« PreviousContinue »
held her cheek pale-her eye bright as an icicle, and as cold, and half dissolved with weeping her lips meagre-her expression filed the dimpled angles of her mouth relaxed-her person clad in the ungraceful, sordid simplicity of the convent costume. I fell back upon my chair speechless, powerless, and faint, as if my whole being were unstrung. Upon returning to life and consciousness, I found myself profusely sprinkled with perfumes, the tears gushing down my face, and the abbess alone standing over me with moistened eyes. She knew our story—the disastrous influence that divided, when all human wishes seemed conspiring to unite ustalked to me only of indifferent things, until I had fully recovered myself, and then invited me to return the following day. I accordingly did return; Adelaide showed fresh traces of having passed through a painful scene. Never did human creature so cordially renounce the world, and embrace a life of privation and prayer. She told me there was one of the idle accomplishments which made her vain in the world, to which she still, without scruple, gave a portion of her time it was drawing. She then showed me "a manuscript copy of the Gospel of St. Luke in Greek, with a coloured picture of the Virgin.” She was employed in copying the picture for the nuns. The father confessor of the convent pronounced the picture, as well as the hand-writing, to be the work of the Saint himself, who had been a painter before he became an Evangelist. Upon seeing the painting, which was in a singular state of preservation, I could not help observing that it looked more like the Grecian Venus than the Virgin--the supposed cherubs being really Cupids, or perhaps “ the Hours.” She rejoined, that St. Luke was a Greek, and had naturally given to the Virgin the Grecian contour-at the same time a gleam of red passed faintly over her cheek. Upon examining the manuscript, however, I discovered beyond all doubt, from some fragments of sentences, that it contained a profane narrative; and the confessor, not a little piqued at the discovery, acknowledged it with a bad grace. The condemned manuscript was readily abandoned to me. A reverend makes it a point of conscience not to let familiarities of this kind with an individual, or with the order, pass unrequited. Father Bernardo intimated strong doubts of the holiness of my Parisian relics, and I perceived that he made but too great an impression upon Adelaide; I gave every assurance on my part, and with perfect sincerity. The honest Father said, he knew a criterion which would determine whether they had really received the benediction; it was to try whether the touch of one of them would remove an inflammation of the eye, from which a servant of the convent was suffering severely. I trembled for the credit of my relics, but had no other alternative than joining this perilous issue. The Father gave me an under-look, half malice, half surprise. Poor Adelaide too looked surprised, but the surprise of pleasure, at my giving "signs of faith.” The patient was called in—a fat blowzy peasant-girl, employed in the garden of the convent. Her eye, thick bandaged, to the utter exclusion of light and air, was really in a dreadful state of inflammation. The performance of the operation was assigned to Adelaide. She prayed for a few moments, entreating the Virgin to intercede with her blessed Son, and holding in
fier hands a small crucifix (one of those I had brought), with a fervour of devotion that would have touched a heart of adamant. The patient now knelt beside her. I shall never, while I have memory on this side the grave, forget the heavenly abandonment and elevation of soul, the boundless hope and unclouded faith, which played upon the countenance of the innocent girl, whilst in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, she touched the inflamed eye
three times with the crucifix. The ceremony over, the bandage was about to be restored, when I suggested that all human means should be discarded, and the cure left to Heaven only. This edifying discourse was much relished. I consented, however, to a light shade, which should prevent the sudden transition from giving pain to the organ. The denouement is now, no doubt, expected with curiosity. I solemnly declare that the girl's eye was perfectly cured in three days! The miracle of this cure is recorded in the annals of the convent, with (how could I refuse it?) my formal attestation as a witness of its truth, to be scoffed at, as doubtless I shall be, by the profane. Notwithstanding this signal triumph, however, I soon perceived that my reception at the convent was become somewhat cold. Father Bernardo had been suggesting, scruples against the continuance of my visits, with but too much success; and thus my evil genius, in a monk's cowl, divided me once more from Adelaide. I took leave of her with a heart as heavy as if I had parted from her grave.
After a few days passed at Milan my mind had recovered its spring, and I bethought me of my manuscript. I easily ascertained that it contained a Grecian story, and my curiosity was not a little stimulated by discovering, at the very beginning of the manuscript, the words AΠΕΛΛ* * ΥΠΕΡΩΟΝ which I translate «The Gallery of Apelles," the genitive termination of the painter's name alone being illegible.
I fortunately had letters to the Abbate Angelo Maïo, the indagator diligentissimus of the Ambrosian library, and communicated to him the precious acquisition I had made. By the application of chemical processes, and the aid of his sagacity and experience, I soon beheld with delight the effaced characters reproduced, with the exception only of a few places which I have marked in the translation. The picture was almost perfectly restored. It would be difficult to describe the satisfaction of the learned librarian, as the chemic applications gradually brought out the colours. “Ecco," said he, “ the Melian white, the Attic ochre, the Pontic red, the common ink—those few simple colours, with which the divine Apelles produced Opera illa immortalia, as they are called by the elder Pliny-It is (said he) a copy of the Venus Anadyomene herself.” I now applied myself to the translation of the manuscript, which runs as follows:
The GALLERY OF APELLES. *** On the third day of the first decad of Thargelion, Megabyzus and Combabus landed on the island of Cos. “ Where,” said the young man eagerly, to the first person whom he met upon the beach, “where dwells Apelles, the glory of Greece and the admired of Asia ?” : “ Hence, not quite twenty stadia,” replied the Coan. “Go,” said Megabyzus, interrupting the dialogue commenced between the islander and Comba
bus, “ go and bid Apelles prepare to receive the cousin and counsellor of the great king, satrap of Bactria, Megabyzus, the most enlightened connoisseur and munificent patron of the age, who has deigned to visit him.” “A Greek,” said the Coan, “receives not the commands of a barbarian; and he whom the Goddess of beauty has honoured with her presence, as the only person capable of painting her immortal charms, may well disdain the visit even of the great king.” “Insolent knave, begone,” said Megabyzus. Then turning round to Combabus, “You," said he,“ my young friend, who are instructed in the mysterious learning of these Greeks, do you believe the strange tale, that Venus has really appeared to this old man, for the purpose of having her portrait painted by him i” “ The Goddesses of Greece,” replied Combabus, “have, according to the divine Homer, frequently visited mortal men; and the appearance of Venus to Apelles is certified by the priests of the goddess, who never lie.” Megabyzus and Combabus, rode at a quick pace in advance of their splendid retinue, and soon reached the dwelling of Apelles. They found the old man seated at his door and basking in the sun. He was clad in a purple peplus of the bright hue of Ecbatana. An ample violet-coloured chlaina of floscular cotton, garnished with the party-coloured furs of the wild animals of Scythia, hung, as if 'dropped loosely from his shoulders, upon the back and arms of his chair. It was the gift of Alexander. "The son of Ammon did not disdain to guard the second childhood of the old man's age against the variable climate of his Grecian isle. The Scythian furs were an offering of the ambassadors of that noble savage race to the conqueror of the world. On his head he wore only a simple fillet or bandeau, wrought by the hands of the fair Campaspe—that exemplary beauty-who preferred the true passion of a man of genius, to the hoinage of the world's conqueror-and whom that first of conquerors and of heroes so generously resigned to his rivals humility and love. The fillet passed across his forehead, nearly shaded by the silver but still abundant curls of his hair. His sandals were of cerulean blue, laced round the ankles with bands of the same colour. At his feet, and seated on the ground, were boys employed in grinding his colours. They seemed proud of their ministry, and often looked up to the still bright expression of the old man's eye, for his directions or his commendation. On either band were beds of flowers, of every variety of class and hue, industriously placed there for the purposes of his art. It was from the studious contemplation of these chefs-d'æuvre of Nature's colouring, and of those beautiful island waves that ever fluctuated in his sight, and of the lovely Grecian sky above his head, that he caught the magic delicacies of outline, tint, and shade, for which he was unrivalled. Apelles received the magnificent stranger with dignity and ease; and Megabyzus, whether lessoned by the islander whom he had accosted on the beach, or subdued by the noble presence of the old man, saluted him with the respect due to his genius and his age.
You come, doubtless,” said Apelles, “ to behold me, not in this wasted and worthless body of flesh and blood and bone, which perhaps, before Phæbus Apollo shall have twice reposed him with the goddess of the western wave, will be reduced to ashes, and consigned to an
urn, by the sons and daughters of Cos; but in my better and nobler self, those pictures that have gained me a name among the Greeks.” *** *Combabus, having surveyed the gallery in mute admiration, at length gave expression to his enthusiasm. “Oh! Apelles," said he, "hast thou, like Prometheus, stolen fire from heaven to animate these forms, and have the gods in wonder of thy genius spared thee his fatal punishment? Behold those that have received the last master-touch, how they seem to rejoice in the glory of their being; whilst these yet unlinished sigh and struggle for the perfection which they are to receive from thy wondrous art.” They now stood before the paintings in succession. The first was the picture of Calumny, in which the malignant force and meanness of human passion was expressed to the utmost limits of nature, without shocking the beholder's imagination, or invading the essential nobleness of fine art. Next in order were, the two famed figures of Victory and Fortune; the portrait of Antigonus, whose loss of an eye the artist concealed by painting him in profile; the several portraits of Alexander the Great:-that in which young Ammon bore in his right hand the weapon of the Thunderer. Alexander on horseback, surveying the field of Arbela, on the morning of his victory, strewed with the dying and the dead.Alexander after the battle of Issus, on foot, in the Persian tent, his countenance beaming effulgent pity on the wife and daughters of Darius.-Alexander weeping at the tomb of Achilles, with the Iliad in his hand.-Campaspe represented as a sleeping Venus; her eyes closed, her bosom heaving gently, and the secret of her dream escaping in the tremulous movement of her dewy lips. *** Apelles now proposed to introduce them to an inner gallery, which contained that work upon which he chiefly relied for immortalityhis Venus rising from the Sea. “Hold, my old friend,” said Megabyzus, who had gradually assumed a cold and supercilious air. Megabyzus, be it remembered, was a lord, and his collection of pictures was the richest in Persia, comprising several thousands, which had been purchased for him at vast sums in Greece and Egypt,-and all framed in ebony and gold. “Before we proceed farther," said Megabyzus, “ receive the benefit of my judgment upon those that we have seen.” The old man smiled, and made a sign of assent. “In your figure of Caluminy," resumed Megabyzus, “I discover an awkward squint. Your Sleeping Venus wants the mellow tone, the crisp colour, the racy taste,-keeping, my old friend, let me recommend to you stricter keeping. Then the fore-shortening is bad, the right thigh out of drawing; and mark that false shadow upon the inferior upper section of the left. Then again your Alexander on horseback, how mean in drapery, how common the attitude and for the horse, it is (excuse my frankness, my old friend, a wretched figure." Apelles could bear no more. Hold, Sir," said he, “ let the charger which bore you hither be placed before the picture.” “Oh! you would appeal to the living model," said Megabyzus, scornfully: “Let the horse be introduced, I pray you,” said Apelles. The steed, a truly gallant one, in rich trappings and shod in gold, was placed before the pictore; which no sooner caught his eye than he neighed and started; his eye, his ear, his crest giving signs of strong excitement, whilst
he applied his nostrils, to mingle his breath with that of the animal that lived and moved in the picture of Apelles. “Sir,” said the painter, turning round upon the satrap," whilst you were silent, I took you for one really superior to other men, but by your speech you have shown, that even this horse that bears you can judge a picture better." **** The mortified pride of Megabyzus ***** Combabus lingered behind, to salute Apelles at parting, and request his permission to return. *** *** Combabus was still kneeling in speechless adoration before the Goddess, when Apelles touched hiin gently, and awakened him from his ecstasy. “Oh!” said Combabus, “ let me implore pardon of the Goddess for an impious doubt that lurked in my bosom, of her having revealed herself to you, and of thee too, thou divine old man. Oh no, it is not in the art of mortal man to create that image from mere invention, and the pencil of Apelles only could catch those traits of the present goddess her charms visibly naked to vulgar sense, but clothed in divinity to the soul's eye, the young Himeri, those soft ministers of universal love, binding up the still dripping ringlets of her hair, whilst the compassionate goddess, but just emergent from the wave, catches, with graceful bended neck, and listening ear, the prayers and vows of lovers.” “ Young man,” said Apelles, “ thou art worthy to know, and thou shalt know this mystery, which
iny lips will then have disclosed to thee alone among men. Stratonice, daughter of Demetrius, and betrothed bride of Seleucus, filled Greece and Asia with the fame of her charms. Though age had already stolen away the vigour, and spoiled the form, of my limbs, my heart, still warm, glowed with passionate curiosity to behold this incomparable beauty. I set out secretly from Corinth, then the place of iny abode; and after a journey which need not be detailed, reached Antioch, the royal city of Seleucus, or the very day of his marriage with this fairest princess of the age. I was fortunate in the time of my arrival, as it is only on occasions of grand solemnity that the usages of Asia permit their princesses to be publicly seen. The ceremonial began with a grand procession to the Temple of Apollo, led by the royal bridegroom, the bride, and the court. I joined the procession as it entered the temple, and placed myself behind a pillar, whence, unseen, I might behold Stratonice. The Princess, completely enveloped in a large veil, approached the statue of Apollo. Two priests, who stood one on either hand, gradually raised the veil, and discovered that form of celestial loveliness. Oh! my young friend, it is not in language to describe her. She seemed an immortal beauty bending and beaming before the image of Apollo, whilst the enamoured god returned the adoration which he received. As soon as I recovered from the trance of delight into which this vision threw my senses and my soul, I took out my pencil, and tried to sketch the heavenly idea. The ceremonial was repeated during three successive days, and each day I returned to my task-in vain. The ever-varying play of the lines of beauty, and the light of soul upon her countenance, vanished from the touch of palpable delineation. For several days the image of Stratonice still haunted me, whilst every effort to fix it on the canvass failed. One day, at length, after a long reverie, my fancy warmed, my enthusiasm rose. I offered up