had been deposited the first germ of the arts of imitation; it was also on her soil that were formed the first national schools on record in history. Corinth, Sicyon, Argos, Epidaurus, Egina, but especially Athens, the genuine instructress of the human race, from the earliest period, made their name and influence celebrated by useful discoveries and celebrated works. Such is the hasty glance of the geography of Greek art, the elements of which, collected by Herder, Heyne, Heeren, O. Muller, yet await a deeper and more profound examination. As to the chronology of art, the most knotty and the most difficult portion of its history considered in its details, at the present day, it has been generally agreed to fix three principal epochs, which embrace the entire development of Greek art; and these epochs, connected with the very properties of this art, are those of the ancient style, the grand and beautiful style, the graceful style, periods which can be historically determined in the following manner; from the birth of the art to Phidias for the first, from Phidias to Praxiteles for the second, from Praxiteles to Lysippus and to Apelles for the third. In this classification of the art, different from that which Winckelmann has established, are not included the monuments of art produced at the court of the successors of Alexander, and at Rome under the emperors, that is to say, almost all the monuments we possess.

For in fact these monuments, whatever merit they may possess in our eyes, whatever may be their number, and the space of time they embrace, do not constitute an epoch of art, as they present nothing new or original in style, and because they present nothing more than repetitions, memorials, or copies, more or less estimable, of works of an anterior period, and of an order probably more elevated. Still less is there any reference to the Romans where there is any question of the periods of art fixed according to the characters of style. The Romans never possessed, not only a style which was their own, but not even artists who belonged to them. They never knew, never cultivated art, but by foreign hands, first by the Etruscans, then by the Greeks. With regard to art they were still more incapable, or less fortunate, than with regard to literature, which, though almost entirely derived from a Grecian source, nevertheless produced, at Rome, some original talents. But art, as it was practised to its very last moments, remained always in Rome, Greek in

character and style, even in the very artists themselves. Rome, with its political power, with all its boundless fame, takes its place in the history of art but as the depository of the treasures of Greece, and at farthest as the heir of its teachings. At first it was only able to pillage the works of art, then to copy them, at a still later period only to travesty them; it produced many a Verres, but not one artist. The first period of art, or that of the ancient style as we have fixed it, from the very birth of art to Phidias, may, and ought to be, subdivided into two different periods, one of which embraces all those first efforts, all those rude essays of an art still in its cradle, which have but a very distant connection with art properly so called, which take a place in its history but as genealogical titles, while the second includes the continuation and development of these works produced under a more happy inspiration, and were the results of more skilful studies and processes. The first would extend from the age of Homer to that of Croesus, and of Polycrates; the second from the latter period, to that of the war with the Persians.

It would be the subject matter for one of the most interesting books one could write, to extract from the poems of Homer the complete picture of Greek civilisation as it existed at the age of their author. Not that there are wanting many works on this subject, but a work is still wanting which would present its aggregate. The book of Homer may be considered, laying out of the question its great poetic merit, as a kind of encyclopedia of the twelfth century before our era, and art does not doubtless occupy the least space in this vast and interesting picture of a social organisation so simple and already so advanced. In saying art, I mean here all its branches, architecture, sculpture, and painting, including many mechanical arts which are connected with them. Architecture would claim in this picture an important part from the curious and detailed description of the palace of Alcinous and that of Ulysses; from the descriptions of the walls and edifices of Pergamos, and of the camp of the Greeks. Sculpture in its turn would claim its space from the number of works in wood, in metal, and in ivory, many of which, from the hand of Vulcan, already testify to a kind of perfection in these mechanical works; and especially the shield of Achilles, the sole description of which forms perhaps the most curious and the most complete, as well as the most ancient document of the history

of the arts of Greece. The Trojan horse would also have a place in the Homeric delineation of the works of primitive sculpture, at once as a proof of a mechanical art far advanced, and of that taste for gigantic monuments which, at these first periods of civilisation, was the characteristic of all that was noble and grand. Painting, the existence and practice of which at the time of Homer it has been vainly in my opinion endeavoured to deny, would obtain its share, which has been hitherto denied to it, in consequence of its alliance with sculpture, as may be seen, among other examples, from the shield of Achilles, on which different metals, differently coloured, produced, by their mixture, a series of pictures at once painted and sculptured. Those beautiful tapestries, worked by the hands of Helen and of Andromache, in which the wool, shaded in different colours, imitated so many objects to the life, would not be a less direct, or less positive proof of the antiquity of an art, of which they could not have made at the time of Homer such general use, without its being cultivated with a kind of success. I shall rapidly point out here some of the principal features of which this kind of Homeric archæology might be composed, which I have neither leisure nor the intention to trace at the present moment, but it is a subject which I hope will engage your attention. The interest which the study of antiquity generally excites, for, in initiating us into the knowledge of a period which no longer exists, it extends our existence into a past age more or less remote from us, -it increases, so to speak, our being, by all the space it adds to that in which we live; this interest increases still more, for the same reason, in proportion as we seek to penetrate to the very cradle of the arts, to the very source of those institutions so long destroyed. If we could have at the same time collected before us the Jupiter of Olympia, and the first idol which was brought into or produced in Greece, if we could compare the work of Dædalus and that of Phidias, with what interest, with what emotion would we pass from one to the other, to measure, if it were possible, all the space which the human mind passed over, between the birth and the final perfection of the art, to calculate how many centuries it required, how many efforts it had cost to attain at last from so rude an attempt, so admirable a result, a sight so instructing and so interesting for so many reasons, which in the second century of our era was still presented to Pausanias at every step of his

journey, we can never entertain the hope of ever enjoying, even though we should dig on every spot of land, and to every depth of the soil of Greece which has as yet been turned up only by the plough, and by the barbarous rifler. Let us, however, attempt to supply the absence of monuments by historical information, which must take its place. Let us try to ascend to the cradle of art, by availing ourselves of all the traditions which are connected with it. We shall find on our path some curious facts, and for want of contemporaneous monuments, some memorials of another age, which take their place in imitating them. The first idols of Greece were, as we have already said, stones which were supposed to have fallen from heaven, and one can easily conceive what value a similar belief must have bestowed on those idols. The experience of our age has proved that what was among the ancients a superstitious opinion, could have a real foundation; and this is not the only case in which the facts of fable have been finally restored to the domain of science. These pretended stones, fallen from heaven, reverenced for this reason rather as manifestations, doubtless, than as images of the deity, were in fact real aerolites. Such was the Cupid of Thespiæ, which was always worshipped under this primitive form even at the period in which art, brought to perfection by genius, displayed, in the very same sanctuary, one of the masterpieces of Praxiteles. Next to these rude stones were to be remarked, for the same merit of antiquity, blocks of wood coarsely fashioned, genuine fetiches, from which the worship of the ancient Pelasgi might be considered analogous to that of the Samoids, or of any other savage people. One of the most venerated of these idols was the Juno of Argos; it was made of the trunk of a wild pear-tree, and was of moderate size. Carried by Pirasus, son of Argus, to Tyrinth, it had been, at the time of the destruction of that town by the Argives, carried into its temple at Argos. One may judge from this anecdote of the high antiquity of this statue, of the prodigious value which was attached to it. And Pausanias saw it still receiving, at the second period of our era, the homage of Greece, by the side of the Juno of Polycletus, a Colossus of ivory and gold, a masterpiece of art and of the author. Thus these stones and pillars of wood, square or round, were the first gods of Greece, and these rude monuments of an art in its infancy were preserved during nearly fifteen centuries, by the


side of the wonders of that art, objects of an equal veneration, but not doubtless for the same reason.

It is probable that, to all the superstitious motives which rendered these statues the objects of such veneration, was also added, among the Greeks, a feeling of pleasure and national vanity, when beholding the first attempt of the art, placed near one of its master-pieces, they thus embraced at a single glance the immense space they had gone over in the domain of imitation. They thus enjoyed their genius in the presence of objects which marked their infancy, they took a pride in their capabilities, in those very comparisons which recalled their primitive imperfections; and indeed these monuments of rudeness were, in fact, titles of glory for Greece, or, as we may say, the archives of nobility. Up to this period we do not perceive any trace, either direct or indirect, of any foreign influence. If any one should be willing to admit, that this influence was exercised at the first period of art, the following are, probably, the proofs which might be adduced to prove whence it came, and in what manner it was exercised. The Phoenicians who had founded banks in some of the isles of Greece, and on several parts of the coast which they deemed favourable for establishments of this kind, raised, at the entrance of their factories, posts or columns to which they attached the idea of their national god, Thoth, or Theuth, adding to it the Phallus, as an universal symbol of nature; from these posts or pillars, with the appendage just mentioned, resulted directly the form of the Hermes; and the image itself of the god who bore this name among the Greeks, and who was called Mercury among the Romans.

The Greeks, with that instinct of imitation already awakened among them, placed a head on this pillar, and the Greek Hermes was completed by this single addition, probably made on the Attic territory, to the posts which Phoenician hands had erected. Athens, in fact, more than any other town in Greece, was filled with this sort of idols, the worship of which seemed to have for her a peculiar attraction, the form of which ought, consequently, to be linked with its national traditions. It is well known that under the Peisistratida the Hermes became the principal element of the embellishments for which Athens was indebted to those chiefs so famed for their learning and skill, to so great an extent that it was called the City of the Hermes; and such was the abundance of figures of that kind

« VorigeDoorgaan »