Nor had I less pleasure in contemplating the personifications of the beau ideal of the ancient sculptors, exhibited in their gods and goddesses, in whose faultless faces the expression of all passion seems to have been carefully avoided. Whether this peculiarity is to be accounted for by the desire of the artist to signify the superiority of the Pagan divinities over mortals, by this absence of any trace of earthly feelings, or whether it was thought that any decided expression might deteriorate from the character of repose and beauty that marks the works of the great sculptors of antiquity, I know not, but the effect produced on my mind by the contemplation of these calm and beautiful faces, has something so soothing in it, that I can well imagine with what pleasure those engaged in the turmoils of war, or the scarcely less exciting arena of politics, in former ages, must have turned from their mundane cares to look on these personations of their fabled deities, whose tranquil beauty forms so soothing a contrast to mortal toils.
I have observed this calmness of expression in the faces of many of the most celebrated statues of antiquity, in the Aristides at Naples, I remember being struck with it, and noticing that he who was banished through the envy excited by his being styled the Just, was represented as unmoved as if the injustice of his countrymen no more affected the even tenour of his mind, than the passions of mortals disturb those of the mythological divinities of the ancients.
A long residence in Italy, and a habit of frequenting the galleries containing the finest works of art there, engender a love of sculpture and painting, that renders it not only a luxury but almost a necessary of life to pass some hours occasionally among the all but breathing marbles and glorious pictures bequeathed to posterity by the mighty artists of old. I love to pass such hours alone, or in the society of some one as partial, but more skilled in such studies than myself; and such a companion I have found in the Baron de Cailleux, an old acquaintance, and now Under-Director of the Musee, whose knowledge of the fine arts equals his love for them.
The contemplation of the chefs-d’oeuvre of the old masters begets a tender melancholy in the mind, that is not without a charm for those addicted to it. These stand the results of long lives devoted to the developement of the genius that embodied these inspirations, and left to the world the fruit of hours of toil and seclusion,—hours snatched from the tempting pleasures that cease not to court the senses, but which they who laboured for posterity resisted. The long vigils, the solitary days, the hopes and fears, the fears more frequent than the hopes, the depression of spirits, and the injustice or the indifference of contemporaries, endured by all who have ever devoted their lives to art, are present to my mind when I behold the great works of other times.