William Spalding.

Italy and the Italian islands, from the earliest ages to the present time (Volume 1) online

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The subjects of the works which have been now point-
ed out are in most cases certain. There are, however, a
great many statues, as well as reliefs, o: which the sub-
jects are extremely doubtful. In some of these (and
perhaps in more than the antiquaries are willing to
admit) the artists seem really to have had nothing far-
ther in view than the representation of a fine model in a
spirited and expressive attitude, generally taken from
some act of familiar life. As instances we may take
two delightful figures of Children, one of whom lauglis
from beneath a Silenus mask, and the other exerts his
pigmy strength in attempting to strangle a goose.*

In other works, however, the attitudes and grouping
are too significant not to have been intended as a picture
of some particular event. Of monuments belonging to
this class three may be na,nied, all possessing very
lofty qualities, — the Paetus and Arria, the Papirius with
his Mother,t and the Dying Gladiator.;}; In the first of
these groups a beautiful woman, wounded and fainting,
is supported by a male figure, of a character neither ideal
nor Grecian, who is in the act of plunging a short sword
into his own neck. In the second, a majestic female
grasps and seems to address a youth, who looks up to
her with respect and attention. The third is famUiar to
every one, and is incomparable for the pathetic force with
which it expresses the pain and lassitude of approacliing
death, in the air of the wounded man, fallen to the ground,
and feebly propping himself on one arm.

The names just assigned to these three works are those
by which they are best known ; but, since Winckelmann
wrote, it is generally admitted that they are wrong, though
all the three belong to the period now before us. The first
has been named Canace with the Slave ; it has ^vith less

tive text. Many of these pasquinades are in the form of short
dialogues between Pasquino (the IMenelaus), and jMarforio, a
colossal river- god, No. 1, in the court of the Gapitoline Museum.

• Mus. Capitol. Stanza del Fauno, No. 15 and No. 21.

■f Both in the Roman Villa Ludovisi.

:|: Mus. Capitol. Stanza del Gladiatore Moribondo, No. 1.



probability been called Haemon and Antigone ; and it
has also been supposed to represent a scene from some
of the Roman battles, a barbarian killing his wife and
himself to escape slavery. Of the theories regarding the
second, the most plausible is that which recognises in it
Electra tutoring tiie young Orestes for his task of ven-
geance. The Dying Gladiator has stronger claims to his
old name than either of the others ; and besides the
dramatic pathos which belongs to the subject in this view,
it would be deeply interesting to conceive a Grecian
artist filled with melancholy inspiration by the departed
glory of his race, and representing, in this sad composi-
tion, one of the most pitiable victims of his stem masters.
There are difficulties in the way of this hypothesis, but
the figure is imquestionably neither that of a Greek nor
of a Roman, and the newest opinion describes it as that
of a barbarian wounded in one of the imperial wars, and
forming part of a group on some lost monument.*


The art has hitheiio exhibited a gradual and natural
development ; but a few works of the Roman times dis-
play an artificial and forced taste which it is worth
while to notice. The reliques of this class are of two

The first consists of pieces which copy the ancient
stiflPness and harshness of the Greek archaic or hieratic
style. In Greece, even in the best ages of art, this de-
signed imitation of antiquity had place to a certain extent
in many of the temple-statues. Some Roman efforts of
the kind may be accounted for on the same principle ;
but in many instances the copying of the ancient man-
ner was solely an affair of caprice or fashion, and such
specimens, though important to the antiquary in the way
of illustration, are apt to create mistakes in the chrono-
logy of art. In many cases, however, the imitation is
incomplete, and is thus detected. Two instances may

* See the Beschreibung, vol. iii, part 1. p. 248.


be sufficient. One is a highly-finislied relief of three
female figures in the Vatican : * the other is a remarkable
though mutilated quadrilateral altar in the Capitol,
beautifully sculptured with reliefs, which represent the
labours of Hercules, but which, though strictly antique
in some particulars, in others display characteristics
that seem to indicate the age of Hadrian.t

To that time belongs the second class of imitations.
These are the reproductions of Egyptian sculpture which
were introduced by the emperor's peculiar taste, and of
which his villa at Tivoli and some other ruins have
furnished great numbers. Such copies are easily distin-
guishable from the genuine works of the East. They
have no hieroglyphs, — they are highly and minutely
finished, — the forms, the anatomy, and the expression,
are Greek or Roman, — and, in short, they have little
which entitles them to the foreign name, except the sub-
jects (chiefly Egyptian divinities) together with the dress
and attributes.


A. u. 933—1059 : or a. d. 180-306.
Thus far those works and ages have been reviewed in
which sculpture claims study by its own merits. The
museums of Italy, however, and particularly those of
Rome, are thronged with monuments which, belonging
either to the very end of the classical period, or to the
centuries which intervened till the fall of the empire, are
as productions of art almost universally worthless, but
possess great interest as illustrating the prevailing modes
of thought and of religious feeling. They are chiefly
sarcophagi, the practice of burying the dead having by
the time of the Antonines nearly superseded that of
burning ; and these stone-coffins are covered with sculp-
tures in relief, embracing a great variety of subjects.
Some are discovered crowned with portrait-busts ; others

* Museo Chiaramonti, No. 358.

■f Mus. Capitol. Stanza Lapidaria, No. 13 : from Albano. See
the Beschreibung, vol. iii. part 1. p. 149.


have reliefs exhibiting family groups, or scenes which
seem to be taken from real life ; and many represent
mythological subjects, in which it is difficult to trace
any peculiar adaptation to their purpose. But in very
many cases the scenes of the sepulchral reliefs have a
symbolical meaning easily discernible ; and these give us
a most interesting glimpse of the theological notions
current in the pagan world during the early ages of

In some the symbolical allusion is direct and simple ;
such, for instance, as figure combats of the heroic times on
the sepulchre of a soldier, or adorn the grave of a dead
youth with the story of the slain Adonis, or of Ganymede
carried off by the eagle. In many others the symbol is
more abstruse ; as, for example, in those incidents from
the fable of Love and Psyche, often so beautifully and
tenderly conceived, and yet executed in a style of the ut-
most coarseness, which marks the tomb as being literally
the worst manufacture of a bad manufactory. Bacchic
scenes are also very frequent, in many of which the ini-
tiation is assumed as the type of death, and the god as
the divinity of the realm of shadows. In some of these
the sensual characteristics of the rites are disgustingly
prominent ; in others there is a pure poetical pathos.
The same idea seems to be the prevailing one in two
very favourite subjects ; the Repose of Ariadne and
that of Endymion. The sleep is that of death :
Dionysos and Luna, the divinities of the dead, approach
the sleepers with love and pity; but the slumber of
the grave continues unbroken. The idea is also indi-
cated by the Cupid-like youth, the Genius of Mortal
Life, sleeping, or with his hands crossed above his head,
leaning on the cypress-tree ; while in other reliefs he
bends over the inverted torch, or holds the butterfly, the
emblem of the soul, or the bird, the symbol of the manes.
Some sarcophagi have the voyage of the departed spirit
to the island of Kronos, and numerous other devices
bearing reference to the metaph3^sical notions taught in
the later schools of Grecian philosophy.


In many reliefs we can perceive the solemnity of
tliis symbolic and religious meaning gradually losing it-
self; and we discover the utter abuse and misappre-
hension of it, in such works as those which show us
Endymion visited by a female figure whose face is
clearly a portrait, or which crown other goddesses with
fashionable Roman head-dresses. The complete de-
parture from the classical mythology, which had been
evinced at an earlier period by the Egyptian copies, now
displayed itself in the numerous amulets on gems and
rings, and in such reliefs as those representing the Syrian
worship of Mithras by the slaying of the bull. These and
other scenes were frequent on Italian marbles, about the
time when Alexandria is known to have abounded in
the cabalistic Abraxas gems.


Ancient Italy, as we have seen, besides importing
many works executed in foreign countries, was itself
the seat of three distinct developments of the fine
arts. There was, first, in Lower Italy and Sicily, a large
district where they were practised with high success by
Grecian colonists. Secondly, there was another, chiefly
comprised in Etruria, in which the indigenous Italian
population cultivated them with more or less dependence
on Greece. And thirdly, after the fall of that nation, the
whole peninsula, but especially the metropolis, became
the residence of foreign artists, and the receptacle of the
works which they executed for their Roman masters.

The existing monuments of ancient Architecture are
scattered over the whole country. The topographical
chapters of this volume will point out the principal re-
mains, and make it now almost unnecessary to say, that
by far the richest field of this class of antiquities is in
Rome and Latium, which contain an extent of classical
ruins nowhere equalled within the same space.

Of antique Painting and Sculpture in all their modi-
fications, almost every monument which Italy now
possesses has been found on her own soil, having been


either executed there, or imported before the fall of the
emph-e. But the country, especially within the last hun-
dred years, has lost an immense number of sculptures,
which, though some of them may be found in every
kingdom of Europe, are far most abundant in the Louvre.
The history of the museums of Italy would form an
interesting chapter of illustrations for her political and
moral history. Thousands of antiques lay buried for
centuries beneath the mins of the buildings which
they had adorned, and the few statues and other monu-
ments which stood in different parts of Rome in the
middle ages, were either neglected or misinterpreted.
Even in the bright though short interval of enlighten-
ment which shone on the fourteenth century, there still
prevailed an ignorance as to archaeology, of which we may
take as a specimen the fact, that Petrarch gravely calls
the pyramid of Cestius the tomb of Remus. Attention
to art revived with the final revival of letters ; and
after the excavations commenced by Pope Paul III. in
the first half of the sixteenth century, which discovered
the Farnese Torso, Hercules, Flora, and Venus Calli-
pygos, the search for classical reliqucs was unintermit-
ted, and many galleries were formed. The private col-
lections have now, with very few exceptions, merged in
the public museums, at the head of which stand those
of Rome, Florence, and Naples.

The City of the Popes contains two public Museums
of Antiques, those of the Vatican and the Capitol. The
former, which has no equal in the world, presents many
works of the highest order, and its almost innumerable
specimens of a lower class constitute of themselves a
most instructive school for the study of heathen mytho-
logy and customs. Its chief treasures are contained in
the department named the Museo Pio-Clementino, which
was opened by Clement XIV., and enlarged by Pius VI.,
embracing both the monuments previously procured,
and very many new acquisitions. A second depart-
ment, far less valuable as well as less extensive, derives
its name of the Museo Chiaramonti from its founder


Pius VII. A third, and yet smaller one, the Braccio
Nuovo, was added in 1821. The finest works of the
Vatican are its marble sculptures and its bronzes ; but
it contains also some excellent mosaics, a very few
ancient paintings, a good many terra-cottas, and an ex-
tremely curious gallery of inscriptions, partly heathen,
partly belonging to the early Christians. There is a
small collection of Egyptian monuments, begun by
Pius VII. in 1819 ; and an Etruscan museum has been
opened by Gregory XVI. The whole number of antiques
in the Vatican falls little short of 4000, without reckon-
ing the inscriptions, which amount to upwards of 3000.
The Museum of the Capitol, founded by Clement XII.,
with which may be classed the collection in the Palazzo
de' Conservatori on the opposite side of the square, is
immeasurably inferior both in extent and value. It,
however, contains several masterpieces, and its chief im-
portance in other respects consists in its collection of
portrait-busts and statues.

The Private Galleries in Rome are now lamentably
fallen. The collection of the Villa Albani still contains
many interesting monuments, but most of its treasures
are to be sought at Munich and in the Lou\Te. In the
latter museum also is the first and most famous collec-
tion of the Villa Borghese ; and that which has been since
formed is of far inferior worth. The Famese gallery
has been transferred to Naples, and that of the Villa de'
Medici to Florence. The antiques of the Barberini
Palace are chiefly in England and at Munich ; those of
the INIattei Palace and Villa, and the Villa Negroni, are
principally in the Vatican ; and those of the celebrated
Giustiniani Palace are scattered over all Europe. The
Villa Ludovisi possesses a few sculptures universally
acknowledged as masterpieces.

The Ducal Gallery of Florence, contained in the build-
ing Degli Ufizj, is scarcely less rich in classical sculp-
ture than in modem painting. Its best antiques are the
statues of the Roman Villa Medici, which include several
works of the very highest excellence. Its bronzes and


vases are also valuable, its sarcophagi and busts, though
less so, are nevertheless interesting, and its collection of
Etruscan monuments is large and increasing.

The Royal Gallery of Naples, called the Museo Bor-
bonico, embraces several extremely precious depart-
ments. Its splendid collection of marbles amounts to
more than 500 pieces. Its bronzes and bas-reliefs
are also very important, and it possesses a small Egyp-
tian museum. The Borgia, Albani, and other galleries,
have contributed, -with the Farnese, to enrich it ; and
it has received immense accessions from excavations
both in Magna Grsecia and in the neighbourhood of the
city, of which the most celebrated and productive
are those of Herculaneum and Pompeii. To these
two towns it owes its unequalled collection of about
1600 antique paintings, which, having been skilfully de-
tached from the walls of the disinterred buildings, are
preserved under cover in the halls of the museum.

In Sicily, Palermo and Catania contain some private
collections of antiques, and several towns in Italy pos-
sess public galleries of moderate extent and worth. The
Royal Museum of Turin, established under the direction
of Maffei, contains a few good Grecian and Roman
marbles, a considerable number of inscriptions, and an
excellent Egyptian department, in which has been in-
corporated the first of Drovetti's well known collections.
At Brescia the recent discovery of an ancient temple has
given interest to the formation of a museum ; and that of
Verona, although containing little except inscriptions,
derives fame from Maffei its founder and historian. The
collections of Venice, consisting partly of antiques found
in her provinces, partly of works from Greece, are com-
paratively insignificant ; and, besides the Public Gallery
in the library of St ]\Iark, the most remarkable pieces
are the four Bronze Horses, which, however, are more
noted for their adventures and undoubted antiquity
than for their plastic merit. Brought by the Roman
general Mummius from Corinth on its capture, they were
removed by Constantine from Rome to his Hippodrome


Online LibraryWilliam SpaldingItaly and the Italian islands, from the earliest ages to the present time (Volume 1) → online text (page 19 of 35)