« VorigeDoorgaan »
acquiring still further sanction from the practice itself of the moderns, has finally produced so fixed and so general an opinion on this point, that it would be at the present day impossible to change it, and almost useless to combat it. However, it is a fact well known at present, that marble was the material the least used by the Greeks in the most beautiful periods, and for the greatest works of art; and that almost none but works in marble have come down to us, solely depends on this, that this material, possessing no value in itself, barbarity, fanaticism, and cupidity, these great causes of the destruction of ancient monuments, had no interest in destroying works in marble.
Thus, then, it is from an error with regard to facts that the opinion of the moderns on the excellence of statuary in marble was established; it is from a real mistake that their exclusive taste on this point has been formed; and our principles, which appear to us so solid and so perfect, for we will not even listen to any one who questions them, proceed, in fact, from an error, and are in reality but a prejudice. I shall not mention the great number of works in bronze, in gold and in ivory, in marble and in metal, which existed in ancient times, and which compose by far the greater part of the domain of Greek art. The Jupiter Olympius of Quatremère de Quincy contains on this point an aggregate of facts and of theories to which it would be difficult to add or to oppose anything, and presents the only true theory of the art, such as the ancients had conceived it. But I shall point out some facts partly borrowed from the experience of the ancients, partly from that of the moderns, which will incontestably prove, in my opinion, how much our views and opinions with regard to this subject are narrow, false, and superficial. The single town of Herculaneum would have been sufficient to show to what degree the taste for polychromatic sculpture, that is, sculpture of different materials or with different colours, was still widely extended at the period of decline, and in the small provincial towns; for more statues of bronze than of marble have been found there, because the catastrophe which buried that town, as we may say, all alive, did not allow the works of the statuary in bronze to be used in the following ages for other purposes, as happened everywhere else where productions of this kind and of this material were to be met with; as we learn from the very testimony of our ancestors, took place at the taking of
Constantinople by the French and Venetian Crusaders in 1204, when so many beautiful works of Greek art, the master-pieces of Myron, of Phidias, of Lysippus, which still existed, were destroyed or melted down for the basest motives, and for the vilest purposes. Among these bronzes of Herculaneum there are many which present, in their inlaying in silver, a striking example of the use of polychromatic sculpture for the most common purposes, and in the smallest details. Almost all the figures, or the instruments and vases in bronze, exhibit, in fact, either some parts, or some ornaments, wrought in silver, which proceed from the same principle, and which depend on the same taste. But what is most deserving of remark is, that we find in the sculpture of the revival of the arts, principally in the Florentine school, the mother of all the others, an analogous taste and practice, the frequent use of bronze, the custom of colouring and of mixing metals, of blending different substances in the works of statuary, all certainly derived from maxims and from processes purely Greek, by an uninterrupted tradition through the long and dark period of the middle ages. The numerous testimonies of this ancient taste which modern Tuscany presents, are doubtless not unknown to any one in any way versed in the history of art. It would not be perhaps from our purpose, if we should mention here the principal of them, in order to show under how many forms, and how skilfully, it had been practised; how a taste, which has become so foreign to our habits, and so contrary to our present principles, has been transmitted from the ancients to the moderns, and how this taste, which appears at the present day so odd and fantastic, was for a long time the prevailing taste in art.
The mixture of different materials in order to set off the different mouldings in architecture, or simply to ornament them; this mixture, inherited from the Greeks, is conspicuous in the highest degree in a single square at Florence, in the reunion of three edifices, the dome, the baptistery, and the wonderful Campanile, the work of Giotto, and the production of the fourteenth century; and is also to be found at Pisa, in a similar reunion of three similar edifices; it is also to be seen at Sienna, in the single cathedral of that town. Nothing, too, is more frequent in the works of statuary of the same country and of the same age, than parts painted or gilt on similar materials, such as marble or bronze: examples are innumerable even in our own country; there are many who can still recollect
having seen the sculptures of several of our gothic cathedrals, and among others Notre Dame, almost entirely painted and gilt. The mixture of the two arts by the means of stones differently coloured, which produce a kind of painting in marble, is also a branch of Tuscan art, of which the pavement of the Cathedral of Sienna presents an admirable specimen. The paintings produced by the process of tarsia by the means of wood of different colours, sometimes with parts in relief, or with inlaying in metal, also present a kind of mechanical art, which obtained in Tuscany the rank of genuine art, and which has made cabinet-work a branch of sculpture; a mechanical art, moreover, completely analogous to that practised by the ancients for the purpose of ornamenting either with light inlaid leaves, crustas, or with parts laid on in relief, emblemata, all kinds of vases, of furniture, even statues; and the famous Isiac table, with its silver figures inlaid in a table of bronze, may be compared, according to this view, to the modern tarsia, as the front of St. Miniato, near Florence, can give an idea of this mixture of different marble, used in compartments to form all kinds of decorations, which the Romans in Pliny's time had so much abused according to the testimony of that writer. The art of colouring, of inlaying metals, which was cultivated with so much success by the Florentine goldsmiths, such as Benvenuto Cellini; that of painting clay with enamel, and of linking, in this manner, as intimately as possible, sculpture and painting; this art, which produced, under the hand of Luca della Robbia such beautiful works, and which sometimes in so happy a manner allied itself with architecture in order to decorate the principal parts of edifices, such as the friezes, and even the entire façades of churches, as can be observed, among other examples, on a beautiful church of Perugia: this art, so manifestly linked with the habitual taste of the ancients for polychromatic sculpture, and for coloured architecture, prevailed simultaneously with other arts of the same kind which I have just pointed out, so as to form a complete system, a vast aggregate of works, produced under the same influence, impressed with the same taste, executed with the same talent, which have made Tuscan art the principal phenomenon of modern genius, and the only one which can be compared, under almost every view, and almost with equal advantage, to the wonders of ancient genius. Now, all these works, which I have rapidly glanced over, were executed at a period which has been
called that of the revival of the arts, which extends from the thirteenth to the sixteenth century; they are all, or nearly all, included between Giotto and Michael Angelo. At this period, the discoveries of ancient marbles had had on the development of art, and on the direction of taste no influence, or, at least, very slight. These monuments were as yet so rare, and generally so ill appreciated, that even Michael Angelo allowed the legs of the Farnese Hercules to remain, which had been restored by his pupil Della Porta, after the ancient legs had been found; and when Michael Angelo wanted to restore in his turn some ancient statues, as he did to the statue called the Dying Gladiator, or when he attempted to produce from his own invention a statue of an ancient personage, as in his Bacchus of the Florentine Gallery, one can but too clearly perceive to what degree this great man, and still more his contemporaries and his pupils, were as yet but little imbued with the sentiment of ancient statuary.
The works of this art then known, and which consisted for the most part but of statues or bassi-relievi in marble, could not, up to this period have exercised almost any influence on the formation of taste; and consequently the numerous proofs I have given of this taste for polychromatic sculpture, so general in Tuscany at the revival of the art, depend on more ancient influences, and are connected by uninterrupted traditions, with the practice and principles of Greek art. But in proportion as these ancient monuments in marble became more numerous, in proportion as they were better known and more appreciated, an insensible change took place in the ideas of the age, and finally a complete revolution, in consequence of this exclusive study and assiduous contemplation. This was then carried so far that it was deemed impossible to conceive and admit any other kind of sculpture than sculpture in marble, because in reality it was in this material that the most beautiful works of ancient art that we are acquainted with have been executed, and it was thus was formed this general prepossession in favour of statuary in marble, and this prejudice against polychromatic sculpture which obstinately resists every proof, every example, which can be produced of a different taste in Greek antiquity as well as in modern Tuscany. However, there would have been required but a little more attention, or a little less prepossession, in order to discover, even in the works of statuary in marble, which have come down to us from