Seventeeth-Century Italian Artists
For Lucy Baxter in Melville’s copy of The Renaissance of Art in Italy, the paintings of Veronese marked the end of the Renaissance. For all his “magic” as a colorist “of many chords,” the “seeds of Decline are in him: his works are painted to please the senses, not to exalt the soul.” For Baxter, the extraordinary flowering of the Italian Renaissance that had culminated in the Venetian masterworks of Titian and Veronese near the end of the sixteenth century had been quickly followed by “a second faint arrival—a feeble echo of the first.” This “feeble echo” emanated from Bologna, where the Carracci (Lodovico, Agostino, and Annibale)—“opened a school” from which “sprang all the artists who were worthy of the name in the seventeenth century, including Domenichino, Albani, Guido Reni, Guercino.” Yet, “as this school forms no part of the Renaissance, we will leave to some future Gibbon the task of recording the Decline and Fall of Italian Art” (Baxter 361-63).
Not all nineteenth-century commentators saw such a severe separation between Italian Renaissance painters and their successors in what soon became known as the second Bolognese school. When young Melville began to learn about European painting as a newly returned sailor from the South Seas in the mid-1840s, his most influential guide was William Hazlitt, whose famous essay “On the Pleasures of Painting” was the lead essay in the copy of the American edition of Table-Talk that Melville inherited after the sudden death of his brother Gansevoort in 1846 (Sealts no. 266a). In that essay, Hazlitt declared that “my first initiation into the mysteries of art was at the Orleans Gallery. I was staggered when I saw the works there collected.” Young Hazlitt had “heard the names of Titian, Raphael, Guido, Domenichino, the Carracci—but to see them face to face, to be in the same room with their deathless productions, was like breaking some potent spell—was an effort almost of necromancy! From that time I lived in a world of pictures” (Table-Talk, 1: 13).
Hazlitt’s “first initiation” into the mysteries of art at the Orleans Gallery in London in 1798 at the age of twenty was followed five years later by his first “immersion” into those mysteries at the Louvre in Paris. There he “marched delighted through a quarter mile of the proudest efforts of the mind of man, a whole creation of genius, a universe of art. I ran the gauntlet of all the schools from the bottom to the top; and in the end got admitted to the inner room, where they were repairing some of their greatest works,” three by Domenichino and one Titian (Table-Talk, 1:13-14). In each of these accounts Hazlitt the essayist saw Titian and Raphael, from the Renaissance, and Domenichino and Guido, from the second Bolognese school, as part of a continuous tradition.
Melville was thirty years old during his “first initiation” into the mysteries of art on the visit to London in 1849 that concluded with the two visits to Samuel Rogers and his private gallery. There he was “face to face” with two of the actual paintings had “staggered” young Hazlitt fifty years earlier before Rogers acquired them from the Orleans Gallery: Titian’s Noli me Tangere (CAT 109, fig. 2) and Raphael’s Agony in the Garden (CAT 108, fig. 5). In Rogers’s private gallery as well at Hampton Court, the Dulwich Gallery, and the National Gallery, Melville saw paintings by Guido, Domenichino, and the Carracci side by side with those of Titian, Raphael, and Veronese. Melville in his journal entries, like Hazlitt in his essay, made no distinction among painters from those two “schools.”
Melville’s six-week “initiation” into the galleries of London in 1849 was followed by his three-month “immersion” into the galleries of Italy eight years later. His journal entries during five weeks in Rome and ten days in Florence remained as eclectic as those in London had been. Works by Guido, Domenichino, and the Carraccis were well represented in the galleries in Rome and Florence, and they appear as freely in Melville’s journals as those by their Renaissance predecessors. Melville’s first opportunity to immerse himself exclusively in works of the second Bolognese school came during the one full day he spent in Bologna, whose celebrated Picture Gallery (Pinacoteca) had by far the richest collection of such works in the world. In Bologna, Melville had access not only to an extraordinary collection of Bolognese painting from Francia through the Carraccis to Domenichino and Guido; he also had access to a highly astute and enthused commentary on the paintings in that collection in the copy of Valery’s Travels in Italy he had acquired in Florence the week before. Today we can monitor Melville’s response to the paintings he saw that day in Bologna in two ways: in the brief journal entry he made after visiting the Gallery and in the sustained markings he made in his copy of Valery.
As is typical of Melville’s journal entries on gallery visits in general, his mentions of individual paintings he saw in Bologna are brief and cryptic: “To the Gallery. The Madonna of the Rosary. A Circe. St. Cecilia. David Victorious. &c. To the Campo Santo.” Three of Melville’s shorthand notations refer to paintings by artists he was to acquire for his own print collection. Melville’s “The Madonna of the Rosary” is the celebrated painting by Domenichino, whose Saint Cecilia is the subject of the second catalog entry in this section (CAT 112). Melville’s “St. Cecilia” refers to Raphael’s Saint Cecilia in Ecstasy, the most famous work in the entire Bologna Gallery, which we have already discussed in our catalog entries on Francia and Raphael (CAT 106, fig. 2; MBB 2.3). Melville’s misnamed “David Victorious” is the celebrated Samson Victorious by Guido Reni, whose Beatrice Cenci is the subject of the third catalog entry in this section (CAT 113). Melville’s “A Circe” is La Maga Circe by Lorenzo Garbieri, a close follower of Ludovico Carracci in the Bolognese school (NN J 116, 499).
Those four cryptic titles in Melville’s journal entry are supplemented by thirteen check marks Melville made next to Valery’s brief, cogent comments on individual paintings by Bolognese artists in the Gallery (fig. 1). Whether Melville made these marks in the Gallery itself, during his subsequent travels in Italy, or after returning home to America, they would have served not only as a handy reminder of actual paintings he had seen, but as recognition of those paintings in this Gallery that were still seen as absolute masterworks of the Bolognese school of Italian painting centuries after their actual creation. Valery’s innate pictorial perception and evocative language enabled him to begin his discussion of nearly every painting with a clear declarative sentence that, even in translation, gave Melville a perfect introduction to the paintings themselves and the tradition they represented and had helped to create.