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St. Peter's, and decorating the apartments of the Vatican with appropriate works of art. Raphael had been summoned to take his part in the latter enterprise, and was about to paint his immortal frescos. Michael Angelo was commissioned to complete the frescoing of a chapel of the Vatican, called the Sistine Chapel from Sixtus IV, who built it. He declined this call as long as he could, pleading ignorance of the use of colors, and putting the work off upon Raphael. But all resistance was in vain. He must execute that sublime series of Prophets and Sybils, and that great fresco of the Last Judgment, which have made the Sistine Chapel a place of pilgrimage, not only for students of art, but for all who have souls to feel the elevating influence of the true poetry of painting. Notwithstanding his want of previous practice in colors-for, hitherto, he had painted very little in any manner, and not at all in fresco-he was equal to doing full justice to the commission given him. Pietro Perugino and his contemporaries had already painted frescos of Scripture subjects on parts of the walls, next below the entablature from which the arched roof springs. Michael Angelo designed to use the vault of the roof, as yet a blank space, for certain other subjects, which, with those of his predecessors, should make a continuous series, illustrative of successive cycles of sacred history; and to appropriate the two ends of the apartment to the Fall of the Angels and the Last Judgment, as introduction and conclusion of the series. The Fall of the Angels was never painted; but with this exception Michael Angelo lived to carry out his grand design. The vault of the roof, it should be observed, is an even surface, without any architectural projections, and unbroken except by openings for light—all of which comes from above. The upper part of this vault, at the height of seventy feet from the floor, Michael Angelo occupied with subjects taken from Genesis, in separate compartments, beginning with the sublime image of the Deity hovering in mid-air over the expanse of the dark waters of chaos, and a no less sublimely imagined representation of the Creatorchasing away the Spirit of darkness and disorder, and estab lishing the two great lights. These frescos operate so power
fully upon the imagination that they seem scarcely to address the eye. They are like descriptions in the highest strain of poetry, by the power of which the mind overleaps the medium of the words employed. Six other subjects complete this part of the design. At the four corners of the vault, in triangular spaces, formed in fresco, are painted David and Goliath, Judith and Holofernes, the Brazen Serpent, and a subject supposed to be connected with the story of Haman. In pendant-like spaces at either end and along the length of the vault, are painted the prophet Jonas, the Libyan Sybil, Jeremiah, Daniel, the Persian Sybil, the Cumaean Sybil, Ezekiel, Isaiah, the Erythrean Sybil, the Delphian Sybil, Joel and Zechariah. The character of these master-works, in which Michael Angelo pursued a path wholly his own, and distanced all rivalry, can be only inadequately described. A good hint in explanation of their effect upon the mind is given by De Quincy, who observes: "Mais la personification de ces personnages ne put également être inspirée . . . que par la lecture de la Bible et par la hauteur du style des prophètes. C'est en elevant sa pensée dans la région les livres inspirés qu'il forca son imagination de lui fournir des contre-épreuves de cette grandeur mystérieuse, necessaire pour mettre hors de toute proportion avec les êtres créés ces hommes qu'une inspiration surnaturelle avait élevés au-dessus de l' humanité."* The impression produced may be owing in part, perhaps, to the accompanying of each of these Prophets and Sybils with a little child who seems to be represented as the medium of inspiration, though more clearly in some instances than in others-as if the artist had borne in mind the inseparable connection between child-like docility and all true elevation of thought, or susceptibility to divine impression. That sybils were thus associated with the prophets of the Old Testament is due to the belief, early entertained in the Christian church, that the heathen world was not without premonitions of the coming of the Messiah.
From these frescos one naturally turns to the Last Judg ment. A description of the whole of this vast composition, covering a surface of forty by seventy feet, is needless. It is,
indeed, a most wonderful exhibition of the facility with which Michael Angelo could represent the human form in every imaginable attitude, produced by violent effort or the excitement of the various passions. But the grouping is formal, the principal groups being arranged very much after the manner of Orcagna, of the fourteenth century, in his fresco of the same subject in the Campo Santo of Pisa. Nor can one avoid feeling that the unity of effect is broken by the introduction of Charon with his boat, to convey the condemned to their eternal abode, although Dante's example of the free use of pagan imagery, in his Divina Comadia, might be considered to explain and justify it. The figure of Charon, with eyes of burning coal, lifting his oar to hasten the disembarkation of the reluctant doomed, which, considered by itself, is one of the finest parts of the fresco, seems to have been suggested by Dante's celebrated description in the Inferno:
"Caron demonio con occhi di bragia
Taken as a whole, this great work seemed to me deficient in appropriate sentiment. It represents too one-sidedly a "dies irae." Perhaps no pictorial unity could express the infinitely varied and distracting conceptions which crowd upon the imagination in looking forward to "the day of doom." The power of the work lies in its treatment of particular parts of the subject. I may specify, as examples, that group of persons urging themselves into the view of the Judge, and bearing what seem to be emblems of various pleas for his favor, which he rejects; and the representation of some of the good as employed in executing the sentence passed upon the wicked, in which the countenances and movements of the former, who seem half to yield to sympathetic agony, yet are resolute, contrasted with the distorted visages and struggling gestures of those whom they hurl into the depth, distracted by blasphemous wrath and despair, are strokes of high imagi
In order to bring together all that was to be said of Michael Angelo's frescos in the Sistine Chapel, the course of his life,
after the completion of his paintings on the roof of that apartment, has oeen somewhat anticipated. He had finished his subjects from Genesis, and all his Prophets and Sybils, in 1512. In 1513 Julius II died. During the pontificate of Leo X, Michael Angelo was hindered in his labors by necessary, though irksome, compliance with that Pope's wishes in regard to the opening of some new quarries of marble. Meanwhile, the execution of the proposed mausoleum of Julius II advanced slowly. After the accession of Clement VII, Michael Angelo was employed by him upon his first architectural work, the interior of the library of San Lorenzo, in Florence of which the vestibule has a sober grandeur well becoming the place and the artist. He was then, also, charged with the construction of the Sacristy of San Lorenzo, attached to the Medicean Chapel in Florence, where were to be placed his monuments to a son and grandson of Lorenzo the Magnificent, Giuliano and Lorenzo. To the same period belongs his statue of Christ Bearing the Cross, now in the church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva at Rome. The Saviour is here represented rather as grasping and leaning upon the cross than as bearing it; in repose after fatigue and suffering, not agitated by distress at the moment. The artist seems to have imagined him too weary just then to feel acutely. A composed pensiveness, therefore, pervades the countenance, while at the same time a line of care upon the cheek, and the gathering of a slight cloud upon the brow show him to be the "man of sorrows," and his sinking frame denotes strength failing under toil and grief.
Michael Angelo's architectural works of this period must be passed over with the bare mention of them. The recumbent figures which he sculptured for the Medicean monuments, two male and two female, and emblematic, as tradition says, of dawn, day, twilight and night, probably viewed as corresponding to the successive periods of human life, are among his most celebrated works, and have given rise to much discussion among critics. These statues are considered as the first productions of the revived art of sculpture in which the quality of life was completely given to marble. Here are "des êtres qui re
muent," says de Quincy, "des formes charnues, revêtues d'une enveloppe ou d'une peau obéissante à tous les mouvements; . . . des attitudes dont la souplesse le dispute à celle de la nature; . . . vous voyez ou croyez voir remuer les membres, et circuler dans le marbre inerte une sorte de principe vital, animant la matière de l'apparence d' un sentiment organique." But, on the other hand, it is generally thought that they are wanting in specific character, except the statue of Night, which is a woman asleep, having along side of her an owl and a masque. Critics have found an apology for this apparent want of significance, in the fact that "the terms of the language of allegory, as applicable to works of modern sculpture,” were "not yet either well recognized or defined :”† that there was as yet wanting to modern art a system of conventional propriety, as regards the details of representation, and accessories to aid the imagination in apprehending the artist's idea, corresponding to that which the classic mythology furnished to the Greek artist. When, however, we consider Michael Angelo's eminent originality and fertility of mind, it seems most probable that he intended to characterize and distinguish these forms simply by variety of attitude, contour and muscular development, seeing in mere material organism— moulded, as it ever is, by its spiritual tenant, even though the animation of the soul's life may be absent-an expression of character, and means of varying the signification of artistic representation. The execution of these monuments was interrupted by the expulsion of the Medici from Florence in 1529, and the fortifying and defending of the city against their party, until at length, by an arrangement between Charles V and Clement VII, the Medici were brought back. As indicative of the versatility of Michael Angelo's genius, and that the false distinction between useful and fine arts had not yet prevailed, I may mention, here, that he was called upon to superintend the fortification of his paternal city, and actually to
* p. 101.
"Le genre et les termes du language allégorique, dans son application aux oeuvres de la sculpture moderne, n'étant encore ni bien reconnus ni bien déterminés."-De Quincy, p. 199.