I had no sooner finished my group in marble of ‘The Shepherd Boy and Dog,’ than, at the solicitation of some friends, I set off with them in the beginning of April to see Naples, intending to return in a month to Rome; but, going much further, as far as Paestum, then to Castellemara, staying at Lorento, visiting Pompeii several times, and other cities famous in ancient history, we did not return till June. On my arrival here the heat was so oppressive, that I accompanied my brother northward to Switzerland; we crossed the Alps over San Bernardino, covered with snow, in July; thence down to Splugen, on to the Tyrol and to Innsbruck; where we passed the hot months in a fine cool climate: thus I had the opportunity of seeing the cities of Italy most famous for historical, antiquarian, and artistic associations. We passed through Genoa, saw the collections there, among which were some fine specimens of Vandyke: then to Milan; here the collections at the Palazzo Brena and the Ambrosian Library are remarkably fine; at the latter is to be seen the original Cartoon of Raphaelle, for his School of Athens, painted here in fresco in the Vatican: the drawing of the figures is powerful and very fine.
In returning to Italy we called at Trent, famous principally for its church council: then to Verona; here is one of the finest amphitheatres ever examined; the interior is quite perfect, and kept in good repair, the monument of the Scaliger family is a curious specimen of the Gothic architecture and sculpture of the fourteenth century. We next went to Mantua where are to be seen the finest productions extant in fresco by Julio Romano, the celebrated scholar of Raphaelle. The Cathedral of Mantua is the architecture of Julio Romano, as well as the Palazzo Te, where we saw the fresco of ‘The Fall of the Giants;’ ‘The Story of Cupid and Psyche,’ by far the best; and other mythological subjects. On the walls of the Palazzo Vecchi Ducale he has painted ‘The War of Troy.’ Walking through the streets of Mantua I stopped suddenly before an antiquated-looking house, and recognised, by the Latin inscription over the door, that it was once inhabited by Julio Romano, and repaired fifty years since. It was interesting to behold a house in which so celebrated a painter had lived.
From Mantua we proceeded through Modena to Bologna, as I was anxious to see the productions of the long-famed Bolognese school: here lived the Caracci, Guido Reni, Domenichino, &c.; and, indeed, fine specimens are to be seen here by all these masters. From Bologna we reached Florence; the collections here were not new to me, as three years ago I spent four months there; but I must say, the collection of pictures at the Palazzo Piti, the residence of the Grand Duke, is the finest collection in Europe – I do not speak of the number of pictures, but each picture is well selected, and is a good specimen of each master. As we had heard that Thorwaldsen was on his return to Rome, and had arrived at Florence, we proceeded to his hotel to call on him; we found him looking very well; he had become more lusty during his absence of three years from Rome. When we congratulated him on his good looks, he said, “Hey! what can you expect, when I am now seventy-one years old?” He left Florence the day before our departure. Two miles from Rome he was met by a great body of artists, who resolved to celebrate his return by a grand public dinner; so Sunday last, at five o’clock, being fixed for the occasion, about one hundred and twenty of us met, and sat down with him to dinner at Melonie’s Hotel. At half-past five Thorwaldsen entered the room, looking remarkably well; for his white and snowy locks falling over on his shoulders, gave him a grand and venerable appearance. At six o’clock dinner being announced, he took his place at the middle of the table at the upper end of the large saloon; on his left hand was Rheinhart, a man older than Thorwaldsen, and a celebrated landscape-painter, and who has resided here fifty years. On his right hand was one of the chamberlains of the King of Denmark, together with other diplomatists and consuls. Two long tables were placed along the sides of the saloon; at one of these we sat with the British Consul at our head; the other tables were occupied by the mass of German artists, who were by far the most numerous. In the centre was a round table occupied by German artists, who entertained us with their vocal musical performances. Soon after we sat down, a printed song, in the German language, congratulatory upon the safe return of our guest, was distributed; afterwards speeches were made, and a laurel crown was placed upon his head by Rheinhart, he took off the crown and gave it back to Rheinhart, who placed it on a bronze group of “the Graces” in the centre of the table. Here Thorwaldsen rose and made a bow to the company; at that moment, in the gallery at the further end of the saloon, the curtains were drawn from a finely painted transparency, surrounded with laurels and evergreens, representing the bust of Thorwaldsen on a column, with a hammer and chisel enclosed in a wreath, supported by Genius on one side and crowned by Victory on the other. Inscription:
Victoria ingenio Parta
Salve sculptorum Princeps romam redux.
A lion and eagle on either side of the base of the pedestal. We were enlivened by Signor Flar’s fine singing, accompanied by himself on the guitar; he also prepared a comedy, and appeared as chief actor, personifying a sculptor showing off his statues: he had something witty to say at every statue, – the statues were living men dressed up for the occasion. All were anxious to pay their tribute of respect to our chief, decidedly the greatest sculptor that has hitherto appeared in the world since the time of the ancient Greeks, for there is more purity and more classical sublimity in his style than any other artist living.
I am &c.,
|Rome, Sept. 23.||B. Gibson.|
|Edwin Keete, Esq.|