« PreviousContinue »
hand; his right is raised to protect his eyes from what remains of the light of day : the wind, as it rushes through the mouth of the cavern, has thrown back his robe, and the rapidity of his movements is strikingly displayed in the action of the limbs, of the body, and the swelling folds of the drapery.
Such is an outline of this figure. To give you a correct idea of it, as a work of art, would require a full analysis of Mr. Crawford's style. How can I do this in a single letter ? You well know what I mean by style in sculpture, and the idea that we long since formed together of this great characteristic of genius. The more I reflect upon it, the more am I confirmed in my original opinion. There is a point at which all the works of the mind meet, and where they must all be judged by the same general laws. I can see no difference between the composition of a great poem, and that of a great painting. The same natural powers, the same order of mind, is required for the one as for the other; and when you come to the details, you are still in the same region of intellect; it is only the language that is changed. As a natural consequence of this principle, you find the same analogies prevailing throughout the studies of the poet, and those of the artist; beginning at the same point, but differing in their details. Nature is the foundation of both; the first school and the only one, in which the great lessons of art and of poetry are taught.
But how different the immediate objects of attention. How small a part does external form bear in the studies of the poet! What would the artist gain by marking all the shades and subtle distinctions of individual character, independent of their physical expression. And yet both have apparently the same end in view, to act upon the feelings of other men; to awaken the strongest emotions of which the mind is susceptible; to stir them up to wrath, to melt them to tears, or to call forth from the secret recesses of the heart those qualities which distinguish age from
and man from man. The Apollo that watches the flight of his arrow, in the sublimity of material beauty, is but the Apollo of Homer, whose quiver rattles with his rapid stride, whose wrath is painted in words, while his form is left to the imagination; nor does the Laocoon, that writhes before you with the terrific energy with which sculpture can represent physical suffering, excite a different sentiment from that inspired by the more general yet equally thrilling description of Virgil.
But here we come to an important distinction between the studies of the poet and those of the artist. I need not enter into details for you. The difference between Homer, and Virgil, and Dante, and Shakspeare, each the painter of men, and of manners, of human nature in its most durable characteristics, and at the same time of the minute and ever-varying details of social life, is a sufficient illustration of what I mean.
The change that
you feel in passing from the language of one of these great masters to that of another, is not more striking than the change in the moral and social atmosphere which they diffuse around you. The language of poetry changes with age, with climate, with social institutions : that of the artist is always the same. I know that I am treading on delicate ground :
'ignes Suppositors cineri doloso :'
but I believe that the history of art will bear me out to the utmost extent of my assertion.
It is in the ancients, then, that the language of sculpture must be studied; a language flowing from the pure fountains of natural feeling, unchanged by the long lapse of ages, fresh now as at its birth, and not in the freshness of a green old age, but in the vigor of that immortality which beams from the gods, and the heroes who have deigned to converse with us through its glorious medium. How long, how assiduous the study, that can lead to a clear perception of its powers! With what patient assiduity must the artist turn its glowing pages! How carefully must he compare monument with monument, and each with nature, bring poetry to the illustration of art, and penetrating the most recondite symbols of mythology, make their language as familiar as the accents of his native tongue! There is an appropriate term for every idea, a form of expression for every shade of thought; an ideal beauty for all the varieties of intellectual and of physical power. How different the beauty of the Apollo from that of the Gladiator! The softened lines of a form ethereal, instinct with life, where the soul, the pure harmonious spirit of poetry and of music, breathe in every limb, from the indurated members, the welltrained muscles, the full development of manly vigor, that characterize the dying slave! There is the beauty of age, too — grave and solemn dignity; there is the voluptuous beauty of the goddess of love, and the severer grace of the goddess of wisdom : and all of these must be studied again and again, till the mind becomes imbued with their spirit, and each rising thought clothes itself, as it were intuitively, in the language with which they speak.
Would you know the secret of the success of Thorwaldsen, see him at the Vatican. Who has not admired the right arm of the Moses ? Did not Michel Angelo himself call the torso his school? And where are the pretended inventors of new styles, the men who saw farther in art than the ancients; than Michel Angelo, and Raphael, who found that cold which made every other breast glow with more than human warmth, the Bernini's of this and of every age? It is a thing of but a few months back, and one of the strongest comments upon my subject. A few antique statues were found in the grounds of the prince Borghese. They were neither Apollos nor Venuses, but they were full of the pure, simple beauties of antiquity, and that was enough. Till then, the choicest room in the Borghese Villa had been occupied by the supposed master-pieces of Bernini. His vaunted Apollo and Daphne, his Æneas and his David, works which, according to the eulogiums of his contemporaries, were destined to open a new epoch in the history of art. All these, without one exception, were immediately removed, and the newly-discovered treasures of antiquity put in their places.
When Mr. Crawford first came to Rome, he was so fortunate as to feel all the importance of this study; the absolute impossibility of treading in the higher walks of art, without it. It was with this view that his plan of study was formed ; one which he has now been following for more than four years, unmoved by discouragement, unterrified by obstacles, unshaken by the doubts, the fears, the anxieties, which assail, and so often break, the minds of the young, when left to
their own guidance. In the evening, at the life academy, drawing and modelling from the living figure; during the day, in the churches and galleries, those store-houses of all that is pure in taste, and striving at the same time to obtain a greater command over his own ideas, by constant habits of composition; he has reached the point at which he may fearlessly present himself to the public, and claim to be judged by his own works.
After all this, I hardly need say what the style of the Orpheus is, although I cannot pass over it without at least a few observations. One of the great characteristics of the Apollo, is the perfect harmony of the whole form; that species of harmony which you would associate in your mind with the idea of the God of the Lyre. Orpheus, as you know, was supposed by some to have been the son of Apollo ; and nothing could have been easier, than by a mere change of attitude, to have adapted the faultless proportions of the divinity to the frame of his scarcely less divine offspring. But here, even supposing a servile imitation of an antique to be admissible in a single figure, there would have been an error, less generally remarked, perhaps, but still equally objectionable. Apollo is a god, and his very attitude is that of one accustomed to tread upon the clouds, and float spirit-like through the air. But Orpheus is a mortal: endued, it is true, with as large a portion of the divine spirit as ever was granted to mortal man, but still the slave of human passions, and acting by human means.
Hence the beauty of his form must be of a different order; bordering, as nearly as may be, upon that perfection, which the great artist of antiquity reserved for their delineations of superior . essences, but still distinguished from it, by clear and definite lines. It is full of grace; the body, the limbs, the head, are in perfect keeping: there is a harmony about them, like that of the accords of his own lyre. The frame is neither powerful, nor slight, but that well balanced medium, which belongs to health, and a perfect command of all the physical powers. His strength is not that of the arena, nor the bone and sinew of daily toil, but such as one might gain by healthful exercise in the sunlight and open air: that of a bard of the olden time, who sung in the woods and the fields, and sought inspiration in a free communion with Nature herself.
The attitude is calculated to give full scope to all the vigor of which he is possessed. The rapidity of his motion requires that play of muscles, which is the severest test of an artist's science. The right leg drawn out to its full extent, and touching the ground with the extremity of the foot; the weight of the body thrown upon
the left, which bends at the knee with the movement forward : the inclination of the body itself, which is thrown forward to correspond with the general action, and the double movement of the arms, one of which grasps the lyre, while the other is raised toward the head; present difficulties of almost every kind, and require a degree of practical skill, and a judicious management, which are seldom attained by so young a man. Strong as the action is, there is nothing forced or extravagant about it. The development of the muscles is carried just far enough to produce the desired effect. The slightest increase in the extension of the limbs, would give them the appearance of strain and effort, and make you think of a theatrical attitude, instead
of natural action. The vigor of the torso is sufficiently marked, but beyond that, every thing is kept down, and made subservient to the grace and beauty which are so much more appropriate to the subject. In the surface you would be struck with the familiarity which it displays with the human form, and the judicious discrimination between general characteristics and individual peculiarities. And with this constant watchfulness to keep every thing within its proper bounds, there is a perfect freedom of action, a fleshy surface, not the least approach to dryness, or to restraint!
One of the most striking parts of this composition, is the head. The features are formed with as much attention to regularity, as is consistent with strong expression. The forehead clear, full, intellectual; the eye-brow curving with a light and freely drawn arch; the nose projecting in a simple straight line, with a delicate and spirited expansion of the nostrils ; lips neither dry nor full, but modelled with a certain sharpness of effect, which adds greatly to the general force of expression. There is a peculiar earnestness about the brow, that I have never seen surpassed. The eyes, too, are bent forward with a deep fixedness of gaze, that seems as if it would read at one glance the secret of the abyss to which he is approaching. And over all is diffused a tenderness so deep and so pure, an intensity of feeling, a glow of passion, that add, if possible, new grace to his beauty, and give it something irresistible and divine.
Great as the difficulties of execution in this statue were, no part was more so than the arrangement of the drapery. Mr. Crawford saw how grossly the school of Bernini had failed in giving motion to drapery; yet he felt convinced that there was enough in the works of the ancients to show that drapery might be made to flow and wave, even in marble. His first sketch was dropped. As he proceeded with the full figure, he began to doubt the possibility of preserving the original design. 'It seemed too ornamental for that simplicity and unity of effect at which he aimed. He feared that it might divide and distract the attention, and thus weaken the feelings that he wished to excite. Still he saw that these difficulties could be reconciled; that ornament might be preserved, without a sacrifice of simplicity : that the action of the figure might be strengthened by drapery properly thrown, and yet the proportions brought out clearly and well defined. Nothing short of a sight of the statue itself, can show you how this has been done : but it has been done, and the success is complete.
While engaged in putting up the Orpheus, Mr. Crawford made two other compositions, from mythological subjects, in another style. These were two bas-reliefs, one of them oblong, the other circular. The largest of the two, the oblong, is now doing in marble for Prince Davidoff, of St. Petersburgh. The subject is taken from the third labor of Hercules. The hero, after a year of incessant toil, at last, as you recollect, succeeds in catching the golden-horned stag, but while in the art of leading it in triumph to Eurytheus, is suddenly stopped by Diana, who claims it as her own, and chides him for thus daring to put his hand upon an object consecrated to her. This is the moment chosen by the artist. The ground is a plain, unbroken surface, Hercules stands at one of the extremities. He leans with his right arm upon his massive club. The left, raised toward the goddess,
enforces his words, by a calm yet dignified gesticulation. The skin of the Nemean lion falls from the left shoulder, in a line with the body, and crossing it behind, drops with the motion of the right arm. The space between him and the goddess is filled by one of her usual emblems, a grey-hound. In the centre of the piece, tall, majestic, arrayed in a light robe, that descends to the knee, stands the goddess herself. Her face is turned to the hero, her right arm is extended toward him : the left holds the stag with the firm, easy grasp of a divine being. These two figures are in repose, or rather, the action is calm. In that of the nymph, who fills the opposite extremity of the piece, there is more of excitement. She is draped to her feet in a loose robe, that flows backward with the wind, and the movement of her body. The band that she has fastened around the neck of the animal, is drawn tight by her effort to restrain his leaping, and in her whole frame, full of grace and vigor as it is, you see the difference between her power
and that of her mistress. One of the first things that would strike you in this piece, is the balance of the composition. The figures are distributed with an art that cannot be too much praised. They relieve and set off each other. There is a perfect propriety in the accessories; a unity in the action; a harmony of tone, that pervades the whole group, and gives new force to the sentiment it is intended to convey. The figures, too, are admirably conceived. Hercules is the ideal of a hero of the primitive age. In the presence of a mortal, you would call his frame gigantic: but he now stands before a goddess, and the full development of his vast limbs, though more than human, is yet below that of the divinity. Diana is the vigorous, the graceful goddess of the bow : the sister of Apollo, and partaking of the same immortal beauty. There is a quiet power, a severe grace, about her, that marks her at once as the chaste sovereign of the woods. How different the beauty of her attendant; a wood nymph, whose form is perfected by the invigorating pleasures of the chase ; whose countenance beams with that charm you would look for in the constant companion of a goddess : but yet how far below the radiant beauty of the goddess herself!
The other relief is a scene from the battle of the Centaurs. One of the monsters has seized upon a young bride, whose indignant countenance and uplifted arm, the struggling frame and the mixed expression of terror and anger, that fills her lovely features, reveal at once all the horrors of her situation. But a protector is at hand. His undaunted aspect and vigorous limbs show that he is equal to the fearful struggle. Unarmed as he is, he has leaped boldly upon the back of the Centaur: his left hand is set fast in his matted locks : he has drawn the head backward : the monster rears with the motion, and seems struggling to shake off the incumbent weight; but the hero, firm in his grasp, retains his hazardous position, and with his right arm extended to its utmost range, is preparing to deal him a blow that will require no repetition. The vigor of the figure is beyond all description. I can give you no idea of it in words : and yet there is nothing strained, nothing theatrical about it. It is a being of great strength: well used to put it forth : and now employing it all in a cause that he feels to be worthy of himself,