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To the other palaces we found easy access, and were permitted to range wherever inclination listed, through saloons and bed-chambers, dining-halls and dressing-rooms. Out of the number to which the valet-de-place conducted us in rapid succession, I select for a more particular notice the Brignole, called by way of distinction the Palais Rouge, on account of its exterior being painted of a palish red colour. In this selection I am governed less by the grandeur of its proportions, the beauty of its architecture, and the splendour of its apartments, than by its gallery of paintings, which is one of the richest and most extensive in Genoa. It is of a square form fronting upon the Strada Nuova. Its porch is adorned with fourteen Doric pillars of white marble, and its broad flight of steps is of the same material. The collection of pictures fills twenty-one rooms, and embraces some of the finest productions of the great Italian masters.
Instead of pursuing the safe and beaten track of other tourists, in designating the most remarkable and the most interesting of such a multitude, I shall adopt the more hazardous course of attempting a sort of analysis of the gallery, which may be taken as a sample of the other collections at Genoa, and of offering some general remarks upon the nature of the subjects rather than upon the works themselves. For a perfect novice in vertu, educated in what a European at least would consider the wilds of America, unschooled in the fine arts, and making not the slightest pretensions to the taste of a connoisseur, to venture upon such topics at the threshold of Italy may manifest no small degree of presumption and hardihood. But what is the use of travelling, if one dares not observe, think, and speak for himself?
Out of the two hundred articles in this collection, there are but three historical pictures, and half a dozen pieces of landscape, none of which have the remotest relation to the splendid scenery or the eventful story of the country. With the exception of a group of family portraits, chiefly by Vandyke, and here and there a head by other artists, all the rest are illustrative of the religion of the Church of Rome, and of the scarcely less elevated system of the Heathen Mythology, upon which the former in many instances seems to have been ingrafted. The gallery contains not less than twenty copies of the Madonna and her child, in all possible attitudes, with saints, martyrs, and miracle-workers without number. If the artists had confined themselves to illustrations of appropriate passages of the Holy Scriptures, the beautiful productions of their pencils might have tended to instruct as well as delight mankind. But their imaginations have wantoned in unrestricted licentiousness; and instead of elevating the feelings and affections of mortals to the skies, they have too often dragged religion down to earth, and, like
the fables of the ancient poets, mingled gods with men. Not only have they attempted to portray the Virgin, giving her perhaps the features of some favourite mistress, with angels hovering around in the guise of Cupids; not only have they ventured to represent the Holy Ghost in a material form, and the Saviour in all his divine ministrations, from the cradle to the cross, efforts sufficiently bold for the delineations of the pencil; but they have dared to approach the throne of the Eternal Father himself, and to clothe him with human attributes. One of the descriptions of the gallery has the following familiar designation: "Le Pere Eternel avec l'Enfant Jesus, du Guercino da Cento;" and you see an attempted image of the Deity and the Son of God, in the shape of a bearded old man dandling and caressing his child, while some flippant cicerone speaks with the same lightness of the costume, expression, or colouring, as in criticising a neighbouring Venus or Bacchus. However high may be the conceptions of the artist, his pencil must necessarily degrade such a subject; and the spectator turns away with horror and disgust. If the fine arts are ever destined to flourish in our own country, I hope they may never assume this familiarity with sacred subjects, but leave religion, as it now is, all intellectual and spiritual, incapable of being represented by sensible objects, without at the same time being debased.
In examining this and other collections of pictures, another violation of correct taste, in the choice of subjects, struck me as equally obvious. Descriptive poetry, painting, and scenic representations are kindred arts; and to each the same great principles of criticism will apply. In reading an epic, in listening to a tragedy, or in contemplating a picture, a state of the mind called ideal presence is supposed to exist; and no scene or object can with propriety be introduced, which would shock or disgust a real spectator. This rule is almost as old as the arts themselves, and as fixed as it can be rendered by the highest classical authorities. Vulgar curiosity alone can be delighted with atrocious spectacles and representations of brutal violence, however tragical they may be.
Let us for a moment apply these principles to numerous pictures found in this and every other gallery at Genoa, as well as in all the churches. In one group, are St. Sebastian with the arrows piercing his naked body; by Guido-St. Thomas thrusting his hand into the bleeding wounds of the Saviour; by Cappucino-Cato running a sword through his own body; by Guercino. As if one copy of this last were not sufficient, a duplicate is found in another part of the collection. Again, you find Judith in an air of triumph presenting to a slave the reeking head of Holofernes, which she has just dissevered,
and which she grasps by the clotted hair; from the pencil of Paul Veronese-A man holding serpents in his hands; by Manfredi-Cleopatra with the asp fastened on her naked bosom, and her features distorted with the agonies of death; by Guercino-The scourging of the Saviour, with the blood streaming from his back; by Castello. In short, these images of unnatural crimes and savage cruelties meet you at every turn. Now, to bring these works to the test-would any of the above spectacles be tolerated upon the stage, before a refined audience? How has Mr. Addison disposed of this same Cato? He makes him perpetrate the bloody deed in the seclusion of his own closet, and when the news of the shocking catastrophe is brought to Lucius, he very properly exclaims:
Hide all the horrors of thy mournful tale,
But to bring the subject still more directly home to the feelings, would any person of ordinary taste willingly be an actual spectator of the scenes portrayed in any one of the above mentioned pictures? and if not, how can he contemplate the delineation of them with complacency? So far as the representation falls short of the reality, the painting is defective and fails in its object; and so far as it approximates to the reality, it becomes shocking.
With regard to my own feelings, the foregoing objections are well grounded; and almost the only pleasure derived from an examination of these splendid collections of pictures consisted in an admiration of the imitative powers and wonderful skill of the artists—a pleasure subordinate and mean in comparison with the ennobling sentiments inspired by the subject. Mr. Eustace in his Classical Tour remarks, that the history of Genoa abounds in poetical incidents, and he expresses his surprise that no native bards have arisen to weave them into song. With how much more propriety may this remark be applied to the kindred department of painting, in which Genoese artists, both in number and reputation, hold a respectable rank? But by a fault too common with men of genius, they have looked any where except at home for subjects, and wasted on Madonnas, saints, and martyrs, talents which ought to have been employed in illustrating the historical events and picturesque scenery of their own country. In the 12th century Genoa fitted out a fleet of forty gallies in the first Crusade, and one of its native citizens, Guillaume Embriaco, was Admiral of the whole naval armaments of Europe destined to the Holy Land. What a field is here open to the artist! Every incident in
that expedition is the very essence of poetry and romance. The imagination might revel amidst the splendour and luxury of oriental manners, the battles and feasts of knights, and chivalrous deeds for glory or love. In the scarcely less romantic adventures of Columbus-in his embarkations and debarkations-in his interviews alternately with sovereigns and savages-his successes and reverses of fortune-his triumphs and his chains, the finest scenes are presented to the choice of the artist. To all these may be added the wars of the Genoese with the Goths, the Saracens, and the Venetians, together with the emancipation of the country in the 16th century, through the influence of Andrew Doria. Could subjects better adapted to the pencil be found in any country? and yet not a picture of the kind is to be met with in any of the galleries at Genoa; a dereliction not less from taste than from patriotism, which fills the stranger with surprise and regret.
The Serra Palace in the Strada Nuova, is such a perfect unique, and so remarkable for its sumptuousness, that it would be unpardonable to pass it over in utter silence. Two of the apartments in particular, the dining-room and saloon, are entirely peculiar in construction, and the luxury of the east can scarcely surpass them in splendour. They are the works of rival artists, the former by an Italian, and the latter by a Frenchman, who had the wealth of the Serra family at command, and squandered it without limitation. It is said that only one of these rooms, of the ordinary size, cost a million francs. Both are as rich as they can be rendered by gold and precious stones. In brilliancy the Frenchman has far surpassed his Italian competitor, and the celebrated traveller Dupaty has not inappropriately termed this saloon the Palace of the Sun. The supplement to the French Encyclopedia has given drawings of all its sides, and pronounces the work unequalled by any thing of the kind, in the elegance of its proportions, the richness of its ornaments, its gildings, mirrors, chandeliers, tapestry, and other furniture. Between the fluted Corinthian pillars of Parian marble, embossed with massive gold, are placed sheets of mirror, forming the entire walls, and multiplying the splendid objects in the room a thousand times. On whichever side the spectator turns, his eye is absolutely dazzled and bewildered by the painful brilliancy of the spectacle. When the whole is lighted up by the numerous chandeliers, sparkling with rainbow hues, the degree of effulgence must be insupportable.
The last of the Genoese palaces, with which I shall trouble my readers, is in perfect contrast with the Serra. It belongs to the Marquis di Negro, and is seated on an eminence, near the ancient ramparts, commanding a delightful prospect of the city and harbour. Our prin
cipal object in visiting it was the spacious garden, laid out in the English style, filled with evergreens, shrubs, and plants, embellished with fountains, and adorned with busts of distinguished men. Over the entrance is an inscription in Latin, the purport of which is as follows:"To the ambitious many things are wanting-God has satisfied the moderate wishes of di Negro." The sentiment contained in this motto and the simplicity, neatness, and taste, which this charming retirement displays, prepossessed us very strongly in favour of the proprietor, who is a literary gentleman, and has spent ten years of his life in travelling. He was absent at the time of our visit; but his quiet retreat, his library, and the poetical work on a religious subject, in which he is at present engaged, were shown to us by the gardener. These sequestered shades, elevated by the Apennines above the noise and bustle of the town, and consecrated to learned ease, present far stronger attractions than the gorgeous piles of the Strada Nuova.