Here however the great Caraccis kept their school; here then was every idea of dignity and majestic beauty to be met with; and if I meet with nothing in nature near this place to excite such ideas, it is my fault, not Bologna’s.
If vain the toil,
We ought to blame the culture,—not the soil.
Wonderful indeed! yet not at all distracting is the variety of excellence that one contemplates here; such matters! and such scholars! The sweetly playful pencil of Albano, I would compare to Waller among our English poets; Domenichino to Otway, and Guido Rheni to Rowe; if such liberties might be permitted on the old notion of ut pictura poesis. But there is an idea about the world, that one ought in delicacy to declare one’s utter incapacity of understanding pictures, unless immediately of the profession.—And why so? No man protests, that he cannot read poetry, he can make no pleasure out of Milton or Shakespear, or shudder at the ingratitude of Lear’s daughters on the stage. Why then should people pretend insensibility, when divine Guercino exerts his unrivalled powers of the pathetic in the fine picture at Zampieri palace, of Hagar’s dismission into the desert with her son? While none else could have touched with such truth of expression the countenances of each; leaving him most to be pitied, perhaps, who issues the command against his will; accompanying it however with innumerable benedictions, and alleviating its severity with the softest tenderness.
He only among our poets could have planned such a picture, who penned the Eloisa, and knew the agonies of a soul struggling against unpermitted passions, and conquering from the noblest motives of faith and of obedience.
Glorious exertion of excellence! This is the first time my heart has been made really alive to the powers of this magical art. Candid Italians! let me again exclaim; they shewed us a Vandyke in the same palace, surrounded by the works of their own incomparable countrymen; and there say they, “Quasi quasi si puo circondarla[Footnote: You may almost run round her.].” You may almost run round it, was the expression. The picture was a very fine one; a single figure of the Madona, highly painted, and happily placed among those who knew, because they possessed his perfections who drew it. Were Homer alive, and acquainted with our language, he would admire that Shakespear whom Voltaire condemns. Twice in this town has Guido shewed those powers which critics have denied him: the power of grouping his figures with propriety, and distributing his light and shadow to advantage: as he has shewn it but twice, however, it is certain the connoisseurs are not very wrong, and even in those very performances one may read their justification: for Job, though surrounded by a crowd of people, has a strangely insulated look, and the sweet sufferer on the fore-ground of his Herodian cruelty seems wholly uninterested in the general distress, and occupies herself and every spectator completely and solely with her own particular grief.