Statues Of Rome
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
THE ANTINOUS OF THE BELYIDERE. — Nothing can exceed the beauty and just proportions of this statue. The balance and living posture of the figure, the expression of repose and elegance diffused over the whole; the fine form and simple attitude, are all most exquisite. The head is small, compressed, and beautifully oval; the shoulders large, without any affectation of manly strength, but gracefully youthful,the breast wide, but not coarse; and the whole trunk without that insipid flatness in feature, sometimes caricatured by the ancients, and from which even the Apollo is hardly exempt. The thighs fully round, and polished, the legs long, the patella high, as it should be in the limb which is in action, and pointed so as to give a beautiful conic form to the thigh, which only balances the figure, and is quiescent. The andes are exquisitely formed, with much elegance and precision, and free from strained anatomy. In its entire state this statue must have been fine indeed, and so preserved, would have challenged a place among the most precious works of antiquity. Both arms are wanting, which cruelly spoils the fine symmetry, and greatly injures the just equilibrium of the figure. Among other restorations of the Antinous Belvidere, or Mercury, (the destruction of his attributes throwing an uncertainty on the distinctive appellation,) the foot on which the figure rests, is so ill set on, as to produce a conspicuous deformity. You suspect something of this while looking in front, but are shocked with it, when the statue is viewed in profile; and the whole of this arises from a little thickening of the cement on one side. We are told that Dominichino made the just proportions of this statue his constant study, forming from its general contour and aspect his notions of the beau ideal. Yet, although I much admire the symmetrical justice of composition in the whole, there is, in my opinion, a stillness of expression, and a something of formality in the immovable sweetness of the countenance, unvaried by the slightest approach to motion, which gives a tameness certainly destructive to the perfection of beauty.
The exquisite polish of this precious morceau adds infinitely to its beauty. This fine finish, and consequent lustre of marble, producing a quality of softened light and shade, bearing, in statuary, a character analogous to colour in painting, is indispensable where the artist's chief aim is directed to the display of beauty in person or countenance.
The MELEAGER of the Vatican affords a remarkable proof of the justice of this observation, the general effect of this celebrated statue being much injured by an absence of this distinguishing feature in the art.
The Meleager resembles the Antinous; but, upon the whole, with some few exceptions, is inferior. The countenance is animated, the eye intelligent, the mouth just opening, the features and expression beautiful, and the action and turn of the head implying reflection, in all of which points he surpasses his rival, whose fine features are fixed and motionless. The animation of the countenance is also well seconded by the action of the body, which may be defined as a gentle sustaining action. The forms are full, round, and manly, the drapery good, and cast, like that of the Antinous, round the arm, but being joined by the boar's head for support, it is an undoubted Meleager. Yet are the beauties of the design, and fine proportions of this heroic statue, counter-acted more than could be imagined, by want of finish, as well as by the absence of beauty in the marble it-self, which is not only full of blemishes, but rude and coarse in its surface. The consequences of all this are a flatness and apparent weight and heaviness in the figure, singularly inimical to grace and beauty. As there is no polish, the middle of the thigh, the patella, the shin-bone, the breast, the top of the shoulder, the cheek, the chin, are wanting in relief. It is not unworthy the attention of the artist to note the effect resulting from the careful polishing of all the parts I have just mentioned, which I think he will find producing a character true to nature, and giving them their finest forms.
CLEOPATRA IN THE GALLERY OF THE MUSEUM-ROME
A beautiful recumbent figure. The charm and delicacy of the female forms are not in any degree injured by the colossal size of the statue, which requires only to be viewed at a distance, and that not great, to discover the exquisite grace, and fine proportion, for which it is so eminently distinguished. The figure lies in a reclining posture, supported on one shoulder, the left arm bending round meets the head, which rests on the back of the hand, the fingers and wrist slightly bending under the weight, while the right arm, forming a curve over the head, hangs down behind, as if gently sunk into rest. The throat swells beautifully; the bosom is well delineated, and exquisitely formed, but yet with modesty, and shaded by the interposing drapery, which is gracefully gathered below, by the zone that encircles the finely-turned waist, and falls down the side in rich natural folds, describing the outline of the body. The bending forms, the full, yet delicately rounded limbs, lie in quiescent deep repose, finely expressing the gentle helpless yielding to sleep. Where the thigh begins, the artist, with wonderful skill, has contrived to cross the bands that confine the drapery, so artificially as to conceal the bulkiness of the haunch, a part of the female form in which it would seem beauty and necessity had some contention. From this rich crossing of the bands, the thighs and limbs come out and lie large, long, and full; but with all the delicacy of posture, and feminine flexibility, true to dignity and grace. The head is adorned with thick plaited hair, which forms a circle round the forehead, while a thin transparent veil falls over, gathered in a mass under the sustaining arm. The features are beautifully feminine, yet full, finely representing all the loveliness of womanhood, and a little oblique as indicating deep and tranquil sleep. Although the drapery covers the whole figure in large rich folds, the female form is exhibited with a distinctness, a grace, and charm, which, so much does female beauty gain by modesty and purity of aspect, far surpasses the effect on my mind produced even by the finest nude Venus; feelings which gain strength while contemplating this statue, so lovely in the confiding, beautiful innocence of sleep, of gentle breathing sleep.
They call this statue a Cleopatra, a Dido but I cannot approve of converting so general, so fine a form, worthy of a grand poetical design, into a portrait. Let the lady sleep in peace. I am sure it is such a sweet and gentle slumber as the dissolute Cleopatra, or infuriated Dido, never knew. Combined with the above-mentioned distinguished beauties, there is in this statue so fine a character of refined female modesty and tranquil repose, that, as a picture and a poetical representation of sleep, nothing can excel it. The dying Gladiator is perhaps the finest nude, and this assuredly the finest draped figure that exists.
THE DYING GLADIATOR.--A most beautiful and precious work, and of peculiar interest, as bringing so forcibly into evidence the power which the art of statuary may possess, of touching the heart. I have gone daily to view this fine statue, and still behold it with renewed feelings of admiration and sadness. There is a curling up of the lips, as if the languor and sickness of expiring nature had confused the sensations, and convulsed the features, and that almost suggests the idea of paleness. He has fallen, he raises himself upon his right hand, not for vengeance,—not to resume his now useless weapon,—not to appeal to the people. No he looks not beyond himself, he feels that the wound is mortal; he raises himself for a moment on his yet powerful arm, to try his strength; but his limbs have the trailing, bending form of dying languor; he looks down upon his now useless weapon, and blood-stained shield; he is wounded, his limbs have failed, he has staggered and fallen down, and has raised himself for a moment to fall down again and die. It is a most tragical and touching representation, and no one can meditate upon it without the most melancholy feelings. Of all proofs, this is the surest of the effect produced by art. He was a slave, he had no family, no friends, he was bought with money, and trained and devoted to death. It is then all the singleness of death and despair that you are to feel. No picture of tragic effort is presented, it is one impression, and if any artist has ever given that one impression, it is the author of the Dying Gladiator. The design is, in this sense, finer than anything in statuary I have ever seen, and given with wonderful simplicity. It is a statue, which, like those of Michael Angelo, should be placed in a vault, or darkened chamber, for the impression it makes is that of melancholy. Although not colossal, the proportions are beyond life, perhaps seven feet, and yet from its symmetry it does not appear larger than life. The forms are full, round, and manly, the visage mournful, the lip yielding to the effect of pain, the eye deepened by despair, the skin of the forehead a little wrinkled, the hair clotted in thick sharp pointed locks, as if from the sweat of fight and exhausted strength. The body large, the shoulders square, the balance well preserved by the hand on which he rests, the limbs finely rounded, a full fleshy skin covers all the body, the joints alone are slender and fine. No affectation of anatomy here, not a muscle to be distinguished, yet the general forms perfect as if they were expressed. The only anatomical feature discernible is that of full and turgid veins, yet not ostentatiously obtruded, but seen slightly along the front of the arms and andes, giving, like the clotted hair, proof of violent exertion. The forms of the Dying Gladiator are not ideal, or exquisite, like the Apollo; it is all nature, all feeling. In short, in this beautiful and touching production, for powerful effect and mournful expressions, the languid posture, the whole form of the bleeding and dying gladiator is executed with all the modesty of nature; never came there from the hands of the artist a truer or more pathetic representation.
This natural and melancholy picture is like a ballad chanted in its own simple melody, which makes a truer impression on the heart than the highest strain of epic song, or heroic conception of the artist.
The singular art of the artist is particularly to be discerned in the extended leg; by a less skilful hand this posture might have appeared constrained; but here, true to nature, the limbs are seen gently yielding, bending from languor, the knee sinking from weakness, and the thigh and ancle joint pushed out to support it. The gouts of blood are large and flat, hardly attracting attention,. and do not spoil the figure. If the attitude had been studied, and the posture represented as an appeal to the passions, or if he had been made to die as gladiators were then taught to die, for effect, the statue would have been spoiled; had he been raised so as to look up in a beseeching attitude to the people, or to the victor, it would have been but a poor and common statue. The marble is beautiful, not too glaring, a fine cream colour, equable and pleasing. The statue is entire, with the exception of the toes of both feet, restored, it is believed, by Michael Angelo. The collar and rope are signs of his station. The gladiators were generally slaves; disobedient servants being frequently sold to the Lanista, whose practice it was, after instructing them in the art, to hire them out for fight. The highest reward which could be received by a gladiator was obtaining freedom, and a release from being called upon to fight in public. They were then styled the Rudiarii.
ZENO IN THE STANZA DEI FILOSOFI.—A beautiful half draped statue, in which a character of youthful old age is finely preserved, presenting, with exquisite skill, the spare but hale body, the flowing beard, and keen piercing eye, with the simplicity and coarseness of drapery appropriate to a philosopher rested on the pleasure of the spectators. If the prowess and courage displayed by him who was overcome had given satisfaction, and gained their suffrage, the thumb of each hand was held up in token of mercy, a contrary motion proclaiming condemnation and death.
CUPID AND PSYCHE.-Two beautiful small figures, exquisitely grouped. The contour, the form and limbs finely rounded, the whole expression full of nature, presenting all those fascinating, and almost indefinable graces, developed in the first burst of youthful loveliness. There are few statues, even among the finest, which have not their favourite aspect; but the composition of this piece is such, the balance and proportions so admirably preserved, that it may be viewed from every direction with undiminished effect.
THE ANTINOUS.-The fine proportions and elegant forms of this most exquisite statue are rendered still more striking from the splendour of its beautiful marble: With models such as this, and other precious remains of ancient sculpture, it seems wonderful that John of Bologna, and other great artists, should have fallen into the error of so constantly seeking to display their know-ledge of anatomy; frequently injuring their finest productions, by forcing the features of that science into notice. Because the moderns, among their other philosophical discoveries, found that the human body was composed of bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments, is the statuary called upon perpetually to remind us of this circumstance? Why was it so beautifully clothed with skin, but to hide the interior mechanism, and render the form attractive? Anatomy is useful as a corrector, but no more. Its influence ought only to be felt; and to render it available, the artist must be well practised in general effect; like perspective, it is a good rule to assist the eye, in what a good eye could do without a guide. In the Antinous, the anatomist would look in vain to detect even the slightest mistake or misconception; yet such is the simplicity of the whole composition, so fine and undulating the forms, that a trifling error would appear as a gross fault. Every part is equally perfect; the bend of the head and declining of the neck most graceful; the shoulders manly, and large without clumsiness; the belly long and flat, yet not disfigured by leanness; the swell of the broad chest under the arm admirable, the limbs finely tapered, the ease and play of the disengaged leg wonderful, having a serpentine curve arising from an accurate observance of the gentle bendings of the knee, the half turning of the ancle, and elastic yielding natural to the relaxed state in that position from the many joints of those parts.
The distinctive and characteristic features of these four last mentioned statues afford a fine illustration of the observations I have just offered. The soft infantine beauty in the Cupid and Psyche, the nobler and grander forms of Antinous, the manly and strengthened limbs of maturer life in the Gladiator, with the slender rigidity of age in Zeno, are all finely delineated, and totally exempt from any straining after anatomical precision. The forms are simple, pure, natural, and free from every affectation of science. I have hardly ever seen in the statues of the ancients, and certainly never in their finest works, the Antinous, the Apollo, the Gladiator, &c. a muscle caricatured. I think I can easily perceive that even the great Michael Angelo himself was not exempt from entertaining too great a fondness for a doctrine, new, as applied to statuary, and in his zeal to render it effective, we sometimes find him, in pursuit of his object, while aiming at expression, only producing coarseness. Something of this may be traced in his celebrated Mose, in San Pietro in Vincolo. It is a noble work, and one in which the artist evidently meant to display his acquaintance with anatomy; but in searching too curiously after science, the grand general result has partly escaped him, the outline having many conspicuous defects. Nor is the general detail faultless. The right arm, full, muscular, and nervous, is fine, especially in the anatomy, and well proportioned to the size of the figure, but seems too large, contrasted with the left, which is mean, scraggy, and altogether in a different tone of composition, as also defective in the very art in which he sought to shine, having mistaken the origins of the pronator, and of the biceps. The attitude and sitting posture is well managed, and fine; but the limbs are set rather too much at right angles, which greatly injures the grace and flow of line. In the attempt to give a heroic character to the figure, the artist has made it too colossal. The drapery also is too voluminous; and the largeness of the limbs and length of the body hardly correspond with the size of the head; while the expression of the countenance, which was meant to be grand, serious, and imposing, has a cast of fierceness, not in keeping with the repose of the quiescent posture, or characteristic mildness, imputed to the great Jewish lawgiver. The beard is fine, and beautifully flowing; but, if it might be said in speaking of the work of so great an artist, it is a little caricatured. The effect, upon the whole, is grand and imposing, and it is perhaps adventurous to have criticised so freely a work held in such high estimation; but my object is, simply to give notices of such points as, perhaps, the course of my studies may have enabled me to detect with a precision that might escape a less practised eye.
The Church of San Pietro, in Vincolo, in which the Mose is found, is, in my mind, the finest in Rome, because presenting the most simple, yet superb, forms of architecture. One grand central nave, lined on each side with Tuscan columns of the finest fluted marble, opens upon a great semicircle, in which stands the high altar and here, in a spacious, noble architectural arch, this magnificent statue sits. The four figures filling up the space in the vast circle, and which were finished by one of the pupils of this great master, are all simple, well executed, and the general effect very fine.
VENUS FROM THE BATH.-A demi-colossal statue, of nearly seven feet and a half. It is extremely difficult to represent a delicate form in such gigantic proportions; but this is fine, and bears throughout a character of modesty singularly pleasing. The whole figure is feminine, simple, noble, and full of graceful bendings, the fulness of the person giving roundness to undulating forms, which in a more spare figure would have been angular. It is singular how often in the proportions of a Venus we find loveliness and richness of contour sacrificed to an exaggerated lengthy slenderness, with an unmeaning thinness of back and loins, unnatural to the female form. In the two extremes, namely, that of delicate beauty in the Venus, and supernatural power in the Hercules, how frequently does the representation of the first degenerate into simpering prettiness, while the other is swelled into monstrous forms of coarse brutal strength ! The fulness and fleshiness of skin in this figure of the 'Venus from the Bath' gives a plump and ripe, although delicate, roundness to the arms, where they rise from the back, and in the junction of the patella muscle with the arm, above the breast, as also the roundness of abdomen and groin, which I have never observed equalled in any other statue. The vase of perfumes, with the drapery thrown across, is a rich and a fine accompaniment to the general effect of this piece.