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feast on-a sublime peculiar as the genius of the immortal architect, and comprehensible only on the spot.”
Running round the base of the dome, in large mosaic letters, is the proud inscription : Tu es Petrus, et super hanc petram edificabo ecclesiam meam et tibi dabo claves regni cælorum.
Under the centre of the dome is the grand baldacchino (designed by Bernini and made from bronze taken from the Pantheon) covering the high altar at which the Pope alone can celebrate mass. In front of the altar is a sunken space, surrounded by a circular balustrade of marble, to which a double flight of steps descends; this is the Confession of St. Peter, leading through magnificent gilt bronze gates to the shrine in which the remains of the great Apostle are said to repose, immediately under the high altar. Eighty-nine lamps are suspended from the balustrade, and are kept burning day and night. The floor of the Confession is supposed to be identical with the oratory erected by St. Anacletus, fifth Bishop of Rome; and here, kneeling in the attitude of prayer, is the exquisite marble statue of Pius VI.--one of the finest works of Canova.
In the Tribune is the great symbolical chair of Peter, enclosing the one in which it is said the Apostle and some of his immediate successors sat. It is supported by four colossal figures (17 feet 9 inches in height) of four Fathers of the Church-St. Augustine and St. Ambrose of the Latin, St Chrysostom and St. Athanasius of the Greek.
In making the circuit of the Basilica, innumerable monuments, altars, chapels, pictures, and mosaics are to be met with on every hand; but when it is remembered that no fewer than one hundred and thirty-two Popes have been buried here, and that the church contains fortysix altars and three hundred and ninety-six statues, it will be seen that it is not possible to enumerate them in detail. There are but few good pictures in St. Peter's, the principal ones having been removed to the Vatican, and their places filled by copies in mosaic. The Sacristy, Treasury, and Archives are rich in works of art, in jewels and vestments, and in ancient MSS., while in the subterranean churches there is a large collection of curiosities.
The great ecclesiastical ceremonies in St. Peter's are celebrated with much pomp and circumstance. It is here that the coronation of the new Pope always takes place; and here he celebrates bigh mass in person at Christmas, Easter, and on the Festival of St. Peter and St. Paul. On Palm Sunday, and on certain other festivals, the Pope is borne in procession round the church, his attendants carrying immense fans of peacocks' feathers. At the Purification of the Virgin he blesses candles, which are distributed to the devout. On Palm Sunday he receives the homage of the assembled cardinals, habited in violet robes. Immediately afterwards his Holiness consecrates the palms, and, assisted by one of the cardinal deacons, distributes them, first to the cardinals, then to the archbishops and bishops, the corps diplomatique, the canons of St. Peter's, and the heads of the different religious orders, and last of all to military officers and such private individuals as have obtained permission from the Major-domo to receive them—for whom uniform or evening dress is de rigueur. A procession is then formed, and the Pope, raised aloft on the shoulders of men, is carried round the church, followed by all who have received the palms.
There was no finer sight of its kind to be seen in the world than the illumination of St. Peter's on Easter Day-discontinued, however, since 1870. In a moment there was
a sudden burst of radiance from the ball, and an instantaneous meteor-like flash over the whole cupola, the long lines of lamps bringing out into vivid relief its gigantic masses, and exquisite proportions—every column, cornice, and frieze, the bands of the dome, and all the details of the building, from the base of the columns of the façade to the summit of the cross, being lit up with lines of light. Four hundred men, who had previously received the sacrament, were employed in the hazardous work of lighting the lamps; and so rapid
were they, tbat the illumination of the whole façade and dome was often completed in less than twenty seconds.
The Vatican, the palace of the Popes, and the most extensive palace in the world, is entered at the extremity of the right colonnade of the Piazza of St. Peter. Passing the Swiss Guard — whose extraordinary costume is said to have been designed by Michael Angelo, and is more extravagant than that of the Beefeaters at the Tower of London—the Scala Regia, a magnificent staircase by Bernini, is ascended, and then a further staircase leads to the famous Sixtine Chapel, so named after Pope Sixtus IV., who caused it to be built in 1473. It is an oblong building, one hundred and fortysix feet long by fifty feet wide, and appears at first sight to be disproportionately high. It has sixteen windows, by no means beautiful, and the effect of the interior is greatly marred by a screen enclosing the space set apart for religious solemnities. No one has time, however, to think of these drawbacks, as the eye fixes at once on the great masterpieces of art enshrined here. The walls and ceiling are covered with the most magnificent series of frescoes the world has ever seen. Those on the walls are by eminent artists of the fifteenth century, and represent scenes from the life of Moses on one side of the chapel, and scenes from the life of Christ on the other; “so that," as Lanzi
” says, “ the Old Law might be confronted with the New, the type by the Person typified.” Above these and between the windows, is a series of portraits of twenty-eight Popes; and below, the walls are painted in imitation of drapery, and were intended to be covered with the tapestries executed from the cartoons of Raphael.
But the glory of the Sixtine Chapel is the ceiling, covered with the creations of the genius of Michael Angelo, who, at the request of Julius II., undertook the work, and completed it in the incredibly short space of twenty months. The idea of this masterpiece is the Preparation of the World for the Advent of Christ. The ceiling is divided into nine compartments or pictures; on its arched sides are marvellous pictures of prophets and sibyls in earnest contemplation, surrounded by angels and genii ; and in the spandrils, and in the arches above the windows, beautiful groups representing the ancestors of the Saviour in calm expectation. “It is evident at the first glance that no one but an architect and a painter could have conceived the architectural decorations, which form, as it were, a framework for the principal subjects. No language can exaggerate the grandeur and majesty of the figures, which are subservient to the general plan, and carry out the sublime idea which presides over it, even in the minutest detail.”
There is no finer memorial chapel of a great artist in the world than this. Michael Angelo was forty years of age when he did it—in the ripeness of his strength. He had brought assistants from Florence to help him, but, unable to bear what seemed to him their bungling, he dismissed them all, and destroying their work, shut himself up, and working in solitude and secrecy, set himself to this gigantic task, which he completed, it is said, in twenty-two months.
There was wonderful inspiration in the labours of this extraordinary man, in whom all gifts and graces seemed to centre. When he undertook the restoration of St. Peter's he said he would take the old Pantheon and "suspend it in air,” and he did what he said, although he did not live to see the cathedral completed. Some idea of the way in which he worked may be gathered from the words of an eye-witness, Blaise de Vigenere : “I can say,” he says, “ that I have seen Michael Angelo at the age of sixty, and with a body announcing weakness, make more chips of marble fly about in a quarter of an hour than would three of the strongest young sculptors in an hour—a thing almost incredible to him who has not beheld it. He went to work with such impetuosity and fury of manner that I feared almost every moment to see the block split into pieces. It would seem as if, inflamed by the idea of greatness which inspired him, this great man attacked with a species of fury the marble which concealed the statue."
On the end wall of the Sixtine Chapel is the large fresco of the Last Judgment, commenced under Clement VII., when Michael Angelo was sixty years of age, and completed in the reign of Paul III., after seven years of labour and study. In the centre of the picture the Saviour is represented as in the act of condemning the wicked; on His right hand are the Virgin, saints, and martyrs; on the left are the condemned, being dragged to punishment by devils, while below are angels sounding the trumpets, and Charon sending out of his boat those he has just ferried across the Styx. “In the extreme corner, on the right, is the portrait of Messer Biagio of Cesena, whom Michael Angelo placed in hell and painted with asses' ears, for having criticised his work.”
The fresco has been much injured by the smoke of lamps used in the religious ceremonies, which, until a few years ago, were held here with great pomp, especially in Holy Week, when the Miserere was sung on three of the afternoons, and was famous throughout the world as the most effective thing in religious performances.
Among the wonders of the Vatican, are the Stanze of Raphael, each stanza (or room) containing some of the masterpieces of the great artist in fresco, commenced when he was in his twenty-fifth year; and all of them familiar to lovers of art by their reproduction in many forms. The Loggie of Raphael are open balconies round the courtyard of the Vatican, with arcades in which are pictures by the pupils of Raphael, painted from the designs and under the direction of the master.
In the picture gallery are only a few works, but they are of world-wide celebrity, the most famous being Raphael's masterpiece, the Transfiguration_his last work, left unfinished at his death, the lower part being completed by Giulio Romano. When the great artist was laid in state, this picture was placed at the head of the bed, and was carried in the procession which accompanied his remains to the grave. This is said to be the finest picture in the world.
In the same room with the Transfiguration are two others, not only the gems of the Vatican collection, but among the finest works in existence—namely, the Communion of St. Jerome, by Domenichino-painted for the Ara Cæli, but, not being approved by the monks, consigned to a lumber-room until rescued by Poussin—and the Madonna da Foligno, by Raphael.
Wonderful as are the pictures in the Vatican, the sculptures are not less so; the Apollo Belvedere is the chief glory of the collection—"a marvel of the unsurpassed excellence of the great sculptors of antiquity.” Here, too, is the famous group of Laocoon, the Mercury of the Belvedere, and a vast number of celebrated antiques. In the Museo Chiaramonti alone, the collection comprises thirty sections containing upwards of seven hundred sculptures in marble.
The library possesses twenty-four thousand MSS. and about fifty thousand printed books; the Etruscan and Egyptian Museums are full of antiquities both rich and rare; and the tapestries of Raphael, executed from the cartoons which are now in the South Kensington Museum, are marvellous, even in their decay.
Returning again to the Piazza del Popolo, let us now follow the Corso— the principal street in Rome, upwards of a mile in length—in the line of the ancient Flaminian Way. As we pass along we shall notice the handsome shops, and, if it be towards evening, the ceaseless throng of pedestrians and the string of carriages filling up all the roadway.
Almost every house in the Corso has a balcony; many have balconies over balconies on every storey; and in the time of the Carnival, when the road is strewn with sand for the horse-race which concludes the festival, every balcony is filled with eager spectators, and the effect is remarkably striking.
The Corso in ancient times connected the Capitol with the Via Flaminia, and was spanned by four triumphal arches, all of which have disappeared; now it leads only to the Piazza di Venezia, stopping short at no great point of historical interest, instead of leading, as it should, to the very steps of the Capitol.
The Corso, and the streets to the right and left of it, abound in studios, and are full of memorials of artists and authors, living and dead. Here is the studio of John Gibson, close by an unfinished work of Michael Angelo ; at No. 18, Goethe lived and wrote while in Rome; here Thomas Crawford modelled his “Flora”; here, where bas-reliefs are in the wall, Canova wrought. At No. 151 is the house of Bernini, with a statue of Truth in the entrance.
At intervals along the Corso there are interesting modern churches and public buildings, and, here and there, traces of ancient works and memorials of ancient times. In the Via dei Pontefici, to the right of the Corso, are the ruins of the Mausoleum of Augustus, now used as an open-air circus! It was founded by Augustus in the year 28 B.C., and here were buried Marcellus, son of Octavia, the sister of Augustus ; Marcus Agrippa, his son-in-law;