American Egyptomania Search


Gerome: Introductory and Critical

Gerome: A Collection of the Works of J.L. Gerome in One Hundred Photgravures. Multiple Volumes. New York: Samuel L. Hall, 1881.


Browse scholarship by topic:

Art & Architecture
History
Literature
Religion
Science

INTRODUCTORY AND CRITICAL.

So does France continue to enrich it. The lucidity, the clearness of intent oh and expression, characteristic of the French mind, makes this nation unrivalled in presenting a statement within narrow bounds, wherein any distracting feature is eliminated, and serves them at once in constructing either a drama or a picture, both expressed in terms of unmixed poetry. It is indifferent whether this drama is history or pure invention. Gerome tries either impartially, still dwelling on the poetic thread that goes through the theme. It was for French art, continuing the vein which may turn to ballad or to epic with the dignity of the topic, to adopt the splendid subject of " Octavia Fainting at the Reading of Marcellus' Elegy by Virgil," an incident before unthought of by art, and so treated as to bring a rare and difficult tear into Roman history. Virgil in the Brussels painting by Ingres, pronounces the " Tu Marcellus Eris;" Octavia listens, about to swoon; Maecenas hears with a scholar's grief and Augustus drinks darkly the praise of his race, chanted from a tomb. This treatment of history is purest song.

But Gerome rises from elegy and from ballad into unequalled tragedy. There are teeth and talons in his grip of a subject. One day he chooses to make us pity the gladiators. Educated in brutality, deprived of noble culture on system, carefully schooled to be wild animals,' chosen from the ergastulan of a venal master, they know but one nobility, a brave death; just before their fate—a majestic outburst thrown before from the grave—this dignity finds a cry: "Hail, Emperor, those about to die salute thee!" Vitellius, bridling and content, withdraws himself into his creases of fat, and leans on a flabby wrist to hear the homage. It is the work, I think, of a great tragic poet to select for this corrupt horde, whom we are accustomed to respect only physically, their one great opportunity, in which we can respect them for their instant of magnanimity. The appeal of whole worlds of oppressed classes rings in their shout, with its perfection of unselfishness. It is too long a story this subject: how his lines of architecture, his peak of a gigantic awning overhead, affect and still the mind with a breathless sense of majesty, to tell what a thing of beauty the artist makes out of his treatment of like the grandest scenery of mountains. Again, the painter wills that we shall consider the Vestals. Rome invents religious celibacy, a summit of purity never imagined by Greece; but in perfecting this chaste ideal, her votaresses are Romans still. As the beautiful youth in the arena is



Page 4