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Raphael in Melville’s Book Collection

After Melville returned from his Mediterranean journey in 1857 he could revisit various paintings he had seen in Italy not only in the engraved prints that he eventually acquired but also in the pages of his expanding library of books about art and artists. Among the many passages Melville marked in Goethe’s Travels in Italy is the one in which Goethe, on October 18, 1786, after registering his intense joy at finally seeing Raphael’s Saint Cecilia with his own eyes at Bologna, registers his growing appreciation for those “masters and predecessors" who were a precondition for Raphael’s achievement, specifying Francesco Francia and Perugino in particular. Goethe’s experience of seeing the paintings of Raphael and his predecessors in the galleries and churches of Italy at age 37 in 1786 would have taken additional meaning for Melville after his own experience of seeing some of the same paintings in some of the same galleries and churches, at the same age, in 1857. It is therefore not surprising that Melville drew a marginal line alongside the passage in which Goethe provides his own account of his encounter with Raphael’s Saint Cecilia in the same Bologna gallery in which Melville was to be seeing it 71 years later (see CAT 106, fig. 2).

Goethe began by writing this:

First of all, the Cecilia of Raphael! It was exactly what I had been told of it; but now I saw it with my own eyes. He has invariably accomplished that which others wished in vain to accomplish, and I would at present say no more of it than that it is by him. Five saints stand side by side, not one of them has anything in common with us; however, their existence stands so perfectly real that one would wish for the picture to last through eternity, even though for himself he could be content to be annihilated. But in order to understand Raphael aright, and to form a just appreciation of him, and not to praise him as a god or as Melchisedec ‘without descent’ or pedigree, it is necessary to study his masters and predecessors.

Melville’s marginal mark begins with the continuation of this paragraph at the top of the next page and continues into the next paragraph:

These, too, had a standing on the firm soil of truth; diligently, not to say anxiously, they had laid the foundation, and vied with each other in raising, step by step, the pyramid aloft, until, at last, profiting by all their labors, and enlightened by a heavenly genius, Raphael, set the last stone on the summit, above which, or even at which no one else can ever stand.
Our interest in the history of art becomes peculiarly lively when we consider the works of the old masters. Francesco Francia is a very respectful artist. Pietro Perugino, so bold a man one might almost call him a noble German fellow.

Goethe concluded this paragraph by regretting that the German painter Albrecht Dürer during his transformative visit to Italy in 1505-1507 did not venture from Venice far enough to see the new paintings that artists such as Francia, Perguino, and young Raphael were then creating in the Central Italian towns of Bologna and Perugia (Cowen 5:327-28; MMO 228, 328.1-8)

After Melville acquired his five-volume edition of Vasari’s The Lives of Eminent Painters in 1862, he had continuing access to much of what remains our foundational information about Raphael’s life and works. In Vasari’s sixty-page chapter on Raphael (which also contains considerable information about Francia, Sebastiano and others), Melville marked several passages relating to Raphael’s work at the Vatican. He was especially interested in Vasari’s account of the process by which Raphael’s graceful early style had been transformed “in grandeur and majesty” after an unauthorized visit to Michelangelo’s work in the Sistine Chapel which Michelangelo considered to be “an injury to himself.” In addition to marking and underlining Vasari’s positive account of this transformation, Melville drew a bracket and question mark next to the editor’s assertion at the foot of the page that “the manner of Raphael was rather injured than ameliorated” by the influence of Michelangelo. Below that note, Melville wrote, “Good deal of Virgil about Raphael.” He also wrote, “the inimitable imitator,” keying this phrase with an “x” to Raphael’s assimilation of Michelangelo in the middle of the page (Vasari, 3:20, 22-23). One striking example of Raphael’s assimilation of Michelangelo’s muscularity into his own style is his depiction of the convulsed, agonized human figure to which all eyes are drawn in The Death of Ananias (fig. 3).

In the copy of Hazlitt’s Criticisms on Art that Melville acquired in 1870, he marked many more passages about Raphael than the one we have examined about the Cartoons for the Vatican tapestries at Hampton Court. In the first essay in the collection, on “Mr. Angerstein’s Collection” (whose paintings were to become the nucleus of the London’s National Gallery in 1824) Melville marked Hazlitt’s extremely appreciative comments on the excellence Raphael’s portrait of Pope Julian II (“he was not too great a genius to copy what he saw”) immediately after marking the extended passage in which Hazlitt called Sebastiano del Piombo’s Raising of Lazarus “one of the best paintings on so large a scale that we are anywhere acquainted with” (8-12). In the analytical essay on “The Fine Arts,” Melville attends closely to the way Hazlitt frames his entire argument about pictorial art by contrasting Raphael “pre-eminence and perfection” in “the immediate imitation of nature” against those who, like Sir Joshua Reynolds, “advocate for the ideal system of art” (italics Hazlitt’s). Melville places three vertical lines outside Hazlitt’s declaration that “the ideal is not the preference of that which exists only in the mind to that which exists in nature, but the preference of that which is fine in nature to that which is less so” (Hazlitt’s italics, Melville’s underline; Criticisms on Art, 156, 160). As evidence that “Raphael’s expressions were taken from Italian faces,” Hazlitt offers testimony that “the women in the streets Rome seem to have walked out of his pictures in the Vatican.” Hazlitt employs his favorite word “gusto” in distinguishing Raphael’s depiction of the human figure. “In Raphael, the same divine spirit breathes through every part; it either agitates the inmost frame, or plays in gentle undulations on the trembling surface. Whether we see his figures bending with all the blandishments of material love, or standing in the motionless silence of thought, or hurried into the tumult of action, the whole is under the impulse of deep passion.” One could hardly find better language for characterizing the “gusto” with which Melville imbues the bodies of Billy Budd and Claggart in the fictional tableaus surrounding the death of Claggart (219).

Over the course of this 83-page essay Hazlitt finds no painter in the history of art who can match Raphael’s combination of pictorial and spiritual attainment. In the process, he weighs Raphael’s achievement against those many of the painters whose prints Melville collected from the major national schools: Titian, Veronese, Guido Reni, and Domenichino among the Italian; Nicolas Poussin and Claude Lorrain among the French; Rubens and Van Dyke among the Flemish; Rembrandt, Teniers, and Ruysdeal among the Dutch; Richard Wilson, Gainsborough, Wilkie, and Turner among the English. Toward the end of the essay, Melville marked several passages in which Hazlitt discussed the interior passion of the artist in relation to the exterior expectation of society. He underlined the entire passage in which Hazlitt declared that “the arts are of humble growth and station; they are the produce of labour and self-denial; they have their seat in the heart of man and in his imagination; it is there that they labour, have their triumphs there, and, unseen and unthought of, perform their ceaseless task.” One can imagine how these words would have registered with the poet who, when he acquired this book in 1870, was about to write Clarel in his spare time while working six days a week at the New York Custom House (221).

How closely Melville was reading the closing pages of the essay “On the Fine Arts” is seen by the marginal lines and underlines with which he marked Hazlitt’s generic description of the artist who “saw and felt for himself; he was of no school, but had his own world of art to create. That image of truth and beauty which existed in his mind he was forced to construct for himself, without rules or models. . . . I can conceive the work growing under his hand by slow and patient touches, approaching nearer to perfection, softened into finer grace, gaining strength from delicacy, and at least reflecting the pure image of nature on the canvas. Such is always the true progress of art; such are the necessary means by which the greatest works of any kind have been produced. They have been the effect of power gathering strength from exercise, and warmth from its own impulse—stimulated to fresh efforts by conscious success, and by the surprise and strangeness of a new world of beauty opening to the delighted imagination. The triumphs of art were victorious over the difficulties of art; the prodigies of genius, the result of that strength which had grappled with nature” (227-28; all underlines Melville’s). The close attention with which Melville was reading this passage is shown not only by the continuous marginal lines and frequent underlines but by the correction Melville made in the last sentence of the quoted text by striking the letters “rious” from the word “victorious” and adding “ries” in the margin to make “victories” (see MMO 263a, 228.1-9).

Melville acquired two books published in the 1880s that gave him more up-to-date information about Raphael than had the editorial notes in his copy of the edition of Vasari published in London in 1850-52. The 1880 second edition of Nancy Bell’s Raphael features an updated biography and critical study supplemented by 23 illustrations and a very extensive list of authenticated paintings in their current locations; it also includes an itemized list of the fifty-two Biblical subjects depicted in the Loggia (Bell 66-70). Writing as N. D’Anvers, Bell acknowledges her heavy reliance on the comprehensive two-volume study of Raphael and his work published by J. D. Passavant in Leipzig in 1839, revised in 1858, and translated into English in 1872. Bell indicates that Raphael had visited Bologna in 1506, probably “attracted by the fame of Francesco Francia, whose works were now much admired. . . . A friendship sprung up between the two great exponents of sacred art” in which "each exercised a considerable influence over the other.” Bell confirms the report that Raphael had sent his Saint Cecilia directly to Francia a decade later, requesting that he “remedy any defect in it before it should be placed in the chapel for which it had been painted”; she ignores entirely the longstanding rumor that Francia had died of mortification after seeing the superiority of Raphael’s talent to his own. Bell sees the Saint Cecilia that Raphael painted for Bologna as a turning point his career in which he “entered a new world to him, that of dreams and vision.” In this work Raphael imbues his religious feeling with a “beauty of style and harmony and richness of coloring” that “give to the whole an almost ethereal appearance, suggestive of its author having risen for a time above the earth-mists which usually cloud earthly vision.” Bell enriches her full-page reproduction of Raphael’s Saint Cecilia with a concise account of the Christian virtues represented by each of its five earthbound figures (58-59; see also MBB 2-3).

Bell’s accounts of the works Raphael painted in the Vatican during the last thirteen years of his life would also have been of considerable interest to Melville. She devotes separate chapters to the frescoes is Raphael’s Loggia and to the tapestries in the Sistine Chapel. After indicating that each of the thirteen “arcades” in the Loggia contain four of the fifty-two frescoes that emerge high over head as the viewer walks through “Raphael’s Bible” from one arcade to the next as Melville did in March 1857, she specifies the contents of each of the images in each successive arcade. The first arcade begins with “God dividing the Light from the Darkness” and the last concludes with “The Last Supper.” The second arcade, whose “Adam and Eve” caught Melville’s attention in 1857, begins with The Creation of Eve, “the moment represented being the presentation of his helpmate to Adam.” The next image is The Fall, “in which Eve is offering a fig to her husband beneath a tree with the traditional serpent with the woman’s head coiled about it.” The third image, the one that can be made out beneath the arch in Volpato’s engraving (fig. 1), is The Exit from Eden, “in which an angel with a flaming sword is driving the fallen pair before him.” The pictorial story within this second arcade concludes with The Consequence of the Fall, in which "Adam is digging, whilst Eve is spinning, with her two boys beside her, already in their attitudes and expressions showing how little was the brotherly love between them” (67). Bell’s capsule summary of the 52 images of “Raphael’s Bible” in her 1880 book would have helped Melville relive his own walk through those thirteen arcades in 1857. Her summary would also have helped him realize how many of the Biblical scenes that Raphael and his assistants had been frescoing up between the arches of the Loggia in 1518 depicted the same scenes from the Bible whose Protestant interpretations were among the 25 cut-out engravings Melville had collected from the 1728 Dutch Taferelen (Bell 66-70; CAT 25-50).

Bell’s chapter on “The Cartoons for the Tapestries1517-1518” emphasized how precarious had been the survival of both the Cartoons and the tapestries. After being woven in Belgium from the Cartoon designs, the tapestries had been successfully installed in the Sistine Chapel by 1819. After the “pillage of Rome in 1827 they were carried off as spoils of war to Lyon, where they were hidden until 1530” before Pope Leo III retrieved them in 1533. They were then exhibited once a year until they were stolen, and one of them destroyed, in 1789, ending up in the in the hands of Genoese merchants, from which they were finally “redeemed” in 1814. The Cartoons had themselves “remained neglected and forgotten” in Belgium until 1630, when England’s Charles I acquired them, after whose death Cromwell purchased them, after which they narrowly avoided sale to King Louis XIV for France by Charles, paving the way for William III to “place them in a room in Hampton Court Palace specially built for their reception by Christopher Wren,” where Melville had seen them in 1849. Bell writes in 1880 that the Cartoons had remained at Hampton Court “until a few years ago, when Queen Victoria lent them to the authorities at the South Kensington Museum, where they have become so well known and are so easily accessible to the student that a detailed description is unnecessary." Bell in her cursory summary of each tapestry notes that Raphael’s assistants had helped with several of the designs but that The Death of Ananias is “one of the finest of the cartoons, most of the heads being by the master himself” (71-75).

A collector with Melville’s travel history would have enjoyed the “Classified List of Raphael’s Paintings” that served as the appendix of Bell’s book, each title followed by its current location. The fourteen entries under “Subjects from the Bible” began with “fifty-two frescoes in the Loggie of the Vatican.” Sixteen entries under “Subjects Relating to Christ” included the ten tapestries “from the lives of the Apostles” at the Vatican and the cartoons “at the Museum at South Kensington.” Among forty-two entries under “Holy Families and Madonnas,” the Christ on the Mount of Olives Melville had seen in the company of Samuel Rogers, now in the collection of Burdett Coutts, was one of five predella listed under the Altar-piece for the Monastery of Saint Anthony at Padua, Perugia. The Saint Cecilia Melville had admired Bologna, still at the “Bologna Gallery,” was one of eighteen paintings of “Saints.” Bell’s list of ten “Studies from the Antique” included The School of Athens, the “fresco in the Stanza della Signatura” at the Vatican. Among twenty-seven portraits, those of Pope Julius X and Pope Leo II were at the Uffizi Gallery and Pitti Palace, each of which Melville had visited in 1857 (102-07).

The last major category in the “Classified List of Raphael’s Paintings” at the end of Bell’s book was her “List of Pictures Attributed to Raphael, but Considered Doubtful by Passavant,” a listing of 66 titles in five different categories. This was followed by a brief paragraph on the engravings after Raphael in major English institutions, these being so numerous and comprehensive that no individual listings were needed. The scholarly expertise behind this concise, cogent study of Raphael’s life and work heightened its value as a resource for Melville.

Melville acquired Lucy Baxter’s The Renaissance of Art in Italy in the 1883 American edition published by Scribner and Welford. This was the same New York publisher that had published Melville’s copy of Bell’s Raphael three years earlier. Charles Scribner had established his own publishing house in New York in 1850; he was one of the two publishers who in 1860 chose not to publish Melville’s first proposed book of poems, largely inspired by his recent Mediterranean travels, most of which were to appear thirty years later as “Fruit of Travel Long Ago” in Timoleon (NN PP 291-36, 438-57). In 1857 Scribner and Welford had been founded primarily to import books from overseas. In 1883 its offices were at 743 and 745 Broadway, a few steps from the Grace Church attended by members of Melville’s family. The Scribner and Welford Catalog for 1883 promised “cheap, rare, and curious second-hand books in nearly every branch of literature: vis. History, biography, travels, theology, Greek and Latin classics, and rare Cruikshankiana, etc.” The Renaissance of Art in Italy was one of many books on Italian art that Lucy Baxter, an English author resident in Florence, published for Scribner and Welford under the name Leader Scott.

Acknowledging the achievements of such erudite predecessors as Symonds, Burckhardt, Pater, and Ruskin, Baxter wishes instead to provide the general reader “a pictorial guide through the intricate mazes of the Arts during the four centuries in which they grew, developed and culminated.” After declaring her wish to provide “a clear classification of the principle masters” for readers “uninitiated in art,” supported by “authenticated facts,” she cheerfully declares that “the chief attraction of the book” are the “illustrations” which have been included through the able assistance of “Mr. Cundall, the art editor” (ix-x). Frank Cundall was the author of the book on The Landscape Painters of Holland: Ruisdael, Hobbema, Cuijp, Potter, also published by Scribner and Welford, that Melville acquired in 1891, the year he died (Sealts no. 169).

Baxter's book does present Raphael’s artistic evolution and legacy in a broad cultural context. She sees Michelangelo as the “culminating genius of the Renaissance,” but she devotes a very substantial chapter to “The Heralds of Raphael” (among whom she includes Raphael himself). The part of that chapter devoted to Raphael is abstracted in the table of contents as: “Raphael, his youth, his father’s influence—life in Perugino’s school—the peculiar characteristics of the Umbrian school—too limited for Raphael’s genius—connection with the court of Urbino—life in Rome and Florence—gradual formation of perfected style—travels and principal works—Vatican frescoes and easel pictures—his high aims and sentiment, etc.” Baxter’s presentation of Raphael’s own life and art does not add substantially to what Melville would have learned from Bell’s book; her most appreciative account of an individual painting, the Saint Cecilia in Bologna, is paraphrased almost entirely from Bell’s description. Baxter’s broad overview Renaissance culture is attentive to the ways in which writings of Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio influenced the Italian painters that followed them. She also addresses the considerable degree to which Raphael’s mind and art were expanded by his direct association with thinkers such as Bembo and Castiglione at the court of Urbino and Ariosto in Ferrara, though she does assign Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso to Bojardi and Bojardi’s Orlando Innamarato to Ariosto (Scott, xv, 47, 212, 261-77; Wallace 1997, 16-17).

Baxter and Cundall reproduced more than two hundred engraved artworks within the book’s 384 pages; these alone made this volume a valuable addition to Melville’s pictorial library. The frontispiece was a full-page engraving of Raphael’s Madonna della Casa Colona (fig. 6), very close in subject and style to the Virgin and Child Melville had seen the in collection of Samuel Rogers. This engraving is attributed to Peter Lightfoot, who also engraved the image of Watteau’s Fȇte Champȇtre that Melville acquired for his art collection (CAT 158).

crop CAT 108 fig 6 Raphael Frontispiece Scott Renaissance (1).jpg

Figure 6. Peter Lightfoot after Raphael. Madonna and Child (della Casa Colona). In Lucy Baxter, The Renaissance of Art in Italy. New York: Scribner and Welford, 1883, frontispiece.

The hundreds of engravings throughout the rest of the book are mostly unattributed, but they are generous in size and expertly reproduced. The five large engravings that supplement Baxter’s account of Raphael’s artistry would all have held Melville’s attention. The Virgin and Child known as Della casa Niccollini was from the same period as those in the frontispiece and in Rogers’s Collection. The other four engravings reproduced frescos Melville had seen during his three visits to the Vatican in March 1857. One stretching across the width of two pages depicts that the victory of Constantine’s forces over those of Maxentius on the banks of the Tiber from the eighteen-foot-wide fresco in the Sala di Constantine. Another depicts The School Athens from the Stanza della Signatura (fig. 7). Yet another depicts The Defeat of Attila from the Stanza d’Eliodoro.

crop CAT 108 fig 7 Rahpael school of athens Renaissance p 270.jpg

Figure 7. Raphael. The School of Athens from the Stanza della Signatura. In Lucy Baxter, The Renaissance of Art in Italy, 1883, p. 270.

The fourth image from the Vatican in Melville's book reproduces Raphael’s first fresco for the fifth arcade of the Loggia, God appearing to Isaac. This engraving also captures many of the Arabesques by Giovanni di Udine that profusely decorate the entire succession of arches that provide architectural support for Raphael’s Bible (fig. 8). Udine’s arabesques in bas relief and stucco employ images that he and Raphael had excavated from ancient ruins at the Baths of Titus, another way in which these artists were able to “weld into one . . . ancient and modern times” (Baxter 265, 268-69, 270, 274; Bell 66).

crop CAT 108 fig 5 God appearing to Isaac Raphael's Loggia.jpg

Figure 8. Raphael. God appearing to Isaac, and Giovanni di Udine, Arabesques, Vatican Loggia, c. 1516. In Lucy Baxter, The Renaissance of Art in Italy, 1883, p. 274.

Raphael’s design for this fresco was inspired by the passage in Genesis 26:2-5 in which God appeared to Isaac during a famine and said, “Go not down into Egypt; dwell in the land which I shall tell thee of: Sojourn in this land, and I will be with thee, and will bless thee; for unto thee, and unto thy seed, I will give all these countries, and I will perform the oath which I swore unto Abraham thy father; And I will make thy seed to multiply as the stars of heaven, and will give unto thy seed all these countries; and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; Because that Abraham obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.” In Nancy Bell’s words, as God speaks, Isaac “kneels before Him, with his wife Rebecca seated near a tree near by” (66).

In relation to Melville’s print collection, this engraving from the fresco in the Vatican is a direct successor of the engraving from the Dutch Taferelen depicting the vision of Abraham in which God does promise to “multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven” (see CAT 28). In the more immediate context of Book of Genesis, this appearance of God before Isaac directly anticipates the passage in Genesis 28 in which Jacob, son of Isaac, has the encounter with God that has come to be known as Jacob’s Dream, also known as Jacob’s Ladder, this being the subject of the first of four frescoes that Raphael designed for the sixth arcade of the Loggia (fig. 9).