This hall was once the summer-house of the popes, but Pius VI arranged it as a gallery for statuary, in recognition of the fact, that while the prominent and distinctive feature of the Vatican must ever be its religious character, yet, apart from this, it is an inexhaustible treasure-house of art, preserving for mankind not only the astonishing works of Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel and the peerless frescoes of Raphael, but also some of the greatest works of art belonging to antiquity which lay for centuries hidden away in the soil of Italy.
This gallery into which we are now looking abounds with ancient sculpture, which has been dug from the ground by the shovel of the excavator.
Our eyes wander through the marble hall and rest upon this multitude of snowy forms, and while no word falls from the cool, smooth lips, yet they seem almost to be alive. Such strength and symmetry of figure, such beauty of outline, such grace and witchery of pose could belong only to the Greeks, and these statues are the product of Greek art.
With the Greeks, education had but two general di-visions, and all culture was classed under one or the other of these : gymnastics, which included everything that related to the strengthening and harmonious development of the human form ; and music, which in its broadest sense, included not singing alone but everything pertaining to the human voice and its cultivation. In this connection there would therefore be demanded the study of religion, rhetoric, logic, philosophy, history and poetry.
Nothing but the highest culture could possibly have produced the statues in this famous gallery, containing as it does, some of the greatest works of the mighty dead; for, when Rome conquered Greece, she was wise enough to absorb her great culture and utilize her highest genius.
Yet even these statues have not escaped the merciless exactions of art criticism, and while it may be true that they never were quite as flawless as we have been wont to think, it remains, nevertheless, an indisputable fact that they are the best we have. We are told that Hawthorne, bending down, took in his fingers, one day, a half-blown rose, as pure and beautiful as a thought of God, which in reality it was, and smiling radiantly, he remarked, ” This is perfect ! On earth, a flower only can be perfect.”
Direct your glance to the center of the gallery. The alabaster urn nearest us is remarkably fine and once contained the ashes of one of the royal Julian family.
The large basin, also in the center of the hall, is of oriental alabaster, and was found near the church of SS. Apostoli ; the cinerary urn, beyond the basin, has engraved upon it the names of the three children of Germanicus.
In this gallery, but outside the limits of our vision, is the famed Barberini candelabrum, the largest and the finest in existence. It was found in Hadrian’s villa.
Our space will not permit us to describe the different statues in this hall; it would require a whole volume to do justice to them all, chief among which is the smiling faun (a copy of the Faun of Praxiteles in the Museum of the Capitol), the graceful Apollo, the beautiful Venus, and Pan, the universal god, in whose laugh echo the joys of earth.
Before leaving the palace, we must examine by itself one of its greatest works of art ; and, in order to do so, we will pass through a doorway just back of our present position, and walk along the adjacent Hall of Busts, where, through the long years, patiently wait the curly-headed Marcus Aurelius ; the youthful Augustus, with the thin lips and sharp nose ; the dull, blunt-headed Hadrian, with his hair drawn down over his forehead ; and the cruel Caracalla, who suggests the present-day pugilist or an Italian bandit, whom one might well dread to meet by night on a lonely road.
Then, turning to the right, we reach the Cortile del Belvedere (consult the map of the Vatican), which we cross diagonally, and, at length, in the southwest corner we find ourselves face to face with the world’s greatest representation of human emotion, the Laocoon.