A very fine Descent from the Cross, by Cignani, some-times styled Tiarini. The figures are considerably smaller than life, which might be supposed to hurt the general effect, but the composition is so perfect as to leave no feeling on the mind but that of admiration. The drawing and colouring of our Saviour’s body are in such a style of excellence, as to give the most affecting expression to a representation generally so painful: his figure, forming the great central light of this touching picture, is stretched out with the finest truth of nature. It is the silent motionless rigidity of death, yet bearing a character full of interest, having nothing of the tame flat drawing and cadaverous colouring so frequently seen in this subject. The head and left hand are supported, while the right, which is drawn with exquisite skill, hangs down lifeless and stiff.
The Madonna del Rosario, by Dominichino. A very superb picture. The subject represented is that of St Gregory, the Pope, praying to the Virgin Mary in the Heavens to liberate the faithful from trouble and persecution on earth. The beseeching attitude of the saint, a grand expanded melancholy figure with extended arms, as in a prayer that. embraced all the world, is powerfully expressed, while the various sufferings of the Christian church are finely personified, and the figures composing the lower part of the painting admirably executed. The whole composition and expression of this picture may be ranked as standing in the first class.
In the hall of the Academy, a painting of Parmegiano, Guido’s master, representing the Virgin in Heaven, surrounded by innumerable heads of angels, and below, St Michael, St John, Santa Catherina, and Apollione, in adoration. The colouring is fresh, beautiful, and deep-toned, and the shades of the drapery and dark sides of the figures finely wrought, but the composition is in a stiff elementary style, which, although admired by connoisseurs, is, in my opinion, wanting in grace and expression. The heads of the angels around the Virgin are as regular as a circle of a Gothic fringe above an arched door, and the figures below planted in the same spirit of strict uniformity.
The Adoration, by Innocenza de Imola, the great imitator of Raphael. The Virgin and child in Heaven, St Michael, with the Dragon under his feet, St Peter, and St Dominic, on either side in adoration. This artist is considered as being most happy in his attempts after the celebrated master, whose manner he avowedly copies; but say what they will of Imola and his imitations, when I see a picture such as this I must take the liberty of expressing my sentiments, and to my conception the character of the whole is wanting in harmony, the co-louring, composed of untempered green and yellow, is glaring, the sky a uniform blue, and the figures red and gaudy; St Dominic being, in my opinion, the only dignified and well-drawn figure in the piece.
The Martyrdom of St Agnes, formerly belonging to the church of that name, and ranked among the finest productions of Dominichino. A deep-toned, grand, and richly painted picture, crowded with figures, and a back ground of fine action. The serene and beautiful countenance of the saint is irradiated by an expression of rapt holiness and heavenly resignation, infinitely touching, and finely contrasting with the terror and amazement described with admirable skill and effect in the attitudes of the surrounding multitude. The episode of the two women forming the foreground of one corner of the picture, who are represented as hiding the face, and stilling the screams, of a terrified child, affords a scene of fine action very admirably delineated. But yet the act of the martyrdom is too deliberate. The murderer, plunging the dagger into her bosom, should turn off with something of horror from a deed committed in cold blood, unexcited by any principle of fury or revenge.
God the Father, by Guercino, formerly belonging to the church of Jesus and Maria. The Almighty is represented with the left hand resting on the globe, the right being raised in the clouds, and the Holy Spirit seen hovering over his head. The countenance is that of an old man, having a long beard and grey hairs; the figure is enveloped in the folds of a rich Cardinal’s cloak, while on his brow an expression of anxious thought is seated, wrinkling the forehead with deep lines of care, as if meditating with perplexity on the world he had created. The circumstance of Guercino’s having executed this picture in one night by the light of flambeaus, seems to be perfectly ascertained; but it is difficult not to regret that the artist had chosen for proof of his celebrity a task so difficult, or, I ought rather to say, impossible, as that of representing the Eternal Father.
The superb picture of the Murder of the Innocents, by Poussin. A most powerful piece, and composed with wonderful effect and skill. The figures are of the full size of life; the terror, dismay, and wildness of the different groups, are admirably pourtrayed, and, notwithstanding the violence of the action, each head is beautiful as that of an angel; the naked ruffians, with their uplifted daggers and sacrilegious hands stained with blood, are drawn in the finest style, and with all the energy of pitiless soldiers inured to such deeds. The outcry of one mother, dragged by her scarf and. hair, and held by one of these men till he reaches her child; the pale dishevelled aspect of another, breathless with terror, fainting, and delayed in her flight from agitation; the despair and agony of a third beyond these, who sits wringing her hands over her slaughtered babes; the touch of madness pictured on the fine countenance, which is uplifted with an indescribable expression of the utmost agony; the murdered babes filling the lower corner of the picture, lying on the blood-stained marble, so pale, so huddled together, so lifeless, yet so lovely and innocent in death, present an historical picture, perhaps the most domestic and touching that was ever painted. The broad shadows, the correctness, roundness, and simplicity of drawing in the whole, are inconceivably striking, the colour consistent and harmonious, no one point overlaboured, yet no effect neglected.
An Adoration by Ludovico Caracci. An inimitable painting, in which the artist has displayed the richest stores of genius. The countenance of the Virgin is exquisitely beautiful; a veil, touched with great skill, covers her head, falling in light folds over the bosom and shoulders; and the child, presenting all the animated graces of infantine loveliness, is full of life and nature. St Francis in adoration, and kissing the child’s hand, is painted in a dark tone, not to interfere with the principal figures, and is yet finely made out, as are the angels and the other accompaniments of the picture; the colouring soft and sweetly tinted; the whole being, with wonderful art and keeping, entirely subordinate to the great object of the composition.
The much celebrated St Cecilia of Raffaello; a work esteemed to be among the first productions of this great master. St Cecilia is represented with a lyre, held by both hands, carelessly dropped; the head turned up to-wards Heaven, with a beautiful pensive countenance, having an expression of concentrated and exalted feeling, as if devoting the best faculties and gifts of God to God, is deeply and touchingly impressive; her drapery is of finely enriched yellow, thrown over a close-drawn tunic; St Paul, a superb dignified figure, fills one corner; St John, drawn with a greater expression of simplicity and delicacy of form, is next to him; St Augustine, an-other grand figure; and Mary Magdalene, like a sister of the Heaven-devoted Cecilia, stands close by her. All the figures are in a line, but so finely composed, and the disposition of the lights and shades such, as to produce the effect of a beautiful central group, consisting of St Cecilia, Mary Magdalene, and St Peter. Musical instruments scattered on the fore-ground fill it up, but with-out attracting the eye; a pure blue element forms the horizon, while high in the Heavens a choir of angels, touched with the softest tints, is indistinctly seen.
The Martyrdom of St Peter, by Guercino, from a church at some distance from Bologna; a very fine picture, but containing all the puerile absurdities so often characterizing compositions on these subjects. St Peter is a large solitary figure, leaning alone in a wilderness with a poniard standing upright in his breast, and a hatchet cleaving his head in twain, the hatchet sticking in his skull like a woodman’s axe driven home in a log. What can an artist be thinking of who composes such a scene? not of truth or nature. Perhaps the Monks, who employed him., required that the hatchet and poniard should be left in this manner to prevent mistakes. From the wound inflicted by the hatchet, the blood is seen streaming down the temples, and gushing with still greater force around the poniard. Yet, incredible as it may seem, all this does not destroy the powerful expression of the picture. The elevated and exalted resignation painted on the features of a noble countenance, the effect of the black drapery cast around the kneeling figure, and held in one large majestic fold by the left hand, has a combined effect of grandeur and chaste simplicity, which is inexpressibly fine.
A St Sebastian, by Guido Rheni; a wonderful sketch in a very simple style. St Sebastian, youthful and beautiful, with the most manly, yet slender form, is represented with the left foot firmly planted, the right standing a little higher, raised on a stone, the knee slightly bent, the hands tied behind and fastened to a tree, from which the figure seems bursting away, not with an action of violence or of despair, but as if in youthful strength. The head of the young enthusiast, passionately turned up to Heaven, is exquisitely foreshortened, and shaded with black hair, curling almost in a circle round his fine open forehead. The rounding and display of the shoulder and its parts, the expansion of the flat wide chest, the Apollo-like slenderness, yet manliness of the limbs, the negligent flow of the slight drapery thrown round the middle, the effect of the light, falling down almost perpendicularly on the head and shoulder, the just proportion of the figure to the canvass, with the low unfinished tint of the distant landscape, render this the finest sketch perhaps in existence.
The Flagellation of our Saviour, by Ludovico Caracci; a wild and savage production, pourtraying a scene totally unsuitable to the dignity of the Saviour of man-kind. Characters of touching sublimity, of pity, of sub-mission, or resignation, are consistent with the Godhead on earth, as an atonement, or an example, for all the human race; but a representation so revolting, as is here delineated, is at once a violation of good taste and good feeling. Two red dark-coloured ruffians, resembling figures in Vulcan’s cave, are busied, one barbarously pulling up the wrist and right arm of our Saviour to a pillar, while the other holds his head by the hair, almost down to the ground, in a prostrate and ignominious posture, too degrading to be seen in connexion with religious feelings, or in reference to the sacred record. Our Saviour’s subjugated figure is so bent down, that the countenance is nearly hidden. The tone of colouring is of a dull red tint; but the drawing of the whole is good, and the foreshortening of the figures finely managed.
A painting by Innocenza da Imola; free from the faults noticed in his last-mentioned composition, but formal, hard, and far from pleasing.
Samson resting after slaying the Philistines, by Guido Rheni; a most superb picture. Samson may be styled a magnificent representation of youthful strength; and the large manly figures of the Philistines lying upon each other, worthy of being so slain, by miraculous power. The Jewish hero, resting one foot upon the piled bodies of the dead, has his head turned up to heaven, not in triumph, but in thankfulness. The low lying landscape, rising into brightness in the soft tints of early dawn; the distant view of the camp of the Philistines; the grandeur and noble elevation of mind delineated in the form, contour, and action of the conqueror, thus represented alone in the midst of death; the admirable drawing and foreshortening of the bodies heaped on each other; and the deep solitude and silence that seems to pervade the whole, are inexpressibly fine. No-thing barbarous or brutal is represented; no blood is seen. It is one great simple epic story. A fine and solemn scene, forming a very inestimable picture.
The Crucifixion, by Guido, from the suppressed church of the Capuchines. The agony of our Saviour; the gentle love and adoration of St John; the fervour with which Mary Magdalene, kneeling, embraces the lower part of the cross; the last drooping of Mary; the mournful solemnity, the sombre tint of the landscape, are very striking. It is, perhaps, the finest and most finished picture in existence. The magnificent size of the figures, the fulness without heaviness of the drapery, the deep fine tone of the colouring, with the impression excited from the awful stillness of the scene, are wonderful.
The Annunciation, by Tiarini; a singularly beautiful, delicate, and elegant picture; if it has a fault, it is that of being too beautiful; the Virgin too familiar; I would almost say, too naive; but still an exquisite, deep-toned, and precious work.
There are many other paintings in the Academy well worthy of attention.