Imatges de pÓgina
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ple cannot judge as to mastery in art, it can feel grace, approve truth, be penetrated by the effect, enchanted by beauty. The people is, ordinarily, less corrupt than any other judge; it is not biassed by rivalry in genius, nor bigotry of schools, nor confusion of useless, false, ill understood, and ill applied precepts; it does not wish to display erudition, nor malice against the moderns, masked by idolatry for the ancients, nor any other of the baneful affections of the human heart, such as are fomented, oftentimes produced by learning, which is not ruled and purified by wisdom. Apropos to this he told the story from Lucian, that when Phidias was making his Jupiter for the Eleans, happening to be behind the door, he heard the people talking about it; some found fault with this, some with that; when they were gone, Phidias retouched the parts in question, according to the opinion of the majority, for he did not hold lightly the opinion of so many people; thinking the many must see farther than one alone, even if that one be a Phidias.

XLVI.

Finally, said Canova, above all theory and attempt of human subtilty at division and metaphysics in matters of art, I esteem that remark in the same comment on Aristotle, that good judgment is the best rule, without which the best precepts are useless, or even pernicious.

Of all which opinions of Canova, I am the earnest champion; for with him I have read a hundred times those comments on Aristotle, and have felt for myself the application, which he made of them to art, and have registered them in my memory, to write them afterwards in leaves, which, perhaps, will not perish.

Thus far Missirini, affectionate and faithful, if not bold and strong as the old Vasari! Such should be the friend of genius, manly to esteem, womanly to sympathize in, its life.

Reserving for another occasion the notice of various traits, which illustrate the position of Canova as an artist, we must hasten to an outline of his life, which is beautiful

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through its simplicity and steadfastness of aim, amid many conflicting interests, at an epoch of great agitation and temptation.

He was born at Possagno, a little town in the Venetian territory, 1757 and died at Venice, 1822. It illustrates the generosity of the world-spirit in our age, that, not content with giving us Bonaparte and Byron, Beethoven and Goethe, it should finish out and raise to conspicuous station a representative of a class so wholly different, and, at first glance, it might seem, so unlikely to be contemporary with the three former. The Goethean constellation, indeed, disallowed no life, and with all its aversion to "halfness" was propitious to limited natures like Canova, and no way so ardent for the artist, as not to appreciate the artisan. — For Canova, though in good measure the artist, was in highest perfection the artisan.

Though his life had no connexion with the great tendencies of his time, yet it has on that very account a certain grace and sweetness. Chosen as the sculptor of the Imperial Court, and highly favored by the Pope, he knew how to take his own path, and answer, in his own way, to all requisitions. His life was that of a gentleman and student; still and retired in the midst of convulsion, full and sweet in the midst of dread and anguish, it comes with a gentle and refreshing dignity to our thoughts. From princes and potentates he wished nothing but employment, and the honors they added had no importance in his eyes, though they were received with that courtesy and delicate propriety which marked all his acts, whether towards the high or low in the ranks of this world. To write in marble the best thoughts of his mind; to remain a faithful son and intelligent lover of his native country, to keep days devoted to the worship of beauty, unspotted as the material in which he expressed it, to lavish on his kindred by birth or spirit all the outward rewards of his labor, choosing for himself frugality of body, plenteousness of soul,-such was the plan of Canova's life; one from which he could not be turned aside, by any lure of ambition, or the sophistry of others about his duties. He never could be induced to assume responsibilities, for which he did not feel himself inwardly prepared; though, when duly called to face a

crisis, he showed self-possession, independence, and firm

ness.

It was by his intercourse with Napoleon, that his character was most tried, and here his attitude is very noble and attractive. He never defies the Emperor, but is equally sincere, energetic, and adroit in defending the rights he had at heart. It is pleasant to see the influence on Bonaparte, who, always imperious and sarcastic when braved in a vain or meddlesome temper, does full justice to that of Canova. Though he could not induce the sculptor to enter his service, either by marks of favor or glittering hopes, he was not angry, but on the contrary, attended to his recommendation by redressing the wrongs of Venice, and lending generous aid to the cause of art at Rome. In this, as in other instances, Napoleon showed that where he met a man of calm and high strain, he knew how to respect him; that if men were usually to him either tools or foes, it was not his fault only.-The Dialogues between Napoleon and Canova are well worth translation, but would occupy too much space here. They show, like other records of the time, the want of strict human affinity between the conquering mind and those it met. Even when they can stand their ground, he seems to see them, seize their leading traits, but never make a concord with them. He never answers to Canova's thought, and it is impossible to judge whether the oft repeated argument, that the works of art, which had been taken from Italy, could never be seen to the same purpose elsewhere, because no longer connected with the objects and influences that taught how to look at them, made any impression on his mind. If it had, he might with advantage have followed up the thought in its universal significance.

But wherever he turned his life, it was like the fire to burn, and not like the light to illustrate and bless.

This was one fine era in Canova's existence. One no less so was when, after the abdication of Bonaparte, the Allied Powers took possession of Paris. Then when partial restitution might be expected of the spoils which had been torn from the nations, by the now vanquished Lion, Rome redemanded the treasures of art, whose loss she had bemoaned in the very dust, the Niobe of nations, doubly bereft, since not only the temple of Jupiter Stator was over

thrown, and his golden Victories dispersed among kingdoms, once her provinces, but the Apollo, emblem of the creative genius which had replaced the heroism of her youth, had been ravished from her. And she sent him, who of her children she deemed most favored by the God, to redemand him and his associate splendors.

The French would not do themselves the honor of a free acquiescence in this most just demand; the other powers were unwilling to interfere, with the exception of England, who, moved scarce less by respect for the envoy, than sense of the justice of the demand, interposed with such decision, that the Prince of Art was permitted to resume his inheritance. The Duke of Wellington, with a martial frankness and high sense of right, which nobly became him, declared his opinion, afterward published in the Journal des Debats, "that the allied powers should not yield to the wishes of the French King in this matter. That so to do would be impolitic, since they would thus lose the opportunity of giving France a great moral lesson."

Such views of policy might, indeed, convince that the victory of Waterloo came by ministry of Heaven. Had but the Holy Allies kept this thought holy!

England not only assisted Canova with an armed force to take away the objects he desired, but supplied a large sum to restore them to their native soil, and replace them on their former pedestals.

There is something in the conduct of this affair more like the splendid courtesy of chivalrous times, than the filching and pinching common both in court and city at this present time. The generosity of England, the delicacy of Canova, who took upon himself to leave with the French monarch many masterpieces, mindful rather of his feelings, and respect for his position, than of his injustice, (though this injustice was especially unpardonable, since having been long despoiled himself of all he called his own, readiness to restore their dues to others might have been expected at this crisis, even from a Bourbon,) the letters of the Pope and Cardinal Gonsalvi, overflowing no less with gratitude than affection, the Pope thanking Canova for having not only fulfilled his intentions but "understood his heart," (in the delicacy shown towards France,) the recognition on all sides of the honors due to the artist, the splen

did rewards bestowed by the Papal court, which Canova employed wholly for the aid and encouragement of poor or young artists, all this reminds us rather of Fairy Queens, with boundless bounty for the worthy, boundless honor for the honorable, and self-denial alike admirable in rich and poor, rather than modern snuff-box times of St. James or the Tuilleries.

The third and last fair fact in Canova's life was the erection of the temple at Possagno, of which an account is given in the following extract, from the journal of a traveller :

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"At sunset, I found myself on the summit of a ridge of rocks; it was the last of the Alps. Before my feet stretched out the Venetian territory. Between the plain and the peak from which I contemplated it was a beautiful oval valley, leaning on one side against the Alps, on the other elevated like a terrace above the plain, and protected against the sea breeze by a rampart of fertile hills. Directly below me lay a village scattered over the declivity in picturesque disorder. This poor hamlet is crowned with a vast and beautiful temple of marble, perfectly new, shining in virgin whiteness, and seated proudly on the mountain ridge. It had to me an air of personal existence. It seemed to contemplate Italy, unrolled before it like a map, and to command it.

"A man, who was cutting marble on the mountain side, told me that this church of pagan form was the work of Canova, and that the village below was Possagno, his birth place. Canova, added the mountaineer, was the son of a stone-cutter, a poor workman like me.

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The valley of Possagno has the form of a cradle, and is in the proportion of the stature of the man who went out from it. It is worthy to have produced more than one genius; it is conceivable that the height of intellect should be easily developed in a country so beautiful and beneath so pure a heaven. The transparency of the waters, the richness of the soil, the force of vegetation, the beauty of the race in that part of the Alps, and the magnificence of the distant views which the valley commands on all sides, seem made to nourish the highest faculties of the soul, and to excite to the noblest ambition. This kind of terrestrial paradise, where intellectual youth can expand into the fulness of spring; this immense horizon, which seems o invite the steps and the thoughts of the future, are they not two principal conditions necessary to unfold a fair destiny?

VOL. III.

NO. IV.

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