Perhaps nothing can exceed the noble grandeur of the galleries and courts of the Vatican. Unlike the somber aspect generally characterizing libraries, museums, and similar resorts of the studious and the antiquary, it is as a world of exquisite beauty, vast, splendid, filled with the most admired works of art, and the most precious marbles. The lengthened vista, the varied perspective changing at each advancing step, the noble architectural proportions still preserved in every new form or dimension of apartment, the lofty iron gates, the beautiful fountains adorning the courts, and cooling the air with the play of their fresh running waters, the white balustrades, the pillars and magnificent columns, composed of giall’ antique, and every richest marble, almost produce the idea of enchantment; and the eye wanders around in eager curiosity, with amazement and delight.
Light is beautiful; and here it is seen, bright and sparkling, reflected from pure and precious marbles; while from the wide-spread windows the most delightful views of Rome, rich with her cupolas, spires, and obelisks, in every varied form of architecture, with her sea-green Campagna, bounded by the dark grey mountains fading in the distance, are presented to the eye. It is the noblest national possession in the world, and should ever be sacred. The mind of man is, I trust, now so well informed, that no barbarous conqueror will ever again dare to touch it with a profane hand.
ST PETER DELIVERED FROM PRISON.-This is a beautiful and perfect piece. The disposition of the figures is wonderfully fine, the action powerful and impressive. It is as a tale told with deep feeling.
The painting represents three subjects: the awakening the saint by the angel, his escape, and the consequent alarm of the sentinels. In the middle division, St Peter is seen through a grated vault, in chains, lying asleep, and guarded by two Roman soldiers, holding the chains on each side; while the angel occupying the centre, surrounded by a glory illuminating the interior with refulgent brightness, calls on him to rise and follow.
The finely diffused drawing, the bending, graceful, ethereal forms of the angel, himself a pure body of light, the vivid gleams touching the armour, the brilliant glowing colours contrasting with the deep gloom of the cavern, present a scene powerfully effective, and indicating, with unequalled grandeur, the presence of a supernatural being. On the left hand, a beautiful tranquil moon-light scene, with sleeping sentinels, is displayed; on the other side, where the angel leads forth St Peter, his blazing form is seen proceeding onwards, one arm extended, as if piercing through the darkness, while with the other he conducts the saint, on whose countenance the varied emotions of terror, amazement, doubt, and trembling joy, are depicted, with a power and effect so forcible, as to cause an almost breathless interest. Meanwhile, the guards in the back-ground are beheld as if suddenly awakening; the lessened gleam falling on the distant objects, renders, with beautiful effect, the prison, the stairs, and grated windows visible, displaying, in the deepened shade, the alarm and confusion of the sentinels, who, with lighted torches, are hurrying to and fro, in confusion and dismay.
The whole composition of this piece, the beautiful drawing and keeping, is such, that perhaps nothing of human invention can equal it. The colouring, and the art with which the different lights are represented, are most excellent. The bright atmosphere, encircling and irradiating the angel in the prison-scene, contrasting with the heavy gloom of the dark dank cavern, its milder lustre when the angel is conducting the saint through the street, the red glare of the torches, with the effect of the cold, pale, chastened moonlight, are all inimitable.
NOZZE ALDOBRANDINE.–This most interesting piece, copied from the original by Nicholas Poussin, is preserved in the Palazzo Doria, where lives his excellency, Italinsky, one of the finest scholars and most accomplished men in Rome, educated in Scotland, speaking all languages, and worthy to represent a great nation. I had heard much of the singular merit of the Nozze Aldobrandine; yet, for beauty, colouring, drawing, and individual composition, I found it far exceeding anything I had imagined. The perspective of the couch, or canopy, is very fine, and gives occasion for the rising a little into action of the furthest figure; the colours of the silks are deep and gorgeous, the drapery in fine drawing, while the shining metal, stucco, and gilding at the foot, has the richest effect. The countenance of the bride, who is seated on the couch, is wanting in spirit and expression; but the bride-maid, or priestess, who officiates in that office, is a noble and striking figure, with a beautiful physiognomy, and turns to-wards her with the most animated gesture. But the bridegroom is the finest thing I have ever seen. His brown colour gives a singular appearance of hardihood, and token of having grappled with danger, and felt the influence of burning suns. He bears the aspect of a Mexican warrior, a prince, or hero. The limbs are drawn with inimitable skill, slender, of the finest proportion, making the just medium between strength and agility; while the low sustaining posture, resting firmly on the right hand, half turning towards the bride, is wonder-fully conceived, implying the habit of every power of action, combined with youthful flexibility; the long protruded left leg, with the much bending of the right, being peculiarly indicative of elasticity. The dark purple garment, gracefully thrown over the middle of the person, is finely done; and the large deep-set black eye, the noble countenance, the oval forehead, the pointed chin, and spirit and expression diffused over the whole, are altogether inimitable. This figure I should without hesitation pronounce to be, in point of composition, posture, and colouring, the most animated and admirable thing I have ever seen. The simplicity and effect of this central group are indeed truly beautiful, and possess all the power of a painting with the lightness of a drawing. The two lateral groups, placed at each end, not as forming a part in the interest of the piece, but merely as appendages appertaining to the parade of ceremony, are also fine; and it is worthy of particular note, that the female figures, whether representing the matron or youthful form, are all designed with superior taste, the elegance of the drapery resulting as much from characteristic simplicity, as from the natural grace of their persons. The female figures are robed in long vestments, the hair bound up in nets, and the feet enclasped in sandals. A pleasing tone of purity reigns through the whole composition, in which nothing bacchanalian offends the eye, or invades the chaste keeping of the scene.