« PreviousContinue »
with a small portion of melted wax, and put on a palette. With these, by means of a hot pointed iron, like a tinman's solderingiron, the artist melts a little of the coloured wax to match the stones, and runs it from the point of his iron into all the crevices—then scrapes off the superfluous wax, and cleans the surface with spirits of turpentine.
In an art kindred to painting, but perhaps more impressive on the imagination and the senses, that of statuary, the Italians of the present age may bear a more honourable comparison with their predecessors. It is true, they cannot aspire to that wonderful excellence, which we are able to appreciate in the few frag. ments that have descended to us from the great sculptors of ancient times; but, still, the works of Canova, Thorwaldsen, and others, may be added to those of Michael Angelo and John of Bologna, and given as evidence of great powers of invention and a profitable study of the ancient remains. Thorwaldsen, who, since the death of his great rival, Canova, holds the first place as a sculptor at Rome, and whose taste and skill are known in America by a graceful statue of Venus, executed for and in the possession of a gentleman of Philadelphia, is remarkable for his careful cultivation of the antique taste, and the extreme simplicity of his statues. To become an artist, he studied at Rome, with singular assiduity, although contending with the most distressing poverty, till the age of thirty. His practice at the academy was to draw from the life only those parts of the figure which chanced to please him. He modelled in clay numerous spirited compositions, which he was obliged to destroy for want of the funds necessary to put them into marble or even plaster of Paris: and it was owing to the taste, judgment, and liberality of an English gentleman, that he was at last enabled to execute his first work in stone. In his workshop, Mr. Peale was shown a basso relievo to the memory of his patron, who is represented supplying the lamp of genius with oil.
Statuary, however, at the present day, appears to be an art altogether different in its mechanical and practical details from that of former times. The genius of Michael Angelo was frequently fatigued before he could approach in his blocks of marble, the forms his imagination conceived, and he often hastened to chisel out a part as a guide in the development of the whole figure, which was sometimes spoiled by his impatience. Now, however, a sculptor is scarcely required to touch his marble, or even to know how to cut it. He first models the figure in ductile clay, which is kept moist by wet cloths, during any length of time, so that he may give it the utmost perfection of form. This model he places in the hands of a careful mechanic, whose art is to make a mould upon it, and to produce a fac simile in plaster of Paris, the colour of which enables him more readily
to judge of its effect, and to add to its beauty. When the model is thus perfected, the artist may either copy it himself in stone, or employ workmen who generally do nothing else all their lives, and who proceed without any of the inventive enthusiasm of genius, but with wonderful mechanical accuracy. The model is marked all over with numerous spots, which are transferred by the compasses to the block of marble; two well defined points may serve as a base for fixing the position of a third, and the workman continually measures as he advances to the completion; and in this he is expert or excellent, in proportion to the attention he has paid to his studies in drawing, modelling, and anatomy. The accuracy with which these workmen copy the model, is such as to induce the ablest sculptors to trust to them their choicest works. Many of the most skilful reside at Carrara; and, to save the expense of transporting large masses of marble, it is becoming very customary to transmit thither the model very carefully packed up, and to have it either accurately copied there, or roughed out for the sculptor to complete. Thorwaldsen, whose models are seldom remarkable for the delicacy of the finish, is so well satisfied with the general accuracy of the work done at Carrara, that statues which he is making for his native country, will be boxed up there and sent to Denmark, without being once seen by him.
As a school of art, Mr. Peale seems to consider the great advantages of Italy, as arising less from her academies, or from any direct facilities which are there offered to the student, than from the treasures of ancient sculpture, and the sublime works executed by the greatest masters, which offer admirable models, and serve to infuse a kindred spirit. In regard to the peculiar excellence exhibited in these, he admits that nothing has more puzzled the professors and critics of art. He thinks that, although much must have depended upon the capacity of the artist, and his means of information, and a great deal on the nature of his employment and encouragement, yet that almost as much advantage has been derived from accidental circumstances. The Italians, who enjoy a clear sky, and witness in their sunsets the most glowing colours, are surprised that the Hollanders, living in an atmosphere of gray mist, should have produced so many excellent colourists. It may be from that very circumstance that they were so.
A vapoury atmosphere which reduces all colours at distance to one hue of gray, serves, at the same time, to render every colour which is near, not only more distinct, but more agreeably illuminated; but, under a blue sky, the shadows are necessarily tinged with blue, and the eye becoming accustomed to vivid colours, too easily rests satisfied with the most violent contrasts, both in nature and the works of art. The atmosphere of England, in like manner, has conVOL. IX.-NO. 18.
tributed to produce a good taste in colouring, which was confirmed by the example and authority of Reynolds, who so well understood the principles of the Flemish masters. Giorgione, Titian, and Paul Veronese, were, it is true, Italians, and rank at the head of good colourists; but the situation of Venice, built in the water, essentially softens its atmosphere, and combines the advantages of Holland and Italy. The happy genius of Corregio derived his theory of light and colour certainly not from his visit to Rome.
Accidental circumstances have probably influenced several distinguished artists. Vandyck happened to learn the use of a certain brown colour from Germany, called Terra de Cassel, by which he softened and harmonized his shadows; hence the English artists call it Vandyck brown. Holland, enjoying the commerce of the East Indies, which furnished her with a variety of pigments, likewise produced from her own soil the best quality of madder, from which her chemists and manufacturers procured the richest and most durable dyes. Van Huysum, and other painters of that country, must have learned the use of this and other rich pigments, the knowledge of which they could not entirely kcep to themselves, but which were probably known to Andrea del Sarto and the good colourists of Florence. It is not improbable that the fashion of wearing changeable silks, reflecting opposite colours in different angles, may have influenced the old painters to represent their blue draperies with red shadows and yellow lights, as in Raphael's picture of the Transfiguration: certain it is that such things being found in the master works of the great painters, which are copied with the most scrupulous exactness, even to the most palpable fault, the painters of the present day in Italy pursue the same system of colouring, with as much pertinacity as they display in their hardearned accuracy of outline.
Besides, the revival of the art in Italy was by fresco painting, the peculiar nature of which required that the artist should first prepare his compositions in finished cartoons. At all events, it was the practice of painters, derived from each other, and passing from generation to generation, to bestow their chief study on a cartoon executed in black and white chalk of the full size of the intended fresco. Many of these are preserved in the galleries and churches of Italy, and are to be considered among the most precious relics of the art; displaying the finest skill of the master, in composition, drawing, light and shade, and execution. Of these original and spirited drawings, what are called the original pictures are but copies in colour, sometimes executed by the master himself, but more frequently by some of his pupils.
When oil painting was introduced into Italy, and adopted by
those who had practised in fresco, the habits which they had acquired led them to practise the methods with which they were most familiar. Their oil paintings were therefore generally painted from drawings, and, hence, the colouring was often from imagination or recollection, which sufficiently accounts for its deviation from nature; although it is frequently spread out with great beauty and airiness. Those painters who, it is agreed, excelled in colouring, almost always painted their studies in colours, by which they had a double chance of success, without vitiating their own powers of vision by the continual contemplation of highly wrought colourless forms, or transcripts in fanciful hues.
We had desired, after these observations on the subject of the arts, which it must be confessed form the topic of chief interest in perusing the volume of Mr. Peale, to add some remarks on the political and moral character of the Italians, as it appears in the unaffected and occasional observations which occur in regard to the people themselves and their institutions. There is in general a freedom from prejudice; a temperateness of expression; a mildness of judgment, and a clear and natural manner of relation, which do great credit to the author, and while they assist a reader in forming an opinion of his own, give strength to that expressed by the writer himself. Our limits, however, do not permit us to do so, and after the expression of this general opinion, we must refer to the volume itself for the evidence of its correctness. In concluding, we may respond to the sentiment of Mr. Peale, when on leaving Milan, he bade farewell to the arts of Italy.
“An Italian, not exempted from bigotry, discovered a new world for the emancipation of man. May America in patronizing the arts, receive them as the offspring of enlightened Greece, transmitted through Italy, where their miraculous powers were nourished in the bondage of mind. Let them in turn be emancipated, and their persuasive and fascinating language be exalted to the noblest purposes, and be made instrumental to social happiness and national glory!"