THE THIRD MORNING. BEFORE THE SOLDAN.
Now, I am the last person to call any restoration whatever, judicious. Of all destructive manias, that of restoration is the frightfullest and foolishest. Nevertheless, what good, in its miserable way, it can bring, the poor art scholar must now apply his common sense to take; there is no use, because a great work has been restored, in now passing it by altogether, not even looking for what instruction we still may find in its design, which will be more intelligible, if the restorer has had any conscience at all, to the ordinary spectator, than it would have been in the faded work. When, indeed, Mr. Murray's Guide tells you that abuilding has been 'magnificently restored,' you may pass the building by in resigned despair; for that means that every bit of the old sculpture has been destroyed, and modern vulgar copies put up in its place. But a restored picture or fresco will often be, to you, more useful than a pure one; and in all probability - if an important piece of art - it will have been spared in many places, cautiously completed in others, and still assert itself in a mysterious way - as Leonardo's Cenacolo does - through every phase of reproduction. [Footnote: For a test of your feeling in the matter, having looked well at these two lower frescos in this chapel, walk round into the next, and examine the lower one on your left hand as you enter that. You will find in your Murray that the frescos in this chapel "were also till lately, (1862) covered with whitewash"; but I happen to have a long critique of this particular picture written in the year 1845, and I see no change in it since then. Mr. Murray's critic also tells you to observe in it that "the daughter of Herodias playing on a violin is not unlike Perugino's treatment of similar subjects." By which Mr. Murray's critic means that the male musician playing on a violin, whom, without looking either at his dress, or at the rest of the fresco, he took for the daughter of Herodias, has a broad face. Allowing you the full benefit of this criticism - there is still a point or two more to be observed. This is the only fresco near the ground in which Giotto's work is untouched, at least, by the modern restorer. So felicitously safe it is, that you may learn from it at once and for ever, what good fresco painting is - how quiet - how delicately clear - how little coarsely or vulgarly attractive - how capable of the most tender light and shade, and of the most exquisite and enduring colour.
In this latter respect, this fresco stands almost alone among the works of Giotto; the striped curtain behind the table being wrought with a variety and fantasy of playing colour which Paul Veronese could not better at his best.
You will find, without difficulty, in spite of the faint tints, the daughter of Herodias in the middle of the picture - -slowly moving, not dancing, to the violin music - she herself playing on a lyre. In the farther corner of the picture, she gives St. John's head to her mother; the face of Herodias is almost entirely faded, which may be a farther guarantee to you of the safety of the rest. The subject of the Apocalypse, highest on the right, is one of the most interesting mythic pictures in Florence; nor do I know any other so completely rendering the meaning of the scene between the woman in the wilderness, and the Dragon enemy. But it cannot be seen from the floor level: and I have no power of showing its beauty in words.]
But I can assure you, in the first place, that St. Louis is by no means altogether new. I have been up at it, and found most lovely and true colour left in many parts: the crown, which you will find, after our mornings at the Spanish chapel, is of importance, nearly untouched; the lines of the features and hair, though all more or less reproduced, still of definite and notable character; and the junction throughout of added colour so careful, that the harmony of the whole, if not delicate with its old tenderness, is at least, in its coarser way, solemn and unbroken. Such as the figure remains, it still possesses extreme beauty - profoundest interest. And, as you can see it from below with your glass, it leaves little to be desired, and may be dwelt upon with more profit than nine out of ten of the renowned pictures of the Tribune or the Pitti. You will enter into the spirit of it better if I first translate for you a little piece from the Fioretti di San Francesco.