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OF PICTURES AND PUBLIC MONUMENTS IN OUR SACRED
EDIFICES, AND OF A NATIONAL TEMPLE OF HONOUR.
That the art of painting is eminently capable of being employed for the purposes of the highest and most solemn instruction is a position which cannot need to be maintained by argument. That all its greatest masters have actually so employed it is equally within the knowledge of every one who has visited a collection of pictures. And he must be richly endowed indeed with mental gifts who can imagine a more impressive, more complete, or more lucid commentary upon the life, the miracles, and the teachings of Christ, our Saviour, than that which would be afforded by a selection of the master-pieces of the art, could they be collected into one locality. Whence then does it happen that the propriety of admitting pictures into our churches is, in England, matter of discussion?
It can only be accounted for by referring it to the partial continuance of that undue and excessive zeal against everything connected, or supposed to be connected, with the Roman Catholic faith, which so naturally characterized the bitter although glorious strife of the Reformation. The detestation which was then conceived
for “ the scandall of images and idols,”* soon grew into a superstitious and indiscriminate dislike of the productions of plastic art, and one abuse was but exchanged for another.
It will scarcely be pretended that the depiction of sacred subjects on the walls of our churches would now
• Stowe's Annals.- The check which painting and sculpture experienced at the Reformation is one of the most interesting circumstances in the history of the arts in England. At its commencement many efforts were made to separate the true uses of sacred art in churches, from “the pious frauds," as they were called, which had grown up in connexion with the “ relicks and images.” But in the reign of Edward VI. iconoclastic fury had its full course. A statute (passed in 1549) enacted, that all persons baving in custody“ any images of stone, timber, alabaster, or eartb, graven, carved, or painted, which heretofore have been taken out of any church or chapel, or yet stand in any church or chapel,” shall cause them to be defaced and destroyed, on pain of fine and imprisonment. And six years afterwards (1 Eliz.) we have an “injunction given by the Queene's Majestie, as well to the clergy as to the laitie of this realme,"_" that they shall take awaye, utterly extyncte, and destroy all shrynes, coverynge of sbrynes, all tables, candlestykes, &c. -pictures, payntinges, and all other monuments of fayned miracles and su. perstycion, so that there remaine no memorie of the saine, ...
.. And that no persons kepe in their houses any abused images, pictures, payntinges," &c. &c. A canon of the convocation of 13 Eliz, adds a most efficient instrument for carrying this injunction into full effect, by enacting that “tbe walls of the churches be new-whited." These various lessons of destruction at last led to such excesses, that thirty years after the convocationi. e. in 44 Eliz.-a proclamation was found necessary, setting forth that " whereas many violent persons have of late gone about to deface the walls and glass windows of churches; and in their violence have pulled down tombs and monuments of noblemen and gentlemen deceased . . . therefore a strict commandment is given, that all men forbear to break the pictures set upon tombs or graves, and the pictures or portraitures of the noblemen, &c. without the advice of the ordinary, or the advice of the Queene's Majesty, or ber council.”—In the King v. Sherfield, (1632,) it was said by a witness, “I undertake there are some spirits now, that if they had been alive in Solomon's time, would have gone nigb to have done violence to the cherubims: God knows what would have become of them !”-STATE TRIALS: Proceedings against Henry Sherfield, Esquire, for breaking a painted church-window. 8. Car. 1.--1632.
Wbat wonder if the arts sunk beneath such persecution ?
involve any danger of encouraging superstition, unless there were some gross neglect as to the nature of the subjects chosen for representation. On the other hand, a judicious use of this means of instruction might often in some degree supply those deficiences in the other means, of which there will always be examples in so large a community. How impressively would the dangers of entire absorption in the riches and enjoyments of this life be enforced by the parable of Dives and Lazarus, placed vividly before the eye, by the hand of a master—or the sin of covetousness and hypocrisy in the punishment of Ananias—and of Elymas,_already traced by the mighty hand of Raffaelle.
These should be as books always open to put the people “in remembrance of those sayntes, of whom they may learne exaumples of fayth, humilitie, charitie, pacience, temperance, and of all other theyr vyrtues and gyftes of God.
“ As for an example, the image of Our Saviour hangeth on the crosse in the roode, or is paynted on clothes, walles, or wyndowes, as an open boke, to the intent that besydes the exaumples of vyrtues which we may learne of Chryste, we may be also many wayes provoked to remember his paynefull and cruell passion, and also to consyder ourselves when we behold the same image, and to condemne, and abhorre our synne, which was the cause of his so cruell deathe."*
In truth, there is in the construction and entire
appearance of our churches, of recent erection, far too much provision for the careful accommodation of the bodies of the worshippers, and far too little for the visible honour and reverence of the Deity. If a visitant from another
• A necessary Doctrine and Erudition for any Christen Man.-Lond. 1543.
planet could enter many of our places of worship (and especially our fashionable chapels) he might well—casting his eyes on the pewings, and the carpetings, and the luxurious cushions, and the careful separation of ranks, mistake them for temples erected for the deification of self, rather than for the worship and honour of God.
Most true it is that God must be worshipped in spirit and in truth; but it is not the less our duty to add to these the outward and visible signs of an inward and spiritual veneration. And for such a purpose the plastic arts may be most fitly and usefully employed.
I rejoice to think that there is a growing feeling in favour of this view of the question, and that some of the most estimable dignitaries of our church have declared
themselves disposed to make some exertions to remove Opinion of the reproach which has so long attached to us. It was the Arch- stated in evidence before the Committee on Arts (session bishop of Canter 1836,) that his Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury, bury.
when Bishop of London, accorded to the British Institution, an express permission to send an altar-piece to any church within his jurisdiction. Very little, however, has yet been accomplished.
But just in proportion as the plastic arts are eminently adapted to arouse the attention and impress the mind, and may therefore be appropriately employed in our sacred edifices, it is the more important that they should be so employed under judicious restrictions. “Those representations alone, which serve forcibly to imprint on our minds the mercy and goodness of our Creator, the benevolent merits of our Redeemer, the duties of christian love, or the hopes of christian immortality, are the objects of art in such places.”*
Epochs of the Arts, by Prince Hoare, Part III., Chap. ii.-8vo. Lond. 1813.
Painting is so little employed in our churches, that there are probably very few, if any, instances of its serious misapplication. But is it possible to say so much with respect to sculpture?
If the monumental sculptures which are admitted into of monuour cathedrals and churches ought to be regulated by
sculptures the rule which has been laid down, the answer must be in churches distinctly negative. What have the aspirations of mere human glory, and the breathings of ferocious warfare, in common with the mercy of God or the merits of Christ?
Wherein do they illustrate the duties of christian love, or the hopes of christian immortality? What have the figures of Mars and Bellona, or the allegorical representations of victory and of fame to do with those feelings of humble and contrite devotion with which a christian man should enter the temple of his God?
Surely the sculptured monuments in a Christian church should, above all things, be simple and unpretending. They should be memorials of the departed as frail and sinful beings humbly looking for the immortality of a life to come, and not as the creatures of a day full of vanity, and pretension, and pomp. But our sepulchral monuments have sadly departed from their primitive simplicity. There was a time when the most powerful hands that ever wielded sceptre were represented, when life had departed, calmly and piously crossed on the breast of the recumbent monarch, with no emblems, save the symbol of our Christian faith;--when the haughtiest knight that ever couched lance was represented on his tomb in the humble attitude of supplication, as if verily in the presence of his Creator.
But if monuments simply sepulchral have so greatly departed from their" proper characteristics—that, if the faith of the deceased were to be inferred from them, it might sometimes be imagined pagan, and not christianwhat shall we say of monuments expressly elevated to