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from the cross and ascents into the clouds, are mingled with mysterious conceptions, virgin mothers, and infantile Christs. I may be wrong—but I suspect that the infinite variety in the delineation and personification of these hallowed truths, weaken and disturb the unity and solemnity of those ideas that ought to be attached to them. The eternal Virgin and Child, under every form and in every kind of situation which the genius of a Caracci, Guido, Guercino, Giovanni, Domenichino, &c. &c. could imagine, down to the rude daubs and carvings on every sign-post, finger-post, wall, and pigstye in Italy, may create or strengthen devotion in the minds of others, but I confess that they had no such salutary tendency on mine.
In the celebrated church of “ LA MADONNA DI St. Luca," seated on a romantic eminence near Bologna, the road to which is covered, to induce travellers, even in bad weather, to visit it, we see the Virgin Mary, painted by Saint Luke himself. If the Apostle has given a true representation, and certainly he had the best means of doing so, the Virgin must have been a native of Africa ! Mr. Eustace slurs over this picture, and talks only of the church, as a most noble monument of public piety, and alone sufficient to prove, that the spirit and magnificence of the ancient Romans still animate the modern Italians”!!! Mr. Eustace is right. Ancient Romans and modern Italians have erected magnificent temples and splendid churches over the rankest falsehoods and vilest impositions that ever disgraced the reason and the judgment of man. Of the former I shall speak in due time-of the latter, be the shrine of Loretto and the Madonna di St. Luca sufficient examples !
The catholic religion and catholic painters delight in the historical events, the parentage, the birth, the early life, the crucifixion, and the ascension of our Saviour-all or most of which are mysteries or miracles incomprehensible by the human mind—while the heavenly, but practical and intelligible, precepts of Christianity, which ought to be our constant study and guide, are passed over, as not calculated to produce that striking effect on the senses which would seem to be the end and object of the catholic worship. But whatever objections may be urged against these strictures on pictorial representations of Christ, as participating in human nature, I think the idea of pencilling the Creator of the UNIVERSE, will hardly be advocated. Yet Guercino has dared to do this. He has represented the Almighty with the left hand resting on a globe, the right being raised in the clouds.
“The countenance (says John Bell) is that of an old man, having a long beard and grey hairs ; the figure is enveloped in the folds of a rich Cardinals cloak, while on his brow an expression of anxious thought is seated, wrinkling the forehead with deep lines of care, as if meditating with perplexity on the world he had created. The circumstance of Guercino's having executed this picture in one night by the light of flambeaux, seems to be perfectly ascer
tained; but it is difficult not to regret that the artist had chosen for proof of his celebrity a task so difficult, or, I ought rather to say, impossible, as that of representing the Eternal Father.”
And yet we can hardly wonder at the “perplexing meditations” of our Creator, when foreseeing the horrible acts that were to be perpetrated by his
express image,” MAN ! Close to the above picture is an illustrationPoussin's MURDER OF THE INNOCENTS. “ The terror, (says a pictorial critic) dismay, and wildness of the different groups are admirably portrayed ; and, notwithstanding the violence of the action, each head is beautiful as that of an angel. The naked ruffians, with their uplifted daggers and sacrilegious hands stained with blood, are drawn in the finest style, and with all the energy of pitiless soldiers inured to such deeds."
“ The outcry of one mother, (says John Bell) dragged by her scarf and hair, and held by one of these men till he reaches her child; the pale, dishevelled aspect of another, breathless with terror, fainting, and delayed in her flight from agitation; the despair and agony of a third beyond these, who sits wringing her hands over her slaughtered babes; the touch of madness pictured on the fine countenance, which is uplifted with an indescribable expression of the utmost agony; the murdered babes filling the lower corner of the picture, lying on the blood-stained marble, so pale, so huddled together, so lifeless, yet so lovely and innocent in death, present an historical picture, perhaps the most domestic and touching that was ever painted.”
The martyrdom of St. Agnes is scarcely less terrible-perhaps more affecting, on account of the individuality of the sacrifice. The execution of ove innocent man or woman excites more exquisite and poignant sorrow than the sight of a field covered with slaughtered warriors.
The martyrdom of St. Peter, with the hatchet sticking in his head and a stiletto standing upright in his breast is “foul and unnatural.” Caracci's
flagellation of our Saviour," is detestable, and derogatory to the dignity of Christ.
I called on one of the most distinguished professors of the University of Bologna (Tommasini)—and, indeed, of Italy. He was packing up his goods and chattels for Parma. His popularity in Bologna was not relished by the Pope—and he was going to place himself under the patronage of the exEmpress of France! While men of science and philosophy are forced to desert the crosier of Rome for the bayonet of Austria, we need not entertain very sanguine hopes of that resuscitation of ancient Roman magnificence, which the amiable Eustace so ardently anticipated !
Choice induced us to spend a night “above the storm's career,” in the
village of the Simplon. Necessity -or rather the God of Love, compelled us to sleep in a “house of ill fame," on the summit of the Apennines. The cavalcade of a marriage in high life—the betrothed Princess of Naples on her way to wedlock with her uncle, Ferdinand the embroiderer-stopped us full an hour between Pietra Mala and Caviliajo, obliging us to sleep at the latter place, a solitary inn in the centre of these mountains—“the scene of one of those deep-laid confederacies for plunder and assassination, of which Italy has always been a prolific theatre."* We had the pleasure of reading in Forsyth, that, from this same inn,“ travellers daily disappeared, and could never be traced by their spoils.” Two of his acquaintances escaped by stratagem; and, not long afterwards, the banditti were surprised while feasting at the parsonage in the neighbourhood, when the horrible mystery was revealed.
“ It was the law of this society to murder all the passengers they stopped -to kill and bury the horses, burn the carriages and baggage, rescuing only the money, jewels, and watches. Biondi, the curate, was their captain-the Mistress of the inn was their accomplice, who sent him notice of every traveller that lodged at her house.”—FORSYTH.
Notwithstanding this astounding intelligence, we supped very comfortably, and I retired to my chamber, which was in the back of the house, over the stables—the window being without fastenings, and a pile of stones reaching up to within two feet of the window-sill, from a dreary and suspicious wood, offering a most tempting facility to any of Biondi's gang who might wish to pay me a nocturnal visit. In despite of this appalling history and these ominous phenomena-nay, in spite of a tremendous storm of “thunder, lightning, and of rain,” which demolished the few remaining panes of glass in my chamber window, I slept as soundly, and I believe as safely, as I should have done in “ Modern Babylon.”+ A journey from one end of Italy to the other -sometimes with tempting equipage-sometimes as a solitary, unarmed, and defenceless rambler, has convinced me that, with common prudence and good humour, a traveller is as safe in this land of banditti, as in any part of the British dominions. An Italian will outwit you—or, if you please, cheat you, in every possible way--but he will not murder you—pillage you—or steal from you,
leave your baggage open in the court of the inn 'where you sleep. This assertion will be proved and illustrated in the sequel.
* Rome in the Nineteenth Century.
+ Lady Morgan characterizes this as a “ wretched inn.” It is one of the best country inns between Bologna and Naples. We had silver tea-pots silver spoons-silver forks-china plates (or good imitations)-clean linengood beds—excellent provender—obsequious attendance-and a fair charge. Perhaps the silver teapots and other fine things here were purchased by blood !
DESCENT OF THE APENNINES.
The scenery of the Apennines has been well described by many of my fair countrywomen-but by none in more animated language than by the authoress of “Rome in the Nineteenth Century" and Lady Morgan. It was probably from my eye being familiar with a greater variety of scenery, in various quarters of the globe, than the eyes of these talented travellers, that I was less enraptured with the Apennines than they were. I acknowledge, indeed, with Lady M. that the ascents and descents among these elevated chains of mountains produce much mental excitement, “ bracing alike the nerves and the intellect.” They are less majestic than the Alps, as well as less terrific—but they are more luxuriant-perhaps more beautiful. They rise not so high as to be uninhabitable—the snows are not so lasting as to prevent partial cultivation-and wherever we look, we see a mixture of sterility and fertilityabrupt masses of naked limestone, and other rocks, impending over dells, glades, and vales of romantic beauty-perpetual contrasts of the tiny but useful labours of man, with the stupendous, but desolating, work of earthquakes.
I was taught to expect, among the mountains of Italy, those fine figures, healthful athletic frames, and angelic countenances, which are banished from the plains by the deleterious effects of climate. I rarely or never could find them. Lady Morgan, indeed, saw “children, whose loveliness often approached the laughing infants of Corregio.” But the ladies, in general, are so passionately fond of children, that I have known them bespatter with praise the ugliest urchins on earth. This, coupled with Lady Morgan's acknowledgement, that “ among the villages through which she passed there was an appearance of much squalid poverty, unknown in the plains of Bologna,” makes me somewhat distrustful of the “laughing infants of Corregio.” To say the truth, I saw but very few instances of this laughing propensity among the babes of the Apennines. On the contrary, our ears were much more frequently stunned with their squalls than our eyes delighted with their smiles. And no wonder. They are swaithed as tight as Egyptian mummies -and not unfrequently pommelled and pounced by the little miscreants employed to nurse them in the absence of their mothers, who, in Italy as well as in France, perform the greater part of the drudgery and labour of rural life.
The descent of the Apennines, on the side of Florence, is more interesting than the ascent from Bologna. After winding along precipices, where walls are built to defend us from the winds, we begin to meet the slender vine, the funereal cypress, and the sober olive. Why the tall, pyramidal evergreen, and almost everlasting cypress, should be selected by the ancients as the emblem of death-or rather of eternal sleep—and planted round their tombs, is not quite clear. Its roots in mother Earth—its body rising naked from the grave—and its tall spiral head pointing to Heaven, in youthful verdure, after the extinction of 60 generations-would rather indicate the Christian's hope of “ life everlasting,” than the heathen's creed of final annihilation.
Meditations of this kind were broken abruptly by a view of the Val d'ARNO bursting on the enraptured and astonished sight. I shall not attempt description here. “ The boldness, (says a modern female traveller-not Lady Morgan) the romantic grandeur, the rich luxuriance of the country which now lay extended beneath our feet, I have never seen, nor do I ever expect to see, equalled. The Val di MUGELLA, famed in Gothic warfare and Italian numbers—and the more celebrated Vale of the Arno beyond, to which the morning mists that hovered around added increased loveliness—were backed, as far as the eye could reach, by the distant hills towards Siena, retiring in ranges of softening purple, till they melted away in the brighter tints of the horizon ;-while the intermediate heights that divide the two valleys, forming the romantic ridge of the lower Apennines, and the broken summits among which we stood, were crowned with faded oak forests, interspersed with olive groves, and their more pointed declivities picturesquely tufted with cypress trees, whose spiral shape and deep verdure relieved the broad form and varied tints of the oak, and the diminutive size and pale green of the olive."*
I believe I am not singular in thinking that many of the most laboured, the most beautiful, the most eloquent, descriptions that ever flowed from the pen of genius, although they delight the ear and the imagination during perusal, have failed to convey, and consequently to leave, a distinct picture on the mind's eye ;-while a very few words happily--perhaps accidentally, strung together, have instantly held up an image to the sensorial mirror, that has left an indelible impression on the tablet of the memory. The eye of the spectator, however, is the only medium through which a perfectly correct representation of a scene can be conveyed to the mind; and verbal descriptions are often as painful, from their difficulty, to the writer, as they are unsatisfactory to the reader. This conviction will often prevent me from inflicting on others the penalty of perusing formal and elaborate delineations of scenery, in which fancy sometimes guides the pencil, and adds colours to the picture, that tend to obscure, rather than distinguish its features.t
If a person could imagine a great city of palaces, (such as was Rome two thousand years ago, when her population was four, or, as some say, seven millions, and her walls 50 miles in circumference) suddenly blown up by a
Anonymous Sketches of Italy, 1817. + The ladies have a finer set of nerves, and, consequently, more exquisite perceptions of things than men. Lady Morgan, in describing the first view of Florence and the Val D'Arno, on descending the Apennines, appears to have been put in extacies by "the cupolas, spires, and picturesque chimnies of Florence, peering through woods and vales.” The cupolas and spires can certainly be seen in the usual way; but the picturesque chimnies peering through woods and vales are not readily seen, nor very easily conceived.