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and idealize what was most perfect in the human figure. Beauty was
adored in Greece, and every means were used to perfect it, especially
beauty of form, which is the characteristic excellence of Grecian
statuary. The gymnasia were universally frequented, and the great prizes
of the games, bestowed for feats of strength and agility, were regarded
as the highest honors which men could receive - the subject of the
poet's ode and the people's admiration. Statues of the victors
perpetuated their fame and improved the sculptor's art. From the study
of these statues were produced those great creations which all
subsequent ages have admired. And from the application of the principles
seen in these forms we owe the perpetuation of the ideas of grandeur and
beauty such as no other people have ever discovered and scarcely
appreciated. The sculpture of the human figure became a noble object of
ambition, and was most munificently rewarded. Great artists arose, whose
works adorned the temples of Greece, so long as she preserved her
independence; and when it was lost, their priceless productions were
scattered over Asia and Europe. The Romans especially seized what was
most prized, whether or not they could tell what was most perfect.
Greece lived in her marble statues more than in her government or laws.
And when we remember the estimation in which sculpture was held, the
great prices paid for masterpieces, the care and attention with which
they were guarded and preserved, and the innumerable works which were
produced, filling all the public buildings, especially consecrated
places, and even open spaces, and the houses of the rich and great, -
calling from all classes admiration and praise, - it is improbable that
so great perfection will ever be reached again in those figures which
are designed to represent beauty of form. Even the comparatively few
statues which have survived the wars and violence of two thousand years,
convince us that the moderns can only imitate. They can produce no
creations which were not surpassed by Athenian artists. "No mechanical
copying of Greek statues, however skillful the copyist, can ever secure
for modern sculpture the same noble and effective character it possessed
among the Greeks, for the simple reason that the imitation, close as may
be the resemblance, is but the result of the eye and hand, while the
original is the expression of a true and deeply felt sentiment. Art was
not sustained by the patronage of a few who affect to have what is
called _taste_. In Greece, the artist, having a common feeling for
the beautiful with his countrymen, produced his works for the public,
which were erected in places of honor and dedicated in temples of the
gods." [Footnote: _Encyclopedia Britannica_, "Sculpture," R. W. T.]

[Sidenote: Phidias and his contemporaries.]

[Sidenote: The statue of Zeus by Phidias.]

But it was not until the Persian wars awakened in Greece the slumbering
consciousness of national power, and Athens became the central point of
Grecian civilization, that sculpture, like architecture and painting,
reached its culminating point of excellence, under Phidias and his
contemporaries. Great artists, however, had previously made themselves
famous, like Miron, Polycletus, and Ageladas; but the great riches which
flowed into Athens at this time gave a peculiar stimulus to art,
especially under the encouragement of such a ruler as Pericles, whose
age was the golden era of Grecian history. Pheidias or Phidias was to
sculpture what Aeschylus was to tragic poetry, sublime and grand. He was
born four hundred and eighty-four years before Christ, and was the pupil
of Ageladas. He stands at the head of the ancient sculptors, not from
what _we_ know of him, for his masterpieces have perished, but from
the estimation in which he was held by the greatest critics of
antiquity. It was to him that Pericles intrusted the adornment of the
Parthenon, and the numerous and beautiful sculptures of the frieze and
the pediment were the work of artists whom he directed. _His_ great
work in that wonderful edifice was the statue of the goddess Minerva
herself, made of gold and ivory, forty feet in height, standing
victorious with a spear in her left hand and an image of victory in her
right; girded with the aegis, with helmet on her head, and her shield
resting by her side. The cost of this statue may be estimated when the
gold alone of which it was composed was valued at forty-four talents.
[Footnote: This sum was equal to $500,000 of our money, an immense sum
in that age. Some critics suppose that this statue was overloaded with
ornament, but all antiquity was unanimous in its admiration. The
exactness and finish of detail were as remarkable as the grandeur of the
proportions.] Another of his famous works was a colossal bronze statue
of Athena Promachus, sixty feet in height, on the Acropolis, between the
Propylaea and the Parthenon. But both of these yielded to the colossal
statue of Zeus in his great temple at Olympia, represented in a sitting
posture, forty feet high, on a pedestal of twenty. In this, his greatest
work, the artist sought to embody the idea of majesty and repose, - of a
supreme deity no longer engaged in war with Titans and Giants, but
enthroned as a conqueror, ruling with a nod the subject world, and
giving his blessing to those victories which gave glory to the Greeks.
[Footnote: The god was seated on a throne. Ebony, gold, ivory, and
precious stones formed, with a multitude of sculptured and painted
figures, the wonderful composition of this throne.] So famous was this
statue, which was regarded as the masterpiece of Grecian art, that it
was considered a calamity to die without seeing it; and this served for
a model for all subsequent representations of majesty and power in
repose among the ancients. It was removed to Constantinople by
Theodosius I., and was destroyed by fire in the year 475. Phidias
executed various other famous works, which have perished; but even those
that were executed under his superintendence, that have come down to our
times, like the statues which ornamented the pediment of the Parthenon,
are among the finest specimens of art which exist, and exhibit the most
graceful and appropriate forms which could have been selected, uniting
grandeur with simplicity, and beauty with accuracy of anatomical
structure. His distinguishing excellence was ideal beauty, and that of
the sublimest order. [Footnote: Muller, _De Phidiae Vita_.]

[Sidenote: Colossal statues of ivory and gold.]

Of all the wonders and mysteries of ancient art, the colossal statues of
ivory and gold were perhaps the most remarkable, and the difficulty of
executing them has been set forth by the ablest of modern critics, like
Winkelmann, Heyne, and De Quincy. "The grandeur of their dimensions, the
perfection of their workmanship, the richness of their materials; their
majesty, beauty, and ideal truth; the splendor of the architecture and
pictorial decoration with which they were associated, all conspired to
impress the beholder with wonder and awe, and induce a belief of the
actual presence of the god."

[Sidenote: The school of Praxiteles.]

After the Peloponnesian War, a new school of art arose in Athens, which
appealed more to the passions. Of this school was Praxiteles, who aimed
to please, without seeking to elevate or instruct. No one has probably
ever surpassed him in execution. He wrought in bronze and marble, and
was one of the artists who adorned the Mausoleum of Artemisia. Without
attempting the sublime impersonation of the deity, in which Phidias
excelled, he was unsurpassed in the softer graces and beauties of the
human form, especially in female figures. His most famous work was an
undraped statue of Venus, for his native town of Cnidus, which was so
remarkable that people flocked from all parts of Greece to see it. He
did not aim at ideal majesty so much as ideal gracefulness, and his
works were imitated from the most beautiful living models, and hence
expressed only the ideal of sensual charms. It is probable that the
Venus de Medici of Cleomenes was a mere copy of the Aphrodite of
Praxiteles, which was so highly extolled by the ancient authors. It was
of Parian marble, and modeled from the celebrated Phryne. His statues of
Dionysus also expressed the most consummate physical beauty,
representing the god as a beautiful youth, crowned with ivy, engirt with
a nebris, and expressing tender and dreamy emotions. Praxiteles
sculptured several figures of Eros, or the god of love, of which that at
Thespiae attracted visitors to the city in the time of Cicero. It was
subsequently carried to Rome, and perished by a conflagration in the
time of Titus. One of the most celebrated statues of this artist was an
Apollo, many copies of which still exist. His works were very numerous,
but chiefly from the circle of Dionysus, Aphrodite, and Eros, in which
adoration for corporeal attractions is the most marked peculiarity, and
for which the artist was fitted by his life with the hetaerae.

[Sidenote: Scopas.]

Scopas was his contemporary, and was the author of the celebrated group
of Niobe, which is one of the chief ornaments of the gallery of
sculpture at Florence. He flourished about three hundred and fifty years
before Christ, and wrought chiefly in marble. He was employed in
decorating the Mausoleum which Artemisia erected to her husband, one of
the wonders of the world. His masterpiece is said to have been a group
representing Achilles conducted to the island of Leuce by the divinities
of the sea, which ornamented the shrine of Domitius in the Flaminian
Circus. In this, tender grace, heroic grandeur, daring power, and
luxurious fullness of life were combined with wonderful harmony.
[Footnote: Muller, 125.] Like the other great artists of this school,
there was the grandeur and sublimity for which Phidias was celebrated,
but a greater refinement and luxury, and skill in the use of drapery.

[Sidenote: Lysippus.]

[Sidenote: The works of Lysippus.]

Sculpture in Greece culminated, as an art, in Lysippus, who worked
chiefly in bronze. He is said to have executed fifteen hundred statues,
and was much esteemed by Alexander the Great, by whom he was extensively
patronized. He represented men, not as they were, but as they appeared
to be; and, if he exaggerated, he displayed great energy of action. He
aimed to idealize merely human beauty, and his imitation of Nature was
carried out in the minutest details. None of his works are extant; but
as he alone was permitted to make the statue of Alexander, we infer that
he had no equals. The Emperor Tiberius transferred one of his statues,
that of an athlete, from the baths of Agrippa to his own chamber, which
so incensed the people that he was obliged to restore it. His favorite
subject was Hercules, and a colossal statue of this god was carried to
Rome by Fabius Maximus, when he took Tarentum, and afterwards was
transferred to Constantinople. The Farnese Hercules and the Belvidere
Torso are probably copies of this work. He left many eminent scholars,
among whom were Chares, who executed the famous Colossus of Rhodes,
Agesander, Polydorus, and Athenodorus, who sculptured the group of the
"Laocoon." The Rhodian School was the immediate offshoot from the school
of Lysippus at Sicyon, and from this small island of Rhodes the Romans,
when they conquered it, carried away three thousand statues. The
Colossus was one of the wonders of the world, seventy cubits in height,
and the Laocoon is a perfect miracle of art, in which group pathos is
exhibited in the highest degree ever attained in sculpture. It was
discovered in 1506 near the baths of Titus, and is one of the choicest
remains of ancient plastic art.

The great artists of antiquity did not confine themselves to the
representation of man; but they also carved animals with exceeding
accuracy and beauty. Nicias was famous for his dogs, Myron for his cows,
and Lysippus for his horses. Praxiteles composed his celebrated lion
after a living animal. "The horses of the frieze of the Elgin Marbles
appear to live and move; to roll their eyes, to gallop, prance, and
curvet; the veins of their faces and legs seem distended with
circulation. The beholder is charmed with the deer-like lightness and
elegance of their make; and although the relief is not above an inch
from the back-ground, and they are so much smaller than nature, we can
scarcely suffer reason to persuade us they are not alive." [Footnote:
Flaxman, _Lectures on Sculpture_.]

[Sidenote: Cameos and medals.]

The Greeks also carved gems, cameos, medals, and vases, with
unapproachable excellence. Very few specimens have come down to our
times, but those which we possess show great beauty both in design and

[Sidenote: Sack of the Grecian cities.]

Grecian statuary commenced with ideal representations of deities, and
was carried to the greatest perfection by Phidias in his statues of
Jupiter and Minerva. Then succeeded the school of Praxiteles, in which
the figures of gods and goddesses were still represented, but in mortal
forms. The school of Lysippus was famous for the statues of celebrated
men, especially in cities where Macedonian rulers resided. Artists were
expected henceforth to glorify kings and powerful nobles and rulers by
portrait statues. The plastic art then degenerated. Nor were works of
original genius produced, but rather copies or varieties from the three
great schools to which allusion has been made. Sculpture may have
multiplied, but not new creations; although some imitations of great
merit were produced, like the "Hermaphrodite," the "Torso," the Farnese
"Hercules," and the "Fighting Gladiator." When Corinth was sacked by
Mummius, some of the finest statues of Greece were carried to Rome, and
after the civil war between Caesar and Pompey the Greek artists emigrated
to Italy. The fall of Syracuse introduced many works of priceless value
into Rome; but it was from Athens, Delphi, Corinth, Elis, and other
great centres of art, that the richest treasures were brought. Greece
was despoiled to ornament Italy. The Romans did not create a school of
sculpture. They borrowed wholly from the Greeks, yet made, especially in
the time of Hadrian, many beautiful statues. They were fond of this art,
and all eminent men had statues erected to their memory. The busts of
emperors were found in every great city, and Rome was filled with
statues. The monuments of the Romans were even more numerous than those
of the Greeks, and among them some admirable portraits are found. These
sculptures did not express that consummation of beauty and grace, of
refinement and sentiment, which marked the Greeks; but the imitations
were good. Art had reached its perfection under Lysippus; there was
nothing more to learn. Genius in that department could soar no higher.
It will never rise to loftier heights.

[Sidenote: Degeneracy of art among the Romans.]

It is noteworthy that the purest forms of Grecian art arose in its
earlier stages. In a moral point of view, sculpture declined from the
time of Phidias. It was prostituted at Rome under the emperors. The
specimens which have often been found among the ruins of ancient baths
make us blush for human nature. The skill of execution did not decline
for several centuries; but the lofty ideal was lost sight of, and gross
appeals to human passions were made by those who sought to please
corrupt leaders of society in an effeminate age. The turgidity and
luxuriance of art gradually passed into tameness and poverty. The
reliefs on the Arch of Constantine are rude and clumsy compared with
those on the Column of Marcus Aurelius.

[Sidenote: Imitation of ancient art.]

But I do not wish to describe the decline of art, or enumerate the names
of the celebrated masters who exalted sculpture in the palmy days of
Pericles, or even Alexander. I simply allude to sculpture as an art
which reached a great perfection among the Greeks and Romans, as we have
a right to infer from the specimens which have been preserved. How many
more must have perished, we may infer from the criticisms of the ancient
authors! The finest productions of our own age are in a measure
reproductions. They cannot be called creations, like the statue of the
Olympian Jove. Even the Moses of Michael Angelo is a Grecian god, and
the Greek Slave a copy of an ancient Venus. The very tints which have
been admired in some of the works of modern sculptors are borrowed from
Praxiteles, who succeeded in giving an appearance of living flesh. The
Museum of the Vatican alone contains several thousand specimens of
ancient sculpture which have been found among the debris of former
magnificence, many of which are the productions of Grecian artists
transported to Rome. Among them are antique copies of the Cupid and the
Faun of Praxiteles, the statue of Demosthenes, the Minerva Medica, the
Athlete of Lysippus, the Torso Belvidere, sculptured by Apollonius, the
Belvidere Antinous, of faultless anatomy and a study for Domenichino,
the Laocoon, so panegyrized by Pliny, the Apollo Belvidere the work of
Agasias of Ephesus, the Sleepy Ariadne, with numerous other statues of
gods and goddesses, emperors, philosophers, poets, and statesmen of
antiquity. The Dying Gladiator, which ornaments the capitol, alone is a
magnificent proof of the perfection to which sculpture was brought
centuries after the art had culminated at Athens. And these are only a
few which stand out among the twenty thousand recovered statues which
now embellish Italy, to say nothing of those which are scattered over
Europe. We have the names of hundreds of artists who were famous in
their day. Not merely the figures of men are chiseled, but animals and
plants. Nature, in all her forms, was imitated; and not merely Nature,
but the dresses of the ancients are perpetuated in marble. No modern
sculptor has equaled, in delicacy of finish, the draperies even of those
ancient statues, as they appear to us after the exposure and accidents
of two thousand years. No one, after a careful study of the museums of
Europe, can question that, of all the nations who have claimed to be
civilized, the ancient Greek and Roman deserve a proud preeminence in an
art which is still regarded as among the highest triumphs of human
genius. All these matchless productions of antiquity, it should be
remembered, are the result of native genius alone, without the aid of
Christian ideas. Nor, with the aid of Christianity, are we sure that any
nation will ever soar to loftier heights than did the Greeks in that
proud realm which was consecrated to Paganism.

* * * * *

We are not so certain in regard to the excellence of the ancients in the
art of painting as we are in reference to sculpture and architecture,
since so few specimens have been preserved. We have only the testimony
of the ancients themselves; and as they had so severe a taste and so
great susceptibility to beauty in all its forms, we cannot suppose that
their notions were crude in this great art which the moderns have
carried to so great perfection. In this art the moderns may be superior,
especially in perspective and drawing, and light and shade. No age, we
fancy, can surpass Italy in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, when
the genius of Raphael, Correggio, and Domenichino blazed with such
wonderful brilliancy.

Nevertheless, we read of celebrated schools among the ancients, all of
which recognized _form_ as the great principle and basis of the
art, even like the moderns. The schools of Sicyon, Corinth, Athens, and
Rhodes were indebted for their renown, like those of Bologna, Florence,
and Rome, to their strict observance of this fundamental law.

[Sidenote: Antiquity of painting.]

[Sidenote: Painting among the Egyptians.]

Painting, in some form, is very ancient, though not so ancient as the
temples of the gods and the statues which were erected to their worship.
It arose with the susceptibility to beauty of form and color, and with
the view of conveying thoughts and emotions of the soul by imitation.
The walls of Babylon were painted after Nature with different species of
animals and combats. Semiramis was represented on horseback, striking a
leopard with a dart, and her husband Ninus wounding a lion. Ezekiel
(viii. 10) represents various idols and beasts portrayed upon the walls,
and even princes, painted in vermilion, with girdles around their loins
(xxiii. 14, 15). In ages almost fabulous there were some rude attempts
in this art, which probably arose from the coloring of statues and
reliefs. The wooden chests of Egyptian mummies are painted and written
with religious subjects, but the colors were laid without regard to
light and shade. The Egyptians did not seek to represent the passions
and emotions which agitate the soul, but rather to authenticate events
and actions; and hence their paintings, like hieroglyphics, are
inscriptions. It was their great festivals and religious rites which
they sought to perpetuate, not ideas of beauty or grace. Hence their
paintings abound with dismembered animals, plants, and flowers, censers,
entrails, - whatever was used in their religious worship. In Greece,
also, the original painting consisted in coloring statues and reliefs of
wood and clay. At Corinth, painting was early united with the
fabrication of vases, on which were rudely painted figures of men and
animals. Among the Etruscans, before Rome was founded, it is said there
were beautiful paintings, and it is probable they were advanced in art
before the Greeks. There were paintings in some of the old Etruscan
cities which the Roman emperors wished to remove, so much admired were
they even in the days of the greatest splendor. The ancient Etruscan
vases are famous for designs which have never been exceeded in purity of
form, but it is probable that these were copied from the Greeks.

[Sidenote: Cimon of Cleona.]

But whether the Greeks or the Etruscans were the first to paint, the art
was certainly carried to the greatest perfection among the former. The
development of it was, like all arts, very gradual. It probably
commenced by drawing the outline of a shadow, without intermediate
markings; the next step was the complete outline with the inner
markings, such as are represented on the ancient vases, or like the
designs of Flaxman. They were originally practiced on a white ground.
Then light and shade were introduced, and then the application of colors
in accordance with Nature. We read of a great painting by Bularchus, of
the battle of Magnete, purchased by a king of Lydia seven hundred and
eighteen years before Christ. And as the subject was a battle, it must
have represented the movement of figures, although we know nothing of
the coloring, or of the real excellence of the work, except that the
artist was paid munificently. Cimon of Cleona is the first great name
connected with the art in Greece, and is praised by Pliny, to whom we
owe the history of ancient painting more than to any other author. He
was contemporary with Dionysius in the eightieth Olympiad. He was not
satisfied with drawing simply the outlines of his figures, such as we
see in the oldest painted vases, but he also represented limbs, and
folds of garments. He invented the art of foreshortening, or the various
positions of figures, as they appear when looking upward or downward and
sideways, and hence is the first painter of perspective. He first made
muscular articulations, indicated the veins, and gave natural folds to
drapery. [Footnote: Pliny, xxxv. 34.]

[Sidenote: Greatness of Polygnotus and his school.]

A much greater painter than he was Polygnotus of Thasos, the
contemporary of Phidias, who came to Athens about the year 463 B.C., one
of the greatest geniuses of any age, and one of the most magnanimous;
and had the good fortune to live in an age of exceeding intellectual
activity. He was employed on the public buildings of Athens, and on the
great temple of Delphi, the hall of which he painted gratuitously. He
also decorated the Propylaea, which was erected under the superintendence
of Phidias. His greatness lay in statuesque painting, which he brought
nearly to perfection by the ideal expression, the accurate drawing, and
improved coloring. He used but few colors, and softened the rigidity of
his predecessors by making the mouth of beauty smile. He was the first
who painted woman with brilliant drapery and variegated head-dresses. He
gave great expression to the face and figure, and his pictures were

Online LibraryJohn LordThe Old Roman World, : the Grandeur and Failure of Its Civilization → online text (page 14 of 50)