Faith the Life of Art, by Cesare Cantu

bronze processional cross at the Church of the Transfiguration at the Community of Jesus, Orleans, Massachusetts, artist unknown; photographed on 27 August 2015 by Karemin1094; swiped from Wikimedia CommonsThere is in man the memory of a perfection with which he was sent forth from the hands of his Creator; and, sick of the tameness, coarseness, and unseemliness which surround him, he feels a craving to fashion himself after a picture of his imagination conformable to the idea he possesses of the beautiful – a type which combines the first and last excellence of being; which it is his to enjoy, since he has a conception of it, and to which he ought to be able to arrive, since he aspires towards it. Thus from remembrance and the feeling of a hereafter is born poetry; is born art: the realization of the ideal under sensible forms, wherein intellectual beauty takes precedence over the physical beauty of nature. Both speak a language which lifts us up to the absolute beauty – God; of whom creation is an image and symbol. And, moreover, religion discloses an ideal world which is not contained under external phenomena.

Man in his fallen state built a wretched hut or scooped out a cave, wherein to shelter his wife and little ones; but, when he wished to give worship to the Deity, he erected an altar and decked it with festoons: he roofed it in, and strengthened it with beams, which he hastened to adorn, forming cupola, shaft, and capital. History bears witness that the fine arts were born in the temple, not in the hut of Vitruvius; that they owe their origin to the aspiration of a faith, not to the mere fulfilment of a want.

The temple wherein is offered the perpetual sacrifice of the victim of expiation is a visible profession of faith. The most grand and characteristic expression of the architecture is displayed in the imitation which man fabricates of that temple of the universe which was built by the hands of God. And as its solidity typifies the duration which every one attributes to true religion, so it outlives the hands which raised it up. How much of what antiquity has bequeathed us consists of temples, such as the pile of Salsetta, the pagodas of Coromandel and Ellora, the Propylæi, the colossi of granite and porphyry, the obelisks and pyramids of Egypt – for sepulchres are religious – and the shrines which were discovered in the millennial forests of America. This great Rome, the capital of the universe, was a city of fanes and altars, when Horace reproached it, as a cause of its decay, with having neglected the worship of the gods. The more fully the idea of a religion is capable of adapting to itself the forms of the organic world, the more artistic will that religion become. The symbol, which is an outward and material exposition of an idea, and the mystic representation of the divine essence, by means of external objects to which it is linked by ties that are arbitrary and remote analogies, ill accords with the beauty which is the representation of a specific idea to which it corresponds.

Among the Hindoos, the Egyptians, and the Hebrews, the beauty of form gave place to the requirements of the emblem. Thus art stood still, being forced to reproduce fixed types; its object was not to copy nature, but to inscribe ideas. The three-eyed Siva, the four-headed Brama, the elephant-headed Ganesa, the hundred-armed giants and hundred-breasted goddesses, can scarcely be called beautiful. In the religion of the Greeks, where the life of the deity was confused with the natural, and found its perfection in man, art holds the first place. The symbol vanished before the beautiful ideal, which was wrought after a rational measurement. They cut down those colossi of other peoples to the due proportions, and shaped their monstrous divinities into a human likeness. Extricating themselves from hieroglyphics, the choice of expression and attitude was left to the inspired imagination.

Corruption, ever widening since sin first broke the harmony between the intellect, the will, and the power of action, created a heaven of false gods, differing in form and in worship, and filled the earth with their temples. This variety favored art, and to it we owe those wonders of the Parthenon, the temple of Theseus, Pallas Athene, Olympian Zeus, the Didimeon. And though antiquity has handed down to us very few paintings, the greatest part of the statues which enrich the museums are those of the gods. Surely Phidias much have believed in “Zeus thundering in heaven” when he wrought that statue before which Greece was struck with wonder. Hence with reason did Emericus David say that archæology might be defined as the recognition of religion in its connection with art.

Though the form grew more refined, the idea hidden beneath it grew more and more corrupt, until it became a worship of force, animate and animating, which had turned its back upon the Author of being, and wasted that spiritual breath which is the soul of the statue. Art materialized, like science, like life itself, called down the mercy of an unknown God to appease offended justice.

In the fullness of time, humanity was lifted up from its lowliness by God taking it to himself. Faith grew clear; hope, strong; charity lived again. Christendom became civilized even by means of its worship, when art and poetry united in rousing it to faith and enthusiasm. No longer, as in a religion that allured the senses, did art debase itself by flattering the passions and fanning the instincts; its aim now was to curb and purify them; not to multiply the enjoyments of the fortunate, but to comfort the unhappy; to lift up to heaven eyes weighed down by suffering, or dazzled by wealth, or wavering with doubt; to point out that sublime eternity which hides itself under seeming dissolution or waning beauty; to turn mind and action to that after-life wherein alone the present finds its significance.

This regeneration of art began in the Catacombs, where the persecuted children of Christ expressed, somewhat rudely perhaps, their dogmas and their hopes; the exploits of the martyrs, whose agony of shame and death they prepared themselves to imitate. There the vermilion with which they painted the throne of God triumphant signified “new conquests, and glory won after still greater trials.”

When from darkness it was able to step forth into the light of day, art, restored to the temple of its birth, set the feeling which produced above the mere beauty of the production. It lost in harmony, but gained in expression, in lifting up human nature even to the type of moral perfection, to the supreme ideal – God made man.

Then from every side, whatsoever had life came in answer to the call to play its part in the grand drama of Christianity. And art, aiming not merely at the beautiful, but at the true and the good, united with the whole of civilization in expressing that aspiration after perfection whose desire is never-failing but ever unfulfilled.

In the earliest artistic records which have reached us from the Catacombs, such as mosaics, miniature paintings, and certain pieces of sculpture, the idea is set above the form. There is a celestial purity in them, as though, producing the beautiful instinctively, they cared not to portray an enticing elegance of the members, the force and posture of outward life, but rather the expression of the soul, holiness of thought and deed, and

“That sweet light
Pointing the road which leads to heaven’s height.”

Hence certain images of the saints and of Mary, rude in shape and coloring, have won the veneration of the people, and inspired that calm content which comes from God and lifts to God.

A bolder fancy produced the edifices, constructed at first on the style of the basilicas, and then modified into that order of architecture which from its planes or arches was called Roman or Lombard, and finally Gothic.

He who can only admire the Greek and the Roman styles finds in the Gothic merely ignorance of caprice; with its shafts tapering aloft in slender grace, or short and heavy, or in clusters; its capitals where the crude cabbage-leaf creeps in side by side with the graceful acanthus; its members incoherent, and made out of proportion; a crowd of small obelisks and tabernacles, buttresses and enormous water-spouts; bracketed statues and windows of a dizzy height, sometimes parted into two, sometimes curved into a rose or twisted into a trefoil; and its figures of uneducated fancy, an eyesore to the lover of classic harmony.

But in its variety reigns a system far above the order of the Greeks; derived in part from the basilicas, in part from mystic allegory. Its ornaments are the productions of our climate, the strawberry, the parsley, the fig, the oak-tree; as the Arab uses his palm, the Chinese his inverted coral. Its forms are symbolic. The number three regulates even those portions of the structure which are secondary. On the plan of a cross rises the triangulation of the edifice; and a hundred obelisks, lifted up equally to heaven, express the concordant homage of love and of faith. In its dedication everything was allegoric of the origin of true worship; of the mystic destiny of the church; of the fact that it is not a building of stones but a living edifice, whose corner-stone is Christ, whose members are the faithful, whose space is filled by God, like the universe of which it is an image.

In this association of the real with the symbolic world, of the fitness of parts in themselves foreign with the united expression of Christianity, the middle ages produced what those of Leo X, of Louis XIV, of Napoleon, could not produce: they created a novelty. Architecture was sacred as in its opening, and those wonders of a beauty most sublime and spiritual were not wrought at the decrees of princes, but at the inspiration of faith and charity.

The Gothic made its first grand essay in the holy time of Saint Francis of Assisi, and this became the chosen order of the Franciscans, as the Basilican was of the Benedictines, and the mixed architecture of a later date of the Jesuits. Saint Francis and his children, with that greatness which inheres in simplicity, accompanied by an ascetic spirit, came to imitate nature and true men rather than to copy types or antique art. But in those days, the whole of society was animated by faith, and built upon the dogma of the expiation. The laical body was in harmony with the ecclesiastical; prayer mingled with warlike exploits; the home was at peace with the church; the banner bore the same device as the altar. The plastic art, side by side with poetry, penetrated every turn of life. Religion was the universal and, as it were, only inspirer of the artist. Theophilus dedicated his “Lombard Tract” to holy pictures, missals, vases, the window-panes of the church, and, step by step, he elevated the mind of the artist to the God from whom art emanates. The artistic confraternity proposed in their constitutions the purity and independence of art. That of the Siennese painters, of 1355, said: “By the grace of God, we are to rude men, who know not letters, manifestors of the miraculous things worked by the virtue and in the virtue of the holy faith, and our faith is founded principally in adoring and believing one God in the Trinity, and in God infinite power and infinite wisdom, and infinite love and mercy.” In a like sense says Bufalmacca: “We aim at naught else than to make saints by our frescoes and pictures, and by so doing, in spite of the devils, to make men more devout and better.” Philarete designed a city on the conception of the “Nisi Dominus Ædificaverit,” wherein the church founded on the cross should be superior to the palace of the prince, rich with pictures, religious, symbolic, allegorical, and historic. There was a portico devoted to sacred history; close by were memorial monuments of heroic Christians, namely, the churches of Saint Francis, Saint Dominic, Saint Augustine, Saint Benedict. There was a gymnasium wherein to educate the youth, chiefly with prayer, fasting, and the holy sacraments. Without the fortifications, the city had an advanced guard, to wit, holy hermits, who should watch it with the mightiest of arms – prayer. And Brunelleschi said of Santa Maria del Fiore: “Recollecting that this temple is sacred to God and the Virgin, I trust that in erecting it in memory of them it will not cease to infuse knowledge where there is need of it, and to aid by power and wisdom and wit whoever shall accomplish such work.” In like manner, Giovanni Villani inscribed his Chronicles “to the reverence of God and of Blessed Saint John, in commendation of our city of Florence.” How often has the painter given us his own portrait on his knees, or with some verse recommended himself to God and the saints! Beneath a picture in the Venetian gallery we read:

“Gentile Bellino, with filial love of the most holy cross, painted this.”

And beneath another picture of Gian Bellino:

“Sure Gate of Heaven, lead my mind, guide my life:
All the works which I perform are committed to thy care.”

We may perceive a like inspiration in Giotto, Mino da Fiesole, Benedetto da Majano, Boninsegna da Siena, Simon Memmi, L’Orgagna, the Pisani, Franco Bolognese, and other spiritual artists, who attained a perfection to which the moderns in vain aspire. On the tomb of Blessed Angelico was written:

“Let me not be honored because I was a second Apelles,
But because I distributed all my gains among thy poor, O Christ!”

I leave it to others to decide with what justice that period styled itself the Renaissance when men passed from originality to an imitation of the classic schools – not by divining and catching their inspiration, but by following in their footsteps. And so we find in passing from Dante to Polizanio and Sannazzaro, from Giotto to Dello, the metamorphoses of Ovid accomplished! In this study of the classics, what they gained in form they lost in conception. The Medici mixed up portraits with Venuses and Pallases, mythological subjects with scenes drawn from nature. Lorenzo the Magnificent caused Pollajolo to represent the strong limbs of Hercules, Signorelli to paint nude divinities, and public beauties were taken as the models of saints. At such profanation, Fra Girolamo Savonarola was struck with grief and horror; and, as well to mend manners as to disinfect literature, he sought to regenerate art by restoring it to the bosom of God.

The spirit that he inspired outlived his funeral pyre: and Luca della Robbia, Lorenzo di Credi, Verocchio, Cronaca, Baccio della Porta, painted from chaste images and devout subjects. Ghirlandajo, Pinturicchio, the renowned Masaccio, held faith in the religious mission of art, as did that Umbrian school which spake to the heart rather than the senses, beneath the wing of the neighboring Assisi. From Gentile di Fabriano came Perugino and Raphael, and the first Venetians, among whom it is no longer a scandal to say that Gentile Bellino was not inferior to Titian.

Raphael has been called the most marvellous union of all the qualities which make the others severally great: design, color, power of chiaroscuro, perspective effect, imagination, style; above all, expression, and that grace which is the beautiful of beauties. Not only were his first essays, when still a faithful disciple of the Umbrian school, works of faith; but also those which he wrought in his zenith, such as the Attila, Heliodorus, and the miracle of Bolsena. His delight was in symbolic subjects, theology, jurisprudence, philosophy, poetry, representing ideas in his figures. When he preferred to follow his imagination and models to tradition, he strayed away, as in the commissions of Chigi, and the beautiful story of Psyche; but later on, when he fled from Rome, he turned himself to the grand Transfiguration, from the midst of which he passed to behold it in heaven.

And Michael Angelo? Others have been loud in their praises of the strength of his joints, the relief and play of his muscles, the foreshortening, the anatomic fidelity, the expression diffused through the whole person; but I can never cease wondering how in the Sistine Chapel he has portrayed the two extreme points of the life of the human race – the creation and the last judgment; and that indefinable of melancholy and veneration in the Moses which sought no model and has found no rival. It is natural; for, from the Bible, the Divine Comedy, and ascetic meditation, he drank in the inspiration wherewith to ennoble human nature.

Their school passed away in the conceits of the licentious age which came after – in the figures caught in the very act of standing to be copied; in flimsy drapery, substituted for the old garments majestically simple; the infinity of shallow conceptions, frivolous allegories, and wanderings from the practical road of Vasari; in the immense pictures of Cortona, Arpino, Lanfranco, the frenzies of Luca Giordano, and convulsed attitudes of Fiammingo, Spinazzi, and the genius, erratically great, of Lorenzo Bernini – such things as these they preferred, I will not say to nature, to which they shut their eyes, but to so many noble exemplars. They were seized with the mania of novelty, of surprises, with the idolatry of the form at the cost of the conception. So they turned from poetic beauty to what is so inferior – the merely symmetrical.

The most renowned works of the great masters were inspired by religion: the delicate cherubini of Angelico, the gates of Ghiberti, the Moses and the Pietà of Buonarotti, the Last Supper of Leonardo, the Assumption of Titian, the marvellous improvisations of Tintoretto. From religion Raphael drew those epics which compose the Vatican galleries and the library at Sienna. To it Correggio devoted his cupolas, with all their grace and force of chiaroscuro. Therein Annibale Caracci found his Communion of Saint Jerome, and Domenichino his, which is one of the three great paintings in Rome, and that Madonna del Rosario where he more clearly displays his intention of contrasting the sorrows of earth with the joys of heaven. The Christ of Carlo Dolce and the Madonnas of Sassoferrato and Murillo are in every household. Maratta was called Carlo of the Madonnas. And in my own province particularly, the paintings of Luino, Cesare da Sesto, Gaudenzio Ferrari, Andrea Solaro, Salaino, Marco d’Oggiono Moretto, the Procaccini, the Campi, and that Borgagnone, as great as he is little known, are marked by a religious unction and devout simplicity.

The churches are indeed galleries, or rather harbors from the vandalism of would-be restorers and the robbery which is according to law. In them we find the best models of architecture; and since the unknown authors of the greater cathedrals, and the whole families of the Campiani at Milan, Bregno and Lombardi at Venice, Pedoni at Cremona, Rodari at Coma, Pellegrini of Tibaldo, we have no design better than the sanctuaries of Rho and Caravaggio, the Fontana in the chapel of the Presepio, the Sanmicheli in the cathedral of Montefiascone, the Palladio in the Church of the Redeemer at Venice.

But besides the finish of the sculpture, the glass was stained with historic subjects, the pulpits and windows marvellously adorned, the goldsmith’s art was displayed in the ornamentation of candlesticks, lamps, busts, and canopies, which brought into play the art of engraving.

The care of recording on tombs the nothingness of human greatness makes them the truest portraits of the character of each age. In those of the middle ages the figures are austere, with hands crossed on the breast, awaiting the trumpet-call of the resurrection; in the sixteenth century they are pompous, inappropriate, even immodest.

The cloisters were built upon the most beautiful heights, where the soul, absorbed in the admiration of nature, was of itself lifted up to chant the praises of the God who created it. The porticos were vast tableaux worked by the greatest artists. And here, while you would suggest to me the John Baptists of the Discalced Friars, and the Filippo Benizzi in the Annunciation at Florence by Andrea the faultless, the Holy Solitude, the Camaldoli, Carthusian monasteries, Alvernia, Vallombrosa, and the sublimity of Grottaferrata, let me call to your minds our own Lombardy the sanctuaries of Saronno by Luini, of Varallo by Gaudenzio, the Holy Mount by Mancalvo, the Carthusian monastery of Garignano by the great Daniel Crespi, before which Byron was struck with wonder and with fear. In fine, even in the delirium of art in the sixteenth century, which are the greatest monuments of sculpture? The Saint Bibiana of Bernini, the Saint Cecilia of Maderno, the Susanna of Fiammingo, the Saint Bruno of Houton, from which number we must not omit the Attila of Algardi. The Assumption of Forli by Cignani still remains the noblest work of the past age. Since it is a far easier thing to copy a form than to create a conception, many have reduced art to imitation. And we see it said that the type of the Eternal Father is taken from Jove, the Saviour from Antinous, from Niobe the Mother of Sorrows, and from the Farnese Flora and the terra cotta Faun, Saint Cecilia and Saint Joachim; and it appears equally ridiculous to call one of these imitators a new Phidias or new Apelles, as for Angelo Mazza to entitle himself Homer Redivivus. Winckelmann praised Raphael for a head of Christ “which set forth the beauty of a heroic youth without beard,” while he criticises Michael Angelo “for having taken his figures of the Saviour from the barbarous productions of the middle ages.” With equal discrimination Vasari, of all the wonders of Giotto at Assisi, can only admire “the very great and truly marvellous effect of one who drinks standing, but bent down to the earth, at a fountain.” Very little have these advanced the theories of Cicognara and Giuseppe Bossi, and the icy grandeur of David, Gerard, Girodet, and the other imperialists, followed here by Benvenuti, Cammuccini, Bossi, Diotti, and their like. Fabre, the French painter, was discussing with Alfieri on a crucifixion which he was about to paint. After speaking for some time on the type he ought to choose, he concluded: “Do you know what? I will paint the head of the Belvedere Apollo, give him a beard, and behold it done.” Alfieri had the good sense to reply: “If you would succeed in that, paint a dying Apollo, but not a God who redeemed us.”

After Battoni, the last painter of note of the mixed school, Mengs, went back to the antique with a mediocrity at once pedantic and fastidious. But Traballeschi and certain artists of second name, such as De Maria, Franchi, Ferrari, Torretti, and of higher mark, Andrea Appiani in the cupola of San Celso at Milan, were the men who paved the way for the regeneration. Canova undertook to regenerate art chiefly with classic models, but at least with enthusiasm. But how far do his Venus, Perseus, Theseus, and even Psyche, fall behind the Magdalen, and the mausoleums of Maria Christina, Ganganelli, Rezzonico, and Pius VI?

Bartolini, a more careful observer of nature, gave an impulse to the new art, nor is the fault his if he plunged from the conventionalities of the academy into a prosaic realism. But, restricting myself among a multitude of sculptors, to the notice of one or two, who has not admired the Dolorosa and Triumph of the Cross of Duprè, the Archangel of Finelli, the Deposition from the Cross, and the tomb at Castelfidardo of Tenerani? These men opened up a new era, where the worship of ideas prevailed over that of mere form, combating the servility of the past and the materialism of the present, aiming at a beauty not at variance with morality – a beauty perceptible to the reason. I confine myself to the Italians, but what a pleasure it would be to me to touch upon Munich and the school of Düsseldorf, and that of Berlin; and Cornelius, Schadow, the Bohemian Fuhrich, and the Frenchmen Lehmann, Pradier, Flandrin, and a noble band of others like to them.

So likewise I confine myself to the plastic arts; but were we to treat of poetry, we could say something of Tasso, crowned in death, of Perfetti, the laureate of Benedict XII, and Corilla of Pius VI. Or of music, born also in the church and there perfected before it went to amuse the court and theatre, whence it returned with profanity into the church; so that there was nothing left but to abandon it, if Palestrina had not shown how to wed reverence of speech with harmony, and reconcile devotion with art. Do you know of aught more wonderful than the Moses and Stabat of Rossini, the Crucifixus of Bellini, or the Ave Maria of Donizetti?

And hence you will conclude that where art has ever been welcomed and cherished, was under the care of the Popes, in this Rome of ours, which, in the words of Petrarch, is

“The symbol of the heavens and the earth,
The Saviour’s image, by all men revered.”

Perhaps there has not been a Pope who has not raised some edifice or given rise to some sculpture or painting.

Eugenius IV wished to consecrate Fra Angelico bishop; Julius II, who secured his splendid dominions from the Po to the Garigliano, was ever in the company of Bramante, Michael Angelo, Perugino, Giulio Romano, and commenced the Vatican Museum by placing there the Apollo, the Laocoon, the Ariadne and the Torso. What shall I say of Leo X, who seemed to wish by the triumph of art to “give the lie” to Germany, which accuses Catholics of ignorance and dearth of civilization? The German reformer on his arrival in the midst of the artistic wealth of Rome, only perceived therein profanity, idols, and as it were an absence of reason, and a Pope making an ostentatious pomp of religion and pretending to the austerity of Paul and Hilarion in the time of the Farnese and the Medici. Adrian VI seemed like a prodigy, a monstrosity, so accustomed were the minds of men to connect the idea of a pope with that of a Mecænas of the arts.

They have ever made their palaces a sanctuary of the arts, and as it were a harbor from the wrecks of time and the greed of speculators and kings, who paused at the threshold of the Vatican, resounding with the prayers of all the ages and the blasphemy of this.

With still greater intelligence, the pontiffs of the past age collected together the masterpieces, and the Museo Pio Clementino, and the illustrations of it executed by Winckelmann and Ennius Quirinus Visconti, became the envy and the model of all foreigners.

Rome, relying on the veneration which the nations entertained for her, and which kings felt they owed her as the fount of all authority, set her face against a new age, wherein might alone is right, and reason speaks on the side of vast battalions and by the mouth of artillery. What was the outrage which most of all grieved the Romans? The spoliation of the museums; for the people were disgusted with kings, nobles, and prelates, but not with the arts.

But the end of injustice is never far removed, and, as victory had borne them away, victory restored to Rome her popes and her monuments. Pius VII who had filled the post left bare by spoliation, after his return, among other works, built the new wing across the Belvedere gallery. He left to us the Museo Chiaramonti, a gallery of paintings, few in number, but each a masterpiece, and the long gallery of antique inscriptions, arranged after the manner of the great Morcelli. Gregory XVI gave us the Christian, Egyptian, and Etruscan museums, filled with the contents of the mysterious vaults of Latium, and the numerous vases, so wondrous, of Etruria and the Campagna, which had just come to light. He commenced the rebuilding of Saint Paul’s, restored the Coliseum, excavated the Basilica Julia, refitted the Lateran Palace. Poletti the architect assisted him, aided by Agricola, Paoletti, Finelli, Tadolini, Botti, Tajetti, Sabatelli, Serani, Minardi, Coghetti, Bengoni. And as at first, Poussin, Mignard, Ponget, Claude Lorraine, Le Gros, Valedier, Quesnoy, Laboureur, Monot, Brill, Agincourt, etc., so afterward came the illustrious foreigners, Ingres, Thorwaldsen, Gibson, Pettrich, Frederick Overbeck, Voigt the engraver. From here were taken the statues of Hiram Powers for the Capitol of Washington, not to mention the objects of art carried away by the 80,000 foreigners who flock hither from all parts every year to gaze on the wonders of Rome. A Prussian society took up its quarters here, to illustrate the new and antique relics, in rivalry with our Archæological Academy. And the names of Fea, Nibby, Canina, Bartolomeo Borghese, Visconti, win reverence from the whole scientific world.

What can I say of Pius IX that is not known to the whole world? Let me call to your minds what took place in the midst of the acclamations which greeted his accession. A deputation from the Society for the Propagation of the Faith being presented to him, when among the deputies he found the name of Overbeck, the most faithful representative of Christian art, he called him to himself, and gave him his special benediction, accompanied by words of holy affection. At his wish the court of the Quirinal, where Pius VII was arrested, was painted; there is Overbeck’s Christ at the moment when the Jews thought to cast him from the mountain, and he escaped from their midst: thus representing at once the perils which are past and those which are to come. Nor can I forget the emotion with which the Holy Father lamented to me the deaths, so close upon each other, of Poletti, Tenerani, Overbeck, and Minardi; nor the pleasure with which I recall the rearrangement he effected in the entire museum of the Vatican, and the marvellous statue of Augustus from the Villa of Livy with which he endowed it, and the metal colossus of Hercules, purchased with his own money, the Claudius of Lanuvius, and the Apoxiomenos in Parian marble, restored by Tenerani, and placed in the Vatican in 1851. There he placed also the Pomponia Azzia, found in the Appian Way, and the Ceres disinterred at Ostia, which he substituted for a poor Diana.

It was the time when at his simple summons all the bishops of the world hastened to the Vatican council. Magnificent spectacle! – which Rome alone can offer to the world, of all the representatives of the church united to discuss freely the truth which the Pontiff should proclaim infallibly. Those prelates, in the moments of their repose, were wont to admire on all sides the care which Pius IX had lavished upon art. Here the circus of Caracalla restored, and the portico of Octavia disinterred; there, in the Roman forum, the portico of the Dii Majores and the apsis of the Basilica of Constantine. In another spot the Basilica of Saint Paul is restored, the arena of the greatest artists in painting, sculpture, stained glass, and mosaics. He opened the confessions with their wealth of marbles and metals, in the two patriarchal basilicas, the Lateran and Liberian. He restored the mausoleums of Saint Constantia, Saint Clement on the side of Celio, Saint Agnes, Saint Cecilia, Santa Maria in Trastevere, Saint Lorenzo without the walls, with the paintings of Fracassini, Mariani, and Grandi. Mariani painted Saint Lucy of the Banner and Santa Maria in Aquiro, and Gugliari Saint Augustine. Podesti and Consoni drew for the Vatican Palace the portraits of the most famous ecclesiastics of ancient or modern times; among which stand out the Martyrs of Fracassini, who has painted but too little. All these works gave rise not only to the ancient use of medals, but also to public monuments, such as the column of the Immacolata, the works of Poletti, and the statue cast from cannon by De Rossi.

In 1852 was formed a commission of archæology to chiefly examine the Christian monuments, and explore the Catacombs, the theatre of those scenes of sacrifice, love, and resignation wherein society was regenerated, and where now De Rossi convinces us that scholarship and wit are not enough for speech, but that piety has a secret of its own to touch on things which are better felt than described.

The Egyptian Museum was increased by the monuments collected by Clot Bey. To the Etruscan were added statues, candelabra, sarcophagi from Bolsena, Tarquinia, and Viterbo. The Christian Museum of the Lateran was founded, to which the reopened Ostia sent mosaics, sarcophagi, and epigraphs. The Nomentian and Appian Ways were excavated still further, as far as Bovilla. And the emporium of marbles, the site of the seven cohorts of Virgil at Monte Fiore, and the ruins of the Palatine – which the Pontiff himself visited suddenly, giving an unexpected joy to the workmen, in the month of the celebration of Rome’s birth – attest how inexhaustible are the riches of this city, which, not to mention the seven great galleries, is indeed one vast gallery. And these excavations, whether designed or accidental, disclose a wealth ever beyond expectation, as is seen in the piazza of the Holy Apostles, the grove of the brothers Arvali, especially in the Church Della Pace, the piazza Navona, on the Monte Luziale, and in the new cemetery of the Jews.

That the Pontiff has not been behindhand in works of practical utility, we see in the Acqua Pia, in the palace of the house of reform, the military and civil hospitals, and that of peace, the tobacco manufactory, the adornments of the Pincio, the penitentiary, the bridges over the Tiber, the Piazza Pia and elementary school, and a new city commenced on the Viminal and Esquiline.

And while on this point, we see in the Exposition of the Baths of Diocletian, which Michael Angelo repaired with a respect not always shown by his followers, an example of a character which Rome alone of all the world can produce; and this collection of the objects of Catholic worship was the most beautiful hymn which the Pontiff raised against the blasphemy which precedes violence. This was a thought of the Pontiff’s. It was executed by his command, and at his own expense. He inaugurated it, closed it in person, and with his own hand distributed the prizes. Just indeed was the homage which the artists of every nation then represented in Rome paid to Pius IX, in the jubilee of his pontificate, the expression of which he left exposed for many days in the gallery of Raphael, where Mantovani, Consoni, and Galli at this day emulate the wondrous decorations of Sanzio and Giovanni da Udine.

The popes and ministers of the church have watched over art with special care, lest this chosen daughter of God should be sacrificed to his enemy. And now, what is left? In the face of these glories, how much misery saddens us! All the manifestations of the supremacy of materialism over what is spiritual are multiplied, and hence so many edifices purely industrial. The fever of making and unmaking on the spur of the moment, the race for life without the enjoyment of the least repose, have reduced art, which at first was an enthusiasm, afterwards a taste, now to a fashion and a luxury, bereft of the mighty force of our ancient community and the great-minded and holy faith of our fathers. What the romance is to history, the novel to the epic poem, the drama to the tragedy, the portrait and its kind are to the great artistic works and historic paintings, lost in common and epigrammatic subjects, and tortured with minutiæ.

And this is not the end. He who preserves a sense of shame, of charity, of faith, must either behold with loathing, or close his eyes, when he sees the pencil of the lithographer and even the pure light of heaven prostituted to dishonor whatever he has held most holy in faith and life, to tempt the senses with foulness that Sodom would have denounced. As they have made poison distil from their inkstands, so, with vile ignorance or hateful forethought, they have made art a pander for impurity and a school for the barricades and petroleum. From such frenzy, which terrifies the most daring and causes the most thoughtless to reflect, we hope that men will return to conscience; and in a world which, in order to cherish a better faith in its own greatness will believe no longer in God, this hope is sustained by seeing the Martyrs, of Giovanni Ferrari; the Angels above the Dead Christ, of Tabacchi; the Christian Martyr, of Argenti; the Assumption, of Morelli and Grigioletti; the Saint Joseph, of Bertini; the Saint Clair, of Mancinelli; the Saint Lucian in Prison, of Ceccarini; the Ecce Ancilla Domini, of Brioschi.

And you, as many of you as have authority and dignity, labor hard with the pen, the voice, example, and precept to prevent the youth not yet contaminated with this new licentiousness, nor yet drunk with that perfume which lulls before it suffocates, from turning renegades to the spirituality of art. Make them improve the feeling rather than the style of their productions. Make them disavow the causes whose effects we groan under, and which Providence has allowed so long to afflict us. Make them rise above the prejudices of the journals and the abjectness of officials, as well as the mercenary motives of a utilitarian world and from practices which make a trade of art. Let them never forget the lofty mission of art, and that the form is merely a garb and outfit to clothe the moral idea. For beauty is the perfection of being, perceived by the spirit, felt in the heart, and its handmaid is truth, represented with love. And, without doubt, for him whose aim is truth, the best way of finding it is in subjects and deeds of religion. Let us banish, then, indifference, which slays love and genius alike, and that cold calculation which smothers trustful faith. The time, the people, the man best fitted for the culture of art, will be those whose life, at once profound and active, shall not be bound down, but indeed lifted up by beliefs that are fixed and by customs that are right; who combine fidelity to nature with the impulse of enthusiasm; retaining power over matter, with due regard to historical and moral proprieties; exciting that emotion which is not unaccompanied by pleasure, but pleasure mingled with admiration.

Restore, I entreat you, art to its great principles! Fill life again with those sweet illusions and great delights, making a language of the deepest thoughts of a civilization ever more refined, and so accustom us to realize the ideal, to ennoble humanity! Give it back to its great office, to bear witness to right belief, and to give joy to the little ones, who are our brethren in Christ!

– text taken from the article “Faith the Life of Art” by Cesare Cantu, translator unknown, from the July 1872 edition of The Catholic World magazine