collections of the Louvre. More copies of it are to be found than of any other work, and it may fairly be considered as the finest group of statuary now in existence.
The Belvidere Apollo, that beautiful idol at whose shrine thousands have worshipped, and whose praises have been hymned with as much enthusiasm by modern amateurs,* as they once were by the circle of
*Winkelman concludes his elaborate description of this statue with the following rhapsody:
"When I behold this prodigy of art, I forget all the universe; I assume a more dignified attitude, to be worthy to contemplate it. From admiration I pass into ecstacy. Penetrated with respect, I feel my bosom heave and dilate itself, as in those filled with the spirit of prophecy. I am transported to Delos, and the sacred groves of Lycia, once honoured by the presence of the god; for the beauty before me seems to acquire motion, like that produced of old by the chisel of Pygmalion. How is it possible to describe thee, thou inimitable master-piece, unless I had the help of ancient science itself to inspire me, and guide my pen! I lay at thy feet the sketch I have rudely attempted; as those who cannot reach the brows of the
the Muses, received no servile act of homage from me. I walked erect into his presence, with as stubborn a republican knee, as was sometimes préserved in my approaches to his Holiness, while the multitude were prostrate upon the pavement.* His pretensions to divinity, (I mean Apollo, and not Leo XII.) are unobtrusive, and certainly at the first glance the god does not stand confessed. There is not so much of majesty in the face, form or attitude, as one might expect to find in the son of Jove, with the attributes ascribed to him by Homer. The predominant character of the statue appeared to me to be that of beauty, rather than of dignity or grandeur. Its height is but little above the human stature; its proportions symmetrical and manly, without any tension of muscles, or affected exhibition of strength; and its position is light, easy, and graceful. My obtuse perceptions were unable to detect in the features and the expression of the face any of those superhuman traits-that "beautiful disdain," which Byron discovers in the eye, and which Winkelman finds seated on the lip. The poet and antiquary are here sadly at variance, as to the locus in quo. The latter says that "his eye is all sweetness, as if he were now surrounded by the Muses, eager to offer him their caressing homage." Madam Starke concludes her description of the statue with the remark, that "it exhibits all the masculine beauty, grace, and dignity, with which we may suppose Adam to have been adorned before the fall!" This opinion approximates somewhat to that of Sir Benjamin West, who thought it an exact model of the North American Indian. But not to detail all the ridiculous things that have been said of the Belvidere Apollo, it is doubtless a work of transcendant merit, and the unknown art
divinity they adore, offer at its footstool the garlands with which they would fain have crowned its head."
Such is the enthusiastic apostrophe of a grave antiquary. It is the merest rant, and rant too with not even the merit of originality.
For Lord Byron's beautiful hymn to the Apollo Belvidere, the reader is referred to the 4th Canto of Childe Harold.
* I was sometimes extremely embarrassed to know what to do, when the Pope was coming, and the crowd cowered to earth like a flock of pigeons. To kneel to a mortal was contrary to my feelings; and to stand upright while others knelt, looked like singularity and ill manners. The old adage, "when you are with the Romans, do as the Romans do," furnishes perhaps the best general rule of conduct in a foreign country. A pleasant anecdote is related of Horace Walpole, in his visit to Italy. As he entered the door of the Pope's apartment at the Vatican, and stood hesitating whether he would conform to the usual act of humiliation, the aged Pontiff observed his embarrassment and relieved it by saying-"Kneel, my son, and receive the blessing of an old man: it can do you no harm."
ist, who may almost be said to have breathed into its nostrils the breath of life, has furnished a beautiful illustration of the ancient fable, alluded to in the following passage of Childe Harold:
"And if it be Prometheus stole from Heaven
The fire which we endure, it was repaid
One ringlet in the dust-nor hath it caught
A tinge of years, but breathes the flame with which 'twas wrought."
The Hall of Animals is one of the most interesting and instructive departments of the Museum. It is a spacious and splendid teinple, with vestibules supported by granite pillars, and pavements studded with ancient mosaics. The variety of marbles and precious stones, from which the animals are sculptured, furnishes not the least splendid and valuable part of the exhibition. Here are assembled all the most costly materials, which the quarries of the east could afford. Much taste is displayed in adapting the colour of the stone to the complexion of the quadrupeds; as also in expressing the habits of the latter, by concomitant circumstances. For instance, one lion is in the attitude of devouring a horse; another holds a bull's head in his claws; a dog appears upon the back of a stag; and the stork bears a serpent in its mouth. In this rich and beautiful collection I found ample confirmation of the justness of a remark made in a former letter, that the exactness with which the ancients delineated the forms of animals, furnishes the strongest evidence of their accuracy, in transmitting to posterity the likenesses of great men.
The visitant is now introduced into a suite of rooms, filled with as numerous and as stately a conclave of the gods, as ever convened in the chambers of the skies, and canopied by firmaments as starry and brilliant. Jove is seated in the midst, grasping the lightning in his hand, and exhibiting the stormy terrors of his brow. Juno sustains the character of the imperious queen of Heaven. Neptune lifts his trident-Pallas stands in massive panoply-and Minerva extends the olive of peace. Here too is the whole court of pleasure and love—
*This statue was found in the 15th century at Antium, a seaport thirty miles from the mouth of the Tiber, and is supposed to have been brought thither by the emperor Nero, a native of that place, on his return from Greece.
Venus and Diana, with their paramours, Adonis and Endymion by their sides-Fauns clanking their, cymbals-Bacchantes, with their brows twined with garlands, reeling through the dance-and nymphs reposing in voluptuous dreams.
One apartment is appropriated exclusively to the quire of the Muses and their distinguished votaries. The former were found in the villa of Cassius, at Tivoli. They are arranged with much taste, each bearing her characteristic symbol. Two of them, Melpomene and Thalia, are particularly beautiful. Apollo appears in the midst of them, arrayed in his theatrical habit. Among the poets are Homer, in the attitude of singing to Minerva, Sophocles, Euripides, Sappho, Virgil, Tasso, and Ariosto. Many of the preceding, and hundreds of others not mentioned at all, are first rate productions of the Grecian School, probably constituting the richest collection of statuary in the world.
The ornaments of the rooms are magnificent beyond description. In the centre of the Rotunda stands a porphyry basin forty-two feet in circumference; and scattered over the Museum, are several colossal sarcophagi of the same material. I observed a large chair, used by some of the former Popes, which is composed of red antique—a species of stone of much finer grain, and more rare than porphyry. The decorations of black antique, and red granite are also beautiful. On some of the ancient mosaics, the battle of the Lapithæ, the head of Medusa, Pallas with her ægis, and other classical fables are portrayed. From the vestibule denominated the Greek Cross, one of the two hundred flights of steps at the Vatican leads to a saloon above, in which is deposited an ancient bigæ or chariot, of white marble, drawn by two horses. It is an elegant piece of workmanship, and valuable to the scholar in furnishing illustrations of the classics.
A gallery more than a thousand feet in length, and divided into eight or ten sections by iron-railings, is appropriated to an infinite variety of candelabra, vases, cinerary urns, sarcophagi, and other rare antiquities. The walls of one of the sections are covered with geographical delineations of the papal territories, executed in the 16th century, by order of Pope Gregory XIII. The beautiful plan of St. Peter's, as originally designed by Michael Angelo, also arrested my attention. It is in all respects superior to the present model. Guido's fresco of the Descent of the Holy Ghost, on the ceiling of an adjoining chamber hung with tapestry, deserves examination, although it is not in his happiest style. Thus have I made the circuit of this princely Museum, and noted some of the principal objects it contains. It is a proud monument of the resources, liberality, and munificence of the Pontiffs, and its treasures
have been among the most powerful means of drawing thousands of strangers to Rome.
The Library of the Vatican is on a scale proportioned to the extent and magnificence of its other departments. It is contained in three spacious halls, situated between the two wings of the Museum, whence it is approached. The principal apartment, in which are deposited forty thousand rare manuscripts, is two hundred feet long and fifty wide, with a ceiling glittering with gold and ornamented with frescos. Among the splendid furniture are tables of granite, supported by gilt caryatides; celestial and terrestrial globes of the most beautiful workmanship; a column of transparent alabaster; and a sarcophagus of Parian marble, with a winding-sheet of asbestos. The books and manuscripts are all kept out of sight, under lock and key, in presses ranged round the walls. Many of the most ancient and curious works were taken out of the cases by the librarian for our inspection. Of these was a copy of the scriptures in a folio so large, as to require two men to lift it upon the table-versions of the bible in several languages and of as early a date as the 6th century; also copies on rolls of parchment-transcripts of Pliny, with delineations of animals described by him, and of Virgil, with costumes of the Latins and Trojans, all done with a pen in the 5th century-manuscript copy of Danteoriginal correspondence between Henry VIII. and Anne Boleyn, with numerous other literary curiosities, which time will not permit me to specify. The penalty of excommunication is denounced against such, as shall be guilty of pilfering any of these treasures.
This great hall of the Library opens at right angles into a gallery little short of half a mile in length, supported by pillars of porphyry and other precious materials, presenting one of the richest perspectives, which the imagination can conceive. Its sides are divided into compartments, labelled with the names of great men, as Cicero, Virgil, Cæsar, and others, accompanied by a likeness of each painted upon the wall. The ceiling as usual is enriched with frescos, among which are some of the finest productions of Mengs. These almost endless galleries are filled with books, antiquities, and curiosities of all descriptions, kept in the same manner as the manuscripts. Many of the cases were opened and the contents disclosed to us. In this inexhaustible cabinet, we saw among a thousand other things, a cross composed of small figures, representing Greeks and Russians, in golden mosaic -a volume of plates, illustrative of the horrible deaths of martyrs, in the ages of persecution-instruments of torture in every possible shape-a singular kind of bell, lamps, and other domestic utensils, found in the catacombs and used by the early Christians-a lock of