THE MARBLES OF ANCIENT ROME

Many fine specimens still survive the ravages of ages, among which may be mentioned the eleven massive Corinthian columns, upwards of forty-two feet high, and four and a half feet in diameter, which form the peristyle of the Temple of Neptune in the Piazza di Pietra, well known as the old Custom-house. These pillars suffered severely from the action of fire, and are much worn and defaced, but there is a grandeur about them still which deeply impresses the spectator; and the blocks of marble which form the inner part of the architrave and entablature, as seen from the inner side of the court, are so stupendous that the ruins "overhang like a beetling rock of marble on a mountain peak." Grander still is the majestic column of Lunar marble dedicated to Marcus Aurelius, in the Piazza Colonna, which rears aloft its shaft one hundred and twenty-two feet in the air, wreathed around with spiral bands of historic reliefs, illustrating the Roman conquests over the German tribes north of the Danube. Very splendid specimens of the same marble may be seen in the three fluted Corinthian columns and a pilaster belonging to the Temple of Mars Ultor erected by Augustus in his Forum after the battle of Actium, which are the largest columns of any kind of marble in Rome, being eighteen feet in circumference, and upwards of fifty-four feet high. The two well-known pillars of the portico of the Temple of Minerva, called Le Colonnacce, belonging to the adjoining Forum of Nerva, are also composed of the same material; as also the three deeply-fluted Corinthian columns that remain of the Temple of Vespasian in the Roman Forum, which still retain some traces of the purple colour with which they appear to have been painted. By far the largest single masses of Lunar marble are the two portions of a gigantic frieze and entablature, highly ornamented with sculpture, one measuring one thousand four hundred and ninety cubic feet, and weighing upwards of one hundred tons, lying in the Colonna gardens on the slope of the Quirinal. These relics are supposed to have belonged to the splendid Temple of the Sun, which Aurelian erected after the conquest of Palmyra, and in which he deposited the rich spoils of that city. They are associated therefore with romantic memories of the famous Queen Zenobia, who spent her last days near Tivoli, after having been led captive in fetters of gold to grace the triumphal procession of her conqueror.

For statuary purposes Lunar marble was extensively used in ancient Rome. It formed the material out of which the sculptor produced some of the noblest creations of his genius. Of these the Apollo Belvedere in the Vatican collection is one of the most remarkable. The evidence of its own material, as already mentioned, has dispelled the old idea that it is one of the masterpieces of the Greek school; and Canova's conjecture, based upon some peculiarities of its drapery, is in all likelihood true, viz. that it was a copy of a bronze original, made, probably at the order of Nero, for one of the baths of the imperial villa at Antium, in whose ruins it was found in the fifteenth century. From the time of the Romans, the white marble of the Montes Lunenses has been used for decorative purposes in many of the churches and public buildings of Italy. It formed the material out of which Michael Angelo, Canova, and Thorwaldsen chiselled their immortal works. Its quality and composition, however, vary very considerably, and small crystals of perfectly limpid quartz, called Carrara diamonds, and iron pyrites, occasionally occur, to the annoyance of the sculptor. It becomes soon discoloured when exposed even to the pure air of Italy, but it is capable of resisting decay for very long periods. The opinion current in Paris, that the marbles of Carrara are unable to withstand the effects of the climate of that city, is due to the frequent use of inferior qualities, which are known to artists as Saloni and Ravaccioni, and whose particles have but a feeble cohesion, and consequently slight durability.