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THE ART-STUDENT IN ROME.
MR WESTMACOTT, R.A., Professor of Sculpture to the Royal Academy, delivered, during the past season, a lecture to the students on the benefits and the disadvantages of a Roman residence. Our fellow-countryman, Mr Gibson, long a denizen in Italy, is known to have expressed the deliberate opinion, that the public monuments erected in England are inferior to those found in other countries, that English sculptors are deficient in early education, and that it is desirable that our artstudents, by the opening of a Branch Academy in Rome, should be brought into more immediate contact with the best works of classic times. With this opinion, expressed by Mr Gibson,-than whom no man living is better entitled to a hearing, we entirely concur. But as its terms were by no means flattering to our English artists, or to the professors under whose tuition our students had been reared -as, moreover, this severe judgment had acquired additional weight by repetition in the House of Lords -we were not surprised that some member of the Royal Academy was found to vindicate the British schools, and to insist on the advantages of a London residence. Mr Westmacott accordingly made himself the champion of things as they are. He obtained an easy, but withal a worthless victory. It was of course not difficult to secure a response from home sympathies. Every reference to his own services -every hint delicately pointed to the genius he recognised around him was sure to be echoed with applause. But we are bound to say that we have seldom listened to a lecture more vague or more vacillating. The utmost we could get from it was this-that Rome was good and that London was good, provided a person had not too much of either. It is doubtless one of the evils incident to an
institution deriving prestige from Government sanction, that its professors will seldom speak boldly. But some one should be found publicly to declare and make it known that France, that Russia, and even the smaller states in Europe, have already established in Rome, for the culture of the higher departments of art, academies with pensioned students, while England has hitherto denied to her artists any commensurate advantages. It is not surprising that our English school of sculpture and painting has suffered accordingly. Rome is, for art, the capital of the world. is, indeed, itself a world-a community of sculptors, painters, architects, assembled from all the nations of the earth, surrounded by historic associations the most thrilling, in the midst of monuments the most inspiring. It is of the advantages of such a residence that we now propose to speak.
Most travellers are acquainted with the "Greco," renowned for coffee, tobacco, noise, and dirt. Let us turn in at early morning, and already shall we find a few artists breakfasting betimes by candlelight. The Germans flock in, a boisterous crew, accompanied by a rough dog-bearded, sturdy fellows, having little in common with their spiritual brethren of Munich and Dusseldorf. Towards half-past seven, when daylight in the winter months has fairly established itself, the Nestor of British sculpture, and others of the English school, begin to congregate. The first quarter of an hour, devoted to the satisfying of hunger, generally passes away in silence, broken only by a few detached, desultory words. But at the important stage when cigars commence to be handed round, and the more weighty portion of the repast disposed of, the cup is idly sipped at lengthening intervals. At this auspicious moment do ideas
begin to flow, do thoughts flock along the awakened morning brain, eager in pursuit of art, and earnest in the love of the noble and the true. Often have we sat by and listened to high discourse of gods of Greece, theories of ancient mythologies, mingled with bold speculation touching more modern creeds. Often have we lent an attentive ear to passing yet profound criticisms upon the renowned statues of the Capitol and the Vatican-the anguish of the Laocoon, the proud defiance of the Apollo, the pathos of the dying Gaul. It has been no ordinary privilege thus to enter into the artist mind, caught in the freedom of unreserve, when reason and fancy and speculation play together in hours of undisguised social converse, mingled with anecdote, pointed by playful satire, and made merry by hearty laughter. In such seasons as these, art seems clothed in living personalities: thoughts which had slumbered as dead abstractions in the mind walk freely abroad; ideas in their first germs are thrown out, and paraded on private view, ere they take their public stand in marble or on canvass; and thus the inward workings of the painter's or sculptor's genius are unconsciously revealed, and the artist himself becomes the interpreter to his works. This "Café Greco" is thus, as it were, an academy of art and a school for criticism. And we deem it no small advantage that the professors and students of all countries-the painters, the architects, and sculptors of every diversity of style, classic, medieval, Christian, landscape, and -domestic-can freely intermingle, talk openly of their works without fear of plagiarism, invite friendly criticism in defiance of jealousy and rivalry. Towards noon there is a second and minor gathering. After the " mezzo giorno" comes a sequel of coffee, flavoured sometimes with a "petit verre de cognac." In the evening, again, following the Ave Maria, dinner or supper is a larger and more general assemblage. Then
is heard a general strife of tongues and clatter of cups; the news of the day is noised from mouth to mouth; the American brogue breaks loose into a republic of discord; and painters, poets, and whiskered genius in questionable guise, glory in the biggest of words and the thickest of smoke. Then, at length, the coffee drunk to the dregs, the short pipe reduced to its ashes, and the last joke worn threadbare, the medley throng gradually clear away -some for social whist, others to solitary work.
To the sculptor the advantages of a Roman residence are undoubted. Rome has for years held within her walls some of the most famed professors of the art. Canova, writing from the banks of the Tiber, says: "Italy is my country
is the country and native soil of the arts. I cannot leave her-my infancy was nurtured here." It was among the seven hills, in the immediate presence of the Forum, the Coliseum, and the Vatican, that Canova's genius found a fitting and abiding home. Thorwaldsen, again, born in the far north, obtained, at the age of twentythree, a pension from the Academy of Copenhagen, started at once for Rome, fixed his studio near the Piazza Barberini, and founded, as is well known, his classic style upon the great originals of the Capitol and the Vatican. We find, also, that our own countryman, Flaxman, toiled for five continuous years in order to lay in store sufficient means for the Roman journey upon which he had set his heart. During a seven years' residence in the land of poets he executed his famed outlines of Homer, Eschylus, Dante, and other works. And now that these three great sculptors-Canova, Thorwaldsen, and Flaxman-are gone, Rome still finds in Mr Gibson a worthy successor. Like those great men whose mantle he inherits, he came at an early age to Italy, and formed his style upon the Grecian masterworks. In the studios of Canova
and Thorwaldsen he laboured, and in the midst of the antique marbles have the last forty years of his life been passed. He knows how much he owes to Italy; and therefore it is that he has urged upon the Government of his country the foundation of an English academy in Rome, wherein pensioned students should be nurtured in the higher walks of the plastic and pictorial arts. Speaking from personal observation, we can say there is no city comparable to Rome as a place for artistic study. It may be a minor, yet certainly it is by no means an unimportant matter, that the ardour of the youthful mind is kindled by the immediate presence of the great originals themselves. Casts from statues are often faulty; and no one will pretend that the congregated plaster copies at Sydenham can be looked upon with precisely the emotion awakened by the marbles of the Vatican. Standing before the Apollo, the Laocoon, or the Dying Gladiator, it is not merely a question of what the eye can see, but how much the imagination will realise. We may rest assured that Byron would never have written his immortal lines at the foot of a chalk-white Venus. Mechanical products of but yesterday cannot have about them the halo of antiquity. A statue which has felt the chisel of Phidias, which, as god or goddess, has been worshipped in temples, which had to endure for long ages a nation's overthrow, and then, for a second time, rose into life, is necessarily encircled with a thousand memories, and grows eloquent in eventful story. To adapt an oft-repeated saying, the society of such works constitutes of itself a liberal education. Actual history seems handed down in bodily shape; the poetry of mythology is seen in the most perfect of forms; and thus, the mental horizon extended indefinitely from the immediate point of view, art becomes, as she ever should be, the entrance-gate to noble knowledge.
The society likewise found in Rome, notwithstanding the foxhunting on the Campagna, and the small gossip inevitable among idlers and loungers, is somewhat, it must be admitted, of an intellectual cast. Conversation round the dinnertable, in cafés and at evening receptions, almost necessarily concerns itself with the pictures, the ruins, and the church ceremonies which during the day have been seen or studied. In the political stagnation which has long become chronic in the Eternal City, people naturally surrender their thoughts to refined dilettante excitement; and the arts, without hostile competition from foreign topics, come not merely to amuse the passing hour, but grow into the grave business of life. Men are permitted to move in the ideal world of pictures and statues without incurring the charge of mere elegant trifling or the neglect of more serious duties. fined minds can here give themselves wholly to æsthetic culturewalk among ruins without troubling about political economy, saunter along the byways of Tivoli, Albano, or Frascati, mingle among a picturesque peasantry, without discussing the theory of Malthus on population, freed from the trouble of reading a single page in The Wealth of Nations. Men, thus saved from the turmoil of an agitated intellect, glide gently along the more secluded paths of life, grow calmly meditative, simple in their tastes, yet subtle in their enjoyments, living in daily converse with the silent past, and finding companionship in thoughts which steal away to sheltered retreat. It is in an existence thus harmoniously set that the arts can best be cultivated. To sit under the arch of a ruined aqueduct, and think of Rome's decay; to listen, at vesper twilight, to the plaintive chant of nuns; to gaze from Pincian Hill on St Peter's dome, or on Hadrian's massive pile, angel-guarded;at each hour and at every step thus may the student dote on pictures
and taste of poetry. And if, perchance, it be his blessing to meet with choice companionship, what reward in listening to suggestive words, what gathered strength in sympathy, and how does sensitive thought gain redoubled value as it finds in some congenial mind a fit response!
We dwell upon these considerations because, in our experience, it is neither in Paris, in London, nor other of the great capitals of Europe, that this same artistic attitude of life can be cherished. In Rome, the Prophets and Sibyls of Michael Angelo, the Madonnas and Saints of Raphael, the Cæsars of the Palatine, and even the gods of Greece, are made our daily companions. We come home, after a morning in the Vatican or a walk in the Forum, and talk of the heroes of antiquity, and dwell upon the personal creations of the artist's imagination, as if they had just been our associates. By living thus closely side by side with the great painters and sculptors, we grow intimately acquainted with the lineaments of their genius; we recognise, and even anticipate, each movement in their thoughts; we enter into their inner life; and thus at length we can speak of their works as of the doings of a friend whose motives are understood, whose character is endeared by familiar intercourse. The student who holds himself as an alien from the works towards which he would aspire, who looks on as a distant stranger, denied near companionship, must necessarily rest content to serve in outer courts. He will be a hireling and perhaps a slave to genius, but can never, in the immunity of liberty, enter upon equal rights. We must dwell hour by hour with the great master-works, they must become partakers in our thoughts, till our ideas are at length fashioned upon them. We must look at pictures so intently that, closing the eye, their form lives again in the mind's vision. It is thus that the mind grows consonant with the noblest examples, that
well-stored memory feeds creative imagination, and the intellect, habituated to the thoughts of the greatest masters, accustomed to the facile use of grand ideas, is able at length to emulate what first it but strove to imitate. Upon this point Sir Joshua Reynolds has written with his usual wisdom: "Instead," says he, "of copying the touches of those great masters, copy only their conceptions; instead of treading in their footsteps, endeavour only to keep the same road; labour to invent on their general principles and way of thinking; possess yourself with their spirit; consider with yourself how a Michael Angelo or
Raphael would have treated this subject, and work yourself into a belief that your picture is to be seen and criticised by them when completed: an attempt of this kind will rouse your powers."
A residence in Rome we consider essential to the formation of that "grand style" for which, it must be confessed, our English school has hitherto shown itself so unequal. We have already quoted the recentlyexpressed opinion, that in the province of sculpture our public monuments evince the lack of thorough education. We do not hesitate to say that our most ambitious works in the sister art of painting show a like deficiency. Fuseli's big, eloquent words, uttered in lectures before the students of the Royal Academy, became mere vaulting ambition when translated into his own pictures. The large scenic works by Barry in the Adelphi, which he fondly hoped would have redeemed his country's art, are monstrous rather than grand. They show, it is true, a certain rude uncultured power, which, allied to a purer style, might have secured intrinsic excellence. To complete a melancholy catalogue, we must mention the weak pretentious conceptions painted by Sir James Thornhill, in the dome of St Paul's, recently restored, and now taking permanent rank with the profuse meretricious works of the Italian decadence.
Haydon, too, was another lost misguided genius, shipwrecked in London after a tossed life without anchorage. And coming down to the present moment, our English House of Commons is voting larger sums than were ever received by Raphael and Michael Angelo in the Vatican. And with what result? Why, the production of fresco-paintings which want the best qualities of the fresco art, the multiplication of pretended historic works which are deficient alike in historic dignity and architectural fitness. And then, lastly, the other day, in the hall of Lincoln's Inn, is unveiled a noble composition by Mr Watts, possessing, it is true, just the qualities to which the frescoes at Westminster can make no claim, yet betraying, on the other hand, we are bound to say, in cast of draperies and the putting together of individual figures, powers wholly unequal to contend with the difficulties inherent to so arduous an attempt. Such, then, has been, and still is, the present state of historic art in this country. It is to the lasting honour of Sir Joshua Reynolds that he strove, in his public discourses, to create within the English school a passion for the grand historic style. He well knew the deficiency upon which we have insisted. He felt it painfully even in his own person. Thus, on his arrival in Rome, he made the following confession: "I found myself," he says, "in the midst of works executed upon principles with which I was unacquainted. I felt my ignorance, and stood abashed. All the indigested notions of painting which I had brought with me from England, where the art was at the lowest ebb,-it could not indeed be lower, were to be totally done away with and eradicated from my mind. It was necessary, as it is expressed on a very solemn occasion, that I should become as a little child. Notwithstanding my disappointment, I proceeded to copy some of those excellent works. I viewed them again and again-I even affected to feel their merits, and to
admire them more than I really did. In a short time a new taste and new perceptions began to daw upon me; and I was convinced that I had originally formed a false opinion of the perfection of art, and that this great painter, Raphael, was well entitled to the high rank which he holds in the estimation of the world." That matters have not improved since the days of Reynolds, we have sufficient assurance in the teaching and practice of our English Pre-Raphaelite school. To denounce Raphael, and to reverse all that he established, is the lasting glory of some at least among our British painters, with Mr Ruskin as their guide.
We have seen that the great sculptors, Canova, Thorwaldsen, Flaxman, and Gibson, made lengthened tarriance in Rome, the essential capital of their art. In painting, the aspirants to the grand historic style owe, as we have seen, a like allegiance. Barry, under the kind patronage of his friend Burke, spent in the Italian capital five years, and received from Reynoldspreviously, as we have already seen, a student in the Sistine and the Vatican-a letter with these remarkable words: Whoever has great views," says Reynolds, “I would recommend to him, whilst in Rome, rather to live on bread and water than lose those advantages which he can never hope to enjoy a second time, and which he will find only in the Vatican." We do not hesitate to say that historic painting, in its noblest form, is for us in England almost a lost art. The grand Italian style was not easily arrived at: it took three hundred years for its maturing. The works of Raphael and Michael Angelo were no accidental phenomena-no mere exceptional results without previous pedigree or antecedents. They were the consummation of anterior centuries; they were the perfecting of pre-existing methods; they were the concentration of Italian genius which had long been struggling into freedom and power.