Page images
PDF
EPUB

nus Pius. This entire figure, though not to be found in medals, may be seen in several precious stones. Monsieur La Chausse, the author of the Musæum Romanum, showed me an Antinous that he has published in his last volume, cut in a cornelian, which he values at fifty pistoles. It represents him in the habit : of a Mercury, and is the finest intaglio that I ever

saw.

Next to the statues, there is nothing in Rome more surprising than the amazing variety of ancient pillars of so many kinds of marble. As most of the old statues may be well supposed to have been cheaper to their first owners than they are to a modern purchaser, several of the pillars are certainly rated at a much lower price at present than they were of old; for, not to mention what a huge column of granite, serpentine, or porphyry, must have cost in the quarry, or in its carriage from Egypt to Rome, we may only consider the great difficulty of hewing it into any form, and of giving it the due turn, proportion, and polish. It is well known how these sorts of marble resist the impressions of such instruments as are now in use. There is indeed a Milanese at Rome who works in them, but his advances are so very slow, that he scarce lives apon what he gains by it. He showed me a piece of porphyry worked into an ordinary salver, which had cost him four months continual application before he could bring it into that form. The ancients had probably some secret to harden the hedges of their tools, without recurring to those extravagant opinions of their having an art to mollify the stone, or that it was naturally softer at its first cutting from the rock, or what is still more absurd, that it was an artificial composition, and not the natural product of mines and quarries. The most valuable pillars about Rome, for the marble of which they are made, are the four columns of oriental jasper in St. Paulina's chapel at St. Maria Maggiore; two of oriental granite in St. Pudenziana; one of transparent oriental jasper in the Vatican library;

four of Nero-Bianco in St. Cecilia Transtevere; two of Brocatello, and two of oriental agate in Don Livio's palace; two of Giallo Antico in St. John Lateran, and two of Verdi Antique in the villa Pamphilia. These are all entire and solid pillars, and made of such kinds of marble as are no where to be found but among'antiquities, whether it be that the veins of it are undiscovered, or that they were quite exhausted upon the ancient buildings. Among these old pillars I cannot forbear reckoning a great part of an alabaster column, which was found in the ruins of Livia's portico. It is of the colour of fire, and may be seen over the high altar of St. Maria in Campitello, for they have cut it into two pieces, and fixed it in the shape of a cross in a hole in the wall that was made on purpose to receive it; so that the light, passing through it from without, makes it look, to those who are in the church, like a huge transparent cross of amber. As for the workmanship of the old Roman pillars, Monsieur Desgodetz, in his accurate measures of these ruins, has observed, that the ancients have not kept to the nicety of proportion, and the rules of art, so much as the moderns in this particular. Some, to excuse this defect, lay the blame of it on the workmen of Egypt, and of other nations, who sent most of the ancient pillars ready shaped to Rome: others say that the ancients, knowing architecture was chiefly designed to please the eye, only took care to avoid such disproportions as were gross enough to be observed by the sight, without minding whether or no they approached to a mathematical exactness: others will have it rather to be an effect of art, and of what the Italians call the gusto grande, than of any negligence in the architect; for they say the ancients always considered the situation of a building, whether it were high or low, in an open square or in a narrow street, and more or less deviated from their rules of art, to comply with the several distances and elevations from which their works were to be regarded. It is said there is an Ionic pillar

[ocr errors]

in the Santa Maria Transtevere, where the marks of the compass are still to be seen on the volute, and that Palladio learnt from hence the working of that difficult problem; but I never could find time to examine all the old columns of that church. Among the pillars I must not pass over the two noblest in the world, those of Trajan and Antonine. There could not be a more magnificent design than that of Trajan's pillar. Where could an emperor's ashes have been so nobly lodged, as in the midst of his metropolis

, and on the top of so exalted a monument, with the greatest of his actions underneath him? Or, as some will have it, his statue was on the top, his urn at the foundation, and his battles in the midst. The sculpture of it is too well known to be here mentioned. The most remarkable piece in Antonine's pillar is the figure of Jupiter Pluvius sending down rain on the fainting army of Marcus Aurelius, and thunderbolts on his enemies, which is the greatest confirmation possible of the story of the Christian legion, and will be a standing evidence for it, when any passage in an old author may be supposed to be forged. The figure that Jupiter here makes among the clouds, put me in mind of a passage in the Æneïd, which gives just such another image of him. Virgil's interpreters are certainly to blame, that suppose it nothing but the air which is here meant by Jupiter.

Quantus ab occasu veniens pluvialibus hædis
Verberat imber humum, quàm multá grandine nimbi
In vada præcipitant, quum Jupiter horridus austris
Torquet aquosum hyemem, et cælo cava nubila rumpit. Æn.
The combat thickens, like the storm that flies
From westward, when the show'ry kids arise:
Or patt'ring hail comes pouring on the main,
When Jupiter descends in harden'd rain;
Or bellowing clouds burst with a stormy sound,

And with an armed winter strew the ground. Dryden. I have seen a medal that, according to the opinion of many learned men, relates to the same story. The emperor is entitled on it Germanicus, (as it was in

the wars of Germany that this circumstance happened) and carries on the reverse a thunderbolt in his hand; for the Heathens attributed the same miracle to the piety of the emperor, that the Christians ascribed to the prayer of their legion. Fulmen de cælo precibus suis contra hostium machinamentum Marcus extorsit, suis pluvià impetratâ cum siti laborarent. Jul. Capit.

Claudian takes notice of this miracle, and has given the same reason for it.

Ad templa vocatus,
Clemens Marce, redis, cum gentibus undique cinctam
Exuit Hesperiam paribus fortuna periclis.
Laus ibi nulla ducum, nam flammeus imber in hostem
Decidit: hunc dorso trepidum fumante ferebut
Ambustus sonipes ; hic tabescente solutus
Subsedit galeå, liquefactaque fulgure cuspis
Canduit, et subitis fluxere vaporibus enses.
Tunc, contenta polo, mortalis nescia teli
Pugna fuit ; Chaldæa mago seu carmina ritu
Armavere Deos; seu, quod reor, omne tonantis
Obsequium Marci mores potuere mereri. De Sexto Cons. Hon.
So mild Aurelius to the gods repaid
The grateful vows that in his fears he made,
When Latium from unnumber'd foes was freed:
Nor did he then by his own force succeed;
But with descending show'rs of brimstone fir'd,
The wild barbarian in the storm expir'd.
Wrapt in devouring flames the horse-man rag'd,
And spurr'd the steed, in equal flames engag'd:
Another pent in his scorch'd armour glow'd,
While from his head the melting helmet flow'd;
Swords by the lightning's subtle force distillid,
And the cold sheath with running metal fill’d:
No human arm its weak assistance brought,
But Heav'n, offended Heav'n, the battle fought;
Whether dark magic and Chaldean charms
Had fill'd the skies, and set the gods in arms;
Or good Aurelius (as I more believe)

Desery'd whatever aid the Thunderer could give. I do not remember that M. Dacier, among several quotations on this subject, in the life of Marcus Aurelius, has taken notice, either of the fore-mentioned figure on the pillar of Marcus Antoninus, or of the beautiful passage I have quoted out of Claudian.

It is pity the obelisks in Rome had not been charged with several parts of the Egyptian histories of hieroglyphics, which might have given no small light to the antiquities of that nation, which are now quite sunk out of sight in those remoter ages of the world. Among the triumphal arches, that of Constantine is not only the noblest of any in Rome, but in the world. I searched narrowly into it, especially among those additions of sculpture made in the emperor's own age, to see if I could find any marks of the apparition, that is said to have preceded the very victory which gave occasion to the triumphal arch. But there are not the least traces of it to be met with, which is not very strange, if we consider that the greatest part of the ornaments were taken from Trajan's arch, and set up to the new conqueror in no small haste, by the senate and people of Rome, who were then most of them Heathens. There is however something in the inscription, which is as old as the arch itself, which seems to hint at the emperor's vision. Imp. Cæs. Fl. Constantino Maximo P. F. Augusto S. P. Q. R. quod instinctu Divinitatis mentis magnitudine cum exercitu suo tam de Tyranno quàm de omni ejus factione uno tempore justis Rempublicam ultus est armis arcum triumphis insignem dicavit. There is no statue of this emperor at Rome with a cross to it, though the ecclesiastical historians say there were many such erected to him. I have seen of his medals that were stamped with it, and a very remarkable one of his son Constantius, where he is crowned by a victory on the reverse with this inscription, In hoc Signo Victor eris R. This triumphal arch, and some other buildings of the same age, show us that architecture held up its head after all the other arts of designing were in a very weak and languishing condition, as it was probably the first among them that revived. If I was surprised not to find the cross in Constanstine’s arch, I was as much disappointed not to see the figure of the temple of Jerusalem on that of Titus, where are represented the golden candlestick,

« PreviousContinue »