Sivut kuvina
PDF
ePub

the circumstances above mentioned, he is by far too little known, for his very great merit, we are persuaded, that we shall do our readers a pleasure by giving them a short account of some of his principal works. The little volume which we have chosen for our guide, is the performance of a lady of some literary distinction in the society of Venice, a modern Greek, we believe by birth, but certainly by extraction. It was our good fortune during a visit paid to that most interesting city, to be admitted to her evening parties, where much of the learning and talent of the North of Italy frequently assembled; and as Canova had pre. sented her with an exquisite bust of Helen on account of the publication of this book, it is fair to infer, that he considered the descriptions it contains, as creditable and authentic. In its execution, as a matter of literary criticism, it is certainly not quite from those errors of taste, which might be expected from an Italian lady, writing on such a subject. We have limited our phrase to the lady, and the subject, but we might have extended it nearly to the whole range of modern Italian literature; we forbear to enter at present on this fruitful ground, as we shall probably on some future occasion devote an entire article to its consideration. If we set aside the errors to which we have alluded, there is much to admire in the little volume before us; it is uniformly chaste and animated, free from all affectation of learning or science, and devoted, in the pure spirit of admiration and affection, to a faithful description of the objects, as they struck the eyes and the mind of the fair dilettante. We trust, that our readers will not think us too forgetful of the “solemn gravity" of our situation, in thus embracing an opportunity of acknowledging civilities kindly, and perseveringly bestowed upon strangers but slightly recommended and less entitled to attention.

In the general remarks which we shall shortly offer on Canova's style, and peculiar excellencies, it is right, though perhaps hardly necessary to premise, that we profess no scientific knowledge on the subject. We are merely delivering the opinion of plain men on a question of taste rather than of skill, and we shall disappoint those who look for any account of the terms or rules of the art, èr who desire to be acquainted rather with the difficulty of the execution than the grandeur of the conception, or the beauty of the effect. :. Yet without entering into any systematic remarks on Sculpture, for which indeed we are not prepared, we will venture to throw out one or two loose hints which occur to us, as material to be considered, whether the question is a comparison of ancient and modern artists, or whether we are endeavoring to estimate the mnerit of Canova, or any particular artist with reference to that of his rivals. Sculpture then, it appears to us, admits of a rude

8

division

[merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors]

division into two classes, that which displays figures, if we may 90 say, self-subsistent, and independent; and that which represents objects dependent, as it were, on a given surface, and raised from it in alto-mezzo, or basso-relievo; of these three degrees, the first being that in which the whole circumference of the object sands out from the surface, as is often seen on the ancient cippi and vases; the second, that in which half the circumference is lost, and half appears raised; the third, that in which more than balf the circumference is lost in the given surface, and, of course, less than half raised above it.

The nature of the material on which the Sculptor operates, renders this division very marked, and characteristic. It is evident that in the former class, the art labours under much greater difficulties than in the latter; the figures being unsupported, and in general larger in size, must be single, or few in number, and it will almost universally be found necessary to exclude the circumstances and accidents exterior, and yet very important to the story represented. But in the latter, the art approximates more nearly to painting, and admits nearly of all the variety, distance, and complexity of a picture. As an instance in point, let us suppose Canova to have executed his Hercules and Lichas in relief. This is perhaps one of his noblest works: the groupe consists of the two persons; Hercules, with great, yet not excessive

agony in his countenance, for it seems an invariable rule, derived from the masters of antiquity, to preserve under any cir cumstances a decorous measure, TO TÉTOV, in the passions of dignified personages,) and with an indescribable promise of power given by his whole frame, bends his body gently as one in the act of throwing; with his right hand he holds one foot of the boy, and with his left fiercely grasps him by the ciucture ; his eyes regardless of his victim are intently fixed on some ob. ject before and beneath him, and may be imagined to mark the spot to which he intends throwing him. The boy is not the least wonderful part of this sublime groupe; the very senseless agony of fear is not merely in his face, but in every part of his body; the stiffness seems just to have crept over his limbs, his hair is clotted, and there is a kind of bloodless rigour generally spread over him; in short, it is hardly possible to imagine a more thrilling exhibition of unbounded yet suffering power on the one hand, or of unresisting, amazed, weakness on the other. If this story had been to be represented in relief, it is clear that we should have lost something, and gained something; we should have gained in the circumstances, and lost in the essentials. The scene, a wild bare rock, precipitous to the sea would have been added; the altar of sacrifice, with probably many minor accidents, which would have occurred to the wind

[ocr errors][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors]

of the artist, and which might have increased much of the general effect;

and we think a fine gradation of passion might have been produced in the countenances of some distant spectators. But we should have lost the fine anatomy of limbs, and, what is of far more consequence, we should have lost all that sublime verity which results from the size and independance of the objects, and that simplicity, which adds intenseness to the feelings, in proportion as it limits their complexity:

We have inadvertently expressed an opinion on the loss or gain resulting in the particular case before us from this change of mode, and it was hardlý possible to avoid it; but our readers must recollect, that the instance was cited merely to show the nature of the difference which must exist in the operations of the two classes of sculpture. Nor are we to imagine, that the disadvantage will always be found on the side of relief, though they appear to be so most clearly in the case which we happen to have instanced. This is a question which must always be determined by reference to the proposed subject, and to the kind of feeling which it is desired to produce. We have not time to enter as fully into this as we could wish, but, speaking generally, we should say; that wherever the idea to be expressed was simple or abstract, wherever the story easily told itself, wherever the feelings were to be touched immediately and intensely, in all these cases, it should seem, that Sculpture, properly so called, and as distinguished from relief, should be the mode employed. But wherever a general effect is to be produced from a number of conspiring circumstances, or wherever, for some particular purpose, a particular event is to be commemorated, not of uui. versal notoriety, there the artist would do wisely perhaps to em. ploy relief; or, if we may be allowed to impose a designation, picturesque sculpture.

It is time to draw these remarks to a conclusion, but before we do so, we may be asked, in what way they tend to ascertain any principles of comparison between the moderns and ancients, or among the moderns between this or that individual. Premising that we assign this distinction as important only, and not exclusive of other aids, we answer, that by keeping it clearly. settled in our minds, we are enabled to reduce the subjects of examination to more appropriate and limited standards. It will ihen appear, that as there are two kinds of sculpture, requiring different materials for excellence, and applicable to different kinds of subjects, so there may well be a different superior in each, as one age or one individual is more furnished than another with the materials for excellence in this, or that, or more conversant with the subjects, to which this or that is applicable. Thus we should say at once, that a knowledge of perspective

[ocr errors][ocr errors]
[merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small]

being absolutely necessary to produce the full effect of relief, it
would, on principle, be probable, that modern artists are in that
kind superior to the ancient, from the ignorance under which
these latter laboured in that respect. And when we come from
inferred probabilities to examination, we tliink there can be no
doubt but that this will be found to be the case. Bold and
graceful as are the forms, so exquisitely wrought in ancient
friezes or vases, yet boldness and grace seem to be all that they
possess ; they excite little feeling, and that, but too often, merely
voluptuous ; they give little pleasure but that which arises from
the sight of perfect execution. Compare with these, some of
the reliefs of Canova; reliefs at present, we believe, only in
plaister, and not altogether free from errors of taste; yet in all
that relates to lasting pleasure, to that which results from unity
of the whole, and the full play of imagination roused in the be.
holder, there can be no doubt, we think, in an unprejudiced
mind, that they are far superior to any production of earlier
ages. One of his subjects is the dance of the two sons of Al-
cinous before Ulysses, we know not whether this appears on
any ancient relief, but it is easy from many very similar subjects,
to imagine how it would have been treated. Canova has taken
as his groundwork the following lines from Homer,

Αυταρ επειδή σφαίρη άν' ιθύν πειρήσανlo,
'Ωρχείσθην δη έπείθα ποτί χθονί πολυβολείρη,
Ταρφέ αμειβομένω" κύροι δ' επελήκεον άλλοι,
Εξαότες καταγώνα πολύς δ' υπό κόμπG- ορώρει.

Od. Ó 377-380.
on which simple foundation he has built what follows. The
two youths occupy the centre, and are caught at the very mo.
ment, when having bounded at once upwards, both are poised
in the air together. This might, at first sight, seem very dif-
ficult, if not impossible, to execute with good effect, but there
is a springy lightness in their figures, which gives a possibility
to it, and then the grace which accompanies the gentle bendings
of their bodies, the intertwinement of their feet and arms, and
a thin airy veil which they hold each by the hand, and which of
course assumes a graceful curve; all conspire to render that pos-
sibility not only probable but very pleasing. Perhaps we should
say, if we were disposed to be severe, that there is something
meretricious and French like in the taste of this part of the re-
lief. On the left hand, (looking at the piece,) are thrown in
different groupes, a numerous concourse of spectators,-men,
women, and children, all animated by different sensations, and
in different degrees. Sonie appear to contemplate the spectacle
with unmixed pleasure; others are lost in admiration; and some
K k

again VOL, IV. NOY. 1815.

[merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][subsumed][ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

again may be inagined to repine in despair of ever attaining to
the same excellence. Among them, sits the blind Demodocus,
harping ;--this is every way a most delightful figure: the niove-
ment of his head and whole body sufficiently indicates his blind-
ness without reference to his extinguished eyes; neither the
dance, nor the murmuring sounds of those near him, seem at all
to distract his attention; there is no sadness in his countenance,
but he sits listening with delight to the sounds of his harp, in
which he seems to find an ample recompense for all the evil
which the Muse has inflicted on him.

ερίδηρον αοιδόν, ,
Τον πέρι Μάσ’ έφίλησε, δίδε δ' αγαθόντε, κακόντε,

Οφθαλμών μεν άμερσε, δίδε δ' ηδείαν αοιδών.
There is something, as Signora d'Albrozzi very well remarks,
soothing and cheering in the introduction of this placid, con-
tented, and yet animated old man. The most important; per.
sonages still remain to be described: on the right, between his
wife and daughter Nausicaa, sits the king Alcinous, on a throne,
or rather seat, raised on a few steps; a vacant place is also left
for Ulysses by the side of the Queen, but he is standing, one
hand lightly placed on her shoulder, and bearing, in his fine and
dignified countenance, the marks of tempered, yet still corroding
sorrow. It is a slight circumstance certainly, yet, as it appears
to us, a happy one, the posture of Ulysses, he was wot merely
a pilgrim about to depart; but a pilgriny, whose heart was
wasting away with the longing desire to continue his journey,
and reach the end of it, who referred whatever he saw of hap.
piness, or gráce, or beauty, or lovely youth, to his own Ithaca,
and the treasures it contained for him; a mind so occupied, we
think, would naturally express itself by standing rather than
sitting. Arete regards her children with all a mother's simple
delight, forgetful and regardless of all other admirers, in the
countenance of Alcinous, who seems to watch the effect pro-
duced on his guest; there is some mixture of paternal pride with
paternal pleasure; Nausicaa, half-turned towards Ulysses also,
appears wholly unconscious of the spectacle, which occupies
every one else; the grace and beauty bestowed by Minerva on
the wanderer, have bad iheir full effect on her mind, and she
regards him with somewhat of despairing, yet ardent love.

Our readers well know how difficult it is by the cold, and consecutive process of description, to produce the effect which immediately results from painting or sculpture, yet we think that even from what we have imperfectly stated, they will be enabled to perceive the beauty and unity of this design. Admitting for a moment, that its execution should be inferior, yet we have no

hesitation

[ocr errors]
« EdellinenJatka »