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Gospel was breathed into the human breast, that mind and that breast were those of Raphael.
Michael Angelo was the personification of the genius of Dante. The bold conceptions, the awful agonies, the enduring suffering which are brought forth in that immortal poet, had penetrated his kindred spirit, and realised the Inferno in the representation of the Last Judgment. But it was the Spirit of Christ which had been breathed into the heart of Raphael. The divine words, “Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of heaven," had inspired his immortal conceptions. It is neither physical beauty nor mental character, as in the Greek sculpture, which is represented in his paintings. It is the Divine Spirit breathed into the human heart, it is the incarnation of deity in the human form, that formed the object of his pencil. He has succeeded in the attempt beyond any other human being that ever existed. If any works of man ever deserved the name of divine, they are the Holy Families of Raphael.
Superficial writers will ask, what has Raphael to do with Virgil ? Mere artists will inquire how they are to be benefited by the study of Tasso ? Those, again, who have reflected on the means by which the higher stages in any art are attained, will acknowledge that, at a certain elevation, their principles are the same. To move the heart, whether by painting, poetry, or eloquence, requires the same mind. The means by which the effect is to be produced are not different. The one works, indeed, with the pencil, the other with the pen; the one composes in verse, the other in prose -- but what then? These are the means to the end ; they are not the end itself. There are many avenues to the human heart, but the inner doors in them all are to be opened only by one key, and that key is never denied to the suit of genius, and never to be attained but through its fervent petitions.
It is in his lesser pieces that the exquisite taste and divine conceptions of Raphael are chiefly to be seen. His greater paintings, the Transfiguration, the frescoes in the Vatican, the cartoons, are invaluable to the artist as studies, and specimens of the utmost power of drawing and energy of conception; but it is not there that the
divine Raphael appears.
In the larger ones his object was to cover space and display talent ; and in the prosecution of these objects he never has been exceeded; but it is in his groups of two or three figures that his most perfect ideas were realised. It is there that he has given free scope to bis exquisite conception, intended to represent in the maternal, and therefore universally felt affection, the divine spirit and parental tenderness of the Gospel.
My son, give me thy heart," was what he always aimed at ; “God is love," the idea which he ever strove to represent, as embodying the essence of the Christian faith. The Madonna della Seggiola at Florence, the Assumption of the Virgin at Dresden, the Madonna di Foligno in the Vatican, the Holy Family at Naples, St John in the Desert in the Tribune at Florence, the small Holy Family in the Louvre, the large Holy Family, with the flowers, brought from Fontainebleau, also in the Louvre, St Mark at Munich, and several of the lesser pieces of Raphael in the same rich collection in that city, are so many gems of art, embodying this conception, which to the end of the world, even when preserved only in the shadowy imitation of engraving, will improve the heart and refine the mind, as well as fascinate the imagination. It may be doubted if they ever will be equalled : excelled they can never be.
Whoever will study those inimitable productions, even when standing to gaze at the engravings from them in a print-shop window, will have no difficulty in feeling the justice of Cicero's remark, that all the arts which relate to humanity have a certain common bond, a species of consanguinity between them. The emotion produced by the highest excellence in them all is the same. So intense is this emotion, so burning the delight which it occasions, that it cannot be borne for any length of time: the mind's eye is averted from it as the eyeball is from the line of " insufferable brightness," as Gray calls it, which often precedes the setting of the sun; or the gaze of love, which even love itself cannot long endure. It is difficult to say in what this burning charm consists. Like genius or beauty, its presence is felt by all, but can be described by none. It would seem to be an emanation of heaven ; a chink, as it were, opened, which lets us feel for a few seconds the ethe
real joys of a superior state of existence. But it is need less to seek to define what all who have felt it must acknowledge passes all understanding.
It is a remarkable circumstance, indicative of the ethereal nature of the sentiment of love as depicted in the Poetry and Romances of modern times, that no attempt ever has been made to delineate it on canvass. The love of Heaven has been painted with divine tenderness by Raphael; the love of Earth, the allurements to the senses, with surpassing skill by Titian, Correggio, and the Caraccis. We have reclining Venuses, nymphs bathing, and seducing damsels enough, represented in painting, as well as Holy Families and infant Innocences ; but neither Painting nor Statuary has ever thought of portraying on the canvass or marble the passion of Dido for Æneas, of Tancred for Clorinda, of Desdemona for Othello. The exquisite scene of the death of Clorinda, already given, has never yet been selected as the subject of painting. It would appear that that sentiment which so entirely subdues self, and eradicates, as it were, every feeling but the generous ones from the human breast, dwells too exclusively in the inmost recesses of the heart to be capable of representation in the external form. Like Heroism, Generosity, or Magnanimity, its existence may be learned from the actions; but its presence cannot be evinced from the expression. The reason is, that this refined feeling is found in so few breasts that no known symptoms of it could be recognised in the human countenance or form.
It is a common saying, even among persons of cultivated taste, that it is hopeless to attempt to advance anything new on the beauties of ancient authors; that everything that can be said on the subject has already been exhausted ; and that it is in the more recent fields of modern literature that it is alone possible to avoid repetition. We are decidedly of opinion that this idea is erroneous, and that its diffusion has done more than anything else to degrade criticism to the low station which, with some honourable exceptions, it has so long held in the world of letters. It is the diversity of mind which is the real cause of mediocrity in observation: when the critic is obviously inferior to his author, he becomes ridiculous. But when
ancient excellence is contemplated with a generous eye, even when the mind that sees it is but slenderly gifted, who will say that nothing new will occur ? When it meets kindred genius, when it is elevated by a congenial spirit, what a noble art does criticism become! What has it proved in the hands of Dryden and Pope, of Wilson and Macaulay! It is in the contemplation of ancient greatness, and its comparison with the parallel efforts of modern genius, that the bighest flights of these gifted spirits have been attained, and the native generosity of real intellectual power most strikingly evinced. Criticism of words will soon come to an end ; the notes of scholiasts and annotators are easily made, as apothecaries make drugs by pouring from one phial into another. But criticism of things, of ideas, of characters, of conceptions, can never come to an end; for every successive age is bringing forth fresh comparisons to make, and fresh combinations to exhibit. It is the outpouring of a heart overburdened with admiration which must be delivered, and will ever discover a new mode of deliver
How many subjects of critical comparison in this view, hitherto nearly untouched upon, has the literature of Europe, and even of this age, afforded! Æschylus, Shakspeare, and Schiller-Euripides, Alfieri, and Corneille—Sophocles, Metastasio, and Racine—Pindar, Horace, and Gray--Ovid, Ariosto, and Wieland-Lucretius, Darwin, and Campbell -Demosthenes, Cicero, and Burke-Thucydides, Tacitus, and Gibbon-Thomson, Cowper, and Claude Lorraine : such are a few which suggest themselves at first sight to every one who reflects on the rich retrospect of departed genius. It is like looking back to the Alps through the long and rich vista of Italian landscape ; the scene continually varies, the features are ever new, the impression is constantly fresh, from the variety of intervening objects, though the glittering pinnacles of the inaccessible mountains ever sbine from afar on the azure vault of heaven. Human genius is constantly furnishing new proofs of departed excellence. Human magnanimity is ever exhibiting fresh examples of the fidelity of former descriptions, or the grandeur of former conception. What said Hector, drawing his sword, when, betrayed by Minerva in his last conflict with Achilles, he found himself without his lance in presence of his fully-armed and heaven-shielded antagonist ?—“Not inglorious at least shall I perish, but after doing some great thing that may be spoken of in ages to come.