CHAPTER IV. ART IN THE ROMAN EMPIRE.
[Great artists labor from inspiration.]
We have reason to believe that the great artists of antiquity lived, as did the Ionic philosophers, in their own glorious realms of thought and feeling, which the world could neither understand nor share. Their ideas of grace and beauty were realized to the highest degree ever known on earth. They were expressed in their temples, their statues, and their pictures. They did not live for utilities. When art became a utility, it degenerated. It became more pretentious, artificial, complicated, elaborate, ornamental even, but it lacked genius, the simplicity of power, the glory of originality. The horses of the sun cannot be made to go round in a mill. The spiritual must keep within its own seclusion, in its inner temple of mystery and meditation.
[Grecian art consecrated to Paganism.]
[Greatness and beauty of Grecian art.]
[Grecian admiration of art.]
Grecian art was consecrated to Paganism, and could not therefore soar beyond what Paganism revealed. It did not typify those exalted sentiments which even a Gothic cathedral portrayed - sacrifice; the man on the cross; the man in the tomb; the man ascending to heaven. Nor did it paint, like Raphael, etherial beauty, such as was expressed in the mother of our Lord, her whom all generations shall bless, regina angelorum, mater divinae gratiae. But whatever has been reached by the unaided powers of man, it reproduced and consecrated, and it realized the highest conceptions of beauty and grace that have ever been represented. All that the mind and the soul could, by their inherent force, reach, it has attained. Modern civilization has no prouder triumphs than those achieved by the artists of Pagan antiquity in those things which pertain to beauty and grace. Grecian artists have been the schoolmasters of all nations and all ages in architecture, sculpture, and painting. How far they themselves were original we cannot decide, although they were probably somewhat indebted to the Assyrians and Egyptians. But they struck out so new a style, and so different from the older monuments of Asia and Egypt, that we consider them the great creators of art. But whether original or not, they have never been surpassed. In some respects their immortal productions remain objects of hopeless imitation. In the realization of ideas of beauty which are eternal, like those on which Plato built his system of philosophy, they reached absolute perfection. And hence we infer that art can flourish under Pagan as well as Christian influences. We can go no higher than those ancient Pagans in one of the proudest fields of civilization; for art has as sincere and warm admirers as it had in Grecian and Roman times, but the limit of excellence has been reached. It is the mission of our age to apply creative genius to enterprises and works which have not been tried, if any thing new is to be found under the sun. Nor was it the number and extent of the works of art among the Greeks and Romans, nor their perfection, which made art so distinguishing an element of the old civilization. It was the spirit of the age, the absorption of the public mind, the great prominence which art had in the eyes of the people. Art was to the Greeks what tournaments and churches were to the men of the Middle Ages, what the Reformation was to Germany and England in the sixteenth century, what theories of political rights were to the era of the French Revolution, what mechanical inventions to abridge human labor are to us. The creation of a great statue was an era, an object of popular interest - the subject of universal comment. It kindled popular inspirations. It was the great form of progress in which that age rejoiced. Public benefactors erected temples, and lavished upon them the superfluous wealth of the State. And public benefactors, in turn, had statues erected to their memory by their grateful admirers. The genius of the age expressed itself in marble histories. And these histories stand in the mystery of absolute perfection - the glory and the characteristic of a great and peculiar people.
[Principles of art.]
[Devotion of the Greeks for Art.]