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A picture which is worth buying is also worth seeing. Every noble picture is a manuscript book, of which only one copy exists, or ever can exist. A National Gallery is a great library, of which the books must be read upon their shelves (RUSKIN: Arrows of the Chace, i. 71).
STAIRCASES (Miscellaneous Pictures and Sculptures)
So far as I know, there has never yet been compiled, for the illustration of any collection of paintings whatever, a series of notes at once so copious, carefully chosen, and usefully arranged, as this which has been prepared, by the industry and good sense of Mr. Edward T. Cook, to be our companion through the magnificent rooms of our own National Gallery ; without question now the most important collection of paintings in Europe for the purposes of the general student. Of course the Florentine School must always be studied in Florence, the Dutch in Holland, and the Roman in Rome ; but to obtain a clear knowledge of their relations to each other, and compare with the best advantage the characters in which they severally excel, the thoughtful scholars of any foreign country ought now to become pilgrims to the Dome—(such as it is) —of Trafalgar Square.
We have indeed—be it to our humiliation remembered—small reason to congratulate ourselves on the enlargement of the collection now belonging to the public, by the sale of the former possessions of our nobles. But since the parks and castles which were once the pride, beauty, and political strength of England are doomed by the progress of democracy to be cut up into lots on building leases, and have their libraries and pictures sold at Sotheby's and Christie's, we may at least be thankful that the funds placed by the Government at the disposal of the Trustees for the National Gallery have permitted them to save so much from the wreck of English mansions and Italian monasteries, and enrich the recreations of our metropolis with graceful interludes by Perugino and Raphael.
It will be at once felt by the readers of the following catalogue that it tells them, about every picture and its painter, just the things they wished to know. They may rest satisfied also that it tells them these things on the best historical authorities, and that they have in its concise pages an account of the rise and decline of the arts of the Old Masters, and record of their personal characters and worldly state and fortunes, leaving nothing of authentic tradition, and essential interest, untold.
As a collection of critical remarks by esteemed judges, and of clearly formed opinions by earnest lovers of art, the little book possesses a metaphysical interest quite as great as its historical one. Of