A Visit to the Sistine Chapel.
Deep love lieth under
These pictures of time;
They fade in the light of
Their meaning sublime.
[Illustration: ST. PETER’S AND CASTLE OF ST. ANGELO, ROME.]
They first passed into the great Cathedral in order to give a look at that most beautiful of all Michael Angelo’s sculptures—Mary holding on her knees her dead Son. Barbara and Bettina had studied it on a former visit to St. Peter’s when Mr. Sumner was not with them. Now he asked them to note the evident weight of the dead Christ,—with every muscle relaxed,—a triumph of the sculptor’s art; and, especially, the impersonal face of the mother; a face that is simply the embodiment of her feeling, and wholly apart from the ordinary human!
“This is a special characteristic of Michael Angelo’s faces,” he said, “and denotes the high order of his thought. In it, he approached more closely the conceptions of the ancient Greek masters than has any other modern artist—and now we will go to the Sistine Chapel,” he added, after a little time.
They went out to the Vatican entrance, passed the almost historic Swiss Guards, and climbed the stairs with quite the emotion that they were about to visit some sacred shrine, so much had they read and so deeply had they thought about the frescoes they were about to see.
For some time after they entered the Chapel Mr. Sumner said nothing. The custodian, according to custom, provided them with mirrors; and each one passed slowly along beneath the world-famous ceiling paintings, catching the reflection of fragment after fragment, figure after figure. Soon the mirrors were cast aside, and the opera-glasses Mr. Sumner had advised them to bring were brought into use,—they were no longer content to study simply a reflected image.
At last necks and eyes grew tired, and when Mr. Sumner saw this, he asked all to sit for a time on one of the benches, in a corner apart from others who were there.
“I know just how you feel,” he said. “You are disappointed. The frescoes are so far above our heads; their colors are dull; they are disfigured by seams; there are so many subjects that you are confused and weary. You are already striving to retain their interest and importance by connecting them with the personality of their creator, and are imagining Michael Angelo swung up there underneath the vault, above his scaffoldings, laboring by day and by night during four years. You are beginning in the wrong place to rightly comprehend the work.