Page images
PDF
EPUB

this country. To what extent the series may reach, there can hardly be a conjecture, as the grand national repository is continually augnting its treasures of ancient art, and is likely to augment them indefinitely. As it now appears that lord Elgin's Marbles are destined to this receptacle, there will be added, at a single influx, enough to occupy years of the elegant labours of the artists. And then, if our countrymen of taste should obtain progressively still greater facility and privilege of access

and temporary residence in the regions once so strangely crowded with works of genius, there will be a continual process of resurrection of inhumed and forgotten beauties, a considerable proportion of which may be expected to take their place in this pantheon, to receive the homage of taste, and the flatteries of the fashionable affectation of taste, in an atmosphere of fogs and smoke.

In the anticipation of so long and rich a suocession of subjects for description and representation, the lovers of fine art will be gratified that the work undertaken for multiplying the images of them, has commenced with an accuracy and elegance which have given an assurance, and imposed on the conductors an obligation of excellence throughout the progress. While excessive sumptuousness is avoided, the work is very strongly characterized by skill, and taste, and industrious accuracy. The artists evidently feel themselves to be much upon their responsibility, and wish the performance to be such as they would be willing to have their names associated with for perpetuity.

The work of draughtsman appears to be exclusively performed by Mr. Alexander; the engravers are numerous ; Armstrong, Picart, Bromley, Scriven, Skelton, Thomsen, G. Cooke, Scott, Burnett, Wedgwood, Worthington, Moses, &c. &c. The plates are partly in the line, and partly in the dotted manner, the majority probably in the former; and many of them, in both the manners, display in an eminent degree a workmanship at once refined and vigorous. There are a few, a very few, which we might have wished to see more patiently and minutely laboured ; and there are several which appear to display the very utmost attainable perfection of the art. The describer's part of the work is brief, sensible, unaffected, and learned. In many of the instances we are sorry there are not, instead of the blank paper, a few more sentences of what may be called artistical criticism. Many persons who will be gratified to possess the work for its beauty, are not so deep in virtu, but that they would be thankful for a little aid from the adepts, in exercising their judgement and taste. The present Editor and Commentator could talk by the hour on the merits or defects of any one of the sculptures here represented, and has talked, no doubt, to the amount of volumes upon them :-why might he not as well have recollected a few more of the best of his observations, for the printer, as have left us so many vacant pages? Was it throught that even Bulmer's typography is too homely a thing to appear, except in the most restricted quantity, in such fine company? But there seems to be a prevailing notion among the Editors of books of prints, that the less the information conveyed by the letter-press, the more interest there will be in looking at the plates.' Or is it a fancy that any considerable quantity of words would give the book the inelegant appearance of being meant to be of some use ? A number of remarks occur here and there in these brief notices, respecting, for instance, the distinctive characteristics of the more ancient and the later style of sculpture, which might, advantageously to the reader of taste, have been considerably amplified. And occasion might have been taken to say something on the principles according to which the great ancient artists proceeded in imitating nature to a certain extent, and then abandoning her: for it is perfectly obvious to the most unschooled inspector of a set of prints like this, that those workmen had but a very partial respect for nature and reality. Take, for example, plate xi of part 1, a most noble and sublime head of Hercules. Every observer must be instantaneously struck with the commanding majesty of the spectacle; but nearly as immediate will be his perception or reflection that, though it is indeed a human face, in the sense that it has each of the features constituting that object, it is altogether unlike any human visage he ever saw or is likely to see, and greatly unlike, in all probability, any face the artist himself ever beheld. He will prononce it therefore to be a quite unnatural figure, but at the same time something nobler than Nature could ever produce. The same perception, though perhaps in a somewhat less degree, of decided unlikeness to nature and reality, will be felt in looking at another head of Hercules, part 11. plate xlvi, and at a head of the bearded Bacchus, plate xxix. These are youthful countenances, and of such a kind, as well as degree, of beauty, as he knows he should seek in vain among living men. Much of the same impression, of an abandonment of real nature, will be made by the noble ideal head of Homer, plate xxv, in which he is represented with the withered wrinkled appearance of very old age, but with a mould of features which will recall to the beholder's imagination no countenance he ever saw, while it will strike hiin as exactly the right form to have been inhabited by such a spirit. The Editor judges this to be superior to all known images formed by ancient genius as memorials, not authorized likenesses, of the great poet.

• It is well known,' says the Editor, ' that the ancients were not in possession of any actual portrait of Homer, and that, as has been remarked by Pliny, all the representations of him were only ideal. But although imaginary, these portraits were conceived with a just and perfect knowledge of his character, and with an appropriate grandeur of design, indeed the most enthusiastic admirers of this poet could scarcely wish to see him represented otherwise than as we here behold him. This valuable specimen of ancient art is executed in the very finest style, and is in high preservation, a very small portion of the nose being the only part which is modern. It was found among some ruins, on the site of the ancient city of Baiæ, in the year 1780.

There is a mixture of gratification and mortification in looking at such human forins as some of those in this work. It is flattering to see what the human lineaments are capable of; but considerably mortifying to observe the palpable fact, that the human visage has not actually happened, in one instance in millions, if in any instance, to realise the high ideal form of dignity or of grace. It is really a very marvellous thing to reflect on, that a beauty and a grandeur of conformation which human hands have so often worked out of a block of stone, should most rarely or never be found in the living existence of that race whose form is the prototype for all this excellence in art; that man should be able to make images of himself of far nobler aspect than that in which Nature ever makes him, or ever will make him, wbile the race is mortal. What may be his form on being made a second time from the dust, it is in vain to conjec

If it were supposed, (but we are infinitely far froin being willing to suppose,) that the re-created and immortal bodies of good men will be modified to any form and lineaments analogous to the present corporeal frame, it would be somewhat pleasing, as relative to this anticipation, to observe the wonderful cupabilities of these general human lineaments, as exemplified in the finest works of art.

There can at the same time be no doubt that these ancient artists, while they aspired to and attained something superior to all the real objects around them, did actually behold finer models of the human countenance, than are ordinarily to be found in this part of the world in this later course of time. Among these marbles are several purporting to be, and admitted by the critics in art as probably being, portraits. There are heads of Pericles, Hippocrates, Periander, and Epicurus, and several of them, especially the last very dignified one, are well adapted to intimate that heads and visages were cast in a' finer mould at that time of day than now.

A smaller number of female effigies than of those of gods, men, and fauns, are présented in this exhibition. And, though there are several very beautiful or dignified countenances, they do not arrest the spectator so much as the stronger tribe of personages. They display less, we think, of the ideal beauty on which we have remarked, than their male compeers. As whole figures, some of them are of exquisite form, especially the Venus, plate VIII. of part 1, which is almost magically engraved by Picart. The countenance, however, would not strike us as claiming a higher epithet than that of very pretty ; it would not excite the idea of an undefinable and superhuman grace and power. There are several Minervas, but by no means of the first order of excellence. There are several Fauns of fine foran ; but it requires no small degree of classical perversion of taste, to take any strong impression of human beauty beset with tail, horns, and pointed ears. The whole conception appears to us a very degraded part of the elegant pagan imagination: it is exactly to that imagination, what these appendages are to the figure itself, which may otherwise be fine, both in sbape and face : not always however in face; the Laughing Faun, plate xxiv. part 11. is a disgusting object, presented in an admirable engraving.

A considerable number of the marbles are bas-reliefs, and these generally represent groups of objects.

Several of these we should deem of very trivial value, excepting as supplying some particle of information respecting ancient costume or mythology, as they are totally destitute of all recommendations of the nature of excellence of form. But several of them are bold and striking sculptures, especially Castor managing a fiery horse, and the Centaur Nessus carrying off Deianira. There are a number of candelabra, ornamental supports of tripods, , pateræ, fountains, and vases. One of these last, plate vii. of part 1. is most justly described as of incomparable excellence; and the engraving, by Armstrong, is worthy of it. Nothing ever can exceed the consummate workmanship of this print; and no terms can be too strong in applause of the industry which this engraver must have conjoined

with his taste and talent, to acquire such a power of execution.--The subject of the sculpture is one in which the utmost physical graces are made to try their power of fascinating through a disgusting moral medium. It represents a rout of Fauns and female Bacchantes, with the addition of a Satyr, all capering in the furious and drunken orgies of their god. In commenting upon it, the Editor adverts to bistory.

• The Dionysia, or orgies of Bacchus, were instituted in commemoration of his conquest of India, and were celebrated in different parts of Greece, but were observed with greater splendour at Athens, perhaps, than at any other place. At these festivals it was customary for the people to imitate the followers of Bacchus, and to run about the mountains, feigning frenzy, and repeatedly shouting the name of Bacchus.'

He repeatedly gives within a few sentences, a good portion of historical information. In describing the handsome plump figure of the goddess Fortune, part 11. plate xvil, he observes,

· Fortune was worshipped in very early times by the Greeks. The most ancient statue of Fortune, according to Pausanias, was that made by Pupalus for the people of Smyrna, about the 60th Olynıpiad. An ancient temple was dedicated i her at Pharæ in Messene ; there was also a temple belonging to her at Thebes in Bæotia, as well as in several other cities, and the decrees of the Greeks were usually made in the name and under the sanction if good Fortune.

. It is remarkable, however, that notwithstanding the knowledge which the Greeks had of this deity, her image never appears on any of the more ancient Greek medals; and indeed of the numerous figures of her now extant both in marble and bronze, not one appears to be of high antiquity. It was not till the time of the Roman Emperors that the worship of this goddess was universally established. 'After this period one of the most common figures on the Greek and Roman coins, was that of Fortune; and as a proof of the great ascendency which she was believed by the Romans to have over the interests of mankind, no less than twenty-five temples were erected to her at Rome.'

In notes, a great number of apposite quotations are made from the ancient poets and historians, illustrative of the attributes of the gods, and other circumstances connected with the figures in the plates; and a very extensive acquaintance is evinced with the Italian and French works on ancient art.

The restorations, as they are called, of the sculptures, are carefully pointed out; they are indicated also, very adroitly, by the engravers. Several of them are pronounced erroneous, and with the most evident justice in one or two instances, especially in the statue of the Laughing Faun.

Most of the fine heads here exhibited, are terminal, the gods themselves being content for their images to form the decorated tops of posts to mark boundaries. And few things can give a more lively idea of the difference of economy between the classic times and regions and ours, as to the familiar surrounding exhibition of objects, than that so much beauty and sublimity could be afforded to be employed for such a purpose.

We should have been pleased by any intimation, that the progress of this most elegant work, will not be slower than is indispensably necessary for insuring in every part of it the same excellence of execution that has been displayed thus far. Art. V. Prospectus of a Polyglott Bible, in One Volume, 4to or in

Four Volumes of a Pocket Size; comprising the Hebrew Text, the Samaritan Pentateuch, the New Testament in Syriac, the Septuagint and Greek Testament, the Latin Vulgate, and English Version. London, Bagster, (printed by R. Watts, Broxbourne,)

pp. 32. 12.no. Gratis. 1816. 'THIS Prospectus presents an explanation of the general Plan of

the Work. Specimens in each language, and the whole of the Prefaces, with an Appendix, describing a Supplementary Volume,

« PreviousContinue »