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CHAPTER VII

ART MATTERS

Abundant as Transylvania is in natural products, plentifully scattered as the men of literature and science are throughout the land, especially among the Saxon populations, there is one thing which is wholly wanting here, -knowledge of, and a cultivated feeling for, Art. On my journey through the country, this deficiency became more and more apparent; and, accustomed as we are elsewhere in Europe to find this taste shared generally by the educated and refined, the total absence here of an acquaintance with even the first principles of art quite takes the traveller by surprise. It contrasts so strangely with the erudition and learning which you find among one part of the population, and a certain elegance in the dress and household arrangements of the other. At first, you are inclined to think that the ignorance which you find in this respect is only partial; but the more you see and hear, the firmer becomes the conviction that it is absolute and general.

At Szamos Ujvár, in the Armenian church, is a large picture said to be by Titian. I had been told of this painting beforehand, and, on my arrived in the town, went to the church with the clergyman, who was so obliging as to accompany me. At last we stood before the work, which was the pride of the place. But it was no more by Titian than it was by me. There was not in it a trace even of the great master. My guide, however, was so impressed with its value, and had evidently so much pleasure in being able to show me the treasure, that I had not the heart to undeceive him and disturb his joy. I leave this task to some later traveller who may come after me. It was incomprehensible to me at the time, that a picture, without any pretension to merit, should still maintain its name, and that there should be no one in the land to point out the mistake. But it is so no longer. I comprehend it now perfectly. The absence of all acquaintance with art being general, who is there to detect the error? for we cannot expect the blind to lead the blind.

In (Hungarian) country mansions, where yon find the culture and the refinement of western Europe, where the works of the best German and English authors were lying on the table, and had evidently been read, I have seen paintings hanging up in the drawing-room which, even for affection's sake, it would elsewhere not be possible to endure. And in towns it was the same. Occasionally, I allow, there was a work of merit on the walls ; a portrait of an ancestor, or of some member of the Imperial family ; but this was by mere chance, and independent of the taste of the noble possessor. There was everywhere a want of discrimination; and a tolerably good work would be put side by side with one which you would gladly pay for to be allowed to burn.

But the most striking instance, because on so overpoweringly large a scale, is the Bruckenthal picture-gallery in Hermannstadt. Unless seen, it is impossible to form any notion of the rubbish here brought together. You go from room to room, the walls of which are filled with paintings which are utterly worthless. Many of them are such wretched daubs that it is quite marvel to you how they ever got there. They are only fit, and hardly fit, for a broker's stall. And yet, as you gaze around, tired, yet wondering at the sight, your companion continually calls your attention to a Rubens, a Titian, or probable Raphael, till at last you are absolutely at a loss to understand what is going on. Is all this a joke, or is it serious? At first you could believe your eyes, and now, with far more difficulty, you try to credit that you hear aright. But no; it is no joke. Your kind cicerone is quite grave as he utters these great names, and evidently speaks in good faith, and as a firm believer. Here is a Wouvermans, -indeed, there are plenty of them,-and here a Titian, and a Rubens or two, and Teniers and Ostade in unlimited quantity. There may be a doubt, indeed some have doubted, whether that hideous female with a brat on her arm be a Raphael ; but it is evident that in the speaker's mind the question appears so very nicely balanced, as to leave quite as much in favour of the authenticity of the work as against it. In the Dresden or Munich Gallery you will not hear greater names, or in larger number.

Now, although we may excuse a total unacquaintance with art in private individuals, it does seem strange that in a public gallery, -for it may be looked upon as such, -the same entire want of all knowledge should be painfully manifested. There are a few pictures among the lot which are worth having, but not more than would go into a single room. The inhabitants of Transylvania, even the nobility now, are not rich enough to purchase works of art, and thus bring home to them what they otherwise must go far to seek. If among them any one becomes an artist, he goes elsewhere to exercise his profession, and naturally seeks a sphere of action where his efforts will be appreciated, and his labour sufficiently paid. The Saxon student, during his stay in Germany to complete his education, has, unless he be specially endowed little time or thought for matters foreign to his particular studies; and so on mutters of art he, too, learns nothing.

As was said above, this deficiency seems at first quite unaccountable, especially among men otherwise so well informed; but if we remember how much easier it is to obtain books than works of art, and also that a knowledge of a literary work may be gained without even seeing the work itself, we understand how they, who are like children as regards art, may, in literature, keep pace with those living in the great world without, beyond the walls of rock which, hitherto, have also formed a barrier between Transylvania and Europe.

But I am at a loss to understand how it is that the Hungarian nobility, who, however, do occasionally visit Germany, France, Italy, and England, should not have profited by their travels, and formed a more accurate standard by the works they have seen abroad.

The saddest proof of a want of all feeling for, or understanding of art, is afforded by the fine old church it Hermannstadt. The interior was "restored" some years ago; that is to say, the ancient monuments and picturesque altars were removed, an organ loft eructed, which is not in keeping with the rest, and the whole thoroughly whitewashed over. The proportions of this building are so beautiful, there is throughout such elegance of form, and in all the detail the whole is so light and graceful that do with it what you will, it is impossible to destroy the pleasing effect which this fine specimen of ancient architecture produces. On closer examination, however, if you go into the adjoining chapel, and look at the monuments lying at random on the ground, you soon come to the conclusion that the "restorers" neither appreciated the materials they had to deal with, nor were capable of adding anything which should be in harmony with the rest.

The capitals of the columns are most delicately chiselled, but the coating of lime which they have received amalgamates them with the surrounding white surface, and all their beauty is lost. It is the same with the vaulted ceiling on one side of the organ. The exquisite lightness and elegance of the groined arching is not seen to advantage, owing to the monotony of the one white colour. There is no light and shade.

The columns and their capitals are of stone ; much of the upper part of the interior is, I was told, of brick, so that it could not well have been left without a covering of some sort. This was the reason given to excuse the whitewash. But the massy stone capitals and their ornaments might have been left as they were ; and above these, where another material was used, a pale grey colouring have been employed, while the groining and carved keystones were brought out by a warmer tint. In the upper part of the interior, colour originally had evidently been employed. But it was easier, and no doubt more in accordance with the prevailing taste, to have bare walls and make them look white and uniform.

It is greatly to be lamented that this grand old monument should have been treated so. In all that has been done, there is no understanding or appreciation of art. It is true that skilled workmen are not to be had in Hermannstadt, and that any that any deviation from the everyday commonplace mode of work entails a heavy cost ; but it would have been better to leave the whole alone than spoil it so utterly as has been done. Or it might have been done gradually, bit by bit, and with a reverent feeling, preserving what even Time ruthfully had spared.

But, most unfortunately, reverence here was wanting. It is wanting still, if we are to judge by the state of the building adjoining the church, where the monuments which have been removed are lying. These are all of interest. They are full-length figures of patricians or authorities of the town, evidently portraits, and giving with minute detail the costume of the period. Many are on the earth uncovered, amid rubbish, and exposed to every sort of injury. Some, which have already been fixed in the wall in the places assigned them, -placed, however, without reference to date or the observance of any rule or law, -are mutilated; and you see by the freshness of the fracture, that the injury is of quite recent date. In a space boarded off at the top of the stair leading to the gallery, a monument in white marble or alabaster has been placed for safety, -the whole elaborately wrought according to the taste of the time, and with little figures of angels which are exceedingly pretty. As a work of art it is not valuable, but it is interesting in itself, and as a perfectly preserved specimen of an age gone by. If it were worth while to preserve it, it was worth while to do so properly; but this, like the monuments below, has been broken lately. The door of the room where it was being locked, and a workman wanting to fetch something which was in it, he wrenched the lock, and the door has remained open ever since, -open to all comers. The result has been the mutilation of the monument. Thus, works which have passed unscathed through three or four stormy centuries, which even escaped the efforts to destroy of Rakotzi in 1659,1 are at last defaced, in 1863 or 1864, through the carelessness of those who should lovingly watch over them.

Another instance, hardly credible, of the utter want of all artistic feeling, is to be found at Hunyad, in the Hatzeg Valley. The walls of this wonderfully fins castle, of which more will be said later, were, on the occasion of a visit of the late emperor, all plastered over with mortar and then whitewashed! Let us fancy the walls and round tower of Windsor, Belvoir, or Edinburgh castles being treated in this way.

It is sad enough where monuments of beauty go to ruin for want of a kindly hand to save them; but it excites our wrath to see them, from an utter want of knowledge and all reverence, purposely mutilated.

At Kertz, too, in the Valley of the Alt, is an old abbey dating from the fourteenth century, that had it been better preserved, might have been the Melrose of Transylvania. The remains show clearly what it must once have been. But the stones are carried off to build the huts of the villagers; and the elaborately carved capitals of the columns in the chapel, the beautiful pendent spandrils with heads and emblems upon them which once adorned the chapel aisle, have been taken as an embankment for the brook that gurgles through the pastor's garden. No one cares about the matter, and in a few years not a remnant of the ancient building will be left.

Now, setting aside the artistical part of the question, this state of things is bad from another practical point of view. I hope, and have no doubt, that before long Transylvania will cease to be the "unknown land" to the rest of Europe which it has been hitherto. Travellers will come here to study the language, the architecture, and the natural products of the country, -to make themselves acquainted with the vestiges, everywhere found, of a people who have long since passed away from the earth. And tourists also will pour in to enjoy the sight of a new country, new costumes and modes of life, and, where such are left, to visit the ruins of castles and monasteries or mountain fastnesses scattered through the land. If these are allowed to disappear, there are so many points of attraction less to draw the stranger hither. Would Heidelberg have such influx of visitors from all parts of the world, if its unparalleled castle were not still standing on the mountain-side, and adding beauty even to the shores of the rippling Neckar? Had it been carted away to build houses and mill-dams, as I saw done with the ruin at Deva, would the money which year after year flows into the town have streamed on so abundantly? If we take the castle at Baden, or any other, it is the same. There is an irresistible charm about such places, which, if not wantonly destroyed, time only makes more lovely. And to them men pilgrimage; and the old hoary pile attracts the young and the aged alike, generation after generation.

Even for this reason, then, something should be done to preserve the few monuments which Transylvania has to show. The Government might lend a helping hand; the inhabitants themselves might do much, if there were but a will and a comprehension, though imperfect, of the interest attaching to such works and of their artistic value. There is in the country what may be called an "Antiquarian Society," - "Verein für siebenbürgische Landerskunde." -and it might fittingly take upon itself the task of caring for these matters. The Proceedings of the Society, published from time to time, give ample proof the intellectual capability and activity of its members. Would they but extend their activity in this new direction, they might greatly add to their merit and usefulness.

I shall have occasion, in the course of my narrative, to speak more in detail of different monuments. Some have disappeared, and within the last few years. No one seemed to think that Transylvania could possess any such worth preserving. Like a poor orphan, it was unheeded and uncared for; and what was good in it remained hidden and unknown.

1At the siege of the town, Rakotai threatened that if the gates were not opened to him, he would destroy the church, which was the pride of the Saxons. Though the cannon were specially directed against it, little harm was done to the edifice, -a proof how imperfect the artillery of that day still was. Each time a shot struck the so-called "Smith's Tower," its defenders wiped the spot with a fox's brush, -to the great wrath of the besiegers, who were indignant at the mockery thus implied.

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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