Abbildungen der Seite
PDF

years, another kind of influence, much resembling that which they had at first on the most pious Romanists. They are used to excite certain conditions of religious dream or reverie; being again, as in earliest times, regarded not as representations of fact, but as expressions of sentiment respecting the fact. In this way the best of them have unquestionably much purifying and enchanting power; and they are helpful opponents to sinful passion and weakness of every kind. A fit of unjust anger, petty malice, unreasonable vexation, or dark passion, cannot certainly, in a mind of ordinary sensibility, hold its own in the presence of a good engraving from any work of Angelico, Memling, or Perugino. But I nevertheless believe, that he who trusts much to such helps will find them fail him at his need; and that the dependence, in any great degree, on the presence or power of a picture, indicates a wonderfully feeble sense of the presence and power of God. I do not think that any man, who is thoroughly certain that Christ is in the room, will care what sort of pictures of Christ he has on its walls; and, in the plurality of cases, the delight taken in art of this kind is, in reality, nothing more than a form of graceful indulgence of those sensibilities which the habits of a disciplined life restrain in other directions. Such art is, in a word, the opera and drama of the monk. Sometimes it is worse than this, and the love of it is the mask under which a general thirst for morbid excitement will pass itself for religion. The young lady who rises in the middle of the day, jaded by her last night's ball, and utterly incapable of any simple or wholesome religious exercise, can still gaze into the dark eyes of the Madonna di San Sisto, or dream over the whiteness of an ivory crucifix, and returns to the course of her daily life in full persuasion that her morning's feverishness has atoned for her evening's folly. And all the while, the art which possesses these very doubtful advantages is acting for undoubtful detri

ment, in the various ways above examined, on the inmost fast. nesses of faith; it is throwing subtle endearments round fool ish traditions, confusing sweet fancies with sound doctrines, obscuring real events with unlikely semblances, and enforcing false assertions with pleasant circumstantiality, until, to th usual, and assuredly sufficient, difficulties standing in the way of belief, its votaries have added a habit of sentimentally changing what they know to be true, and of dearly loving what they confess to be false. Has there, then (the reader asks emphatically), been no true religious ideal? Has religious art never been of any service to mankind? I fear, on the whole, not. Of true religious ideal, representing events historically recorded, with solemn effort at a sincere and unartificial conception, there exist, as yet, hardly any examples. Nearly all good religious pictures fall into one or other branch of the false ideal already examined, either into the Angelican (passionate ideal) or the Raphaelesque (philosophical ideal). But there is one true form of religious art, nevertheless, in the pictures of the passionate ideal which represent imaginary beings of another world. Since it is evidently right that we should try to imagine the glories of the next world, and as this imagination must be, in each separate mind, more or less different, and unconfined by any laws of material fact, the passionate ideal has not only full scope here, but it becomes our duty to urge its powers to its utmost, so that every condition of beautiful form and color may be employed to invest these scenes with greater delightfulness (the whole being, of course, received as an assertion of possibility, not of absolute fact). All the paradises imagined by the religious painters—the choirs of glori. fied saints, angels, and spiritual powers, when painted with full belief in this possibility of their existence, are true ideals; and so far from our having dwelt on these too much, I believe, rather, we have not trusted them enough, nor accepted them enough, as possible statements of most precious truth. No. thing but unmixed good can accrue to any mind from the contemplation of Orcagna's Last Judgment or his triumph of death, of Angelico's Last Judgment and Paradise, or any of the scenes laid in heaven by the other faithful religious masters; and the more they are considered, not as works of art, but as real visions of real things, more or less imperfectly set down, the more good will be got by dwelling upon them. The same is true of all representations of Christ as a living presence among us now, as in Hunt's Light of the World. The examination of the various degrees in which sacred art has reached its proper power is not to our present purpose; still less, to investigate the infinitely difficult question of its past operation on the Christian mind; it being enough here to mark the forms of ideal error, without historically tracing their extent, and to state generally that my impression is, up to the present moment, that the best religious art has been hitherto rather a fruit, and attendant sign, of sincere Christianity than a promoter of or help to it. More, I think, has always been done for God by few words than many pictures, and more by few acts than many words. I must not, however, quit the subject without insisting on the chief practical consequence of what we have observed, namely, that sacred art, so far from being exhausted, has yet to attain the development of its highest branches; and the task, or privilege, yet remains for mankind, to produce an art which shall be at once entirely skilful and entirely sincere. All the histories of the Bible are, in my judgment, yet waiting to be painted. Moses has never been painted; Elijah never; David never (except as a mere ruddy stripling); Deborah never; Gideon never; Isaiah never. What single example does the reader remember of painting which suggested so much as the faintest shadow of these people, or of their deeds? Strong men in armor, or aged men with flowing beards, he may remember, who, when he looked at his Louvre or Uffizii catalogue, he found were intended to stand for David or for Moses. But does he suppose that, if these pictures had sug gested to him the feeblest image of the presence of such men, he would have passed on, as he assuredly did, to the next picture,—representing, doubtless, Diana and Actaeon, or Cupid and the Graces, or a gambling quarrel in a pothouse,_-with no sense of pain, or surprise? Let him meditate over the matter, and he will find ultimately that what I say is true, and that religious art, at once complete and sincere, never yet has existed. It will exist: nay, I believe the era of its birth has come, and that those bright Turnerian imageries, which the European public declared to be “dotage,” and those calm PreRaphaelite studies which, in like manner, it pronounced “puerility,” form the first foundation that has been ever laid for true sacred art. Of this we shall presently reason farther. But, be it as it may, if we would cherish the hope that sacred art may, indeed, arise for us, two separate cautions are to be addressed to the two opposed classes of religionists whose influence will chiefly retard that hope's accomplishment. The group calling themselves Evangelical ought no longer to render their religion an offence to men of the world by associating it only with the most vulgar forms of art. It is not necessary that they should admit either music or painting into religious service; but, if they admit either the one or the other, let it not be bad music nor bad painting: it is certainly in nowise more for Christ's honor that His praise should be sung discordantly, or His miracles painted discre. ditably, than that His word should be preached ungramma. tically. Some Evangelicals, however, seem to take a morbid pride in the triple degradation.* The opposite class of men, whose natural instincts lead them to mingle the refinements of art with all the offices and practices of religion, are to be warned, on the contrary, how they mistake their enjoyments for their duties, or confound poetry with faith. I admit that it is impossible for one man to judge another in this matter, and that it can never be said with certainty how far what seems frivolity may be force, and what seems the indulgence of the heart may be, indeed, its dedication. I am ready to believe that Metastasio, expiring in a canzonet, may have died better than if his prayer had been in unmeasured syllables. But, for the most part, it is

* I do not know anything more humiliating to a man of common sense, than to open what is called an “Illustrated Bible” of modern days. See, for instance, the plates in Brown's Bible (octavo: Edinburgh, 1840) a standard evangelical edition. Our habit of reducing the Psalms to doggrel before we will condescend to sing them, is a parallel abuse. It is marvellous to think that human creatures with tongues and souls should refuse to chant the verse: “Before Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh, stir up thy strength, and come and help us;” preferring this:“Behold, how Benjamin expects, With Ephraim and Manasseh joined, In their deliverance, the effects Of thy resistless strength to find!” + “En 1780, Agé de quatre-vingt-deux ans, au moment de recevoir le viatique, il rassembla ses forces, et chanta, a son Créateur: “Eterno Genitor

Iot offro il proprio figlio

Che in pegno del tuo amor

Si Vuole a me donar.

A lui rivolgi il ciglio,

Mira chit' offro; e poi,

Niega, Signor, se puoi,

Niega di perdonar.’” -Dr STENDIIAL. Via de Metastasio.

« ZurückWeiter »