Hogarth excepted, can we produce any one painter within the last fifty years, or since the humour of exhibiting began, that has treated a story imaginatively? By this we mean, upon whom his subject has so acted, that it has seemed to direct him–not to be arranged by him? Any upon whom its leading or collateral points have impressed themselves so tyrannically, that he dared not treat it otherwise, lest he should falsify a revelation? Any that has imparted to his compositions, not merely so much truth as is enough to convey a story with clearness, but that individualising property, which should keep the subject so treated distinct in feature from every other subject, however similar, and to common apprehensions almost identical; so as that we might say, this and this part could have found an appropriate place in no other picture in the world but this? Is there anything in modern art–we will not demand that it should be equal–but in any way analogous to what Titian has effected, in that wonderful bringing together of two times in the “Ariadne,” in the National Gallery? Precipitous, with his reeling Satyr rout about him, re-peopling and re-illuming suddenly the waste places, drunk with a new fury beyond the grape, Bacchus, born in fire, fire-like flings himself at the Cretan. This is the time present. With this telling of the story an artist, and no ordinary one, might remain richly proud. Guido, in his harmonious version of it, saw no further. But from the depths of the imaginative spirit Titian has recalled past time, and laid it contributory with the present to one simultaneous effect. With the desert all ringing with the mad cymbals of his followers, made lucid with the presence and new offers of a god,–as if unconscious of Bacchus, or but idly casting her eyes as upon some unconcerning pageant–her soul undistracted from Theseus–Ariadne is still pacing the solitary shore, in as much heart-silence, and in almost the same local solitude, with which she awoke at day-break to catch the forlorn last glances of the sail that bore away the Athenian.
Here are two points miraculously co-uniting; fierce society, with the feeling of solitude still absolute; noon-day revelations, with the accidents of the dull grey dawn unquenched and lingering; the present Bacchus, with the past Ariadne; two stories, with double Time; separate, and harmonising. Had the artist made the woman one shade less indifferent to the God; still more, had she expressed a rapture at his advent, where would have been the story of the mighty desolation of the heart previous? merged in the insipid accident of a flattering offer met with a welcome acceptance. The broken heart for Theseus was not lightly to be pieced up by a God.
We have before us a fine rough print, from a picture by Raphael in the Vatican. It is the Presentation of the newborn Eve to Adam by the Almighty. A fairer mother of mankind we might imagine, and a goodlier sire perhaps of men since born. But these are matters subordinate to the conception of the situation, displayed in this extraordinary production. A tolerably modern artist would have been satisfied with tempering certain raptures of connubial anticipation, with a suitable acknowledgment to the Giver of the blessing, in the countenance of the first bridegroom; something like the divided attention of the child (Adam was here a child man) between the given toy, and the mother who had just blest it with the bauble. This is the obvious, the first-sight view, the superficial. An artist of a higher grade, considering the awful presence they were in, would have taken care to subtract something from the expression of the more human passion, and to heighten the more spiritual one. This would be as much as an exhibition-goer, from the opening of Somerset House to last year’s show, has been encouraged to look for. It is obvious to hint at a lower expression, yet in a picture, that for respects of drawing and colouring, might be deemed not wholly inadmissible within these art-fostering walls, in which the raptures should be as ninety-nine, the gratitude as one, or perhaps Zero! By neither the one passion nor the other has Raphael expounded the situation of Adam. Singly upon his brow sits the absorbing sense of wonder at the created miracle. The moment is seized by the intuitive artist, perhaps not self-conscious of his art, in which neither of the conflicting emotions–a moment how abstracted–have had time to spring up, or to battle for indecorous mastery.–We have seen a landscape of a justly admired neoteric, in which he aimed at delineating a fiction, one of the most severely beautiful in antiquity–the gardens of the Hesperides. To do Mr. —- justice, he had painted a laudable orchard, with fitting seclusion, and a veritable dragon (of which a Polypheme by Poussin is somehow a fac-simile for the situation), looking over into the world shut out backwards, so that none but a “still-climbing Hercules” could hope to catch a peep at the admired Ternary of Recluses. No conventual porter could keep his keys better than this custos with the “lidless eyes.” He not only sees that none do intrude into that privacy, but, as clear as daylight, that none but Hercules aut Diabolus by any manner of means can. So far all is well. We have absolute solitude here or nowhere. Ab extra the damsels are snug enough. But here the artist’s courage seems to have failed him. He began to pity his pretty charge, and, to comfort the irksomeness, has peopled their solitude with a bevy of fair attendants, maids of honour, or ladies of the bed-chamber, according to the approved etiquette at a court of the nineteenth century; giving to the whole scene the air of a fete champetre, if we will but excuse the absence of the gentlemen. This is well, and Watteauish. But what is become of the solitary mystery–the