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As works of art, all these frescoes and bass-reliefs are wholly unsatisfactory. In style they belong to the degraded decadence of the Roman empire-rude in execution, low in type, and coarse in sentiment. The Christian sarcophagi and the copies of mural paintings, collected by the present Pope in the Christian Museum of the Lateran, do not afford, with the exception of the noble statue of St. Hippolytus, a single example pure in art. We have visited the various catacombs in search of the earliest heads of Christ, hoping that in proportion as the work approached the era of his life, it might bear some evidence of authentic likeness. We were, however, disappointed. The head, for example, in the catacomb of St. Calixtus, a sketch of which is given in Sir Charles Eastlake's edition of Kugler's Handbook, bears, in its type and style, evidence of a Roman, rather than of a Christian origin. In the lapse of four centuries, indeed, the tradition of the Saviour's aspect, well-nigh, if not wholly forgotten, it is evident the artist found himself left to the free expression of his own low ideal.
But the blood of the martyrs was like- | upon the ground in profound sleep, or wise, as we have said, the seed of Christ- disconsolate after the gourd had withered. ian art. To the earliest believer these From the New Testament we find the catacombs were as holes and caves of the Nativity, the adoration of the Magi, our earth-his refuge in life, his tomb in death Saviour turning the water into wine, his -at once his house, his church, his sepul- healing the sick, opening the eyes of the cher. But the place of trouble became a blind, the raising of Lazarus, and the triscene of triumph. The martyrs' suffer- umphant entry into Jerusalem. ings were at length the believers' glory, and the Church, which was at first a mere grave, grew at length into a temple decorated by art, with the symbols of the Christian's faith. Christianity may thus, in these early symbols and pictures, be said to lie buried and embalmed. The subjects of these first works are simple, and their meaning, though often vailed, for the most part direct and evident. The dove stands for the soul, and, combined with the olive branch, signifies that the soul of the believer rests in peace. If the fish be added, which is the symbol of Christ, the figure reads, the soul dwells in the peace of Christ. Again, a painting of a wicker-basket containing bread, a flask of blood in the center, all resting on a fish, symbolizes the connection between Christ and the sacraments. The fish likewise has occasional reference to the words, "fishers of men ;" and accordingly, we find a fisherman on a bank, with a large anglingline in hand, drawing a fish out of the water, which is supposed forthwith to turn into a disciple. That there may be no doubt about the fact, the fish has been actually found half transmuted into the human form. For the most part, however, the subject is made scarcely less explicit by placing the figure of a man close by, standing out from the water, and ready to receive the rite of baptism! The anchor is, of course, the symbol of hope, and the top seen above the water, in the form of a cross, shows the foundation of that hope. Then, passing from symbolism to pictorial and bass-relief representation, we find paintings of the Good Shepherd bearing the lost sheep upon his shoulders; Daniel in the lions' den; the three Children in the fiery furnace; the sacrifice of Isaac; and Moses receiving the tables of the law, or striking the rock. On sarcophagi, the history of Jonah is a subject also frequently repeated. We find, for example, in one continuous bassrelief, Jonah cast overboard from the ship, then swallowed by the sea-monster, then again thrown out upon the shore, and, lastly, the prophet, as seen stretched
By an apparent anomaly, which, however, admits of easy explanation, those centuries in which Christianity is presumed to have been most pure, are characterized by a Christian art the most corrupt. Christian art came not by revelation, claims no immediate descent from heaven, but cradled, as we have seen, in suffering and helplessness, it grew into the strength and beauty of manhood by the slow process of earthly development. In examin ing the early works already described, this want of beauty has come upon us with pain and surprise. We look in vain for the beauty of holiness, for that calm and placid beauty which comes through patient suffering, or trustful resignation. We seek in vain for those beauties which adorn the Christian virtues, or for the sublimity of the truths which Christianity first revealed. These high attributes of Christian art, in some respects the highest which art has ever attained, were
served for the development of a later epoch, and the dawn of a revived civilization. The decay of the Roman empire, and the dying-out of the Pagan civilization, are in truth the explanation of the debased aspect of Christian art in this its earliest rise. Christianity, a heaven-born spirit, sought upon earth a habitation, and demanded from art a human form to dwell in. She found in the Roman empire art fallen, and in each succeeding century still further debased. The types of humanity, fashioned by the artist, were even to Paganism a degradation. And the new religion in the first centuries of its growth, still unable in its feebleness to enter on original creation, compelled, indeed, to take art as she found it, necessarily employed such painters and sculptors as the times afforded, and thus was condemned to the humiliation of stamping upon the earliest Christian works the mark and the stigma of a Pagan style and origin.
though through a series of failures, to the goal of an ultimate success.
But the arts had yet long to slumber during the night of the human intellect. We have seen that as life ebbed out of the Roman empire, and darkness blotted out the light of civilization, the new-born Christian art became in each succeeding century less vital and beauteous. Thus have we the strange anomaly of an infant art marked from the hour of its birth with all the decrepitude of age; and thus, likewise, we find that the growing years which should have added maturity and vigor, did but accelerate decay. The earliest works are the best. The Mosaics of the fifth century, in the Baptistery of the Cathedral at Ravenna, have still some remaining vigor, some recollection of nature. In the Baptism of Christ, which occupies the center of this ornate cupola, the action and bearing of St. John, with upraised arm of baptism, are especially What good purpose these catacomb noble, the heads both of the Baptist and pictures and sculptures could have an- of the Saviour showing almost the dawn swered it is difficult to understand. For of the Christian rather than the dying-out us, however, in the present day, they are of the Pagan type. The figures of the of the utmost interest. It may indeed be twelve Apostles have likewise some gransaid that the creed of the early Church deur with, however, an increase of debilhas not only been written by the Fathers, ity. The draperies, though retaining a but in these sepulchers and churches was reminiscence of former dignity, fall into actually delineated by the painters. The incoherent confusion; and the onward excavators set to work by the Papal Gov-step of the figures, while good in intenernment may be said to be now exhuming tion, halts in lameness. Other portions of what is in that land, if not an extinct, at this great and important work, still deeper least a buried Christianity. Whatever in corruption, scarcely admit of art-critibattles the priests of various churches cism. In like manner, in Rome, the earlimay fight over these old bones in defense est Christian mosaics are for the most of essential creeds, it is fortunately not part the best. They are remarkable as our province to decide between them. possessing the rude vigor of Roman art For us, as art critics, these works are links rather than the more refined debility of in a great and universal system of art-de- Byzantine. Thus the head of Christ in velopment and decay. They are the first the mosaics of the sixth century in the beginnings of that Christian art which, in Church of SS. Cosmo and Damiano possubsequent centuries, rose to so great a sesses much nobility, mingled, however, glory. Even in their very degradation with stern savage grandeur - something, they are a marked example of the univer- if we may be allowed the comparison, besal craving in the human mind for expres- tween St. John wild from the desert, and sion through the language of art. A Pluto vengeful from Hades. religion may be as yet weak in infancy; an empire may be tottering in decay; yet the experience of the entire world shows us that a people not content to express itself merely through words must likewise speak through the language of forms. This struggling to obtain for the invisible an outward expression, was, as we have said, at first futile; but the faculties and laws which led to the attempt urged on,
Throughout the wide world of Christian mosaics, it is melancholy to find efforts so stupendous, labors so vast, with art-results comparatively so worthless. Within, or immediately without, the walls of Rome are ten to twelve churches still in part decorated by these works, and yet, we must confess, that for us, at least, there is not a single example in which the spirit, the beauty, or the purity, of the Christian
tired in the late Roman dress: violet mantles in
religion has found expression. Such works "In the apsis itself, upon a dark-blue ground are doubtless of the utmost importance to with golden-edged clouds, is seen the colossal the antiquary, and even to the art-student, figure of Christ: the right hand raised either in establishing the universal laws of devel-written scroll; above is the hand which we benediction or in teaching, the left holding a opment or decay; but for the lover of have already noticed as the emblem of the First art in its beauty and its poetry, to the Person of the Trinity. Below on each side, the disciple of Christianity, zealous for the apostles Peter and Paul are SS. Cosmo and Dahonor of his religion, these mosaics are miano, each with crowns in their hands, towards too low in the human and divine type, the Saviour, followed by St. Theodore on the too debased in art, to give pleasure or right, and by Pope Felix IV., the founder of satisfaction. But, doubtless to the stu- the church, on the left. . . . Two palm-trees, dent, as we have said, they afford much sparkling with gold, above one of which appears the emblem of eternity-the phoenix-with staroccasion for conjecture and speculation. shaped nimbus, close the composition on each In the wreck or resurrection of empires, side. Further below, indicated by water-plants, in the conflux of civilization and barbarism, sparkling also with gold, is the river Jordan. in the intermingling of races, and the con- The figure of Christ may be regarded as one of flict of religions, these grand expressions the most marvelous specimens of the art of the of a people's faith have surely a deep im- middle ages. Countenance, attitude, and draport. Mr. Ruskin has finely said, that the pery, combine to give him an expression of quiet art of Venice is the meeting of the glacier found again in equal beauty and freedom. The majesty, which, for many centuries after, is not stream of the north with the lava-flood of drapery especially is disposed in noble folds, and the south. Truly the conflux and the only in its somewhat too ornate details, is a furconflict of the early Christian arts in Italy ther departure from the antique observable.... are as the meeting of hostile forces in na- The apostles Peter and Paul wear the usual ture, and in that country the confusion of ideal costume. SS. Cosmo and Damiano are ata divided people led to a corresponding gold stuff, with red embroideries of Oriental anarchy in art. It was an anarchy and yet a servitude. An anarchy, because no legitimate authority was paramount: In justice, however, we will add these Nature no longer held the sway; the succeeding words: "In spite of the high classic types had been abandoned; Christ- excellence of this work, it is precisely here ianity, as we have seen, had as yet failed that we can clearly discern in what reto obtain expression; and the genius to spects the degeneracy and impoverishment create seemed annihilated. In this mosaic of art first showed itself." It showed art there was likewise, as we have said, itself just as "degeneracy and impovera servitude; servitude in the servile sub-ishment " manifest themselves in national serviency to tradition when life had be- civilization, want of vigor in action and come extinct-the lifeless repetition, year thought, want of elevation in the characafter year, for seven centuries in succes-ter and type of the people, and want of sion, of types in which there was no nature, truth to the simplicity of nature. On vaand attitudes in which there was no rious visits to Italy we have spent many action. In an art thus lost in anarchy and hours, and indeed days, in the examinadegraded by servitude, the choice between tion of these early works, with, we must Roman Christian, Byzantine Christian, and confess, little accruing pleasure, and with Lombardic Christian, can offer no wide but doubtful advantage. Our love of art scope or variety. Praise of such works in its periods of perfection, whether classic is comparative, a kind of mitigated cen- or Christian, is too intense to permit us sure, an adaptation of the judgment, in any actual enjoyment in antiquity without charity for the times, to the prevailing excellence, and art without beauty. Nevstandard. Thus we can understand that ertheless we have gone studiously through the antiquary, after passing some weeks all these works, in order that we might underground in the catacombs, not once know what was the origin of the arts of rectifying or refreshing his eye by feasting the revival, what were the difficulties on the classic or the Christian art of the with which they contended, and by what Vatican, should on coming to the above-means and agencies they rose from the mentioned mosaic in the church of SS. Cosmo and Damiano, burst out in the following rhapsody:
* See Kugler's "Schools of Painting in Italy," 2d edit., p. 32.
grave of nations into the victorious life of a new civilization. Our reward has been that, from the depths in which we found this early art cast down, we have learned so much the more to reverence and love the essential beauty, truth, and goodness of that Italian art which rose into life out of ruin.
Rome," the city of the soul," the grave of so much greatness, which still offers to the mind riches inexhaustible, and fires the imagination with an ardor not to be extinguished that city which, having at first conquered the world by the power of her arms, for a second time subdued it by the spell of her imagination" the wreck of the world's past hopes, and the despair of all present aspiration-containing within her walls the treasures of wellnigh three thousand years-saw the first rise of Christian art in the catacombs and the Basilicas-and now endures art's latest degeneracy in the statue of the Immaculate Conception. In that city the student can walk from the earliest churches, or from the Christian Museums of the Vatican or of the Lateran - from art of the fifth and sixth centuries to Raphael's fresco of Theology in the Stanzas of the Vatican; and in that short walk he will have traversed just one thousand years. All that we have before asserted, well-nigh all indeed that can be told of the progression of Christian art, receives in this city either proof or illustration. Let the traveler in Rome take only one morning's drive, and we would point out to him more in three hours than, by mere home study, he might learn in three years. Let him take his carriage in the Piazza di Spagna, and passing the Palazzo Barberina, traversing the Quirinale and the Viminale, reach, on the summit of the Esquiline, the grand basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore. In the stately aisle of this queenly church he will see a series of small mosaic pictures, taken from the Old Testament, and dating back to the first half of the fifth century. To us the great interest of these works has always been the evidence they furnish of the identity in style between the latest Roman and the earliest Christian art. Compare these rude, overcrowded mosaics, in costume, type of figure, and art-treatment, with the bass-reliefs on the Colonna Antonina, with a late and remarkably debased bass-relief of Eneas and Dido in the Vatican, and it will be seen, as already pointed out, that
Christian art began where Pagan ended
that the fall of one and the origin of the other were alike part of that second barbarism which swept over Roman civilzation.
From the Roman Christian mosaics of the fifth century to the Byzantine of the thirteenth, an interval of seven centuries, the traveler has only to pass from the nave of Santa Maria Maggiore to the tribune. In this domed apsis he finds one of the richest and most ornate examples of Byzantine art; the Saviour with glory round the brow, holding in one hand an open book, places the crown upon the head of the Madonna, henceforth Queen of Heaven, who, with one hand raised in wonder and the other laid upon the breast, gently bends forward in humble acquiescence. Beneath the throne are a company of adoring angels floating on the wing, and near at hand are kneeling bishops and standing saints, all gazing upward in wondering adoration. All nature, likewise rejoicing, breaks forth into exuberant growth: arabesques, rich in flowers and foliage, fill the heavens; and among the branches perch or sport gentle doves or the gorgeous bird of paradise. Beneath, flowing across the foreground, is a riverstream, on the margin whereof walks the stag, in whose waters sport fish and birds, or float boats and cherub children, carried by the wind or borne on wings. All this, it must be admitted, from the beauty and the poetry of the idea, reads better in description than it looks in reality. The work, as we have before stated, is an example of the Byzantine school, the distinction between which and the Roman Christian is, however, little more than technical, each being to the ordinary observer about equally removed from the truth of nature or the beauteous spirituality of succeeding Christian art. It may, however, be well for a moment to dwell on the distinction between these two schools of the Empire of the West on the one hand, and the Empire of the East on the other.
Roman art, we will frankly say, is our detestation. We speak not, of course, of Grecian, which, on the contrary, is equally our worship, nor of that Greco-Romano which was, in fact, Greek by parentage, and Roman only by the rites of naturalization. We must confess, however, that we have great abhorrence, for the most part, of all statues of Roman emperors,
however gigantic-of all gladiators in mosaic found in the Baths of Caracallaof all bass-reliefs on triumphal arches-and of those endless processions of Roman soldiers, with captives and spoils, winding their way to the summit of a column. At best such works have a low worldly naturalism, the very opposite of that pure art-treatment, at once ideal and natural, which gives to Grecian art its unparalleled excellence. It must, however, be admitted, that though Roman works have little of aesthetic beauty, they possess, as we have said, a certain rude naturalism, and, above all, somewhat of that Roman energy which conquered the world. But when that energy had become enervated, and nature was either forgotten or corrupted, nothing remained to Roman art but its essential coarseness. At this unhappy moment Christianity sought for art-expression, and hence the origin of the Roman Christian school. Its characteristics will now be understood: a coarse naturalism, in which nature was corrupted -a rude energy, degenerating into weakness. Yet, strange to say, such works obtain admirers. The following is a description of the mosaic of the fifth century covering the arch of triumph in the church of St. Paul, without the walls of Rome:
"Within a cruciform nimbus fifteen feet in diameter, and surrounded with rays, shines forth in the center the colossal figure of the Saviour -the right hand raised in benediction, the left holding the scepter: a delicately folded mantle of thin material covers the shoulders; the form is stern, but grand in conception; the eyebrows in finely-arched half circles above the widely opened eyes; the nose in a straight Grecian line; the mouth, which is left clear of all beard, closed with an expression of mild serenity, and hair and beard divided in the center. Above, in the clouds, on a smaller scale, are seen the four-winged animals bearing the books of the Gospels; lower down two angels (perhaps one of the earliest specimens of angel-representation) are lowering their wands before the Redecmer, on each side of whom the four-andtwenty elders are humbly casting their crowns -those on the right bare-headed, the others covered: the one signifying the prophets of the Old Testament, who only saw the truth through a veil; the other, the apostles of the New-Testament, who beheld it face to face. Finally, below these, where only a narrow space remains next the arch, appear on the left, St. Paul with the sword, and on the right St. Peter with the keys; both, in the style of the divided hair, somewhat approaching the type of Christ; both in active gesture, as if engaged in the procla
mation of the Gospel. Like the sound of a hymn of praise, the adorations of the old and new time, of the Evangelists and of the great teachers of the faith, here unite; and whoever length of the walls of the center aisle was formerly occupied with the history of Christ and the Church-consisting of a series of biblical scenes, with saints, martyrs, and portraits of the Popes, all intended to prepare the eye for the great subjects upon the arch of triumphwill find it difficult to imagine how the mosaics of the Tribune itself could surpass in beauty those of the aisles."*
at the same time considers that the whole
mosaic has been now restored; and Mr. In the rebuilding of St. Paul's this Anderson, our English photographer, has, admirably executed series of Roman phowe are glad to say, included the work in his tographs. Photography, among the many changes it must produce in art, may, we trust, lead to greater precision and accuracy in art-criticism. Were we, for example, in reading the above glowing description, limited to the dim recollections of memory, or even to the vagueness of written notes, we might hesitate before we ventured to pronounce these eulogistic words a pregraph, however, we bring the mosaic itposterous exaggeration. By this photoself for quiet examination into our own room, are not only able to revive our own impressions, but to show how utterly valueless is the entire system of criticism, which dares to characterize such wretched imbecility by terms of praise suited only to the master-works in art. Why, this head of Christ, "grand in conception," "the eyebrows finely arched," "the nose in a straight Grecian line," "the mouth with an expression of mild serenity," terms only to be justified in the designation of a type by Leonardo or Raphaelthis head of Christ so extolled, is, in truth, piteous to look on. Truly he is here the man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; but it is sorrow and grief in which there is no ministry of angels, no access to the Godhead. The divine aspect is lost-the human even degraded. Lines of corroding care, the cast of a hopeless melancholy, have taken possession of the features, as if the temptation and the fasting of the forty days had been carried over as many years, and the Evil One had at last made sure his empire. It is needless that we should further stigmatize this
* See Kugler's "Schools of Painting in Italy,” 2d edit., p. 29.