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the fabulous and heroic history of the ancient Greeks, the Iliad, Odyssey and Æneid, to portraits of illustrious Grecians of all classes, kings, statesmen, philosophers, doctors, both Greeks and barbarians, orators, poets, celebrated women, athletæ, architects, painters, sculptors, gem-engravers, both Greeks and Latins;—all said to be authentic and genuine works of the greatest Greek gem-engravers, without reference to either time or place. We can only exclaim,
“ Ye gods, annihilate but space and time,
And make collectors happy.”
We have long known, that among the most credulous of men, collectors of antiquities stand in the first rank; their imagination is usually consulted for their facts; and their love of gain (for they are all dealers) is the chief prompter of arguments by which others may be deluded into the belief of that authenticity and genuineness which they themselves invariably doubt, until they become possessors, a circumstance which invariably removes every doubt.
In a catalogue sent forth to the world by those very respectable men Messrs. Christie and Manson, we are informed, “that the celebrity to which this collection, from the com
mencement of its formation by King Stanislaus nearly a
century ago, and its completion by the illustrious family of “ Poniatowski, has attained, renders it unnecessary to en“ large upon the merits of the riches it possesses."
From this sentence we learn that the collection was gradually formed, in short, that it has occupied successive generations nearly a century. That increases the difficulty, as it calls on us to believe that successive generations, all ardent in the same pursuit, were so fortunate as to accumulate two thousand six hundred and one engraved gems, all without blemish from the effects of time, fire, water, or violence, and when arranged forming a complete set of illustrations of Greek and Latin mythology and poetry. The probability is about equal of obtaining a Shakspeare by grinding letters in a mill. That two thousand six hundred and one gems should have been scattered over ancient Europe for just as many years, and that not one of them should ever have been known to the pack of antiquity-hunters who were, from at least the time of the Medici, poking their noses into every hole and corner, is as possible as that the part should be greater than the whole.
It would be rash to affirm, that in this great number there is not a single genuine antique : among the rings and heads there may be a few; among the medallions two or three might be selected as either originals or exquisite copies; the subject of Ulysses weeping at the tale of Troy sung by Demodocus, attributed to Dioscorides, has every appearance of being authentic. The composition, drawing and expression are admirable, and the style of the execution, free, firm and refined. Were all the medallions of equal excellence the value of them would be immense, but a very small number can be placed in the same class. These may have constituted the foundation of this collection, leaving the fact of their first discovery in obscurity. Prince Poniatowski probably brought them with him to Rome, and then with liberality and taste made this extraordinary collection, partly by purchasing gems already engraved, but chiefly by employing engravers who were eminent in that branch of the art.
It must be obvious to any one who examines this collection, that the idea has emanated from one mind, that the subjects might be arranged in sets, the manner of each set being so marked as to leave no doubt of its being the work of one hand; there are exceptions which rather tend to prove the rule, and those exceptions are generally superior to the sets, and many of them works of art of great excellence, without however those characteristics which would stamp them as works of Greek artists of the ages preceding Pericles or subsequent to him. The eighteenth century produced many artists capable of contributing to such a collection, and connoiss have been of opinion, that the styles of both Giovanni and Carlo Costanzi, Giughi, Flavio Sirletti, and Francesco his son, Torricelli, Bernabè, and others, may be discerned, though on those gems from which this opinion is deduced are found the names of the ancient masters of the art. There was one gem-engraver, whose works are more talked about than known, who flourished during nearly the whole period of Poniatowski's sojourn in Italy, who, we think it clear, was the principal director of this great collection, and whose chief works
constitute the most valuable part of it, we refer to Cavaliere GIOVANNI PIKLER. That we may at once arrest the reader's attention, we will ask, where are the works of Giovanni Pikler? He was an enthusiast in his art; he wrought industriously for forty years; he is known to have engraved with great celerity. It is admitted that he must have produced a great number of intaglios, and yet few, very few, are known: in the British Museum is an intaglio of Urania, and a cameo on agate of Brutus; of this latter is a finer and larger example in the Poniatowski collection. Among the casts by Tassi are perhaps half-a-dozen, and about as many more are specified as being in the cabinets of private persons, including the Orpheus leading Eurydice from the infernal regions, in the possession of Mr. Emmerson. A few small intaglios set as rings are known, and are very highly prized by those who possess them. Rossi's life of Giovanni Pikler affords much information bearing on the subject, and we shall quote freely from it, that our supposition may be supported by the best authority.
Pikler was occupied in the prosecution of his art from 1754 to 1792, when he died. He studied anatomy and perspective with assiduity,copied the works of Raffaelle da Urbino, and made designs from the finest relics of Grecian sculpture; he deduced principles from those unequalled monuments of art, and learned to model in clay with considerable skill; he was also a proficient in basso relievo. His mind was expanded by cultivation, and he became acquainted with the principia of many of the arts and sciences. In painting he advanced so far as to finish four altar-pieces at Oriolo, which are spoken of as works of great promise in conception, chiaro oscuro and touch, but not as good in the colouring*. Such arguments show him to have been equal to the task of conducting and even of designing such a work as the Poniatowski collection of engraved gemst.
*"L'opera maggiore di pittura, ch'egli eseguisse' in appresso, fu un quadro per l'altar maggiore della chiese dei Padri Agostiniani di Bracciano, ove effigid S. Tomasso da Villanova. Questa tela, da lui dipinta in Roma fu molto laudata."-Rossi.
+ “Studiò con somma diligenza l'anatomia e la prospettiva, copid con assiduità le opere di Raffaello nel Vaticano, con eguale amore diessi a disegnare i piu bei monumenti della scultura Greca; e fondato su queste basi prese poi la via del modellare, e fece gran pratica nel maneggio della creta, onde apprendere singolar. mente a trattare il basso-rilievo. Egli solea ingegnosamente dire, che gl'intagliatori in gemme sono i miniatori della scultura. Questo ragionato metodo di studiare, unito ad un vasto ingegno, ed anche al raro dono della natura di una non commune giustezza d'occhio, lo mise ben presto in istato d' intagliare non solo, ma anche di prendere con buon successo i pennelli, allorchè ne ebbe talento."
At the age of sixteen he copied in intaglio on an onyx, Hercules strangling the Lion, from an antique gem ; a similar subject is in this collection, but resembles more the work of a pupil than a repetition by this great master when his knowledge and execution were at their zenith.
Some portion of mankind live, even enrich themselves, by trafficking in the productions of the brains of a few; none more obviously than dealers in works of art, whose knowledge seldom goes beyond a name either real or assumed, or the declaration of the state and quality of the work, of which they can only judge imperfectly, from ignorance of the manner in which it was produced. Pikler, among others, has suffered from that idle class, for few of the works he executed before his twenty-fifth year have been attributed to him, and the greater number of them were from the antique, and so near to the originals in excellence, that they were sold to collectors as authentic. He is known to have made twelve copies of Leander crossing the Hellespont, and several of Achilles dragging the body of Hector round the walls of Troy. While thus occupied there arrived at Rome an antiquarian with knowledge enough to discover the genius of Pikler, and to turn it to his own account. This leech of genius insinuated himself into the good graces of Pikler, and collected with mercantile assiduity precious stones of the finest quality, as the cornelian, onyx, sardonyx, amethysts, agates, jade, etc., inducing him to engrave on those stones at the lowest rate of remuneration, while he re-sold these proofs of Pikler's industry and genius as genuine works of the great Grecian artists *.
“Nel tempo che applicavasi fervorosamente al disegno, ed all'intaglio, non tralasciava di cercare la maggior cultura del suo spirito; e poche furono le arti, o le scienze, di cui curioso investigatore non volesse almeno apprenderne i principj. La moltiplicita delle cose non permise ch'egli in veruna si perfezionasse ; ma avea però una qualche tintura di tutte, e gli studj di matematica, di filosofia, di chimica, di storia naturale, di antiquaria, non furono a lui stranieri. Nell' antiquaria singolarmente avea acquistate molte cognizioni ed ogni giorno più s'ando poi avanzando in esse, quando avendo immaginato di unire una collezione d'impronti caveti da gemme antiche, trovassi negli ultimi di sua vita obbligato a serj studj di erudizione, e per interpretare gli argomenti, e per determinare lo stile di esse."Rossi, Vita del Cav. Pikler.
*“ Eravi un antiquario, che avea scoperta nel Pikler una miniera : acquistatasi
The chief purchaser was a northern nobleman of great wealth. Both at Milan, where he resided for some time, and at Rome his time was fully occupied. His Emperor, Joseph II. of Austria, honoured him, and made him munificent offers if he would return to his native country and there practise and teach his beautiful art. Pikler had formed an intention about the year 1772 of making a series of impressions of the most beautiful subjects engraved in intaglio by either ancient or modern engravers, and arranging them in classes according to their style; he commenced with the Egyptian of the earliest period, through the time of Adrian to that of Julian the apostate: the second series included the Etruscan, which he divided into two classes : the first consisted of the dry and rigid manner of early Etruscan art; the second resembled the Grecian taste, but with more sharpness and boldness in the execution of the workmanship.
The third series embraced the pure Grecian art. To obtain even impressions from the choicest gems in the most celebrated cabinets he spared neither expense nor trouble. He facetiously observed that he had chosen the first three classes for amateurs, the last for artists and connoisseurs*. This is the work on which it seems highly probable the Poniatowski collection was founded. That collection combines more than Rossi attributes to the conception of Pikler; for in addition to the imitations of the different periods of Greek art, it is a series of mythological, heroical and poetical illustrations. The Egyptian has not been introduced into the Poniatowski collection. Each progressive æra of Greek art seems to have been imitated on a different gem. The Etruscan of the first class are on amethysts, the second on white agate. The early Greek are generally on very dark stones. The middle period on deep-coloured gems and a few jades. The Periclean on fine, even-coloured cornelian and sardonyx. The
la sua amicizia, facea diligente raccolta di sardoniche, corniole, onici, ed altre pietre orientali, e per moderatissimo prezzo da lui otteneane l'incisione."-Rossi,
• “La classe delle opere Greche dovea succedere alle tre prime, ed in questa era stato il Pikler generoso raccoglitore, ed avea anche con gravi spese ricercate la cose piu sublimi dei piu rinomati gabinetti. Egli dicea, che avea raccolto le altre classi per li diletanti, e questa per li professori dell' intaglio; e che questa sola potea formare un eccelente intagliatore."-Rossi, p. 27.