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BARRENNESS OF THE IMAGINATIVE FACULTY
IN THE PRODUCTIONS OF MODERN ART.
HOGARTH excepted, can we produce any one painter within the last fifty years, or since the humour of exhibiting began, that has treated a story imaginatively? By this we mean, upon whom his subject has so acted, that it has seemed to direct him
-not to be arranged by him ? Any upon whom its leading or collateral points have impressed themselves so tyrannically, that he dared not treat it otherwise, lest he should falsify a revelation? Any that has imparted to his compositions, not merely so much truth as is enough to convey a story with clearness, but that individualizing property which should keep the subject so treated distinct in feature from every other subject, however similar, and to common apprehensions almost identical; so as that we might say, 'This and this part could have found an appropriate place in no other picture in the world but this ? Is there anything in modern art—we will not demand that it should be equal—but in any way analogous to what Titian has effected, in that wonderful bringing together of two times in the “ Ariadne,” in the National Gallery? Precipitous, with his reeling satyr rout about him, repeopling and reilluming suddenly the waste places, drunk with a new fury beyond the grape, Bacchus, born in fire, firelike, flings himself at the Cretan. This is the time present. With this telling of the story-an artist, and no ordinary one, might remain richly proud. Guido, in his harmonious version of it, saw no further. But from the depths of the imaginative spirit Titian has recalled past time, and laid it contributory with the present to one simultaneous effect. With the desert all ringing with the mad cymbals of his followers, made lucid with the presence and new offers of a god—as if unconscious of Bacchus, or but idly casting her eyes as upon some unconcerning pageant
- her soul undistracted from Theseus—Ariadne is still pacing the solitary shore, in as much heart-silence, and in almost the same local solitude, with which she awoke at daybreak to catch the forlorn last glances of the sail that bore away the Athenian.
Here are two points miraculously co-uniting; fierce society, with the feeling of solitude still absolute; noonday revelations, with the accidents of the dull gray dawn unquenched and lingering; and the present Bacchus, with the
two stories, with double time ; separate, and harmonizing. Had the artist made the woman one shade less indifferent to the god; still more, had she expressed a rapture at his ad vent, where would have been the story of the mighty desola tion of the heart previous ? merged in the insipid accident of a flattering offer met with a welcome acceptance. The broken heart for Theseus was not lightly to be pieced up by a god.
We have before us a fine rough print, from a picture by Raphael in the Vatican. It is the presentation of the newborn Eve to Adam by the Almighty. A fairer mother of mankind we might imagine, and a goodlier sire perhaps of men since born. But these are matters subordinate to the conception of the situation, displayed in this extraordinary production. A tolerably modern artist would have been satisfied with tempering certain raptures of connubial anticipation, with a suitable acknowledgment to the Giver of the blessing, in the countenance of the first bridegroom ; something like the divided attention of the child (Adam was here a child man) between the given toy, and the mother who had just blessed it with the bawble. This is the obvious, the first-sight view, the superficial. An artist of a higher grade, considering the awful presence they were in, would have taken care to subtract something from the expression of the more humane passion, and to heighten the more spiritual one. This would be as much as an exhibition-goer, from the opening of Somerset House to last year's show, has been encouraged to look for. It is obvious to hint at a lower expression yet, in a picture, that, for respects of drawing and colouring, might be deemed not wholly inadmissible within these art-fostering walls, in which the raptures should be as ninety-nine, the gratitude as one, or perhaps zero! By neither the one passion nor the other has Raphael expounded the situation of Adam. Singly upon his brow. sits the absorbing sense of wonder at the created miracle. The moment is seized by the intuitive artist, perhaps not self-conscious of his art, in which neither of the conflicting emotionsma moment how abstracted— have had time to spring up, or to battle for indecorous mastery. We have seen a landscape of a justly admired neoteric, in which he aimed at delineating a fiction, one of the most severely beautiful in antiquity-the gardens of the Hesperides. Todo Mr. --- justice, he had painted a laudable orchard, with fitting seclusion, and a veritable dragon (of which a Polypheme, by Poussin, is somehow a sac-siinile for the situation) looking over into the world shut out backwards, so that none but a s still-climbing Hercules” could hope to catch a peep at the
admired Ternary of recluses. No conventual porter could keep his keys better than this custos with the “ lidless eyes.” He not only sees that none do intrude into that privacy, but, as clear as daylight, that none but Hercules aut Diabolus by any manner of means can. So far all is well. We have absolute solitude here or nowhere. Ab extra, the damsels are snug enough. But here the artist's courage seems to have failed him. He hegan to pity his pretty charge, and, to comfort the irksomeness, has peopled their solitude with a bevy of fair attendants, maids of honour, or ladies of the bed. chamber, according to the approved etiquette at a court of the nineteenth century ; giving to the whole scene the air of a fête champêtre, if we will but excuse the absence of the gentlemen. This is well, and Watteauish. But what is become of the solitary mystery—the
“ Daughters three, That sing around the golden tree?"
This is not the way in which Poussin would have treated this subject.
The paintings, or rather the stupendous architectural designs, of a modern artist, have been urged as objections to the theory of our motto. They are of a character, we confess, to stagger it. His towered structures are of the highest order of the material sublime. Whether they were dreams, or transcripts of some elder workmanship-Assyrian ruins old—restored by this mighty artist, they satisfy our most stretched and craving conceptions of the glories of the antique world. It is a pity that they were ever peopled. On that side the imagination of the artist halts, and appears defective. Let us examine the point of the story in the “Belshazzar's Feast." We will introduce it by an opposite anecdote.
The court historians of the day record, that at the first dinner given by the late king (then prince regent) at the Pavilion, the following characteristic frolic was played off. The guests were select and admiring ; the banquet profuse and admirable ; the lights lustrous and oriental ; the perfectly dazzled with the display of plate, among which the great gold saltcellar, brought from the regalia in the Tower for this especial purpose, itself a tower! stood conspicuous for its magnitude. And now the Rev. ****, the then admired, court chaplain, was proceeding with the grace, when, at a signal given, the lights were suddenly overcast, and a huge transparency was discovered, in which glittered in gold let“BRIGHTON-EARTHQUAKE-SWALLOW-UP-ALIVE !"
Imagine the confusion of the guests the Georges and garters, jewels, bracelets, moulled upon the occasion! The fans dropped, and picked up the next morning by the sly court pages! Mrs. Fitz-what's-her-name fainting, and the Countess of * * * holding the smelling-bottle, till the good-humoured prince caused harinony to be restored by calling in fresh candles, and declaring that the whole was nothing but a pantomime hoax, got up by the ingenious Mr. Farley of Covent Garden, from hints which his royal highness himself had furnished! Then imagine the infinite applause that followed, the mutual rallyings, the declarations that “they were not much frightened,” of the assembled galaxy.
The point of time in the picture exactly answers to the appearance of the transparency in the anecdote. The huddle, the flutter, the bustle, the escape, the alarm, and the mock alarm; the prettinesses heightened by consternation; the courtier's fear which was flattery, and the lady's which was affectation; all that we may conceive to have taken place in a mob of Brighton courtiers, sympathizing with the well-acted surprise of their sovereign; all this, and no more, is exhibited by the well-dressed lords and ladies in the Hall of Belus. Just this sort of consternation we have seen among a flock of disquieted wild geese at the report only of a gun having
But is this vulgar fright, this mere animal anxiety for the preservation of their persons-such as we have witnessed at a theatre, when a slight alarm of fire has been given-an adequate exponent of a supernatural terror ? the way in which the finger of God, writing judgments, would have been met by the withered conscience? There is a human fear, and a divine fear. The one is disturbed, restless, and bent upon escape.
The other is bowed down, effortless, passive. When the spirit appeared before Eliphaz in the visions of the night, and the hair of his flesh stood up, was it in the thoughts of the Temanite to ring the bell of his chamber, or to call up the servants? But let us see in the text what there is to justify all this huddle of vulgar consternation.
From the words of Daniel it appears that Belshazzar had made a great feast to a thousand of his lords, and drank wine before the thousand. The golden and silver vessels are gorgeously enumerated, with the princes, the king's concubines, and his wives. Then follows
* In the same hour came forth fingers of a man's hand, and wrote over against the candlestick upon the plaster of the wall
of the king's palace; and the king saw the part of the hand that wrote. Then the king's countenance was changed, and his thoughts troubled him, so that the joints of his loins were loosened, and his knees smote one against another."
This is the plain text. By no hint can it be otherwise inferred, but that the appearance was solely confined to the fancy of Belshazzar, that his single brain was troubled. Not a word is spoken of its being seen by any else there present, not even by the queen herself, who merely undertakes for the interpretation of the phenomenon, as related to her, doubtless, by her husband. The lords are simply said to be astonished; i. e., at the trouble and the change of countenance in their sovereign. Even the prophet does not appear to have seen the scroll, which the king saw. He recalls it only, as Joseph did the dream to the King of Egypt. “ Then was the part of the hand sent from him, [the Lord, and this writing was written.” He speaks of the phantasm as past.
Then wha: becomes of this needless multiplication of the miracle ? this message to a royal conscience, singly expressed-for it was said, “thy kingdom is divided"-simultaneously impressed upon the fancies of a thousand courtiers, who were implied in it neither directly nor grammatically?
But admitting the artist's own version of the story, and that the sight was seen also by the thousand courtiers-let it have been visible to all Babylon-as the knees of Belshazzar were shaken, and his countenance troubled, even so would the knees of every man in Babylon, and their countenances, as of an individual man, been troubled; bowed, bent down, so would they have remained, stupor-fixed, with no thought of struggling with that inevitable judgment.
Not all that is optically possible to be seen is to be sbown in every picture. The eye delightedly
dwells upon the brilliant individualities in a • Marriage at Cana,” by Veronese or Titian, to the very texture and colour of the wedding garments, the ring glittering upon the bride's fingers, the inetal and fashion of the wine-pots ; for at such seasons there is leisure and luxury to be curious. But in a “day of judgment,'' or in a “day of lesser horrors, yet divine,” as at the impious feast of Belshazzar, the
see, as the actual eye of an agent or patient in the immediate scene would see, only in masses and indistinction. Not only the female attire and jewellery exposed to the critical eye of fashion, as minutely as the dresses in a lady's magazine, in the criticised picture—but perhaps the curiosities of anatomical science, and studied diversities of posture in the falling angels and