Read CHAPTER II - ROME--THE GERMAN BROTHERHOOD. of Overbeck , free online book, by J. Beavington Atkinson, on

The biographies of artists, proverbially picturesque, present few scenes more pleasant to look on than the early years in Rome of the Brotherhood of German Painters, of whom Overbeck and his friend Cornelius were the leaders. Exiles in some sort from their native land, they entered Italy as pilgrims, and were not far from suffering as martyrs. They were devout, hard-working, and withal poor. They had been drawn from distant cities to Rome as a common focus, and there they severed themselves from ignoble present times, and abiding quietly amid ancient monuments and sacred shrines, sought to make the days of old live anew. So congenial did Rome prove to Overbeck, that he could hardly be induced to sever himself from the city or its neighbourhood over a space of more than fifty years. The task he assigned to himself was arduous: how he went to work and accomplished his mission I shall try to show.

Overbeck, in company with his brother artists, Pforr, Vogel and Hottinger, having in Vienna cast off all fetters, entered Rome as freemen in 1810. A year later Cornelius, as a young Hercules, came upon the scene; he had fought his way from Dusseldorf; like Overbeck, he had found the Academy a burden and a snare, and he betook himself to Italy for deliverance. Then began that closest friendship between the two painters which, lasting for more than half a century, was severed only by death. Cornelius, writing to his friend Mosler, describes the German Brotherhood in Rome, and adds: “Overbeck from Lubeck is the one who by the gentleness and nobility of his soul draws all around him; he inspires them to everything true and beautiful. May be he is the greatest artist now living: you would be astonished if you could see him at his work. Yet he is the most humble and retiring of men.” If Overbeck were as a lamb, surely Cornelius was a lion, each indeed supplied what was lacking in the other. Cornelius in after years said to Rudolf Lehmann, “I am the man, he is the woman.” And it may strike the mind as a singular coincidence, or rather as a benignant disposition of Providence, that at sundry turning-points in the world’s history, two men the opposites the one of the other have been conjoined, as if for the better accomplishment of the work to be done. We may recall, in art, Raphael and Michelangelo; in religion, St. John and St. Peter, Melanchthon and Luther; and in philosophy, Plato and Aristotle. At the risk of pushing the analogy too far, it may be added that Cornelius was positive as Aristotle, impetuous as St. Peter and Luther, defiant as Michelangelo; while in contrast, Overbeck shared with Plato idealism, with St. John love, with Melanchthon gentleness, and with Raphael grace.

The German colony of pre-Raphaelite painters in Rome grew, and in after years came accessions almost unintermittingly. Within the first twelve months were gathered together, as we have seen, Overbeck, Cornelius, Pforr, Vogel and Hottinger. Soon followed the brothers Wilhelm and Rudolf Schadow: to these must be added Koch, Wintergerst, Sutter, Mosler, Veit, Schnorr, Eggers, Platner, and others. Later came Joseph Fuhrich, who literally worshipped the ground on which Overbeck stood. Edward Steinle, of a younger generation, was also a bosom friend of the painter. Later still arrived young zealots from Dusseldorf, where Schadow had established the renowned school of religious art. The best known of these disciples are Ernst Deger, Franz Ittenbach, and the brothers Andreas and Carl Muller. After sitting at the feet of Overbeck in Rome, it was their privilege to paint the chapel at Remagen on the Rhine: these frescoes are accepted as among the most beauteous manifestations of the master’s teachings. This brief epitome anticipates the story of years. In the course of a long life it was the good fortune of Overbeck to witness the growth into a large tree of the grain of mustard-seed he had cast into the earth.

The Brethren found congenial habitation in the old Franciscan convent of Sant’ Isidoro on the Pincian Hill. The picturesque monks having been turned out by Napoleon, the German colony became tenants at a yearly rental, and held in quietude the dormitories, also larger rooms which served as studios, until the fall of the First Empire, when the monastery once more reverted to the Mendicant Friars, by whom it is still occupied. A few years since, the Superior of the Order politely showed the present writer over the ecclesiastical establishment, now, as formerly, devoted to charitable works. Time has brought little change in the cells, the refectory, or in the large hall used for religious teaching. Other rooms, great and small, are ranged round a cloister enclosing a garden still fragrant with orange-blossoms as in the days of Overbeck and Cornelius. Here, amid sacred associations and venerable monuments, did these devoted students build up the new art, and when the day’s work was ended, they mounted at eventide the lofty Belvedere, commanding a panorama of which, even in Rome, are few equals. From neighbouring campanili, vesper bells sound a chorus in the bright Italian sky, and beneath the eye stretches, as a prairie of the old world, the wide Campagna, spanned by broken viaducts and bounded by the blue Alban hills. Through the panorama winds the golden Tiber, guarded by the Castle of St. Angelo and St. Peter’s, and around and below lie Monte Mario, the pine-clad Pincian, the Villa Medici, and the ilex groves of the Ludovisi. The scene was inspiring, yet not without shadow of melancholy; the Capitol had fallen into the hands of the stranger, but the spirit of Dante fired the dauntless young men; they turned from the present to the past, “imagination restored the empire that had been lost,” and though “calamity afflicted the country, they believed that God had not forsaken the people.”

Overbeck is known to have been deeply penetrated by the beauties of the Italian sky and landscape. After sufferance of the rigours of northern winters, mind and body expanded under the sun of the genial south. In spring-time came days serene as his own spirit, giving to nature the re-birth he sought for art; the clear horizon carried thought to a world beyond; and in the deep blue above floated such clouds as had served the old pre-Raphaelites with the thrones and footstools of saints and angels. Overbeck did not, as the masters of the decadence, shroud his compositions in backgrounds of impenetrable darkness, but flooded the canvas with the light of the Italian heavens, and like the early painters, placed holy people in the midst of such beauties of nature as tranquillise and elevate the mind. And his sympathetic eye was not only open to scenes which served as distances, he watched in the gardens of the Roman villas the springing flowers, and made careful studies of mossy, jewelled foregrounds which served as carpeting for the feet of his Madonnas. Having turned his back on the Fatherland, his pictures bear no memories of black forests or frowning Harzburg mountains, and he became so thoroughly Italianised that he seated Holy Families on the borders of the Thrasymene Lake, and placed saints within sight of Mount Soracte! Like all true artists, he painted what he saw; as his predecessors, he gathered in daily walks the accessories he needed. Fra Angelico had painted at Fiesole, Francia at Bologna, Perugino at Perugia, Pinturicchio at Spello and Siena, and each in turn, like Overbeck, made the surrounding scenery serve as accompaniments to figure compositions. Nature was to all these painters a great teacher; her presences were healing powers, and they left out all the storms and discords, and like our poet Wordsworth, brought her forms and aspects into harmony with tranquil living. Yet the Brethren from their monastic abode in Sant’ Isidoro looked upon the outer world with sympathies as diverse as their individual characters. When Cornelius took his walks abroad, he crossed the Tiber to visit the Last Judgment of Michelangelo. Overbeck’s steps lay in an opposite direction; he passed by the church of Sta. Maria Maggiore, looked in for the sake of the old mosaics, and then wended his solitary way to Sta. Croce in Gerusalemme, to pay his devotions before the frescoes commemorative of the discovery by St. Helena of the true Cross. Here, in lovely surroundings, nature blended in unison with art, he looked on the blue hills and the calm sky, and thanked God Italy was his home.

The mode of living adopted within the cells and refectory of Sant’ Isidoro naturally savoured of the monastic: it combined appropriately society with solitude. The habit of the Brethren was to take meals together at a common table, and to work separately each in his private painting-room. The refectory served as a common hall for study and for drawing from the model. The rule obtained in the establishment that the provisioning and housekeeping should be taken in rotation by each, one week at a time, and it is said that Overbeck had so far a sense of creature comforts that he complained that one of the Brothers was accustomed to put too much water into the broth! On Sundays the work relaxed or ceased wholly, and the wholesome practice prevailed of bringing together the products of the week for criticism with the end to mutual improvement: many grave observations and lively pleasantries passed from one to the other, Overbeck usually in his modest way acting the part of mentor. “No one,” writes Schadow, “who saw or heard him speak, could question his purity of motive, his deep insight and abounding knowledge: he is a treasury of art and poetry and a saintly man.” Overbeck had stoutly defended the adopted course of study which others condemned. “What,” he asked, “has been our crime? It is in great measure that we have striven after a severe outline, in opposition to the loose, cloudy, washed-out manner of the day. Is not this an endeavour after truth?” But such studies, while filling portfolios, brought no grist to the mill. And the historian Niebuhr, an anxious friend, confesses that these devoted men “were hard put to it for their daily bread,” yet never has a confraternity of artists more nearly approached an ideal. No vow was actually taken, the bond was simply voluntary; thus Overbeck expressly states, “with the greatest concord among us as to the fundamental principles of art, each goes on his own way.”

The attitude assumed almost of necessity provoked opposition, even ridicule. The assumption was made of superiority, the tone grew even assailant; Correggio, Guido, Guercino, and Domenichino, with all post-Raphaelites, were denounced, and not only was it declared, “We are right,” but it was added, “You are wrong.” The Brethren personally laid themselves open to attack; they were not free from the affectations of youth, they made themselves conspicuous by long hair and strange costume, and through their exclusiveness and sanctity won as their nickname the epithet of “Nazarites.” Other designations were less characteristic; simply descriptive are such terms as “pre-Raphaelites,” “the new-old School,” “the German-Roman artists,” “the Church-Romantic painters,” “the German patriotic and religious painters.” But all trivial imputations weigh lightly when set in the balance against solid work and holy living. The earnest devotees in the long run silenced evil tongues and won respect and a good name. Niebuhr, ambassador and historian, by no means a blind apologist, describing the art society of the day, writes: “The painters in Rome are divided by a broad line of demarcation into two parties the one consisting of our friends and their adherents, the other of the united phalanx of those who are of the world, a set who intrigue and lie and backbite; they intend there shall not be light, come what will. The former are exemplary in their lives; the latter display the old licentiousness which characterised the German artists in Rome thirty years ago. Happily, at the present moment, the more talented of the newcomers are ranged on the side of our friends. It is a hopeful sign that some foreigners, and even Italians, are beginning to pay attention to their works.” Overbeck and his more immediate associates were indeed, in the best sense of the term, “purists” and “pietists,” and held vitally to the maxim that they who would know of a doctrine must live out the doctrine. On no other conditions was it possible to accomplish their mission the regeneration of art. The schools around them had fallen in great measure through lack of sincerity and truth; they in contrast believed as our English Bishop Butler taught, that conscience is the ruling faculty in the human mind.

The style of art dominant in Rome during Overbeck’s early residence did not materially differ from that which he had left behind him in Vienna. The Director, in fact, of the Viennese Academy had in youth won the prize of Rome, and there became the representative of the prevailing decadence. Among the Italians, Battoni, following in the footsteps of Carlo Maratti, was not without the grace and the beauty of Correggio and Guido. Descending a generation later, Overbeck found among his contemporaries Pietro Benvenuto, one of the most distinguished adherents of the school of David: whose masterpiece in Arezzo Cathedral has justly been designated “one of the finest productions of modern art.” These were not men to be wholly despised. Furthermore it is to be remembered, as before indicated, that the Germans, in a generation only just passed away, had here in Rome formed a learned school based on the antique; Lessing, in his treatise, the ‘Laocoon,’ and Winckelmann, by his criticisms on the marbles of the Vatican, had induced a new Classic Renaissance. The painter Raphael Mengs, thus guided, appropriately executed in the Villa Albani the famous fresco of Apollo and the Nine Muses on Mount Parnassus. Again, here are men and manifestations not to be disdained. But for such art Overbeck, as we have seen, cherished inveterate antipathy: whether he was absolutely right, impartial critics, founding a judgment on a wide historic basis, will hesitate to determine. The correct verdict probably is that each school is good of its kind, that the one possesses merits distinctive of the other, and that it is well for the world that every mode of thought should in turn obtain the fullest and highest manifestation. But Overbeck’s vision was too intently focussed on one point to perceive that his sphere was but a segment, a part, though by no means an unimportant part, of the greater whole. The classic movement, against which he set his face steadily, was not to be easily annihilated; it survived in Rome in such illustrious representatives as Canova, Thorwaldsen and Gibson. But Overbeck grew more and more the recluse; he shortly became a proselyte to the Romish Church, shut himself out from other associations, and thus after a time devoted his pencil exclusively to Christian Art.

The early pictures and drawings executed in Rome carry out the painter’s resolve. To this first period belong: The Adoration of the Kings (1811), Jesus in the House of Martha and Mary (1812), The Preaching of St. John, The Raising of Lazarus, The Entombment, Christ Blessing Little Children, The Holy Family, Ave Maria, Blessed art thou among Women, also a portrait of Vittoria Caldoni. The first commission received by the struggling painter came from Queen Caroline of Bavaria for The Adoration of the Kings, in oils. The Queen had written to Rome saying that she wished for a picture by the young artist; that as to the price, a hard bargain need not be driven, for when one gains a beautiful work, the cost cannot be regretted. Overbeck, on receiving the good news, writes, December 16, 1811, “I was so overpowered with joy that I could not bring out a syllable. The affair moves me all the more because I had not dreamt of it. What can be the cause of my good fortune? Happy day! I shall think of it as long as I live: to the Lord be the praise.” Four days later he writes to Lubeck: “What joy! I can now relieve my parents from further burden. This is the moment so long wished for. Henceforth and for ever I am a man and an independent artist in the workshop, free as a king over the boundless domain of fantasy to create a beautiful world.”

The maxim that correct drawing lies at the foundation of all true art was maintained by the Brotherhood through both precept and example. Overbeck first mastered form, he trained his hand to outline; next he learnt the principles of composition, that is the power of combining separate parts into a connected whole; lastly, he added colour, but rather as an accessory than an essential. Hence his water-colours and even his oil-pictures are often little more than tinted drawings. In the first Roman period, that is up to about the year 1820, when the age of thirty had been reached, we find the artist in full possession of the faculty of expressing his ideas at the point of his pencil. Of this happy facility many examples have come before me: one especially, at Stift Neuburg, The Raising of Jairus’s Daughter (1814); another, almost a replica of the last, delicately washed with colour, in the private collection of Herr Malss, of the Stadel Institute, Frankfort. I note with admiration the precision and subtlety of the form, especially in the hands and feet. The work, though small in scale (1 f in. by 1 ft.), is large in manner, the treatment being that of the Great Masters as distinguished from the Small Masters. Overbeck, who was on intimate terms with the family of Director Malss, said that he wished they should have a work as perfect as he could make it: verily he realised his endeavour. Belonging to the same period, I find in another private collection in Frankfort a portrait in delicate pencilling of a young girl of about eighteen; the hair is in close curls all round the head, the necklace is marked with utmost detail. Perhaps I have not laid sufficient stress on the truth and rectitude of Overbeck’s work, as seen, for instance, in the Head of an Old Monk among the drawings of the National Gallery, Berlin. This is so close to nature that a deformity in one ear has been conscientiously registered. The handling here is masterly, the touch firm and strong; the play of lines in the hatchings proves a free hand and a facile turn of the wrist. Also may be mentioned, for incidents taken from the life, a remarkable composition at Stift Neuburg, The Feeding of the Hungry. Close to nature are these transcripts of the poor, the needy, and aged, one advancing on crutches to receive bounty; and over all presides the spirit of beauty and charity. Also in the same collection is a triptych, wherein angels and cherubs appear: this is among the earliest examples of the intervention of the supernatural. Overbeck was not the man to rush in where angels fear to tread. Likewise among Biblical subjects, I find in the National Gallery, Berlin, The Creation of Adam and Eve, and The Expulsion from Paradise. Here the delineation of the undraped figure proves absolute knowledge, and shows, as before said, that the usual course of drawing from the nude had been gone through. The point indeed need not be discussed further, as Schadow expressly states that Overbeck’s drawings from the nude as well as from the draped figure were, for subtlety and truth to nature, the admiration of every one. The Creation and Expulsion are of exceptional value, because the artist for once borrows from Michelangelo: also it will be seen that Overbeck gave himself from the outset to the illustration of the Biblical narrative, and thus fondly trod in the footsteps of Giotto and Fra Angelico.

An Exhibition of the works of the German painters in Rome was held in 1819, in a room of the Palazzo Caffarelli, which, as the official residence of Niebuhr and Bunsen, had often been a spot of kindly meeting and hospitality. The collection Frederick Schlegel pronounced unsurpassed in richness, variety, and intrinsic value. Public interest was awakened, and attention centred round the contributions of Overbeck, Schadow, Veit and Cornelius. Overbeck sent a Madonna and a Flight into Egypt; and Schlegel specially names the cartoon of Jerusalem Delivered, for the frescoes then in progress at the Villa Massimo, as proof of the artist’s power of expression and faculty of invention. He adds: “The struggle of the German artists in Rome daily excites more and more observation, and their progress is watched with cordial sympathy by men of all nations.”

A very serious topic must now be considered. Overbeck in 1813 relinquished the Protestant faith of his forefathers and joined the Roman Catholic Church. Obviously in these pages polemics are out of place, and the step which the conscientious painter thought fit to take has to be here noted so far only as it serves as an index to character and as an interpretation of art. Rightly to judge the case, it were well correctly to estimate Overbeck as a man: his strength lay within his art, outside which he had infirmities; his bodily health was feeble, his mind to the extreme refined and to the last degree sensitive; he shrank from the conflict of life; common people he could not associate with; for the ordinary world he was wholly unfit, and sought refuge in some ideal not yet reached. Niebuhr truly reads the character when he writes: “Overbeck is an enthusiast and quite illiberal; he is a very amiable man and endowed with a magnificent imagination, but incapable by nature of standing alone, and by no means so clear-headed as he is poetical. He bends easily and naturally under the yoke of the Catholic faith.”

Overbeck doubtless felt all the more need of safe anchorage from the sea of troubles on which many minds were cast through the controversy and scepticism which agitated Protestant Europe. In Lubeck, as we have seen, the phases of faith were philosophic and aesthetic, and the divinities of Olympus and Parnassus shared equal favour with the saints of the Church. The young painter was cast in a severer mould, and needed that the infinite and eternal should be circumscribed by definite form. It is reported of a certain German philosopher that, when addressing his class, he ended with the words: “In the next lecture we shall proceed to construct God!” Overbeck preferred to such speculation the authority of the Church. The painter Joseph Fuhrich puts the case strongly: he declares that his friend had to take the choice between Pantheism and Catholicism. Overbeck felt that art was a religious question, and he determined that all his work should be a protest against the indifferentism and latitudinarianism which account all religions equal. He conceded that secular writings and mundane arts were not without their value and charm; in the arts may be permitted divers manifestations, such as landscape, animal, and flower painting. The Church is tolerant of all that is good, but on the highest pinnacle stands the Christian painter. Over these matters he had pondered long, and was accustomed to say to himself, “Let not my Christ be ever robbed of my love; the true home of art is within the soul before the altar of the Church; the tabernacle of art has its foundations in the worship of God.”

Early Christian Art naturally drew Overbeck towards the Roman Catholic Church. Frederick Schlegel, Rio, Pugin severally fell under the same spell. The old mosaics, frescoes, and easel pictures which came down through unbroken ecclesiastical descent, were for the Christian artist of the nineteenth century means of grace, and served as revelations of the Divine. Fra Angelico was taken as a pattern; through living and loving, watching and praying, believing and working, the High Priesthood of Art was to be established. And the actual experiences of modern Rome brought no disillusion; the frivolity and the hollowness which so often disgust newcomers were either not seen or were turned aside from. The painter was too pure and childlike to realise the evil, he turned only to the good: for him the world shone as a land of light; from art he would exorcise the passions; the true art-life blended heaven with earth, the ideal could be attained only through the Church: her teachings were the education of humanity.

The decisive step ultimately taken is recorded as follows: “Overbeck at Whitsuntide in the year 1813 joined the Catholic Faith, and with joy entered into the family of the world’s Church. His spiritual guide and confessor was Professor, afterwards Cardinal, Ostini; and the poet Zacharias Werner, of Konigsberg, as a fellow-countryman from the shores of the northern sea, acted as godfather at the ceremony. The poet, in writing at the time to the Prince Primate of Dalberg, said that he recognised in the young painter ’a true seraphic character of the Fatherland.’"

A veritable mental epidemic seized on the German artists, and when one after another of Overbeck’s friends followed his example, Niebuhr took alarm, and bethought himself of what measures could be taken. It appears that a pamphlet had been published intended expressly for the conversion of the young Germans, and Niebuhr, feeling the emergency of the situation, requested a friend to bring or send Luther’s works with other writings against Popery. He adds: “It cannot be expressed how disgusting these proceedings become the more you see of them. At this moment the prosélytes have Schadow, one of the ablest of the young artists, on their bait.” At a later date he writes: “I like Overbeck and the two Schadows much, and they are estimable both as artists and as men; but the Catholicism of Overbeck and one of the Schadows excludes entirely many topics of conversation.” Overbeck is elsewhere described as of “very prepossessing physiognomy, taciturn and melancholy,” with a “proselyting spirit.” Bunsen, who no less than Niebuhr deplored these conversions, writes in 1817 that Overbeck had been for a fortnight in August a welcome guest at Frascati, that he had finished a water-colour drawing a very lovely Madonna with the infant Jesus “of which he permitted a copy to be taken, still extant, and valued as a record of the time and of the short-lived intimacy with the gentle and heavenly-minded artist, who soon after this period withdrew from all companions of a different religious persuasion from that which he had adopted.” Among the chief converts are numbered the brothers Schadow, Veit, Platner, and the critic Frederick Schlegel. Cornelius is not included, because he was born into Catholicism. He is described as of “an open and powerful intellect, free from all limitations,” “with habits and convictions rooted as the facts of his existence.” He thus looked on coolly while the new converts were at fever-heat. Yet it is pleasant to know that these controversies were, in the main, preserved from personal bitterness, and that whatever might be the difference in creeds, the broad union of religion and humanity was never torn asunder. Thus in 1817 Niebuhr, a Protestant and possibly something more, was able to write: “I associate chiefly, indeed almost exclusively, with the artists who belong to the religious party, because those who are decidedly pious, or who strive after piety, are by far the noblest and best men, and also the most intellectual, and this gives me an opportunity of hearing a good deal on faith and its true nature.” And the faith of these men we know to have brought forth good works; as were their belief and their practice, such were their pictures, and it is scarcely here the place to discuss whether larger views might have given to their art wider extension.

By a curious coincidence, about the time when these conversions to Roman Catholicism were going on in Rome the third jubilee of the Reformation was celebrated at Lubeck. The pietist father of the painter made himself champion of the cause, and delivered a speech at a meeting of the Bible Society, wherein he proclaimed Luther the great witness of truth. “Luther,” he declared, “spoke, wrote, thundered, and the power of darkness was overturned; thus conscience became free, doctrines were purified, and the precious Bible, as a heavenly treasure, was given back to the people." It has been assigned as a reason why Overbeck never returned home, that he could not bear to see the city of Lubeck with her old walls thrown down; but a less fanciful cause was that other walls than those of brick and mortar had been set up, dividing kindred and friends.

Let us now turn from polemics to the pleasing descriptions given by Niebuhr and Bunsen of the daily lives of the German Brotherhood. It is not always that archaeologists and literary men are the soundest counsellors of artists; they place overmuch stress on the inward conception and motive; they lay down, like Coleridge, the axiom that “a picture is an intermediate something between a thought and a thing,” and in exalting the “thought” they subordinate the “thing.” This was the last teaching that Overbeck needed. He and his fellows were already only too prone to ignore technique, to neglect colour, chiaroscuro, texture. They deemed it all-sufficient to perfect form as the language of thought; consequently while their works instruct and elevate, they fail to please or to gain wide popularity.

Nevertheless, taken for all in all, Overbeck and Cornelius must be accounted most fortunate in their intellectual companionship. The habit was, when gathered socially together at the Embassy in the Palazzo Caffarelli, to read books, talk of pictures, and to consort together generally for the furtherance of the great art revival in which Niebuhr and Bunsen believed fervently. The attachment became mutual, the intercourse was prized on both sides. Niebuhr writes of Cornelius and his wife: “They are, strictly speaking, intimate family friends;” and again he says: “The society of Cornelius and Overbeck gives an inspiring variety to the day’s occupations, and one or other of these intellectual companions seldom fails to join our evening walks.” In another letter we read: “Cornelius of Dusseldorf, Platner from Leipzig, Koch from the Tyrol, Overbeck from Lubeck, Mosler from Coblentz, and William Schadow from Berlin, were assembled at Bunsen’s in the apartments of the painter Brandis: in different ways and degrees we are attached to them all, and we think them men of talent. Their society is the only pleasure we derive from human beings in Rome.” The young artists are found to be wholly without worldly wisdom, a charge to which at least Overbeck might readily plead guilty. Niebuhr further declares: “I confidently believe we are on the eve of a new era of Art in Germany, similar to the sudden bloom of our literature in the eighteenth century.” He discerned in the movement an unaccustomed spiritual phenomenon one of those manifestations of the national mind from time to time found in the history of humanity. He felt once more an outburst of the intellectual life of Germany, a rising again of the force of genius which had impelled Lessing, Kant, and Goethe, which had given birth to profound philosophy and science, and had animated a whole people with patriotism and a spirit of self-sacrifice to do battle amid national songs and hymns, even to the death, in the cause of the King and the Fatherland. Bunsen testifies how Niebuhr showed his affection and care for the Prussian and German disciples of art; he considered it an agreeable part of his duty and vocation to render them assistance, to encourage them in their studies, to give them the time of which he was so sparing to men of mere show and fashion, also to render them pecuniary assistance when necessary. To Niebuhr belongs the honour of having been the first to recognise the new school at the moment when it was “despised, derided, and vituperated.” He befriended the men who had to fight their way against shallowness and wickedness, against the low and false taste of connoisseurs and patrons, till the day came when the martyrs of an exalted aspiration gained the attention and admiration of the world.

Nor in numbering friends must be forgotten Frederick Schlegel, the avowed champion of the new school. The critic was not without connecting links and antecedents; he had made himself son-in-law of the Jewish philosopher Moses Mendelssohn, and stepfather of the painter Philip Veit; and he further qualified himself for his critical duties by joining the Roman Catholic Church. Overbeck and this rhapsodist on Christian Art were naturally close allies; each was of use to the other, and gave and received in turns. The artist strove, it is said, to embody in pictorial form his friend’s teachings; the two, in fact, moved in parallel lines. Schlegel urged that the new style must be emulative and aspiring, ever possessed of lofty ideas. Believe not, he writes, that the glory of art has passed away. The hope is not vain that there comes a rekindling of former fires; art uprising from the dark night breaks as the morning’s dawn; “a new life can spring only from the depths of a new love.” Let us hold that Art like Nature renews her youth. The soul alone can comprehend the truly beautiful; the eye gazes but on the material veil the union of the inner soul with the outward form constitutes the noblest art. Nowhere are to be found more eloquent utterances on the Bond between Art and the Church, but in all is overlooked the simple fact that the Celestial light cannot be made appreciable to mortal eye otherwise than through the medium of matter, and according to the laws of vision. And to such oversight is greatly to be ascribed the infirmities of Overbeck and his school. It is forgotten that the most holy of motives cannot save a picture which is not good as a picture. Schlegel discusses the question, What is needed by the Christian painter? The following phrenzy, though wordy, is worth reading:

“The answer is that the beautiful truths of the Christian faith should not be received into the mind as merely lifeless forms, in passive acquiescence to the teaching of others: they must be embraced with an earnest conviction of their truth and reality, and bound up with each individual feeling of the painter’s soul. Still even the influence of devotion is not alone sufficient; for however entirely religion may be felt to compensate for all that is wanting to our earthly happiness, much more is required to form a painter. I know not how better to designate that other element, without which mere technical skill, and even correct ideas, will be unavailing, than by calling it the inborn light of inspiration. It is something quite distinct from fertility of invention, or magic of colouring, rare and valuable as is the latter quality in painting. It is no less distinct from skill in the technicalities of design and from the natural feeling for beauty inherent in some susceptible minds. The poet and the musician should also be inspired, but their inspiration is more the offspring of human emotion; the painter’s inspiration must be an emanation of celestial light: his very soul must, so to speak, become itself illumined, a glowing centre of holy radiance, in whose bright beams every material object should be reflected; and even his inmost conceptions and daily thoughts must be interpenetrated by its brightness and remodelled by its power. This indwelling light of the soul should be recognised in every creation of his pencil, expressive as a spoken word; and in this lies the peculiar vitality of Christian beauty, and the cause of the remarkable difference between Classic and Christian art.” “Physical beauty is employed by the Christian painter but as a material veil, from beneath which the hidden divinity of the soul shines forth, illuminating all mortal life with the higher spirituality of love.”

A kindly and timely commission came to the masters of the German Brotherhood Overbeck, Cornelius, Veit, and Schadow from the Prussian Consul, Bartholdi. Personal relations, with the desire of giving the untried painters an opportunity of proving what good was in them, prompted the charge to decorate with frescoes a room in the Casa Bartholdi, situated on the brow of the Pincian Hill. The Prussian Consul was in a roundabout way connected with Philip Veit and Frederick Schlegel, whose mutual relationship has been already recounted; his wife was sister of the philosopher Moses Mendelssohn, and aunt of the illustrious musician, and sundry intermarriages had made, as it were, a compact in literature and art between the families of Bartholdi, Mendelssohn, Veit, and Schlegel. The chosen sphere of operations was comparatively narrow; the small room in an upper story, now of historic interest, is not more than twenty-four feet square. The situation is inviting; the beauties of nature are usually found proximate with the beauties of art, and here the windows command a panorama sweeping from the Pincian to the Tiber, and embracing St. Peter’s, the Vatican, St. Angelo, and the Capitol. The topic chosen for these wall pictures was the Story of Joseph and his Brethren a theme conveniently accommodating to any existing diversities in creeds or styles. The technical process adopted was fresco, a monumental art, the revival of which formed part of the mission of the German fraternity. The arduous undertaking was commenced and carried out in strict accordance with historic precedents. Preliminary studies were made, and well-matured cartoons on the scale of the ultimate pictures were perfected. To the lot of Overbeck fell Joseph sold by his Brethren, and The Seven Years of Famine.

It has been my pleasure to visit and revisit these wall-paintings over a period of a quarter of a century, and growing experience does but enhance my admiration. They fulfil the first requirements of wall decoration: the story is told lucidly and concisely; the style is simple, noble; accidents are held subordinate to essentials; the compositions are distributed symmetrically; the colour, though a little crude, is brought into somewhat agreeable unity; the light and shade are not focussed at one point, but carried evenly over the whole surface; and the treatment inclines sufficiently to the flat to keep the compositions down on the wall. The finished pictures of the four masters vary in dimensions. The lengths range from eight to seventeen feet, the height is mostly about eight feet; the figures do not exceed five feet. The lines bounding the figures and draperies are firm and incisive. Accordant with the practice of the old fresco-painters, each day’s work is marked and discernible by the joinings in the plaster, and the junctions between the dry plaster of one day and the wet plaster of the next are appropriately fixed at the points where the subject breaks off readily and can be resumed most easily. The technique is thoroughly mastered, and, barring some surface cracks, the paintings are in as perfect condition as when they came from the artists’ hands. The chief defect is a somewhat crude opacity of pigments, a characteristic belonging to the debased period of wall-painting rather than to the “fresco buono et puro” of Giotto, Luini, and Pinturicchio.

Another point to be remarked is that the frescoes in the Casa Bartholdi show that the four painters Overbeck, Cornelius, Veit, and Schadow worked here at the outset of their career in remarkable unison. In the course of years they diverged widely, but as yet the school collectively dominates over the artist individually. The Brethren had formed themselves equally on the same originals, and had scarcely found time to take their several departures from nature. Indeed, the actual presence of nature comes almost as a surprise in these compositions. Overbeck’s figures are manifestly more or less studied from the life, only, according to his habitual practice, he has taken pains to eliminate from his models any individual accidents which marred the generic form, softening down angularity and ruggedness into pervading grace and beauty. Here and there are traces of affectation, together with a feebleness incident to the painter’s weak physique which stands in utmost contrast with the force of Cornelius. Overbeck mostly shunned action and dramatic intensity, and here the figures in their movements depart but slightly from the equilibrium of repose. As a religious artist, the New Testament was more within his sphere than the Old. Thus the outrage committed against Joseph by his brethren is toned down into a calm, orderly transaction; placidity reigns throughout; all is brought into keeping with the painter’s spirit of gentleness.

The Casa Bartholdi frescoes, when finished, produced a most favourable impression in Rome; the cause of the Germans was greatly strengthened, and the opposite party felt the defeat. The Italians, too, were taken by surprise to find themselves beaten by foreigners on their own ground. A natural consequence of the success was further commissions, and the fortune no less than the fame of the revivalists was made. Singularly enough the modern Romans came forward as the next patrons. Niebuhr, writing from Rome in 1817, says: “It is a significant fact that some foreigners, even Italians, are beginning to pay attention to the works of our friends.” It is well known that the Romans had been addicted for centuries to mural painting in palaces, villas and garden-houses: Raphael was employed to decorate the Farnesina; Guido and Annibale Carracci painted the ceilings of the Farnese and of the Rospigliosi Palaces. Emulating these illustrious examples, Prince Massimo commissioned Overbeck, Cornelius, Veit, and Schnorr to cover the walls and ceilings of his Garden Pavilion near St. John Lateran with frescoes illustrative of Tasso, Dante, and Ariosto. Not only the themes, but the local surroundings were inspiring. The Villa Massimo is a site only possible in Rome. When the artists in the morning came to work, before their view opened a panorama embracing the Claudian Aqueduct, St. John Lateran, the Church of Sta. Croce in Gerusalemme, the old Walls of Rome, with cypresses and stone pines around, and the Alban Hills beyond. The Pavilion assigned to the painters stands in the Villa garden, with the accustomed growth and fragrance of orange-trees, magnolias, azaleas, roses, and violets. Overbeck entered on the work with poetic ardour.

The Massimo Pavilion is little more than three rooms standing on the ground; the first, indeed, is an Entrance Hall, and therein Schnorr painted copiously from Ariosto. On the left a door leads to the room assigned to Cornelius for the illustration of Dante: the ceiling fell to the lot of Veit. On the right another door opens to a corresponding room of like dimensions, set apart to Overbeck and Tasso’s Jerusalem Delivered. This small interior is not more than fifteen feet square, and the wall-spaces are much broken up by doors and windows, so that only one of the four sides remained disencumbered. The compositions are eleven in number, and are unequal alike in size and merit. The largest and most noteworthy is fifteen feet long by ten feet high, representing the Meeting of Godfrey de Bouillon and Peter the Hermit. The narrative is lucidly told, the picture well put together, and the successive planes of distance are duly marked. Altogether the fundamental principles of wall-decoration are clearly understood in this the most complex composition yet attempted by the painter. Another thoroughly studied design is Sophronio and Olindo on the Funeral Pyre delivered by Clorinda. The action has more than usual force and movement, and the undraped figures are drawn with severe exactitude. Presiding over the whole series, in the middle of the ceiling, is an allegorical figure of Jerusalem Delivered. An angel on either side unlooses the fetters of an innocent placid maiden crowned with thorns. These frescoes, notwithstanding their situation in a cold, damp garden-house, remained, when I saw them last, in January, 1878, in sound condition: thus once more we find Overbeck, equally with Cornelius, to have been solidly grounded in the method of wall-painting.

I must confess that I have always been disappointed with this Tasso Room. One reason is that the carrying out of the original designs was delegated to an inferior brush. Overbeck was not in strong health; he worked slowly, and when other commissions came in, some more to his liking, such as that for the church picture at Assisi, he felt overburdened, and wished to be released from a task that had grown wearisome. The work, began about 1817, had dragged on for ten years, till at last Overbeck made a deliberate call on good and friendly Joseph Fuhrich, and requested that he would complete the unfinished frescoes. The proposal, naturally felt as an honour, was gratefully acceded to. After this distance of time it becomes difficult to determine how far this worthy substitute must be held responsible for much that is to be regretted on these walls. For some of the compositions the master had made nothing more than sketches or indications, and at least three must be laid to the charge of the scholar. Fuhrich was for Overbeck what Giulio Romano had been for Raphael, and the Tasso Room suffered the same degradation as the latest stanza in the Vatican.

The Tasso Room may be taken as a measure of Overbeck’s capacity. This “cyclus,” or series, shows the painter’s power of sustained thought and faculty of invention. Much, doubtless, is compilation, yet something remains of originality. The best passages are those not borrowed from old pictures, but taken from life, which makes the regret all the greater that here and in the sequel nature was not trusted more implicitly. On the whole, these compositions leave the impression that Overbeck had not mental force or physical stamina sufficient for the task. It is true that the presence of a lyrical spirit is felt; but scenes of Romance need more fire and passion; the deeds of Chivalry were not enacted in a cloister. Perhaps self-knowledge wisely counselled Overbeck to quit the regions of creative imagination. With greater peace of mind he trod in the future, the safer paths of Christian Art, wherein precedent and authority served as his guide and support.