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A man must be on very good terms with himself who can come from before those great works without feeling their godlike serenity and their unattainable excellence. But at that time the barren mannerism of the Roman school had supplanted nature, and the antique was held up as the only model of excellence; the Gothic notions of beauty were tried by the standard of Greece; and to copy, plunder is the right word, with a servile hand, and transfer ancient limb and lineament to the sculptor's model, was held worthier of ambition than the awakening of a new and natural feeling. Canova was, therefore, perhaps prudent in sheltering himself behind his antique shield from the venomous missiles of the Roman critics. It was clever to inlist on his side those venerable prejudices; but a man who works from the fullness of nature will look neither to the right nor to the left, but fulfil in silence his own desires, and create according to his own spirit, regardless of the counsel of friends or the censure of critics.
Yet here again we must admit that the rule has its exceptions. Some of the devotional labours of the artist are of very peculiar beauty; the Recumbent Magdalen, in the possession of Lord Liverpool, has a pathos which goes to the heart. The John the Baptist is simple and innocent—though the young prophet wants that divine wildness with which the early painters of Italy invested him.*
But beautiful as these exceptions are, the true and lasting fame of Canova must flow from another source. One class of his works faintly reflects the antique, another personifies religious feeling; but the third and best class embodies Italian life and Italian beauty, and rises into originality of thought and form worthy of the fame of the sculptor.
It was from this living source that the artists of Greece themselves drew their images of classic loveliness,
no one has been more successful in finding beauty at his own door, when he condescended to seek it there, than Canova. His statues of the Buonapartes are a proof of this. His Napoleon, his Pauline and his Madame Buonaparte all show with what skill he could idealize on the human form-avoid a gross and literal copy -extract from it the proportion and beauty which the poetry of -sculpture requires, yet still keep nature for his guide, and never
a moment, from his love of the visionary, lose sight of the family character of form and face--that distinguishing stamp of intellect which nature gave so liberally, and which some of its possessors so grievously abused. The majesty of Napoleon, the miatron-like gravity of his mother, and the voluptuous beauty of his favourite sister are only three natural personations: and while we admire the skill and grace of the sculptor's wo * The model, with all its brass points of admeasurement, is in the gallery of Chantrey,
feel assured that we stand in the presence of forms which have lived and breathed. Had he always wrought in this way, his fame would have been far higher than it is likely to be. He suffered the idle cry which was raised about the antique, the levity of his countrymen and the affectation of stage heroines, to influence him too much; and it was not until life had begun to decline that he turned himself sincerely and boldly to the simple modesty of natúre.
We cannot say farewell to Canova, without pausing to say something of the Sculpture of our native island, and we shall eudeavour to do so with perfect honesty and freedom; we shall try its merits by the standard of nature, by the truth of history; we shall spare no censure where it speaks in an unnatural or unintelligible tongue, neither shall we be avaricious of our praise when it appears in a shape worthy of the genius of our country
. A glance at what other nations have done before us, will establish the great vital principles-nature and nationality--and serve to explain the strange and absurd mixture of heathen gods, abstract personification and pure nature, which is so lamentably predominant in our public and private monuments. It will show that every nation wrought after its own heart; that every great people had an original spirit of their own; and that the wise and unfettered use of the native genius of the land is the only way to eminence in anything that the world accounts noble and great. The student will also learn that the works by which he may safely hope for fame must originate not in the antique, but in his own heart and imagination; and that, where nature has denied her highest gift, the most incessant study and the most consummate skill can only carry sculpture to where genius begins, and there leave it in despair.
T'he earliest sculpture was in its nature like poetry, historical and religious. Man's reverence of super-human power and admiration of his own actions have moved him in every age.
The ancient gods of Egypt were like the present gods of the East
, an insult to the human form. The sculpture of the Egyptian fell below the mark of manhood; that of Greece rose above it; and the works of the Romans were but a feeble or servile revival of the productions of Athens. Still the character of the works of those three powerful nations was expressly the same--heaven and history. The barbarians who ravaged the falling empire of Rome, if they brought not from their vative woods the same principles of sculpture, at least carried them away, and the early churches of France and England are covered round and round with miracles wrought by the saints--the sufferings of the martyrs-legends of the church-devout processions and religious ceremouies. Na
tional pride added to religious vanity its kings, counsellors, and warriors, while domestic affection brought long after a sculpture: of its own, which forms one of the chief glories of our English art. , How much of the old Egyptian spirit found its way into the works of Greece it is of no use to inquire; the manner in which those nations felt and wrought on similar objects is as different as inborn vulgarity is from natural grace. The men of Egypt were truly a wonderful race. They had notions of durability in their works which no other nation has succeeded in imitating they seemed to work as if they laughed at time, war, barbarism. They hewed temples with all their columns and colossal gods out of hills of solid rock. They laboured on a scale almost as grand as nature herself. In sculpture they had just conceptions, but their execution was rude, hideous, and startling. They were a clumsy-banded race; quantity was every thing with them, or almost so, quality but little; they wişhed to please theinselves and astonish posterity, and they succeeded. The colossal remains of their sculpture show us how far they carried the art and how they felt and acted. The first gigantic gropings of the genius of sculpture are there.
The Greeks took up this art as they did oratory, poetry and painting, and carried it to the highest excellence it has ever reached. They took it from the Egyptians and the Assyrians, rude in form, coarse in execution, poor in sentiment, and from the absence of genius, directed to no wise and salutary aim. Intu this grim and shapeless creation of old art they poured their own sense and soul—they inspired it with heroism, majesty, beauty. They found all this in their own thoughts and within the limits of Greece. No country could truly call itself the foster-parent of their sculpture-the twin beauty of Castor and Pollux came from no Egyptian egg—the cubs of old Nile could never have been licked and moulded into the forms of Greece. To them sculpture was a passion, an existence, like poetry and eloquence; wherever they found the first notions of art, the sense whích animated it was their own. They covered their bills with statues of nymphs and heroes, and filled their temples and groves with gods. Their cities were emblazoned with their history fabulous and real, and on every hand were fixed the statues of their warriors and legislators. On their homes and their household things they set the seal of their own imagination ; their sculpture, like their poetry, was founded in belief, in history, and in good sense. They made nothing with the hope that posterity would find out a meaning for it. The very ornaments of their temples spoke, and their sculpture had a tongue as eloquent and clear as their oratory. Climate is a great patron of sculpture; and the vivid
beauty of the workmanship remained long uninjured in the open air of that mild and sunny region.
On the Syrian palaces and in the temples of the deserts, travellers yet observe the marks of Grecian genius. A mythology, recommended by the song of Homer, and the almost equally divine labours of sculptors, was widely spread; and nations who refused to bow to the arms of Greece, admitted her religion, bowed to her deities and consulted her oracles. Even when their proper altars were overthrown, the gods of the Greeks descended to the Christians. They took them to the font and baptized them. Minerva was Wisdom; Mercury, Eloquence; Venus, Beauty; Hercules, Strength; Apollo, Poetry; Neptune, Father Eridanus, or Father Tiber, or Father Nile. In this heathen train came the dark legion of Abstract Ideas, of whom Nero was a patron in bis verse; his longribbed Appenine' has been the fruitful mother of many a personified hill, and 'maternal Rome' has begotten many a city-lady with turrets on her brows to sit and do nothing on our monuments. That progeny of the brain infested our literature, and deformed our painting, and it still lingers in the national sculpture which for a long time it overwhelmed.
The Romans made the conquest of the world so much the passion of their hearts, that they had little enthusiasm to spare for art. They admired the works of Greece and filled Rome with statues, but though they inherited the empire they succeeded not to the genius of that little knot of republics. In their hands sculpture soon degenerated; it became more vulgar and more absurd in every succeeding reign. As they worshipped the gods of Greece, they were content to find them ready made to their hands, and their chief works were statues of their great men, and triumphal columns and arches. Their best and most characteristic sculpture was history. The Column of Trajan represents in one continued winding relief, from the base to the summit, the actions of the emperor, and his statue stands at the top to show him as the consummation of all glory. It is a kind of martial gazette in stone.
These universal conquerors succeeded in fixing slavery and sculpture upon our barbarian ancestors, and the temples and courts of justice were adorned, or, more probably, encumbered with statues of the divinities of the country. The remains of Roman and British art in England are well imagined, but executed with such deficiency of skill as countenances the conjecture, that the gods and altars, as well as the roads of the time, were made by the sol. diers. The warlike invaders left something like the love of art behind them when Ætius withdrew his last legion. A brazen
statue of King Lud was erected on Ludgate Hill. But the colossal dimensions, and the fierce countenance which Bede celebrates, are bad symptoms. Amplitude had been taken for sublimity, and gigantic ferocity for heroic grandeur.
The Saxons succeeded the Romans, and whatever they did had a dash of the wildness of that blunt people. Their attempts to imitate the human form are savage and hideous. But riches and repose began to aid them in softening down the barbarous rudeness of imitation; and in their sacred architecture they had begun to display some taste, when their progress was arrested by the Normans, a people as fierce as themselves. To this band of conquering adventurers we owe, among other benefits, the introduction of a better kind of sculpture. The tombs of the days of William the Norman and his sons were good examples of the Gothic taste; and the forms sculptured upon them were stiff but natural, and intelligible though coarse. As we come along the stream of our history, the beauty of church architecture increases; and the devout meaning and skilful execution of its accompanying sculptures become more and more remarkable. The return of the Crusaders brought a taste for the Grecian art, which was then visible wherever they had marched. The church waxed strong, rich, ambitious, and desirous of splendour. Magnificent abbeys were built, and the whole skill and genius of the land were employed in embellishing them with traditions of the saints and legends of the church. In the days of the third Henry, the desire to excel seemed universal, and many works of true genius adorned our cathedrals. The Creation, the Deluge, the Nativity, the Crucifixion and the Resurrection were designed with a feeling at once scriptural and imaginative; and statues of apostles and saints, sufferings of martyrs, miracles, abbesses, processions of priests and pilgrims, and rites and ceremonies of the church covered the walls, filled the niches and recesses, and even mingled with the foliages of the cornices and bands. On one place the glory of heaven was represented, with saints, souls of just men made perfect, and ministering angels : on another, the horrors of bell—the pangs of damnation, and the writhing of evil spirits. The Day of Judgment was likewise sculptured, and the genius of latter times has added little to the severe and impressive power of the delineation. The Saviour descends with looks of meekness and mercy among his adoring apostles, and beneath bim are seen the nations of the earth arising to judgment. Some start up unwillingly and with gestures of horror, while others emerge from the grave with looks of awe and hope. Over the works of those days were scattered much good sense, right feeling, and simple grace, which redeemed the imperfect