Charles Dickens.

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traordinary genius must, as I think, be wanting in his
powers of perception in one of the two instances, and, pro-
bably, in the high and lofty one.

It is easy to suggest a doubt, but I have a great doubt
whether, sometimes, the rules of art are not too strictly
observed, and whether it is quite well or agreeable that we
should know beforehand, where this figure will be turning
round, and where that figure will be lying down, and where
there will be drapery in folds, and so forth. When I observe
heads inferior to the subject, in pictures of merit, in Italian
galleries, I do not attach that reproach to the Painter, for I
have a suspicion that these great men, who were, of necessity,
very much in the hands of monks and priests, painted monks
and priests a great deal too often. I frequently see, in pictures
of real power, heads quite below the story and the painter :
and I invariably observe that those heads are of the Convent
stamp, and have their counterparts among the Convent inmates
of this hour; so, I have settled with myself that, in such
cases, the lameness was not with the painter, but with the
vanity and ignorance of certain of his employers, who would
be apostles on canvas, at all events.

The exquisite grace and beauty of Canova's statues; the
wonderful gravity and repose of many of the ancient works
in sculpture, both in the Capitol and the Vatican ; and the
strength and fire of many others ; are, in their different ways,
beyond all reach of words. They are especially impressive
and delightful, after the works of Bernini and his disciples,
in which the churches of Rome, from St. Peter's downward,
abound ; and which are, I verily believe, the most detestable
class of productions in the wide world. I would infinitely
rather (as mere works of art) look upon the three deities of the
Past, the Present, and the Future, in the Chinese Collection,



PORTRAIT OF BEATRICE DI CENCL 471

than upon the best of these breezy maniacs ; whose every
fold of drapery is blown inside-out; whose smallest vein, or
artery, is as big as an ordinary forefinger ; whose hair is like
a nest of lively snakes ; and whose attitudes put all other
extravagance to shame. Insomuch that I do honestly believe,
there can be no place in the world, where such intolerable
abortions, begotten of the sculptor's chisel, are to be found
in such profusion, as in Rome.

There is a fine collection of Egyptian antiquities, in the
Vatican ; and the ceilings of the rooms in which they are
arranged, are painted to represent a starlight sky in the
Desert. It may seem an odd idea, but it is very effective.
The grim, half-human monsters from the temples, look more
grim and monstrous underneath the deep dark blue ; it sheds
a strange uncertain gloomy air on everything a mystery
adapted to the objects ; and you leave them, as you find them,
shrouded in a solemn night.

In the private palaces, pictures are seen to the best
advantage. There are seldom so many in one place that the
attention need become distracted, or the eye confused. You
see them very leisurely ; and are rarely interrupted by a crowd
of people. There are portraits innumerable, by Titian, and
Rembrandt, and Vandyke ; heads by Guido, and Domenichino,
and Carlo Dolci ; various subjects by Correggio, and Murillo,
and Raphael, and Salvator Rosa, and Spagnoletto many of
which it would be difficult, indeed, to praise too highly, or to
praise enough ; such is their tenderness and grace ; their noble
elevation, purity, and beauty.

The portrait of Beatrice di Cenci, in the Palazzo Berberini,
is a picture almost impossible to be forgotten. Through the
transcendent sweetness and beauty of the face, there is a
something shining out, that haunts me. I see it now, as I see
this paper, or my pen. The head is loosely draped in white ;
the light hair falling down below the linen folds. She has
turned suddenly towards you ; and there is an expression in
the eyes although they are very tender and gentle as if the



472 PICTURES FROM ITALY.

wildness of a momentary terror, or distraction, had been
struggled with and overcome, that instant; and nothing but
a celestial hope, and a beautiful sorrow, and a desolate
earthly helplessness remained. Some stories say that Guido
painted it, the night before her execution ; some other stories,
that he painted it from memory, after having seen her, on her
way to the scaffold. I am willing to believe that, as you see
her on his canvas, so she turned towards him, in the crowd,
from the first sight of the axe, and stamped upon his mind a
look which he has stamped on mine as though I had stood
beside him in the concourse. The guilty palace of the Cenci :
blighting a whole quarter of the town, as it stands withering
away by grains : had that face, to my fancy, in its dismal
porch, and at its black blind windows, and flitting up and
clown its dreary stairs, and growing out of the darkness of
the ghostly galleries. The History is written in the Painting ;
written, in the dying girl's face, by Nature's own hand.
And oh! how in that one touch she puts to flight (instead
of making kin) the puny world that claim to be related to
her, in right of poor conventional forgeries !

I saw in the Palazzo Spada, the statue of Pompey ; the
statue at whose base Caesar fell. A stern, tremendous figure !
I imagined one of greater finish : of the last refinement : full
of delicate touches : losing its distinctness, in the giddy eyes
of one whose blood was ebbing before it, and settling into
some such rigid majesty as this, as Death came creeping over
the upturned face.

The excursions in the neighbourhood of Rome are charming,
and would be full of interest were it only for the changing
views they afford, of the wild Campagna. But, every inch of
ground, in every direction, is rich in associations, and in
natural beauties. There is Albano, with its lovely lake and
wooded shore, and with its wine, that certainly has not
improved since the days of Horace, and in these times hardly
justifies his panegyric. There is squalid Tivoli, with the river
Anio, diverted from its course, and plunging down, headlong,



AMONG RUINS. 473

some eighty feet in search of it. With its picturesque Temple
of the Sibyl, perched high on a crag; its minor waterfalls
glancing and sparkling in the sun; and one good cavern
yawning darkly, where the river takes a fearful plunge and
shoots on, low down under beetling rocks. There, too, is the
Villa d'Este, deserted and decaying among groves of melan-
choly pine and cypress trees, where it seems to lie in state.
Then, there is Frascati, and, on the steep above it, the ruins
of Tusculum, where Cicero lived, and wrote, and adorned his
favourite house (some fragments of it may yet be seen there),
and where Cato was born. We saw its ruined amphitheatre
on a grey dull day, when a shrill March wind was blowing,
and when the scattered stones of the old city lay strewn
about the lonely eminence, as desolate and dead as the ashes
of a long extinguished fire.

One day we walked out, a little party of three, to Albano,
fourteen miles distant ; possessed by a great desire to go there
by the ancient Appian way, long since ruined and overgrown.
We started at half-past seven in the morning, and within an
hour or so were out upon the open Campagna. For twelve
miles we went climbing on, over an unbroken succession of
mounds, and heaps, and hills, of ruin. Tombs and temples,
overthrown and prostrate ; small fragments of columns, friezes,
pediments ; great blocks of granite and marble ; mouldering
arches, grass-grown and decayed; ruin enough to build a
spacious city from; lay strewn about us. Sometimes, loose
walls, built up from these fragments by the shepherds, came
across our path; sometimes, a ditch between two mounds
of broken stones, obstructed our progress; sometimes, the
fragments themselves, rolling from beneath our feet, made it
a toilsome matter to advance ; but it was always ruin. Now,
we tracked a piece of the old road, above the ground ; now
traced it, underneath a grassy covering, as if that were its
grave; but all the way was ruin. In the distance, ruined
aqueducts went stalking on their giant course along the
plain ; and every breath of wind that swept towards us,



474 PICTURES FROM ITALY.

stirred early flowers and grasses, springing up, spontaneously,
on miles of ruin. The unseen larks above us, who alone
disturbed the awful silence, had their nests in ruin ; and the
fierce herdsmen, clad in sheepskins, who now and then scowled
out upon us from their sleeping nooks, were housed in ruin.
The aspect of the desolate Campagna in one direction, where
it was most level, reminded me of an American prairie ; but
what is the solitude of a region where men have never dwelt,
to that of a Desert, where a mighty race have left their foot-
prints in the earth from which they have vanished ; where the
resting-places of their Dead, have fallen like their Dead ; and
the broken hour-glass of Time is but a heap of idle dust !
Returning, by the road, at sunset ! and looking, from the
distance, on the course we had taken in the morning, I almost
feel (as I had felt when I first saw it, at that hour) as if the
sun would never rise again, but looked its last, that night,
upon a ruined world.

To come again on Rome, by moonlight, after such an
expedition, is a fitting close to such a day. The narrow
streets, devoid of footways, and choked, in every obscure
corner, by heaps of dunghill-rubbish, contrast so strongly,
in their cramped dimensions, and their filth, and darkness,
with the broad square before some haughty church : in the
centre of which, a hieroglyphic-covered obelisk, brought from
Egypt in the davs of the Emperors, looks strangely on the
foreign scene about it ; or perhaps an ancient pillar, with
its honoured statue overthrown, supports a Christian saint :
Marcus Aurelius giving place to Paul, and Trajan to St.
Peter. Then, there are the ponderous buildings reared from
the spoliation of the Coliseum, shutting out the moon, like
mountains : while here and there, are broken arches and rent
walls, through which it gushes freely, as the life comes pouring
from a wound. The little town of miserable houses, walled,
and shut in by barred gates, is the quarter where the Jews
are locked up nightly, when the clock strikes eight a miser-
able place, densely populated, and reeking with bad odours,



ROME BY MOONLIGHT. 475

but where the people are industrious and money-getting. In
the day-time, as you make your way along the narrow streets,
you see them all at work : upon the pavement, oftener than
in their dark and frouzy shops : furbishing old clothes, and
driving bargains.

Crossing from these patches of thick darkness, out into
the moon once more, the fountain of Trevi, welling from a
hundred jets, and rolling over mimic rocks, is silvery to the
eye and ear. In the narrow little throat of street, beyond,
a booth, dressed out with flaring lamps, and boughs of trees,
attracts a group of sulky Romans round its smoky coppers
of hot broth, and cauliflower stew ; its trays of fried fish, and
its flasks of wine. As you rattle round the sharply-twisting
corner, a lumbering sound is heard. The coachman stops
abruptly, and uncovers, as a van comes slowly by, preceded
by a man who bears a large cross ; by a torch-bearer ; and
a priest : the latter chaunting as he goes. It is the Dead
Cart, with the bodies of the poor, on their way to burial in
the Sacred Field outside the walls, where they will be thrown
into the pit I that will be covered with a stone to-night, and
sealed up for a year.

But whether, in this ride, you pass by obelisks, or columns :
ancient temples, theatres, houses, porticoes, or forums: it is
strange to see, how every fragment, whenever it is possible,
has been blended into some modern structure, and made
to serve some modern purpose a wall, a dwelling-place, a
granary, a stable some use for which it never was designed,
and associated with which it cannot otherwise than lamely
assort. It is stranger still, to see how many ruins of the old
mythology : how many fragments of obsolete legend and
observance : have been incorporated into the worship of
Christian altars here ; and how, in numberless respects, the
false faith and the true are fused into a monstrous union.

From one part of the city, looking out beyond the walls,
a squat and stunted pyramid (the burial-place of Caius
Cestius) makes an opaque triangle in the moonlight. But,



476 PICTURES FROM ITALY.

to an English traveller, it serves to mark the grave of Shelley
too, whose ashes lie beneath a little garden near it. Nearer
still, almost within its shadow, lie the bones of Keats, " whose
name is writ in water," that shines brightly in the landscape
of a calm Italian night.

The Holy Week in Rome is supposed to offer great attrac-
tions to all visitors ; but, saving for the sights of Easter
Sunday, I would counsel those who go to Rome for its own
interest, to avoid it at that time. The ceremonies, in general,
are of the most tedious and wearisome kind ; the heat and
crowd at every one of them, painfully oppressive ; the noise,
hubbub, and confusion, quite distracting. We abandoned the
pursuit of these shows, very early in the proceedings, and
betook ourselves to the Ruins again. But, we plunged into
the crowd for a share of the best of the sights ; and what we
saw, I will describe to you.

At the Sistine chapel, on the Wednesday, we saw very
little, for by the time we reached it (though we were early)
the besieging crowd had filled it to the door, and overflowed
into the adjoining hall, where they were struggling, and
squeezing, and mutually expostulating, and making great
rushes every time a lady was brought out faint, as if at least
fifty people could be accommodated in her vacant standing-
room. Hanging in the doorway of the chapel, was a heavy
curtain, and this curtain, some twenty people nearest to it,
in their anxiety to hear the chaunting of the Miserere, were
continually plucking at, in opposition to each other, that it
might not fall down and stifle the sound of the voices. The
consequence was, that it occasioned the most extraordinary
confusion, and seemed to wind itself about the unwary, like a
Serpent. Now, a lady was wrapped up in it, and couldn't
be unwound. Now, the voice of a stifling gentleman was
heard inside it, beseeching to be let out. Now, two muffled
arms, no man could say of which sex, struggled in it as in
a sack. Now, it was carried by a rush, bodily overhead into



EXHIBITION OF RELICS. 477

the chapel, like an awning. Now, it came out the other way,
and blinded one of the Pope's Swiss Guard, who had arrived,
that moment, to set things to rights.

Being seated at a little distance, among two or three of
the Pope's gentlemen, who were very weary and counting the
minutes as perhaps his Holiness was too we had better
opportunities of observing this eccentric entertainment, than
of hearing the Miserere. Sometimes, there was a swell of
mournful voices that sounded very pathetic and sad, and died
away, into a low strain again ; but that was all we heard.

At another time, there was the Exhibition of Relics in
St. Peter's, which took place at between six and seven
o'clock in the evening, and was striking from the cathedral
being dark and gloomy, and having a great many people in
it. The place into which the relics were brought, one by
one, by a party of three priests, was a high balcony near the
chief altar. This was the only lighted part of the church.
There are always a hundred and twelve lamps burning near
the altar, and there were two tall tapers, besides, near the
black statue of St. Peter ; but these were nothing in such an
immense edifice. The gloom, and the general upturning of
faces to the balcony, and the prostration of true believers on
the pavement, as shining objects, like pictures or looking-
glasses, were brought out and shown, had something effective
in it, despite the very preposterous manner in which they
were held up for the general edification, and the great eleva-
tion at which they were displayed ; which one would think
rather calculated to diminish the comfort derivable from a
full conviction of their being genuine.

On the Thursday, we went to see the Pope convey the
Sacrament from the Sistine chapel, to deposit it in the
Capella Paolina, another chapel in the Vatican ; a ceremony
emblematical of the entombment of the Saviour before His
Resurrection. We waited in a great gallery with a great
crowd of people (three-fourths of them English) for an hour
or so, while they were chaunting the Miserere, in the Sistine



478 PICTURES FROM ITALY.

chapel again. Both chapels opened out of the gallery ; and
the general attention was concentrated on the occasional
opening and shutting of the door of the one for which the
Pope was ultimately bound. None of these openings disclosed
anything more tremendous than a man on a ladder, lighting
a great quantity of candles ; but at each and every opening,
there was a terrific rush made at this ladder and this man,
something like (I should think) a charge of the heavy British
cavalry at Waterloo. The man was never brought down,
however, nor the ladder ; for it performed the strangest antics
in the world among the crowd where it was carried by the
man, when the candles were all lighted ; and finally it was
stuck up against the gallery wall, in a very disorderly manner,
just before the opening of the other chapel, and the com-
mencement of a new chaunt, announced the approach of his
Holiness. At this crisis, the soldiers of the guard, who had
been poking the crowd into all sorts of shapes, formed down
the gallery : and the procession came up, between the two
lines they made.

There were a few choristers, and then a great many priests,
walking two and two, and carrying the good-looking priests
at least their lighted tapers, so as to throw the light with
a good effect upon their faces : for the room was darkened.
Those who were not handsome, or who had not long beards,
carried their tapers anyhow, and abandoned themselves to
spiritual contemplation. Meanwhile, the chaunting was very
monotonous and dreary. The procession passed on, slowly,
into the chapel, and the drone of voices went on, and came
on, with it, until the Pope himself appeared, walking under
a white satin canopy, and bearing the covered Sacrament in
both hands ; cardinals and canons clustered round him, making
a brilliant show. The soldiers of the guard knelt down as
he passed ; all the bystanders bowed ; and so he passed on
into the chapel : the white satin canopy being removed from
over him at the door, and a white satin parasol hoisted over
his poor old head, in place of it. A few more couples



WASHING OF FEET BY THE POPE. 479

brought up the rear, and passed into the chapel also. Then,
the chapel door was shut ; and it was all over ; and everybody
hurried off headlong, as for life or death, to see something
else, and say it wasn't worth the trouble.

I think the most popular and most crowded sight (except-
ing those of Easter Sunday and Monday, which are open
to all classes of people) was the Pope washing the feet of
Thirteen men, representing the twelve apostles, and Judas
Iscariot. The place in which this pious office is performed,
is one of the chapels of St. Peter's, which is gaily decorated
for the occasion; the thirteen sitting, "all of a row," on a
very high bench, and looking particularly uncomfortable,
with the eyes of Heaven knows how many English, French,
Americans, Swiss, Germans, Russians, Swedes, Norwegians,
and other foreigners, nailed to their faces all the time. They
are robed in white ; and on their heads they wear a stiff
white cap, like a large English porter-pot, without a handle.
Each carries in his hand, a nosegay, of the size of a fine cauli-
flower ; and two of them, on this occasion, wore spectacles ;
which, remembering the characters they sustained, I thought
a droll appendage to the costume. There was a great eye
to character. St. John was represented by a good-looking
young man. St. Peter, by a grave-looking old gentleman,
with a flowing brown beard ; and Judas Iscariot by such an
enormous hypocrite (I could not make out, though, whether
the expression of his face was real or assumed) that if he had
acted the part to the death and had gone away and hanged
himself, he would have left nothing to be desired.

As the two large boxes, appropriated to ladies at this
sight, were full to the throat, and getting near was hopeless,
we posted off, along with a great crowd, to be in time at the
Table, where the Pope, in person, waits on these Thirteen;
and after a prodigious struggle at the Vatican staircase, and
si-vrral personal conflicts with the Swiss guard, the whole
crowd swept into the room. It was a long gallery hung with
drapery of white and red, with another great box for ladies



480 PICTURES FROM ITALY.

(who are obliged to dress in black at these ceremonies, and
to wear black veils), a royal box for the King of Naples and
his party ; and the table itself, which, set out like a ball
supper, and ornamented with golden figures of the real
apostles, was arranged on an elevated platform on one side
of the gallery. The counterfeit apostles 1 knives and forks
were laid out on that side of the table -which was nearest to
the wall, so that they might be stared at again, without let
or hindrance.

The body of the room was full of male strangers ; the
crowd immense ; the heat very great ; and the pressure some-
times frightful. It was at its height, when the stream came
pouring in, from the feet- washing ; and then there were such
shrieks and outcries, that a party of Piedmontese dragoons
went to the rescue of the Swiss guard, and helped them to
calm the tumult.

The ladies were particularly ferocious, in their struggles
for places. One lady of my acquaintance was seized round
the waist, in the ladies' box, by a strong matron, and hoisted
out of her place ; and there was another lady (in a back row
in the same box) who improved her position by sticking a
large pin into the ladies before her.

The gentlemen about me were remarkably anxious to see
what was on the table ; and one Englishman seemed to have
embarked the whole energy of his nature in the determination
to discover whether there was any mustard. " By Jupiter
there's vinegar ! " I heard him say to his friend, after he had
stood on tiptoe an immense time, and had been crushed and
beaten on all sides. *' And there's oil ! I saw them distinctly,
in cruets ! Can any gentleman, in front there, see mustard
on the table ? Sir, will you oblige me ! Do you see a
Mustard-Pot?' 1

The apostles and Judas appearing on the platform, after
much expectation, were marshalled, in line, in front of the
table, with Peter at the top; and a good long stare was
taken at them by the company, while twelve of them took a



DINNER TO "THE TWELVE" AND JUDAS. 481

long smell at their nosegays, and Judas moving his lips
very obtrusively engaged in inward prayer. Then, the Pope,
clad in a scarlet robe, and wearing on his head a skull-cap
of white satin, appeared in the midst of a crowd of Cardinals
and other dignitaries, and took in his hand a little golden
ewer, from which he poured a little water over one of Peter's
hands, while one attendant held a golden basin ; a second,
a fine cloth ; a third, Peter's nosegay, which was taken from
him during the operation. This his Holiness performed, with
considerable expedition, on every man in the line (Judas, I
observed, to be particularly overcome by his condescension);
and then the whole Thirteen sat down to dinner. Grace said
by the Pope. Peter in the chair.

There was white wine, and red wine : and the dinner looked
very good. The courses appeared in portions, one for each
apostle : and these being presented to the Pope, by Cardinals
upon their knees, were by him handed to the Thirteen. The
manner in which Judas grew more white-livered over his
victuals, and languished, with his head on one side, as if he
had no appetite, defies all description. Peter was a good,
sound, old man, and went in, as the saying is, "to win;"
eating everything that was given him (he got the best : being
first in the row) and saying nothing to anybody. The dishes
appeared to be chiefly composed of fish and vegetables. The
Pope helped the Thirteen to wine also ; and, during the whole
dinner, somebody read something aloud, out of a large book
the Bible, I presume which nobody could hear, and to
which nobody paid the least attention. The Cardinals, and



Online LibraryCharles DickensThe works of Charles Dickens (Volume 28) → online text (page 39 of 43)