CHAPTER IV. ART IN THE ROMAN EMPIRE.
Much has been written on those principles upon which art is founded, and great ingenuity displayed. But treatises on taste, on beauty, on grace, and other perceptions of intellectual pleasure, are not very satisfactory, and must be necessarily indefinite. In what does beauty consist? Do we arrive at any clearer conceptions of it by definitions? Whether beauty, the chief glory of the fine arts, consists in certain arrangements and proportions of the parts to a whole, or in the fitness of means to an end, or is dependent on associations which excite pleasure, or is a revelation of truth, or is an appeal to sensibilities, or is an imitation of Nature, or the realization of ideal excellence, it is difficult to settle and almost useless to inquire. "Metaphysics, mathematics, music, and philosophy have been called in to analyze, define, demonstrate, and generalize." [Footnote: Cleghorn, Ancient and Modern Art, vol. i. p. 67.] Great writers have written ingenious treatises, like Burke, Alison, and Stewart. Beauty, according to Plato, is the contemplation of mind; Leibnitz maintained it consists in perfection; Diderot referred beauty to the idea of relation; Blondel asserted it was harmonic proportions; Peter Leigh speaks of it as the music of the eye. Yet everybody understands what beauty is, and that it is derived from Nature, agreeable to the purest models which Nature presents. Such was the ideal of Phidias. Such was it to the minds of the Greeks, who united every advantage, physical and mental, for the perfection of art. Nor could art have been so wonderfully developed had it not been for the influence which the great poets, orators, dramatists, historians, and philosophers exercised on the inspiration of the artists. Phidias, being asked how he conceived the idea of his Olympian Jupiter, answered by repeating a passage of Homer. We can scarcely conceive of the enthusiasm which the Greeks exhibited in the cultivation of art. Hence it has obtained an ascendency over that of all other nations. Roman art was the continuation of the Grecian. The Romans appreciated and rewarded Grecian artists. They adopted their architecture, their sculpture, and their paintings; and, though art never attained the estimation and dignity in Rome that it did in Greece, it still can boast of a great development. But, inasmuch as all the great models were Grecian, and appropriated and copied by the Romans, - inasmuch as the great wonders of the "Eternal City" were made by Greeks, - we cannot treat of Roman art in distinction from Grecian. And as I wish to show simply the triumph of Pagan genius in the realm of art, and most of the immortal creations of the great artists were transported to Rome, and adorned Rome, it is within my province to go where they were originally found.
"Tu, regere imperio populos, Romane, memento!
Hae tibi erunt artes."
[Art first impressive in achitecture.]
The first development of art was in architecture, not merely among the Greeks, but among the older nations. Although it refers, in a certain sense, to all buildings, yet it is ordinarily restricted to those edifices in which we recognize the principle of beauty, such as symmetrical arrangement, and attractive ornaments, like pillars, cornices, and sculptured leaves.
The earliest buildings were houses to protect men from the inclemencies of the weather, and built without much regard to beauty; but it is in temples for the worship of God, that architecture lays claim to dignity. It was the result of devotional feelings; nor is there a single instance of supreme excellence in art being reached, which was not sacred, and connected with reverential tendencies. In the erection and decoration of sacred buildings there was a profound sentiment that they were to be the sanctuaries of God, and genius was stimulated by pious emotions. In India, in Egypt, in Greece, in Italy, the various temples all originated in blended superstition and devotion. Nor did the edifice, erected for religious worship, reach its culminating height of beauty and grandeur until that earnest and profoundly religious epoch which felt as injuries the insults offered to the tomb which covered the remains of the Saviour of the world. Then arose those hoary and Gothic vaults of Cologne and Westminster, the only modern structures which would probably have called out the admiration of an ancient Greek.
[Monuments of Egypt.]
[Temple of Carnack.]
[Features of Egyptian art.]