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riches, are important frescoes, by bas-relief of the Emperor's triumphal that great naturalistic reformer in procession, bearing the seven-branch the arts, Masaccio, which would candlestick and the spoils of the seem by their vigour and their truth, Jewish temple, connecting, as it were, in the dignity they restore to man, Judaism, Paganism, and Christianity. and by the beauty with which they On the inmediate right, close likeadorn womanhood, to enter a protest wise to the Basilica of Constantine, against the entire series of Christian and built in part on the site of the mosaics, whether Roman or Byzan- Temple of Venus and Rome, is the tine, which had so long violated ancient church of S. Francesca Ronature and parodied revelation. The mana, remarkable for its mosaics of churches of Rome are catholic at the ninth century. Close at hand, least in the open asylum which they the Temple of Remus forms the cirequally give to the universal art of cular vestibule to the Basilica of the all Christian ages. In the arts, at present church of SS. Cosmo and all events, the Church of Rome would Damiano, already mentioned for its appear to preach no exclusive salva- Roman Christian mosaics of the sixth tion. In St Peter's, a bronze statue century. And finally, immediately of Jupiter has been received for St beyond, is the grand portico to the Peter himself, and we think it would temple of Antoninus and Faustina, have been equally politic, and cer- which, in its mutation into the pretainly not less latitudinarian, could a sent Church of S. Lorenzo, affords statue of Apollo have been trans- , another memorable example of the muted into a figure of Christ. Thus consecration to the Christian religion in a charity of taste, which we could and Christian art of pagan works wish extended to an equal enlarge- otherwise threatened with destrucment of creed, do we find art, not tion. Our circuit is now ended. We only the most diverse but even the leave the Palatine Mount, with the most hostile, made accessory to, and ruined palace of the Cæsars, on the found acceptable in, the same Chris- left, drive through the Roman tian worship. We scarcely can re- Forum among ruined porticos and gret so wide a toleration, even though columns, to which we shall not prethe liberty granted to genius may oft- sume to assign a name, in the dispute times have degenerated into license. between conflicting antiquaries. We We scarcely can object to find that, skirt the base of the Capitol, pass in the creation of art, Christianity the arch of Septimus Severus and the can include a diversity varied as Mamertine prison, and so proceedhuman nature, an empire wide as the ing onwards, leaving the piazza and world ; that the church which may column of Trajan to the right, we be dedicated to the St Mary is not reach the modern Corso, and at shut to the Magdalen, and that while length gain once again the Piazza di angels sing in the choir, demons are Spagna, now, as we have said, in a permitted to howl in the crypt. bad sense illustrious by the latest of
It is time to bring our drive through Christian monuments, the column to Rome in quest of these old mosaics that latest of dogmas, the Immacuto a close. We are near to the Coli- late Conception. On a future day it seum, that ruin which, like so many may be well to complete the investiremains in Rome, seems to connect gation by a circuit to one or two paganism with Christianity. While churches through the Trastevere, and the martyrs were here given up to by a still more important excursion wild beasts, the Church had fled to beyond the walls, to visit those the catacombs from persecution, and earliest of Christian mosaics of the this once arena of the passions is now fourth century in the church of S. dedicated to the Christian virtues by Constanza, and at the same time toexthe cross and the altars which stand amine the adjacent and now restored where the early Christian was Basilica of St Agnese. In this intersacred. Making the circuit of the mingling of monuments sacred and Coliseum, we enter the Via Sacra, at profane, Christian and classic, the the Meta Sudans, pass under the arch reader finds
a characteristic illustraof Titus, take a hasty glance at the tion of the Roman and pagan origin
of Christian art. The early Christian rude nature and low type of the Rochurch coming into so rich an inhe- man-Christian school. ritance, is it surprising that Romish But it is from the Church of St Christian art should be cast in the Mark, in Venice, that an adequate form of paganism ? The Romish conception can alone be formed of Church took from the pagan religion the barbaric splendour of Byzantine its incense, holy water, lainps and art. This marvellous church, written candles, votive offerings, images; as a scroll within and without, not chapels on the way-sides and tops of as the book given to Ezekiel, with hills ; processions, and miracles.* Is lamentations, and mourning, and it then at all surprising that Christian woe, but as the Alpha and the art should take from the pagan its Omega, the first and the last, the types and its treatment ?
beginning and the ending, from the Other portions of Italy are scarcely time when God created Adam from less rich in mosaic art. The Baptis- the dust to the consummation when teries in Florence and in Parma both Christ ascended into glory. It was contain important works; but of far a pictorial Bible to the multitude, greater extent and splendour are the when the written Bible was a sealed still remaining mosaics in Ravenna, book. It was a continuous narrathat great capital and Italian centre tive of successive events, illustrating of eastern magnificence. Early in God's dealings towards the children the present year we left the coldest of men with a fulness, and simplicity, of Italian cities, Bologna—the snow and fidelity, eminently belonging to knee-deep--for the milder shores of those early times of unsophisticated the Adriatic. After a tedious jour- art. Adam and Eve, from their first ney of six-and-twenty hours, we calling into life to their expulsionreached Ravenna, where Byron lived the creation of the earth, the sun, and loved, where Dante is buried, the moon, and the stars—the sacriwhere nature has spread for twenty fice of Cain and Abel-the building miles along the margin of the sea of the Tower of Babel and of the that noble forest of stone pines, Ark—the history of Joseph and of and where art, once scarcely less Moses, and the fall of manna in the noble and ambitious, covered whole wilderness—all reduced to pictorial churches with mosaics—those pic- perspicuity, all thus pictorially printtures for eternity. To the artistic ed, when the art of printing was unor Christian antiquary, these works known ; all this was indeed to put doubtless offer many points for inves- the Bible, not into the hands of the tigation and discussion ; suffice it, few who could read, but to place it however, to say, that for us they within the reach of the multitudinous afforded but additional evidence of many, to whom the symbol and the the conclusions already stated. It picture was the most speaking revemay, however, be asserted generally, lation. The great truths concerning that these mosaics--such, for ex- life, death, and eternity, thus set in ample, as the Baptism of Christ in all the glory of gold, sanctified by all the Baptistery, the remarkably pure the splendour of rainbow colour, and beautiful figure of the Good built with enduring stone into the Shepherd, surrounded by his sheep, very fabric of the Church, as they in the tomb of Galla Placidia, were also to be moulded into the together with portions of the Apsis very heart of the believer, the whole of S. Vitale-are more than usually surpassing all earthly splendour, allied to Grecian art, and are conse- awed the imagination of the multiquently marked by greater elevation tude, as a revelation which flashed, of type, and a nearer approach to na- not across the sky and then was lost ture. Thus these works, in Ravenna, in darkness, but as a revelation put of the fifth and sixth centuries, con- lastingly on record in the dome spantrast, on the one hand, with the de- ning heaven, as an undying rainbow, bility of the Venetian mosaics of the which, as the first rainbow, became a eleventh, and, on the other, with the covenant of mercy. All that could
See Dr Middleton's Letter from Rome.
exalt or appal the imagination was hands the riches of their fathers, brought within this temple. The without inheriting the spirit which richest marbles—the most precious had created and improved that sacred stones-spoils taken from the ex- patrimony; they read, they praised, haustless East-relics and vestments they compiled, but their languid of the saints-bas-reliefs from tombs souls seemed alike incapable of of martyrs—the labour of man's thought and action.” Of art, equally hands in all possible forms of patient as of literature, it might still further elaboration for the glory of God—the be asserted, that, “ in the revolution mysterious mingling of light and of ten centuries, not a single discolour with a cavern darkness—the covery was made to exalt the dignity precarious yet constant lamp burn- or promote the happiness of maning like faith in a world of darkness, kind. Not a single idea has been joined with the sound of music and added to the speculative systems of the deep chant coming from that antiquity; and a succession of pasanctuary where Christ and His tient disciples became, in their turn, apostles, in giant mosaic form, are the dogmatic teachers of the next present at the daily worship, -all servile generation. Not a single com
. these art-appliances to devotion rouse position of history, philosophy, or every faculty of the soul to trans- literature, has been saved from obport, save the paralysed intellect and livion by the intrinsic beauties of conscience. So earnest and so elo- style or sentiment of original fancy, quent an outpouring of religion into or even of successful imitation.” art could not long remain without the That universal law which binds into highest works to testify to the nobility unity of existence the art of a people and the purity of the aim. We shail with its mental, social, and political see that the religious ardour which life, never received more pointed fired these rude and early mosaics be- illustration than in the Empire of the came, at a later and more vital epoch East. Thus Gibbon again, in the in Christian art, associated with following criticism on the writers of heavenly beauty and earthly truth. Byzantium, unconsciously seizes on We have allowed ourselves to speak the leading characteristics of Byzanof St Mark's as we ourselves have tine art. "In every page,” he says, often felt, when, laying aside critical taste and reason are wounded severity, we surrendered the imagi- by the choice of gigantic and obsolete nation to the spell of poetic dreams. words, a stiff and intricate phraseoIt must, however, be candidly ad- logy, the discord of images, the childmitted, that in these mosaic pictures, ish play of false and unseasonable which were in olden times, as we have ornament, and the painful attempt said, the Bible of the people, Chris- to elevate themselves, to astonish tian art was as yet in its cradled in the reader, and to involve a trivial fancy.
meaning in the smoke of obscurity These Byzantine works, so sump- and exaggeration.” Accordingly, in tuous in material and so wide in obedience to those laws by which a extent, were at once of classic art the people's thoughts obtain expression grave and of Christian the cradle. through the language of art, we find Gibbon, in the conclusion to his his- that the Byzantine mosaics in Rome, tory, says that the “decline and fall Ravenna, and Venice, are characof the Roman Empire is the greatest, terised by gigantic figures, stiff, obperhaps the most awful scene in the solete forms—“ the childish play of history of mankind.'” In the history false and unseasonable ornament," of art, in like manner, we know of no puerile attempt at elevation, and the downfall so deplorable as that of exaggeration of what is small and in the classic, instinct with life and meaning trivial. Art had, indeed, bebeauty, into the grave of the Byzan- come the pampered luxury of a court, tine, so lifeless and deformed. The and of a people emasculated through description which Gibbon gives of pleasure and debauched by riches. the decay of taste and genius in the The decorations of the Church were Byzantine Empire, literally applies but in keeping with the adornings of as well to the arts as to literature. the palace-in both, alike, richness “They held,” he says, “in their lifeless of material supplied the poverty of
invention, and the servility which at- vision, glowing and intense with the tended the monarch in his empire ornate colouring, of words, and naturally became superstition in the beauteous with the filigree - woven church. We accordingly read that, tissue of poetic fancy. But the fairy in the palace of the Emperor Theo- structure, so beauteous in the disphilus at Constantinople," the long tance, vanished into thin air upon series of the apartments was adapted the near approach of scrutiny. to the seasons, and decorated with Foundation it had none, or such marble and porphyry, with painting, only as was false and fancy-framed. sculpture, and mosaics, with a pro- In the end we admired in this great fusion of gold, silver, and precious work just two things—the illustrastones. His fanciful magnificence tions and the eloquence—especially employed the skill and patience of the eloquence with which we shall such artists as the times could afford; play and sport in delight to the end but the taste of Athens would have of time, as children do with soap despised their frivolous and costly suds, blowing them into bubbles and labours : a golden tree with its leaves wondering at the rainbow colours and branches, which sheltered a mul- taken from all that is lovely in earth titude of birds warbling their arti- and beauteous in heaven. But of all ficial notes, and two lions of massy Mr Ruskin's baseless eloquence, the gold, and of the natural size, who rapture on "the olive tree” is the looked and roared like their brethren most astounding. We have again of the forest!"*
and again looked into the cupola of If the reader doubt the justice of St Mark, then at Mr Ruskin's illustraour censure, we would beseech him tion, and then again have once more to turn to the third volume of Mr drunk in theeloquent words—always, Ruskin's Stones of Venice, wherein however, with the same impression he will find a marvellous, though, as that of magnificent absurdity. we can testify, a literally correct With that literary chivalry which rendering of a Byzantine olive-tree as gives to Mr Ruskin's warfare the wrought in mosaic, in a cupola of St spirit of knight-errantry, he chalMark. In words it is difficult to lenges“ the untravelled English designate such a work.
reader to tell” him “what an olive selves, however, had not Mr Ruskin tree is like.”. He assures us that “at assured us, with his usual emphasis, least one-third out of all the landthat the work possesses all the attri- scapes painted by English artists butes of the olive, “knitted cordage have been chosen from Italian of fibres," with all the “
scenery ;” that “sketches in Greece honour of the olive in its fruit,” we and in the Holy Land have become should assuredly have mistaken his as common as sketches on Hampstead careful diagram for some unknown Heath ;” that "the olive tree is one product, lying somewhere between a of the most characteristic and beautikitchen mop and a cow cabbage. If ful features of all southern scenery;" the reader, however, require further and yet, that "the untravelled Engconfirmation of our strictures upon lish reader” “has no more idea of an Byzantine art, he will find it in the olive tree than if olives grew in the inordinate praise which Mr Ruskin fixed stars.” Then the reader's symlavishes upon this extraordinary pathies are appealed to “ For work. At the cost of much labour Christ's sake, “ for the beloved and time, with the reward of much Wisdom's sake," "for the ashes of the delight, and the penalty of pain- Gethsemane agony,” the olive tree ful disappointment, we carefully ought not to have been so used. read in Venice Mr Ruskin's three The reader thus highly wrought, and volumes, verifying or refuting his the writer exalted to frenzy - pitch, statements and opinions by an both at length collapse into the folappeal to the churches, palaces, 'and lowing conclusion :pictures themselves. As the closing “ I believe the reader will now see result of our labours, we found the that in these mosaics, which the careless entire work the baseless fabric of a traveller is in the habit of passing by
See, for all the above references, GIBBON's Decline and Fall, chap. 53.
with contempt, there is a depth of feeling ately elongated fingers, bearing a deand of meaning greater than in most of formed infant in her arms, the whole the best sketches from nature of modern painted in a stylo much resembling that times ; and without entering into any of the Chinese; or a Christ on the Cross, question whether these conventional which would seem to bave been copied representations are as good as, under the from a recently exhumed mummy, did required limitations, it was possible to not the streams of blood which flow render them, they are at all events good from each wound, on a greenish and cadaenough completely to illustrate that verous body, announce that life is not mode of symbolical expression which yet extinct; in both these cases it may appeals altogether to thought, and in no be affirmed, without fear of mistake, to wise trusts to realisation; and little, as be a work conceived by Greek artists, or in the present state of our schools, such executed under their influence.''t an assertion is likely to be believed, the fact is that this kind of expression is the
Byzantine art was, as we have said, only one allowable in noble art.
at once of classic art the grave and
of Christian the cradle ; but, strange “The untravelled English reader” to say, as we have already seen, one who “has no more idea of an olive thousand years had passed away tree than if it grew in the fixed stars," since the birth of Christ, and yet will be saved from the trouble, and Christian art still slumbered in preeven from the desire of travelling in carious infancy-a sleep, too, which search of this knowledge, by referring had the semblance of death. But the to the drawing which Mr Ruskin has hour of its awakening growth had so considerately published as a test
The intelligence of Italy, at once of his own superior insight bursting into new life, expressed itand of the world's contrasted igno- self in a newly-created beauty. Chrisrance. Sad it is that the ignorant tian art then first began to make world should, for well-nigh eight itself worthy of the country of its hundred years, have looked upon nativity, to take from the Italian these olive tree mosaics unconscious sky its serenity, from the Italian of their depth of feeling and of mind its ardour and imagination. meaning," insensible to the symboli. The thoughts which gained from cal expression which appeals alto- the poet the melody of words, sought gether to thought”-an expression from the painter the beauty of which assuredly ought not to have forms ; and the epic which describbeen overlooked, as we are told em- ed paradise, purgatory, and hell, inphatically in italics that it is “the spired the pictures of Giotto and only one allowable in noble art.” Sad Orgagna, where Christ, come to judge it may be in the opinion of Mr Rusk- the world, assigns to man his happiin that “the untravelled English ness or woe. But the poetic thought reader” has been so long insensible was naturally matured before the to these inscrutable beauties; but pictorial form ; and thus while Dante to our mind there is something far wrote in the thirteenth century, Leosadder still : that he should fall an nardo, Raphael, and Michael Angelo unconscious victim to a shadowy did not paint till the fifteenth. By eloquence, which he has no means of what gradual steps and successive knowing to be just as worthless as it stages the poetry of Christian truths is alluring. Such of the public as developed themselves into matured read for a higher end than to feel the and perfect pictorial forms, has alear tickling with pleasurable sound, ways seemed to us an inquiry of the will do well to test Mr Ruskin's most vital interest: How far the brilliant fallacies by the plainer prose progression of Christian art was reof more truthful writers.
sultant from the advancement of civiample, as an antidote to Mr Ruskin's lisation ; how far dependent upon the Byzantine mania, take the following revival of classic learning, or upon a sane passage from M. Rio :
renewed appeal to nature; how far “Whenever we meet with a Madonna incident to the characteristics of race of a blackish hue, dressed in the Oriental or the beauties of climate; how much manner, with pointed and disproportion- the offspring of a sensuous and ima
* See The Stones of Venice, vol. iii. chap. 4.