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The Marbles Of Aegina
by [?]

I cannot dwell on the general aspects of this subject further, but I would remark that in art also the religion of Apollo was a sanction of, and an encouragement towards the true valuation of humanity, in its sanity, its proportion, its knowledge of itself. Following after this, Greek art attained, in its reproductions of human form, not merely to the profound expression of the highest indwelling spirit of human intelligence, but to the expression also of the great human passions, of the powerful movements as well as of the calm and peaceful order of the soul, as finding in the affections of the body a language, the elements of which the artist might analyse, and then combine, order, and recompose. In relation to music, to art, to all those matters over which the Muses preside, Apollo, as distinct from Hermes, seems to be the representative and patron of what I may call reasonable music, of a great intelligence at work in art, of beauty attained through the conscious realisation of ideas. They were the cities of the Dorian affinity which early brought to perfection that most characteristic of Greek institutions, the sacred dance, with the whole gymnastic system which was its natural accompaniment. And it was the familiar spectacle of that living sculpture which developed, perhaps, beyond everything else in the Greek mind, at its best, a sense of the beauty and significance of the human form.

Into that bewildered, dazzling world of minute and dainty handicraft–the chamber of Paris, the house of Alcinous–in which the form of man alone had no adequate place, and as yet, properly, was not, this Dorian, European, Apolline influence introduced the intelligent and spiritual human presence, and gave it its true value, a value consistently maintained to the end of Greek art, by a steady hold upon and preoccupation with the inward harmony and system of human personality.

In the works of the Asiatic tradition–the marbles of Nineveh, for instance–and, so far as we can see, in the early Greek art, which derives from it, as, for example, in the archaic remains from Cyprus, the form of man is inadequate, and below the measure of perfection attained there in the representation of the lower forms of life; just as in the little reflective art of Japan, so lovely in its reproduction of flower or bird, the human form alone comes almost as a caricature, or is at least untouched by any higher ideal. To that Asiatic tradition, then, with its perfect craftsmanship, its consummate skill in design, its power of hand, the Dorian, the European, the true Hellenic influence brought a revelation of the soul and body of man.

And we come at last in the marbles of Aegina to a monument, which bears upon it the full expression of this humanism,–to a work, in which the presence of man, realised with complete mastery of hand, and with clear apprehension of how he actually is and moves and looks, is touched with the freshest sense of that new-found, inward value; the energy of worthy passions purifying, the light of his reason shining through, bodily forms and motions, solemnised, attractive, pathetic. We have reached an extant work, real and visible, of an importance out of all proportion to anything actually remaining of earlier art, and justifying, by its direct interest and charm, our long prelude on the beginnings of Greek sculpture, while there was still almost nothing actually to see.

These fifteen figures of Parian marble, of about two-thirds the size of life, forming, with some deficiencies, the east and west gables of a temple of Athene, the ruins of which still stand on a hill-side by the sea-shore, in a remote part of the island of Aegina, were discovered in the year 1811, and having been purchased by the Crown Prince, afterwards King Louis I., of Bavaria, are now the great ornament of the Glyptothek, or Museum of Sculpture, at Munich. The group in each gable consisted of eleven figures; and of the fifteen larger figures discovered, five belong to the eastern, ten to the western gable, so that the western gable is complete with the exception of one figure, which should stand in the place to which, as the groups are arranged at Munich, the beautiful figure, bending down towards the fallen leader, has been actually transferred from the eastern gable; certain fragments showing that the lost figure corresponded essentially to this, which has therefore been removed hither from its place in the less complete group to which it properly belongs. For there are two legitimate views or motives in the restoration of ancient sculpture, the antiquarian and the aesthetic, as they may be termed respectively; the former limiting itself to the bare presentation of what actually remains of the ancient work, braving all shock to living eyes from the mutilated nose or chin; while the latter, the aesthetic method, requires that, with the least possible addition or interference, by the most skilful living hand procurable, the object shall be made to please, or at least content the living eye seeking enjoyment and not a bare fact of science, in the spectacle of ancient art. This latter way of restoration,–the aesthetic way,–followed by the famous connoisseurs of the Renaissance, has been followed here; and the visitor to Munich actually sees the marbles of Aegina, as restored after a model by the tasteful hand of Thorwaldsen.