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PALAZZO PITTI-CANOVA'S VENUS.
Die of a rose in aromatic pain
nor to be thrown into a bilious fever by the stroke of a hair pencil! To such, the mystical technology of criticism in painting, poetry, architecture, and sculpture, is as unintelligible as the hieroglyphics on Cleopatra's Needle, or on the Egyptian obelisk in the Piazza del Popolo. For my own part, I am sorry
that my senses are just acute enough to derive pleasure from scenes of nature and works of art, without that exquisite sensibility which detects the slightest blemish, and that delicacy of taste which turns half our honey into gall. Forsyth, who was a most rigid and sarcastic censor in architecture, seems to be rational enough in some of the sister arts. • Painting (says he) I value only as it excites sentiment, nor do I ever presume to judge beyond the expression or story; convinced, by the absurdities which I have been so often condemned to hear, that the other parts of the art are mysteries to all but the artist.” Content, then, with the humble pleasures derived from the paintings, statues, and gardens of the Palazzo Pirri, I leave to critics the more refined sensations arising from detection of their faults. One word only respecting the rival Queen of Love, from the chissel of Canova. It is fashionable to depreciate it, when put in comparison with the Medicean Venus in the Royal Gallery. There is no accounting for tastes; but, for my own part, I prefer the younger to the elder sister, notwithstanding the care which the latter has taken to conceal none of her charms from the eyes of her admirers. I do not think that Canova's Venus is the worse because she exceeds four feet eleven inches in height, the diminutive stature of the antiquated fair one-nor because a light transparent drapery should partly veil the bosom, and fall in graceful folds below the knee. John Bell, whose judgment and taste will hardly be disputed, seems to be very nearly of the same opinion. countenance (says he) is beautiful (all must acknowledge that that of the Medicean Venus is rather devoid of expression)—the gentle inclination of the body, and attitude of the fine Grecian head, raised and turning round, as it were, in watchful timidity, is full of grace and sweetness. The whole front view of this statue is exquisitely fine ; and, if the forms had been but a little rounder, I think that even the most fastidious critic would have judged, that nothing in antiquity could have surpassed--perhaps hardly equalled it.”
Unfortunately, Canova has directed the force of his genius to the POSTERIOR of his goddess—and certainly he has the fair sex themselves on his side-for they are much more inclined to imitate the Hottentot than the Medicean Venus. Canova has given his female a head capable of containing a proper proportion of brain :-Praxiteles must have considered intellect unnecessary, and the Venus di Medicis is acknowledged, according to all phrenological canons, to have been a fool. But I shall have occasion to make a few more remarks on this subject when we enter the Tribune.
GALLERY OF THE GRAN DUCA.
Mr. Lawrence and some other physiologists have defined Life to be “the sum total of the functions.” Perhaps this is as good a definition of that which is undefinable as any we possess. Now, the functions are of two kinds mental and corporeal; and it is curious that the radical or essential functions of the body are more numerous than those of the mind. The fundamental functions of the latter may be reduced to two-perception and reflection. Sensation is more allied to the body than to the mind. The nerves feel, and transmit sensations to the brain ; but it is the soul which perceives them. The material conductors of impressions know no more of what they pass along to the sensorium, than the telegraph on Putney Heath knows of the intelligence which is transmitted from Portsmouth to the Admiralty. Well, then, the sum total of the functions (speaking of the intellectual functions) being life, it follows, that he who perceives and reflects most enjoys most life-no matter whether those perceptions and reflections be joyous or dolorous. I believe this to be the truth. Thus, the man who perceives and reflects as much in one day as another does in a week, lives seven times more-if not seven times longer, than his neighbour. Hence the philosopher, who dies at the age of 40, lives three or four times longer, intellectually, than the peasant who spins out his existence to eighty years. It is not necessary to apply this parallel to the corporeal functions. I have been led into these reflections while pacing the galleries of the Gran Duca, where a series of ancient busts and statues (including the Roman Emperors and other distinguished personages, from Cæsar to Constantine) is calculated to elicit much more vivid and rapid trains of thought than the most splendid efforts of the historian, the painter, or the poet. This, at least, was the impression on my mind, while contemplating the marble representations of the illustrious dead and of those beings created by fancy, in the Royal Gallery of Florence and the Museum of the Capitol in Rome. The vision of the dervise, while his head was under water, might here be realized, and the history of ten generations of Romans might be made to pass, as in a panorama, before the mental
eye in as many hours ! On entering the first corridor the bust of Cæsar presents itself, and disappoints us. The physiognomist—perhaps even the phrenologist, looks in vain for the aspiring soul that invaded Britain, passed the Rubicon, and subjugated the world. The commentator, rather than the conqueror, is expressed by that wrinkled and care-worn visage. Not so with the bust of his second successor, TIBERIUS. In his countenance the mind sees, or fancies, the most artful dissimulation veiling, from youth to senectitude, the most brutal cruelty and beastly sensuality! This basilisk bust chains us in horror, and conjures up
the dreadful and sickening scenes of Capriæ. We can almost fancy the monster in the act of condemning the most virtuous men of Rome to death, and precipitating the victims of his lust or jealousy over the rocks of his soli. tary island! The mind is, in some measure, consoled by the reflection, that this inhuman composition of “ mud and blood” (as his preceptor pronounced him in youth) suffered all the torments (mentally) which he inflicted on others. Sejanus, the minister of his cruelty, was in his turn strangled-and when Tiberius himself was on the bed of death, and within a few hours of his final extinction, his successor and minister, Caligula and Macro, had not patience to let Nature do her work—they heaped the bed-clothes on the face of the expiring fiend !
Nearly opposite we see the fair form of Agrippina. Whether this statue be meant to represent the mother or the daughter—the wife of Germanicus or the parent of Nero, it is calculated to call forth a host of reflections. Does it stand in the character of the former? we fancy her wandering, with her infant in her arms, through the wilds of Germany, after the revolt of the legions—or landing at Brundusium with the ashes of Germanicus—or prosecuting Piso, the poisoner of her husband, in imperial Romemor, finally, expiring of famine, in the dungeon of Panditaria, by order of Tiberius !! Does this beautiful marble statue represent the daughter? The blood curdles in our veins to find ourselves in the presence of Nero's mother, Caligula's sisterthe poisoner of two husbands, (one of them the Emperor Claudius) and the scourge of Rome! Incest ended in parricide, and the younger Agrippina was murdered by her son !
In the head of Claudius, the phrenologist and physiognomist will discover nothing but imbecility. It was by the energy of his freed-man, Narcissus, that the infamous Messalina and her paramour, Silius, were slaughtered; but his niece and second wife, the diabolical Agrippina, triumphed (as it is said) through the instrumentality of Locusta, the poisoner by profession, and (with shame be it spoken) of Zenophon the physician.
* If we can credit Tacitus and other historians, the ancients must have been better versed in the art of poisoning than the more scientific moderns. Locusta administered a slow poison in the Emperor's dish of mushrooms—but the poison or the mushrooms producing an unexpected effect, Zenophon, the physician, put a poisoned feather down the Emperor's throat, under pretence of exciting vomiting, and dispatched his patient at once! With all due veneration for Tacitus, I do not believe one word of the story. Mushrooms are known to be sometimes poisonous; and, unless poor Zenophon was acquainted with the properties of Prussic acid, he had about as much to do with the death of Claudius as I had. The poisoning of Germanicus by Piso is still more incredible, and absolutely ridiculous.
The heads of Caligula and Caracalla rouse sentiments that cannot be expressed, and recal scenes that cannot be described! What a Pandemonium does this gallery present to the imagination! When I looked around me, and saw Tiberius, Caligula, Nero, Galba, Domitian, Caracalla, Heliogabalus, &c. &c. &c. I began to doubt whether I was not at a levee of His Satannic Majesty (who, by the way, has been more indebted to Italy for his cortege of crowned heads than to all Europe besides); but this somewhat unpleasant apprehension was relieved, by the sight of a few personages who, I was pretty certain, would not be found in such low company. Among these I distinguished Vespasian, Trajan, Antoninus Pius, and a few others of the “imperial family,” besides some philosophers, orators, and citizens, that convinced me I was still on that theatre where good and evil are permitted to exist—where rewards and punishments are not (apparently) distributed with much rigour-and where the just and unjust are not finally separated.
MARSYAS, LAOCOON, NIOBE. Wherever we turn our eyes on this classic soil, we see the gods imbued with the passions and propensities of man-and men clothed in the attributes of the gods. This, indeed, is the land of metamorphoses. Religion itself has changed its form, though not its substance. It was mythological—it is catholic. Even the gods have undergone their revolutions. The cloudcompelling Jove descended, first to the Capitol and thence to the Cathedral. He and all the second-rate divinities have changed their names into those of saints and angels, to whom the altars rise, the incense smokes, and the prayer is offered up, now as 2000 years ago! What the ancient poets fancied in verse the sculptors formed in marble-what the priests invented afterwards in their cells, the painters have perpetuated on canvas.
Thus the poetic fiction and the sacerdotal miracle—the ancient fable and the modern legend, under the magic influence of the chissel and the pencil, are admired by the critics and credited by the populace from generation to generation.
If we merely regard execution, the flaying of Marsyas (in the third corridor) is not so unnatural as the excoriation of St. Bartolomeo, in the Cathedral of Milan. Marsyas is tied to a tree-Bartholomew is in the attitude of a dancing master! But let us look beyond the execution of the three figures or groups at the head of this section, and contemplate the humiliating picture of man's reason which they convey. A god and a human being (an humble piper) contend for the mastery in fute-playing. The man is apparently superior ; but the god has recourse to a quibble, and insists that singing must be taken into the contest, because respiration is employed in both kinds of music!! If the cause had been tried in Westminster Abbey, Apollo would have been kicked out of court, and ducked by the populace in the
neighbouring Thames. But, instead of this, the god stands by, with his lyre in his hand, and sees his competitor flayed alive!
Let us look to the moral of the Laocoon.' A man, a holy man, and his two innocent children are strangled by sea-serpents—and that by order of a DIVINITY. For what crime? For endeavouring to avert the ruin and subjugation of his country, by detecting the stratagems of the invading enemy! This heroic deed, for which the perpetrator would swing at the Old Bailey, is commemorated in marble, and carefully preserved in the holy Vatican-copied in marble in the gallery of the Gran Duca—and transmitted to posterity by ten thousand imitations, in paintings, prints, and casts, for the admiration of the million! Even my excellent and truly religious friend Mr. Nash, has placed the Laocoon among the first groups that present themselves to the visiters and admirers of his interesting gallery. With the workmanship of Agesander and his assistants, I shall not interfere. The Laocoon is purely imaginary. Brother Jonathan's sea-serpents did not then exist-neither did the tortures of the Inquisition. But still I insist that, the poet who invented the fable, and the sculptor who eternized it in marble, have erected imperishable monuments to the victory of morbid fancy over manly reason !
On turning into a splendid hall near the Laocoon, we shudder to find ourselves in the last act of a bloody tragedy, where the gods, as usual, have been enacting their favourite characters of murderers and assassins ! Two ladies (Latona and Niobe) quarrel about precedency; and one of them, mother to a brace of illegitimate deities, applies to their divinityships for the slaughter of her rival's family, born in lawful wedlock. This natural and humane request is instantly complied with-Apollo and Diana take their stands, and, with all the sang-froid of pigeon-shooters, discharge arrow after arrow against the innocent sons and daughters of Niobe, till only one out of fourteen remains unbutchered! This is not all. The God of Gods, on his sacred throne, is bribed or corrupted, and causes the slaughtered victims of his two bastard deities to remain unburied on the field of execution! Such is the moral of this celebrated tragic group. Materiam superabat opus! I know not what effect such striking and sensible representations of pagan mythology may produce in the minds of others; but I will say that they excite in my mind, a more exalted idea of the beauty and truth of Christianity than the most eloquent sermons of modern divines.
In this land of pretended miracles I was anxious to behold a real one-a fying statue. I could not doubt a fact of this kind, authenticated by such authority as that of Lady Morgan, who assures us that the “ winged foot of the beautiful god is balanced on the breath of a zephyr-he is already in the air—in air less light than his own form.” Never having seen either a god or a man winging his flight in air, excepting in a balloon, I cannot pretend to criticize the celebrated flying Mercury of John of Bologna. The statue is