Views A-Foot; or Europe Seen with Knapsack and Staff
By Bayard Taylor
Household Edition (New York: Putnam's, 1875)
[from Chapter XIX, "Leipsic and Dresden"]
The railroad brought us in three hours from Leipsic, over the eighty miles of plain that intervene. We came from the station through the Neustadt, passing the Japanese Palace and the equestrian statue of Augustus the Strong. The magnificent bridge over the Elbe was so much injured by the late inundation as to be impassable, and we were obliged to go some distance up the river bank and cross on a bridge of boats. Next morning my first search was for the Picture Gallery. We set off at random, and after passing the Church of Our Lady, with its lofty dome of solid stone, which withstood the heaviest bombs during the war with Frederick the Great, came to an open square, one side of which was occupied by an old, brown, red-roofed building, which I at once recognized as the object of our search.
I have just taken a last look at the gallery this morning, and left it with real regret; for during the two visits, Raphael's heavenly picture of the Madonna and Child had so grown into my love and admiration, that it was painful to think I should never see it again. There are many more which clung so strongly to my imagination, gratifying in the highest degree the love for the Beautiful, that I left them with sadness, and the thought that I would now only have the memory. I can see the inspired eye and god-like brow of the Jesus-child, as if I were still standing before the picture, and the sweet, holy countenance of the Madonna still looks upon me. Yet, though this picture is a miracle of art, the first glance filled me with disappointment. It has somewhat faded, during the three hundred years that have rolled away since the hand of Raphael worked the canvas and the glass with which it is covered for better preservation, injures the effect. After I had gazed on it a while every thought of this vanished. The figure of the Virgin seemed to soar in the air, and it was difficult to think the clouds were not in motion. Two divine cherubs look up from below, and in her arms sits the sacred child. Those two faces beam from the picture like those of angels. The dark, prophetic eye and pure brow of the young Jesus chain one like a spell. There is something more than mortal in its expression -- something in that infant face which indicates a power mightier than the proudest manhood. There is no glory around the head; but the spirit which shines from those features, marks his divinity. In the sweet face of the mother a sorrowful forboding mingles with its tenderness, as if she knew the world into which the Saviour was born and foresaw the path in which he was to tread. It is a picture which one can scarce look upon without tears. [pp. 198-200]
[from Chapter XXXII, "Scenes in Genoa, Leghorn, and Pisa"] Has the reader ever seen some grand painting of a city, rising with its domes and towers and palaces from the edge of a glorious bay, shut in by mountains -- the whole scene clad in those deep, delicious, sunny hues, which we admire so much in the picture although they appear unrealized in Nature? If so, he can figure to himself Genoa, as she appeared to us at sunset, from the battlements west of the city. When we had passed through the gloomy gate of the fortress that guards the western promontory, the whole scene opened on us at once in all its majesty. The battlements where we were standing, and the blue mirror of the Mediterranean just below, with a few vessels moored near the shore, made up the foreground; just in front lay the queenly city, stretching out to the eastern point of the bay, like a great meteor -- this point, crowned with the towers and dome of a cathedral, representing the nucleus, while the tail gradually widened out and was lost among the numberless villas that reached to the top of the mountains behind. As we gazed, a purple glow lay on the bosom of the sea, while far beyond the city, the eastern half of the mountain crescent around the gulf was tinted with the loveliest hue of orange. The impressions which one derives from looking on remarkable scenery depend, for much of their effect, on the time and weather. I have been very fortunate in this respect in two instances, and shall carry with me through life, two glorious pictures of a very different character -- the wild sublimity of the Brocken in cloud and storm, and the splendor of Genoa in an Italian sunset. [pp. 339-40]
[from Chapter XXXIII, "Residence in Florence"] Italy remains the home of Art, and it is but just she should keep these treasures, though the age that brought them forth has passed away. They are her only support now; her people are dependent for their subsistence on the glory of the Past. The spirits of the old painters, living still on their canvas, earn from year to year the bread of an indigent and oppressed people. This ought to silence those utilitarians at home, who oppose the cultivation of the fine arts, on the ground of their being useless luxuries. Let them look to Italy, where a picture by Raphael or Correggio is a rich legacy for a whole city. Nothing is useless that gratifies the perception of Beauty, which is at once the most delicate and the most intense of our mental sensations, binding us by an unconscious link nearer to nature and to Him, whose every thought is born of Beauty, Truth and Love. I envy not the man who looks with a cold and indifferent spirit on these immortal creations of the old masters -- these poems written in marble and on the canvas. They who oppose every thing which can refine and spiritualize the nature of man, by binding him down to the cares of the work-day world alone, cheat life of half its glory. [pp. 354-55]