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Monument Sépulcral des Rois de Juda, Vue extérieure du Monument.

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CAT 18. J. B. Till[i]ard after Louis-François Cassas. Monument Sépulcral des Rois de Juda, Vue extérieure du Monument. No. 25 in Vol. 3 of Voyage pittoresque de la Syrie, de la Phoenicie, de la Palestine et de la Basse-Egypte (Paris, 1798/9). E. Barton Chapin Jr. Family Collection.

This print is as wide as its companion is tall. The uniqueness of its imagery is increased when one reads that only thirty copies were printed of Cassas’s three-volume Voyage pittoresque (Drapkin 921). How many individual prints of this one plate, such as Melville acquired, may have been printed? Where did Melville acquire his copy, and how much did it cost him? One of the complete three-volume sets of the Voyage pittoresque is in the print room of the Fogg Museum at Harvard. Opening to plate 25 in volume 3, you see the identical image that Melville owned but without the title that is imprinted beneath that image on his print (see full sheet on Catalog level). In the published folio volume, the title appears only in the contents at the end of the volume (which identifies the previous five plates as illustrating various plans, elevations, and ornamental sculptures of the Monument Sépulcral whose Vue extérieure is the subject of Melville’s engraving).

Melville did considerable “wandering among the tombs” during two weeks in Jerusalem in January 1857, but he did not specifically mention visiting the Ruins of the Sepulchre of Kings (NN J 84-87, 433-34). Clarel and Nehemiah do visit this famous site in Clarel, near the beginning of canto 28 (“Tomb and Fountain”). The “Tomb” of this canto is the Sepulchre of Kings as depicted in Melville’s engraving after Cassas. The “Fountain” is the Pool of Siloam as depicted in Melville’s engraving by Smillie (CAT 22). The “Tomb and Fountain” canto introduces Vine, an important pilgrim as yet unnamed. As Clarel and Nehemiah approach the “rifled Spulcher of Kings,” out in “a waste where beauty clings,” they see the unnamed Vine “Profound in shadow of the tomb, / Reclined, with meditative mien / Intent upon the tracery.” What Vine sees in the “tracery” of the tomb is the sculpted frieze above the sunken tomb that Cassas had seen and traced in the drawing that Tilliard had engraved for volume 3 of the Voyage pittoresque:

Hewn from the rock a sunken space
Conducts to garlands—fit for vase—
In sculptured frieze above a tomb:
Palm leaves, pine apples, grapes. These bloom,
Involved in death—to puzzle us—

Melville’s narrator condenses the conflicting elements by contrasting “Hellenic cheer” of the frieze with the “Hebraic grief” of the tomb (NN C 1.28. 22-40). 

The poem’s verbal contrast between “Hellenic cheer” and “Hebraic grief” echoes the influential language of Matthew Arnold, whose poetry and prose were already well represented in Melville’s library by the time of Clarel (Sealts nos. 17, 20, 21; Dettlaff, pp. 213-18). In pictorial terms, the contrast between “Hellenic cheer” and “Hebraic grief” that Cassas depicted in his Sepulcher of Kings of Judah echoes that of the harvest wreath wrapped around the Sarcophage antique in his Ruins of the Monastery of Cazzafani