The Uffizi Gallery
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
What can be said of a gallery containing thirteen hundred pictures? For my own part I abstain. Examine catalogs and collections of engravings, or rather come here yourself. The impressions borne away from these grand storehouses are too diverse and too numerous to be transmitted by the pen. Observe this, that the Uffizi is a universal depot, a sort of Louvre containing paintings of all times and schools, bronzes, statues, sculptures, antique and modern terracotta's, cabinets of gems, an Etruscan museum, artists' portraits painted by themselves, twenty-eight thousand original drawings, four thousand cameos and ivories and eighty thousand medals. One resorts to it as to a library; it is an abridgment and a specimen of everything.
We ascend the great marble staircase, pass the famous antique boar and enter the long horseshoe corridor filled with busts and tapestried with paintings. Visitors, about ten o'clock in the morning, are few; the mute custodians remain in their corners; you seem to be really at home. It all belongs to you, and what convenient possessions! Keepers and majordomos are here to keep things in order, well dusted and in-tact; it is not even necessary to give orders; matters go on of themselves without jar or confusion, nobody giving himself the slightest concern; it is an ideal world such as it ought to be. The light is excellent; bright gleams from the windows fall on some distant white statues on the rosy torso of a woman which comes out living from the shadowy obscurity. Beyond, as far as the eye can see, marble gods and emperors extend away in files up to the windows through which flickers the light ripple of the Arno with the silvery swell on its crests and eddies.
You enter into the freedom and sweet repose of abstract life; the will relaxes, the inner tumult subsides; one feels himself becoming a monk, a modern monk. Here, as formerly in the cloisters, the tender inward spirit, chafed by the necessities of action, insensibly revives in order to commune with beings emancipated from life's obligations. It is so sweet no longer to be! Not to be is so natural ! And how peaceful the realm of human forms withdrawn from human conflict! The pure thought which follows them is so conscious that its illusion is transient; it participates in their incorporeal serenity, and reverie, lingering in turn over their voluptuousness and violence, brings back to it plenitude without satiety.
On the left of the corridors open the cabinets of precious things—the Niobe hall, that of portraits, that of modern bronzes, each with its special group of treasures. You feel that you have a right to enter, that great men are awaiting you. A. selection is made among them; you reenter the Tribune; five antique statues form a circle here—a slave sharpening his knife; two interlocked wrestlers whose muscles are strained and expanded; a charming Apollo of sixteen years whose compact form has all the suppleness of the freshest adolescence; an admirable Faun instinct with the animality of his species, unconsciously joyous and dancing with all his might; and finally, the "Venus de Medici," a slender young girl with a small delicate head, not a goddess like her sister of Milo, but a perfect mortal and the work of some Praxiteles fond of "hetairae," at ease in a nude state and free from that somewhat mawkish delicacy and bashful coquetry which its copies, and the restored arms with their thin fingers by Bernini, seem to impose on her.
She is, perhaps, a copy of that Venus of Cnidus of which Lucian relates an interesting story; you imagine while looking at her, the youths' kisses prest on the marble lips, and the exclamations of Charicles who, on seeing it, declared Mars to be the most fortunate of gods. Around the statues, on the eight sides of the wall, hang the masterpieces of the leading painters. There is the "Madonna of the Goldfinch" by Raphael, pure and candid, like an angel whose soul is a bud not yet in bloom; his "St. John," nude, a fine youthful form of fourteen, healthy and vigorous, in which the purest paganism lives over again; and especially a superb head of a crowned female, radiant as a summer noonday, with fixt and earnest gaze, her complexion of that powerful southern carnation which the emotions do not change, where the blood does not pulsate convulsively and to which passion only adds a warmer glow, a sort of Roman muse in whom will still prevails over intellect, and whose vivacious energy reveals itself in repose as well as in action.
In one corner a tall cavalier by Van Dyck, in black and with a broad frill, seems as grandly and gloriously proud in character as in proportions, primarily through a well-fed body and next through the undisputed possession of authority and command. Three steps more and we come to the "Flight into Egypt," by Correggio, the Virgin with a charming spirited face wholly suffused with inward light in which the purity, archness, gentleness and wildness of a young girl combine to shed the tenderest grace and impart the most fascinating allurements. Alongside of this a "Sibyl" by Guercino, with her carefully adjusted coiffure and drapery, is the most spiritual and refined of sentimental poetesses.
I pass twenty others in order to reserve the last look for Titian's two Venuses. One, facing the door, reclines on a red velvet mantle, an ample vigorous torso as powerful as one of Rubens' Bacchantes, but firmer—an energetic and vulgar figure, a simple, strong unintellectual courtezan. She lies extended on her back, caressing a little cupid naked like herself, with the vacant seriousness and passivity of soul of an animal in repose and expectant. The other, called "Venus with the Dog," is a patrician's mistress, couched, adorned and ready. We recognize a palace of the day, the alcove fitted up and colors tastefully and magnificently contrasted for the pleasure of the eye; in the background are servants arranging clothes; through a window a section of blue landscape is visible; the master is about to arrive.
Nowadays we devour pleasure secretly like stolen fruit; then it was served up on golden salvers and people sat down to it at a table. It is be-cause pleasure was not vile or bestial. This woman holding a bouquet in her hand in this grand columnar saloon has not the vapid smile or the wanton and malicious air of an adventuress about to commit a bad action. The calm of evening enters the palace through noble architectural openings. Under the pale green of the curtains lies the figure on a white sheet, slightly flushed with the regular pulsation of life, and developing the harmony of her undulating forms. The head is small and placid; the soul does not rise above the corporeal instincts; hence she can resign herself to them without shame, while the poesy of art, luxury and security on all sides comes to decorate and embellish them. She is a courtezan, but also a lady; in those days the former did not efface the latter; one was as much a title as the other and, probably, in demeanor, affection and intellect one was as good as the other. The celebrated Imperia had her tomb in the church of San Gregorio, at Rome, with this inscription : "Imperia, a Roman courtezan worthy of so great a name, furnished an example to men of perfect beauty, lived twenty-six years and twelve days, and died in 1511, August 25."
On passing from the Italian into the Flemish galleries one is completely turned around; here are paintings executed for merchants content to remain quietly at home eating good dinners and speculating over the profits of their business; moreover in rainy and muddy countries dress has to be cared for, and by the women more than the men. The mind feels itself contracted on entering the circle of this well-to-do domestic life; such is the impression of Corinne when from liberal Italy she passes to rigid and dreary Scot-land. And yet there is a certain picture, a large landscape by Rembrandt, which equals and surpasses all; a dark sky bursting with showers among flocks of screaming crows; beneath, is an infinite stretch of country as desolate as a cemetery; on the right a mass of barren rocks of so mournful and lugubrious a tint as to attain to the sublime in effect. So is it with an andante of Beethoven after an Italian Opera.