Aldrovandus Magnus.

[1] THIS illustrious artist was one of the first who brought the art of painting in oil to a degree of perfection. It is well known, that Hubert and John Van-eyck in a manner discovered this admirable secret, the finding of which occasioned almost as much trouble as the researches after the philosopher's stone; but though the Van-eycks succeeded to the admiration of all Europe, still the most experienced colourists unanimously allow Aldrovandus to have exceeded them in every respect. His varnish (composed chiefly of nut-oil) gave a superior glow to his paintings, [2] rendered the tints more mellow, and the nice strokes of his pencil far more discernible than those of the Van-eycks: this circumstance alone is sufficient to give the preference to our artist, had not his knowledge of the demi-tints raised him above all his predecessors. Bruges claims the honour of his birth, which happened on St. Simon's day, 1473. His parents, wealthy merchants trading to the Levant, intended to send him into those countries, that he might acquire the language and be serviceable in their commerce. Every thing was agreed upon, and the day fixed for his departure. Fortunately for the arts, Jean Hemmeline, a disciple of the Van-eycks, chanced to pay a visit to the old Aldrovandus, his beloved friend, on the eve of his son's departure. Observing a [3] number of loose papers covered with sketches of animals and figures, scattered about the apartment, Hemmeline was tempted to take up some of them, and sitting down began to examine them with attention. He had not long contemplated them, before he broke out into exclamations of surprize, and enquired hastily for their author. The father, who was writing at his desk by the fire side, paid little attention to his friend's enthusiasm, and it was not till Hemmeline had pulled him three times by the sleeve that be cared to give any answer. Being of a very phlegmatic disposition, he replied coolly, “that they were his son's scratches, and that he believed be would ruin him in paper were he to live much longer in such an idle way." "Truly," said his mother, who [4] was knitting in a great chair opposite to his father, and who was resolved to put in her word, "our child is very innocently employed, and although he doth marr a little paper, or so, there is no need of snubbing him as you always do." "Woman," answered old Aldrovandus, "cease thy garrulity, our son will be shipped off to-morrow, so there needs no farther words." Upon this the mother burst into tears, and, as she was always averse to her son's voyage, took this opportunity to give vent to her sorrow, and with a piteous voice cried out, "You will, then, barbarous man! Father without bowels! you will, then, expose our first born to dwell amongst a parcel of brutal circumcised Moors and infidels. You will, then, have him go over sea and be shipwrecked without [5] christian burial. 0 Lord! 0 Lord! why cannot folks live every one under his own figtree, without roving and wandering through perils and dangers, that make my blood run cold to think of. And all this for the lucre of gain! Are we not blessed with a competence at home, without looking for superfluities abroad? Yes, my precious baby, you shall not be torn from me. Here, take my ruby cross, my gold bodkins, and all my parafernalia, leave me but Anthony my son ... Anthony, my son, .... O!" - The poor lady pronounced these last words with such vehemence, that, her spirits failing her, she fell into a swoon; and whilst proper assistance was called for, Hemmeline, touched with her situation (for he was full of sensibility) drew his chair near old Aldrovandus, [6] and held the following discourse: "You know, my dear friend, that Providence has been bountiful unto me, and that under its protection my talents have procured me an affluent fortune, to which I have no heir; for to say truth, I have had no time to beget children, and matrimony I have always regarded as a gilded pill, fair to the eye and bitter to the palate; therefore I have been several times on the very point of making you a proposition, which perhaps may not be disagreeable.” There was a solemnity in this harangue very suitable to the genius of Aldrovandus; the mention of affluence too and fortune tickled his ears, and the proposition not yet explained rouzed his attention. So conveying his pen into his wig, and twirling his thumbs round each other, the merchant turned a very [7] placid countenance towards Hemmeline, who continued: "In good truth, I have fixed upon an heir; I have cast on Anthony the eyes of adoption, and if you will but consent, I will defray the expences you have incurred in equipping him for the voyage, then I will take him home, nourish him with parental tenderness, and next I will teach him the principles of my art; for his capacity is capacious, and if the blossoms of his genius are duly cultivated, they will produce such fruit as will astonish the world. After my death he shall inherit all my possessions. Go then unto his mother, and comfort her, for she is grievously afflicted." That I may not detain my readers with unnecessary details, I will briefly acquaint them, that Anthony Aldrovandus was, after some delibera- [8] tion, placed under the care of Hemmeline, and the project of his voyage abandoned. Those who, after having been restrained in their warmest inclinations, find themselves on a sudden free, may conceive the joy of young Aldrovandus, when he found himself at liberty to pursue his beloved studies. He now applied himself with such intenseness, that the kind Hemmeline was obliged to check an ardour, which might have proved prejudicial to his health; but nothing could hinder our young artist from giving four hours in a day to chemistry, his favourite science. Hemmeline was very assiduous in the laboratory, and had some part in the discovery of many admirable compositions, which contributed to the perfection of Aldrovandus's colours, ever famous for their splendor and durability. [9] The judicious Hemmeline, marking the progress of his disciple, thought him sufficiently grounded in his art to give his paintings to the public, and purposely to make his talents known, quitted the village of Dammé, which had been their residence for eight years, and travelled to Ghent, where they arrived the 6th of Sept. 1492. Hemmeline immediately hired a house and furnished it with his own and Aldrovandus's paintings, which soon attracted the admiration of the curious, who flocked in crouds to behold them. Adam Spindlemans, a rich burgher of Ghent, purchased five of the most capital performances, which he sent as presents to the Dukes of Parma and Placentia, princes who delighted in the encouragement of arts, and whose cabinets began to be filled with the choicest [10] productions of the pencil. Such a genius as Aldrovandus could not long remain in obscurity. George Podebrac, Duke of Bohemia, formerly the patron of Hemmeline, desired him to send his disciple to his court, at the same time promising the most ample encouragement. An offer like this was not to be rejected, especially as Hemmeline was under such obligations to the Bohemian monarch that he could hardly have refused it with decency. Besides he had other reasons, of no less consequence to his disciple's advancement. Aldrovandus was not insensible to the charms of the fair sex, and Ann Spindlemans, whose beauty and coyness had been fatal to many lovers, held him in her chains. In vain he presented her with eastern curiosities, which his mother had privately procured him. [11] In vain he laid a pair of silk stockings at her feet, at that period a valuable rarity. Not all his assiduity could procure him the least favour, so far was he from hoping ever to garter his present above the knee. It is incredible what elegant closet pictures he lavished upon this haughty beauty. It was for her he finished so exquisitely the adventure of Salmacis and Hermaphroditus, a fable the very reverse of his own unhappy situation. It was at her desire be impiously changed the sacred story of Bell and the Dragon, begun for the Benedictines, into the garden of the Hesperides, guarded by a more sagacious monster. This trait scandalized his master, whose chastity had taken the alarm at several other of his proceedings, and, under the pretence of visiting his parents, he found [12] means to snatch him from the allurements of Ann Spindlemans; nor was it till after he had left Ghent ten leagues behind, that he perceived the deceit. Such are the reveries into which love-lorn passion plunges his votaries! - Hemmeline, who accompanied his disciple, tried by sage discourses to set his conduct in its proper light, and told him with his accustomed gravity, that what was right could not be wrong, and vice versâ. He added, "that youth was the season of folly, and that passion was like an unbridled horse, a torrent without a dike, or a candle with a thief in it, and ended by comparing Ann Spindlemans herself to a vinegar-bottle, who would deluge the sallad of matrimony with much more vinegar than oil." He continued for two long hours in this figura- [13] tive style, when observing his disciple's eyes nearly closed, he gave another fillip to his imagination, and attempted to excite his attention by more splendid ideas. Now he represented to him what golden advantages would spring from his residence at Prague, what honours, what emoluments; and next he brought to view Duke Podebrac, with great solemnity appointing him his painter, and holding forth chains and medals decorated with costly gems, as the reward of his labours. These chains and medals the sagacious painter took great care to wave frequently before the eye of his fancy, and this lessened, in some measure, the acuteness of his sorrow. These flattering dreams served to alleviate his grief during the journey, and before he arrived at Prague had almost [14] effaced Ann Spindlemans from his memory. How inconstant is youth, how apt to change, how fond of roving! But let us return to our artists, who met with the most honourable reception from the Duke. He immediately gave them an apartment in his palace, appointed them a magnificent table, and officers to attend them.
Aldrovandus, delighted with the generous treatment he had received, resumed his employments with double alacrity, and began an altar-piece for the cathedral, in which he may be said to have surpassed himself. The subject, Moses and the burning bush, was composed in the most masterly manner, and the flames represented with such truth and vivacity, that the young Princess [15] Ferdinanda Joanna Maria being brought by the Duchess, for a little recreation, to see him work, cried out, "La! Mamma, I won't touch that bramble bush for fear it should bum my fingers!" This circumstance, which I am well aware some readers will deem trifling, gained our painter great reputation amongst all the courtiers, and not a little applause to her Serene Highness, for her astonishing discernment and sagacity. All the nurses and some of the ladies in waiting declared, she was too clever to live long, and they were not mistaken, for this admirable Princess departed this life Jan. 23d, 1493, and it was unanimously observed, that had she lived, she would have been indubitably the jewel of Bohemia. This may seem a digression; but as it was her Serene Highness who first [16] gave her spotless opinion of our artist's merit, I could not dispense with mentioning these few words in relation to her, and consecrating a tear to her memory. Aldrovandus was sensibly afflicted at her loss, and painted her apotheosis with wonderful intelligence. He represented the heavens wide open, and the Blessed Virgin in a rich robe of ultramarine, seated, according to custom, on the back of the old serpent, whose scales were horribly natural. Mercury, poetically habited, was placed judiciously in the off-skip, with an outstretched arm, receiving the royal infant from the city of Prague. She was draped in a saffron stole, which seemed to float so naturally in the air, that a spectator might have sworn the wind blew it into all its beautiful folds. Above were gods and [17] goddesses, saints and angels. Below were forests and gilded spires, nymphs, fauns, dryads and hamadryads, all classically adorned with emblems and symbols. This master-piece gained him the esteem of Podebrac and the whole court, to which was added a rich chain with the Duke's picture, and a purse containing 1000 rixdollars. Encouraged by this liberality, Aldrovandus exerted himself more and more. It is from this time we may date some of his most capital productions. The tower of Babel, in which he expressed the confusion of languages, Lot's wife, the Duchess of Bohemia, and two highly finished landscapes, since lost in the confusion of war, were all dispersed among the Bohemian nobles, who vied with each other in loading him with presents. His genius was [18] now in its full vigour, his touch spirited, his colours harmonious, and his drawing correct. Italy envied the Bohemian court the possession of such an artist, and several of her Princes tried all possible means to engage him to visit them; but notwithstanding the great desire he had to behold the lovely prospects of Italy, the magnificence of Rome, and the remains of ancient grandeur so interesting to a picturesque eye, he refused every offer, and resolved never to quit a monarch, from whom he had experienced such generosity. Podebrac, charmed with these sentiments, decorated him with the order of the Ram, and gave him in marriage Joan Jablinouski, a young lady to whom nature and fortune had been lavish of their favours. Their nuptials were celebrated by torch light [19] in one of the royal gardens, and their Majesties and the whole court graced the ceremony with their presence; but this entertainment was unfortunately interrupted by the sudden death of Hemmeline, who had long been troubled with a boulomee, or voracious appetite, which occasioned him to devour whatever was set before him with a frightful precipitation. He met his fate in a huge pike, which he soon reduced to a mere skeleton, and soon after feeling a death-like cold at his stomach, called feebly to Aldrovandus, squeezed his hand and expired. The bridegroom was dreadfully disconcerted by this event, for he sincerely esteemed his master, notwithstanding the reproofs he had often received from him; and indeed he had every reason to respect his memory, as all the [20] wealth of Hemmeline now became his own.
Aldrovandus was now arrived at the summit of prosperity: universally esteemed and admired, caressed by a puissant Prince, solaced by the blandishments of a lovely spouse, this happy painter had not a wish unsatisfied. He now began to enjoy his opulence in a palace he had built, and there divided his time between the delights of his art and the pleasures of society. Disciples flocked from very remote parts to seek his instructions; but he dismissed them all with handsome presents, two only excepted, whose conduct particularly won his esteem. The two elect were Andrew Guelph and Og of Basan, since so famous in the annals of painting. The [21] assiduity of these young men was incredible, and their talents astonished Aldrovandus, who used always to be saying, "If Og had lived before the Deluge, he would certainly have obtained permission from Noah to have been of the party in the ark." Andrew Guelph he allowed to possess great merit, surprizing fire of genius, and an imagination tempered by science, and consequently super-excellent. In conversing with his chosen friends, and instructing his disciples, Aldrovandus passed many happy years, diversified by the birth of four children, to whom Ferdinand gave letters of nobility. At length fortune, tired with lavishing on him her gifts, clouded the evening of his life by an unforeseen misfortune. As be and his disciples worked night and day at a suite of paintings which was to contain [22] the whole history of the Goths and Vandals, canvas began to grow exceedingly rare, and Ferdinand, touched with the lamentations of his favourite, summoned a solemn counsel, at which he ordered him to assist, with Andrew Guelph and Og of Basan bearing the sketches of part of the great historical work. The council assembled; Podebrac ascended the throne; the trumpets sounded; the painters arrived, and the paintings were exposed to the admiration of this august assembly, who conferred on Aldrovandus the title of Magnus, nem. con. Afterwards they proceeded to business, and voted a supply of canvas. Several of the nobles distinguished themselves by very elegant harangues, and his Highness issued forth a proclamation, whereby he declared it treason for any of his liege [23] subjects to conceal, purloin, or alienate any roll, bundle, or fardel of canvas within his dominions, thereby impeding the collection which the aforesaid Aldrovandus Magnus, Knight of the most noble order of the Ram, was empowered to make. Now waggons and sledges arrived from every quarter, bringing the tributary canvas to Aldrovandus's palace. He, transported with gratitude, and fired by that enthusiasm to which we owe so many capital works, resolved to outdo his former outdoings, on the subject of Prince Drahomire, who in the year 921 was swallowed up by an earthquake in that spot where now stands the palace of Radzen. Animated by this glorious subject, he cried aloud for canvas, but instead of canvas, his disciples, with singed beards, brought the news of the con- [24] flagration of his warehouse, in which every thread of it was consumed. What a disappointment to collected genius! A paroxysm of grief ensued; and calling out continually "Drahomire! Canvas! and St. Luke!" Aldrovandus Magnus expired. There was hardly a dry eye in Prague. The Duke groaned; the courtiers wept; his disciples painted his catastrophe; the people put on black; the university composed epitaphs, and Professor Clod Lumpewitz exceeded them all. His performance happily escaped the wreck of time, and I have the pleasure of setting it before my readers, with a version, supposed to be made by the ingenious Master John Ogilby.

Pictor Alexandri titulum gerit Aldrovandus;
Pictor erat magnus; magnus erat Macedo.
Mortis erat similis (sic fertur) causa duobus:
Huic regna, autem illi cannaba deficiunt.
[25] Magnus, the title of old Alexander,
Was also that of Painter Aldrovand’ here:
The one for want* of worlds to conquer cried,
T' other for lack of canvas nobly died.

* It is remarkable that the learned Professor Clod Lumpewitz ever maintained that this renowned Conqueror was cruelly aspersed, by those who have killed him by drinking; and instead of merely crying for more worlds to conquer, he insisted that he died solely on that account. The critical reader will observe, that the admirable Ogilby, in conformity with the general opinion, has taken a small liberty with his author.

Aldrovandus Magnus
::: Andrew Guelph, and Og of
Basan, Disciples of Aldrovandus Magnus
Sucrewasser of Vienna
::: Blunderbussiana ::: Watersouchy