BOSTON bids fair, by present signs, to prove itself an unsuspected mine of valuable old pictures. Not very long since a portrait by Bartolommeo Passerotti, a Bolognese painter in the latter half of the sixteenth century, was unearthed here ; and now we find brought to light a small piece of glossy gloom, in which is imbedded some rich bits of color, and purporting to be a genuine production by Rembrandt van Rhyn. The Passerotti, which, we believe, is signed and therefore settled in its genealogy, represents the head in life-size of a comfortable Italian, thirty-five or forty years old, perhaps, who looks out reassuringly from the black void behind him, with an aspect of hearty reality that attracts one’s sympathy at once. How far his blooming freshness is owing to the revivifying touch of the restorer, we do not know ; but certainly this genial effigy has a strong appearance of being in much the same condition in which the dry air and delicate sunshine of Italy may have left it, after evaporating the moisture of the painter’s last additions, three centuries since. The operations of the cleanser have, it is true, left a kind of dusky halo all around the head, which is not in the least consonant with the very human and unsaintly look of good living and good fellowship beaming from the face ; but we are not otherwise made especially conscious of the restorer’s office. The face itself is long, but well filled out, having an ample forehead, somewhat expanded and increased by the receding growth of the hair, or what may be an early baldness upon its forward fringes. The cheeks display a vigorous red, the nose is powerful, the mouth mainly concealed by a soft mustache of dark brown, and a light chin-beard, unstiffened by the razor, which curls easily about this extremity of the face, growing in the natural fashion. An habitual crease in the cheek runs from the slight upward curve in the wing of the nose down to the corner of the softly bearded lips ; and the brown eyes look out obliquely at us, with that certain amused yet humorously reproachful look with which one greets a poor pun, or a witticism not provocative of a fully generous and uncritical mirth. An inscription upon the back of the canvas has led to the belief that the portrait is of Passerotti himself; and a certain superiority in the face — a trace of artistic perceptiveness— seems to substantiate this. Yet withal, too, there is such a sentiment of the good-liver and the man of humor in the features, that we find ourselves thinking rather of him than of the value of the painting, and are inclined to picture him to ourselves as seated in a party of artistic roisterers, trying and tempering his wit with light rural wine, or munching, with those fine jaws, a delicate salad, or a simple piece of bread, perhaps, dipped in the oil of. olives. If, however, we detach ourselves from these idle musings, and come to a survey of the technical merits displayed in the work, we shall undoubtedly discover a true gift of color in the maker of this head. The pigment is laid on freely and thickly, the visible ear being but a semi-organized, large blot of flesh-tint; and the cheek is positively buttered with the creamy thickness of pink and white which the painter has thought it necessary to apply here in order to gain his effect. But the tone of the face throughout is fresh, healthy, and harmonious, if viewed at a little distance, as the handling requires ; and the broad white linen collar, which lies loosely about the throat, upon the black vest, though not toned to any very low degree, serves rather to set off the coloring of the flesh than to diminish its force. The attention excited by the discovery of this piece, quite worthy of preservation in some safe and accessible place, has been somewhat superseded by the greater notice which the supposed work of Rembrandt naturally attracts. A difference of opinion has, we believe, arisen as to the authorship of it, one view assigning it to Tintoretto. If, indeed, it be from the hand of Jacopo Robusti, it must, we imagine, have been executed with at least the second-best of the three pencils — a golden, a silver, and an iron one — which that Venetian worthy was by his contempories fabled to possess. The subject is the presentation of Christ before Pontius Pilate and the people. His figure stands at about the centre of the picture,—a small canvas, some twelve by fifteen inches, perhaps, in extent, — and has apparently been just led out from the entrance into a receding colonnade on the right. Thence also throng dimly a number of accessory figures. The Christ is supported by a guard, whose black velvet jerkin and brown buckskin breeches are painted with a rich smoothness in some degree recalling our modern Meissonier ; he stands upon a terrace of stone projecting beyond the main building behind, which brings his feet just above the heads of the people in the foreground. On the same level, at the left, and shadowed by a projection of the edifice, appears Pilate, throned, in a general suggestion, at least, of great magnificence, and looking more like a chasubled priest than a Roman governor. The chief light is directly from the middle of the background, — a temperate yellow glow, streaming thence through a break in the dark, pillared, and corniced mass of the governor’s palace. A man standing just behind the figure of Christ holds on a slender pole a spot of red, which looks as if meant for a torch ; but whether so libera] an illumination is meant to proceed thence, or whether it is the light of sunset that we see, is difficult to determine. It strikes us that this light is not used with Rembrandt’s characteristic economy. Having massed here a strong and eloquent radiance, the painter has employed it upon the chief group almost too sparingly to bring them into a sufficient superiority of distinctness to that with which less important points are urged upon us by other lights. The person of Pilate, for instance, and that of some one who, just below him, leans upon a balustrade and looks over at the populace, are brought out by some reflected light, which is so strong as to give them a spotty relation to the other portions of the whole. The figures in the foreground, too, both to right and left, break out into a brilliance that hardly seems to consort well with the rest. The poising of light-forces does not seem to have been happy. The drawing of the figures is rude, and some of the faces are but slightly developed ; while the distance which must be supposed to intervene between the figures in the foreground and those on the terrace is not indicated by any diminution of size in the latter. Bad drawing, indeed, is characteristic of Rembrandt ; but it is difficult to reconcile the incoherent ordering of lights with that complete unity of chiaroscuro which placed him in a position unique among painters. With him, more than with any one who had preceded him, even among the Italians, the identity of light and color became prominent. He especially emphasized in his practice the principle that color depends for its force upon the amount of light which it reflects. Accordingly, every point of color became precious in his hands. His compositions were pitched in a low key ; but for this reason, each of the pigments which absorbed a less number of the prismatic rays, that is, the brighter tints, had to be chosen with the greatest nicety of skill. In the picture before us we feel the want of masterful judgment in this choice. Yet Rembrandt himself was sometimes less happy than at others in the attainment of effects coming within the range of his chosen specialty ; and it may be that the present little work is one of the less successful efforts. From the disorder of the lights, however, results a certain general confusion, which only gradually disappears as the eye accustoms itself to rest upon the soothing depths of shade and the sober splendor in much of the coloring, apart and for themselves. The figures are too small to exhibit much of the translucent golden excellence of Rembrandt’s flesh-tints; and, indeed, they hardly possess this, at its best, at all. As for the people in the foreground, there is something meagre about them, a want of that variety of character and passion which are found in Rembrandt’s etchings.
SINCE we last noticed the objects exhibited by the Museum Committee at the Athenaeum, there have been further acquisitions of great value made by this organization. Two charming tapestries, representing a vintage and a harvesting, and probably of Flemish manufacture, have been hung in the room containing the pottery and porcelain, Graeco-Etrurian vases, etc. Their beautiful surfaces, in which some very powerful and interesting figures in Flemish costume contrast rich blue and scarlet and delicate green with the harmonious golden tone of their backgrounds are irradiated by a bit of historic interest which is worth mention. They belonged formerly to Louis Philippe, and were saved from the château of Neuilly, at its burning in 1848, only to be exposed, as it appears, to a more frightful conflagration in Boston, in November last, on which occasion they were withdrawn from a warehouse situated in the centre of the burnt district. Besides these, the museum has been enriched with some fine Dresden porcelain, a good example of which it has previously lacked ; a cast of the Eleusis bas-relief representing Ceres, Triptolemus, and Proserpine ; and several other minor objects. But by far the most important addition is that of the authentic collection of Egyptian antiquities presented by C. G. Way, Esq., which now occupies another entire room adjoining that devoted to the previous assemblage of objects. As one enters this chamber, peopled with numerous remains of so distant an antiquity, the effect is quite that which hitherto one could only encounter in visiting the museums abroad. Here are ponderous mummy cases of wood, with a pair of hands sculptured on the front, standing upright against the walls between the glass cases filled with smaller relics. Other mummy-cases, made of matting richly figured over with bird and beast and hieroglyphic shapes, lie near, under glass, with the gilding slowly scaling from their faces, in dignified decay. At one point we see a group of bronze figures, large and small, more or less corroded, representing gods and kings ; and at another a collection of figures in wood, of a more domestic character. Beside these, a multitude of pectoral talismans mysteriously inscribed, scarabs and nilometers, in black limestone, cornelian, and lapis lazuli, lie scattered about in their respective compartments, numbered and catalogued. Rows of hideous cat-headed and dog-headed jars, designed to contain the viscera Of the dead, suggest comparison with that other array of exquisite fictile vases in the next room, and refer to a time when the powers of nature had not been personified in human shape for worship,—such a time as that in which the Greek Athene .was still conceived of as an owl. Certain more graceful and acceptable little bottles of alabaster prove to be the receptacles for stibium, that compound of lampblack and antimony with which the long-since disintegrated Egyptian beauties, among whose toilet apparatus these vases may have stood, were wont to adorn themselves. Then, there is the usual collection of wooden implements ; among them combs for the hair, and paint-brushes, — slender sticks of wood frayed at one end, — and paint-boxes in which traces of color still exist.
THOSE readers who have followed the controversy between ourselves and the critic of The Nation concerning the measurement of Mr. Ward’s Shakespeare will be interested to read the following statement by a distinguished English sculptor, one of the most skilful and thoroughly educated artists of his time : —
“ Having been invited to measure the statue of Shakespeare by J. Q. A. Ward, N. A., I am wishful to state that I find its proportions to be seven and one half heads, namely, that it contains in vertical measurements seven and one half of its own heads. If reduced to the minutiæ of actual scales, I believe it would exceed this by perhaps one degree, thus proving the truth of the Italian proverb, which has come down to us from the finest period of art, that a small head is the fault of a great sculptor.
Seven and a half heads, then, are the proportions of the Shakespeare, as ascertained by Mr. Wood, as well as by Mr. H. K. Brown, both sculptors of eminence and careful study ; and six and a half heads are the proportions according to a critic who considers himself perfectly competent in so simple a matter as the measurement of statues. We are quite willing to let the public choose between him and these artists.