ART AND RELIGION.*
MILS. STRONG has placed English readers under a further debt by her latest essay in the interpretation of that Roman art which was so strangely neglected until the close of the nineteenth century. It is fifteen years since her translation of Wiekhoff's work (under the title of Roman Art) set before our younger students the vision of new fields to conquer ; eight years since in her Roman Sculpture she embarked upon the new adventure in her own person. In the volume which lies before us she pushes on into fresh regions, hardly as yet explored by English scholars. The title of the lectures (delivered in the United States) sufficiently indicates the change in orientation to which the study of Roman monuments has become subject. In the first decade of this century archaeologists were for the most part still preoccupied with the problem of form, and the solutions found for it by various peoples. It was needful to show that, as Alois Riegl had first dared to hint, the development of art during the period of the Roman Empire was no unbroken decadence, but in some measure a progress " along the ascending line," being the product of a definite Kunstwol/en distinct from, but entitled to rank beside, that which had embodied itself in the imperishable creations of Hellenic art.
To-day the centre of interest has been displaced. Controversy, it is true, still rages between Strzygowski—a host in himself—and his critics ; and Mrs. Strong has a word to say on the matter in her intro- ductory address. The mirage oriental, which some had thought to be dissolved, reappears in more imposing lineaments, and we are asked to believe that not only the Eternal City, but the New Rome on the Bosphorus, were subject to the penetration of Oriental ideas, " not indeed," to quote Mrs. Strong, " through the fascination which an old and corrupt civilisation necessarily exerts over one less mature, but, on the contrary, in virtue of a renewed vigour which enabled the East to endow the failing Graeco-Roman peoples with new technical resources, with artistic skill and intelligence, and with the crowning gift of science." We can no longer speak of the East which
" Let the legions thunder past And plunged in thought again."
Mrs. Strong has her own formula for expressing the alchemy by which Rome, " at the same time conservative and hospitable," transmuted the various influences, whether Greek or Oriental, to which she became
• Apotheorit •nd After Life: Three Lectures on Certain Phases of Art and Religion in the Rowan Empire. By Mrs. Arthur Strong, Litt.D., LL.D. With 32 Plates. London: Constable and Co. Re. 6d. net.] subjected by her conquests, "till they emerged, both in the city itself and in the provinces, as what may still be justly called Roman Imperial Art." But she does more than furnish an abstract formula. She endeavours " to show, in two concrete instances, how Greek and Oriental influences combined with certain Roman strains to express new ideals." And be it noted that both of her themes belong to the sphere of religion, in which we have been taught by Cumont and others to regard the Graeco-Roman world as receptive—interpenetrated by all-pervading Oriental influences which secured their final triumph when Christianity became the creed of the Empire. And her book is specially welcome, inasmuch as, though a great deal has been written on the religious movement under the Early Empire as portrayed in literature and inscriptions, the evidence of art has (except in the case of Mithraism) received scant measure of the attention which it merits.
Tho examples which she selects—the Imperial apotheosis and the new faith in the after life—though they may seem at first to lie far apart, are in reality strictly complementary ; that is to say, they stand for the public and the personal factors in religion. It may appear strange to speak of the worship of the Caesars as in any sense a prae- paratio ecangelica ; but in the province of art this was undoubtedly the ease. Mrs. Strong points out how the diffusion of interest which we see in Greek composition gives place in Roman to a concentration in which the details are subordinated to a central figure. The conse- quence is best expressed in her own words :-
" Had Christianity, with much of the old Judaic horror of images clinging to its monotheism, come into direct contact with Greek anthro- pomorphism, the shock would have been even more violent than it was, and the victory of Christianity might have brought with it the total extinction of the formative arts, or at least of those which represent the human figure. As it was, the Imperial idea smoothed over the transition ; the place was ready, and by an almost unconscious change we find the Christ enthroned or standing in the place of the Imperator."
The well-known schemes of Roman historical monuments were taken over by Christian art, and nothing is more instructive in Mrs. Strong's book than the parallels which she draws, e.g., between Pagan and Christian monuments : for example, the relief from the Arch of Con- stantine which represents an Imperial proclamation (probably by Diocletian) presents the same principle of design as a sarcophagus at Verona., " save that the Imperial platform is transformed into the rock whence flow the four rivers of Paradise." In every product of the time—in the work of the ivory-carver and the silversmith as much as in that of the monumental sculptor—the process by which Christianity entered into the heritage of the Imperial art-tradition can be clearly traced, and in no other book can it be studied with the aid of such well-chosen and admirably illustrated examples.
There is a different, and perhaps a deeper, interest in the second and third lectures, in which the symbolism of Roman sepulchral monuments —the sumptuous sarcophagi of the suburban cemeteries of the capital and the unpretending tombstones of the provinces—is interpreted. It is safe to assume that Mrs. Strong will not have drawn attention in vain to these too much neglected products of private art, but that the clues which she furnishes will be followed up by other inquirers. We already knew from literary sources that in the last century of the Republic Rome (and, for that matter, the whole Graeco-Roman world, soon to be unified under Imperial rule) fell under the spell of those mystical speculations which find their classical expression in Cicero's Dream of Scipio. Mrs. Strong has been quick to trace the first indi- cations of the process in art. There is a remarkable relief in the local museum of Aquila, found near the Sabine town of Amiternum, and belonging, apparently, to the closing years of the Republio. It repro- duces the pomp and circumstance of a funeral procession in which the dead man, doubtless a local Magistrate, is borne upon a gorgeous catafalque, surmounted by a baldacchino embroidered with a crescent moon and constellations. It was left for Mrs. Strong to show that this steliated carpet, representing the " cosmic envelope of the Universe," points to the astral destiny of the soul which was the central dogma of the new faith, however manifold the creeds into which it entered. Read in this light, details which have been treated as purely decorative become charged with meaning—e.g., the medallion enclosing the portrait of the dead is revealed as the celestial sphere when it bears the signs of the Zodiac. The mythological scenes repeated on a hundred sarcophagi all have their hidden significance, and though much remains to be interpreted, much will doubtless be achieved on the lines laid down by Mrs. Strong.
In her closing pages she deals with a monument too often condemned as the product of ignorant vulgarity—the tomb set up by the Secundinii, a family of wealthy cloth-merchants, at 'gel, near Trdves. A slender tower with pyramidal roof, it is covered with a profusion of carvings, partly representing, in the naive fashion of the Roman provincial, the scenes of everyday life, even that of the kitchen ; partly given up to the religious symbolism of the age, of which, as Mrs. Strong says, it is the " splendid and convincing epitome." The rape of Hylaa hints at the rape of the soul by the powers of death ; the liberation of Andromeda is emblematic of ith release from earthly chains ; the story of Mars and Rhea Sylvia typifies its awakening to a fife of blessedness , the baptism of Achilles in Styx may (as Mrs. Strong suggests) allude to a Celtic rite of purification ; while the apotheosis of Heracles expresses the sure confidence, which all the religions of the Empire sought to inspire in their followers, in a triumphal ascent beyond the spheres.