donderdag 9 januari 2014

Anna Jameson -- 10 januari 1822

10. — A lovely brilliant day, the sky without a cloud and the air as soft as summer. [...]

The church of San Martino del Monte is built on part of the substructure of the baths of Titus ; and there is a door opening from the church, by which you descend into the ancient subterranean vaults. The small, but exquisite pillars, and the pavement, which is of the richest marbles, were brought from the Villa of Adrian at Tivoli. The walls were painted in fresco by Nicolo and Gaspar Poussin, and were once a celebrated study for young landscape painters; almost every vestige of coloring is now obliterated by the damp which streams down the walls. There are some excellent modern pictures in good preservation, I think by Carluccio. This church, though not large, is one of the most magnificent we have yet seen, and the most precious materials are lavished in profusion on every part. The body of Cardinal Tomasi is preserved here, embalmed in a glass case. It is exhibited conspicuously, and in my life I never saw (or smelt) any thing so abominable and disgusting.
The rest of the morning was spent in the Vatican.
I stood to-day for some time between those two great masterpieces, the Transfiguration of Raffaelle, and Domenichino's Communion of St. Jerome. I studied them, I examined them figure by figure, and then in the ensemble, and mused upon the different effect they produce, and were designed to produce, until I thought I could decide to my own satisfaction on their respective merits. I am not ignorant that the Transfiguration is pronounced the " grandest picture in the world," nor so insensible to excellence as to regard this glorious composition without all the admiration due to it. I am dazzled by the flood of light which bursts from the opening heavens above, and affected by the dramatic interest of the group below. What splendor of color ! What variety of expression ! What masterly grouping of the heads ! I see all this — but to me Raffaelle's picture wants unity of interest : it is two pictures in one ; the demoniac boy in the foreground always shocks me ; and thus, from my peculiarity of taste, the pleasure it gives me is not so perfect as it ought to be.
On the other hand, I never can turn to the Domenichino without being thrilled with emotion, and touched with awe. The story is told with the most admirable skill, and with the most exquisite truth and simplicity : the interest is one and the same ; it all centres in the person of the expiring saint ; and the calm benignity of the officiating priest is finely contracted with the countenances of the group who support the dying form of St. Jerome : anxious tenderness, grief, hope, and fear, are expressed with such deep pathos and reality, that the spectator forgets admiration in sympathy ; and I have gazed, till I could almost have fancied myself one of the assistants. The coloring is as admirable as the composition — gorgeously rich in effect, but subdued to a tone which harmonizes with the solemnity of the subject.

There is a curious anecdote connected with this picture, which I wish I had noted down at length as it was related to me, and at the time I heard it : it is briefly this. The picture was painted by Domenichino for the church of San Girolamo della Carith. At that time the factions between the different schools of painting ran so high at Rome, that the followers of Domenichino and Guido absolutely stabbed and poisoned each other; and the popular prejudice being in favor of the latter, the Communion of St. Jerome was torn down from its place, and flung into a lumber garret. Some time afterwards, the superiors of the convent wishing to substitute a new altar-piece, commissioned Nicolo Poussin to execute it; and sent him Domenichino's rejected picture as old canvas to paint upon. No sooner had the generous Poussin cast his eyes on it, than he was struck, as well he might be, with astonishment and admiration. He immediately carried it into the church, and there lectured in public on its beauties, until he made the stupid monks ashamed of their blind rejection of such a masterpiece, and boldly gave it that character it has ever since retained, of being the second best picture in the world.

Anna Jameson (1794-1860) was een Britse schrijfster. Haar wederwaardigheden van een reis naar Italië verwerkte ze in (het strikt genomen fictieve) The Diary of an Ennuyée (1826).

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