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gems are derived from their mythology, and were most probably worn as amulets or charms. That some such feeling existed among the Etruscans is rendered probable by the account of Tarquin demanding all the rings of the magistrates and others on his conquest of Etruria*.
Without doubt, the arts of sculpture, painting and gemengraving kept nearly an equal pace, and from very rude commencements attained in Greece at the same time the greatest excellence. Drawing and painting do not appear to have improved among the Egyptians, or any Eastern people. The inanimate sculpture of Egypt advanced only in execution, or rather workmanship; the conception and expression in the earliest works are as commendable as those of the age of Cambyses. Their knowledge of painting was confined to an uniform colour, circumscribed by an outline merely indicative of position: muscular action was never attempted, and chiaro oscuro was wholly unknown to them. The colossal and grotesque, mingled with the barbaresque, is the utmost height ever attained by the Egyptians in art. The knowledge of the Israelites seems also to have been confined to the sculptures in their Temple. Their ancestor Laban had Teraphim or images; the bassi and alti rilievi on the holy vessels, the Cherubim, and other sculptures, do not appear to have called into life any latent talent for art among that people; for though the barbarian legions of Vespasian ravaged their country, some remnants would have been either handed down to later times, or at least have been recorded. To the Greeks, then, must be assigned the palm of having originated those arts which did not stop where the Egyptians, Israelites, and all earlier nations had stopped; but advanced to a height in the Periclean and succeeding age which has not been re-attained in modern times, at least in sculpture and gem-engraving, if it has in painting. Even in this last department of art, it may, from their descriptions of pictures, be much doubted; for it is not likely that the pictures of Apelles and Zeuxis would receive undeserved praise from Apelles the sculptor, or from Phidias or Praxiteles, or the gem-engravers Polygnotus and Plotar
• Dionysius Halicarnassus, 1. 11.
chus, whose works stand unrivalled. We are indebted to Quintilian (Inst. lxii.) for some account of the progressive improvement in the style of sculpture and painting; that author records the names of artists whose works have long since perished. He considers Polygnotus as the earliest teacher of chiaro oscuro, and Aglaophon the first master who studied correctness of outline. As Dipænis and Scyllis lived about 800 B. O., and were celebrated for the elaborate finishing of their sculptures, of which the colossal busts of Hercules and Apollo in the British Museum are examples, and probably the statue of Minerya in the Villa Albani, we may form a tolerably correct idea of the state of painting at that early period, since the high style of the sculpture could not have been contemporary with a barbarous state of the sister art. As Pericles died 429 B. C., there would be 370 years from the above-mentioned age of Dipænis for gradual improvement to the time of Phidias and Apelles. Pausanias has fortunately enumerated the pictures which ornamented the temple at Elis, where the Olympian Jupiter of Phidias was placed, completely confirming the assertion that they progressed pari passu. In addition to works by Apelles and Zeuxis, Panæneus, the brother of Phidias, had ornamented the walls with subjects of the highest order: among them were Theseus and Pirithous meeting between the armies ; the combat between Hercules and the Nemæan Lion; Ajax and Cassandra ; Hippodamia, the daughter of Enomaus, with her mother; Prometheus chained, and Hercules preparing to kill the vulture preying on him; Penthesilea dying, supported by Achilles ; Atlas bearing on his shoulders heaven and earth, Hercules standing near, preparing to relieve him of his burthen; and other masters of equal repute had also added examples of their talents. The statue of Phidias could not have been surrounded by a galaxy unworthy of its transcendent merit. Many similar subjects, engraved on the finest stones by Polygnotus, Mycon, Aspasia, and a long list of artists in that line, and still extant, show what excellence had been attained by them. As the anatomical knowledge, drawing, conception, composition, and expression in the graving of those gems are as near perfection as those displayed in any known works of art, we must conclude that the
sculpture and painting of the period were of equal merit, the whole constituting a display of art far eclipsing anything in modern times. Our limited pages will not permit us to indulge in these classic reveries on art, nor allow us to expatiate on the feeble and pigmy flickerings of talent in the modern schools of painting. Thorwaldsen, Henry Baily, the Praxiteles of England, the great male-bust-sculptor Chantrey, Flaxman, who struggled between the gothic and the classic in conception and execution, and a few more, including the florid and often meretricious Canova, save sculpture from equal degradation.
Every stone, from the agate to the ruby, has been sculptured. The diamond alone has never been subjected to the graver; indeed it has been doubted if the diamond was really known to the ancients. That is not a subject for present discussion, and we shall dismiss it with observing, that all the gems known to us were known to the early inhabitants of the world. It is highly probable that the ancient engravers used an inferior diamond-powder to facilitate their work, and perhaps a diamond-pointed tool, but of that we have no proof. The agate was among the very first stones used for sculpturing, either in relief or intaglio, and it is chiefly on that stone that the scarabei or some Egyptian symbol is found on one side, and early Greek works on the other. The onyx, cornelian, amethyst, and emerald were soon used; and when the demand for engraved stones became great, inferior pebbles were carved, and constituted badges of distinction among the soldiers, being bound round their arms or worn on the bosom. The durability and portability of the engraved gem ensure, in a great degree, its preservation: the intaglio being sculptured beneath the surface of the stone, is the most likely of all works of art to remain uninjured for many ages ; excellence in the execution of the work is without doubt the surest preservative. Inferior works were valued when no others superior to them were known; but as the art progressed, the earlier productions were no longer preserved. It is evident that the earliest would be representations of single and simple subjects, and we must never expect to find a very early engraved gem of an elaborate or complicated composition. The mere workmanship of a gem is however not a
good criterion of its age, for manual workmanship often outstrips the taste, and the effort to compose the parts and give expression to the countenances. We know that the workmanship of Dipænis and his colleagues, 800 B. C., was not inferior to that of Phidias and Praxiteles, nearly four centuries later. The workmanship of the encaustic painters, of a period long after, is admirable. Margaritone in the twelfth century, Perugino, Van Eyck, Albert Durer, are examples of manual execution being in advance of the conceptions, or at least of the power of delineating them.
Excellence in art consists in conception, expression, correctness of drawing both as to outline and anatomy, combination in composition, and mastery in execution. Painting superadds colour. The sculptor may alter his modelling ad infinitum ; the painter may rub out and retouch until the desired effect is attained. The gem-engraver is called on to produce the highest excellences of art, deprived of the facilities possessed by the sculptor and the painter : he must first decide on his composition, determine the exact expression, and complete the minutest detail; then execute it with unerring truth, or be compelled to throw away his labour and the gem, for a mistake is fatal to the work. If the works of sculptors and painters are compared with casts from gems of the highest class, as high and pure taste, noble conceptions, and fine drawing, with varied expression and refinement of feeling, even to the smallest extremities, will be found in these minute works, as in the boldest sculpture and most gigantic frescos. When it is remembered that these various excellences are produced by manual dexterity on the hardest substances, and that on a space seldom extending to even two inches square, much oftener within half that limit, we must admit that, in point of difficulty, the art of gem-engraving exceeds both sculpture or painting. The genuine Greek gem is either very deeply and elaborately, yet freely cut, or slightly, so as to constitute a master's sketch. Admon and others are examples of the first, Dioscorides of the last style; those works which are neither deep nor slight may be suspected, and any attempt at lineal perspective must be deemed fatal to its being considered a genuine Grecian antique. Every Grecian gem is sculptured by hand with tools. The wheel-lathe is of comparatively modern invention, and gems engraved by it want the flexibleness and spirit of manual touch. However when the lathe is only used to clear away the mere superficies within the outline, it facilitates the completion of the work, and leaves the sculptor a fair opportunity of exercising the highest manual dexterity his art is capable of.
From the end of the fifteenth century to the beginning of the eighteenth, no gem-engraver is distinguished either for originality in conception or consummate excellence of execution*. The eighteenth century produced many men of talent in this peculiar branch of art; but, from what cause it is difficult to say, the present century has not added to the number, if we except Pistrucci, whose fragment of the head of Flora is well knownt. The dies of William Wyon make us regret that he has not followed the higher branch of sculpturing on gems. In 1703 Costanzi was born, and became a fine copyist of ancient gems: he was in the habit of affixing the names of the Greek artists to his copies, and these are often palmed off on collectors as the works of the artists whose names they bear. Sirletti imitated the Greek letters composing the names of the ancient sculptors with singular accuracy, and attached them to the copies made by himself and others. Landi, Chiusi, Rossi, Passali, Borghigiani, Torrevolta, Massini, and others, were much employed in producing copies from different ancient engravers, which were then, and are now, sold as genuine Greek reliques. Mark Tuscher, towards the middle of the last century, made many fine imitations. Claus and Smart were often employed in making such imitations as were likely to attract purchasers;
* If the reader is desirous of becoming acquainted with their names, those of France are to be found in Mariette. Valerio Vincentini enumerates many of the Italians, and Milin has added to the number. The artists of Germany were nu. merous, and some cameos and intaglios by them display much excellence of execution, but they are not conceived with classic taste. No trace remains of any artist of repute either in Spain or Portugal.
+ Mr. Knight, in the descriptive catalogue of his gems in the British Museum, declares, in barbaric Latin, that the affirmation of Pistrucci, of the Flora having been copied by him from an antique (where is it?), is a most shameless falsehood, and that any connoisseur must be satisfied of its being a genuine Greek work of the highest stamp. We do not pretend to decide. The declaration of Pistrucci must be weighed against the knowledge of Knight. The vendor who had it from Pistrucci sold it as an antique, and then acquiesced in its being a copy by Pistrucci. He had left the country with the six hundred pounds paid for the cameo!