Page images

cannot be fixed, the harbor had retired returning power and wealth of the so far from the city which had been Roman episcopate made possible a built upon it; and the square light-house, lavishness of reparation and improvewhich then had guided the mariner to ment which left little but the name to his destination, was many centuries ago many a venerable relic of the earlier turned from ts ludicrous inutility to centuries, while deserted and declining pious uses as the bell-tower of the Ravenna had hardly the vigor even to church. At nearly twice that distance destroy; but it cannot be doubted that from the gates there is nothing but the period in question was that which the name of the magnificent church of came nearest to a total eclipse of RoSan Apollinare (in Classe) to show that man splendor, and during which the its site was once that of the suburb heretical supremacy and the barbarian where the imperial “Fleet” lay moored; invasions that were oppressing her while between it and the sea are now were building her Trans-Apennine rival four miles of black and dreary moor- into a gorgeous seat of empire. land, or of

Of all the monuments of that schis"Ravenna's immemorial wood,

matic faith and that barbaric empire, Rooted where once the Adrian wave flowed o'er."

hardly one is more impressive than this Thus, when the queenly city had lonely basilica of San Apollinare in been abandoned by her handmaid the that dismal moorland, which was once sea, her commercial greatness fled to the busy suburb of the Fleet. More upstart Venice, or was shared by Ven- than thirteen hundred years ago, the ice with Genoa and Pisa ; while, the thin, flat bricks -- as Roman in their Gothic sceptre having passed from the shape and the fashion of their putting giant arm of Theodoric to successors together as if they had not been laid by as puny as the latest Cæsars, imperial those Goths whose name imports all power and ecclesiastical primacy were that is brutal and destructive-rose into transported to the Rome which had its arcaded sides and clerestory, and its so lately lost them, or went wandering lofty circular campanile. Within, it is and divided to Saxony or Franconia, to green now with damp and mould, and Paris or Aix-la-Chapelle. But though its lower chapels swamped in water. her dominion is long ago departed No worshipper kneels before its altar ; from her, Rome herself has not to-day a sickly looking priest or two, caring for such monuments of the period from the unused utensils of church service, Constantine to the death of Justinian, a is the only living thing to be seen by space of two centuries and a half, as the visitor, except the spiritual life of Ravenna possesses in unimpaired mag- thirteen centuries ago, petrified into the nificence. Compare these dates, for ex- deathless colors that cover the great ample, of all existing works in mosaic, tribune and the spandrels of the arch up to the time last named: in Rome, before it. Here, with reverent boldat Sta. Sabina, but almost wholly de- ness, the sacerdotal artist has essayed stroyed, A. D. 425; part of the mosa- the wonderful scene of the Transfiguraics at Sta. Maria Maggiore, 432; SS. tion. From the apex of the half-dome Cosmo and Damian, 530 ; at Raven- which roofs the tribune, the hand of na, at the tomb of Galla Placidia, 440 ; the Almighty, issuing from the clouds, at San Giovanni in Fonte, 451 ; at San points to the head of Christ, in the Vitale, 547 ; at Sta. Maria in Cosmedin, centre of a great gemmed cross just 553; at San Apollinare in Classe, 567; below. Above the cross are the Greek and at San Apollinare Nuovo, 570; letters IXOYC ; near its arms the Alpha while the superiority of these to the and Omega ; and at its foot the words few Roman works is far greater in ex- Salus Mundi. Resting on clouds on tent and splendor than in mere num- either side of the cross, and pointber. Something, perhaps, of this ine- ing to it, are the figures of Moses and quality is due to the fact that the Elias, their names inserted near them in strong Roman characters. Below, on city of Ravenna of that day, in which the green earth (and how brilliantly are conspicuous the structures which and that landscape is still remain to us; opposite, that suafter these thirteen centuries, no one burb of the Fleet, with harbor and who has seen it can ever forget), the ships, which now is vanished, - ships, apostles Peter, James, and John gaze up- city, and port; both rising from the wards in the guise of sheep, surrounded round arches of the nave, which rest by flowers and rocks and pines and cy- on columns borrowed by the Gothic presses. Below the cross is the saint king from that Constantinople to which under whose invocation the church is he owed so slight an allegiance, up to dedicated, in his ancient archbishop's the windows of the clerestory ; while robes, his arms raised in the act of every space between those windows, preaching, his congregation symbolized and above them to the roof, contains its by a flock of sheep surrounding him. separate subject. Near by, upon another wall of the pres- If it is thought strange that a period bytery, the great mystery of the Atone- of Gothic domination should be comment appears under its several Hebrew memorated by such structures as these, types, the sacrifices of Abel, Melchiz- how much more marvellous is it that edek, and Abraham. Above the arch the most gorgeous work of Christian of the tribune, upon the broad wall art, though far from being the greatest which looks down the rave, are still oth- of the earlier centuries, should have er and various subjects, - archangels, been going steadily on through preciseevangelists, symbols of Christian faith ly those years when the struggle of and hope, and the cities of Bethlehem Barbarian and Byzantine for final domand Jerusalem, with processions of be- ination had burst out afresh, and was lievers, typified, as before, by flocks of raging with a fury unknown in the first sheep issuing from the open gates. invasions, and when Ravenna itself, as

Such are the themes which, in repre- well as Rome, was held alternately by sentations splendid in color and colossal the contending hosts! Yet such was in grandeur, are spread over the whole the eventful infancy of San Vitale. It surface of that altar-end of this deserted is rarely that the date of so ancient a church, which alone has preserved its work can be determined so precisely as treasures to this day. But if we enter may that of this singular structure from the silent city, its almost vacant streets the marks it bears upon itself. The offer still richer jewels to our gaze. most brilliant of all historical records in Here is that other church of the same the mosaics covering the chair and tribname (San Apollinare Nuovo), which, une, and representing the consecration yet half a century earlier, the great of the church, fix the time of that event Theodoric himself built as the metro- as nearly as may be at the year 547. politan cathedral of the Arian world, - On opposite walls stand the Emperthat church which might have been to- or Justinian and his wife Theodora, day what St. Peter's is, had Clovis, “whose vices were not incompatible instead of Alaric the Visigoth, while with devotion," attended, the former by its walls were rising, fallen upon the the consecrating archbishop St. Maxiplain of Poitiers, and the world become mian and a splendid retinue of courtiers a universal Gothic empire, and Arian and officers, the other by a train of heresy become Catholic orthodoxy. ladies from the Byzantine court, all in Not merely the extremity of this such vivid distinctness of costume and “Church of the Golden Roof,” but the feature that one does not think of walls of its nave from end to end, and questioning their likeness, while the up to the gilded ceiling itself, are cov- identity of every principal figure is esered with these pictures in stone whose tablished by the bold lettering of a name colors never fade. On one side a near it. As the disreputable actress single gigantic composition shows the turned empress and devotee died in 548, the limit for the completion of the and diversity has already been given church is fixed at once. For its com- by examples. Whatever external splenmencement this strange, Oriental-look- dor these structures may have (and ing octagon could have been suggested some of them are extremely imposing) by no other than that magnificent tem- is in spite of the simplicity of their ple which the sam Emperor had begun material ; for this, upon that great alluat Constantinople in 532, and six years vial plain, where not so much as a peblater had dedicated to the Eternal ble can be found, is almost uniformly Wisdom ; even as San Vitale itself, the broad, flat, Roman brick, an inch after two centuries and a half, sug- and a half in thickness. But the most gested to Charlemagne the ideal which distant quarries have contributed their that greater than Justinian executed in wealth to the adornment of their interithe octagon

Chapelle” that gave a ors; while these mosaics, which glitter in name to his capital and afforded him- such vast extent upon their inner walls, self a sepulchre. Nothing, therefore, whether their subjects be historical, seems so probable as that, when Beli- symbolical, or dramatic, are not merely sarius had recovered the Gothic capital inestimable studies of the costume and in 539 for his imperial master, he the whole life of the fifth century, but as should at once have begun, a votive of- works of art are immensely superior, in fering for his success, the gorgeous color, in action, in expression, and monument which eight years later was even in composition, to those of the 'completed. Rarely, in any age, have thirteenth and fourteenth centuries the arts of architecture, sculpture, and elsewhere in Italy. painting (if that may be called so which If it had been attempted to give a uses only fragments of colored stone as summary of the. attractions of this the vehicle of its expression) combined Gothic capital to a student of early to make so splendid a memorial of tri- Christian art, it would still be incomumph or devotion. Unlike as it is in plete. Overreaching in antiquity the shape to the basilica or the later final Gothic conquest, the mausoleum church, yet the analogy to the nave, built by a Roman cmpress, who had aisles, and side-chapels of the latter is also been a queen of the Goths, as her closely maintained. Above the two own sepulchre and that of an emperor tiers of circular arches, resting on su- who was her brother, and another perb monolithic columns of Grecian who was her son, is on some accounts marbles whose. capitals are cunningly of singular value. Constructed at least undercut with vine-work and reticula- before the death of Galla Placidia in tion and strange devices, bespeaking far 450, it is with a single exception, also more the vigorous play of a young and at Ravenna, the sole example remaingrowing art than the decline and cor- ing in Italy of the Memoria or funeral ruption of an old art, rises a clerestory chapels which once covered the counand a dome ; while such parts of the try like the Santons' tombs in Turkey, inner fabric as are not covered with the origin of which may be traced, if costly marbles and sculptures blaze not to Byzantium itself, to the sepulwith the profuse and varied pictures of chral cells of the Catacombs, and which the workers in mosaic, as bright and seem to have given place long ago to clear and perfect in color, as well as the mortuary chapels that were annexed design, as on the day when St. Maxi- to churches and cathedrals. Its three mian first read there the prayers of imperial tombs are, perhaps, the earliconsecration. It would be a wearisome est specimens of Byzantine sculpture task to reproduce from note-books a now remaining; the mosaics which catalogue of all the subjects that glitter cover its cupola are not only peculion the walls of San Vitale, or of any arly beautiful, but constitute, with the one of the greater churches of Raven- strict harmony of its architecture and na; a sufficient idea of their character its sculpture, what has been called by

one of the most philosophical writers their own subjects by a liberal system on Christian Art (Lord Lindsay)" by of rewards. Dio Cassius could no far the most perfect and interesting ex better express the wisdom and refineample” of the early Byzantine symbol ment of these barbarian rulers than by ism. Yet this monument, too, the sep- comparing them favorably with the ulchre of a Gothic queen and of that Greeks themselves. Accustomed, wherRoman Emperor who diverted him ever they were subject to orthodox self with cock-fights behind the walls rule, to the relentless persecution by and ditches of Ravenna while Alaric which orthodoxy was sure to vindicate was taking Rome, helps to remind one itself, no sooner did these gentle barof those barbarians under whose rule barians establish their own domination Ravenna was at its greatest. “Barba than they showed to those who had rians” the world has agreed to call “despitefully used them and persecuted them, and to name “ Gothic " what them” the new virtue of full toleration ever is base, brutal, unspiritual, and for differences of religious opinion ; so wantonly destructive. Perhaps the that during the great Theodoric's reign world's nomenclature might have been of thirty-three years it was said that no different, had the fortune of war been Italian Catholic had adopted, either other than it was with Belisarius in the from compulsion or choice, the religion East and Clovis in the West. Les vain of his monarch. Then, first and last cus, like les absens, ont toujours tort. in all the centuries from the time of Looking back these thirteen hundred Constantine almost to our day, did a years, through the false medium of a Christian government protect even the literature made by the victors, it is yet Jew from the superstitious or avarinot hard to see that these barbarians cious fury of the mob, and, by a refined had in them much of all in the world at justice which only our latest American that time that was good, that was gen- statutes have expressed, levied upon the erous, that was liberal, that protected community responsible for the outrages and promoted art, learning, jurispru- a proper compensation for the injuries dence, and religion. The Code of Jus- inflicted. What a different Europe it tinian, in which culminated twelve cen might have been, had barbarism like turies of Roman juridical learning and that controlled it for the past thousand a national life devoted in some measure to the arts of peace, is no more remark “ But surely the Goths and Vandals able monument of enlightened legisla- pillaged Rome ?” Capture Rome tion than that Visigothic code which was no doubt they did. So have British struck out by these Teutonic organ- troops in our day taken Pekin and izers, before Justinian's century, in the Delhi and Magdala, and, not long ago, ferment of incessant campaigning and Washington. But when we read how amid the daily clash of arms. Under our cousins plundered and sacked and the undisputed dominion of the East desecrated temples, and destroyed pubGoths, Saint Benedict, who was a her lic monuments, and call them Goths etic to them, was suffered to found and Vandals, we do the barbarians a on the Monte Cassino that monastery wrong. Their enemies have told their which was for centuries the very foun- story ; yet their enemies have recordtain-head of all manner of learning, and ed that Alaric protected the churches of Cassiodorus established, in his graceful Rome, and all who might take refuge retirement at Squillace from the office in them, and the consecrated vessels, of prime minister of the Gothic Em even in the fury of a capture by aspire, the first great library in Italy; sault; and that even the public edifices while the monarchs themselves invited suffered rather from the inevitable damfrom all the world whoever excelled in age of the occasion than from wanton art or science, and promoted the culti- destructiveness. Augustine compares vation of science and the arts among the moderation of the heretics with the

NO. 34.




wanton barbarity of the Romans them- although lately uncovered by excavaselves in the wars of Marius and Sylla, tion, is left by the unceasing rise of the as each party in turn gained possession land several feet below the general level. of the imperial city; and a later histo- Each of its ten sides is occupied by a rian confidently affirms that the rav- round recessed arch, of which the memages of these barbarians were less de- bers are curiously notched and fitted structive than those of Charles V., “a into each other; and around the whole Catholic prince, who styled himself runs a continuous moulding through Emperor of the Romans.” Orthodox the imposts of all the arches, which piety had already suffered the monu- brought at once to recollection a similar ments of paganism to fall to decay; and feature in the Terracina palace. But it was reserved for the Gothic Theodo- crowning the structure, as if to exhibit ric to protect by positive edict, by the to the feebler races who should come appointment of an efficient architectu- after, and who should use the name of ral commission, and the appropriation “Goth " in scorn or derision, a feat beof large annual revenues, the public yond their power to imitate, the mighty edifices, the statues, whatever was valu- architect has placed a roof which the able for antiquity or art, from the rav- resources of nineteenth-century engiages of time and the depredations of neering might be inadequate to conRoman citizens. As Rome grew rich struct; - one single block from the and great again, her own princes com- Istrian coast, forty feet in its diameter, pleted the ruin of her most glorious a rounded dome above and concave monuments, content to see their own vault within, its thickness varying from evil work charged upon the Goths who four feet at the centre to something were their betters; so that, in a stronger less at the edges, and its weight two sense than Pasquin meant it, may it be hundred tons. A mountain covered the said in Pasquin's words, “ Quod non grave of Theodoric, as a river flowed fecerunt barbari, fecere Barberini.” over that of Alaric. Equidistant about

It was pleasant to visit now, at the the side of this mass are twelve projeccentre of that imperial power of Theo- tions pierced with holes, which the dore, the fabric which the hero built for peasants of the neighborhood have his final resting-place, as if conscious called by the names of the twelve aposthat those who should come after him tles, as if they had once furnished supwould be unworthy to make his sepul- port to their statues ; but no statue chre. Beyond the noise of the then could have stood upon their downwardbusy city, in the midst of fruitful fields sloping tops. Perhaps the great archia mile without its gates, “upon the tect left them there to aid our imaginasides of the north,” as if the conqueror tion to the method by which this mass would return at least so far toward of two hundred tons was moved to its the birthplace of his nation, he built position. There, at all events, it stands, his tomb in his lifetime of massive and has stood these thirteen centuries blocks of Istrian limestone, brought and a half, as firm and level as when from beyond the sea into this land of the Gothic builder lowered it to its clay and bricks. Long ago a pious place, defying time, defying the puny fervor has expelled and scattered the assaults of modern men. Orthodos remains of the great heretic who pro- fanaticism has availed only to desecrate tected the worship of his Catholic sub- the tomb and scatter the kingly ashes jects, and the sepulchre is now a chapel No feebler force than the lightning of of the orthodox Santa Maria della heaven has rent in two parts, which Rotonda. The sole remaining example, yet remain unmoved in their places, except the mausoleum of Galla Pla- the work of that hero whose empire cidia, of the Funeral Chapels of the was at least coextensive with Charleearlier ages, it rises in two stories, an magne's, and whose glory deserves to equal-sided decagon, from a base which, be no less.

« PreviousContinue »