Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

to a numbered page, in which there are spearheads in rows and sword-hilts in symmetrical groups; and gradually the boy gets a dim mathematical notion how one scymitar is hooked to the right and another to the left, and one javelin has a knob to it and another none: while one glance at your good picture would show him,—and the first rainy afternoon in the school room would for ever fix in his mind,—the look of the sword and spear as they fell or flew; and how they pierced, or bent, or shattered-how men wielded them, and how men died by them. But far more than all this, is it a question not of clothes or weapons, but of men? how can we sufficiently estimate the effect on the mind of a noble youth, at the time when the world opens to him, of having faithful and touching representations put before him of the acts and presences of great men—how many a resolution, which would alter and exalt the whole course of his after-life, might be formed, when in some dreamy twilight he met, through his own tears, the fixed eyes of those shadows of the great dead, unescapable and calm, piercing to his soul; or fancied that their lipso moved in dread reproof or soundless exhortation. And if but for one out of many this were true—if yet, in a few, you could be sure that such influence had indeed changed their thoughts and destinies, and turned the eager and reckless youth, who would have cast away his energies on the race-horse or the gambling-table, to that noble life-race, that holy life-hazard, which should win all glory to himself and all good to his country -would not that, to some purpose, be “political economy of art ?"

And observe, there could be no monotony, no exhaustibleness, in the scenes required to be thus portrayed. Even if there were, and you wanted for every school in the kingdom, one death of Leonidas; one battle of Marathon; one death of Cleobis and Bito; there need not therefore be more monotony in your art han there was in the repetition of a given cycle of subjects by the religious painters of Italy. But we ought not to admit a cycle at all. For though we had as many great schools as we have great cities (one day I hope we shall have), centuries of painting would not exhaust, in all the number of them, the noble and pathetic subjects which might be chosen from the history of even one noble nation. But, besides this, you will not, in a little while, limit your youths' studies to so narrow fields as you do now. There will come a time-I am sure of it —when it will be found that the same practical results, both in mental discipline, and in political philosophy, are to be attained by the accurate study of mediæval and modern as of ancient history; and that the facts of mediæval and modern history are, on the whole, the most important to us. And among these noble groups of constellated schools which I foresee arising in our England, I foresee also that there will be divided fields of thought; and that while each will give its scholars a great general idea of the world's history, such as all men should possess—each will also take upon itself, as its own special duty, the closer study of the course of events in some given place or time. It will review the rest of history, but it will exhaust its own special field of it; and found its moral and political teaching on the most perfect possible analysis of the results of human conduct in one place, and at one epoch. And then, the galleries of that school will be painted with the historical scenes belonging to the age which it has chosen for its special study.

The fact is, that the greater number of persons or societies throughout Europe, whom wealth, or chance, or inheritance has put in the possession of valuable pictures, do not know a good picture from a bad one, and have no idea in what the value of a picture really consists. The reputation of certain. wor.s i; raised, partly by accident, partly by the just testi

mony of artists, partly and generally by the bad tastes of the public (no picture that I know of, has ever, in modern times, attained popularity, in the full sense of the term, without having some exceedingly bad qualities mingled with its good ones), and when this reputation has once been completely established, it little matters to what state the picture may be reduced: few minds are so completely devoid of imagination as to be unable to invest it with the beauties which they have heard attributed to it.

This being so, the pictures that are most valued are for the most part those by masters of established renown, which are highly or neatly finished, and of a size small enough to admit of their being placed in galleries or saloons, so as to be made subjects of ostentation, and to be easily seen by a crowd. For the support of the fame and value of such pictures, little more is necessary than that they should be kept bright, partly by cleaning, which is incipient destruction, and partly by what is called “restoring,” that is, painting over, which is of course total destruction. Nearly all the gallery pictures in modern Europe have been more or less destroyed by one or the other of these operations, generally exactly in proportion to the estimation in which they are held; and as, originally, the smaller and more highly finished works of any great master are usually his worst, the contents of many of our most celebrated galleries are by this time, in reality, of very small value indeed.

On the other hand, the most precious works of any noble painter are usually those which have been done quickly, and in the heat of the first thought, on a large scale, for places where there was little likelihood of their being well seen, or for patrons from whom there was little prospect of rich remuneration. In general, the best things are done in this way, or else uy the enthusiasm and pride of accomplishing some great pur. pose, such as painting a Cathedral or a Campo-Santo fron one end to the other, especially when the time has been short, and circumstances disadvantageous. Works thus executed are of course despised on account of their quantity, as well as their frequent slightness, in the places where they exist; and they are too large to be portable, and too vast and comprehensive to be read on the spot, in the hasty temper of the present age. They are, therefore, almost universally neglected, whitewashed by custodes, shot at by soldiers, suffered to drop from the walls piecemeal into powder and rags by society in general; but, which is an advantage more than counterbalancing all this evil, they are not often “restored.” What is left of them, however fragmentary, however ruinous, however obscured and defiled, is almost always the real thing; there are no fresh readings: and therefore the greatest treasures of art which Europe at this moment possesses are pieces of old plaster on ruinous brick walls, where the lizards burrow and bask, and which few other living creatures ever approach; and torn sheets of dim canvass, in waste corners of churches; and mildewed stains, in the shape of human figures, on the walls of dark chambers, which now and then an exploring traveller causes to be unlocked by their tottering custode, looks hastily round, and retreats from in a weary satisfaction at his accomplished duty.

Many of the pictures on the ceilings and walls of the Ducal Palace, by Paul Veronese and Tintoret, have been more or less reduced, by neglect, to this condition. Unfortunately they are not altogether without reputation, and their state has drawn the attention of the Venetian authorities and academicians. It constantly happens, that public bodies who will not pay five pounds to preserve a picture, will pay fifty to repaint it: and when I was at Venice in 1846, there were two remedial operations carrying on at one and the same time, in the two buildings which contain the pictures of greatest valne in

the city (as pieces of color, of greatest value in the world), curiously illustrative of this peculiarity in human nature. Buckets were set on the floor of the Scuola di San Rocco, in every shower, to catch the rain which came through the pic tures of Tintoret on the ceiling; while in the Ducal Palace, those of Paul Veronese were themselves laid on the floor to be repainted; and I was myself present at the re-illumination of the breast of a white horse, with a brush, at the end of a stick five feet long, luxuriously dipped in a common house painters' vessel of paint.

There are, indeed, some kinds of knowledge with which an artist ought to be thoroughly furnished; those, for instance, which enable him to express himself: for this knowledge relieves instead of encumbering his mind, and permits it to attend to its purposes instead of wearying itself about means. The whole mystery of manipulation and manufacture should be familiar to the painter from a child. He should know the chemistry of all colors and materials whatsoever, and should prepare all his colors himself, in a little laboratory of his own. Limiting his chemistry to this one subject, the amount of practical science necessary for it, and such accidental discoveries as might fall in his way in the course of his work, of better colors or better modes of preparing them, would be an infinite refreshment to his mind; a minor subject of interest to which it might turn when jaded with comfortless labor, or exhausted with feverish invention, and yet which would never interfere with its higher functions, when it chose to address itself to them. Even a considerable amount of manual labor, sturdy color-grinding, and canvass-stretching, would be advantageous; though this kind of work ought to be in great part done by pupils. For it is one of the conditions of perfect knowledge in these matters, that every great master

« ZurückWeiter »