Italian Experiences in Collecting "Old Masters"
As the taste for collecting objects of art is rapidly developing in America, it may be not without profit to point out some of the pitfalls which attend the amateur in this pursuit, especially in Italy, that exhaustless quarry of “ originals ” and “old masters”; though it should be remembered that a work of art may be both original and old and very bad too,— its intrinsic worth being a separate question from its age and authenticity. The results given are drawn from an actual experience of many years.
The most obvious risk is from the counterfeiter,— not from the vulgar shams distributed so widely over the world from the well-known manufactories of paintings in France, England, and other parts, which can deceive only the most ignorant or credulous, but from talent itself debased to forgery and trickery.
Many of the antique bronzes, terra-rottas, vases, classical and mediæval relics, so jealously cared for in the colleetions of Europe, are the clever imitations of a poor and honest artist in one of the Italian cities, whose miniature studio might almost be put inside one of our old-fashioned omnibuses. His designs, taken from genuine antiques, are reproduced with fidelity, and the coatings and marks of time counterfeited by chemical means and skilful manipulation. He sells his productions as imitations, at prices that barely provide him with daily bread, eking out his subsistence by repairs and restorations, in which he is equally happy. Living in obscurity, without the capital or sagacity to make himself known to the public, he is at the mercy of those who are interested in keeping him in privacy and buying his artistic labors at the wages of a clodhopper. His own responsibility goes not beyond fulfilling orders for the imitation of certain objects, the process of which he frankly explains to the inquisitive visitor. But, cnee in dishonest hands, antiquity and authenticity replace modernism and imitation.
There are two ways of seduction and deceit. The one and safer for the operator is the suggestive, in which appearances are made by consummate tact and artful flattery to excite the imagination of the buyer so that he is led to believe what he desires without compromising the agent. The other is positive intrigue and absolute lying, so nicely done that the wealthy amateur is fleeced often in a fashion that confers a pleasure, and which, though he may subsequently detect it, gives him but a lame chance at redress. In most instances he deserves none. For, stimulated by vanity or fashion, without any true regard for art, he has offered so large a premium for a name, that it would indeed be wonderful, if a corresponding supply were not created. The living artist is sometimes sorely tempted to pander to illusions to secure that appreciation which the world gives more lavishly to fashion than to merit. Michel Angelo tested this disposition, even more current in his time than now; though some say it was done unknown to him. At all events, having finished the statue of a Cupid, after breaking off an arm, it was buried, and in due time discovered, disinterred, and brought to the notice of a distinguished Roman dignitary, who pronounced it to be a genuine antique and paid a large price for it, well pleased, as he had reason to be, with his prize. But afterwards, the deception being exposed, and the proof by means of the missing arm given that it was the work of the then unknown Florentine sculptor, the disenchanted connoisseur was furiously indignant, and disposed to take prompt vengeance upon the parties concerned.
To come back to our own day. Let us suppose a rich collector to have arrived in some well-known Italian market for art,— picture-jockeying is much the same everywhere, — in pursuit of “ originals. “ Great is the commotion among dealers and their sensali or jackals. These latter are versed in intrigue and mystification, with enough intelligence to tell a good picture from a bad one, and a parrot-like acquaintance with names and schools. They are of all classes, from the decayed gentleman and artist, to shopkeepers, cobblers, cooks, and tailors, who find in the large commissions gained a temptation to forsake their petty legitimate callings for the lottery-like excitements and finesse of picture-dealing. No sooner has the stranger gone to his hotel than a watch is put upon his movements, and bribery and cajolery used to get access to him. It is the sensale's business to discover and offer pictures. He is supposed to know the locality of every one, good or bad, in his neighborhood. However jealous of each other, all are loyally pledged together to take in the stranger. Leagued with the dealer, artist, owner, courier, or servant, with any one, in fact, that by any possibility can stand between the buyer and his object, it has become almost an impossibility, especially for transient visitors, to purchase anything whatever without paying a heavy toll to intermediates. When the conspiracy is widely extended, the augmentation of price above what would be required in direct dealing with the owner is sometimes double or even quadruple. Occasionally, however, by way of compensation for their general evil, the sensali, having scented a prize, offer it first to the amateur, in view of their own increase of gain over what the dealer would allow. In this way, good pictures not unfrequently escape the merchant, and reach the collector at a lower price than if they had gone directly to the former.
The sensali are not without their use in another respect. So indirect and underhand is the Italian’s mode of dealing in these matters, and so eccentric his notions as to value, that a foreigner is apt to be speedily disgusted or driven away by the magnitude of demands which in reality the seller never expects to realize. Hence the negotiation is best done through an agent, the buyer having fixed his price, leaving the sensale to make what he can for himself. No purchaser, however, should give heed to any statement about the history or authenticity of the works offered to him through such channels, but rely both for value and facts upon his own resources ; otherwise he will be deceived to an extent that would appear almost fabulous to the uninitiated.
Such are the preliminary difficulties that beset the amateur. We will suppose him in connection with the seller, and trace his progress. First, the quality of his judgment and the impressibility of his imagination are tested by a series of experiments as delicate as the atmospherical gauges of a barometer. He is of course not to be entrapped by copies or fabrications. He has a shrewd distrust of dealers, and therefore prefers to buy familypictures or originals directly from chapels and convents. All Italians have a patriotic pride in getting rid of trash at the expense of the foreigner. The more, common baits to entrap — by bringing pictures mysteriously boxed, grandly baptized, and liberally decorated with aristocratic seals and eloquent with academical certificates, anointed with refined flattery and obsequious courtesy — having failed, his Eccellenza being too knowing to be seduced into buying the ostentatiously furbished-up roba of shops, they set about to accommodate him with originals from first hands. By substituting old frames for new, dirtying the pictures, and other ingenious processes familiar to the initiated, and then putting them out to board in noble villas, antique palaces, or other localities the most natural for good pictures to be discovered in, spiced with a romance of decayed family-grandeur,—by employing new agents, and by hints sagaciously conveyed to the buyer, his curiosity is excited, hopes raised, and, finally, with much trouble and enhanced expense, he triumphantly carries off the very pictures which in a shop he could not be tempted to look at for fear of being caught with chaff, but which now, from a wellgot-up romance, have acquired a peculiar value in his eyes. Not that this sort of delicate mystification is reserved exclusively for foreigners. For we have detected in an altar-piece, borne away as a great prize by an Italian friend from a secluded little chapel attached to a noble villa in the vicinity of Florence, a worthless specimen of an old painter, from one of the secret depositories of the city, which had long been wholly unsalable on any terms.
Honest dealing exists in Italy, as elsewhere, and there are men whose statements may safely be received. But let the purchaser be cautious when led into out-of-the-way places to see newly found originals, and be slow to give heed to stories of churches being permitted to sell this or that work of art because they have a façade to repair or an altar to decorate,— and particularly if there be said anything of an inheritance to divide, or a sad tale of family distress requiring the sacrifice of long-cherished treasures, backed up by a well-gotten-up pantomime of unlockings and lockings, passages through mysterious corridors and vast halls, cautious showings amid a crowd of family-retainers or a retinue of monks. Sometimes the most wary is thus seduced into offering tenfold its worth for a common object thus seen by a carefully arranged light and with artificial surroundings.
Many good pictures are still to be had in Italy, if properly approached by those who know thoroughly the habits of the country. There are, however, but two means of procuring them : either to pay their full value as fixed by rival collectors, or to secure them by fortuitous circumstances for trifling sums. The extraordinary chances of discovery and the extreme variations of price attending this pursuit are curious and instructive. A few examples are worth relating. In 1856, a small picture, by Niccolò d’ Alunno, was sold in Florence, by an artist to a dealer, for forty dollars; in a few weeks resold to an Englishman for five hundred ; exhibited at the Manchester Exhibition, whence it subsequently passed into the gallery of a distinguished personage for twenty-five hundred dollars. The “Leda” of Leonardo, repainted from motives of prudery by the great-grandfather of Louis-Philippe, was bought at the sale of that ex-king’s pictures in Paris, in 1849, for thirty dollars, restored to its primitive condition, and sold, we are informed, for one hundred thousand francs. Ten years ago, an Angel, by the Same artist, was found in the old-clothes market at Florence by an artist, bought for a few pence, cleaned and sold to Prince Galitzin for twenty-two thousand francs. The “Fortune” of Michel Angelo, or what was supposed to be, not long since was discovered in the same locality in a disastrous condition, secured for a few shillings, put in such order as was possible, and parted with to a French gentleman for three hundred dollars and a pension of one dollar a day during the lives of the seller and his son. Quite recently one of Correggio’s most beautiful works was discovered under the canvas of a worthless picture acquired at a public auction in Rome for a few dimes, at the sale by a princely family of discarded pictures, and resold by its fortunate discoverer for fifteen thousand dollars, although the original proprietor instituted a suit against him for its recovery, but without success. In Florence, within three years past, a fine portrait, by Titian, of the Doge Andrea Gritti, was picked out from a large lot of worthless canvases for six dollars. The Madonna del Gran Duca, at the Pitti, was bought by the father of the late Grand Duke, with some other pictures, of a widow, for a few dollars. Instances like these might be multiplied, to show that in all times prizes do strangely and unexpectedly occur, and that pictures in their fortunes resemble their authors, often passing from extreme poverty into princely homes.
The changes in the money value placed upon the same works in different epochs are also curious. Indeed, a history of the caprices of art would be vastly entertaining, In 1740, at the sale in Paris of M. Crozat’s collection, a drawing by Raphael brought only ten francs. The same drawing, at the sale of the King of Holland’s gallery, in 1850, fetched fourteen thousand francs. For the “ Ezekiel,” Raphael, in 1510, had but eight scudi d’ oro, equivalent now to thirty dollars. At present, it would bring a fabulous sum, it sold. Within the memory of those now living, gold background pictures of the schools of Giotto and his successors, owing to the contempt the pseudo-classical French taste had excited for them, were brought out of suppressed churches and convents and publicly burned to obtain the trifling amount of gold which remained in the ashes. Amateurs are now more inclined to pay their weight in gold for such as have escaped the ravages of time and Vandalism; and the same government that permitted this destruction in 1859 passed stringent decrees to prevent their leaving the country, sequestering all in public buildings as national property.
Without cautious study and much wellpaid-for experience, the stranger has small chance of successfully coping with the artifices that beset his every step. He must be well-grounded in the history of Italian painting, and possess a practical knowledge of the technical execution of its various masters. Haste and ignorance, united to wealth and vanity, are a rich mine for the senali. To such collectors America — not to speak of Europe owes many of its galleries of great names, to the very natural astonishment and skepticism of the spectators and the defamation of great reputations. Many of these purchases are the speculations of couriers, who, having artfully inoculated their employers with a taste for originals, take care to supply the demand, greatly to the benefit of their own pockets and the gratitude of those with whom they bring their masters into connection. We have been called by a countryman to admire his gallery of Claudes, Poussins, Rembrandts, Murillos, and Titians, for which he had expended a princely sum, but which there was no difficulty in recognizing as the shop roba got up expressly to entrap the unwary. One picture, worth, perhaps, for mere decoration, fifty dollars, had been secured as a great lavor for twenty-two hundred dollars, the " last price” asked for it being three thousand. Another, by a feeble artist of the Carlo Dolce school, had been converted, by a substitution of names and sundry touchings-up, into a brilliant Guercino, at the cost of nearly one thousand dollars, of which the owner got about onethird, the confederates pocketing the rest.
Some amateurs deceive themselves after a manner which acquits the dealer of any participation in their illusions. A gentleman entered a well-known studio in Florence, not many years since, and inquired the price of a picture.
“ Sixty dollars: the painting is by Furini,” was the reply.
“ I will take it,” said the gentleman, eagerly insisting upon paying for it on the spot ; which was no sooner done, than he turned round to the amused artist and triumphantly exclaimed, “ Do you know you have sold me a Murillo for nothing ? ”
Deuvenuti, President of the Academy of Florence, was once asked to attest the originality of an Andrea brought to him by some speculators. “ I should be happy to gratify you, gentlemen,” he replied, “but unfortunately I saw the picture painted.” Nevertheless, certificates wenobtained from more facile authorities, and the painting officially baptized for a market.
Certificates and documents need to be received as cautiously as the pictures themselves ; perhaps more so, — for they are more easily forged. When genuine, the former are valuable only as they are the opinions of honest and competent judges ; and both are trustworthy only so far as they are attached to the pictures to which they legitimately belong.
Genuine pictures have been sold and their documentary evidence kept for skilful imitations. We have even detected in certificates the fraudulent substitution of names. And sometimes, when honestly given, their testimony is of no value. One professional certificate in our possession, of tho last century, ascribes the portrait in question to Masaccio or Santi di Tito: as sensible a decision as it an English critic had decided that a certain picture of his school was either by Hogarth or Sir Thomas Lawrence. Cases are indeed rare, even in the public galleries, in which, outside of the picture itself, there is any trustworthy historical testimony as to its genealogy.
Counterfeits of the old masters of the later Italian schools, supported by false evidence, have at various times deceived trood judges and obtained posts of honor in the galleries of Europe. Even when detected, their owners do not always repudiate their spurious treasures. They give their collections the benefit of doubts or of public ignorance. The most noted imitator of this class was Micheli of Florence. In view of his success and the use for a time made of his works, he must rank as a forger, though they are now in esteem solely for their intrinsic cleverness. Some still linger in remote galleries, with the savor of authenticity about them. A Raphael of his make long graced the Imperial Gallery of Russia. He did not confine himself to literal repetitions, but concocted new " originals ” by combining parts of several pictures in worm-eaten panels or time-stained canvases, with such variations of motive or design as their supposed authors would naturally have made in repeating their ideas in fresher combinations,—sometimes leaving portions unfinished, ingeniously dirtying their surfaces, and giving to them that crackedporcelain appearance common to the old masters. One thus prepared was bought at his studio for one hundred dollars, consigned to a priest in the country, in due time discovered, and the rumor of a great master in an exceedingly dirty and somewhat dilapidated state, but believed to be intact beneath the varnishes and grime of centuries, brought to the ears of a Russian, who after a delicate and wearisome negotiation obtained it for eight hundred dollars, and perhaps paid half as much more to the manufacturer for cleaning and restoring it.
Another sort of deception is the alteration of pictures by artists less-known or of inferior reputations to suit more fashionable and profitable names. In this way many works of much local interest, and often indeed of equal merit to those they are made to represent, are exterminated, to the serious detriment of the history of art. Lombardy, Umbria, and the Legations especially have suffered in this way.
Though no deception be intended, if pedigrees are lost, criticism is often sorely perplexed to decide upon authorship. Out of the multitudes of pictures in the European galleries, which are so decidedly baptized in catalogues, the public would be surprised to learn how few comparatively can be historically traced to their authors. The majority are named upon the authority of local judges, whose acquaintance with art may be limited to one speciality, or who rely upon such opinions as can be gathered from the best available sources. Hence the frequent changes in the nomenclatures. We cannot, therefore, accept such documents as infallible, except in those cases where internal evidence and historic record are alike unimpeachable.
The difficulty of deciding often arises from repetitions, and the excellence of pupils painting from the designs of their masters, and not unfrequently assisted by them. As we go back in art, this difficulty increases, from the oblivion which has overtaken once well-known names, and from the greater uniformity of processes and the more limited range of motives of the earliest artists.
The great religious masters of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries gathered around them crowds of scholars, who travelled with them from city to city, partaking in their commissions and executing their designs, especially of ex-voto pictures, multiplied in that age by the piety of noble families, to commemorate some special interposition of divine power in their behalf and to honor their patron saints. Their usual compositions were the Madonna enthroned with the infant Jesus in her arms. surrounded by holy personages or angels, with the portraits of those who ordered the paintings, in general of diminutive size to express humility, and kneeling in adoration with clasped hands and upraised eyes. Unless the characteristics of the master-hand are unmistakable in this class of works, they are to be ranked as of the schools of the great men whose general features they bear. And it must not be forgotten that frequently pupils developed into distinguished masters themselves. Taddeo Gaddi and Puceio Capanna worked under Giotto while he lived, and afterwards acquired distinction in an independent career.
A like close relation between master and scholar, the effect of which was to multiply works by joint labor, obtained among the contemporaries of Raphael as well as of Giotto. The precise number of the genuine works of Raphael, owing to the cleverness of many of his pupils, will perhaps never be known. Coindet ascribes to him from one hundred and eighty to two hundred Holy Families alone. Some writers compute the entire number of his paintings at from five hundred to six hundred; others quote twelve hundred as authentic. These exaggerated estimates only prove how extremely popular his designs became and the great number of pictures ordered from them, some of which no doubt had the advantage of being touched by his hand, while all in some way or other bear his mental impress.
Moreover, the great masters frequently changed their methods ami styles, so that one might be mistaken for another, and at times studied and copied each other. Andrea del Sarto’s copy of Raphael’s Leo Tenth passed undetected even by Giulio Romano, who had himself worked on the latter. Rubens and Velasquez imitated and copied the great Italian masters, particularly Paul Veronese and Titian ; the Caracci and their followers multiplied Correggios, Raphaels, and the chief Venetians; Girolamo da Carpi of Ferrara the same; and all with a degree of success that has greatly perplexed later generations : their own works, in turn, as they became popular, experiencing from subsequent artists the same process of multiplication. Of the celebrated Madonna of Loreto there are not fewer than ten rival claimants for authenticity; while sketches, studies, and works not directly imitated from, but partaking of the character of great artists, and gften clever enough to be confounded with their undoubted works, are not rare. Portraits, being direct studies from Nature, are difficult to decide upon. Hence it is that criticism is so variable in its decisions.
Beside the above sources of perplexity, it encounters another obstacle from the restorations pictures have undergone. Injured by time or obscured by repeated varnishings, they often require some degree of cleaning to make them intelligible. Unfortunately, in most instances, the process is sheer assassination. Many of the best works of public galleries have been subjected to scrubbings more analogous to the labors of a washtub than to the delicate and scientific treatment requisite to preserve intact the virgin surface of the painting. Mechanical operators have passed over them with as little remorse as locusts blight fields of grain. Their rude hands in numberless instances have skinned the pictures, obliterating those peerless tints, lights, and shadows, and those delicate but emphatic touches that bespeak the master-stroke, leaving instead cold, blank, hard surfaces and outlines, opaque shadows and crude coloring, out of tone, and in consequence with deteriorated sentiment as well as execution. The profound knowledge and vigorous or fairy-like handling which made their primary reputation are now forever gone, leaving little behind them except the composition to sustain it in competition with modern work. As bad, however, as is this wanton injury, that of repainting is greater. Inadequate to replace the delicate work he has rubbed off, to harmonize the whole and make it look fresh and new, the restorer passes his own brush over the entire picture, and thus finally obscures whatever of technical originality there might still have been preserved after the cleaning. The extent of injury European galleries have thus received is incalculable. One instance will suffice as an example of many. Some years gone by, the Titian’s Bella Donna of the Pitti was intact. Unluckily it got into the hands of a professional cleaner. A celebrated dealer happened, to be standing by when it was rehung. Looking at it, he exclaimed, — “Two weeks ago I would have given the Grand Duke two thousand pounds for that picture on speculation; now I would not give two hundred.”
Each restoration displaces more of the original and replaces it with the restorer. As the same hands generally have a monopoly of a public gallery, the contents of some are beginning to acquire a strange uniformity of external character, while the old masters in the same degree are vanishing from them. These remarks, however, are more applicable to past than to present systems; for a reform founded on true artistic principles is being everywhere inaugurated.
Oil-paintings gradually deepen in tone ; while tempera, if protected from humidity, retain their brilliancy and clearness as long as trie material on which they rest endures. The true occupation of the restorer is to put the work given to him in a condition as near as possible to its original state, carefully abstaining from obliterating the legitimate marks of age, and limiting himself to just what is sufficient for the actual conservation of the picture. One of the chief needs of many old pictures is the removal of old repaintings. This done, the less added the better, unless, if a piece be wanting, it can be so harmonized with the original as to escape observation. But this is a special art, and to be done only by those acquainted with the old methods. In perfect condition ancient paintings Cannot be. We must receive them for what they are, with the corrodings and changes of time upon them. How interesting in this respect is the Sienese Gallery! Here the restorer has been stayed, and we find the pictures genuine as time itself. and more precious by far to the student than the most glaring and “refreshed” surfaces of those works in other galleries which are the wonder and admiration of superficial observers.
The greatest difficulty of the restorer is to harmonize permanently the new vehicles with the old; for the fresh tints are always liable to assume a different tone from the original, which have already been chemically acted upon by time.
It may be said that the skill which can escape detection in restoration is adequate to successful counterfeiting. This is true only in part; for mending is very different from creating. Instances, however, do occur of such attempts; but they seldom long escape detection, and never impose upon those who have experience in the arts of the restorer. Some years ago a Roman artist for a while successfully passed off his imitations of Claude, Salvator Rosa, and their schools, as originals, at large prices, with the usual guaranties of authenticity. To disarm suspicion, he was accustomed to allow himself to be seen at work only upon cheap, vulgar pictures, pretending he was competent to nothing better. Having sold one of his Claudes for four thousand dollars, the trick being detected, he was threatened with a public prosecution, the fear of which brought on his death.
The favorite field of the early masters was fresco-painting. Unlike painting in oils, it has no resources of transparency, brilliancy, and richness of coloring, but depends for its nobility of effect upon the hardier virtues of art and the more robust genius of the artist. His success lies in strong and eloquent design and composition, with but feeble aid from color. Fresco and tempera paintings were chiefly intended for the interiors of churches or public buildings, whose dim light harmonized their more or less crude and positive tones. It was, however, only through the breadth and freedom of wall-painting that the ambition of the early masters was fully aroused and their powers found ample scope. Out of it they created a world of art unknown and unappreciable by those who cannot view it as it exists in the consecrated localities and amid the solemn associations whence it originated. All over Italy, by the road-side and in the sanctuary, there exists untold treasure of this sort, pure, grand or quaint, telling truth with the earnestness of conviction, and exhaling beauty through aroused feeling and refined sentiment, overflowing with virgin power and exalted efforts. Everywhere untransportable, often in localities untrodden except by the feet of the stolid peasant or the heavy-jawed monk, seen only by enthusiastic seekers, these monuments of a noble art are once more being awakened into vital existence by the piety and taste of a generation whose great joy it is to uncover and restore to the light of day those precious remains which were so often barbarously whitewashed by the clergy of the past two centuries, from no more cogent motive than to give greater light to their churches. Especially in Tuscany every souvenir of ancestral greatness is now eared for with a jealous patriotism Lonorable alike to the feeling and knowledge of its population. The chief desire of the country is now to reinvest her republican monuments with the character and aspect which best recall her olden freedom and enterprise. And the highest glory that can be bestowed upon these monuments is their careful conservation or restoration as they originally were designed; nothing being added or taken away except to their loss.
Not merely patriotism, but selfish acquisition demands of Italy the strict conservation of art. Her monuments are funds at interest for posterity. Indeed, her livelihood depends in no stinted measure upon her artistic attractions. And nowhere is there a livelier feeling for artistic beauty, greater respect for the past, and a wider-spread knowledge of art. In all times will other peoples come within her borders to enjoy and study that which she can still so lavishly bestow.
Tourists soundly rate Italians for their sordid indifference to their art, attributing to the people at large the spirit of the mercenary or ignorant class with whom they are most in contact. It is true that others may hear, as we have heard, from a noble marquis, in reply to a question about his family-pictures, “ Ask my majordomo ; had your question been about horses, I could have told you.” They may meet aristocratic personages not above acting the picture-dealer in a covert manner, and, still worse, receive propositions to buy works of art robbed from public places. But such instances are uncommon. The common feeling is an enthusiastic pride in, and profound respect for, the names and the works that have done so much for the good and glory of Italy. Even the spirited deportment of the Signorina Borgherini, as told by Vasari, towards a dealer, who, during the siege of Florence, attempted to get possession of certain paintings belonging to her husband, to speculate upon by sending them to the king of France, may still find its counterpart in feeling, if not in fact, among some of the living daughters of that city.
“How, then,” she exclaimed, “dost thou, Giovanni Battista, thou vile broker of frippery, miserable huckster of farthings, dost thou presume to come hither with the intent to lay thy fingers on the ornaments which belong to the chambers of gentlemen, — despoiling, as thou hast long done and art ever doing, our city of the fairest ornaments to embellish strange lands therewith ? I prize these pictures from reverence to the memory of my father-in-law, from whom I had them, and from the love I bear to my husband ; I mean to defend them, while I have life, with my own blood. Away with thee, then, base creature of nothingness! If again thou shouldst be so bold as to come on a similar errand to this house, thou shalt be taught what is the respect due to the dwelling of a gentleman, and that to thy serious discomfort; make sure of it! ”
And so she drove the intriguing bargainer away, with “ reproaches of such intolerable bitterness, that the like had never before been hurled at man alive.” Be it remembered, too, that Vasari was a good judge of the quality of a Florentine dame’s scolding, for he had himself in his younger days passed a painful apprenticeship under the weight of Lucretia Feti's tongue.
Criticism is too often local in its tone, being pledged, as it were, to the admiration of its favorite subjects and a corresponding disregard of those with which it is not familiar. Particularly in Italy, where the municipal feeling has been so strong, the partisans of each school were greatly prejudiced. Each people also very naturally prefers its own to another’s art, and does not always question its motives of preference. The Florentines have overlooked the merits of their rivals, the Venetians and Sienese,—who, in turn, have reciprocated; while Italy, as a whole, has had but small regard for the works of other nations. England has been slow to recognize the great merits of the Southern schools; and France, Holland, and Germany are equally in the bondage of local tastes or transitory fashions. But true criticism is cosmopolitan. It tests merit according to the standard of the nature on which it is founded, not overlooking excellence in whatever respect or degree. A truly catholic view of art is the result only of its universal study. The critic may be just to all inspirations, and yet enjoy his own preferences. But, as Blackwood observes, too many “ are selfendowed with the capacity to judge all matters relating to the fine arts just in proportion to the extent of their ignorance, because it is not difficult to condemn in general terms and to attain notoriety by shallow pretence.” Neither “ the narrowness of sect nor the noise of party" should be heard in this matter. As a great gallery should represent all phases of art through their several stages of progress and decay, meeting all wants and tastes, so criticism should be based upon a foundation equally broad, — not proud of its erudition nor dictatorial, but with due humility uttering its opinions, prompt to sustain them, and yet ever ready to listen and learn.
“Old masters” are almost a by-word of doubt or contempt in America, owing to the influx of cheap copies and pseudooriginals of no artistic value whatever. It is the more important, therefore, that they should be represented among us by such characteristic specimens as are still to be procured. Some modern artists are jealous of or indifferent to past genius, and sedulously disparage it in view of their own immediate interests. Bayle St. John, in his “ Louvre,” relates that he heard an associate of the Royal Academy deliberately and energetically declare, that, if it were in his power, he would slash with his knife all the works of the old masters, and thus compel people to buy modern. This spirit is both ungenerous and impolitic. If neither respect nor care for the works of departed talent be bestowed, what future has the living talent itself to look forward to ? Art is best nourished by a general diffusion of oesthetic taste and feeling. There can be no invidious rivalry between the dead and the living. Alfred Tennyson looks not with evil eye upon John Milton. Why should a modern be jealous of a mediaeval artist ? The public can love and appreciate both. Nor should it be forgotten that it is precisely in those countries where old art is most appreciated that the modern is most liberally sustained.