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CHAPTER X

PICTURES

In the Bruckenthal Library, at Hermannstadt, is a missal of such great beauty, that no one who has a taste for works of art should fail to examine it. The volume is of the finest vellum, and consists of six hundred and thirty pages in small quarto, each one of which is ornamented with borders of fruit, flowers, birds, fanciful animals, etc. It is evident that at least two, if not more hands, were employed in the work. One artist was undoubtedly a merry fellow, for his animals are most grotesque, and the compositions have always in them a spice of drollery and fun. The other was more staid. The flowers, too, of each are unlike in treatment. The pictures themselves are also by a different artist from the designer of the architectural borders. The figures in the former are decidedly of the Van Eyck school, while the framework, so to say, is by a later and less skilful workman. In the Pinacothek of Munich are pictures from the Boisserée Collection, which greatly resemble those in this beautiful missal, and especially so in the peeps obtained through a window or open door of the street scenery of quaint medieval towns. There are representation of old German cities, which, as you look at them, you fancy to remember having seen somewhere on the Rhine or in Flanders, for many are evidently sketches of places in those parts. Some show the suburbs, with the fields and the rural population at work, or the citizens taking their pleasure in the meadows; and before you is a picturesque old castle, with its towers and gates and strong surrounding wall. In all, the perspective is admirable. Now you are shown a winding staircase lending up from a landing-place or hall; a room door is open, and you see into the next chamber; now it is the front of a Rathhaus, or town-hall, in which the artist's skill is shown; or a long street, with a fountain in the centre and many intermediate buildings. The landscape backgrounds, of which we get glimpses, are often quite charming; sometimes, too, they are the scene of an episode in the Virgin's life, or that of her infant boy.

In all these representations we see how the artists, and probably the people too, followed Christ's wandering and each event in his or in his mother's life, and how, by dwelling on it, it had become quite familiar to them, till at last every accessory incident, though not related, was supplied by the fancy, which a deeply sympathizing interest called forth. They put themselves in the position of the happy mother with her long-announced babe; or they suffered with her, and walked with her in her agony when her son was led away to death. All that might have occurred as they fancied it; each pathetic incident is noted and brought before you. The artist might have been on the spot and present at each event, so truthful is every delineation and so full of minutest detail. Now this is the reflex of the popular mind of that unsophisticated time. The people took a natural, not a conventional view of objects that were dear to them. The earth on which Christ trod was their own every-day world, and his apostles were fishermen, who handled nets which they made of twine and mended after work in the sun, just as they themselves did. And if the Virgin was the Queen of Heaven, she was still a woman who had borne a child, and had swathed and sung it to sleep. They lived again the lives of the personages of the Bible, they stood nearer to them, or rather brought them nearer to themselves, than is now the case, by the very intensity of their sympathy, and very trustingly, and without a single doubt, yielded themselves up willingly to belief. There is an indescribable charm in these pictures, and the interest with which the artist entered into his subject is imparted to, and felt by us. Such is always the result when a man is in earnest.

Renan, in his renowned work, has done just what these old painters did; though whether the same love gave him his insight, or whether it was the mere work of imagination, I do not pretend to say. But he, too, has furnished such minutely worked-out pictures as are to be seen in this fine old book. And in reality it is to this extraordinary power of description, -these word-paintings of scenes and moments such as we had not before, -that he owes his success.

Perhaps the best compositions in the volume are, page 175, "The Descent from the Cross," and page 345, "The Virgin, as Queen of Heaven. The drawing of the illustrations at page 546 is most admirable, led evidently by another hand. In "The Ascension," page 523, the woman looking upwards is excellent ; the expression of wonderment in her face and whole figure perfect. The border to this is also very delicate, the ground is gold, and strewn about upon it are lying loose pearls.

In the raising of Lazarus, some men in the background are looking on, holding their noses as the corpse rises from the tomb, bringing with it the atmosphere of decay. In another picture, "The Death of the Virgin" is an incident quite Shakespearean in its introduction. Through the open door of a chamber we see the Virgin in bed, attended by grieving friends ; it is a scene of great sorrow.1 On the foreground, in the court of the house, little boys are playing at whiptop, and their happy childish faces show how unconscious they are that death is so near.

The furniture and arrangements of some of the rooms, with a Dutch clock perhaps ticking on the wall, are very characteristic. In one picture, St. Mark is seen writing his record, with a pen or pencil in each hand. But what had for me special attraction was the calendar at the beginning of the volume, with representations of the work indicative of each month. There was vine-dressing and hop-picking going on; mowers were busy in a meadow, and the sower, stepping briskly along, was confidingly flinging his former harvest into the open furrow. Here in a street, you looked into a house where a pig had just been killed, and children, stopped in the midst of their play by the important act, gazed on in silent wonder.

The book is without data, nor is there any clue to its history or origin. And now let us look at some other pictures.

To stroll about any old town is always pleasant, and where costumes, merchandise, customs, are so novel as they are here, every step you take affords new amusement. Especially during a fair, much is to be seen, -the peasantry with their various picturesque dresses, and a multiplicity of merchandise not brought every day. And just now it was fair-time at Hermannstadt. The busiest and noisiest place of all was the street where crockery was sold. Here was a Babel of women's voices. The various wares were spread on the ground, and groups of girls and housewives were bargaining for them with the venders. It seemed a sort of meeting-place for the gossips, where the town-news was heard and imparted. Behind the piles of jugs and dishes stood the two-wheeled carts, with white linen awning, in which the goods had been brought ; and beside them lay Wallacks asleep, or only resting on sheaves of straw.

On a day like this, the art of dress might profitably be studied. Who would have thought it possible that the simple volutura2 could be twisted and worn in so many different fashions ! Yet in how varied wise was it put on ! One woman had it jauntily lifted at the side, to show a gold fillet that bound her black hair, or a bright-blue flower with golden petals. Another had twisted the fine web in thick folds like a turban, while two long ends of unequal length hung down gracefully behind ; but she yonder has twined it about her head quite differently ; it is loose and light, and with abundance of folds, sharp and angular, looks like a snowdrift when contrasted with her brown face. And there are two gipsy women, gipsies of Hermannstadt, whom I met the evening before, while drinking a glass of wine. How they stream along in their rich apparel, and in the pride and consciousness of their rich apparel, and in the pride and consciousness of their imposing beauty ! And with piecing glances, they fling me a welcome as they pass, and leave me to gaze after them and their superb majesty. A kerchief of yellow silk is tied round the head ; over this a large shawl, the ends hanging down heavily in thick folds. The white <-- 133 --> lawn sleeves of the chemise are abundantly full, and carelessly thrown over the shoulders is a jacket bordered and lined with fur. The skirt of their dress is of rich brocade, with a train behind. They must have on innumerable petticoats, for the thick silk bulges out in large volume. And thus, with rustling robes and stately air, their large imperious eyes seeming to await men's reverence, each moves along like an Asiatic queen.

But there are others as different in dress as in air and feature. How fresh those Saxon girls are, and how pretty and bright everything about them ! The white petticoat, plaited in innumerable folds, an inch broad, reaches to the ankles, and looks like a snow- flake beneath the broad black merino apron. They have on the usual jacket of blue woollen cloth, open in front, from which depend behind the numberless ribbons, red, black, and blue. Round their head they wear a kerchief of finest gauze bound tightly over the forehead, but under this is a broad ribbon, red and gold, gleaming through it as through a haze. The ends, too, of this delicate head-gear are embroidered with small red stripes. One was bargaining for a new white leathern jerkin, with flowers in gay colours worked over it in silk. And there was a Saxon youth -a bridegroom -with bright ribbons tied round his broad-brimmed hat ; and in front an immense posy of artificial flowers, a foot high, and leaves of gold tinsel standing upright against the crown. Beside him was his future wife -at most fifteen -glad and radiant as that sunny morning. She wore a large white cambric apron, beautifully embroidered, and with her sisters wound her way among the crowd, making purchases. Some peasants were buying leather, heaps of which were lying on the pavement, others white wooden saddles, edged with blue, or gay harness, or red boots, or cupboards and lockers for their rooms, painted with flowers brighter than a rainbow. Colour, colour! everywhere colour! in the various dresses and the articles exposed for sale.

Wallack Girls Near Hermannstadt in Holiday Dress
"Wallack Girls Near Hermannstadt in Holiday Dress"

There was red coral on the necks and the bosoms of the Wallack girls ; and some had large earrings of gold, showing beneath the white kerchiefs or turban-like covering. There, too, a triple row of silver chain, light and fine and delicate, hung in a festoon from one to the other, beside the cheek and below the chin, causing at every moment a flashing of tremulous light.

The country-people are still pouring into the towns, with busy faces and looks of prying and expectant curiosity, and all, of course, in holiday attire. But those three gipsies -an old hag and two young girls -ill accord with the surrounding groups. They are tattered and begrimed, and their brown rags contrast strangely with the aprons and plaited petticoats and linen sleeves of dazzling whiteness, glittering everywhere in the sun. And how, too, the handsome stuffs and bright colours are at variance with their poverty ! But what care they? They are laughing and chatting in their "soft bastard Latin" as they toil along with their packs behind them, stopping, however, every now and then, to make a purchase like the rest. Look at the dark neck and bosom of that young thing, as her jacket opens and displays her budding beauty ! Was it not, think you, just such a wild creature that Praxiteles took for a model, or Phidias, when he moulded his forms of loveliness in all their free unlaced development?

That trio does not belong to Hermannstadt ; they are wandering gipsies come merely for the fair, and will be off again when it is over. Such arc not allowed to remain in town over-night ; they have their encampment at a village close by. It is on this class of the gipsy population that least dependence can be placed. "La propriété c'est le vol" is their motto. But with the others, those who have a fixed occupation and abode, it is different. Their settled mode of life, their closer contact with society, has had its influence on their habits. Yet the wild untamed nature of the nomade animal is still visible in gait and bearing, and especially in the glance of his large eyes. Now it is sinister and stealthily watchful, now it glares in fire, and pierces your very brain as its lightnings flash out upon you. This strange race came hither, it is said, in 1487, during the reign of King Sigismund. They emigrated to Hungary and Transylvania from Hindostan, in order to escape the cruelty of the Mongol rulers.

On the outside of every town and village a gipsy settlement is to be found. Some are very humble, and indicate abject poverty ; but in others the houses are well-built, the rooms neat, clean, and well furnished. The gipsy, as soon as his means allow, decorates his dwelling. It is his pride to have it orderly and look comfortable. Those who are well off, and many are so, are as nicely lodged as possible. Into one house which I entered, Sachsisch Reen, I found chairs and sofa of polished walnut, covered with a pretty woollen furniture-stuff of blue and white ; on the chest of drawers in one corners were all sorts of knickknacks, as on a lady's étagčre ; the walls were hung with large lithographs in plain gilt frames, and on the table was a cover quite as good as the one in my own room. Over the bed was thrown a counterpane scrupulously clean, and the floor, etc., was in accordance with the rest. The man wax a musician, the master of a band, or Kapellmeister, as he liked to be called; and on my going away I complimented him on his pretty cottage. "Herr," he said, with dignity, "es ist eine Schande für mich, dass ich darin wohne," ("It is a disgrace for me to live in such a place,") and all I could say was insufficient to make him more satisfied with his state. A man of his position should, he thought, be differently lodged. But, besides this, the nobleman to whom the estate belonged on which his cottage stood, was with me ; and my gipsy acquaintance had, it seemed, often, in vain, petitioned the land-steward to assign him another, or to improve his present dwelling. This was, therefore, a good opportunity of venting his discontent, and giving a broad hint to the lord of the manor that he had always asked in vain.

During the winter, by playing at balls, these men gain a good deal. They go a1so, a number of them together, to Bucharest, and as certain bands have a name even out of Transylvania, their trip always proves a good speculation. For the dance no music can be better than that of a gipsy band; there is a life and animation in it which carries you away. If you have danced to it yourself, especially in a Czardas, then to hear the stirring tones, without involuntarily springing up, is, I assert, an absolute impossibility. There is a thrill in the wild dissonances, a life and impetuosity in the movement, an animation and vivacity in the varying rhythm, which is quite enthralling. And the dancers feel the thrill: see how they glide majestically along as the prelude is slow and sonorous ; and the music quickens, and there is a rush of tones, and the fantastic melody hastens on at a headlong pace, how all are seized by the potency of the spell ; their movements quicken too, their feet beat time to the music; and suddenly clasping their willing partner round the waist, carded away by, and borne, as it were, upon that gushing flood of strangely intermingling tones.

There must be something in that dance which is irresistible ; for long as a Czardas may last, -and its duration may be of any length, -directly the musicians stop there is on all sides a clapping of hands, and loud shout for them to begin again. A single dance never satisfies ; it only arouses and makes you long for more.

But whether it be a dance that these gipsies play, or anything else, you see that the whole soul of the man is in what he is about. As be proceeds, and the tones come thicker and quicker, as he himself warms with his performance, his head leans gradually lower and lower towards his violin, till at last his cheek quite rests upon it; his ear is bent down listening to his instrument, and his eyes tells you that he is listening. But not merely hearkening to the clang that fills the air, and flying off from those old strings like the sparks from an electric wheel, but the intenseness of his watching seems to indicate that he is striving to catch some low tones, to his ear but just perceptible, to ours not at all so. He is like one with ear and eye awaiting coming footsteps ; and just as he stands, with ear close to his instrument, have I often stood in the silent forest with outstretched neck, and eye widely open, trying to hear a rustle that might tell me the stag was approaching.

These men are born musicians. They learn of themselves, and as by instinct. The instruments of some the poorer are of the worst description, -such as the most miserable street-player in England would think too bad for use. Yet even from these they force effective music ; or, rather, it is as though they imparted to the patched-up violin its extraordinary tones from some store of melody within themselves.

It more than once occurred to me that it would be an excellent speculation for a choice band to start for England, and there play their national music. I wonder that no one has ever thought of this. If those hideous so called "minstrels," with their blackened faces and negro dress, attract audiences by their coarseness and vulgarity, by their screams and noise, such original and admirably-performed music as these Hungarians could offer would, I should think, hardly fail to please.

Many of these men are composers as well as performers. Pongrátz and Patikárus are names well known, wherever the Czardas is listened to. This particular melody -and though there is no end to the different Czardas, they all have a peculiarity which gives them a certain family like- ness -exercises a most powerful influence on a Hungarian audience. It seems to appeal irresistibly to Hungarian nature, -to be, indeed, that nature with its fire, and ardour, liveliness, and impetuosity, put into tones; for often, when it is played, the listener will reward the performer in an exaggerated manner ; and calling for the air again and again, will heap recompense on recompense, till, in passionate delight, the last remaining ducat has been given ; watch and rings, and horse, -till, in short, everything that may be parted with is bestowed.

There is an old chapel adjoining the church in Hermannstadt, one deserving to be saved from the decay into which it is fast falling. It is in a most dilapidated state. A great number of old books, thickly covered with dust and cobwebs, were lying pell-mell on the ground, -specimens of early printing from Mainz and Nuremberg. Has Hermannstadt been a Hungarian town, this would certainly have been otherwise ; for, with their proud feeling of nationality, they would have found means to change such a state of things.

The fountains are everywhere the place where the servant-girls meet to have a chat together. I often walked past to look at and admire the groups of laughing lasses enjoying their freedom, and dawdling with their pitchers, long since filled and running over. What lenient mistresses they must have had, to have dared thus to dally on their way ! And how they talked, all at once, so that the splashing of the falling water was quite drowned by the hubbub of their voices ! There were the dark Wallack girls, with their snowy shifts and red kratinsas ; every movement of the supple body free and natural, as it only can be when the limbs are confined. What attitudes they took, as they stood and waited ! How the arms were crossed over the bosom, the shoulders thrown back, the head archly flung on one side, the body, to the hips, describing a concave curve, and one foot put forward in the sauciest manner, and you saw the full round lean in all its youthful perfection. Such attitudes are never seen in our civilized West, where stays and crinoline have the mastery over the human body.

In strolling through the streets, we come to the "Grosser und Kleiner Ring," the large and smaller "round," not "place" or "square," as it world be called in other towns. And the reason is, that here in former times was the "Ring Mauer," or surrounding wall of the citadel. At first it was of small circumference, but, as space was wanted, a larger circuit was included ; and so the name was retained, when that which gave the appellation had disappeared. And the houses that we see here were built as they are, not without a purpose. The vaulted passage before the house-doors was a good place for the sellers of wares to stand in bad weather ; here, in wartime, when the enemy was hovering round the city, and the burghers were never safe for a moment by day or night, the armed citizens rested under shelter; and here, too, arms and ammunition, and meat and drink, were kept ready for use. In this great "Ring" or "round" it was that in old times the executioner, with axe or halter, performed his terrible office. Neat as the place is now, at the end of the seventeenth century it was filled with pools, from which, we are told, "unsavoury odours did arise," so that the commune demanded that they shoal be filled up forthwith.

In those times it was the gipsies, as the lowest in the scale of all the dwellers in the land, on whom devolved the task of cleansing the streets, gardens, ponds, and removing all impurities. In the accounts and other documents of the sixteenth century, they appear under the name of "Faröner."3 A spot was appointed them before the gates of the city, and there and there only they were allowed to dwell.

1A picture of the Boisserée Collection at Munich, attributed to Schorel, has some resemblance to this. 2Volutura is the name of the long piece of stuff worn as head-covering by the Wallack women. On Trajan's column, the same as that worn here at present is to be seen in the various groups; on old cameos, too. 3The gipsies still call themselves "Rom," signifying "a man." This leads me to think the word "Faröner" was also an appellation chosen by themselves, and that it is derived from the Spanish word "varon," meaning "a man." If so, it would seem that some, at least, of those found in Transylvania had emigrated hither from Spain. Near Lake Ngami, so Livingstone relates, is a tribe who also give themselves the appellation "Bayeiye," which means "men."

Chapters 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38




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