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Chapter 31

The third lion of Arles has nothing to do with the
ancient world, but only with the old one. The church
of Saint Trophimus, whose wonderful Romanesque
porch is the principal ornament of the principal _place_,
- a _place_ otherwise distinguished by the presence of
a slim and tapering obelisk in the middle, as well as
by that of the Hotel de Ville and the museum - the
interesting church of Saint Trophimus swears a little,
as the French say, with the peculiar character of
Arles. It is very remarkable, but I would rather it
were in another place. Arles is delightfully pagan,
and Saint Trophimus, with its apostolic sculptures, is
rather a false note. These sculptures are equally re-
markable for their primitive vigor and for the perfect
preservation in which they have come down to us.
The deep recess of a round-arched porch of the
twelfth century is covered with quaint figures, which
have not lost a nose or a finger. An angular, Byzan-
tine-looking Christ sits in a diamond-shaped frame at
the summit of the arch, surrounded by little angels,
by great apostles, by winged beasts, by a hundred
sacred symbols and grotesque ornaments. It is a
dense embroidery of sculpture, black with time, but as
uninjured as if it had been kept under glass. One
good mark for the French Revolution! Of the in-
terior of the church, which has a nave of the twelfth
century, and a choir three hundred years more recent,
I chiefly remember the odd feature that the Romanesque
aisles are so narrow that you literally - or almost -
squeeze through them. You do so with some eager-
ness, for your natural purpose is to pass out to the
cloister. This cloister, as distinguished and as per-
fect as the porch, has a great deal of charm. Its four
sides, which are not of the same period (the earliest
and best are of the twelfth century), have an elaborate
arcade, supported on delicate pairs of columns, the
capitals of which show an extraordinary variety of
device and ornament. At the corners of the quadrangle
these columns take the form of curious human figures.
The whole thing is a gem of lightness and preserva-
tion, and is often cited for its beauty; but - if it
doesn't sound too profane - I prefer, especially at
Arles, the ruins of the Roman theatre. The antique
element is too precious to be mingled with anything
less rare. This truth was very present to my mind
during a ramble of a couple of hours that I took just
before leaving the place; and the glowing beauty of
the morning gave the last touch of the impression. I
spent half an hour at the Museum; then I took an-
other look at the Roman theatre; after which I walked
a little out of the town to the Aliscamps, the old
Elysian Fields, the meagre remnant of the old pagan
place of sepulture, which was afterwards used by the
Christians, but has been for ages deserted, and now
consists only of a melancholy avenue of cypresses,
lined with a succession of ancient sarcophagi, empty,
mossy, and mutilated. An iron-foundry, or some hor-
rible establishment which is conditioned upon tall
chimneys and a noise of hammering and banging, has
been established near at hand; but the cypresses shut
it out well enough, and this small patch of Elysium is
a very romantic corner.

The door of the Museum stands ajar, and a vigilant
custodian, with the usual batch of photographs on
his mind, peeps out at you disapprovingly while you
linger opposite, before the charming portal of Saint
Trophimus, which you may look at for nothing.
When you succumb to the silent influence of his eye,
and go over to visit his collection, you find yourself
in a desecrated church, in which a variety of ancient
objects, disinterred in Arlesian soil, have been ar-
ranged without any pomp. The best of these, I be-
lieve, were found in the ruins of the theatre. Some of
the most curious of them are early Christian sar-
cophagi, exactly on the pagan model, but covered with
rude yet vigorously wrought images of the apostles,
and with illustrations of scriptural history. Beauty
of the highest kind, either of conception or of execu-
tion, is absent from most of the Roman fragments,
which belong to the taste of a late period and a
provincial civilization. But a gulf divides them from
the bristling little imagery of the Christian sarcophagi,
in which, at the same time, one detects a vague
emulation of the rich examples by which their authors
were surrounded. There is a certain element of style
in all the pagan things; there is not a hint of it in
the early Christian relics, among which, according to
M. Joanne, of the Guide, are to be found more fine
sarcophagi than in any collection but that of St. John
Lateran. In two or three of the Roman fragments
there is a noticeable distinction; principally in a
charming bust of a boy, quite perfect, with those
salient eyes that one sees in certain antique busts, and
to which the absence of vision in the marble mask
gives a look, often very touching, as of a baffled effort
to see; also in the head of a woman, found in the
ruins of the theatre, who, alas! has lost her nose, and
whose noble, simple contour, barring this deficiency,
recalls the great manner of the Venus of Milo. There
are various rich architectural fragments which in-
dicate that that edifice was a very splendid affair.
This little Museum at Arles, in short, is the most Ro-
man thing I know of, out of Rome.

Henry James