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John of Bologna.
Messenger of Jove shooting aloft into the clouds; a figure that reminds us of Shakspeare's beautiful description" Rise from the ground like feather'd Mercury" or as one that might "bestride the gossamer that idles in the wanton summer air."
Of John of Bologna as a sculptor I can hardly speak adequately. In a very different style, his Rape of the Sabines, a group of three figures exposed in the Gran' Piazza is one of the most fiery, yet graceful, productions of the chisel I ever beheld; while near to it, and every way worthy to compete with it, is Benvenuto Cellini's Perseus holding up Medusa's head at the moment after decapitation. Neither of these groups will be simply looked at; once seen, they will again and again arrest the attention, and excite the admiration of all.
In the Tribune of the gallery, a small octagon temple, is a collection of five invaluable relics of sculpture, and some of the choicest pictures. Here is the Venus de' Medici, the chef d'œuvre of Grecian, and the inimitable prototype of modern, art.
This Venus was found in the Villa Adriana at Tivoli; there are some fractures, and losses, and consequent modern restorations, but nothing materially to affect the beauty of the original. Its height in English measure is four feet, eleven inches, the artist though undoubtedly of Grecian soil, is unknown. Its great distinction, in addition
The Venus dei Medici.
to its utmost beauty of form, is its celestial purity, its goddess grace, and heavenly modesty; charms which no copy ever did, or ever can, communicate, and which prove the transcendant dignity of the original.
The author of this immortal production is yet unknown; it being doubtful whether it is by Cleomenes, an Athenian; by Alcamenes, who lived 450 years, or by Praxiteles, who flourished 330 years, before our Saviour, and who sculptured two Venuses, one nude, the other draped. The natives of Cos took the latter; those of Gnidos the former; and so highly did they prize this statue that they refused it to Nicomedes, king of Bithynia, who moreover offered to cancel an enormous debt of the state for it. Such may be this very Venus which modern eyes now gaze upon, and which was brought to Florence about the year 1680.
In confirmation of its being done by Praxiteles, there is a humorous Greek epigram, which has, I know not by whom, been thus translated:
"Anchises, Paris, and Adonis too,
Have seen me naked, and exposed to view;
However, this is no mortal, voluptuous, beauty; Venus herself in all her charms it may be, but she is still celestial, and a Goddess on earth she presses her delicate foot for a moment; but what
Sculptures and Pictures.
impure, mortal thoughts can dare profane this Daughter of Jupiter, and Bride of Heaven?
During the period that the French, par force, took, and kept, this jewel in the Louvre, her place was supplied by Canova's Venus; of which hereafter.
The Apollino, or youthful Apollo, is a corresponding model of juvenile manly beauty. The three remaining and equally celebrated are the two Wrestlers, the vanquished, and the conquering; the Dancing Fawn, whose inimitable head is Michael Angelo's; and the Arrotino or KnifeGrinder, as it is commonly called. These are all master-pieces, the last is, I think, wonderfully expressive; and is now generally considered to represent the Scythian Slave preparing to flay Marsyas.
Of the Pictures in this Tribune there are two by Guercino, styled the Magician of Painting: a Sleeping Endymion, and the Samian Sybil. A Holy Family by Michael Angelo. A Virgin in contemplation by Guido: a most surprising portrait of Cardinal Agucchia by Domenichino; and several by Raphael; the three finest of which are his St. John in the Desert; his portraits of his favourite mistress, La Fornarina, and of Pope Julius II, all inimitable for grace, and beauty of expression embodied in the richest, deepest, and finest, colouring imaginable. These are among the latest productions of his pencil, and when he
had abandoned, and triumphed over the hard, stiff, and colourless, outlines of his master Pietro Perrugino.
Chief of all, is, perhaps, Titian's famous Venus. The Grecian effigy was a model of ethereal purity; this the perfection of mortal charms. A young, and beauteous, Venus, her right hand decked with flowers, stretched, nude, upon a couch, and beaming with voluptuous looks :-the prodigy of colouring. This picture cannot be gazed on with indifference, nor well described :-let us pass to a very different object,
The Hall of Niobe;-the hapless mother, and her fourteen children. This celebrated group is supposed to have occupied collectively the tympanum of the pediment of a temple dedicated to Apollo Sosias; they are now placed at intervals around this hall. The figure of Niobe is rather colossal, and her youngest daughter terrified, and kneeling, seeks refuge in her maternal arms.*
* Niobe was daughter of Tantalus, king of Lydia, and married Amphion, by whom she had seven sons, and seven daughters. Proud of her progeny, she ventured to insult Latona, because mother of only two, Apollo and Diana. The incensed goddess summoned her children, and immediately all the sons perished by the darts of Apollo, and all the daughters by those of Diana, one excepted, Chloris, who had married Neleus, king of Pylos. Niobe herself, stupified at her woes, was metamorphosed into a stone, or, according to some, into a fountain of tears; and Jupiter continued his resentment by changing into stone, for nine successive days, all who attempted to bury the bodies. On the tenth day they were honoured with a funeral by the gods themselves.
Group of Niobe.
The mother is justly considered as the finest. In her traits are admirably depicted struggling dignity, maternal tenderness, and anguish. How beautifully has Ovid alluded to her.
Ultima restabat quam totô corpore mater
Totâ vestê tegens, unam, minimamque: relinque,
One only left, the mother fondly prest,
Strain'd in her arms and cover'd with her vest ;
Her sons and daughters are shown in various attitudes; some dead, some dying; some just stricken; some attempting to fly, and some looking upward, as it were to reproach Heaven.
It may be said of several of these figures that they have too much of a theatrical, or forced, gesture, and therefore lose proportionately, the greatest of all beauties, the expression of nature; but how much more is the effect weakened, and spoiled, by their being all placed at regular, equidistances: a family of fourteen dying each at right angles and in a right line parallel with the other! Niobe will ever be deemed a chef d'œuvre; and so might her children too were they but arranged as the artist originally placed them, and where Nature would impel-around their hapless mother.