Full Online Books
BOOK CATEGORIES
Authors Authors Short Stories Short Stories Long Stories Long Stories Funny Stories Funny Stories Love Stories Love Stories Stories For Kids Stories For Kids Poems Poems Essays Essays Nonfictions Nonfictions Plays Plays Folktales Folktales Fairy Tales Fairy Tales Fables Fables Learning Kitchen Learning Kitchen
LINKS
Valid XHTML 1.0 Transitional Free Classified Website Without Registration Free Classified Website Daniel Company
Twitter Twitter Add book
donate
Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Marble Faun - Volume I - Chapter XV - AN AESTHETIC COMPANY
Famous Authors (View All Authors)
The Marble Faun - Volume I - Chapter XV - AN AESTHETIC COMPANY Post by :Webminer Category :Long Stories Author :Nathaniel Hawthorne Date :April 2011 Read :2805

Click below to download : The Marble Faun - Volume I - Chapter XV - AN AESTHETIC COMPANY (Format : PDF)

The Marble Faun - Volume I - Chapter XV - AN AESTHETIC COMPANY

On the evening after Miriam's visit to Kenyon's studio, there was an
assemblage composed almost entirely of Anglo-Saxons, and chiefly of
American artists, with a sprinkling of their English brethren; and some
few of the tourists who still lingered in Rome, now that Holy Week was
past. Miriam, Hilda, and the sculptor were all three present, and with
them Donatello, whose life was so far turned from fits natural bent that,
like a pet spaniel, he followed his beloved mistress wherever he could
gain admittance.

The place of meeting was in the palatial, but somewhat faded and gloomy
apartment of an eminent member of the aesthetic body. It was no more
formal an occasion than one of those weekly receptions, common among the
foreign residents of Rome, at which pleasant people--or disagreeable ones,
as the case may be--encounter one another with little ceremony.

If anywise interested in art, a man must be difficult to please who cannot
find fit companionship among a crowd of persons, whose ideas and pursuits
all tend towards the general purpose of enlarging the world's stock of
beautiful productions.

One of the chief causes that make Rome the favorite residence of
artists--their ideal home which they sigh for in advance, and are so loath
to migrate from, after once breathing its enchanted air--is, doubtless,
that they there find themselves in force, and are numerous enough to
create a congenial atmosphere. In every other clime they are isolated
strangers; in this land of art, they are free citizens.

Not that, individually, or in the mass, there appears to be any large
stock of mutual affection among the brethren of the chisel and the pencil.
On the contrary, it will impress the shrewd observer that the jealousies
and petty animosities, which the poets of our day have flung aside, still
irritate and gnaw into the hearts of this kindred class of imaginative men.
It is not difficult to suggest reasons why this should be the fact. The
public, in whose good graces lie the sculptor's or the painter's prospects
of success, is infinitely smaller than the public to which literary men
make their appeal. It is composed of a very limited body of wealthy
patrons; and these, as the artist well knows, are but blind judges in
matters that require the utmost delicacy of perception. Thus, success in
art is apt to become partly an affair of intrigue; and it is almost
inevitable that even a gifted artist should look askance at his gifted
brother's fame, and be chary of the good word that might help him to sell
still another statue or picture. You seldom hear a painter heap generous
praise on anything in his special line of art; a sculptor never has a
favorable eye for any marble but his own.

Nevertheless, in spite of all these professional grudges, artists are
conscious of a social warmth from each other's presence and contiguity.
They shiver at the remembrance of their lonely studios in the
unsympathizing cities of their native land. For the sake of such
brotherhood as they can find, more than for any good that they get from
galleries, they linger year after year in Italy, while their originality
dies out of them, or is polished away as a barbarism.

The company this evening included several men and women whom the world has
heard of, and many others, beyond all question, whom it ought to know. It
would be a pleasure to introduce them upon our humble pages, name by name,
and had we confidence enough in our own taste--to crown each
well-deserving brow according to its deserts. The opportunity is tempting,
but not easily manageable, and far too perilous, both in respect to those
individuals whom we might bring forward, and the far greater number that
must needs be left in the shade. Ink, moreover, is apt to have a
corrosive quality, and might chance to raise a blister, instead of any
more agreeable titillation, on skins so sensitive as those of artists. We
must therefore forego the delight of illuminating this chapter with
personal allusions to men whose renown glows richly on canvas, or gleams
in the white moonlight of marble.

OtherWise we might point to an artist who has studied Nature with such
tender love that she takes him to her intimacy, enabling him to reproduce
her in landscapes that seem the reality of a better earth, and yet are but
the truth of the very scenes around us, observed by the painter's insight
and interpreted for us by his skill. By his magic, the moon throws her
light far out of the picture, and the crimson of the summer night
absolutely glimmers on the beholder's face. Or we might indicate a
poetpainter, whose song has the vividness of picture, and whose canvas is
peopled with angels, fairies, and water sprites, done to the ethereal life,
because he saw them face to face in his poetic mood. Or we might bow
before an artist, who has wrought too sincerely, too religiously, with too
earnest a feeling, and too delicate a touch, for the world at once to
recognize how much toil and thought are compressed into the stately brow
of Prospero, and Miranda's maiden loveliness; or from what a depth within
this painter's heart the Angel is leading forth St. Peter.

Thus it would be easy to go on, perpetrating a score of little
epigrammatical allusions, like the above, all kindly meant, but none of
them quite hitting the mark, and often striking where they were not aimed.
It may be allowable to say, however, that American art is much better
represented at Rome in the pictorial than in the sculpturesque department.
Yet the men of marble appear to have more weight with the public than the
men of canvas; perhaps on account of the greater density and solid
substance of the material in which they work, and the sort of physical
advantage which their labors thus acquire over the illusive unreality of
color. To be a sculptor seems a distinction in itself; whereas a painter
is nothing, unless individually eminent.

One sculptor there was, an Englishman, endowed with a beautiful fancy, and
possessing at his fingers' ends the capability of doing beautiful things.
He was a quiet, simple, elderly personage, with eyes brown and bright,
under a slightly impending brow, and a Grecian profile, such as he might
have cut with his own chisel. He had spent his life, for forty years, in
making Venuses, Cupids, Bacchuses, and a vast deal of other marble progeny
of dreamwork, or rather frostwork: it was all a vapory exhalation out of
the Grecian mythology, crystallizing on the dull window-panes of to-day.
Gifted with a more delicate power than any other man alive, he had
foregone to be a Christian reality, and perverted himself into a Pagan
idealist, whose business or efficacy, in our present world, it would be
exceedingly difficult to define. And, loving and reverencing the pure
material in which he wrought, as surely this admirable sculptor did, he
had nevertheless robbed the marble of its chastity, by giving it an
artificial warmth of hue. Thus it became a sin and shame to look at his
nude goddesses. They had revealed themselves to his imagination, no doubt,
with all their deity about them; but, bedaubed with buff color, they
stood forth to the eyes of the profane in the guise of naked women. But,
whatever criticism may be ventured on his style, it was good to meet a man
so modest and yet imbued with such thorough and simple conviction of his
own right principles and practice, and so quietly satisfied that his kind
of antique achievement was all that sculpture could effect for modern life.


This eminent person's weight and authority among his artistic brethren
were very evident; for beginning unobtrusively to utter himself on a topic
of art, he was soon the centre of a little crowd of younger sculptors.
They drank in his wisdom, as if it would serve all the purposes of
original inspiration; he, meanwhile, discoursing with gentle calmness, as
if there could possibly be no other side, and often ratifying, as it were,
his own conclusions by a mildly emphatic "Yes."

The veteran Sculptor's unsought audience was composed mostly of our own
countrymen. It is fair to say, that they were a body of very dexterous
and capable artists, each of whom had probably given the delighted public
a nude statue, or had won credit for even higher skill by the nice carving
of buttonholes, shoe-ties, coat-seams, shirt-bosoms, and other such
graceful peculiarities of modern costume. Smart, practical men they
doubtless were, and some of them far more than this, but still not
precisely what an uninitiated person looks for in a sculptor. A sculptor,
indeed, to meet the demands which our preconceptions make upon him, should
be even more indispensably a poet than those who deal in measured verse
and rhyme. His material, or instrument, which serves him in the stead of
shifting and transitory language, is a pure, white, undecaying substance.
It insures immortality to whatever is wrought in it, and therefore makes
it a religious obligation to commit no idea to its mighty guardianship,
save such as may repay the marble for its faithful care, its incorruptible
fidelity, by warming it with an ethereal life. Under this aspect, marble
assumes a sacred character; and no man should dare to touch it unless he
feels within himself a certain consecration and a priesthood, the only
evidence of which, for the public eye, will he the high treatment of
heroic subjects, or the delicate evolution of spiritual, through material
beauty.

No ideas such as the foregoing--no misgivings suggested by them probably,
troubled the self-complacency of most of these clever sculptors. Marble,
in their view, had no such sanctity as we impute to it. It was merely a
sort of white limestone from Carrara, cut into convenient blocks, and
worth, in that state, about two or three dollars per pound; and it was
susceptible of being wrought into certain shapes (by their own mechanical
ingenuity, or that of artisans in their employment) which would enable
them to sell it again at a much higher figure. Such men, on the strength
of some small knack in handling clay, which might have been fitly employed
in making wax-work, are bold to call themselves sculptors. How terrible
should be the thought that the nude woman whom the modern artist patches
together, bit by bit, from a dozen heterogeneous models, meaning nothing
by her, shall last as long as the Venus of the Capitol!--that his group
of--no matter what, since it has no moral or intellectual existence will
not physically crumble any sooner than the immortal agony of the Laocoon!

Yet we love the artists, in every kind; even these, whose merits we are
not quite able to appreciate. Sculptors, painters, crayon sketchers, or
whatever branch of aesthetics they adopted, were certainly pleasanter
people, as we saw them that evening, than the average whom we meet in
ordinary society. They were not wholly confined within the sordid compass
of practical life; they had a pursuit which, if followed faithfully out,
would lead them to the beautiful, and always had a tendency thitherward,
even if they lingered to gather up golden dross by the wayside. Their
actual business (though they talked about it very much as other men talk
of cotton, politics, flour barrels, and sugar) necessarily illuminated
their conversation with something akin to the ideal. So, when the guests
collected themselves in little groups, here and there, in the wide saloon,
a cheerful and airy gossip began to be heard. The atmosphere ceased to be
precisely that of common life; a hint, mellow tinge, such as we see in
pictures, mingled itself with the lamplight.

This good effect was assisted by many curious little treasures of art,
which the host had taken care to strew upon his tables. They were
principally such bits of antiquity as the soil of Rome and its
neighborhood are still rich in; seals, gems, small figures of bronze,
mediaeval carvings in ivory; things which had been obtained at little cost,
yet might have borne no inconsiderable value in the museum of a virtuoso.

As interesting as any of these relics was a large portfolio of old
drawings, some of which, in the opinion of their possessor, bore evidence
on their faces of the touch of master-hands. Very ragged and ill
conditioned they mostly were, yellow with time, and tattered with rough
usage; and, in their best estate, the designs had been scratched rudely
with pen and ink, on coarse paper, or, if drawn with charcoal or a pencil,
were now half rubbed out. You would not anywhere see rougher and homelier
things than these. But this hasty rudeness made the sketches only the
more valuable; because the artist seemed to have bestirred himself at the
pinch of the moment, snatching up whatever material was nearest, so as to
seize the first glimpse of an idea that might vanish in the twinkling of
an eye. Thus, by the spell of a creased, soiled, and discolored scrap of
paper, you were enabled to steal close to an old master, and watch him in
the very effervescence of his genius.

According to the judgment of several con-, noisseurs, Raphael's own hand
had communidated its magnetism to one of these sketches; and, if genuine,
it was evidently his first conception of a favorite Madonna, now hanging
in the private apartment of the Grand Duke, at Florence. Another drawing
was attributed to Leonardo da Vinci, and appeared to be a somewhat varied
design for his picture of Modesty and Vanity, in the Sciarra Palace.
There were at least half a dozen others, to which the owner assigned as
high an origin. It was delightful to believe in their authenticity, at
all events; for these things make the spectator more vividly sensible of a
great painter's power, than the final glow and perfected art of the most
consummate picture that may have been elaborated from them. There is an
effluence of divinity in the first sketch; and there, if anywhere, you
find the pure light of inspiration, which the subsequent toil of the
artist serves to bring out in stronger lustre, indeed, but likewise
adulterates it with what belongs to an inferior mood. The aroma and
fragrance of new thoughts were perceptible in these designs, after three
centuries of wear and tear. The charm lay partly in their very
imperfection; for this is suggestive, and sets the imagination at work;
whereas, the finished picture, if a good one, leaves the spectator nothing
to do, and, if bad, confuses, stupefies, disenchants, and disheartens him.

Hilda was greatly interested in this rich portfolio. She lingered so long
over one particular sketch, that Miriam asked her what discovery she had
made.

"Look at it carefully," replied Hilda, putting the sketch into her hands.
"If you take pains to disentangle the design from those pencil~ marks that
seem to have been scrawled over it, I think you will see something very
curious."

"It is a hopeless affair, I am afraid," said Miriam. "I have neither your
faith, dear Hilda, nor your perceptive faculty. Fie! what a blurred
scrawl it is indeed!"

The drawing had originally been very slight, and had suffered more from
time and hard usage than almost any other in the collection; it appeared,
too, that there had been an attempt (perhaps by the very hand that drew
it) to obliterate the design. By Hilda's help, however, Miriam pretty
distinctly made out a winged figure with a drawn sword, and a dragon, or a
demon, prostrate at his feet.

"I am convinced," said Hilda in a low, reverential tone," that Guido's own
touches are on that ancient scrap of paper! If so, it must be his
original sketch for the picture of the Archangel Michael setting his foot
upon the demon, in the Church of the Cappuccini. The composition and
general arrangement of the sketch are the same with those of the picture;
the only difference being, that the demon has a more upturned face, and
scowls vindictively at the Archangel, who turns away his eyes in painful
disgust."

"No wonder!" responded Miriam. "The expression suits the daintiness of
Michael's character, as Guido represents him. He never could have looked
the demon in the face!"

"Miriam!" exclaimed her friend reproachfully, "you grieve me, and you
know it, by pretending to speak contemptuously of the most beautiful and
the divinest figure that mortal painter ever drew."

"Forgive me, Hilda!" said Miriam. "You take these matters more
religiously than I can, for my life. Guido's Archangel is a fine picture,
of course, but it never impressed me as it does yOU."

"Well; we will not talk of that," answered Hilda. "What I wanted you to
notice, in this sketch, is the face of the demon. It is entirely unlike
the demon of the finished picture. Guido, you know, always affirmed that
the resemblance to Cardinal Pamfili was either casual or imaginary. Now,
here is the face as he first conceived it."

"And a more energetic demon, altogether, than that of the finished picture,"
said Kenyon, taking the sketch into his hand. "What a spirit is
conveyed into the ugliness of this strong, writhing, squirming dragon,
under the Archangel's foot! Neither is the face an impossible one. Upon
my word, I have seen it somewhere, and on the shoulders of a living man!"

"And so have I," said Hilda. "It was what struck me from the first."

"Donatello, look at this face!" cried Kenyon.

The young Italian, as may be supposed, took little interest in matters of
art, and seldom or never ventured an opinion respecting them. After
holding the sketch a single instant in his hand, he flung it from him with
a shudder of disgust and repugnance, and a frown that had all the
bitterness of hatred.

"I know the face well!" whispered he. "It is Miriam's model!"

It was acknowledged both by Kenyon and Hilda that they had detected, or
fancied, the resemblance which Donatello so strongly affirmed; and it
added not a little to the grotesque and weird character which, half
playfully, half seriously, they assigned to Miriam's attendant, to think
of him as personating the demon's part in a picture of more than two
centuries ago. Had Guido, in his effort to imagine the utmost of sin and
misery, which his pencil could represent, hit ideally upon just this face?
Or was it an actual portrait of somebody, that haunted the old master, as
Miriam was haunted now? Did the ominous shadow follow him through all the
sunshine of his earlier career, and into the gloom that gathered about its
close? And when Guido died, did the spectre betake himself to those
ancient sepulchres, there awaiting a new victim, till it was Miriam's
ill-hap to encounter him?

"I do not acknowledge the resemblance at all," said Miriam, looking
narrowly at the sketch; "and, as I have drawn the face twenty times, I
think you will own that I am the best judge."

A discussion here arose, in reference to Guido's Archangel, and it was
agreed that these four friends should visit the Church of the Cappuccini
the next morning, and critically examine the picture in question; the
similarity between it and the sketch being, at all events, a very curious
circumstance.

It was now a little past ten o'clock, when some of the company, who had
been standing in a balcony, declared the moonlight to be resplendent.
They proposed a ramble through the streets, taking in their way some of
those scenes of ruin which produced their best effects under the splendor
of the Italian moon.

If you like this book please share to your friends :
NEXT BOOKS

The Marble Faun - Volume I - Chapter XVI - A MOONLIGHT RAMBLE The Marble Faun - Volume I - Chapter XVI - A MOONLIGHT RAMBLE

The Marble Faun - Volume I - Chapter XVI - A MOONLIGHT RAMBLE
The proposal for a moonlight ramble was received with acclamation by allthe younger portion of the company. They immediately set forth anddescended from story to story, dimly lighting their way by waxen tapers,which are a necessary equipment to those whose thoroughfare, in thenight-time, lies up and down a Roman staircase. Emerging from thecourtyard of the edifice, they looked upward and saw the sky full of light,which seemed to have a delicate purple or crimson lustre, or, at leastsome richer tinge than the cold, white moonshine of other skies. Itgleamed over the front of the opposite palace, showing the
PREVIOUS BOOKS

The Marble Faun - Volume I - Chapter XIV - CLEOPATRA The Marble Faun - Volume I - Chapter XIV - CLEOPATRA

The Marble Faun - Volume I - Chapter XIV - CLEOPATRA
My new statue!" said Kenyon, who had positively forgotten it in thethought of Hilda; "here it is, under this veil." "Not a nude figure, Ihope," observed Miriam. "Every young sculptor seems to think that he mustgive the world some specimen of indecorous womanhood, and call it Eve,Venus, a Nymph, or any name that may apologize for a lack of decentclothing. I am weary, even more than I am ashamed, of seeing such things.Nowadays people are as good as born in their clothes, and there ispractically not a nude human being in existence. An artist, therefore, asyou must
NEXT 10 BOOKS | PREVIOUS 10 BOOKS | RANDOM 10 BOOKS
LEAVE A COMMENT