Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

295

LETTER XXIV.

Opening of the navigation-Visit to the Academy of Fine Arts--The

president—The destruction of Pompeii by Brilloff-Young Kotze. bue-Manufactory of tapestry-Malachite Temple-Public Library -The MSS.– Writing of Mary Queen of Scots - Autographs – Letter from Henrietta, Queen of Charles I.—Expedition to Tzarsko Celo by the rail-road-Conclusion of the letters.

St. Petersburg, May 22nd, 1838. Two days ago the first steam-boats of this season, from Lubeck, came into Cronstadt; one of them had been due ten days, but had been unable to make its way earlier through the ice. However, as the navigation of the Gulf of Finland is at last open, I presume we may consider the winter as fairly at an end in spite of the Ladoga ice, which still* continues at intervals to float thickly past. Great numbers of people have been long waiting with impatience to commence a summer-trip abroad in search of health or pleasure, and the two steam-boats which will sail for Lubeck to-morrow and the next day, will be

* The last ice came down on the 26th of May; the leaves on the lime-trees did not open till about the 1st of June.

crowded with passengers. We have changed our plan of leaving Petersburg by the earliest opportunity, but we shall not linger here much longer, and this is probably the last letter which you will receive from this end of the Baltic: I hope its waves will be tolerably peaceful for a few days, as though we do not put to sea ourselves to-morrow, some friends, in whom we are particularly interested, will be passengers in the Naslednick.

Among the lions which we have lately been visiting, are the Public Library of Petersburg, and the Academy of Fine Arts, of which M's uncle, Mr. Olènine,* is president. He is one of the most distinguished literary men in Russia, was private secretary to the late Emperor, and has been for many years high in office. His house is well known to most foreigners who have visited St. Petersburg; and we at least have spent in it many of our most agreeable hours.

The object of greatest interest in the Academy, at present, is a large historical picture, by the Russian painter, Brilloff. The subject is the destruction of Pompeii, and the picture was painted in Italy; it was presented to the Academy by M. Demideff, who

* Tradition says, that this family came originally from Ireland, and they suppose the name to be a corruption of O'Neill. A certain degree of fable is, however, mingled in the history, as the Hibernian Ancestress is said to have been borne across the sea by a bear, in commemoration of which remarkable circumstance, a bear carrying a lady, appears at this day in their coat of arms.

purchased it from the artist for thirty-five thousand roubles, about fifteen hundred pounds. The general effect of this picture on the eye, at a first glance, is disagreeable, from the nature of the subject, and the glare of colouring which belongs to such a scene; the hot falling cinders, moreover, have the appearance of a shower of blood. The conception of the picture, however, shows no ordinary genius, and the expressions and attitudes of the figures and faces are beautifully imagined and admirably painted. The most striking figures are those of an old man borne in the arms of his son, and a woman stretched dead or dying in the foreground, with black hair streaming on the pavement; she has apparently been thrown out of a chariot, of which the axle is broken, and the horses are rushing wildly away; next to these is a family group, including a mother with an infant in her arms, which is unconscious of the danger, and stretches out its hands to catch a small bird fluttering on the ground. Lastly, at the left side of the picture appears a group of Christians, as is evident from a cross hung round the neck of one: their resigned, though awe-struck faces, and their attitudes of prayer, are finely contrasted with the terror and despair expressed on the faces and forms which surround them. The portrait of Brilloff himself is to be seen behind the Christians in a man who carries the implements of a painter on his head. The architectural parts of this picture are not as well drawn as

the figures; at the right hand there are three statues intended to be tottering on the parapet of a high building, but which look as if, in bathing language, they were preparing to take - “ headers ” into the midst of the crowd below.

In walking through the rooms of the Academy, we found a young artist copying a picture, the details of which, it being a battle-piece, he was extremely civil in explaining, as well as in answering other questions; and we found afterwards that he was a son of the famous Kotzebue, who was sent to Siberia (by mistake) by the Emperor Paul.

As I am now on the subject of works of art, I must mention, though they have nothing to do with the Academy, the productions of the Imperial manufactory of tapestry in Petersburg. It is on the plan, I believe, of the Gobelins at Paris, and is now in full operation, preparing carpets and hangings for the Winter Palace. The carpets are exceedingly rich and splendid, chiefly in the French style. The tapestry, however, is of course more curious, and it is exceedingly beautiful. One or two pictures which have been copied, or are now in progress, have quite the effect of paintings at a little distance. The best of those which we saw, is a picture of Alexander the Great, receiving the family of Darius.

Another splendid work of art which we have lately seen, is a temple destined to be placed in the Church of St. Isaac, and which in the meantime stands for

safety in the large hall of the Tauride, which serves at present as a receptacle for the furniture saved from the Winter Palace. The temple consists of a dome about seven feet in diameter, supported on eight Corinthian pillars about eight feet high. The exterior of the dome is covered with a profusion of gilding on a ground of malachite, and the interior is of lapis lazuli, the pillars are of malachite, with gilt bases and capitals; the floor is of polished stone of various colours; and the whole is raised on steps of polished porphyry. There is, perhaps, altogether too much gilding about this very beautiful work, but this is much in accordance with its destined position in a Greek church. It was presented to the Emperor by M. Demideff, who procured the malachite from his mines in Siberia, and sent it to Italy to be worked. Malachite is, as you probably are aware, a stone peculiar to the copper mines of Siberia : it is of the colour of verdigris marbled, and bears evident marks of having once been in a state of fusion.

In the visit of which I have spoken to the Public Library, I was chiefly interested by the collection of . MSS., some of the most remarkable of which were pointed out to me by Mr. Atkinson, the Librarian, who was kind enough to accompany me over the whole institution. The Library contains about four hundred thousand volumes, a considerable part of which were acquired by right of might, having been

« ForrigeFortsett »