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The black eye certainly labours under one disadvantage, which is, that, from the iris and pupil being of the same colour, the contraction and dilitation of the latter is not seen, by which the eye is abridged of half its powers. Yet the Italian eye is wonderfully expressive ; some people think it says too much. The complexion, for the most part, is of a clear brown, sometimes fair, but very seldom florid, or of that bright fairness which is common in England and Saxony. It must be owned, that those features which have a fine expression of sentiment and meaning in youth, are more apt, than less expressive faces, to become soon strong and masculine. In England and Germany, the women, a little advanced in life, retain the appearance of youth longer than in Italy.
With countenances so favourable for the pencil, you will naturally imagine, that portrait painting is in the highest perfection here. The reverse, however, of this is true; that branch of the art is in the lowest estimation all over Italy. In palaces, the best furnished with pictures, you seldom see a portrait of the proprietor, or any of his family. A quarter length of the reigning pope is sometimes the only portrait, of a living person, to be seen in the whole palace. Several of the Roman princes affect to have a room of state, or audience chamber, in which is a raised seat like a throne, with a canopy over it. In those rooms the effigies of the pontiffs are hung; they are the work of very inferior artists, and seldom cost above three or four sequins. As soon as his holiness departs this life, the portrait disappears, and the face of his successor is in due time hung up in its stead. This, you will say, is treating their old sovereign a little un
, kindly, and paying no very expensive compliment to the new; it is not so economical, however, as what was practised by a certain person. I shall not inform you whether he was a Frenchman or an Englishman, but he certainly was a courtier, and professed the highest possible regard for all living monarchs; but considered them as no better than any other piece of clay when dead. He
had a full length picture of his own sovereign in the principal room of his house; on his majesty's death, to save himself the expense of a fresh body, and a new suit of ermine, he employed a painter to brush out the face and periwig, and clap the new king's head on his grandfather's shoulders; which, he declared, were in the most perfect preservation, and fully able to wear out three or four such heads as painters usually give in these degenerate days.
The Italians, in general, very seldom take the trouble of sitting for their pictures. They consider a portrait as a piece of painting, which engages the admiration of nobody but the person it represents, or the painter who drew it. Those who are in circumstances to pay the best artists, generally employ them in some subject more universally interesting, than the representation of human countenances staring out of a piece of canvass.
Pompeio Battoni is the best Italian painter now at Rome. His taste and genius led him to history painting, and his reputation was originally acquired in that line ; but by far the greater part of his fortune, whatever that may be, has flowed through a different channel. His chief employment, for many years past, has been painting the portraits of the young English, and other strangers of fortune, who visit Rome. There are artists in England, superior in this, and every other branch of painting, to Battoni. They, like him, are seduced from the free walks of genius, and chained, by interest, to the servile drudgery of copying faces. Beauty is worthy of the most delicate pencil; but, gracious heaven! why should every periwig-pated fellow, without countenance or character, insist on seeing his chubby cheeks on canvass?
• Could you not give a little expression to that countenance ?" said a gentleman to an eminent English painter, who showed him a portrait which he had just finished. • I made that attempt already,' replied the painter; but what the picture gained in expression, it lost in likeness; and by the time there was a little common sense in the
countenance, nobody knew for whom it was intended. I was obliged, therefore, to make an entire new picture, with the face perfectly like, and perfectly meaningless, as
you see it.
Let the colours for ever remain, which record the last fainting efforts of Chatham ; the expiring triumph of Wolf; or the indecision of Garrick, equally allured by the two contending muses! But let them perish and fly from the canvass, which blind self-love spreads for insipidity and ugliness! Why should posterity know, that the first genius of the age, and those whose pencils were formed to speak to the heart, and delineate beauteous naiure, were chiefly employed in copying faces ? and many of them, faces that imitate humanity so abominably, that, to use Hamlet's expression, they seem not the genuine work of nature, but of nature's journeymen.
To this ridiculous self-love, equally prevalent among the great vulgar and small, some of the best painters in France, Germany, and Great Britain, are obliged for their subsistence. This creates a suspicion, that a taste for the real beauties of painting, is not quite so universal, as a sensibility to their own personal beauties, among the individuals of these countries. And nothing can be a stronger proof of the important light in which men appear in their own eyes, and their small importance in those of others, than the different treatment which the generality of portraits receive, during the life, and after the death, of their constituents. During the first of these periods, they inhabit the finest apartments of the houses to which they belong; they are flattered by the guests, and always
, viewed with an eye of complacency by the landlord. But,
. after the commencement of the second, they begin to be neglected; in a short time are ignominiously thrust
to the garret; and, to fill up the measure of their affliction, they finally are thrown out of doors, in the most barbar. ous manner, without distinction of rank, age, or sex. Those of former times are scattered, like Jews, with their long beards and brown complexions, all over the face of the earth; and, even of the present century, barons of the most ancient families, armed cap-a-pee, are to be
purchased for two or three ducats, in most of the towns of Germany. French marquises, in full suits of embroidered velvet, may be had at Paris still cheaper ; and many worshipful citizens of London are to be seen dangling on the walls of an auction-room, when they are scarce cold in
Rome. There are no theatrical entertainments permitted in this city, except during the carnival; but they are then attended with a degree of ardour unknown in capitals whose inhabitants are under no such restraint. Every kind of amusement, indeed, in this gay season, is followed with the greatest eagerness. The natural gravity of the Roman citizens is changed into a mirthful vivacity; and the serious, sombre city of Rome exceeds Paris itself in sprightliness and gaiety. This spirit seems gradually to augment, from its commencement; and is at its height in the last week of the six which comprehend the carnival The citizens then appear in the streets, masked, in the characters of Harlequins, Pantaloons, Punchinellos, and all the fantastic variety of a masquerade. This humour spreads to men, women, and children ; descends to the lowest ranks, and becomes universal. Even those who put on no mask, and have no desire to remain unknown, reject their usual clothes, and assume some whimsical dress. The coachmen, who are placed in a more conspicuous point of view than others of the same rank in life, and who are perfectly known by the carriages they drive, generally affect some ridiculous disguise : many of them choose a woman's dress, and have their faces painted, and adorned with patches. However dull these fellows may be, when in breeches, they are, in petticoats, considered as the pleasantest men in the world; and excite much
laughter in every street in which they appear. I observed to an Italian of my acquaintance, that, considering the staleness of the joke, I was surprised at the mirth it seemed to raise. • When a whole city,' answered he,' are resolved to be merry for a week together, it is exceedingly convenient to have a few established jokes ready made; the young laugh at the novelty, and the old from prescription. This metamorphosis of the coachmen is certainly not the most refined kind of wit; however, it is more harmless than the burning of heretics, which formerly was a great source of amusement to our populace.'
The street, called the Corso, is the great scene of these masquerades. It is crowded every night with people of all conditions : those of rank come in coaches, or in open carriages, made on purpose. A kind of civil war is car
. ried on by the company, as they pass each other. The greatest mark of attention you can shew your friends and acquaintance, is, to throw a handful of little white balls, resembling sugar-plums, full in their faces; and, if they are not deficient in politeness, they will instantly return you the compliment. All who wish to make a figure in the Corso, come well supplied in this kind of ammunition.
Sometimes two or three open carriages, on a side, with five or six persons of both sexes in each, draw up opposite to each other, and fight a pitched battle. On these occasions, the combatants are provided with whole bags full of the small shot above mentioned, which they throw at each other, with much apparent fury, till their ammunition is exhausted, and the field of battle is as white as
The peculiar dresses of every nation of the globe, and of every profession, besides all the fantastic characters usual at masquerades, are to be seen on the Corso. Those of Harlequin and Pantaloon are in great vogue among the
The citizens wives and daughters generally affect the pomp of women of quality; while their brothers, or other relations, appear as train-bearers and attendants.