The Atlantic Monthly/Volume 2/Number 1/Crawford and Sculpture
CRAWFORD AND SCULPTURE.
There is as absolute an instinct in the human mind for the definite, the palpable, and the emphatic, as there is for the mysterious, the versatile, and the elusive. With some, method is a law, and taste severe in affairs, costume, exercise, social intercourse, and faith. The simplicity, directness, uniformity, and pure emphasis or grace of Sculpture have analogies in literature and character: the terse despatch of a brave soldier, the concentrated dialogue of Alfieri, some proverbs, aphorisms, and poetic lines, that have become household words, puritanic consistency, silent fortitude, are but so many vigorous outlines, and impress us by virtue of the same colorless intensity as a masterpiece of the statuary. How sculpturesque is Dante, even in metaphor, as when he writes,—
"Ella non ci diceva alcuna cosa;
Ma lasciavane gir, solo guardando,
A guisa di leon quando si posa."
Nature, too, hints the art, when her landscape tints are covered with snow, and the forms of tree, rock, and mountain are clearly defined by the universal whiteness. Death, in its pale, still, fixed image,—always solemn, sometimes beautiful,—would have inspired primeval humanity to mould and chisel the lineaments of clay. Even New Zealanders elaborately carve their war-clubs; and from the "graven images" prohibited by the Decalogue as objects of worship, through the mysterious granite effigies of ancient Egypt, the brutal anomalies in Chinese porcelain, the gay and gilded figures on a ship's prow,—whether emblems of rude ingenuity, tasteless caprice, retrospective sentiment, or embodiments of the highest physical and mental culture, as in the Greek statues,—there is no art whose origin is more instructive and progress more historically significant. The vases of Etruria are the best evidence of her degree of civilization; the designs of Flaxman on Wedgwood ware redeem the economical art of England; the Bears at Berne and the Wolf in the Roman Capitol are the most venerable local insignia; the carvings of Gibbons, in old English manor-houses, outrival all the luxurious charms of modern upholstery; Phidias is a more familiar element in Grecian history than Pericles; the moral energy of the old Italian republics is more impressively shadowed forth and conserved in the bold and vigorous creations of Michel Angelo than in the political annals of Macchiavelli; and it is the massive, uncouth sculptures, half-buried in sylvan vegetation, which mythically transmit the ancient people of Central America.
We confess a faith in, and a love for, the "testimony of the rocks,"—not only as interpreted by the sagacious Scotchman, as he excavated the "old red sandstone," but as shaped into forms of truth, beauty, and power by the hand of man through all generations. We love to catch a glimpse of these silent memorials of our race, whether as Nymphs half-shaded at noon-day with summer foliage in a garden, or as Heroes gleaming with startling distinctness in the moonlit city-square; as the similitudes of illustrious men gathered in the halls of nations and crowned with a benignant fame, or as prone effigies on sepulchres, forever proclaiming the calm without the respiration of slumber, so as to tempt us to exclaim, with the enamored gazer on the Egyptian queen, when the asp had done its work,—
"She looks like sleep,
As she would catch another Antony
In her strong toil of grace."
Although Dr. Johnson undervalued sculpture,—partly because of an inadequate sense of the beautiful, and partly from ignorance of its greatest trophies, he expressed unqualified assent to its awe-inspiring influence in "the monumental caves of death," as described by Congreve. Sir Joshua truly declares that "all arts address themselves to the sensibility and imagination"; and no one thus alive to the appeal of sculpture will marvel that the infuriated mob spared the statues of the Tuileries at the bloody climax of the French Revolution,—that a "love of the antique" knit in bonds of life-long friendship Winckelmann and Cardinal Albani,—that among the most salient of childhood's memories should be Memnon's image and the Colossus of Rhodes,—that an imaginative girl of exalted temperament died of love for the Apollo Belvidere,—and that Carrara should win many a pilgrimage because its quarries have peopled earth with grace.
To a sympathetic eye there are few more pleasing tableaux than a gifted sculptor engaged in his work. How absorbed he is!—standing erect by the mass of clay,—with graduated touch, moulding into delicate undulations or expressive lines the inert mass,—now stepping back to see the effect,—now bending forward, almost lovingly, to add a master indentation or detach a thin layer,--and so, hour after hour, working on, every muscle in action, each perception active, oblivious of time, happy in the gradual approximation, under patient and thoughtful manipulation, of what was a dense heap of earth, to a form of vital expression or beauty. When such a man departs from the world, after having thus labored in love and with integrity so as to bequeathe memorable and cherished trophies of this beautiful art,--when he dies in his prime, his character as a man endeared by the ties of friendship, and his fame as an artist made precious by the bond of a common nativity, we feel that the art he loved and illustrated and the fame he won and honored demand a coincident discussion.
Thomas Crawford was born in New York, March 22, 1813, and died in London, October 16, 1857. His lineage, school education, and early facilities indicate no remarkable means or motive for artistic development; they were such as belong to the average positions of the American citizen; although a bit of romance, which highly amused the young sculptor, was the visit of a noble Irish lady to his studio, who ardently demonstrated their common descent from an ancient house. At first contented to experiment as a juvenile draughtsman, to gaze into the windows of print-shops, to collect what he could obtain in the shape of casts, to carve flowers, leaves, and monumental designs in the marble-yard of Launitz,--then adventuring in wood sculptures and portraits, until the encouragement of Thorwaldsen, the nude models of the French Academy at Rome, and copies from the Demosthenes and other antiques in the Vatican disciplined his eye and touch,--thus by a healthful, rigorous process attaining the manual skill and the mature judgment which equipped him to venture wisely in the realm of original conception,--there was a thoroughness and a progressive application in his whole initiatory course, prophetic, to those versed in the history of Art, of the ultimate and secure success so legitimately earned.
If Rome yields the choicest test, in modern times, of individual endowment in sculpture, by virtue of her unequalled treasures and select proficients in Art,--Munich affords the second ordeal in Europe, because of the cultivated taste and superior foundries for which that capital is renowned; and it is remarkable that both the great statues there cast from Crawford's models by Müller inspired those impromptu festivals which give expression to German enthusiasm. The advent of the Beethoven statue was celebrated by the adequate performance, under the auspices of both court and artists, of that peerless composer's grandest music. When, on the evening of his arrival, Crawford went to see, for the first time, his Washington in bronze, he was surprised at the dusky precincts of the vast arena; suddenly torches flashed illumination on the magnificent horse and rider, and simultaneously burst forth from a hundred voices a song of triumph and jubilee: thus the delighted Germans congratulated their gifted brother, and hailed the sublime work,--to them typical at once of American freedom, patriotism, and genius. The king warmly recognized the original merits and consummate effect of the work; the artists would suffer no inferior hands to pack and despatch it to the sea-side; peasants greeted its triumphal progress;--the people of Richmond were emulous to share the task of conveying it from the quay to the Capitol hill; mute admiration, followed by ecstatic cheers, hailed its unveiling, and the most gracious native eloquence inaugurated its erection.
Descriptions of works of Art, especially of statues, are proverbially unsatisfactory; only a vague idea can be given in words, to the unprofessional reader; otherwise we might dwell upon the eager, intent attitude of Orpheus as he seems to glide by the dozing Cerberus, shading his eyes as they peer into the mysterious labyrinth he is about to enter in search of his ravished bride;--we might expatiate on the graceful, dignified aspect of Beethoven, the concentration of his thoughtful brow, and the loving serenity of his expression,--a kind of embodied musical self-absorption, yet an accurate portrait of the man in his inspired mood; so might he have stood when gathering into his serene consciousness the pastoral melodies of Nature, on a summer evening, to be incorporated into immortal combinations of harmonious sound;--we might descant upon the union of majesty and spirit in the figure of Washington and the vital truth of action in the horse, the air of command and of rectitude, the martial vigor and grace, so instantly felt by the popular heart, and so critically praised by the adept in statuary cognizant of the difficulties to be overcome and the impression to be absolutely evolved from such a work, in order to make it at once true to Nature and to character;--we might repeat the declaration, that no figure, ancient or modern, so entirely illustrates the classic definition of oratory, as consisting in action, as the statue of Patrick Henry, which seems instinct with that memorable utterance, "Give me liberty or give me death!" The inventive felicity of the design for one of the pediments of the Capitol might be unfolded as a vivid historic poem; and it requires no imagination to show that Jefferson looks the author of the Declaration of Independence. The union of original expression and skill in statuary and of ingenious constructiveness in monumental designs, which Crawford exhibited, may be regarded as a peculiar excellence and a rare distinction.
Much has been said and written of the limits of sculpture; but it is the sphere, rather than the art itself, which is thus bounded; and one of its most glorious distinctions, like that of the human form and face, which are its highest subject, is the vast possible variety within what seems, at first thought, to be so narrow a field. That the same number and kind of limbs and features should, under the plastic touch of genius, have given birth to so many and totally diverse forms, memorable for ages and endeared to humanity, is in itself an infinite marvel, which vindicates, as a beautiful wonder, the statuary's art from the more Protean rivalry of pictorial skill. If we call to mind even a few of the sculptured creations which are "a joy forever," even to retrospection,--haunting by their pure individuality the temple of memory, permanently enshrined in heartfelt admiration as illustrations of what is noble in man and woman, significant in history, powerful in expression, or irresistible in grace,--we feel what a world of varied interest is hinted by the very name of Sculpture. Through it the most just and clear idea of Grecian culture is revealed to the many. The solemn mystery of Egyptian and the grand scale of Assyrian civilization are best attested by the same trophies. How a Sphinx typifies the land of the Pyramids and all its associations, mythological, scientific, natural, and sacred,--its reverence for the dead, and its dim and portentous traditions! and what a reflex of Nineveh's palmy days are the winged lions exhumed by Layard! What more authentic tokens of Mediaeval piety and patience exist than the elaborate and grotesque carvings of Albert Dürer's day? The colossal Brahma in the temple of Elephanta, near Bombay, is the visible acme of Asiatic superstition. And can an illustration of the revival of Art, in the fifteenth century, so exuberant, aspiring, and sublime, be imagined, to surpass the Day and Night, the Moses, and other statues of Angelo?-- But such general inferences are less impressive than the personal experience of every European traveller with the least passion for the beautiful or reverence for genius. Is there any sphere of observation and enjoyment to such a one, more prolific of individual suggestions than this so-called limited art? From the soulful glow of expression in the inspired countenance of the Apollo, to the womanly contours, so exquisite, in the armless figure of the Venus de Milo,--from the aerial posture of John of Bologna's Mercury, to the inimitable and firm dignity in the attitude of Aristides in the Museum of Naples,--from the delicate lines which teach how grace can chasten nudity in the Goddess of the Tribune at Florence, to the embodied melancholy of Hamlet in the brooding Lorenzo of the Medici Chapel,--from the stone despair, the frozen tears, as it were, of all bereaved maternity, in the very bend of Niobe's body and yearning gesture, to the _abandon_ gleaming from every muscle of the Dancing Faun,--from the stern brow of the Knife-grinder, and the bleeding frame of the Gladiator, whereon are written forever the inhumanities of ancient civilization, to the triumphant beauty and firm, light, enjoyable aspect of Dannecker's Ariadne,--from the unutterable joy of Cupid and Psyche's embrace, to the grand authority of Moses,--how many separate phases of human emotion "live in stone"! What greater contrast to eye or imagination, in our knowledge of facts and in our consciousness of sentiment, can be exemplified, than those so distinctly, memorably, and gracefully moulded in the apostolic figures of Thorwaldsen, the Hero and Leander of Steinhaüser, the lovely funereal monument, inspired by gratitude, which Rauch reared to Louise of Prussia, Chantrey's Sleeping Children, Canova's Lions in St. Peter's, the bas-reliefs of Ghiberti on the Baptistery doors at Florence, and Gibson's Horses of the Sun?
Have you ever strolled from the inn at Lucerne, on a pleasant afternoon, along the Zurich road, to the old General's garden, where stands the colossal lion designed by Thorwaldsen, to keep fresh the brave renown of the Swiss guard who perished in defence of the royal family of France during the massacre of the Revolution? Carved from the massive sandstone, the majestic animal, with the fatal spear in his side, yet loyal in his vigil over the royal shield, is a grand image of fidelity unto death. The stillness, the isolation, the vivid creepers festooning the rocks, the clear mirror of the basin, into which trickle pellucid streams, reflecting the vast proportions of the enormous lion, the veteran Swiss, who acts as _cicerone_, the adjacent chapel with its altar-cloth wrought by one of the fair descendants of the Bourbon king and queen for whom these victims perished, the hour, the memories, the admixture of Nature and Art, convey a unique impression, in absolute contrast with such white effigies, for instance, as in the dusky precincts of Santa Croce droop over the sepulchre of Alfieri, or with the famous bronze boar in the Mercato Nuevo of Florence, or the ethereal loveliness of that sweet scion of the English nobility, moulded by Chantrey in all the soft and lithe grace of childhood, holding a contented dove to her bosom.
Even as the subject of taste, independently of historical diversities, sculpture presents every degree of the meretricious, the grotesque, and the beautiful,--more emphatically, because more palpably, than is observable in painting. The inimitable Grecian standard is an immortal precedent; the Mediæval carvings embody the rude Teutonic truthfulness; where Canova provoked comparison with the antique, as in the Perseus and Venus, his more gross ideal is painfully evident. How artificial seems Bernini in contrast with Angelo! How minutely expressive are the terra-cotta images of Spain! What a climax of absurdity teases the eye in the monstrosities in stone which draw travellers in Sicily to the eccentric nobleman's villa, near Palermo! Who does not shrink from the French allegory and horrible melodrama of Roubillac's monument to Miss Nightingale, in Westminster Abbey? How like Horace Walpole to dote on Ann Conway's canine groups! We actually feel sleepy, as we examine the little black marble Somnus of the Florence Gallery, and electrified with the first sight of the Apollo, and won to sweet emotion in the presence of Nymphs, Graces, and the Goddess of Beauty, when, shaped by the hand of genius, they seem the ethereal types of that
----"common clay ta'en from the common earth,
Moulded by God and tempered by the tears
Of angels to the perfect form of woman."
Yet the distinctive element in the pleasure afforded by sculpture is tranquillity,--a quiet, contemplative delight; somewhat of awe chastens admiration; a feeling of peace hallows sympathy; and we echo the poet's sentiment,--
"I do feel a mighty calmness creep
Over my heart, which can no longer borrow
Its hues from chance or change,--those children of to-morrow."
It is this fixedness and placidity, conveying the impression of fate, death, repose, or immortality, which render sculpture so congenial as commemorative of the departed. Even quaint wooden effigies, like those in St. Mary's Church at Chester, with the obsolete peaked beards, ruffs, and broadswords, accord with the venerable associations of a Mediæval tomb; while marble figures, typifying Grief, Poetry, Fame, or Hope, brooding over the lineaments of the illustrious dead, seem, of all sepulchral decorations, the most apt and impressive. We remember, after exploring the plain of Ravenna on an autumn day, and rehearsing the famous battle in which the brave young Gaston de Foix fell, how the associations of the scene and story were defined and deepened as we gazed on the sculptured form of a recumbent knight in armor, preserved in the academy of the old city; it seemed to bring back and stamp with brave renown forever the gallant soldier who so long ago perished there in battle. In Cathedral and Parthenon, under the dome of the Invalides, in the sequestered parish church or the rural cemetery, what image so accords with the sad reality and the serene hope of humanity, as the adequate marble personification on sarcophagus and beneath shrine, in mausoleum or on turf-mound?
"His palms infolded on his breast,
There is no other thought express'd
But long disquiet merged in rest."
In truth, it is for want of comprehensive perception that we take so readily for granted the limited scope of this glorious art. There is in the Grecian mythology alone a remarkable variety of character and expression, as perpetuated by the statuary; and when to her deities we add the athletes, charioteers, and marble portraits, a realm of diverse creations is opened. Indeed, to the average modern mind, it is the statues of Grecian divinities that constitute the poetic charm of her history; abstractly, we regard them with the poet:--
"Their gods? what were their gods?
There's Mars, all bloody-haired; and Hercules,
Whose soul was in his sinews; Pluto, blacker
Than his own hell; Vulcan, who shook his horns
At every limp he took; great Bacchus rode
Upon a barrel; and in a cockle-shell
Neptune kept state; then Mercury was a thief;
Juno a shrew; Pallas a prude, at best;
And Venus walked the clouds in search of lovers;
Only great Jove, the lord and thunderer,
Sat in the circle of his starry power
And frowned 'I will!' to all."
Not in their marble beauty do they thus ignobly impress us,--but calm, fair, strong, and immortal. "They seem," wrote Hazlitt, "to have no sympathy with us, and not to want our admiration. In their faultless excellence they appear sufficient to themselves."
In the sculptor's art, more than on the historian's page, lives the most glorious memory of the classic past. A visit to the Vatican by torchlight endears even these poor traditional deities forever.
On lofty ceilings vivid frescoes glow,
The steeds of Neptune through the waters go,
Or Sibyls dream.
As in the flickering torchlight shadows weaved
Methought Apollo's bosom slightly heaved
And Juno smiled.
Aerial Mercuries in bronze upspring,
And marble Cupids to the Psyches cling
Without a sigh.
To this variety in unity, this wealth of antique genius, Crawford brought the keen relish of an observant and the aptitude of a creative mind. His taste in Art was eminently catholic; he loved the fables and the personages of Greece because of this very diversity of character,--the freedom to delineate human instincts and passions under a mythological guise,--just as Keats prized the same themes as giving broad range to his fanciful muse. A list of our prolific sculptor's works is found to include the entire circle of subjects and styles appropriate to his art--first, the usual classic themes, of which his first remarkable achievement was the Orpheus; then a series of Christian or religious illustrations, from Adam and Saul to Christ at the Well of Samaria; next, individual portraits; a series of domestic figures, such as the "Children in the Wood," or "Truant Boys"; and, finally, what may be termed national statuary, of which Beethoven and Washington are eminent exemplars. Like Thorwaldsen, Crawford excelled in _basso-rilievo_, and was a remarkable pictorial sculptor. Having made early and intense studies of the antique, he as carefully observed Nature; few statuaries have more keenly noted the action of childhood or equestrian feats, so that the limbs and movement of the sweetest of human and the noblest of brute creatures were critically known to him. In sculpture, we believe that a great secret of the highest success lies in an intuitive eclecticism, whereby the faultless graces of the antique are combined with just observation of Nature. Without correct imitative facility, a sculptor wanders from the truth and the fact of visible things; without ideality, he makes but a mechanical transcript; without invention, he but repeats conventional traits. The desirable medium, the effective principle, has been well defined by the author of "Scenes and Thoughts in Europe":-- "Art does not merely copy Nature; it _coöperates_ with her, it makes palpable her finest essence, it reveals the spiritual source of the corporeal by the perfection of its incarnations." That Crawford invariably kept himself to "the height of this great argument" it were presumptuous to assert; but that he constantly approached such an ideal, and that he sometimes seized its vital principle, the varied and expressive forms yet conserved in his studio at Rome emphatically attest. He had obtained command of the vocabulary of his art; in expressing it, like all men who strive largely, he was unequal. Some of his creations are far more felicitous than others; he sometimes worked too fast, and sometimes undertook what did not greatly inspire him; but when we reflect on the limited period of his artist-life, on the intrepid advancement of its incipient stages under the pressure of narrow means and comparative solitude, on the extraordinary progress, the culminating force, the numerous trophies, and the acknowledged triumphs of a life of labors, so patiently achieved, and suddenly cut off in mid career,--we cannot but recognize a consummate artist and the grandest promise yet vouchsafed to the cause of national Art.
Shelley used to say that a Roman peasant is as good a judge of sculpture as the best academician or anatomist. It is this direct appeal, this elemental simplicity, which constitutes the great distinction and charm of the art. There is nothing evasive and mysterious; in dealing with form and expression through features and attitude, average observation is a reliable test. The same English poet was right in declaring that the Greek sculptors did not find their inspiration in the dissecting-room; yet upon no subject has criticism displayed greater insight on the one hand and pedantry on the other, than in the discussion of these very _chefs-d'oeuvre_ of antiquity. While Michel Angelo, who was at Rome when the Laocoön was discovered, hailed it as "the wonder of Art," and scholars identified the group with a famous one described by Pliny, Canova thought that the right arm of the father was not in its right position, and the other restorations in the work have all been objected to. Goethe recognized a profound sagacity in the artist: "If," he wrote, "we try to place the bite in some different position, the whole action is changed, and we find it impossible to conceive one more fitting; the situation of the bite renders necessary the whole action of the limbs";--and another critic says, "In the group of the Laocoön, the breast is expanded and the throat contracted to show that the agonies that convulse the frame are borne in silence." In striking contrast with such testimonies to the scientific truth to Nature in Grecian Art was the objection I once heard an American back-woods mechanic make to this celebrated work; he asked why the figures were seated in a row on a dry-goods box, and declared that the serpent was not of a size to coil round so small an arm as the child's, without breaking its vertebrae. So disgusted was Titian with the critical pedantry elicited by this group, that, in ridicule thereof, he painted a caricature,--three monkeys writhing in the folds of a little snake.
Yet, despite the jargon of connoisseurship, against which Byron, while contemplating the Venus de Medici, utters so eloquent an invective, sculpture is a grand, serene, and intelligible art,--more so than architecture and painting,--and, as such, justly consecrated to the heroic and the beautiful in man and history. It is predominantly commemorative. How the old cities of Europe are peopled to the imagination, as well as the eye, by the statues of their traditional rulers or illustrious children, keeping, as it were, a warning sign, or a sublime vigil, silent, yet expressive, in the heart of busy life and through the lapse of ages! We could never pass Duke Cosmo's imposing effigy in the old square of Florence without the magnificent patronage and the despotic perfidy of the Medicean family being revived to memory with intense local association,--nor note the ugly mitred and cloaked papal figures, with hands extended, in the mockery of benediction, over the beggars in the piazzas of Romagna, without Ranke's frightful picture of Church abuses reappearing, as if to crown these brazen forms with infamy. There was always a gleam of poetry,--however sad,--on the most foggy day, in the glimpse afforded from our window, in Trafalgar Square, of that patient horseman, Charles the Martyr. How alive old Neptune sometimes looked, by moonlight, in Rome, as we passed his plashing fountain! And those German poets,--Goethe, Schiller, and Jean Paul,--what to modern eyes were Frankfort, Stuttgart, and Baireuth, unconsecrated by their endeared forms? The most pleasant association Versailles yielded us of the Bourbon dynasty was that inspired by Jeanne d'Arc, graceful in her marble sleep, as sculptured by Marie d'Orléans; and the most impressive token of Napoleon's downfall we saw in Europe was his colossal image intended for the square of Leghorn, but thrown permanently on the sculptor's hands by the waning of his proud star. The statue of Heber, to Christian vision, hallows Calcutta. The Perseus of Cellini breathes of the months of artistic suspense, inspiration, and experiment, so graphically described in that clever egotist's memoirs. One feels like blessing the grief-bowed figures at the tomb of Princess Charlotte, so truly do their attitudes express our sympathy with the love and the sorrow her name excites. Would not Sterne have felt a thrill of complacency, had he beheld his tableau of the Widow Wadman and Uncle Toby so genially embodied by Ball Hughes? What more spirited symbol of prosperous conquest can be imagined than the gilded horses of St. Mark's? How natural was Michel Angelo's exclamation, "March!" as he gazed on Donatello's San Giorgio, in the Church of San Michele,--one mailed hand on a shield, bare head, complete armor, and the foot advanced, like a sentinel who hears the challenge, or a knight listening for the charge! Tenerani's "Descent from the Cross," in the Torlonia Chapel, outlives in remembrance the brilliant assemblies of that financial house. The outlines of Flaxman, essentially statuesque, seem alone adequate to illustrate to the eye the great Mediaeval poet, whose verse seems often cut from stone in the quarries of infernal destiny. How grandly sleep the lions of Canova at Pope Clement's tomb!
It is to us a source of noble delight, that with these permanent trophies of the sculptor's art may now be mingled our national fame. Twenty years ago, the address in Murray's Guide-Book,--_Crawford, an American Sculptor, Piazza Barberini_,--would have been unique; now that name is enrolled on the list of the world's benefactors in the patrimony of Art. Greenough, by his pen, his presence, and his chisel, gave an impulse to taste and knowledge in sculpture and architecture not destined soon to pass away; no more eloquent and original advocate of the beautiful and the true in the higher social economies has blest our day; his Cherubs and Medora overflow with the poetry of form; his essays are a valuable legacy of philosophic thought. The Greek Slave of Powers was invariably surrounded by visitors at the London World's Fair and the Manchester Exhibition. Palmer has sent forth from his isolated studio at Albany a series of ideal busts, of a pure type of original and exquisite beauty. Others might be named who have honorably illustrated an American claim to distinction in an art eminently republican in its perpetuation of national worth and the identity of its highest achievements with social progress.
Facility of execution and prolific invention were the essential traits of Crawford's genius. For some years his studio has been one of the shrines of travellers at Rome, because of the number and variety as well as excellence of its trophies. The idea has been suggested, and it is one we hope to see realized, that this complete series of casts should be permanently conserved in such a temple as Copenhagen reared to the memory of her great sculptor. It was on account of this facility and fecundity that Crawford advocated plaster as an occasional substitute for bronze and marble, where elaborate compositions were proposed. He felt capable of achieving so much, his mind teemed with so many panoramic and single conceptions,--historical, allegorical, ideal, and illustrative of standard literature or classical fable,--that only time and expense presented obstacles to unlimited invention. Perhaps no one can conceive this peculiar creativeness of his fancy and aptitude of hand, who has not had occasion to talk with Crawford of some projected monument or statue. No sooner was he possessed of the idea to be embodied, the person or occasion to be commemorated, than he instantly conceived a plan and drew a model, invariably possessing some felicitous thought or significant arrangement. His sketch-book was quite as suggestive of genius as his studio. The "Sketch of a Statue to crown the Dome of the United States Capitol"--a photograph of which is before us as we write, dated two years ago--is an instance in point. A more grand figure, original and symbolic, graceful and sublime, in attitude, aspect, drapery, accessories, and expression, or one more appropriate, cannot be imagined; and yet it is only one of hundreds of national designs, more or less mature, which that fertile brain, patriotic heart, and cunning hand devised. We are justified in regarding the appropriation by the State of Virginia, for a monument to Washington by such a man, as an epoch in the history of national Art. Crawford hailed it as would a confident explorer the ship destined to convey him to untracked regions, the ambitious soldier tidings of the coming foe, or any brave aspirant a long-sought opportunity. It is one of the drawbacks to elaborate achievement in sculpture, that the materials and the processes of the art require large pecuniary facilities. To plan and execute a great national monument, under a government commission, was precisely the occasion for which Crawford had long waited. Happening to read the proposals in a journal, while on a visit to this country, he repaired immediately to Richmond, submitted his views, and soon received the appointment.
The absence of complexity in the language and intent of sculpture is always obvious in the expositions of its votaries. In no class of men have we found such distinct and scientific views of Art. One lovely evening in spring, we stood with Bartolini beside the corpse of a beautiful child. Bereavement in a foreign land has a desolation of its own, and the afflicted mother desired to carry home a statue of her loved and lost. We conducted the sculptor to the chamber of death, that he might superintend the casts from the body. No sooner did his eyes fall upon it, than they glowed with admiration and filled with tears. He waved the assistants aside, clasped his hands, and gazed spellbound upon the dead child. Its brow was ideal in contour, the hair of wavy gold, the cheeks of angelic outline. "How beautiful!" exclaimed Bartolini; and drawing us to the bedside, with a mingled awe and intelligence, he pointed out how the rigidity of death coincided, in this fair young creature, with the standard of Art;--the very hands, he declared, had stiffened into lines of beauty; and over the beautiful clay we thus learned from the lips of a venerable sculptor how intimate and minute is the cognizance this noble art takes of the language of the human form. Greenough would unfold by the hour the exquisite relation between function and beauty, organization and use,--tracing therein a profound law and an illimitable truth. No more genial spectacle greeted us in Rome than Thorwaldsen at his Sunday-noon receptions;--his white hair, kindly smile, urbane manners, and unpretending simplicity gave an added charm to the wise and liberal sentiments he expressed on Art,-- reminding us, in his frank eclecticism, of the spirit in which Humboldt cultivates science, and Sismondi history. Nor less indicative of this clear apprehension was the thorough solution we have heard Powers give, over the mask taken from a dead face, of the problem, how its living aspect was to modify its sculptured reproduction; or the original views expressed by Palmer as to the treatment of the eyes and hair in marble. During Crawford's last visit to America, we accompanied him to examine a portrait of Washington by Wright. It boasts no elegance of arrangement or refinement of execution; at a glance it was evident that the artist had but a limited sense of beauty and lacked imagination; but, on the other hand, he possessed what, for a sculptor's object,--namely, facts of form and feature,--is more important,--conscience. Crawford declared this was the only portrait of Washington which literally represented his costume; having recently examined the uniform, sword, etc., he was enabled to identify the strands of the epaulette, the number of buttons, and even the peculiar seal and watch-key. A man so faithful to details, so devoted to authenticity, Crawford argued, was reliable in more essential things. He remarked, that one of his own greatest difficulties in the equestrian statue had been to reconcile the shortness of the neck in Stuart's portrait and Houdon's statue (the body of which was not taken from life) with the stature of Washington,--there being an anatomical incongruity therein. "I had determined," he continued, "to follow what the laws of Nature and all precedent indicate as the right proportion,-- otherwise it would be impossible to make a graceful and impressive statue; but in this picture, bearing such remarkable evidence of authenticity, I find the correct distance between chin and breast."
American travellers in Italy will sometimes be repelled by a certain narrowness in the critical estimate of modern sculptors; though of all arts sculpture demands and justifies the most liberal eclecticism. Thus, a broad line of demarcation has been arbitrarily drawn between high finish and prolific invention, originality and superficial skill; as if these merits could not be united, or were incompatible with each other,--and that, invariably, works of "outward skill elaborate" are "of inward less exact." A Boston critic denominates Powers "a sublime mechanic," as if there were only physical imitation in his busts, and no expression in his figures. The insinuation is unjust. By exquisite finish and patient labor he makes of such subjects as the Fisher-boy, the Proserpine, and Il Penseroso charming creations,--in attitude and feature true to the moment and the mood delineated, and not less true in each detail; their popularity is justified by scientific and tasteful canons; and his portrait busts and statues are, in many instances, unrivalled for character as well as execution. A letter to one of his friends lies before us, in which he responds to an amicable remonstrance at his apparent slowness of achievement. The reasoning is so cogent, the principle asserted of such wide application, and the artistic conscience so nobly evident, that we venture to quote a passage.
"It is said, that works designed to adorn buildings need not be done with much care, being only architectural sculptures. This is quite a modern idea. The Greeks did not entertain it, as is proved by those gems which Lord Elgin sawed away from the walls of the Parthenon. I cannot admit that a noble art should ever be prostituted to purposes of mere show. They do not make rough columns, coarse and uneven friezes, jagged mouldings, etc., for buildings. These are always highly finished. Are figures in marble less important? But speed, speed, is the order of the day,--'quick and cheap' is the cry; and if I prefer to linger behind and take pains with the little I do, there are some now, and there will be more hereafter, to approve it. I cannot consent to model statues at the rate of three in six months, and a clear conscience will reward me for not having yielded to the temptation of making money at the sacrifice of my artistic reputation. Art is, or should be, poetry, in its various forms,--no matter what it is written upon,--parchment, paper, canvas, or marble. Milton employed his daughter to write his 'Paradise Lost,' not to compose it; her hand was moved by his soul; she was his modelling-tool,--nothing more. But to employ another to model for you, and go away from him, is not analogous. He then composes for you; modelling is composition. And whom did Shakspeare get to do this for him? Whom did Gray employ to arrange in words that immortal wreath set with diamond thoughts which he has thrown upon a country churchyard? Whom did Michel Angelo get to model his Moses? How many young men did Ghiberti employ during the forty years he was engaged upon the Gates of Paradise? I cannot yield my convictions of what is proper in Art. I will do my work as well as I know how, and necessity compels me to demand ample payment for it."
We have sometimes wondered that some aesthetic philosopher has not analyzed the vital relation of the arts to each other and given a popular exposition of their mutual dependence. Drawing from the antique has long been an acknowledged initiation for the limner, and Campbell, in his terse description of the histrionic art, says that therein "verse ceases to be airy thought, and sculpture to be dumb." How much of their peculiar effects did Talma, Kemble, and Rachel owe to the attitudes, gestures, and drapery of the Grecian statues! Kean adopted the "dying fall" of General Abercrombie's figure in St. Paul's as the model of his own. Some of the memorable scenes and votaries of the drama are directly associated with the sculptor's art,-- as, for instance, the last act of "Don Giovanni," wherein the expressive music of Mozart breathes a pleasing terror in connection with the spectral nod of the marble horseman; and Shakspeare has availed himself of this art, with beautiful wisdom, in that melting scene where remorseful love pleads with the motionless heroine of the "Winter's Tale,"--
"Her natural posture!
Chide me, dear stone, that I may say, indeed,
Thou art Hermione; or rather, thou art she
In thy not chiding: for she was as tender
As infancy and grace."
Garrick imitated to the life, in "Abel Drugger," a vacant stare peculiar to Nollekens, the sculptor; and Colley Cibber's father was a devotee of the chisel and adorned Chatsworth with free-stone Sea-Nymphs.
Crawford's interest in portrait-busts was secondary, owing to his inventive ardor; the study he bestowed upon the lineaments of Washington, however, gave a zest and a special insight to his endeavor to represent his head in marble, and, accordingly, this specimen of his ability, which arrived in this country after his decease, is remarkable for its expressive, original, and finished character. For ourselves, in view of the great historical value, comparative authenticity, and possible significance and beauty of this department of sculpture, it has a peculiar interest and charm. The most distinct idea we have of the Roman emperors, even in regard to their individual characters, is derived from their busts at the Vatican and elsewhere. The benignity of Trajan, the animal development of Nero, and the classic rigor of young Augustus are best apprehended through these memorable effigies which Time has spared and Art transmitted. And a similar permanence and distinctness of impression associate most of our illustrious moderns with their sculptured features: the ironical grimace of Voltaire is perpetuated by Houdon's bust; the sympathetic intellectuality of Schiller by Dannecker's; Handel's countenance is familiar through the elaborate chisel of Roubillac; Nollekens moulded Sterne's delicate and unimpassioned but keen physiognomy, and Chantrey the lofty cranium of Scott. Who has not blessed the rude but conscientious artist who carved the head of Shakspeare preserved at Stratford? How quaintly appropriate to the old house in Nuremberg is Albert Dürer's bust over the door! Our best knowledge of Alexander Hamilton's aspect is obtained from the expressive marble head of him by that ardent republican sculptor, Ceracchi. It was appropriate for Mrs. Darner, the daughter of a gallant field-marshal, to portray in marble, as heroic idols, Fox, Nelson, and Napoleon. We were never more convinced of the intrinsic grace and solemnity of this form of "counterfeit presentment" than when exploring the Bacioechi _palazzo_ at Bologna. In the centre of a circular room, lighted from above, and draped as well as carpeted with purple, stood on a simple pedestal the bust of Napoleon's sister, thus enshrined after death by her husband. The profound stillness, the relief of this isolated head against a mass of dark tints, and its consequent emphatic individuality, made the sequestered chamber seem a holy place, where communion with the departed, so spiritually represented by the exquisite image, appeared not only natural, but inevitable. Our countryman, Powers, has eminently illustrated the possible excellence of this branch of Art. In mathematical correctness of detail, unrivalled finish of texture, and with these, in many cases, the highest characterization, busts from his hand have an absolute artistic value, independent of likeness, like a portrait by Vandyck or Titian. When the subject is favorable, his achievements in this regard are memorable, and fill the eye and mind with ideas of beauty and meaning undreamed of by those who consider marble portraits as wholly imitative and mechanical. Was there ever a human face which so completely reflected inward experience and individual genius as the bust which haunts us throughout Italy, broods over the monument in Santa Croce, gazes pensively from library niche, seems to awe the more radiant images of boudoir and gallery, and sternly looks melancholy reproach from the Ravenna tomb?
"The lips, as Cumae's cavern close,
The cheeks, with fast and sorrow thin,
The rigid front, almost morose,
But for the patient hope within,
Declare a life whose course hath been
Unsullied still, though still severe,
Which, through the wavering days of sin,
Kept itself icy chaste and clear."
National characters become, as it were, household gods through the sculptor's portrait; the duplicates of Canova's head of Napoleon seem as appropriate in the _salons_ and shops of France, as the heads of Washington and Franklin in America, or the antique images of Scipio Africanus and Ceres in Sicily, and Wellington and Byron in London.
There is no phase of modern life so legitimate in its enjoyment and so pleasing to contemplate as the life of the true artist. Endowed with a faculty and inspired by a love for creative beauty, work is to him at once a high vocation and a generous instinct. Imagine the peace and the progress of those years at Rome when Crawford toiled day after day in his studio,--at first without encouragement and for bread, then in a more confident spirit and with some definite triumph, and at last crowned with domestic happiness and artistic renown,--his mind filled with ideal tasks more and more grand in their scope, and the coming years devoted in prospect to the realization of his noblest aspirations. From early morning to twilight, with rare and brief interruptions, he thus designed, modelled, chiselled, superintended, every day adding something permanent to his trophies. This self-consecration was entire, and in his view indispensable. Few and simple were the recreative interludes: a reunion of brother-artists or fellow-countrymen and their families,--an occasional journey, almost invariably with a professional intent,--a summer holiday or a winter festival; but, methodical in pastime as in work, his family and his books were his cherished resources. Often so weary at night that he returned home only to recline on a couch, caress his children, or refresh his mind with some agreeable volume provided by his vigilant companion,--the best energies of his mind and the freshest hours of life were absolutely given to Art. This is the great lesson of his career: not by spasmodic effort, or dalliance with moods, or fitful resolution, did he accomplish so much; but by earnestness of purpose, consistency of aim, heroic decision of character. There is nothing less vague, less casual in human experience, than true artist-life. Rome is the shrine of many a dreamer, the haunt of countless inefficient enthusiasts. But there, as elsewhere, will must intensify thought, action control imagination, or both are fruitless. Those melancholy ruins, those grand temples of religion, the immortal forms and hues that glorify palace and chapel, square, mausoleum, and Vatican, the dreamy murmur of fountains, the aroma of violets and pine-trees, the pensive relics of imperial sway, the sublime desolation of the Campagna, the mystery of Nature and Art, when both are hallowed by time, the social zest of an original brotherhood like the artists, the freedom and loveliness, the ravishment of spring and the soft radiance of sunset, all that there captivates soul and sense, must be resisted as well as enjoyed;--self-control, self-respect, self-dedication are as needful as susceptibility, or these peerless local charms will only enchant to betray the artist. Crawford carried to Rome the ardor of an Irish temperament and the vigor of an American character. Hundreds have passed through a like ordeal of privation, ungenial because conventional work, and slow approach to the goal of recognized power and remunerated sacrifice; but few have emerged from the shadow to the sunshine, by such manly steps and patient, cheerful trust. It was not the voice of complaint that first attracted towards him intelligent sympathy,--it was brave achievement; and from the day when a remittance from Boston enabled him to put his Orpheus in marble, to the day when, attended by his devoted sister, he paid the last visit to his crowded studio, and looked, with quivering eyelids, but firm heart, on the silent but eloquent offspring of his brain and hand, the Artist in him was coincident with the Man,--clear, unswerving, productive, the sphere extending, the significance multiplying, and the mastery becoming more and more complete through resolute practice, vivid intuition, and candid search fo r truth.
In the fifteenth century, and earlier, the lives of artists were adventurous; political relations gave scope to incident; and Michel Angelo, Salvator Rosa, and Benvenuto Cellini furnish almost as many anecdotes as memorials of genius. In modern times, however, vicissitude has chiefly diversified the uniform and tranquil existence of the artist; his struggles with fortune, and not his relations to public events, have given external interest to his biography. It is the mental rather than the outward life which is fraught with significance to the painter and sculptor; consciousness more than experience affords salient points in his career. How the executive are trained to embody the creative powers, through what struggles dexterity is attained, and by what reflection and earnest musing and observant patience and blest intuitions original achievements glimmer upon the fancy, grow mature by thought, correct through the study of Nature, and are finally realized in action,-- these and such as these inward revelations constitute the actual life of the artist. The mere events of Crawford's existence are neither marvellous nor varied; his early love of imitative pastime, his fixed purpose, his resort to stone-cutting as the nearest available expedient for the gratification of that instinct to copy and create form which so decidedly marks an aptitude for sculpture, his visit to Rome, the self-denial and the lonely toil of his novitiate, his rapid advancement in both knowledge and skill, and his gradual recognition as a man of original mind and wise enthusiasm are but the normal characteristics of his fraternity. Circumstances, however, give a singular prominence and pathos to these usual facts of artist-life. When Crawford began his professional career, sculpture, as an American pursuit, was almost as rare as painting at the time of West's advent in Rome; to excel therein was a national distinction, having a freshness and personal interest such as the votaries of older countries did not share; as the American representative of his art at Rome, even in the eyes of his comrades, and especially in the estimation of his countrymen, he long occupied an isolated position. The qualities of the man,--his patient industry,--the new and unexpected superiority in different branches of his art, so constantly exhibited,--the loyal, generous, and frank spirit of his domestic and social life,--the freedom, the faith, and the assiduity that endeared him to so large and distinguished a circle, were individual claims often noted by foreigners and natives in the Eternal City as honorable to his country. It was remembered there, when he died, that the hand now cold had warmly grasped in welcome his compatriots, shouldered a musket as one of the republican guard, and been extended with sympathy and aid to his less prosperous brothers. At the meeting of fellow-artists, convened to pay a tribute to his memory, every nation of Europe was represented, and the most illustrious of living English sculptors was the first to propose a substantial memorial to his name. What his nativity and his character thus so eminently contributed to signalize, the offspring of his genius, the manner of his death, solemnly confirmed. By no sudden fever, such as insidiously steals from the Roman marshes and poisons the blood of its victims,--by no violent epidemic, like those which have again and again devastated the cities of Europe,--by no illusive decline, whereby vital power is sapped unconsciously and with mild gradations, and which, in that soft clime, has peopled with the dust of strangers the cemetery which the pyramid of Cestius overshadows and the heart of Shelley consecrates,--by none of these familiar gates of death did Crawford pass on; but, in the meridian of his powers and his fame, in the climax of his artistic career, in the noontide of his most genial activity, a corrosive tumor on the inner side of the orbit of the eye encroached month by month, week by week, hour by hour, upon the sources of life. Medical skill freed the brain from its deadly pressure, but could not divert its organic affinity. The mind's integrity was thus preserved intact; consciousness and self-possession lent their dignity to waning strength; but the alert muscles were relaxed; the busy hands folded in prayer; what Michel Angelo uttered in his eighty-sixth Crawford was called upon to echo in his forty-fifth year:--
"Wellnigh the voyage now is overpast,
And my frail bark, through troubled seas and rude,
Draws nigh that common haven where at last,
Of every action, be it evil or good,
Must due account be rendered. Well I know
How vain will then appear that favored art,
Sole idol long, and monarch of my heart;
For all is vain that man desires below."
The cheerful voice was often hushed by pain; but conjugal and sisterly love kept vigil, a long, a bitter year, by that couch of suffering in the heart of multitudinous Paris and London; hundreds of sympathizing friends, in both hemispheres, listened and prayed and hoped through a dreary twelvemonth. With the ripe autumn closed the quiet struggle; and "in the bleak December" the mortal remains were followed from the temple where his youth worshipped, to the snow-clad knoll at Greenwood; garlands and tears, the ritual and the requiem, eulogy and elegy, consecrated the final scene. By a singular coincidence, the news of his decease reached the United States simultaneously with the arrival of the ship in James River with the colossal bronze statue of Washington, his crowning achievement.
One would imagine, from the eagerness and intensity exhibited by Crawford, that he anticipated a brief career. Work seemed as essential to his comfort as rest is to less determined natures. He was a thorough believer in the moral necessity of absolute allegiance to his sphere; and differed from his brother-artists chiefly in the decisive manner in which he kept aloof from extrinsic and incidental influences. If Art ever made labor delectable, it was so with him. He seemed to go through with the ordinary processes of life with but a half consciousness thereof,--save where his personal affections were concerned. One of the first works for which he expressed a sympathetic admiration was Thorwaldsen's "Triumph of Alexander,"--one of the most elaborate and suggestive of modern friezes. He early contemplated an entire series of illustrations of Ovid. He alternated, with infinite relish, between the extreme phases of his art,--a delicate Peri and a majestic Colossus, an extensive array of basso rilievo figures, a sublime ideal of manhood and an exquisite image of infancy. His alacrity of temper was co-equal with his steadiness of purpose; and the cheerfulness of an active mind, sanguine temperament, and great nervous energy did not abandon him, even in the state of forced passivity so intolerable to such habitude; for hilarious words and, once or twice, the old ringing laugh startled the fond watchers of his declining hours. The events of his life are but a few expressive outlines; his works embody his most real experience; and the thoughts and feelings, the observation and the sentiment, not therein moulded or sketched, happily found adequate record in the ample and ingenuous letters he wrote to his beloved sister, from the time of his first arrival in Europe to that of his last arrival in America,--embracing a period of twenty-two years. Each work he conceived and executed, each process of study, the impressions he gained and the convictions at which he arrived in relation to ancient and modern art,--each journey, achievement, plan, opinion,--what he saw, and imagined, and hoped, and did,--was frankly and fondly noted; and the time may come when these epistles, inspired by love and dictated by intelligent sympathy and insight, will be compiled into a priceless memorial of artist-life.