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four-and-twenty elders, with advancing step and upraised arm, present their crowned wreaths to the Lamb, worthy "to receive glory, and honor, and power." But let it not for a moment be supposed that the poetry of this eastern imagery involves in the remotest degree, a corresponding perfection in art. Yet these degraded works may well be studied, and in some sort admired, for their childlike simplicity, for their unconscious grotesqueness, and for the direct and literal manner in which they seek to express high thoughts beyond their power of utterance.
work. There is not a single figure which | centuries of art-debility, power of expresdoes not show the prostration and paralysis sion and execution were wanting, at least of art. But let it not for one moment be we find the influx of new motives, the supposed that we should censure any ef struggling of new ideas, the wondrous fort to preserve or restore this great rem- thoughts of the new revelation, seeking nant and record of a dark and barbarous for outward and visible manifestation. age. Nevertheless, the value of such a We find in these works taken from the record, let us once again repeat, is merely Book of Revelation, the gates of the heaas a historic link in the great chain of venly Jerusalem, with four angels standprogressive development. Its very im- ing by, inviting the faithful to enter. port is to show us how low it was possible The saints advancing, as best they can, for art to sink, to teach us with what diffi- hold forth their palm-branches, or present culty the beauty, the truth, and the eleva- their crowns to Christ, standing in the tion of the Christian religion obtained a midst. Upon the arch of triumph the worthy expression, and thus the more to Lamb is placed upon a jeweled altar, with make us love and honor those great names the cross above and the seven candleand glorious works which once again in sticks around; four angels stand by; the the arts restored dignity to human nature, four symbols of the Evangelists-the lion, and gave even to revelation an acession of the angel, the eagle, and the bull-each poetry and of lustre. holding the book of the Gospels in hand During this tedious disquisition on Ro--look on in solemn mystery; while the man-Christian art, the traveler is supposed to have been patiently standing in the nave of Sta Maria Maggiore, where fortunately, however, he can not well stand too long, of so much beauty are the proportions of the interior, so many objects in the history of art, or for splendor of decoration, merit his examination. On leaving Sta Maria Maggiore it is scarcely needful that he should enter his carriage, so near at hand is the small church of S. Prassede, built and decorated with mosaics in the ninth century. Should the traveler now desire a digression from his more severe art-studies, and a taste of those religious sensations which, in Italy, the Church provides for the enjoyment of the believer, the custode will unlock a small and dark chapel, where, with the aid of a lighted taper, may be seen 66 a portion of a column of oriental jasper, brought from Jerusalem by Cardinal Colonna in 1223, and said by the Churchtradition to be the column to which the Saviour was fastened at the flagellation!" That the imagination may be still further stimulated by an accumulation of the religious horrors in which the morbid minds of a degraded people take a diseased delight, the Church has placed in the sacristy the Flagellation at this column, in a somewhat coarse picture by Giulio Romano. We fear, however, that this digression may scarcely the better prepare our traveler for the dry study of the severe mosaics in the Tribune. But he can, even in such works as these find some mental excitement. If in these
We now enter, though still within the gates and wall, upon the outskirts of modern Rome, upon those districts given up to gardens and malaria, in which, at intervals, stands a deserted villa, a forlorn church, a broken aqueduct, or the ruined Baths of Titus or Caracalla. A drive of a few minutes along a dreary and monotonously-straight road brings us to the Piazza and Church of S. John Lateran, just within the city gate which leads to Naples. We enter, and are indeed overpowered by the richness of one of the most gorgeous of church interiors to be found even in Rome. Walking up the lavishly decorated nave, we find in the Tribune a grand Byzantine mosaic of the thirteenth century. It in no material degree differs in subject or character from those already visited; but these works tell so well when thrown into words, that we can not deny ourselves the pleasure of quoting the following ardent description from Lord
Lindsay's Christian Art. After having | in Rome, and in mercy to the reader of spoken of the mosaics in the Tribune of S. Maria Maggiore as "singularly august and grand," he writes with eloquent enthusiasm as follows:
"But the mosaic of S. Giovanni is still more so, and in conception is at once original and sublime. Its subject is the union of heaven and earth by baptism. The head of Christ, majestic and benignant, looks down from hea ven, indicated by a grand semicircular orb of intense blue-the little clouds scattered over its surface, assuming every color of the rainbow, (as in the setting sun,) while they float across his glory. Above the Saviour the Father is represented, not as usually by a hand from heaven, but by a face vailed with wings, on either side of which a company of angels are symmetrically ranged. Below these two persons of the Godhead, the Holy Ghost, descending like a dove, sheds the trinal influence, in the similitude of a stream of water, upon the cross, elevated on the summit of the mystic Calvary, the Mount of Paradise, and decorated with ten precious gems, artificially jointed into each other, in the center of which is inserted a medallion, representing the baptism of our Saviour. The spiritual waters, falling from the angels of the cross, are ultimately collected at its base, forming a deep well of life,' at which stags are drinking, symbolical of the faithful.
From this well four streams descend the moun
tain-the four rivers of Paradise or of the Gospels to water the earth. They sink into it and are lost, but reappear in the foreground, poured out of the urns of river-gods, one of which is designated by the inscription 'Jordanes-the united streams forming the 'river of the waters of life.' The river forms several cataracts, and is in one place confined by a dam; boats filled with passengers are seen floating down the stream; souls in the shape of children, are bathing in it, or sporting with swans and other water-fowl; others, like little winged Cupids, amuse themselves on shore, among peacocks, cocks, the hen and chickens, and other Christian symbols; while towering over them, like trees of righteousness planted by the wa ters,' stand a company of saints and apostles, headed by the Virgin and S. John the Baptist; and lastly, in the center, though very small, and immediately at the foot of the cross, and between the four mystic streams, appears the gate of Paradise, a vast fortress, flanked with towers, and guarded by the cherub standing before it with his drawn sword; the tree of life rising above it, and the Phoenix, apparently the emblem of the resurrection, reposing on the
For the sake of the supposed traveler
*See "Sketches of the History of Christian Art," by Lord Lindsay; vol. ii., p. 60. Outlines of all the mosaics above described have been published in
these pages, it were well to bring our itinerary in search of mosaics to a speedy termination. The temptation to extend it still further is, however, great. From S. John Lateran it were easy to drive to the Basilica of S. Lorenzo, a mile beyond the walls, on the road to Tivoli, or to strike off to the newly rebuilt Basilica of St. Paul without the walls, and examine the restored mosaic already described. Then again, entering Rome by the tomb of Caius Cestus and the Protestant Burialground, passing between the church of S. Balbina and the Baths of Caracalla, we again come upon other important mosaics in the churches of S. Stefano Rotondo and of Sta Maria in Dominica. From hence we reach once more the piazza of S. John Lateran, and return homewards by the Church of S. Clemente, the Coliseum, and the Forum. Few churches can compare with S. Clemente in interest to the artist the atrium, or outer and open court, suror to the Christian antiquary. In front is rounded by columned arcades appropriated in the early church to the catechumens. The interior of the church itself is, in its arrangement, equally a depar ture from modern usage. In front of the altar, inclosed by four-sided marble decorated by geometric mosaic patterns, is the Presbytery; on each side of which are the ambones, or marble pulpits from which the epistle and the gospel were read. Behind, at the apsis or tribune, is the episcopal seat raised on a platform, and divided from the rest of the church by two gates. Above, in the semi-arched vault over the altar, is a remarkably ornate Byzantine mosaic of the eleventh century, specially rich in elaborate arabesques, and, like other works already described, mystic in symbols, and grotesque when intending to be most solemn. Lastly, in this small church, so abounding in riches, are important frescoes, by that great naturalistic reformer in the arts, Masaccio, which would seem by their vigor and their truth, in the dignity they restore to man, and by the beauty with which they adorn womanhood, to enter a protest against the entire series of Christian mosaics, whether Roman or Byzantine, which had so long
Italy. In this country the reader will most readily obtain an idea of the composition of these works by the small illustrations published in Sir Charles Eastlake's edition of Kugler's "Handbook," already quoted.
violated nature and parodied revelation. | tioned for its Roman Christian mosaics of The churches of Rome are catholic at the sixth century. And finally, immedileast in the open asylum which they ately beyond, is the grand portico to the equally give to the universal art of all temple of Antoninus and Faustina, which, Christian ages. In the arts, at all events, in its mutation into the present Church of the Church of Rome would appear to S. Lorenzo, affords another memorable preach no exclusive salvation. In St. example of the consecration to the ChristPeter's, a bronze statue of Jupiter has ian religion and Christian art of pagan been received for St. Peter himself, and works otherwise threatened with destrucwe think it would have been equally po- tion. Our circuit is now ended. We litic, and certainly not less latitudinarian, leave the Palatine Mount, with the ruined could a statue of Apollo have been trans- palace of the Cæsars on the left, drive muted into a figure of Christ. Thus in a through the Roman Forum among ruined charity of taste, which we could wish ex- porticos and columns, to which we shall tended to an equal enlargement of creed, not presume to assign a name, in the disdo we find art, not only the most diverse pute between conflicting antiquaries. We but even the most hostile, made accessory skirt the base of the Capitol, pass the arch to and found acceptable in the same Christ- of Septimus Severus and the Mamertine ian worship. We scarcely can regret so prison, and so proceeding onwards, leavwide a toleration, even though the liber- ing the piazza and column of Trajan to ty granted to genius may ofttimes have the right, we reach the modern Corso, and degenerated into license. We scarcely at length gain once again the Piazzi di can object to find that, in the creation of Spagna, now, as we have said, in a bad art, Christianity can include a diversity sense illustrious by the latest of Christian varied as human nature, an empire wide monuments, the column to that latest of as the world; that the church which may dogmas, the Immaculate Conception. On dedicated to the St. Mary is not shut to a future day it may be well to complete the Magdalen, and that while angels sing the investigation by a circuit to one or in the choir, demons are permitted to two churches through the Trastevere, and howl in the crypt. by a still more important excursion beyond the walls, to visit those earliest of Christian mosaics of the fourth century in the church of S. Constanza, and at the same time to examine the adjacent and now restored Basilica of St. Agnese. In this intermingling of monuments sacred and profane, Christian and classic, the reader finds a characteristic illustration of the Roman and pagan origin of Christian art. The early Christian Church coming into so rich an inheritance, is it surprising that Romish Christian art should be cast in the form of paganism? The Romish Church took from the pagan religion its incense, holy water, lamps and candles, votive offerings, images; chapels on the way-sides and tops of hills, processions, and miracles.* Is it then at all surprising that Christian art should take from the pagan its types and its treatment?
It is time to bring our drive through Rome in quest of these old mosaics to a close. We are near to the Coliseum, that ruin which, like so many remains in Rome, seems to connect paganism with Christianity. While the martyrs were here given up to wild beasts, the Church had fled to the catacombs from persecution, and this once arena of the passionsis now dedicated to the Christian virtues by the cross and the altars which stand where the early Christian was massacred. Making the circuit of the Coliseum, we enter the Via Sacra, at the Meta Sudans, pass under the arch of Titus, take a hasty glance at the bass-relief of the Emperor's triumphal procession, bearing the seven-branch candlestick and the spoils of the Jewish temple, connecting, as it were, Judaism, Paganism, and Christianity. On the immediate right, close likewise to the Basilica Other portions of Italy are scarcely less of Constantine, and built in part on the rich in mosaic art. The Baptisteries in site of the Temple of Venus and Rome, is Florence and in Parma both contain imthe ancient church of S. Francesca Ro- portant works; but of far greater extent mana, remarkable for its mosaics of the and splendor are the still remaining moninth century. Close at hand, the Tem-saics in Ravenna, that great capital and ple of Remus forms the circular vestibule Italian center of eastern magnificence. to the Basilica of the present church of
SS. Cosmo and Damiano, already men-.
*See Dr. Middleton's "Letter from Rome."
Early in the present year we left the coldest of Italian cities, Bologna-the snow knee-deep-for the milder shores of the Adriatic. After a tedious journey of sixand-twenty hours, we reached Ravenna, where Byron lived and loved, where Dante is buried, where nature has spread for twenty miles along the margin of the sea that noble forest of stone pines, and where art, once scarcely less noble and ambitious, covered whole churches with mosaics-those pictures for eternity. To the artistic or Christian antiquary, these works doubtless offer many points for investigation and discussion; suffice it, however, to say, that for us they afforded but additional evidence of the conclusions already stated. It may, however, be asserted generally, that these mosaics-such, for example, as the Baptism of Christ in the Baptistery, the remarkably pure and beautiful figure of the Good Shepherd, surrounded by his sheep, in the tomb of Galla Placidia, together with portions of the Apsis of S. Vitale-are more than usually allied to Grecian art, and are consequently marked by greater elevation of type, and a nearer approach to nature. Thus these works, in Ravenna, of the fifth and sixth centuries, contrast on the one hand, with the debility of the Venetian mosaics of the eleventh, and, on the other, with the rude nature and low type of the Roman-Christian school.
But it is from the Church of St. Mark, in Venice, that an adequate conception can alone be formed of the barbaric splendor of Byzantine art. This marvelous church, written as a scroll within and without, not as the book given to Ezekiel, with lamentations, and mourning, and woe, but as the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the ending, from the time when God created Adam from the dust to the consummation when Christ ascended into glory, It was a pictorial Bible to the multitude, when the written Bible was a sealed book. It was a continuous narrative of successive events illustrating God's dealings towards the children of men with a fullness, and simplicity, and fidelity, eminently belonging to those early times of unsophisticated art. Adam and Eve, from their first calling into life to their expulsion-the creation of the earth, the sun, the moon, and the stars-the sacrifice of Cain and Abel -the building of the Tower of Babel and of the Ark-the history of Joseph
and of Moses, and the fall of manna in the wilderness-all reduced to pictorial perspicuity, all thus pictorially printed, when the art of printing was unknown; all this was indeed to put the Bible, not into the hands of the few who could read, but to place it within the reach of the multitudinous many, to whom the symbol and the picture was the most speaking revelation. The great truths concerning life, death, and eternity, thus set in all the glory of gold, sanctified by all the splendor of rainbow color, built with enduring stone into the very fabric of the Church, as they were also to be moulded into the very heart of the believer, the whole surpassing all earthly splendor, awed the imagi nation of the multitude, as a revelation which flashed, not across the sky and then was lost in darkness, but as a revelation put lastingly on record in the dome spanning heaven, as an undying rainbow, which, as the first rainbow, became a covenant of mercy. All that could exalt or appall the imagination was brought within this temple. The richest marbles-the most precious stones-spoils taken from the exhaustless East-relics and vestments of the saints-bass-reliefs from tombs of martyrs-the labor of man's hands in all possible forms of patient elaboration for the glory of God-the mysterious mingling of light and color with a cavern darkness the precarious yet constant lamp burning like faith in a world of darkness, joined with the sound of music and the deep chant coming from that sanctuary where Christ and his apostles, in giant mosaic form, are present at the daily worship-all these art-appliances to devotion rouse every faculty of the soul to transport, save the paralyzed intellect and conscience. So earnest and so eloquent an outpouring of religion into art could not long remain without the highest works to testify to the nobility and the purity of the aim. We shall see that the religious ardor which fired these rude and early mosaics became, at a later and more vital epoch in Christian art, associated with heavenly beauty and earthly truth. We have allowed ourselves to speak of St. Mark's as we ourselves have often felt, when, laying aside critical severity, we surrendered the imagination to the spell of poetic dreams. It must however be candidly admitted, that in these mosaic pictures, which were in olden times, as we have said, the Bible of the people,
Christian art was as yet in its cradled infancy.
we find that the Byzantine mosaics in Rome, Ravenna, and Venice, are characterized by gigantic figures, stiff, obsolete forms-"the childish play of false and unseasonable ornament," -a puerile attempt at elevation, and the exaggeration of what is small and in meaning trivial. Art had, indeed, become the pampered luxury of a court, and of a people emasculated through pleasure and debauched by riches. The decorations of the church were but in keeping with the adornings of the palace-in both, alike, richness of material supplied the poverty of invention, and the servility which attended the monarch in his empire naturally became superstition in the church. We accordingly read that, in the palace of the Emperor Theophilus at Constantinople, "the long series of the apartments was adapted
These Byzantine works, so sumptuous in material and so wide in extent, were at once of classic art the grave and of Christian the cradle. Gibbon, in the conclusion to his history, says that the "decline and fall of the Roman Empire is 'the greatest, perhaps the most awful scene in the history of mankind.' ” In the history of art, in like manner, we know of no downfall so deplorable as that of the classic, instinct with life and beauty, into the grave of the Byzantine, so lifeless and deformed. The description which Gibbon gives of the decay of taste and genius in the Byzantine Empire, literally applies as well to the arts as to literature. "They held," he says, "in their lifeless hands the riches of their fathers, without inheriting the spirit which had created to the seasons, and decorated with marand improved that sacred patrimony; ble and porphyry, with painting, sculpture, they read, they praised, they compiled, and mosaics, with a profusion of gold, but their languid souls seemed alike in- silver, and precious stones. His fanciful capable of thought and action." Of art, magnificence employed the skill and paequally as of literature, it might still fur- tience of such artists as the times could ther be asserted, that, "in the revolution afford; but the taste of Athens would of ten centuries, not a single discovery was have despised their frivolous and costly made to exalt the dignity or promise the labors: a golen tree with its leaves and happiness of mankind. Not a single idea branches, which sheltered a multitude of has been added to the speculative systems birds warbling their artificial notes, and of antiquity; and a succession of patient two lions of massy gold, and of the nadisciples became, in their turn, the dog-tural size, who looked and roared like matic teachers of the next servile genera- their brethren of the forest !"* tion. Not a single composition of history, philosophy, or literature, has been saved from oblivion by the intrinsic beauties of style or sentiment of original fancy, or even of successful imitation." That universal law which binds into unity of existence the art of a people with its mental, social, and political life, never received more pointed illustration than in the Empire of the East. Thus Gibbon again, in the following criticism on the writers of Byzantium, unconsciously seizes on the leading characteristics of Byzantine art. "In every page," he says, "our taste and reason are wounded by the choices of gigantic and obsolete words, a stiff and intricate phraseology, the discord of images, the childish play of false and unseasonable ornament, and the painful attempt to elevate themselves to astonish the reader, and to involve a trivial meaning in the smoke of obscurity and exaggeration." Accordingly, in obedience to those laws by which a people's thoughts obtain expression through the language of art,
If the reader doubt the justice of our censure, we would beseech him to turn to the third volume of Mr. Ruskin's "Stones of Venice," wherein he will find a marvelous, though, as we can testify, a literally correct rendering of a Byzantine olive-tree as wrought in mosaic, in a cupola of St. Mark. In words it is difficult to designate such a work. For ourselves, however, had not Mr. Ruskin assured us, with his usual emphasis, that the work possesses all the attributes of the olive, "knitted cordage of fibers," with all the "powers and honor of the olive in its fruit," we should assuredly have mistaken his careful diagram for some unknown product, lying somewhere between a kitchen mop and a cow-cabbage. If the reader, however, require further confirmation of our strictures upon Byzantine art, he will find it in the inordinate praise which Mr. Ruskin lavishes upon this extraordinary work.
See for all the above references, Gibbon's "Decline and Fall," chap. 53.