Слике страница


morphism, or attributing to the Deity the human form. And behold the effect of this familiar object every day! No acquaintance with the secrets of its mechanism, no degrading views of human nature, not the most swinish compost of mud and blood that was ever misnamed philosophy, can avail to hinder us from doing involuntary reverence to any exhibition of majesty or surpassing beauty in human clay.

Yet our knowledge of its highest expression we owe to the Fine Arts. Not easily in this age will any man acquire by himself such perceptions of the dignity or grace of the human frame, as the student of art owes to the remains of Phidias, to the Apollo, the Jove, the paintings and statues of Michael Angelo, and the works of Canova. There are now in Italy, both on canvass and in marble, forms and faces wbich the imagination is enriched by contemplating. Goethe says, that he is but half himself who has never seen the Juno in the Rondanini palace at Rome. Seeing these works true to human nature and yet superhuman, we feel that we are greater than we know.' Seeing these works, we appreciate the taste which led Michael Angelo, against the taste and against the admonition of his patrons, to cover the walls of churches with unclothed figures, "improper” says his biographer, “for the place, but proper for the exhibition of all the pomp of his profound knowledge.”

The love of beauty which never passes beyond outline and color, was too slight an object to occupy the powers of his genius. There is a closer relation than is commonly thought between the fine arts and the useful arts ; and it is an essential fact in the history of Michael Angelo, that his love of beauty is made solid and perfect by his deep understanding of the mechanic arts. Architecture is the bond that unites the elegant and the economical arts, and his skill in this is a pledge of his capacity in both kinds. His Titanic handwriting in marble and travertine is to be found in every part of Rome and Florence ; and even at Venice, on defective evidence, he is said to have given the plan of the bridge of the Rialto. Nor was bis a skill in ornament, or confined to the outline and designs of towers and façades, but a thorough acquaintance with all the secrets of the art, with all the details of economy and strength.

When the Florentines united themselves with Venice, England, and France, to oppose the power of the Emperor


[ocr errors]

Charles V., Michael Angelo was appointed Military Architect and Engineer, to superintend the erection of the necessary works. He visited Bologna to inspect its celebrated fortifications, and, on his return, construeted a fortification on the heights of San Miniato, which commands the city and environs of Florence. On the 24th of October, 1529, the Prince of Orange, general of Charles V., encamped on the bills surrounding the city, and his first operation was to throw up a rampart to storm the bastion of San Miniato. His design was frustrated by the providence of Michael Angelo. Michael made such good resistance, that the Prince directed the artillery to demolish the tower. The artist hung mattresses of wool on the side exposed to the attack, and by means of a bold projecting cornice, from which they were suspended, a considerable space was left between them and the wall. This simple expedient was sufficient, and the Prince was obliged to turn his siege into a blockade.

After an active and successful service to the city for six months, Michael Angelo was informed of a treachery that was ripening within the walls. He communicated it to the government with his advice upon it ; but was mortified by receiving from the government reproaches at his credulity and fear. He replied,

that it was useless for him to take care of the walls, if they were determined not to take care of themselves," and he withdrew privately from the city to Ferrara, and thence to Venice. The news of his departure occasioned a general concern in Florence, and he was instantly followed with apologies and importunities to return. and resumed his office.

On the 21st of March, 1530, the Prince of Orange assaulted the city by storm. Michael Angelo is represented as having ordered his defence so vigorously, that the Prince was compelled to retire. By the treachery however of the general of the Republic, Malatesta Baglioni, all his skill was rendered unavailing, and the city capitulated on the 9ih of August. The excellence of the works constructed by our artist has been approved by Vauban, who visited them and took a plan of them.

In Roine, Michael Angelo was consulted by Pope Paul III. in building the fortifications of San Borgo. He built the stairs of Ara Celi leading to the Church once the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus ; he arranged the piazza of the Capitol, and built its porticoes. He was charged with rebuilding the Pons Pal

He did so,


atinus over the Tiber. He prepared, accordingly, a large quantity of blocks of travertine, and was proceeding with the work, when, through the intervention of his rivals, this work was taken from him and intrusted to Nanni di Bacio Bigio, who plays but a pitiful part in Michael's history. Nanni sold the travertine, and filled up the piers with gravel at a small expense. Michael Angelo made known his opinion, that the bridge could not resist the force of the current ; and, one day riding over it on horseback, with his friend Vasari, he cried, “George, this bridge trembles under us ; let us ride faster lest it fall, whilst we are upon it.” It fell, five years after it was built, in 1557, and is still called the “ Broken Bridge.”

Versatility of talent in men of undoubted ability always awakens the liveliest interest ; and we observe with delight, that, besides the sublimity and even extravagance of Michael Angelo, he possessed an unexpected dexterity in minute mechanical contrivances. When the Sistine Chapel was prepared for him that he might paint the ceiling, he found the platform on which he was to work, suspended by ropes which passed through the ceiling. Michael demanded of San Gallo, the Pope's architect, how these holes were to be repaired in the picture ? San Gallo replied; “ That was for him to consider, for the platform could be constructed in no other way. Michel removed the whole, and constructed a movable platform to rest and roll upon the floor, which is believed to be the same simple contrivance which is used in Rome, at this day, to repair the walls of churches. He gave this model to a carpenter, who made it so profitable as to furnish a dowry for his two daughters. He was so nice in tools, that he made with his own hand the wimbles, the files, the rasps, the chisels, and all other irons and instruments wbich he needed in sculpture ; and, in painting, he not only mixed but ground his colors himself, trusting no one.

And not only was this discoverer of Beauty, and its teacher among men, rooted and grounded in those severe laws of practical skill, which genius can never teach, and which must be learned by practice alone, but he was one of the most industrious men that ever lived. His diligence was so great, that it is wonderful how he endured its fatigues. The midnight battles, the forced marches, the winter campaigns of Julius Cæsar or Charles XII. do not indicate greater strength of body or of mind. He finished the gigantic painting of the

[ocr errors]

ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in twenty months, a fact which enlarges, it has been said, the known powers of man. Indeed he toiled so assiduously at this painful work, that, for a long time after, he was unable to see any picture but by holding it over his head. A little bread and wine was all his nourishment; and he told Vasari, that he often slept in his clothes, both because he was too weary to undress, and because he would rise in the night and go immediately to work. “I have found,” says his friend, some of his designs in Florence, where, whilst may be seen the greatness of his genius, it may also be known, that when he wished to take Minerva from the head of Jove, there needed the hammer of Vulcan.” He used to make to a single figure nine, ten, or twelve heads before he could satisfy himself, seeking that there should be in the composition a certain universal grace such as nature makes, saying, that “ he needed to have his compasses in his eye, and not in his hand, because the hands work whilst the eye judges.” He was accustomed to say, “ Those figures alone are good, from which the labor is scraped off, when the scaffolding is taken away.”

At near eighty years, he began in marble a group of four figures for a dead Christ ; because, he said, to exercise himself with the mallet was good for his health.

And what did he accomplish ? It does not fall within our design to give an account of his works, yet for the sake of the completeness of our sketch we will name the principal ones. Sculpture, he called his art, and to it he regretted afterwards he had not singly given himself. The style of his paintings is monumental ; and even his poetry partakes of that character. In sculpture, his greatest work is the statue of Moses in the Church of Pietro in Vincolo, in Rome. It is a sitting statue of colossal size, and is designed to embody the Hebrew Law. The lawgiver is supposed to gaze upon the worshippers of the golden calf. The majestic wrath of the figure daunts the beholder. In the Piazza del Gran Duca at Florence, stands, in the open air, his David, about to hurl the stone at Goliah. In the Church called the Minerva, at Rome, is bis Christ; an object of so much devotion to the people, that the right foot has been shod with a brazen sandal to prevent it from being kissed away. In St. Peter's, is his Pietà, or dead Christ in the arms of his mother. In the Mausoleum of the Medici at Florence, are the tombs of Lorenzo and Cosmo, with the grand statues of Night and Day, and Aurora and Twilight. Several statues of less fame, and basreliefs, are in Rome and Florence and Paris.

His Paintings are in the Sistine Chapel, of which he first covered the ceiling with the story of the creation, in successive compartments, with the great series of the Prophets and Sibyls in alternate tablets, and a series of greater and smaller fancy-pieces in the lunettes. This is his capital work painted in fresco.

Every one of these pieces, every figure, every hand, and foot, and finger, is a study of anatomy and design. Slighting the secondary arts of coloring, and all the aids of graceful finish, he aimed exclusively, as a stern designer, to express the vigor and magnificence of his conceptions. Upon the wall, over the altar, is painted the Last Judgment.

of his designs, the most celebrated is the cartoon representing soldiers coming out of the bath and arming themselves ; an incident in the war of Pisa. The wonderful merit of this drawing, which contrasts the extremes of relaxation and vigor, is conspicuous even in the coarsest prints.

Of his genius for Architecture, it is sufficient to say that he built St. Peter's, an ornament of the earth. He said he would hang the Pantheon in the air ; and he redeemed his pledge by suspending that vast cupola, without offence to grace or to stability, over the astonished beholder. He did not live to complete the work; but is there not something affecting in the spectacle of an old man, on the verge of ninety years, carrying steadily onward, with the heat and determination of manhood, his poetic conceptions into progressive execution, surmounting by the dignity of his purposes all obstacles and all enmities, and only bindered by the limits of life from fulfilling his designs ? Very slowly came he, after months and years, to the dome. At last he began to model it very small in wax. When it was finished, he had it copied larger in wood, and by this model it was built. Long after it was completed, and often since, to this day, rumors are occasionally spread that it is giving way, and it is said to have been injured by unskilful attempts to repair it. Benedict XIV., during one of these panics, sent for the architect Marchese Polini, to come to Rome and examine it. Polini put an end to all the various projects of repairs, by the satisfying sentence ;


The cupola does not start, and if it should start, nothing can be done but to pull it down." VOL. XLIV.



- NO.

« ПретходнаНастави »