Letter from GEORGE PERKINS MARSH to HIRAM POWERS, dated June 4, 1850.
After waiting so long I ought to be ashamed to write you, but I dare say you will
imagine a better excuse for me than I have ingenuity to invent, & I won't
attempt an apology. We had a most delightful trip to Rome, stopping a day at Perugia
(where we saw many wonders, and among other things, two fine miniature portrait
busts in marble, at the museum of the university, antiques no doubt and very
capital) and another at Terni. At Rome we spent about three weeks, and I was amazed
at the vast of great works in marble of the highest excellence. I
did not think there had been so many chef d'oeuvres in the world as there are in the
Vatican. With the Apollo at the Vatican, the Dying
Gladiator at the Capitol, and a statue of a philosopher (some said
Socrates, not his head certainly, others Aristides) found not very long since
near Terracina & now at St John Lateran, I was de-
lighted beyond measure, and won't admit there is anything so good at Florence. The new gladiator, or rather athlete (for it is Greek sculpture) is really very fine, & capitally preserved. I don't find the expression characteristic enough, but I dare not criticize it to you. Like many other ignorant people, I had been made to believe the ancients couldn't sculpture animals. What an absurdity! Their animals in the Vatican are as miraculous as their gods & men. How is it that you, knowing and enjoying these things so much better than I, don't run away to Rome now and then? I don't see how you can help it. When you go, look into the Academy of St Luke, where there are wonderful, wonderful pictures, old & new, & among these last fine portraits, and among these again, a portrait of Hiram Powers under the name of Gibson. Is it he or you?
Well, after staying between two & three weeks at Rome, we went to Naples by
land & spent near a month there, saw Pompeii, the museums (fine equestrian
statues of the Balbi found at Herculaneum; the
Venuses, ( I
don't think are so fine) and above all, a really fine eruption of Vesuvius. Haven't we been lucky to see so many marvels of art and nature in one short winter?
From Naples, we came hither in the U.S. Steam Frigate Mississippi & had a delightful trip. We remained at Pera from the time of our arrival (last of February) until the end of April & then removed for the summer to Therapia eleven miles up the Bosphorus. It has been constantly cold & still is so--colder than New York even, & almost as bad as Vermont ----
This is a good place for a painter, not for a sculptor. The people are all drapery, the drapery all colour. Form or fold, there is none, but you may make a rainbow out of a crowd, and with trees, water, & greenery, get up a landscape. The view of Constantinople & Pera from the water is the finest thing in the world, but within, there is not much. Their palaces are built of laths, & their mosques are, though of imposing exterior & proportions, poor and bald within.
My family all desire the
kindest remembrances to you & yours. Write me when you have nothing better to do, if such a time ever comes---.
Yours trulyGeo. P. MarshMr Hiram PowersFlorence
References in this letter:
The Apollo Belvedere, found in the fifteenth century at Rome, is in the Museo Pio-Clementino in the Vatican. The Dying Gladiator, also called the Dying Gaul, found in Rome in the fifteenth century, is a marble copy of a bronze original erected at Pergamon in the third century B.C. The bust of Socrates, found at Terracina in 1838, is in the Museo Gregorianum Lateranense.
The Academy of St. Luke, a school of art founded in 1577, contained a picture gallery of paintings.
John Gibson (1790-1853), an English sculptor resident in Rome, was one of the leading proponenets of neo-classicism in the nineteenth century. He produced several colored sculptures, the best known of which is the Tinted Venus, executed 1851-56, now in the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool.
The Balbi (M. Nonius Balbus and his wife and children) were a distinguished family of Herculaneum. Several sculptures in the National Museum at Naples depict members of the family; two are equestrian statues of the father and a son. The museum also contains three Greek Venuses, including the Venus Callipygus and the Venus of Capua.