In the hot days of summer, when the hunter goes in search of the lark, you see him set off with a thousand-faceted mirror which, constantly shaken, will reflect the sun's rays into the air and bring down to him the bird lost in the great spaces of the sky. Let it cease for a moment to shatter the light, and at once the poor panic-stricken beast will take to the air again and, all joyful, will begin its songs again and, with a stroke of the wing, will return to calm and rest.
At the Universal Exhibition, in the midst of this immense and inexhaustible spectacle, the visitor, overwhelmed by the marvels of industry, attracted in a thousand different places by these ingenious inventions, and tormented by the need to see everything, also ends up, like the lark, by remaining dazzled and fascinated. Lost in these thousand searches for well-being which tempt his body and provoke, by showing him the means of satisfying them, desires which will soon become new necessities, he most often thinks only of the easy life and the satisfactions demanded by the flesh; but if, on his way But if, on his way, he meets one of those works of the spirit and the soul which awaken that mysterious fluid, the food of our thought, and remind him that beyond the sensations of the body noble emotions exist, he will stop suddenly, surprised and astonished to find again those elevated aspirations and that ideal which he perhaps thought he despised. Works capable of accomplishing such a miracle are rare and must be doubly powerful to overcome the confusion, the rumours, the inattention and the dazzle of the crowd. When their action is thus felt, one can, without fear of being mistaken, assign them the first place in the field of art, and look upon them as an honour and a glory for the country which sends them.
The great mosaic exhibited by Russia is among those productions before which the most indifferent person stops. The calmness and majesty stamped on these large figures of saints, clothed in their priestly ornaments and destined to guard the entrance to the sanctuary in the cathedral church of St. Isaac in Petersburg, and to form the partition called in Russian churches Iconostases, imposes itself and penetrates you. The active faith of Russia shines through in this mosaic, in front of which one forgets the difficulty overcome and thinks only of the greatness of Professor Neff's conception and the masterly way in which it is rendered. For four years, the master mosaicists Kmelewski, Bourou-kine, Agafonoff and Mouravieff worked tirelessly, playing with the thousand nuances of the enamelled glass, which serves as both colours and brushes, and which was penetrated by the skill of the learned Leopold Bonafede. Everyone knows how a mosaic is made and how difficult it is to place in the paste, which must seal and hold them, the glass sheets which, with their multiple tints and colours, will allow all the gradations to be achieved and give the contours shape and life. The material must first be created and, in this respect, the collection of enamels from the Imperial Manufactory of St. Petersburg, exhibited in the same room, deserves a special study, as it contains tones that have not been obtained until now.
Leopold Bonafede, a Roman brought to St. Petersburg by Emperor Nicholas to direct the mosaic factory that this prince wanted to establish as an annex to the Academy of Fine Arts, is the author of these remarkable products, and since his death two years ago, his brother has replaced him in the direction of these immense and magnificent works, of which the mosaic exhibited was a part, and which are destined to decorate St. Isaac's.
On both sides of the great mosaic, and as if to honour it and illuminate it when necessary, are the gigantic candelabras in pink rhodonite, which in the beauty of the material and the finish of the workmanship do not yield to any of the magnificence that the princely palaces can contain.
The imperial factory of Ekaterinburg, on the slopes of the Urals, which uses the rare stones of these mountains, has sent these enormous pieces made in three pieces from a material of which only fragments can be obtained by the trade; that of Kolivansk, in Siberia, the jasper and porphyry vases, and their products are not the least astonishment that this part of the Russian exhibition reserves for us, where richness is united with the most delicate and often the most original taste.
Further on, the goldsmiths justify their old reputation. It is impossible to pass by the showcases of Basil Semonoff, Ovt-chinikoff and Ignace Sasikoff without admiring the beauty and the imaginative variety of the work. Semonoff shows us silver objets d'art and remarkable pieces of religious silverware; Ovtchinikoff a chalice in vermeil and oxidised silver with a very characterful design and very fine chasing. The group commemorating the abolition of serfdom by the emperor Alexander, and the book of the Gospels, bound with plates of chased vermeil, are also very beautiful, and deserve the attention and praise of people of taste. But Sasikoff's exhibition, the richest and most complete, contains the most curious objects from all points of view and includes some pieces that are out of the ordinary. The most beautiful, without question, both for the beauty of the composition and for the remarkable manner in which the work was executed in repoussé, according to the drawing of Professor Vitali, by the chiseller Loskoutnikoff, is a bas-relief forty-four inches high, representing the Adoration of the Magi and offering, by the size of the figures, almost insurmountable difficulties of execution.
The pieces of silverware intended for our daily use are no less interesting. The style is full of movement and life. Each object has its own particular stamp, perfectly adapted to the purpose it is intended to serve and marked by a graceful originality. A tea service, in which the goldsmith's work equals the elegance of the architect Monighetti's design, was bought by the Marquis of Hartford, and deserved this flattering choice. - Nothing is more graceful than those broad dark ribbons which intertwine in a charming manner with the gold ribbons.
On the lid, imitating a white cloth tied with a gold cord, peasants are ingeniously grouped. There is a series of small wonders here, and one admires the finish and the research of the work, the variety of subjects from the gourd destined to be given as a prize by a society of hunters and wrestlers, to the head of the horse which bends the water and seems to swim so vigorously towards the shore. Nothing is as charming as the large silver milk jug with the peasant girl, her cow and her gold-coloured fir trees, and the small Byzantine-style water glass that all our elegant ladies will want to have. Silver niello also has a large place in Sasikoff's work, marked by this double current which comes from both Europe and the East. At the last London exhibition, this great company, which employs no less than four hundred workers in Moscow and St. Petersburg, obtained a first class medal, and, by pointing out to the attentive examination of our masters the various models sent to the Russian exhibition, we pay tribute to an undeniable merit, and we hope that our workers, so quick to take advantage of the slightest instruction, will make use of these riches which their taste and skill will know how to modify, to open up a new way which will soon ensure them important outlets.