Art: Pictures at Seville and Madrid


Seville, January, 1859.

I DO not know whether I ought not to take you to the Museo on so bright a morning, although I should like better to stroll with you on the Paseo by the pretty river across which I look to the faintly seen hills of Ronda, with the rich palm-trees in the foreground, and a great stone pine in the middle distance, which would recall to us the Campagnaand Italy. Many people have said to me, “ You cannot judge of Murillo till you see him at Seville,” —they, of course, having been at Seville. This is so far true, that his best picture is undoubtedly in the Cathedral here ; but in all other ways, Murillo is perfectly to be seen in other cities. You know, therefore, just what the pictures and the Museo have to say to you. They speak of a most clever artist, who evidently consulted Nature conscientiously, and who perceived and understood very often many phases of her grace and beauty. The most masterly of his fifteen or twenty pictures in the gallery is the one of Saint Thomas of Villanueva giving Alms to the Poor; and it is, certainly, charmingly arranged, with great breadth of effect and clever drawing, — on a cool scale of color throughout. The Saint is in a black robe, relieved against a light background of gray wall. The beggar who is receiving alms is capitally understood, and carries the light broadly through the picture. A charming little boy leans against his mother in the lefthand corner, in half shadow, and shows her the coin in his hand. A few other heads fill up the right-hand of the picture behind the Saint. A red drapery, of a dull color, and a touch of brown-red here and there, warm the agreeable grayness of the rest of the canvas. I like much, also, a “ Conception,” in many respects like the usual picture which Murillo repeated so often; but the Virgin in this one is represented as very young, — about twelve or fourteen years old, — and the whole effect is most silvery and delicate.

But the Saint Antonio in the Cathedral is, I should say, his great picture. It is very simple, and full of feeling. The Saint, half kneeling, stretches forward to the vision of the Christ-Child, which descends in a glory of cherubim toward him. The great mass of light falls directly upon the kneeling figure and the upturned face, and throws strong shadows on the ground. One is reminded, in some of the angelfigures, of the brilliant light and shadow on the little flying cherubs in the “Assumption,” at Venice. Here all is silvery, where in Titian all burns with the glory of a Venetian sunset. But this picture of Murillo seems to me what one must call an eminently “happy” picture. It. gives one the idea that the painter enjoyed painting it, for the expressive movement of the Saint is most admirably given, and the extreme simplicity of every part of the picture is most agreeable ; so that we are ready to give great praise to Murillo for what he did, and to say that he was earnest and tried to represent what he really felt. And when we say that, we say a great deal; do we not? But we cannot, for a moment, compare him to the great Venetians. He did not attempt what they did, because lie did not feel it at all; and, as a painter, he is not comparable to them. One sees that he executed with rapidity and a sort of dash, as it were. The Venetian concealed his execution, as Nature does, and attempted to render the most subtile things which he knew his art alone could give, in their full force and beauty. As a painter, therefore, he cannot be compared with men who wrought from so different a principle. And when we think of the lovely elevation and noble thought in the great Venetians, we must quietly rest grateful for those great blessings,— grateful and happy that they exist, and that we, in some measure at least, understand and appreciate their meaning. Is it not delightful to think of them and know them in their precious old corners and over their dear old altars?

Madrid March, 1859.

You see that we have at last left Andalusia, and are here in what is like a bit of Paris, — shops, dress, carriages, and now and then the smell of asphalt pavement being renewed. Still, mantillas are the coverings for the female head, and peasants in costumes drive mules and donkeys through the crowds in the busy streets, and one is still in Spain. We came, you know, for the gallery, and the first glimpse of it showed us that we have enough to do to see that, during our proposed stay of a month. I must tell you just a few things about the pictures, and give you a peep at Madrid through my eyes, since you are not here to use your own.

Murillo is here the same as everywhere else. I very much prefer his pictures in Seville. Velasquez, however, is to be really seen nowhere so well as here. I do not know how many pictures there are here by him, but a great quantity, it seems to me : Philips without number, in childhood, youth, and age; Dons with curled moustaches ; Queens with large hoops and disfigured heads ; an actor, full of life and character, one of his very best. But his greatest picture, and really a wonder, is his portrait of himself painting the little Infanta, who is in the foreground of the picture with two young girls, her court ladies, her dwarf, and a diminutive page. It is quite like a photograph, in clear, broad effect of light and dark. From the other side of the room, full of truth and vigor,— as you approach it, you find it is dashed in with a surety of touch and a breadth truly extraordinary, — no details, no substance even ; painted with one huge brush, it would almost seem, all is vigorous, dashing, clever, the triumph of chic, as shown by a master hand. The dog in the immediate foreground is capital, the page pushing him playfully with his foot. The dwarf stands next, full of a sort of quaint truth, with her big head and heavy chin. The mass of light falls on the Infanta, who takes a cup of something, chocolate, I suppose, from one of the kneeling girls, while the other makes a reverence on the other side. Beyond are a nun and a guardadamas, and in the mirror at the other end of the room are most cleverly indicated the portraits of Philip and his wife. Velasquez stands on the left of the picture, behind the Infanta, painting, with his canvas turned back toward us as we look into the room. The black figure of an attendant has passed out of the apartment and is going up a stair against a clear white wall. The skilful way in which you are led into the picture is astonishing, and the whole thing is quite by itself as a piece of painting. There is no attempt at anything subtile or even delicate in the treatment, speaking from the point of view of a result achieved by paint on canvas,— no texture, no difference of handling, no imitation; all is paint, admirably put on, for the effect across the room. I think we must set Velasquez quite by himself as a truthful and surely most gifted portrait-master. With a peculiar gift, — genius, I think we might say, — certainly he is like no one else, and nobody else is like him. Then there is his equestrian portrait of Philip IV., of which you may remember the sketch in the Pitti Gallery, — also one of the Duke of Olivarez, fresh, dashing, and spirited. But I prefer the portrait of-some actor, I am sure,—full of character, against a gray wall background, — one of those faces one is sure one has seen somewhere in Spain, and he is declaiming evidently with the most capital action. — So much for Velasquez.

But I hardly dare attempt to tell you of the glory of the great Titian, who seems almost newly revealed, in many perfect works. Nothing can equal the superb style of a portrait of Alfonso of Ferrara; it is like nothing but Nature. — a splendid, dark, manly face and figure, standing and looking thoughtfully at you, or rather, beyond you, caressing in an absent way a little silky dog who puts his paw up to attract his master’s notice. The glowing flesh, the superbly painted dress of deep blue with fine arabesques of gold,—the delicate hand lying on the soft, silky hair of the dog, with its turquoise ring on the second joint of one of the fingers,— you can imagine it, can you not ? Next him stands Philip II., pale, elegant, and repulsive, in gorgeous armor worn over festal, glittering white satin. Charles V. is on the other side ; and I hardly know which of these portraits is the finest as a work of Art, for all are perfect. Charles is standing, with a noble dog leaning up against his hand ; there is something simpάtica in his gray eyes, his worn face, and even in his protruding jaw, it is so admirably rendered, and gives such a firm character to the face. His costume is elegantisimo, white satin and gold,—with a tissue-of-gold doublet, and a cassock of silver-damask, with great black fur collar and lining, against which is relieved the under-dress ; he wears his velvet cap and plume, and a deep emerald satin curtain hangs on his right hand. These portraits are just about as wonderful as any you may remember, — in his best style and in capital condition. But I know you would say that the great portrait of Charles on horseback is more grand. It is a sort of heroic poem ; he looks like Sir Galahad, or Chivalry itself, going forth to conquer wrong and violence. His eager, worn face looks out from the helmet so calmly and so steadily, the flash of his armor, which gleams like real metal, the coal-black horse, which comes forward out of the landscape shaking his headpiece of blood-red plumes against the golden sunset sky and champing the golden bit, the grasp of the lance by the noble rider : well, painting can do no more than that. It is history, poetry, and the beauty of Nature recreated by the grand master. An entirely different phase of his character is seen in his Ariadne Asleep surrounded by the Bacchanals. This is full of antique Grecian feeling; and such a subtile, delicious piece of painting ! Ariadne is in the foreground, full of warm, breathing life, her arm thrown over her lovely head, and her golden hair falling over the vase of gold and onyx on which she rests ; a river of red wine runs through the emerald grass ; two beautiful girls have just put by their music and instruments, and one turns her exquisite face toward us to speak to the other reclining on the grass. The one who turns to us is the beauty of the Louvre, or some one very like her, in full Venetian loveliness. In her bosom are one or two violets and a paper with Titanus written on it. The bit of music on the grass has Greek letters. Dancing figures are in the middle of the picture. The fauns stagger under the dark trees, carrying great sumptuous vases of agate and gold. Silenus is asleep on a sunny hill at a distance, and the white sails of the ship with Theseus gleam on the deep-blue sea. There is another called an Offering to Fecundity. It is a crowd of most lovely baby boys, wonderfully painted, frolicking on the green among flowers and fruits. A figure full of action and passion holds up a glass to the statue of the goddess in one corner. The children are kissing each other and carrying about baskets of fruit; these baskets are hung with rich pearls and rubies and gems of all kinds. The green, fresh trees wave against a summer sky, and the work is full of tender, sensitive elegance and love. It shows to me an entirely new side of Titian in its extreme delicacy and sweetness. Nobody can ever speak of a “ want of refinement ” in Titian, if they thought so before, after seeing these pictures. Then there is the Herodias, the same as the girl in Dresden who holds up the casket,— wonderfully delicate and beautiful ; and several other portraits and pictures, which I cannot tell you of, even if you are not already tired. I ought, however, to say that Paul Veronese has a very fine Venus and Adonis here, full of sunlight and summer beauty, and Christ Teaching the Doctors, nobly serious in character and admirable in treatment; also two sketches of Cain and of Vice and Virtue, very full of feeling for his subject. The Cain has his back toward you. His wife and child look up at him entreatingly. There is a fine, solemn horizon with a gleam of twilight. There are several Tintorets, but no favorable specimens,— a portrait is the best. There is also a Giovanni Bellini, which brings back the Venetian altar-pieces, quiet and lovely ; and a Giorgione, like the large one in the Louvre, in many ways ; a Madonna and Infant, with a fine female Saint and a noble Saint George.

These are some of the glorious treasures which the Spaniards own. If we could only have some of these! or if, while we or our country are committing the sin of coveting the Spanish possessions, we would only covet something worth the having! I confess, I should delight to take away one or two fine jewels of pictures that nobody here would miss.

I had almost forgotten to mention the great Raphael, the “ Spasimo.” It is in his Roman style, with much that is, to me, forced in the action and expression. The Head of Christ, however, is beautiful, and exquisitely drawn. Beside the Spasimo, there is a little picture of the Virgin and Child, with Saint Joseph, in Raphael’s early manner, very lovely, and reminding one of the “ Staffa ” Madonna, at Perugia. It is faint in color, and most charming in careful execution.

Then there are the finest Hemmlings I have ever seen,—finer than those at Munich : lovely Madonnas, meek and saintly ; superb adoring Kings, all glowing with cloth-of-gold and velvets and splendid jewels; beautiful quiet landscapes, seen through the arches of the stable; and angels, with wings of dazzling green and crimson. The real love with which these wonderful pictures are caressed by the careful, thoughtful artist makes them most precious. Every little flower is delicately and artistically done, and everything is invested with a sort of sacred reverence by this earnest Pre-Raphaelite. One or two Van Eycks have the same splendor and depth of feeling. These pictures look as if they were painted yesterday, so clear and brilliant are their colors.

It is a pleasant circumstance, that some of the great Venetian pictures in the gallery here were gained for Spain by the judgment and taste of Velasquez. When he went to Italy with a commission from Philip IV., which it must have delighted him to execute, “ to buy whatever pictures were for sale that he thought worth purchasing,” he spent some time in Venice, and there bought, among other things, the Venus and Adonis of Paul Veronese, and several of the works of Tintoretto. The Titians had come to Spain before, and it was from the study of them, perhaps, that Velasquez learned to paint so well. At any rate, we know what he thought of Titian ; for Mr. Sterling gives an extract from a poem by a Venetian, Marco Boschini, which was published not long after Velasquez’s journey to Italy, in which part of a conversation is given between him and Salvator Rosa, who asked him what he thought of Raphael. You will like to see it, if you have not Sterling by you.

“ Lu storse el cao cirimoniosamente,
E disse: ‘ Rafael (a dirve el vero,
Piasendome esser libero esinciero)
Stago per dir che nol me piase niente.’

“‘Tanto che,’ replichè quela persona,
‘ Co’ no ve piase questo gran Pitor,
In Italia nissun ve dà in l'umor,
Perche nu ghe donemo la corona.’

“ Don Diego replichè con tal maniera:
‘ A Venetia se trova el bon e’l belo;
Mi dago el primo luogo a quel penelo;
Tician xe quel che porta la bandiera.’ ”

Here is a translation : —

The master, with a ceremonious air,
Bowed, and then said, “Raphael, truth to tell,
For to be free and honest suits me well,
Pleases me not at all, I must declare.”

“Since, then,” replied the other, “you so frown
On this great painter, in Italy is none
By whom, indeed, your favor can be won;
For upon him we all bestow the crown.”

Don Diego thereupon to him replies,
“At Venice may be found the good and fair;
I give the first place to the pencil there;
Titian is he who carries off the prize.”