Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

The whole is of a mellow and rich colouring. On the outside of those doors is John baptising Christ, and St. John the Evangelist in the Isle of Patmos, Writing the Apocalypse: both of these are in his best manner; the Eagle of St. John is remarkably well painted; the Baptism is much damaged. Under these are three pannels, on which are the Nativity, the Crucifix, and the Resurrection. Though they are all of Rubens, they have very little merit, except an air of facility of hand. Of the Nativity there is a print by Vostermans, which appears as if engraved after a finished picture. Probably the drawing which the engraver made from the picture was corrected by Rubens; what seems to confirm this, is the print being dedicated by Rubens himself to his friend Petrus Venius: “ Testem hanc exanimo,” &c. Rubens was paid for these eight pictures eighteen hundred florins of Brabant, about 180 pounds English, as appears by the receipt preserved in the sacristy; and the whole was begun and finished in eighteen days.

AUGUSTINS. In the church of the Augustins was the famous picture. by Rubens, of the Virgin and Christ, St. Catharine, St. Agnes, Christine Marguerite, and other female saints; which was sold to Verhalst at Brussels, and bought at his sale by the Duke of Rutland, in whose possession it now is. A print of this picture by Jode.

ANTWERP. The Cathedral.—On entering the great door on the right, is the Last Judgment, said to be by B. Van Orlay, but I suspect it to be by some of his descendants; it is much inferior to what we saw of him at Brussels. On the folding doors are the seven acts of Mercy; it has no excellence of any kind to make amends for its extreme hardness of manner.

The altar of the Archers; St. Sebastian, by Koeberger. There are good parts in this picture, but it is not equal to his Pieta at Brussels: the boy in half shadow, who holds a bow and arrows, and the priest who holds an image in his hand, the face seen by a reflected light, are the best parts of the picture. The body of the saint is well coloured, and in a broad manner. Two women's heads are introduced very awkwardly in the bottom of the picture.

THE CHAPEL OF ST. MICHAEL. · The Fall of the Angels by F. Floris, 1554 ; which has some good parts, but without masses, and dry. On the thigh of one of the figures he has painted a fly for the admiration of the vulgar ; there is a foolish story of this fly being painted by J. Mastys, and that it had the honour of deceiving Floris.

THE CHAPEL BELONGING TO THE COMPANY

OF ARQUEBUSE. The famous descent of the Cross : this picture, of all the works of Rubens, is that which has the most reputation. I had consequently conceived the highest idea of its excellence : knowing the print, I had formed in my imagination what such a composition would produce in the hands of such a painter. I confess I was disappointed. However, this disappointment did not proceed from any deficiency in the picture itself; had it been in the original state in which Rubens left it, it must have appeared very different: but it is mortifying to see to what degree it has suffered by cleaning and mending : that brilliant effect, which it undoubtedly once had, is lost in a mist of varnish, which appears to be chilled or mildewed. The Christ is in many places retouched, so as to be visible at a distance : the St. John's head repainted ; and other parts, on a close inspection, appear to be chipping off, and ready to fall from the canvass. However, there is enough to be seen to satisfy any connoisseur, that in its perfect state it well deserved all its reputation.

The composition of this picture is said to be borrowed from an Italian print: this print I never saw; but those who have seen it, say, that Rubens has made no deviation from it, except in the attitude of the Magdalen. On the print is written, “ Peter Passer, Invenit ; Hieronymus Wirix, sculpsit.”

The greatest peculiarity of this composition is, the contrivance of the white sheet, on which the body of Jesus lies: this circumstance was probably what induced Rubens to adopt the composition. He well knew what effect white linen, opposed to flesh, must have, with his powers of colouring; a circumstance which was not likely to enter into the mind of an Italian painter, who probably would have been afraid of the linen's hurting the colouring of the flesh, and bave kept it down of a low tint. And the truth is, that none but great colourists can venture to paint pure white linen near flesh ; but such know the advantage of it: so that possibly what was stolen by Rubens, the possessor knew not how to value; and certainly no person knew so well as Rubens how to use. After all, this may perhaps turn out another Lauder's detection of plagiarism. I could wish to see this print, if there is one, to ascertain how far Rubens was indebted to it for his Christ, which I consider as one of the finest figures that ever was invented : it is most correctly drawn, and I apprehend in an attitude of the utmost difficulty to execute, The hanging of the head on his shoulder, and the falling of the body on one side, gives such an appearance of the heaviness of death, that nothing can exceed it.

Of the three Marys, two of them have more beauty than he generally bestowed on female figures, but no great elegance of character. The St. Joseph of Arimathea is the same countenance which he so often introduced in his works; a smooth fat face,-a very un-historical character.'

The principal light is formed by the body of Christ and the white sheet; there is no second light whichi bears any proportion to the principal ; in this respect it has more the manner of Rembrandt's disposition of light than any other of Rubens' works; however, there are many little detached lights distributed at some distance from the great mass, such as the head and shoulders of the Magdalen, the heads of the two Marys, the head of St. Joseph, and the back and arm of the figure leaning over the Cross; the whole surrounded with a dark sky, except a little light in the horizon, and above the Cross. .. The historical anecdote relating to this picture, says, that it was given in exchange for a piece of ground, on which Rubens built his house : and that the agreement was only for a picture representing their patron, St. Christopher, with the Infant Christ on his shoulders. Rubens, who wished to surprise them by his generosity, sent five pictures instead of one'; a piece of gallantry on the side of the painter, which was undoubtedly well received by the Arquebusers ; since it was

VOL. II. .

« ForrigeFortsett »