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HERCULES having penetrated the design of the Centaur Nessus, who made arrangements to carry off Dejanira, wounded his rival with a poisoned arrow; who being on the point of death, gave a tunic, tinged with his blood, to Dejanira, assuring her that it possessed the virtue of recalling Hercules, should he be disposed to attach himself to any other mistress. But it contained a fatal poison; and Hercules was no sooner invested with it, than he experienced the greatest agony, which he could only terminate by putting himself voluntarily to death. The hero, in consequence, expired upon a pile, which he had himself erected. Thus perished the son of Alcmena, and his death is the subject of the picture before us.
It appears that the poets could not imagine a more honourable end to his glorious life. The conqueror of so many monsters was not destined to perish by the hand of a victor, nor to die the peaceable death of an ordinary man. The last act of the life of Hercules was a trait of force and intrepidity.
This picture, the work of Guido, exhibits all the tasteful design, vigorous effect, and easy pencil, so conspicuous in the performances of that celebrated master.
"Guido," says M. Fuseli, " delighted in the forms of Cesi; he followed the muscular precision and marking of
Passerotti. He attempted to imitate the energy and depth of Caravaggio. The beautiful Sybil of the palace Bonfigliuoli has the nocturnal shade of that style; but the style on which he fixed arose from a reflection of Annibal Caracci on that of Caravaggio: that master observed, that a contrary method might perhaps more than counterbalance its effects, by substituting for the contracted and deciduous flash an open ample light, by opposing delicacy to the fierceness, decision to the obscurity of the line, and ideal forms to the vulgarity of his models. These words sunk deeper than Annibal expected, in the mind of Guido; soon prompted him to try the effect: suavity became his aim. He sought it in design, in touch, in colour; te give durability to his tints, he began to make great use of white lead, a colour dreaded by Ludovico Caracci; pure demi tints and skilful reflexes mitigated the vigour of his shades, and gave roundness and delicacy, without enfeebling its effects."