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In reference to the Prophecy of Isaiah (vii. 14.) of “Behold a Virgin shall conceive, and bear a Son, and shall call his name Immanuel."
On her left breast is a star, perhaps denoting that which was to go before the wise-men from the east to Bethlehem, and stand over where Jesus was to be born. *
May not this lead us to conjecture, that the representation of the star of Bethlehem, is intended by those embroidered on the breasts of the knights of several orders ?
Behind the Virgin are seen a canopy bed, with crimson curtains worked with gold, and other decorations, in an apartment so highly finished as to be more suitable to the Queen of Heaven than the spouse of an artisan; unless we may esteem such painters as this to be somewhat justified in their imagining the Virgin Mary to be rich, and representing her apartment sumptuously furnished at the time of the Annunciation, by being told, from St. Hierom, that Joachim and Anne, her father and mother, were enabled to divide their substance into three parts; one of which alone was sufficient for their own use.t
The dove is descending to her; and the Archangel Gabriel, that stood in the presence of God, has a white lily in his left hand, the hieroglyphic of Christ and Angels,f and holds up his right, as saluting the Virgin with “ Ave gratia plena.” The inscription over the dove is,
Ghost holy. That over the Virgin,
Mother of God. And over the angel,
Archangel Gabriel. The painter has not ill expressed the instantaneous arrival of Gabriel, and his quick descent from heaven, by his yet standing on the clouds without his feet touching the floor, by one of his wings being yet extended upright in the air, and by the fluttering of his garments, which have not had as yet time to fall into their proper positions.
* Matth. ii. 9. + Aurea Legenda per Jacobum de Voragine, folio 99. verse 6.
Vide J. Pierii Valer.ani Hieroglyphica, Lib. LV. cap. 10. Luke, i, 19, 28.
The aureolum, or nimbus, appropriated to saints, is round the heads of all the figures here represented, as well as round the dove, but the head of God the Father, and the dove, are likewise painted in double quadrangles intersecting each other.
All the figures are rather encumbered with drapery than otherwise, with no other variety in their colours than that the upper garments of God the Father, and of the angel, are green heightened with gold, and their under red likewise heightened with gold; which colours are reversed in the draperies of the other figures.
Notwithstanding the dryness peculiar to the age in which these pictures were executed, we find in them a correctness of drawing, and a delicacy in the faces, particularly in that of the Virgin, superior to what we might expect.
After this long description it is time to observe, that the execution of these tablets is in a method of painting inentioned by Giorgio Vasari, in his very valuable work of the “ Vite de' piu eccellenti Pittori,” &c. who informs us, that “ earlier and since the time of Cimabue are seen works executed by the Greeks in distemper, both on wood and on walls. And these old masters, in preparing their grounds, fearing lest the joints should open, were accustomed to fasten with glue all over the wood a linen cloth, and then to spread upon it a coat of plaster made of chalk, in order to lay on it their colours, which were mixed with a yolk of an egg and distemper; and that even now things in distemper by our old masters are seen preserved for hundreds of years with great beauty and freshness.”*
The coat of plaster is very discernible in the broken edges of these pictures; and the linen cloth above-mentioned seems to have been torn in that part which is behind the virgin's left shoulder.
The painter has given us his name at the bottom of the tablets in this manner:
“ Drew Johannes Maximof. u Maximof” sounds like a Russian name; but it is by no means improbable that an ingenious artist of Russia should be drawn to Constantinople, or even to Smyrna, where the art of painting was encouraged; the communication between Muscovy and Greece being not difficult by the Euxine or Black Sea.
If these tablets be not of an age so early as the eighth century (in which the second Council of Nice, held in 787, re-established images in churches, in opposition to the Iconoclastes, and to the great advancement of sculpture and painting), or even the tenth century, they may be allowed to be of one prior to that of Giovanni Cimabue, the great restorer of painting in Italy, who was born at Florence in 1240.
* Introduzione, cap. 20.
I have the honour, Sir, to be your most obedient and obliged servant, 1784, April.
XXXVI. Letters from Dr. Johnson, relative to the Lives of the
MR. URBAN, The following little billets will tend to illustrate the history of that Opus Magnur, Lives of the English Poets.
J. NICHOLS 1. In the Life of Waller, Mr. Nichols will find a reference to the Parliamentary History, from which a long quotation is to be inserted. If Mr. Nichols cannot easily find the book, Mr. Johnson will send it from Streatham.
Clarendon is here returned.
2. You have now all Cowley. I have been drawn to a great length; but Cowley or [and] Waller never had any critical examination before. I am very far advanced in Dryden, who will be long too. The next great life I purpose to be Milton's.
It will be kind if you will gather the Lives of Denham, Butler, and Waller, and bind them in half-binding in a sináll volume, and let me have it to shew my friends, as soon as may be. I sincerely hope the press shall stand no July 27, 1778.
SAM. JOHNSON. 3. You have now the Life of Dryden, and you see it is very long. It must, bowever, have an Appendix. 1. The
* The first life that was begun at the press was that of Cowley, in Decem. ber 1777. The progress made in July, 1778, appears above. Butler was the life in which the doctor at that time more particularly prided himself. Mile ton was begun iu Jauuary, 1779, and tinished in six wecks,
invocation to the Georgics, from Milbourne. · (This in the small print.) 2. Dryden's Remarks on Rymer; which are ready transcribed. 3. Dryden's Letter, from Lambeth; which is promised me.
4. MR. JOHNSON will hope for Mr. Nichols's company to tea, about six this afternoon, to talk of the Index, and set. tle the terms.-Monday.
5. I am very well contented that the Index is settled; for though the price is low, it is not penurious. Mr. M. having been for some time out of business, is in some little perplexities, from which twelve guineas will set him free. This, we hope, you will advance; and, during the continuance of the work subject to your inspection, he desires a weekly payment of sixteen shillings, the rest to remain till it is completed, Nov. 26, 1778.
6. Mr. Johnson purposes to make his next attempt upon Prior, at least to consider him very soon; and desires that some volumes published of his papers, in two vols. 8vo, may be procured.
7. The Turtle and Sparrow can be but a fable.* The Conversation I never read.
8. By some accident, I laid your note upon Duke up so safely that I cannot find it. Your informations have been of great use to me. I must beg it again; with another list of our authors, for I have laid that with the other. I bave sent Step ney's Epitaph. Let me have the revises as soon as can be.
8. I HAVE sent Philips, with his Epitaphs to be inserted The fragment of a Preface is hardly worth the impression, But that we may seem to do something, it may be added to the Life of Philips. The Latin page is to be added to the Life of Smith. I shall be at home, to revise the two sheets of Milton. March 1, 1772.
* This refers to a hint given him in consequence of what he said in the Life of Prior, Vol. III. p. 29. that of his “Tales ibere are only four,"
10. PLEASE to get me the last edition of Hughes's Letters; and try to get Dennis upon Blackmore, and upon Cato, and any thing of the same writer against Pope. Our mas terials are defective.
As Waller professed to have imitated Fairfax, do you think a few pages of Fairfax would enrich our edition ? * Few readers have seen it, and it may please them. But it is not necessary. May 2, 1779.
SAM. Johnson. 11. In examining this book, I find it necessary to add to the life the preface to the British Enchanters; and you may add, if you will, the notes on Unnatural Flights.
I am, Sir, &c.-Friday. 12. There is a copy of verses by Fenton, on the first Fit of the Gout, in Pope's Miscellanies, and, I think, in the last volume of Dryden. In Pope's I am sure.
13. J.N. to Dr. J. “ The Verses on the Gout, are printed (from Fenton's Collection) in the Select Collection, 1780, Vol. III. p. 177;t but shall be copied if Dr. J. thinks proper, From the same publication of Fenton, J. N. has copied some other poems of Fenton, herewith sent; which Dr. J. may like to see. He may depend on the Anecdotes of Fenton.”
14. Answ." I should have given Fenton's birth to Shelton in Staffordshire, but that I am afraid there is no such place. The rest I have, except his secretaryship, of which I know not what to make. When Lord Orrery was in an office, Lewis was his secretary. Lewis lived in my time; I knew him. The Gout Verses were always given to Fenton, when I was young, and he was living. Lord Orrery told me that Fenton was his tutor ; but never thought he was his father's secre tary.|| Pray let me see the Oxford and Cambridge (Verses,]
* This expression, and a similar oue in No. 8. are thus marked, to prepare the reader for what is thrown out in No. 17. where your edition refers, as those do, to that published by the body of booksellers in 68 volumes from a list repeatedly corrected by himself, + It is added.
Where it is ascribed to Dr. Waldren. Š It is now said to be “near Newcastle.” Sheltop (near Newcastle-underLine) is to be found in Staffordshire, in the lodex Villaris of 1700. E.
# Dr.J. retracted this opinion, as F. in his life is styled “Secretary.” Pep. ton was secretary to Lord Orrery, when he commanded a regiment in Flanders. and was dismissed in 1705, four years before Dr. Johnson was born. E.