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ducted the Lacedemonians to victory, sounded only to guide the steps of licentiousness; she lost it when her sculpture and painting, instead of immortalizing the forms of her heroes and philosophers, and rendering her gods adorable, became the sycophants of wealth and the slaves of sensuality: then, to use the language of Pliny, not less forcible than true, the arts ceased in Greece. For from the reign of Alexander to the extinction of taste in design, and excellence in execution, not a single name is recorded worthy of being placed at the side of those that graced the era of the Grecian' republic.
In considering in the same point of view the arts which have decorated the freedom of Rome, or perpetuated the splendor of her monarchy, we have not the same information in detail which Pausanias, Plutarch, and Pliny, together with considerable remains of painting, sculpture, and architecture afford us on the arts of Greece. Unable, in the situation in which this discourse has been sketched, to refer to books, my memory does not supply me with the name of a single Roman artist, unless it be that of Fabius Pictor, the consul and general, whose taste and skill in painting appears not to have dishonoured his civic character. The names of several Grecian artists employed at Rome are on record. The book of Vitruvius, a Roman, is indeed the only one on architecture, which has survived the rage of barbarians and the decay of time. But this work is of very inferior rank both in its literature, its taste, and its science, and is not now entirely intelligible. The only edifice which has been sometimes suspected to be of his
design, the amphitheatre of Verona, has no extraordi
We find scattered through the Roman writers notices of magnificent edifices erected prior to the age of Augustus, with which the capital abounded. Porticos ornamented with statues and erected purposely for the accommodation of the people, appear to have been those which contributed most to the splendor of
Of the erection of temples, however stupendous their size or their construction, I have said little. Their object, unless (as in the Roman basilicas) it is also municipal, is not necessarily connected with any form of government.
The freest and the most despotic systems have equally endeavoured to propitiate the deity by the splendor of their adoration. Even the magnificence of the Grecian teniples and the inimi. table art displayed in the statues of their gods, serves chiefly to preserve to this day the evidence of the perfection of the arts at the time of their erection. The fine arts did not in Greece, owe their advancement to their religion, in the sense in which that word is now used. All their gods appear to have been once men; heroes in the carnage of war, or benefactors of mankind in the arts of peace. Those of the greatest an. tiquity were indeed obscured by time in a religious mist that magnified their appearance, and Jupiter had acquired powers and attributes in addition to his human weaknesses, passions, and vices, that raised him above the regions of the understanding, and surrounded him with the majesty of religious terror. But
most of the other gods were worshipped, painted and sculptured as excellent human beings, the powers of whom were exalted into divinity, and the services rewarded by immortality.
Very few and obscure remains, if any, of temples erected in the time of the republic of Rome, record the state of the arts at that period. But to prove from the example of Rome, that the cultivation of the fine arts is by no means incompatible with republican institutions, it is sufficient to know, that they were actually the means of re:varding military and civil merit, and of perpetuating the memory of national transactions, in those times in which the liberty of the Romans is most vaunted. Of the nature of that liberty, and of the character of that people--not as described by their elegant historians and orators, but as exhibited in their conquests, in the use and treatment of their slaves, in their ferocious and bloody amusements, in their brutal enjoyment of the tortures of wild animals tearing each other to pieces, and of gladiators convulsed in the agonies of a dishonorable death, in the attendance of matrons and virgins upon these scenes of horror and crime-nor of their tame submission to the proscriptions of the triumvirs, scenes scarcely equalled, and not surpassed by those of the French revolution, nor of the ease and security in which Tiberius and Nero rioted in blood over the warm corpse of the republic scarcely extinct-of all this, it is not my intention or my business to speak. I merely hint at it, because among the Roman writers, from Cicero downwards, many passages are found, which throw upon the fine arts, introduced more generally into Italy after the conquest and pillage of Corinth
by Mummius, the blame of manners softened and corrupted by Greek refinement. Alas! their effect in softening the manners of these polished savages was scarcely perceptible. The prostitution of the arts to gratify vices, in the introduction of which they had no share whatsoever, is too certain. Could that love of truth, that persevering labour, that constant pressing forward of all the faculties of the man towards excellence, that occupation of the whole mind and body by the application and study for which the life of an artist is too short, that contempt of any reward compared with the meed of praise, without which no great artist was ever formed, have prevailed by example, then would cruelty and blood have ceased to be exclusively a Roman amusement.
To refute these calumnies against the arts, it would be sufficient to state what is undeniable, that the buildings and sculpture of the Romans, which are nearest in point of time to the days of the republic, are those of the best taste in design, and of the most exquisite workmanship. For as the monuments of Roman art, during the reigns of the emperors, grow into colossal size and expense, they dwindle into absurdity in the style of their decorations, and the imperfection of their execution, until we arrive at the triumphal arch of the mighty Constantine, a crouded patchwork of parts, pillaged from the trophies of former conquerors, a mixture of the good sculpture of former times, and of the coarsest imitations of his own age.
Respecting these gigantic buildings there is a fact lyhich proves, that even the delusion of a popular
government, after it has ceased to exist in reality, is favourable to the promotion of the fine arts. Many of the most splendid of them are monuments erected to the memory of the departed liberty of the people. The largest edifice in the world, erected for the purpose of public amusement, is the Colloseum of Vespasian. In this amphitheatre the Roman people could enjoy their ferocious entertainments at their case, to the number of more than fifty thousand at once. The theatre of Marcellus is also an enormous pile. The magnificent remains of public baths prove the importance attached to the semblance of popular rights, and the indulgence of popular pleasures, even by the most tyrannical emperors. But when we consider the fifteen or sixteen aqueducts, which once supplied Rome, and of which some still supply the city with water, and others constructed and remaining over the whole empire, all of which were erected and decorated by the best skill of the age, the strict connexion of the interests and enjoyments of the people, and of the cultivation of the arts of design is still more illustrated.
It would be easy to extend the historical evidence, to this point, through more modern times; and to show that the era of the revival of the fine arts, was that of an active republican spirit, and of a very considerable degree of political freedom, which existed in the small commercial communities of Italy. Of this truth, the history of Florence under the merchants, the Medicis, furnishes very prominent evidence.
I have, however, I fear, dwelt on this part of my subject to the fatigue of your patience: but if a con