UNIVERSAL HISTORY-THE ANCIENT WORLD.
noticeable that, in these times, there was no distinction between decorative
painters and painters of high art. It should be observed, also, that fresco work
has in itself a germ of artistic vice. The distance at which the work is set from
the observer tends to the introduction of hasty effects, and the artist is likely
to become a mere decorator. In the frescoes of imperial Rome, however, there is
much to be praised. The coloring is beautiful and harmonious; the subjects,
greatly varied in selection; the invention, rich; the composition, admirable.
It is fortunate for the world that so much of the decorative art of imperial Rome
has been preserved. The fateful Vesuvius, with his protecting ashes and lava, was
more considerate of art than of human life. Herculaneum and Pompeii have enriched
the modern world with a vast store of treasures, arid there is much more to
follow. Rome, herself, has preserved not a few specimens of her ancient pictorial
art, and other cities of the Empire have contributed of their classic riches to
the wealth of modern times.
It is believed that the wall and ceiling decoration, so much cultivated in
imperial Rome, began with mere imitations of colored or encrusted marble and
building stone. From this rude beginning the principle of design was introduced.
The subjects at first selected were mythological, afterward legendary, then
historical, finally ideal. All of these stages of development are fully
represented, from the Odyssey landscape, found at the Esquiline, to the
allegories on the ceilings of Pompeii. It is said that the introduction of
landscape painting, upon the inner walls of edifices, may be traced to Ludius, an
artist who flourished in the reign of Augustus.
The art so fully illustrated in the recently exhumed cities of Campania was
especially free and joyous. The work is true to its original idea, which is that
of decoration. The whole is conceived as if to enliven and please the senses,
rather than to subdue passion or instruct the judgment. The more serious lessons
of history are generally omitted. Fresh landscapes flash out with the brightest
of sunshine. Ships with white sails blown full of cheerful breezes stand out to
sea. The armor of Mars is not seen suspended on these beautiful walls. This is
the wedding-day. The mother decks her daughter for the bridal. The table is
spread, and laughing guests sit tete-a-tete, sipping delicate wines or toying
with the half-open buds of roses.
In the strongest possible contrast was the doleful art of the catacombs. Here the
airy spirit of the Greek, stimulated into additional joyousness under the balmy
sky of Campania, gave way suddenly to the seriousness and dolor of the Christian
faith. The circumstances of persecution, also, by which the early followers of
the new system were driven out of the city and under ground, added to the gloom
and moroseness of the pictorial representations drawn on the walls of those
subterranean abodes, which were at once the home and the tomb of the primitive
disciples. Added to this was a certain stiffness of form and expression, copied
from the school of Byzantium, the austere spirit of which better accorded with
the solemnity of Christianity than did the hilarious freedom of the Greek.
In the matter of architecture, the Romans displayed greater force and originality
than in any other branch of art. It was, however, in the technical part of
construction, rather than in the artistic part of building, that the men of Rome
revealed their individuality and power. As already said, the first temple of the
city was built by Etruscan artists, after a model established in their own
country. The ground plan was more nearly square than the elongated parallelogram
employed by the Greek architects; the front was an open portico, in which the
augurs stood to make their observations of the heavens; the interior, an ample
cella, which was the shrine of the deity. This type of structure was maintained
until contact with the Greeks introduced many modifications of style. The newer
buildings became more oblong, and a general design was copied from the
architecture of Hellas; but the two peculiarly Roman features-namely, the
capacious cella, and the wide, pillared portico- were retained through the best
ages of Roman building.
In the columnar part of construction the