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Title: Renaissance Fancies and Studies - Being a Sequel to Euphorion
Author: Lee, Vernon, 1856-1935
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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[_All rights reserved_]

_At the Ballantyne Press_



_EASTER 1895_


These essays being mainly the outcome of direct personal impressions of
certain works of art and literature, and of the places in which they
were produced, I have but few acknowledgments to make to the authors of
books treating of the same subject. Among the exceptions to this rule, I
must mention foremost Professor Tocco's _Eresia nel Medio Evo_, Monsieur
Gebhart's _Italie Mystique_, and Monsieur Paul Sabatier's _St. François

I am, on the other hand, very deeply indebted to the conversation and
advice of certain among my friends, for furnishing me second-hand a
little of that archæological and critical knowledge which is now-a-days
quite unattainable save by highly trained specialists. My best thanks,
therefore, to Miss Eugénie Sellers, editor of Furtwängler's "Masterpieces
of Greek Sculpture;" to Mr. Bernhard Berenson, author of "Venetian
Painters," and a monograph on Lorenzo Lotto; and particularly to my
friend Mrs. Mary Logan, whose learned catalogue of the Italian paintings
at Hampton Court is sufficient warrant for the correctness of my
art-historical statements, which she has had the kindness to revise.


_April_ 1895.


 PREFACE                                         ix

 THE LOVE OF THE SAINTS                           1


 TUSCAN SCULPTURE                               135


 VALEDICTORY                                    233



"Panis Angelicus fit panis hominum. O res mirabilis, manducat Dominum
Pauper, Servus et Humilis." These words of the Matins of the Most Holy
Sacrament I heard for the first time many years ago, to the beautiful
and inappropriate music of Cherubini. They struck me at that time as
foolish, barbarous, and almost gross; but since then I have learned to
think of them, and in a measure to feel of them, as of something greater
and more solemn than all the music that Cherubini ever wrote.

All the hymns of the same date are, indeed, things to think upon. They
affect one--the "Stabat Mater," for instance, and the "Ave Verum"--very
much in the same way as the figures which stare down, dingy green and
blue, from the gold of the Cosmati's mosaics: childish, dreary, all
stiff and agape, but so solemn and pathetic, and full of the greatest
future. For out of those Cosmati mosaics, and those barbarous frescoes
of the old basilicas, will come Giotto and all the Renaissance; and out
of those Church songs will come Dante; they are all signs, poor primitive
rhymes and primitive figures, that the world is teeming again, and will
bear, for centuries to come, new spiritual wonders. Hence the importance,
the venerableness of all those mediæval hymns. But of none so much, to
my mind, as of those words I have quoted from the Matins of the Most
Holy Sacrament--

 "O res mirabilis, manducat Dominum,
  Pauper, Servus et Humilis."

For their crude and pathetic literality, their image of the Godhead
actually giving Himself, as they emphatically say, to be _chewed_ by the
poor and humble man and the serf, show them to have been most especially
born, abortions though they be, in the mightiest throes of mystical
feeling, after the incubation of whole nations, born of the great mediæval
marriage, sublime, grotesque, morbid, yet health-bringing, between
abstract idealising religious thought and the earthly affections of
lovers and parents--a strange marriage, like that of St. Francis and
Poverty, of which the modern soul also had to be born anew.

Indeed, if we realise in the least what this hymn must have meant,
shouted in the processions of Flagellants, chaunted in the Pacts of
Peace after internecine town wars; above all, perhaps, muttered in
the cell of the friar, in the den of the weaver; if we sum up, however
inadequately, the state of things whence it arose, and whence it helped
to deliver us, we may think that the greatest music is scarcely reverent
enough to accompany these poor blundering rhymes.

The Feast of the Most Holy Sacrament, to whose liturgy this hymn, "O Res
Mirabilis," belongs, was instituted to commemorate the miracle of Bolsena,
which, coming late as it did, in the country of St. Francis, and within
two years of the birth of Dante, seems in its significant coincidences,
in its startling symbolism, the fit material summing up of what is
conveniently designated as the Franciscan revival: the introduction into
religious matters of passionate human emotion. For in the year 1263, at
Bolsena in Umbria, the consecrated wafer dropped blood upon the hands of
an unbelieving priest.

This trickery of a single individual, or more probably hallucination--this
lie and self-delusion of interested or foolish bystanders--just happened
to symbolise a very great reality. For during the earlier Middle Ages,
before the coming of Francis of Assisi, the souls of men, or, more
properly, their hearts, had been sorely troubled and jeopardised.

The mixture of races and civilisations, southern and northern and
eastern, antique and barbarian, which had been slowly taking place ever
since the fall of the Roman Empire, had seemed, in its consummation of
the twelfth century, less fertile on the whole than poisonous. The old
tribal system, the old civic system, triumphant centralising imperialism,
had all been broken up long since; and now feudalism was going to pieces
in its turn, leaving a chaos of filibustering princelets, among whom
loomed the equivocal figures of Provençal counts, of Angevin and Swabian
kings, brutal as men of the North, and lax as men of the South; moreover,
suspiciously oriental; brilliant and cynical persons, eventually to be
typified in Frederick II., who was judiciously suspected of being
Antichrist in person. In the midst of this anarchy, over-rapid industrial
development had moreover begotten the tendencies to promiscuity, to
mystical communism, always expressive of deep popular misery. The Holy
Land had become a freebooter's Eldorado; the defenders of Christ's
sepulchre were turned half-Saracen, infected with unclean mixtures of
creeds. Theology was divided between neo-Aristotelean logic, abstract
and arid, and Alexandrian esoteric mysticism, quietistic, nay, nihilistic;
and the Church had ceased to answer to any spiritual wants of the people.
Meanwhile, on all sides everywhere, heresies were teeming, austere and
equivocal, pure and unclean according to individuals, but all of them
anarchical, and therefore destructive at a moment when, above all, order
and discipline were wanted. The belief in the world's end, in the speedy
coming of Antichrist and the Messiah, was rife among all sects; and
learned men, the disciples of Joachim of Flora, were busy calculating
the very year and month. Lombardy, and most probably the south of France,
Flanders and the Rhine towns, were full of strange Manichean theosophies,
pessimistic dualism of God and devil, in which God always got the worst
of it, when God did not happen to be the devil himself. The ravening
lions, the clawing, tearing griffins, the nightmare brood carved on the
capitals, porches, and pulpits of pre-Franciscan churches, are surely
not, as orthodox antiquarians assure us, mere fanciful symbols of the
Church's vigilance and virtues: they express too well the far-spread
occult Manichean spirit, the belief in a triumphant power of evil.

Michelet, I think, has remarked that there was a moment in the early
Middle Ages when, in the mixture of all contrary things, in the very
excess of spiritual movement, there seemed a possibility of dead level,
of stagnation, of the peoples of Europe becoming perhaps bastard
Saracens, as in Merovingian times they had become bastard Romans; a
chance of Byzantinism in the West. Be this as it may, it seems certain
that, towards the end of the twelfth century, men's souls were shaken,
crumbling, and what was worse, excessively arid. There was as little
certainty of salvation as in the heart of that Priest saying Mass at
Bolsena; but the miracle came to mankind at large some seventy years
before it came to him. It had begun, no doubt, unnoticed in scores
of obscure heresies, in hundreds of unnoticed individuals; it became
manifest to all the world in the persons of Dominick, of Elizabeth of
Hungary, of King Lewis--above all, of Francis of Assisi. As in the
hands of the doubting priest, so in the hands of all suffering mankind,
the mystic wafer broke, proving itself true food for the soul: the
life-blood of hope and love welled forth and fertilised the world. For
the second time, and in far more humble and efficacious way, Christ had
been given to man.

To absorb the Eternal Love, to feed on the Life of the World, to make
oneself consubstantial therewith, these passionate joys of poor mediæval
humanity are such as we should contemplate with sympathy only and respect,
even when the miracle is conceived and felt in the grossest, least
spiritual manner. That act of material assimilation, that feeding off
the very Godhead in most literal manner, as described in the hymn to
the Most Holy Sacrament, was symbolic of the return from exile of the
long-persecuted instincts of mankind. It meant that, spiritually or
grossly, each according to his nature, men had cast fear behind them,
and--O res mirabilis!--grown proud once more to love.

Of this new wonder--questionable enough at times, but, on the whole,
marvellously beneficent--the German knightly poets, so early in the
field, are naturally among the earliest (for the Provençals belonged to
a sceptical, sensual country) to give us a written record. Nearly all of
the Minnesingers composed what we must call religious erotics, in no
way different, save for names of Christ and the Virgin, from their most
impassioned secular ones. The Song of Solomon, therefore, is one of the
few pieces of written literature of which we find constant traces in the
works of these very literally illiterate poets. Yet the quality of their
love, if one may say so, is very different from anything Hebrew, or,
for the matter of that, Greek or Roman; their ardour is not a transient
phenomenon which disturbs them, like that of the Shulamite, or the lover
described by Sappho or Plato, but a chief business of their life, as in
the case of Dante, of Petrarch, of Francesca and Paolo, or Tristram and
Yseult. Indeed, it is difficult to guess whether this self-satisfied,
self-glorifying quality, which distinguishes mediæval passion from the
passion (always regarded as an interlude, harmless or hurtful, in civic
concerns) of unromantic Antiquity--whether, I say, this peculiarity of
mediæval love is due to its having served for religious as well as
for secular use, or whether the possibility of its being brought into
connection with the highest mysteries and aspirations was not itself a
result of the dignity in which mere earthly ardours had come to be held.
Be this as it may, these German devotional rhapsodies display their
essentially un-Hebrew, un-antique characters only the more by the traces
of the _canticus canticorum_ in them, as in all devout love lyrics.

Any one curious in such matters may turn to a very striking poem by
Dante's contemporary, Frauenlob, in Von der Hagen's great collection.
Also to a very strange composition, from the heyday of minne-song,
by Heinrich von Meissen. This is not the furious love ode, but the
ceremonious epithalamium of devotional poetry. It is the bearing in
triumph, among flare of torches and incense smoke, over flower-strewn
streets and beneath triumphal arches, of the Bride of the Soul, her
enthroning on a stately couch, like some new-wed Moorish woman, for
men to come and covet and admire. Above all, and giving one a shock of
surprise by association with the man's other work, is a very long and
elaborate poem addressed to Christ or God by no less a minnesinger than
Master Gottfried of Strasburg. In it the Beloved is compared to all the
things desired by eye or ear or taste or smell: cool water and fruit
slaking feverish thirst, lilies with vertiginous scent, wine firing the
blood, music wakening tears, precious stones of Augsburger merchants,
essences and spices of an Eastern cargo:--

  "Ach herzen Trut, genaden vol,
   Ach wol u je mer mere wol,
   Ein suez in Arzeniê
   Ach herzen bruch, ach herzen not.
   Ach Rose rot,
   Ach rose wandels vrie!
   Ach jugend in jugent, ach jugender Muot,
   Ach bluejender herzen Minne!"

And so on for pages; the sort of words which poor Brangwain may have
overheard on the calm sea, when the terrible knowledge rushed cold to
her heart that Tristram and Yseult had drained the fatal potion.

All this is foolish and unwholesome enough, just twice as much so, for
its spiritual allegorising, as the worldly love poetry of these often
foolish and unwholesome German chivalrous poets. But, for our consolation,
in that same huge collection of Von der Hagen's Minnesingers, stand the
following six lines, addressed to the Saviour, if tradition is correct,
by a knightly monk, Bruder Wernher von der Tegernsee:--

  "Dû bist mîn, ih bin dîn;
   Des solt dû gewis sîn.
   Dû bist beslozzen
   In mînem herzen;
  _Verlorn ist daz sluzzelîn:
   Dû muost immer drinne sîn._"

"Thou art locked up in my heart; the little key is lost; thou must
remain inside."

This is a way of loving not logically suitable, perhaps, to a divine
essence, but it is the lovingness which fertilises the soul, and makes
flowers bud and birds sing in the heart of man. Out of it, through
simple creatures like Bruder Wernher, through the simplicity of scores
of obscurer singers and craftsmen than he, of hundreds of nameless good
men and women, comes one large half of the art of Dante and Giotto, nay,
of Raphael and Shakespeare: the tenderness of the modern world, unknown
to stoical Antiquity.


The early Middle Ages--the times before Love came, and with it the
gradual dignifying of all realities which had been left so long to mere
gross or cunning or violent men--the early Middle Ages have left behind
them one of the most complete and wonderful of human documents, the
letters of Abélard and Héloïse. This is a book which each of us should
read, in order to learn, with terror and self-gratulation, how the
aridity of the world's soul may neutralise the greatest individual
powers for happiness and good. These letters are as chains which we
should keep in our dwelling-place, to remind us of past servitude,
perhaps to warn us against future.

No other two individuals could have been found to illustrate, by the
force of contrast, the intellectual and moral aridity of that eleventh
century, which yet, in a degree, was itself a beginning of better things.
For Héloïse and Abélard were not merely among the finest intellects
of the Middle Ages; they were both, in different ways, to the highest
degree passionately innovating natures. No woman has ever been more rich
and bold and warm of mind and heart than Héloïse; nor has any woman ever
questioned the unquestioned ideas and institutions of her age, of any
age, with such vehemence and certainty of intuition. She judges questions
which are barely asked and judged of now-a-days, applying to consecrated
sentimentality the long-lost instinctive human rationalism of the ancient
philosophers. How could St. Luke recommend us to desist from getting
back our stolen property? She feels, however obscurely, that this is
foolish, antisocial, unnatural. Nay, why should God prefer the penitence
of one sinner to the constant goodness of ninety-nine righteous men? She
is, this learned theologian of the eleventh century, as passionately
human in thought as any Mme. Roland or Mary Wolstonecraft of a hundred
years ago.

Abélard, on the other hand, we know to have been one of the most subtle
and solvent thinkers of the Middle Ages; pursued by the greatest
theologians, crushed by two Councils, and remaining, in the popular
fancy, as a sort of Friar Bacon, a forerunner of the wizard Faustus; a
man whom Bernard of Clairvaux called a thief of souls, a rapacious wolf,
a Herod; a man who reveals himself a Pagan in his attempts to turn Plato
into a Christian; a man who disputes about Faith in the teeth of Faith,
and criticises the Law in the name of the Law; a man, most enormous of
all, who sees nothing as symbol or emblem (_per speculum in ænigmate_),
but dares to look all things in the face (_facie ad faciem omnia
intuetur_). _Facie ad faciem omnia intuetur_, this, which is the
acknowledged method of all modern, as it had been of all antique, thought,
nay, of all modern, all antique, all healthy spiritual life--this was
the most damnable habit of Abélard; and, as the letters show, of Héloïse.
What shall we think, in consequence, of the intellectual and moral
sterility of the orthodox world of the eleventh century, when we find
this heretical man, this rebellious woman, arguing incessantly about
unrealities, crushing out all human feeling, judging all questions of
cause and effect, settling all relations of life, with reference to a
system of intricate symbolical riddles? These things are exceedingly
difficult for a modern to realise; we feel as though we had penetrated
into some Gulliver's world or kingdom of the Moon; for theology and
its methods have been relegated, these many hundred years, to a sort
of _Hortus inclusus_ where nothing human grows. These mediæval men
of science apply their scientific energies to mastering, collecting,
comparing and generalising, not of any single fact of nature, but of the
words of other theologians. The magnificent sense of intellectual duty,
so evident in Abélard, and in a dozen monastic authors quoted by him,
is applied solely to fantasticating over Scripture and its expositors,
and diverting their every expression from its literal, honest, sane
meaning. And indeed, are some of the high efforts of mediæval genius, the
calculations of Joachim and the Eternal Gospel, any better than the Book
of Dreams and the Key to the Lottery? Most odious, perhaps, in this
theology triumphant (sickening enough, in good sooth, even in the timid
official theology of later days), is the loss of all sense of what's
what, of fitness and decency, which interprets allegorically the grosser
portions of Scripture, and, by a reverse process, lends to the soul
the vilest functions of the body, and discusses virtue in the terms
of fleshliness. No knowledge can come out of this straw-splitting _in
vacuo_; and certainly no art out of this indecent pedant's symbolism:
all things are turned to dusty, dirty lumber.

As with the intellectual, so also, in large degree, with the moral:
a splendid will to do right is applied, in its turn, to phantoms.
Here again the letters of Abélard and Héloïse are extraordinarily
instructive. The highest virtue, the all-including (how differently
Dante feels, whatever he may say!), is _obedience_. Thus Abélard,
having quoted from St. Augustine that all which is done for obedience'
sake is well done, proceeds very logically: "It is more advantageous for
us to act rightly than to do good.... We should think not so much of the
action itself, as of the manner in which it is performed."

Do not imagine that this care for the motive and contempt of the action
arises from an estimate of the importance of a man's sum-total of
tendencies, contrasted with his single, perhaps unintentional, acts;
still less that the advantage thus referred to has anything to do with
other men's happiness. The advantage is merely to the individual soul,
or in a cruder, truer view, to the individual combustible body to which
that soul shall be eternally reunited hereafter. And the spirit which
makes virtue alone virtuous is the spirit of obedience: obedience
theoretically to a god, but practically to a father of the Church, a
Council, an abbot or abbess. In this manner right-doing is emptied of
all rational significance, becomes dependent upon what itself, having
no human, practical reason, is mere arbitrary command. Chastity, for
instance, which is, together with mansuetude, the especial Christian
virtue, becomes in this fashion that mere guarding of virginity which,
for some occult reason, is highly prized in Heaven; as to clean living
being indispensable for bearable human relations, which even the unascetic
ancients recognised so clearly, there is never an inkling of that. Whence,
indeed, such persons as do not _go in for_ professionally pleasing the
divinity, who are neither priests, monks, nor nuns, need not stickle
about it; and the secular literature of the Middle Ages, with its
Launcelots, Tristrams, Flamencas, and all its German and Provençal
lyrists, becomes the glorification of illicit love. Indeed, in the
letters before us, Abélard regrets his former misconduct only with
reference to religious standards: as a layman he was perfectly free to
seduce Héloïse; the scandal, the horrible sin, was not the seduction,
but the profanation by married love of the dress of a nun, the sanctuary
of the virgin. So it is with the renunciation of all the world's pleasures
and interests. The ascetic sacrifice of inclination, which the stoics
had conceived as resistance to the tyrant without and the tyrant within,
as a method for serene and independent life and death, this ascetic
renunciation becomes, in this arid theological world, the mere giving up
to please a jealous God of all that is not He. Abélard's regulations for
the nuns, which he gives as rules of perfection (save in the matter of
that necessary half sin, marriage) to devout lay folk, come after all to
this: give human nature enough to keep it going, so that it may be able
to sacrifice everything else to the jealousy of the Godhead. Eating,
clothing oneself, washing (though, by the way, there is no mention
of this save for the sick), nay, speaking and thinking, are merely
instrumental to the contemplation of God; any more than suffices for
this is sinful. On this point Abélard quotes, with stolidest approval,
one of the most heart-rending of anecdotes. A certain monk being asked
why he had fled humankind, answered, on account of his great love for
it, and the impossibility of loving God and it at the same time.

Think upon that. Think on the wasted treasure of loving-kindness of
which that monk and the thousands he represents cheated his fellow-men.
O love of human creatures, of man for woman, parents and children, of
brethren, love of friends; fuel and food, which keeps the soul alive,
balm curing its wounds, or, if they be incurable, helps the poor dying
thing to die at last in peace--this was those early saints' notion of

To refuse thus to love is to refuse not merely the highest usefulness,
but to refuse also the best kind of justice. Here again, nay, here more
than ever, we may learn from those wonderful letters. They constitute,
indeed, a document of the human soul to which, in my recollection, one
other only, Benjamin Constant's _Adolphe_, can be compared. But in these
letters,--hers of grief, humiliation, hopelessness, making her malign
her noble self; and his, bitter, self-righteous, crammed with theological
moralisings--we see not merely the dual drama of two ill-assorted
creatures, but the much more terrible tragedy, superadded by the
presence, looming, impassive, as of Cypris in Euripides' Hippolytus, of
a third all-powerful and superhuman entity: the spirit of monasticism.
The unequal misery, the martyrdom of Héloïse arises herefrom, that she
rebels against this _Deus ex machina_; that this nun of the eleventh
century is a strong warm-hearted modern woman, fit for Browning. While
Abélard is her whole life, the intimate companion of her highest thoughts,
she is only a toy to him, and a toy which his theologian's pride, his
monkish self-debasement, makes him afraid and ashamed of. Abélard has
been for her, and ever remains, something like Brahma to Goethe's
Bayadere; her love, her love above all for his intrepid intellect, has
raised him to a sacredness so great, that his whim, his fame, his peace,
his very petulance can be refused nothing; and that, on the other hand,
any concession taken from him seems positive sacrilege. Hence her refusal
of marriage, her answer, "that she would be prouder as his mistress--the
Latin word is harlot--than as the wife of Cæsar." Fifty years later, in
the kind, passionate, poetical days of St. Francis, Héloïse might have
given this loving fervour to Christ, and been a happy, if a deluded,
woman; but in those frigid monkish days, there was no one for her to
love, save this frigid monkish Abélard. As it is, therefore, she loves
Christ and God in obedience to Abélard; she passionately cons the fathers,
the Scriptures, merely because, so to speak, the hand of Abélard has
lain on the page, the eyes of Abélard have followed the characters; and
finally, after all her vain entreaties for (she scarce knows what!) love,
sympathy, one personal word, she feeds her starving heart on the only
answer to her supplications--the dialectic exercises, metaphysical
treatises, and theological sermons (containing even the forms applicable
only to a congregation) which he doles out to her. Thankful for anything
which comes _from_ him, however little it comes _to_ her.

How different with Abélard! Despite occasional atrocious misery and
unparalleled temporal misfortunes (which on the whole act upon him as
tonics), this great metaphysician is well suited to his times, and
spiritually thrives in their exhausted, chill atmosphere. The public
rumour (which Héloïse hurls at him in a fit of broken-hearted rage),
that his passion for her had been but a passing folly of the flesh,
he never denies, but, on the contrary, reiterates perpetually for
her spiritual improvement; let her understand clearly from what
inexpressible degradation God in His mercy has saved them, at least
saved him; let her realise that he wanted only carnal indulgence, and
would have got it, if need be, through threats and blows. He recognises,
in his past, only a feeling which, now it is over, fills his ascetic
mind with nothing but disgust and burning shame, and hence he tries, by
degrading it still more, by cynically raking up all imaginable filth,
to separate that past from his present. So far, were only he himself
concerned, one would sympathise, though contemptuously, with this
agonised reaction of a proud, perhaps a vain, _man_ of mere intellect.
But the atrocious thing is, that he treats her as a loathsome relic of
this past dishonour; and answers her prayer (after twelve years'
silence!) for a word of loving-kindness by elaborate denunciations of
their former love, and reiterated jubilations that _he_, at least, has
long been purged thereof; not unmixed with sharp admonishment that she
had better not try to infect his soul afresh, but set about, if needful,
cleansing her own. Now it so happens that what he would cure her of is
incurable, being, in fact, eternal, divine--simple human love. So, to
his pious and cynical admonitions she answers with strange inconsistency.
Long brooding over his taunts will sometimes make her, to whom he is
always the divinity, actually believe, despite her reiteration, that
she had sinned out of obedience to him, that she really is a polluted
creature, guilty of the unutterable crime of contaminating a man of God,
nay, a god himself. And then, unable to silence affection, she cries
out in agony at the perversity of her nature, incapable even of hating
sincerely its sinfulness; for would she not do it again, is she not the
same Héloïse who would have left the very altar, the very communion with
Christ, at Abélard's word? At other times she is pious, resigned, almost
serene; for is that not Abélard's wish? a careful mother to her nuns.
But when, encouraged by her docility and blind to her undying love,
Abélard believes that he has succeeded in quieting her down, and rewards
her piety by some rhetorical phrase of Monkish eulogy, she suddenly
turns round, a terrible tragic figure. She repudiates the supposed
purity and piety, blazons out her wickedness and hypocrisy, and cries
out, partly with the horror of the sacrilegious nun, mainly with the
pride of the faithful wife, that it is not God she loves but Abélard.

After the most violent of these outbreaks there is a dead silence. One
guesses that some terrible message has come, warning her that unless she
promised that she would never write to Abélard save as the Abbess of the
Paraclete to the monk of Cluny, not a word from him shall ever come;
and that, in order to keep this last miserable comfort, she has bitten
out that truth-speaking tongue of hers. For after this there are only
questions on theological points and on the regulation of nunneries; and
Abélard becomes as liberal of words as he used to be chary, as full of
encouragement as he once was of insult, now that he feels comfortably
certain that Héloïse has changed from a mistress to a penitent, and that
in her also there is an end at last of all that sinful folly of love.
And thus, upon Héloïse pacified, numbed, dead of soul, among her praying
and scrubbing and cooking and linen-mending nuns; and Abélard reassured,
serene, spiritually proud once more among the raging controversies, the
ecclesiastical persecutions in which his soul prospered, the volume
closes; the curtain falls upon one of the most terrible tragedies of the
heart, as poignant after seven hundred years as in those early Middle
Ages, before St. Francis claimed sun and swallows as brethren, and the
baby Christ was given to hold to St. Anthony of Padua.


The humanising movement, due no doubt to greater liberty and prosperity,
to the growing importance of honest burgher life, which the Church
authorised in the person of Francis of Assisi, doubtless after persecuting
it in the persons of dozens of obscure heresiarchs--this great revival
of religious faith was essentially the triumph of profane feeling in the
garb of religious: the sanctification, however much disguised, of all
forms of human love. One is fully aware of the moral dangers attendant
upon every such equivocation; and the great saints (like their last modern
representatives, the fervent, shrewd, and kindly leaders of certain
Protestant revivals) were probably, for all their personal extravagances,
most fully prepared for every sort of unwholesome folly among their
disciples. The whole of a certain kind of devotional literature, manuals
of piety, Church hymns, lives and correspondence of saintly persons, is
unanimous in testifying to the hysterical self-consciousness, intellectual
enervation, emotional going-to-bits, and moral impotence produced by
such vicarious and barren expenditure of feeling. Yet it seems to me
certain that this enthroning of human love in matters spiritual was an
enormous, indispensable improvement, which, whatever detriment it may
have brought in individual and, so to say, professionally religious
cases, nay, perhaps to all religion as a whole, became perfectly
wholesome and incalculably beneficent in the enormous mass of
right-minded laity.

For human emotion, although so often run to waste, had been at least
elicited, and, once elicited, could find, in nine cases out of ten, its
true and beneficent channel; whereas, in the earlier mediæval days, the
effort to crush out all human feeling (as with that holy man quoted by
Abélard), to break all human solidarity, had not merely left the world
in the hands of unscrupulous and brutal persons, but had imprisoned all
finer souls in solitary and selfish thoughts of their individual salvation.
Things were now different. The story of Lucchesio of Poggibonsi, recovered
from oblivion by M. Paul Sabatier, is the most lovely expression of
Franciscan tenderness and reverence towards the affections of the
laymen, and ought to be remembered in company with the legend of the
wood-pigeons, whom St. Francis established in his cabin and blessed in
their courtship and nesting. This Lucchesio had exercised a profession
which has ever savoured of damnation to the minds of the poor and their
lovers, that of corn merchant or speculator in grain; but touched by
Franciscan preaching, he had kept only one small garden, which, together
with his wife, he cultivated half for the benefit of the poor. One day
the wife, known in the legend only as Bona Donna, sickened and knew
she must die, and the sacrament was brought to her accordingly. But
Lucchesio never thought that it could be God's will that he should
remain on earth after his wife had been taken from him. So he got
himself shriven, received the last sacraments with her, held her hands
while she died; and when she was dead, stretched himself out, made
the sign of the cross, called on Jesus, Mary, and St. Francis, and
peacefully died in his turn: God could not have wished him to live on
without her. The passionate Franciscan sympathy with human love makes
light of all the accepted notions of bereavement being acceptable as a
divine dispensation. Lucchesio of Poggibonsi was, we are told, a member of
the Third Order of Franciscans, and his legend may help us to appreciate
the value of such institutions, which gave heaven to the laity, to
the married burgher, the artisan, the peasant; which fertilised the
religious ideal with the simplest and sweetest instincts of mankind.
But, Third Order apart, the mission of the regular Franciscans and
Dominicans is wholly different from that of the earlier orders of
monasticism proper. The earlier monks, however useful and venerable as
tillers of the soil and students of all sciences, were, nevertheless,
only agglomerated hermits, retired from the world for the safety each of
his own soul; whereas the preaching, wandering friars are men who mix
with the world for the sake of souls of others. Thus, throughout the
evolution of religious communities, down to the Jesuits and Oratorians,
to the great nursing brother-and sisterhoods of the seventeenth century,
we can watch the substitution of care for lay souls in the place of
more saintly ones--a gradual secularisation in unsuspected harmony with
the heretical and philosophical movements which tend more and more to
make religion an essential function of life, instead of an activity with
which life is for ever at variance.

In accordance with this evolution is the great enthroning of love in the
thirteenth century: it means the replacing of the terror of a divinity,
who was little better than a metaphysical Moloch (sometimes, and oftener
than we think, a metaphysical Ormuzd and Ahriman of Manichean character),
by the idolatry of an all-gracious Virgin, of an all-compassionate and
all-sympathising Christ.

It was an effort at self-righting of the unhappy world, this love-fever
which followed on the many centuries of monastic self-mutilation; for,
in sickness of the spirit, the hot stage, for all its delirium, means
a possibility of life. Moreover, it gave to mankind a plenitude of
happiness such as is necessary, whether reasonable or unreasonable, for
mankind to continue living at all; art, poetry, freedom, all the things
which form the _Viaticum_ on mankind's journey through the dreary ages,
requiring for their production, it would seem, an extra dose of faith,
of hope, and happiness. Indeed, the Franciscan movement is important not
so much for its humanitarian quality as for its optimism.

Many other religious movements have asserted, with equal and greater
efficacy, the need for charity and loving-kindness; but none, as it
seems to me, has conceived like it that charity and loving-kindness are
not mitigations of misery, but aids to joy. The universal brotherhood,
preached by Francis of Assisi, is a brotherhood not of suffering, but of
happiness, nay, of life and of happiness.

The sun, in the wonderful song which he made--characteristically--during
his sickness, is the brother of man because of his radiance and splendour;
water and fire are his brethren on account of their virtues of purity
and humbleness, of jocund and beautiful strength;[1] and if we find,
throughout his legends, the Saint perpetually accompanied by birds--the
swallows he begged to let him speak, the falcon who called him in the
morning, the turtle-doves whose pairing he blessed, and all the feathered
flock whom Benozzo represents him preaching to in the lovely fresco at
Montefalco--if, as I say, there is throughout his life and thoughts a
sort of perpetual whir and twitter of birds, it is, one feels sure,
because the creatures of the air, free to come and go, to sit on
beautiful trees, to drink of clear streams, to play in the sunshine and
storm, able above all to be like himself, poets singing to God, are the
symbols, in the eyes of Francis, of the greatest conceivable

  [Footnote 1: St. Francis's hymn (Sabatier, _St. François d'Assise_):--

      Laudato sie, mi signore, cum tucte le tue creature,
      Spetialimento messer lo frate sole,
      Lo quale jorna, et illumini per lui;
     _Et ello è bello e radiante cum grande splendore._
            *       *       *       *       *
      Laudato si, mè signore per frate Vento
      Et per aere et nubilo et sereno et omne tempo
            *       *       *       *       *
      Laudato, si, mi signore, per sor acqua
      La quale è multo utile et humele et pretiosa et casta;
      Laudato si, mi signore, per frate focu
      Per lo quale ennallumini la nocte
     _Et ello è bello et jocundo e robustioso e forte._

  In its rudeness, how magnificent is this last line!]

  [Footnote 2: St. Francis's sermon to the birds in the valley of Bevagna
  (_Fioretti_ xvi.): "Ancora gli (a Dio) siete tenuti per lo elemento
  dell' aria che egli ha diputato a voi ... e Iddio vi pasce, e davvi li
  fiumi e le fonti per vostro bere; davvi li monti e le valli per vostro
  rifugio e gli alberi alti per fare li vostri nidi ... e però guardatevi,
  sirocchie mie, del peccato della ingratitudine, e sempre vi studiate di
  lodare Iddio ... e allora tutti qugli uccilli si levarons in aria con
  maraviglios canti."

  _Fioretti_ xxviii. "... Questo dono, che era dato a frate Bernardo da
  Quintevalle, cioè, che volando si pascesse come la rondine." _Fioretti_
  xxii., Considerazioni i.]

Indeed, we can judge of what the Franciscan movement was to the world by
what its gospel, the divine _Fioretti_, are even to ourselves. This humble
collection of stories and sayings, sometimes foolish, always childlike,
becomes, to those who have read it with more than the eyes of the body,
a beloved and necessary companion, like the solemn serene books of antique
wisdom, the passionate bitter Book of Job, almost, in a way, like the
Gospels of Christ. But not for the same reason: the book of Francis
teaches neither heroism nor resignation, nor divine justice and mercy;
it teaches love and joyfulness. It keeps us for ever in the company of
creatures who are happy because they are loving: whether the creatures
be poor, crazy Brother Juniper (the comic person of the cycle) eating
his posset in brotherly happiness with the superior he had angered; or
Brother Masseo, unable from sheer joy in Christ to articulate anything
save "U-u-u," "like a pigeon;" or King Lewis of France falling into the
arms of Brother Egidio; or whether they be the Archangel Michael in
friendly converse with Brother Peter, or the Madonna handing the divine
child for Brother Conrad to kiss, or even the Wolf of Gubbio, converted,
and faithfully fulfilling his bargain. There are sentences in the
_Fioretti_ such as exist perhaps in no other book in the world, and
which teach something as important, after all, as wisdom even and perfect
charity--"And there answered Brother Egidio: Beloved brethren, know that
as soon as he and I embraced one another, the light of wisdom revealed
and manifested to me his heart, and to him mine; and thus by divine
operation, seeing one into the other's heart, that which I would have
said to him and he to me, each understood much better than had we spoken
with our tongue, and with greater joyfulness...." Again, Jesus appeared
to Brother Ruffino and said, "Well didst thou do, my son, inasmuch as
thou believedst the words of St. Francis; for he who saddened thee was
the demon, whereas I am Christ thy teacher; and for token thereof I will
give thee this sign: As long as thou live, thou shalt never feel
affliction of any sort nor sadness of heart."

St. Francis, we are told, being infirm of body, was comforted through
God's goodness by a vision of the joy of the blessed. "Suddenly there
appeared to him an angel in a great radiance, which angel held a viol
in his left hand and a bow in his right. And while St. Francis remained
in stupefaction at the sight, this angel drew the bow once _upwards_
across the viol, and instantly there issued such sweetness of melody as
melted the soul of St. Francis, and suspended it from all bodily sense.
And, as he afterwards told his companions, he was of opinion that if
that angel had drawn the bow _downwards_ (instead of upwards) across the
viol, his soul would have departed from his body for the very excess of

It was not so much to save the souls of men from hell, about which,
indeed, there is comparatively little talk in the _Fioretti_, but to
draw them also into the mystic circle where such angelic music was
heard, that Francis of Assisi preached throughout Umbria, and even
as far as the Soldan's country; and, if we interpret it rightly, the
strings of that heavenly viol were the works of creation and the souls
of all creatures, and the bow, whose upward movement ravished, and whose
downward movement would have almost annihilated with its sweetness, that
bow drawn across the vibrating world was no other than love.


Justice preached by Hebrew prophets, charity and purity taught by Jesus
of Nazareth, fortitude recommended by Epictetus and Aurelius, none of
these great messages to men necessarily produce that special response
which we call Art. But the message of loving joyfulness, of happiness
in the world and the world's creatures, whether men or birds, or sun
or moon,--this message, which was that of St. Francis, sets the soul
singing; and just such singing of the soul makes art. Hence, even as
the Apennine blazed with supernatural light, and its forests and rocks
became visible to the most distant wayfarers, when the Eternal Love
smote with its beams the praying saint on La Vernia; so also the souls
of those men of the Middle Ages were made luminous and visible by the
miracle of poetry and painting, and we can see them still, distinct even
at this distance.

One of the earliest of the souls so revealed is that of the Blessed
Jacopone of Todi. Jacopo dei Benedetti, a fellow-countryman of St.
Francis, must have been born in the middle of the thirteenth century,
and is said to have died in 1316, when Dante, presumably, was writing
his "Purgatory" and "Paradise;" to him is ascribed the authorship of
the hymn "Stabat Mater," remembered, and to be remembered (owing to the
embalming power of music) far beyond his vernacular poems. Tradition has
it that he turned to the religious life in consequence of the sudden
death of his beloved, and the discovery that she had worn a hair-shirt
next her delicate body. Be this as it may, many allusions in his poems
suggest that he had lived the wild life of the barbarous Umbrian cities,
being a highwayman perhaps, forfeiting his life, and also having to fly
the country before the fury of some family vendetta. On the other hand,
it is plain at every line that he was a frantic ascetic, taking a savage
pleasure in vilifying all mundane things, and passionately disdainful of
study, of philosophical and theological subtleties. No poet, therefore,
of the troubadour sort, or of the idealising learned refinement of
Guinicelli or Cavalcanti. Nor was his life one of apostolic sweetness.
Having taken part in the furious Franciscan schism, and pursued with
invectives Boniface VIII., he was cast by that Pope into a dungeon at
Palestrina. "My dwelling," he writes, "is subterranean, and a cesspool
opens on to it; hence a smell not of musk. No one can speak to me; the
man who waits on me may, but he is obliged to make confession of my
sayings. I wear jesses like a falcon, and ring whenever I move: he who
comes near my room may hear a queer kind of dance. When I have laid
myself down, I am tripped up by the irons, and wound round in a big
chain (_negli ferri inzampagliato, inguainato in catenone_). I have a
little basket hung up so that the mice may not injure it; it can hold
five loaves.... While I eat them little by little, I suffer great

Moreover, Pope Boniface refuses him absolution, and Jacopone's
invectives are alternated with heart-rending petitions that this mercy
at least be shown him; as to his other woes, he will endure them till
his death. In this frightful place Jacopone had visions, which the
Church, giving him therefore the title of Blessed, ratifies as genuine.
One might expect nightmares, such as troubled the early saints in the
wilderness, or John Bunyan in gaol; but that was not the spirit of the
mediæval revival: terror had been cast out by love. More than a quarter
of Jacopone's huge volume consists in what is merely love poetry: he is
languishing, consumed by love; when the beloved departs, he sighs and
weeps, and shrieks, and _dies alive_. Will the beloved have no mercy?
"Jesu, donami la morte, o di te fammi assaggiare." Then the joys of
love, depicted with equal liveliness, amplifications as usual of the
erotic hyperboles of the Shulamite and her lover; the phenomenon, to
whose uncouth strangeness devotional poetry accustoms us even now-a-days,
which we remarked in Gottfried von Strasburg and Frauenlob, and on which
it is needless further to insist.

But there is here in Jacopone something which we missed in Gottfried
and Frauenlob, of which there is no trace in the Song of Solomon, but
which, suggested in the lovely six lines of Bruder Wernher, makes the
emotionalism of the Italian Middle Ages wholesome and fruitful. A
child-like boy and girlish light-heartedness that makes love a matter
not merely of sighing and dying, but of singing and dancing; and,
proceeding thence, a fervour of loving delightedness which is no longer
of the man towards the woman, but of the man and the woman towards the
baby. The pious monk, in his ecstasies over Jesus, intones a song which
might be that of those passionate _farandoles_ of angels who dance and
carol in Botticelli's most rapturous pictures:--

  "Amore, amor, dove m'hai tu menato?
   Amore, amor, fuor di me m'hai trattato.
   Ciascun amante, amator del Signore,
   Venga alla danza cantando d'amore."

Can we not see them, the souls of such fervent lovers, swaying and
eddying, with joined hands and flapping wings, flowers dropping from
their hair, above the thatched roof of the stable at Bethlehem?

The stable at Bethlehem! It is perpetually returning to Jacopone's
thoughts. The cell, the dreadful underground prison at Palestrina, is
broken through, irradiated by visions which seem paintings by Lippo or
Ghirlandaio, nay, by Correggio and Titian themselves, "the tender baby
body (_il tenerin corpo_) of the blood of Mary has been given in charge
to a pure company; St. Joseph and the Virgin contemplate the little
creature (_il piccolino_) with stupefaction. _O gran piccolino Jesu
nostro diletto_, he who had seen Thee between the ox and the little
ass, breathing upon thy holy breast, would not have guessed thou were
begotten of the Trinity!" But besides the ox and the ass there are the
angels. "In the worthy stable of the sweet baby the angels are singing
round the little one; they sing and cry out, the beloved angels, quite
reverent, timid and shy (_tutti riverenti, timidi e subbietti_, this
beautiful expression is almost impossible save in Italian), round the
little baby Prince of the Elect who lies naked among the prickly hay. He
lies naked and without covering; the angels shout in the heights. And
they wonder greatly that to such lowliness the Divine Verb should have
stooped. The Divine Verb, which is highest knowledge, this day seems as
if He knew nothing of anything (_il verbo divino che è sommo sapiente,
in questo di par che non sappia niente!_). Look at him on the hay, crying
and kicking (_che gambetta piangente_), as if He were not at all a divine
man...." Meanwhile, other angels, as in Benozzo's frescoes, are busy
"picking rarest flowers in the garden." In the garden! Why He Himself
is a fragrant garden; Jesus is a garden of many sweet odours; and "what
they are those can tell who are the lovers of this sweet little brother
of ours."

_Di Questo nostro dolce fratellino_: it is such expressions as these,
Bambolino, Piccolino, Garzolino, "el magno Jesulino," these caressing,
ever-varied diminutives, which make us understand the monk's passionate
pleasure in the child; and which, by the emotion they testify to and
re-awaken, draw more into relief, make visible and tangible the little
kicking limbs on the straw, the dimpled baby's body.

And then there are the choruses of angels. "O new song," writes Jacopone,
"which has killed the weeping of sick mankind! Its melody, methinks,
begins upon the high _Fa_, descending gently on the _Fa_ below, which
the _Verb_ sounds. The singers, jubilating, forming the choir, are the
holy angels, singing songs in that hostelry, before the little babe, who
is the Incarnate Word. On lamb's parchment, behold! the divine note is
written, and God is the scribe, Who has opened His hand, and has taught
the song."

Have we not here, in this odd earliest allegory of music and theology,
this earliest precursor of the organ-playing of Abt Vogler, one of those
choirs, clusters of singing childish heads--clusters, you might almost
say, of sweet treble notes, tied like nosegays by the score held
scrollwise across them, which are among the sweetest inventions of
Italian art, from Luca della Robbia to Raphael, "cantatori, guibilatori,
che tengon il coro?"

And this is the place for a remark which, in the present uncertainty
of all æsthetic psychology, I put forward as a mere suggestion, but
a suggestion less wide of the truth than certain theories now almost
unquestioned: the theories which arbitrarily assume that art is the
immediate and exact expression of contemporary spiritual aspirations and
troubles. That such may be the case with literature, particularly the
more ephemeral kinds thereof, is very likely, since literature, save in
the great complex structures of epos, tragedy, choral lyric, is but the
development of daily speech, and possibly as upstart, as purely passing,
as daily speech itself; moreover, in its less artistic forms, requiring
little science or apprenticeship.

But art is a thing of older ancestry; you cannot, however bursting
with emotion, embody your feelings in forms like those of Phidias, of
Michelangelo, of Bach, or Mozart, unless such forms have come ready to
hand through the long, steady working of generations of men: Phidias
and Bach in person, cut off from their precursors, would not, for all
their genius, get as far as a schoolboy's caricature, or a savage's
performance on a marrow-bone. And these slowly elaborated forms,
representing the steady impact of so many powerful minds, representing,
moreover, the organic necessity by which, a given movement once started,
that movement is bound to proceed in a given direction, these forms
cannot be altered, save infinitesimally, to represent the particular
state of the human soul at a given moment. You might as well suppose
that the human shape itself, evolved through these millions of years,
could suddenly be accommodated to perfect representation of the momentary
condition of certain human beings; even the Tricoteuses of the guillotine
had the heads and arms of ordinary women, not the beaks and claws of
harpies. Hence such expressiveness must be limited to microscopic
alterations; and, indeed, one marvels at the modest demands of the art
critics, who are satisfied with the pucker of a frontal muscle of a
Praxitelean head as testimony to the terrible deep disorder in the
post-Periclean Greek spirit, and who can still find in the later
paintings of Titian, when all that makes Titian visible and admirable
is deducted, a something, just a little _je ne sais quoi_, which proves
these later Titians to have originated in the Catholic reaction. If
the theory of art as the outcome of momentary conditions be limited
to such particularities, I am quite willing to accept it; only, such
particularities do not constitute the large, important and really
valuable characteristics of art, and it matters very little by what
they are produced.

How then do matters stand between art and civilisation? Here follows
my hypothesis. There is in the history of every art (and for brevity's
sake, I include in this term every distinct category, say, renaissance
sculpture as distinguished from antique, of the same art) a moment when,
for one reason or other, that art begins to come to the fore, to bestir
itself. The circumstances of the nation and time make this art materially
advantageous or spiritually attractive; the opening up of quarries, the
discovery of metallic alloys, the necessity of roofing larger spaces,
the demand for a sedentary amusement, for music to dance to in new social
gatherings--any such humble reason, besides many others, can cause one
art to issue more particularly out of the limbo of the undeveloped, or
out of the lumber-room of the unused.

It is during this historic moment--a moment which may last years or
scores of years--that, as it seems to me, an art can really be deeply
affected by its surrounding civilisation. For is it not called forth by
that civilisation's requirements, material or spiritual; and is it not,
by the very fact of being thus new, or at all events nascent, devoid
of all conditioning factors, save those which the civilisation and
its requirements impose from without? An art, like everything vital,
takes shape not merely by pressure from without, but much more by the
necessities inherent in its own constitution, the almost mechanical
necessities by which all variable things _can_ vary only in certain
fashions. All the natural selection, all the outer pressure in the
world, cannot make a stone become larger by cutting, cannot make colour
less complex by mixing, cannot make the ear perceive a dissonance more
easily than a consonance, cannot make the human mind turn back from
problems once opened up, or revert instantaneously to effects it is sick
of; and a number of such immutable necessities constitute what we call
the organism of an art, which can therefore respond only in one way and
not another to the influences of surrounding civilisation. Given the
sculpture of the Ægina period, it is impossible we should not arrive at
the sculpture of the time of Alexander: the very constitution of clay
and bronze, of marble, chisel and mallet, let alone that of the human
mind, makes it inevitable; and you would have it inevitably if you could
invert history, and put Chæronea in the place of Salamis. But there
is no reason why you should eventually get Lysippian and Praxitelean
sculpture instead of Egyptian or Assyrian, say, in the time of Homer,
whenever that may have been. For the causes which forced Greek sculpture
along the line leading to Praxiteles and Lysippus were not yet at work;
and had other forces, say, a preference for stone work instead of clay
and bronze work, a habit of Persian or Gaulish garments, of Lydian
effeminate life instead of Dorian athleticism, supervened, had satraps
ordered rock-reliefs of battles instead of burghers ordering brazen
images of boxers and runners, Praxiteles and Lysippus might have
remained _in mente Dei_, if, indeed, even there. Similarly, once
given your Pisan sculptors, Giotto, nay, your imaginary Cimabue, you
inevitably get your Donatello, Masaccio, Ghirlandajo, and eventually
your Leonardo, Michelangelo, and Titian; for the problems of form and of
sentiment, the questions of perspective, anatomy, dramatic expression,
lyric suggestion, architectural decoration, were established, in however
rudimentary a manner, as soon as painting was ordered to leave off doing
idle, emotionless Christs, rows of gala saints and symbols of metaphysic
theology, and told to set about showing the episodes of Scripture, the
things Christ and the Apostles did, and the places where they did them,
and the feelings they felt about it all; told to make visible to the
eye the gallant archangels, the lovable Madonnas, the dear little baby
Saviours, the angels with their flowers and songs, all the human hope
and pity and passion and tenderness which possessed the world in the
days of St. Francis.

What pictures should we have seen if Christianity (which was impossible)
had continued in the habits of thought and feeling of the earlier Middle
Ages? Byzantine _icones_ become frightfuler and frightfuler, their
theological piety perhaps sometimes relieved by odd wicked Manichean
symbolism; all talent and sentiment abandoning painting, perhaps to
the advantage of music, whose solemn period of recondite contrapuntal
complexity--something corresponding to the ingenuities and mysticism of
theology--might have come two centuries earlier, and delighted the world
instead of being unnoticed by it. Be this as it may, there is no need
for wondering, as people occasionally wonder, how the solemn terror, the
sweetness, pathos, or serenity of men like Signorelli, Botticelli, or
Perugino, nay Michelangelo, Raphael, or Giorgione, could have originated
among Malatestas, Borgias, Poggios, or Aretines. It did not. And,
therefore, since literature always precedes its more heavily cumbered
fellow-servant art, we must look for the literary counterpart of the
painters of the Renaissance among the writers who preceded them by
many generations, men more obviously in touch with the great mediæval
revival: Dante, Boccaccio, the compilers of the "Fioretti di San
Francesco," and, as we have just seen, Fra Jacopone da Todi.


What art would there have been without that Franciscan revival, or
rather what emotional synthesis of life would art have had to record?
This speculation has been dismissed as futile, because it is impossible
to conceive that mankind could have gone on without some such enthusiastic
return of faith in the goodness of things. But another question remains
to be answered, remains to be asked; and that is, what was the spiritual
meaning of the art which immediately preceded the Franciscan revival?
what was the emotional synthesis of life given by those who had come too
early to partake in the new religion of love?

The question seems scarcely to have occurred to any one, perhaps because
the Church found it expedient to obliterate, to the best of her power,
all records of her terrible mediæval vicissitudes, and to misinterpret,
for the benefit of purblind antiquarians, the architectural symbolism of
the earlier Middle Ages.

Since, in the deciphering of such expressions of mankind's moods and
intuitions, scientific investigation is scarcely more important than
the moods and intuitions of the looker-on, it seems quite fitting that
I should begin these suggestions about pre-Franciscan Italian art by
saying that some years ago there met by accident in my mind a certain
impression of Lombard twelfth-century art, and a certain anecdote of
Lombard twelfth-century history.

It was at Lucca, a place most singularly rich in round-arched buildings,
that I was, so to speak, overwhelmed by the fact that the Italian churches
of immediately pre-Franciscan days possess by way of architectural
ornamentation nothing but images of deformity and emblems of wickedness.
This fact, apart from its historical bearing, may serve also to illustrate
a theory I have already put forth, to wit, that the only art which is
necessarily expressive of contemporary thought and feeling is such as
embodies very little skill, and as expresses but very few organic
necessities of form, both of which can result only from the activity
and the influence of generations of craftsmen; since in these Lucchese
churches the architectural forms proclaim one thing and the sculptural
details another. The first speak only of logic and serenity; the second
only of the most abominable nightmare. The truth is, that these churches
of Lucca, and their more complex and perfect prototypes, like Sant'
Ambrogio of Milan, and San Miniato of Florence, are not the real outcome
of the century which built them. It is quite natural that, with their
stately proportions, their harmonious restrained vaultings, their easy,
efficient colonnades, their ample and equable illumination, above all
their obvious pleasure in constructive logic, these churches should
affect us as being _classic_ as opposed to romantic, and even in a very
large measure actually antique; for they have come, through generations
as long-lived and as scanty as those of the patriarchs, straight from
the classic, the antique; grandchildren of the courts of law and temples
of Pagan Rome, children of the Byzantine basilicas of early Christian
days; strange survivals from distant antiquity, testifying to the lack
of artistic initiative in the barbarous centuries between Constantine to
Barbarossa. No period in the world's history could have produced anything
so organic without the work of previous periods; and when the Middle
Ages did in their turn produce an architecture original to themselves,
it was by altering these still classic forms into something absolutely
different: that thirteenth-century Gothic which answers to the material
and necessities of the democratic and romantic times heralded by St.
Francis. The twelfth century, therefore, could not express itself in
the architectural forms and harmonies of those Lucchese churches; but
it could express itself in their rude and thoroughly original sculpture.
Hence, while there is in them no indication of the symbolism of the coming
ogival Gothic, there is no trace either of the symbolism belonging to
Byzantine buildings. None of the Gothic imagery testifying faith and
joy in God and His creatures; no effigies of saints; at most only of
the particular building's patron; no Madonnas, infant Christs, burning
cherubim, singing and playing angels, armed romantic St. Michael or
St. George; none of those goodly rows of kings and queens guarding the
portals, or of those charming youthful heads marking the spring of the
pointed arch, the curve of the spandril. Nor, on the other hand, any
remnant of Byzantine devices of the date-loaded palms, the peacocks
and doves, the bunches of grapes, the serene, almost Pagan imagery which
graces the churches of the Cælian and Aventine, the basilicas of
Ravenna, and which would seem the necessary accompaniment of this
stately Neo-Byzantine architecture. The churches of Lucca, like their
contemporaries and immediate predecessors throughout Tuscany and North
Italy, are ornamented only with symbols of terror.[3]

  [Footnote 3: The Cathedral of Assisi, a very early mediæval building,
  affords a singular instance of the meeting of the last remnant of that
  serene symbolism of Roman and Byzantine-Roman churches with the usual
  Lombard horrors. A fine passion-flower or vine encircles the porch,
  peacocks strut and drink from an altar, while, on the other hand, lions
  mangle a man and a sheep, and horrible composite monsters, resembling
  the prehistoric plesiosaurus, bite each other's necks. A Madonna and
  Christ are enthroned on Byzantine seats, the weight resting on human
  beings, not so realistically crushed as those of Ferrara and Milan, but
  suffering. There is a similar meeting of symbols in the neighbouring
  Cathedral of Foligno; and, so far as I could see, the Umbrian valley
  is rich in very early churches of this type, sometimes lovely in
  ornamentation, like S. Pietro of Spoleto, sometimes very rude, like
  the tiny twin churches of Bevagna.]

The minds of the sculptors seem haunted by the terror of wicked wild
beasts, irresistible and mysterious, as in the night fears of children.
The chief ornament of St. Michael of Lucca is a curious band of black
and white inlaid work, of which Mr. Ruskin has said, with the optimism
of an orthodox symbolist, that it shows that the people of Lucca loved
hunting, even as the people of Florence loved the sciences and crafts
symbolised on their belfry. But the two or three solitary mannikins of
the frieze of St. Michael exemplify not the pleasures, but the terrors
of the chase; or rather they are not hunting, but being hunted by the
wild beasts all round; attacked rather than pursuing, flying on their
little horses from the unequal fight, or struggling under the hug of
bears, the grip of lions; never does one of them carry off a dead
creature or deal a mortal blow. The wild beasts are masters of the
situation, the men mere intruders, speedily worsted; and this is proved
by the fact that where the wolves, lions, and bears are not struggling
with human beings, they are devouring each another, the appearance of
the poor little scared men being only an interlude in the everlasting
massacre of one beast by another. The people who worked this frieze may
have pretended, perhaps, that they were expressing the pleasures of
hunting; but what they actually realised was evidently the horrors of a
world given over to ravening creatures. The porch sculptures of this
and all the other churches of Lucca remove all further doubt upon this
point. For here what human beings there lie under the belly and in the
claws (sometimes a mere horrid mangled human head) of the lions and
lionesses who project like beamheads out of the wall or carry the porch
columns on their back: scowling, murderous creatures, with which the
twelfth and early thirteenth century ornamented even houses and public
tanks like Fonte Branda, which less terrified generations adorned with
personified virtues. The nightmare of wild beasts is carried on in the
inside of the churches: there again, under the columns of the pulpits
are the lions and lionesses gnashing their teeth, tearing stags and
gazelles and playing with human heads. And, to increase the horror,
there also loom on the capitals of the nave strange unknown birds of
prey, fantastic terrible vultures and griffins. Everywhere massacre and
nightmare in those churches of Lucca. And the impression they made on
my mind was naturally strengthened by the recollection of the similar
and often more terrible carvings in other places, Milan, Pavia, Modena,
Volterra, the Pistoiese and Lucchese hill-towns, in all other places
rich in pre-Franciscan art. Above all, there came to my mind the image
of the human figures which in most of such pre-Franciscan places express
the other half of all this terror, the feelings of mankind in this kingdom
of wicked, mysterious wild beasts. I allude to the terrible figures,
crushed into dwarfs and hunchbacks by the weight of porch columns and
pulpits, amid which the tragic creature, with broken spine and starting
eyes, of Sant' Ambrogio of Milan is, through sheer horrified realisation,
a sort of masterpiece. But there are wild beasts, lions and lionesses,
among the works of thirteenth-century sculptors, and lions and lionesses
continue for a long time as ornaments of pure Gothic architecture. Of
course; but it was the very nearness of the resemblance of these later
creatures that brought home to me the utterly different, the uniform and
extraordinary character, of those of earlier date: the emblem was kept
by the force of tradition, but the meaning thereof was utterly changed.
The Pisani, for instance, carved lions and lionesses under all their
pulpits; some of them are merely looking dignified, others devouring
their prey, but they are conceived by a semi-heraldic decorator or an
intelligent naturalist; nay, the spirit of St. Francis has entered into
the sculptors, the feeling for animal piety and happiness, to the extent
of representing the lionesses as suckling and tenderly licking their
whelps. The men of that time cannot even conceive, in their newly acquired
faith and joy in God and His creatures, what feelings must have been
uppermost in the men who first set the fashion of adorning churches with
men-devouring monsters.

Such were my impressions during those days spent among the serene
Lucchese churches and their terrible emblems. And under their influence,
thinking of the times which had built the churches and carved the
emblems, there came to my memory a very curious anecdote, unearthed
by the learned ecclesiastical historian Tocco, and consigned in his
extremely suggestive book on mediæval heresies. A certain priest of
Milan became so revered for his sanctity and learning, and for the
marvellous cures he worked, that the people insisted on burying him
before the high altar, and resorting to his tomb as to that of a saint.
The holy man became even more undoubtedly saintly after his death; and
in the face of the miracles which were wrought by his intercession, it
became necessary to proceed to his beatification. The Church was about
to establish his miraculous sainthood, when, in the official process
of collecting the necessary information, it was discovered that the
supposed saint was a Manichean heretic, a _Catharus_, a believer in the
wicked Demiurgus, the creating Satan, the defeat of the spiritual God,
and the uselessness of the coming of Christ. It was quite probable that
he had spat upon the crucifix as a symbol of the devil's triumph; it was
quite possible that he had said masses to Satan as the true creator of
all matter. Be this as it may, that priest's half-canonised bones were
publicly burnt and their ashes scattered to the wind. The anecdote shows
that the Manichean heresies, some ascetic and tender, others brutal and
foul, had made their way into the most holy places. And, indeed, when we
come to think of it, no longer startled by so extraordinary a revelation,
this was the second time that Christianity ran the risk of becoming a
dualistic religion--a religion, like some of its Asiatic rivals, of
pessimism, transcendentally spiritual or cynically base according to the
individual believer. Nor is it surprising that such views, identical
with those of the transcendental theologians of the fourth century, and
equivalent to the philosophical pessimism of our own day, as expounded
particularly by Schopenhauer, should have found favour among the best
and most thoughtful men of the early Middle Ages. In those stern and
ferocious, yet tender-hearted and most questioning times, there must
have been something logically satisfying, and satisfying also to the
harrowed sympathies, in the conviction, if not in the dogma, that the
soul of man had not been made by the maker of the foul and cruel world
of matter; and that the suffering of all good men's hearts corresponded
with the suffering, the humiliation of a mysteriously dethroned God of
the Spirit. And what a light it must have shed, completely solving all
terrible questions, upon the story of Christ's martyrdom, so constantly
uppermost in the thoughts and feelings of mediæval men!

Now, the men who built Sant' Ambrogio[4] and San Miniato a Monte,
who carved the stone nightmares, the ravening lions, the squashed and
writhing human figures of the early Lombard and Tuscan churches, were
the contemporaries of that Manichean priest of Milan, who, although a
saint, had believed in the triumph of the Devil and the wickedness of
the Creator. And among his fellow-heretics--those heretics lurking
everywhere, and most among the most religious--should we not expect to
find the mysterious guilds of Lombard freemasons, and the craftsmen to
whom they gradually revealed their secrets, affirming in their stone
symbolism to the already initiated, and suggesting to the uninitiated,
their terrible creed of inevitable misery on earth? Nay, can we not
imagine some of them, even as the Templars were accused of doing (and
the Templars were patrons, remember, of important guilds of masons),
propitiating the Great Enemy by service and ritual, proclaiming his
Power, even as the ancients propitiated the divinities of darkness whom
they hated? For the God of Good, we can fancy them reasoning, the Pure
Spirit who will triumph when all this cruel universe goes to pieces,
can wish for no material altars, and can have no use for churches.
Or did not the idea of a dualism become confused into a vacillating,
contradictory notion of a Power at once good and evil, something
inscrutable, unthinkable, but inspiring less confidence than terror?

  [Footnote 4: Here are a few dates, as given by Murray's Handbooks.

  Fiesole Cathedral begun 1028; S. Miniato a Monte, 1013; Pisa Cathedral
  consecrated 1118; baptistery (lower storey), 1153. Lucca façade
  (interior later), 1204; S. Frediano of Lucca begun by Perharit 671,
  altered in twelfth century; S. Michele façade, 1188. Pistoia: S.
  Giovanni Evangelista by Gruamons, 1166; S. Andrea, also by Gruamons; S.
  Bartolomeo by Rudolphinus, 1167. Pulpit of S. Ambrogio of Milan, 1201;
  church traditionally begun about 868, probably much more modern.]

Whatever the secret of those sculptured monsters, this much is
historically certain, that a dualistic, profoundly pessimist belief had
honeycombed Christianity throughout Provence and Northern and Central
Italy. But for this knowledge it would be impossible to explain the
triumphant reception given to St. Francis and his sublime, illogical
optimism, his train of converted wolves, sympathising birds, and saints
and angels mixing familiarly with mortal men. The Franciscan revival
has the strength and success of a reaction. And in sweeping away the
pessimistic terrors of mankind, it swept away, by what is at least
a strange coincidence, the nightmare sculpture of the old Lombard

What the things were which made room for the carved virgins and saints,
the lute-playing angels and nibbling squirrels and twittering birds of
Gothic sculpture, I wish to put before the reader in one significant
example. The Cathedral of Ferrara is a building which, although finished
in the thirteenth century, had been begun and consecrated so early as
1135, and the porch thereof, as is frequently the case, appears to have
been erected earlier than other portions. Of this porch two pillars
are supported by life-sized figures, one bearded, one beardless, both
dressed in the girdled smock of the early Middle Ages. The enormous
weight of the porch is resting, not conventionally (as in the antique
caryatid) on the head, but on the spine; and the head is protruded
forwards in a fearful effort to save itself, the face most frightfully
convulsed: another moment and the spine must be broken and the head
droop freely down. Before the portals, but not supporting anything, are
six animals of red marble--a griffin, two lions, two lionesses, or what
seem such, and a second griffin. The central lions are well preserved,
highly realistic, but also decorative; one of them is crushing a large
ram, another an ox, both creatures splendidly rendered. I imagine these
central lions to be more recent (having perhaps replaced others) than
their neighbours, which are obliterated to the extent of being lions or
lionesses only by guesswork. These nameless feline creatures hold what
appear to be portions of sheep, one of them having at its flank a curious
excrescence like the stinging scorpion of the Mithra groups. The griffins,
on the other hand, although every detail is rubbed out, are splendid in
power and expression--great lion-bodied creatures, with gigantic eagle's
beak, manifestly birds rather than beasts, with the muscular neck and
probably the movement of a hawk. Like hawks, they have not swooped on
to their prey, but let themselves drop on to it, arriving not on their
belly like lions, but on their wings like birds. The prey is about a
fourth of the griffin's size. One of the griffins has swooped down
upon a wain, whose two wheels just protrude on either side of him; the
heads of two oxen are under his paws, and the head, open mouthed, with
terrified streaming hair, of the driver; beasts and men have come down
flat on their knees. The other griffin has captured a horse and his
rider; the horse has shied and fallen sideways beneath the griffin's
loins, with head protruding on one side and hoofs on the other, the
empty stirrup is still swinging. The rider, in mail-shirt and Crusader's
helmet, has been thrown forward, and lies between the griffin's claws,
his useless triangular shield clasped tight against his breast. Perhaps
merely because the attitude of the two griffins had to be symmetrical,
and the horse and rider filled up the space under their belly less
closely than the cart, oxen, and driver, there arises the suggestive
fact that the poor man and his bullocks are crushed more mercilessly
than the rich man and his horse. But be this as it may, poor and rich,
serf and knight, the griffin of destiny encompasses and pounces upon
each; and the talons of evil pin down and the beak of misery rends with
impartial cruel certainty.

Such is the account of the world and man, of justice and mercy, recorded
for us by the stonemasons of Ferrara.


As with the emotional, the lyric element in Renaissance art, so also
with the narrative or dramatic; it belongs not to the original, real,
or at all events primitive Christianity of the time when the Man Jesus
walked on earth in the body, but to that day when He arose once more, no
less a Christ, be sure, in the soul of those men of the Middle Ages.
The Evangelists had never felt--why should they, good, fervent Jewish
laymen?--the magic of the baby Christ as it was felt by those mediæval
ascetics, suddenly reawakened to human feeling. There is neither
tenderness nor reverence in the Gospels for the mother of the Lord;
some rather rough words on her motherhood; and that mention in St. John,
intended so evidently to bring the Evangelist, or supposed Evangelist,
into closer communion with Christ, not to draw attention to Christ's
mother. Yet out of those slight, and perhaps almost contemptuous
indications, the Middle Ages have made three or four perfect and wonderful
types of glorified womanhood: the Mother in adoration, the crowned,
enthroned Virgin, the Mater Gloriosa; the broken-hearted Mother, Mater
Dolorosa, as found at the foot of the cross or fainting at the deposition
therefrom; types more complete and more immortal than that of any Greek
divinity; above all, perhaps, the mere young mother holding the child
for kindly, reverent folk to look at, for the little St. John to play
with, or alone, looking at it, thinking of it in solitude and silence:
the whole lovingness of all creatures rising in a clear flame to heaven.
Nay, is not the suffering Christ a fresh creation of the Middle Ages,
made really to bear the sorrows of a world more sorrowful than that of
Judea? That strange Christ of the Resurrection, as painted occasionally
by Angelico, by Pier della Francesca, particularly in a wonderful small
panel by Botticelli; the Christ not yet triumphant at Easter, but risen
waist-high in the sepulchre, sometimes languidly seated on its rim, stark,
bloodless, with scarce seeing eyes, and the motionless agony of one
recovering from a swoon, enduring the worst of all his martyrdom, the
return to life in that chill, bleak landscape, where the sparse trees
bend in the dawn wind; returning from death to a new, an endless series
of sufferings, even as that legend made him answer the wayfaring Peter,
_returning to be crucified once more--iterum crucifigi_.

All this is the lyric side, on which, in art as in poetry, there are as
many variations as there are individual temperaments, and the variety in
Renaissance art is therefore endless. Let us consider the narrative or
dramatic side, on which, as I have elsewhere tried to show, all that
could be done was done, only repetition ensuing, very early in the
history of Italian art, by the Pisans, Giotto and Giotto's followers.

These have their counterpart, their precursors, in the writers and
reciters of devotional romances.

Among the most remarkable of these is the "Life of the Magdalen,"
printed in certain editions of Frate Domenico Cavalca's well known
charming translations of St. Jerome's "Lives of the Saints." Who the
author may be seems quite doubtful, though the familiar and popular
style might suggest some small burgher turned Franciscan late in life.
As the spiritual love lyrics of Jacopone stand to the _Canzonieri_ of
Dante and of Dante's circle of poets, so does this devout novel stand to
Boccaccio's more serious tales, and even to his "_Fiammetta_;" only, I
think that the relation of the two novelists is the reverse of that of
the poets; for, with an infinitely ruder style, the biographer of the
Magdalen, whoever he was, has also an infinitely finer psychological
sense than Boccaccio. Indeed, this little novel ought to be reprinted,
like "Aucasin et Nicolette," as one of the absolutely satisfactory
works, so few but so exquisite, of the Middle Ages.

It is the story of the relations of Jesus with the family of Lazarus,
whose sister Mary is here identified with the Magdalen; and it is, save
for the account of the Passion, which forms the nucleus, a perfect tissue
of inventions. Indeed, the author explains very simply that he is
narrating not how he knows of a certainty that things did happen, but
how it pleases him to think that they might have happened. For the man
puts his whole heart in the story, and alters, amplifies, explains away
till his heart is satisfied. The Magdalen, for instance, was not all
the sort of woman that foolish people think. If she took to scandalous
courses, it was only from despair at being forsaken by her bridegroom,
who left her on the wedding-day to follow Christ to the desert, and who
was no other than the Evangelist John. Moreover, let no vile imputations
be put upon it; in those days, when everybody was so good and modest, it
took very little indeed (in fact, nothing which our wicked times would
notice at all) to get a woman into disrepute.

Judged by our low fourteenth-century standard, this sinning Magdalen
would have been only a little over-cheerful, a little free, barely
what in the fourteenth century is called (the mere notion would
have horrified the house of Lazarus) _a trifle fast_; our unknown
Franciscan--for I take him to be a Franciscan--insists very much on her
having sung and whistled on the staircase, a thing no modest lady of
Bethany would then have done; but which, my dear brethren, is after

This sinful Magdalen, repenting of her sins, such as they are, is living
with her sister Mary and her brother Lazarus; the whole little family
bound to Jesus by the miracle which had brought Lazarus back to life.
Jesus and his mother are their guests during Passion week; and the awful
tragedy of the world and of heaven passes, in the anonymous narrative,
across the narrow stage of that little burgher's house. As in the art of
the fifteenth century, the chief emotional interest of the Passion is
thrown not on the Apostles, scarcely on Jesus, but upon the two female
figures, facing each other as in some fresco of Perugino, the Magdalen
and the Mother of Christ. Facing one another, but how different! This
Magdalen has the terrific gesture of despair of one of those colossal
women of Signorelli's, flung down, as a town by earthquake, at the foot
of the cross. She was pardoned "because she had loved much"--_quia
multo amavit_. The unknown friar knew what _that_ meant as well as his
contemporary Dante, when Love showed him the vision of Beatrice's death.
Never was there such heart-breaking as that of his heroine: she becomes
almost the chief personage of the Passion; for she knows not merely all
the martyrdom of the Beloved, feels all the agonies of His flesh and
His spirit, but knows--how well!--that she has lost Him. Opposite this
terrible convulsive Magdalen, sobbing, tearing her hair and rolling on the
ground, is the other heart-broken woman, the mother; but how different!
She remains maternal through her grief, with motherly thoughtfulness
for others; for to the real mother (how different in this to the lover!)
there will always remain in the world some one to think of. She bridles
her sorrow; when John at last hesitatingly suggests that they must not
stay all night on Calvary, she turns quietly homeward; and, once at home,
tries to make the mourners eat, tries to eat with them, makes them take
rest that dreadful night. For such a mother there shall not be mere
bitterness in death; and here follows a most beautiful and touching
invention: the glorified Christ, returning from Limbo, takes the happy,
delivered souls to visit his mother.

"And Messer Giesù having tarried awhile with them in that place, said:
'Now let us go and make my mother happy, who with most gentle tears is
calling upon me.' And they went forthwith, and came to the room where
our Lady was praying, and with gentle tears asking God to give her
back her son, saying it was to-day the third day. And as she stayed
thus, Messer Giesù drew near to her on one side, and said: 'Peace and
cheerfulness be with thee, Holy Mother.' And straightway she recognised
the voice of her blessed son, and opened her eyes and beheld him thus
glorious, and threw herself down wholly on the ground and worshipped
him. And the Lord Jesus knelt himself down like her; and then they rose
to their feet and embraced one another most sweetly, and gave each other
peace, and then went and sat together," while all the holy people from
Limbo looked on in admiration, and knelt down one by one, first the
Baptist, and Adam and Eve, and all the others, saluting the mother of
Christ, while the angels sang the end of all sorrows.


There would be much to say on this subject. One might point out, for
instance, not only that Dante has made the lady he loved in his youth
into the heroine--a heroine smiling in fashion more womanlike than
theological--of his vision of hell and heaven; but what would have been
even less possible at any previous moment of the world's history, he
has interwoven his theogony so closely with strands of most human
emotion and passion (think of that most poignant of love dramas in the
very thick of hell!), that, instead of a representation, a chart, so to
speak, of long-forgotten philosophical systems, his poem has become a
picture, pattern within pattern, of the life of all things: flowers
blowing, trees waving, men and women moving and speaking in densest
crowds among the flaming rocks of hell, the steps of purgatory, the
planispheres of heaven's stars making the groundwork of that wondrous
tapestry. But it is better to read Dante than to read about Dante, so I
let him be.

On the other hand, and lest some one take Puritanic umbrage at my
remarks on early Italian art, and deprecate the notion that religious
painters could be so very human, I shall say a few parting words about
the religious painter, the saint _par excellence_, I mean the Blessed
Angelico. Heaven forbid I should attempt to turn him into a brother
Lippo, of the Landor or Browning pattern! He was very far indeed, let
alone from profanity, even from such flesh and blood feeling as that of
Jacopone and scores of other blessed ones. He was, emotionally, rather
bloodless; and whatsoever energy he had probably went in tussels with
the technical problems of the day, of which he knew much more, for
all his cloistered look, than I suspected when I wrote of him before.
Angelico, to return to the question, was not a St. Francis, a Fra
Jacopone. But even Angelico had his passionately human side, though it
was only the humanness of a nice child. In a life of hard study, and
perhaps hard penance, that childish blessed one nourished childish
desires--desires for green grass and flowers, for gay clothes,[5] for
prettily-dressed pink and lilac playfellows, for the kissing and hugging
in which he had no share, for the games of the children outside the
convent gate. How human, how ineffably full of a good child's longing,
is not his vision of Paradise! The gaily-dressed angels are leading the
little cowled monks--little baby black and white things, with pink faces
like sugar lambs and Easter rabbits--into deep, deep grass quite full
of flowers, the sort of grass every child on this wicked earth has been
cruelly forbidden to wade in! They fall into those angels' arms, hugging
them with the fervour of children in the act of _loving_ a cat or a dog.
They join hands with those angels, outside the radiant pink and blue
toy-box towers of the celestial Jerusalem, and go singing "Round the
Mulberry Bush" much more like the babies in Kate Greenaway's books than
like the Fathers of the Church in Dante. The joys of Paradise, for this
dear man of God, are not confined to sitting _ad dexteram domini_....

  [Footnote 5: Mme. Darmesteter's charming essays "The End of the Middle
  Ages," contain some amusing instances of such repressed love of finery
  on the part of saints. Compare Fioretti xx., "And these garments of
  such fair cloth, which we wear (in Heaven) are given us by God in
  exchange for our rough frocks."]

_Di questo nostro dolce Fratellino_; that line of Jacopone da Todi,
hymning to the child Christ, sums up, in the main, the vivifying spirit
of early Italian art; nay, is it not this mingled emotion of tenderness,
of reverence, and deepest brotherhood which made St. Francis claim sun
and birds, even the naughty wolf, for brethren? This feeling becomes
embodied, above all, in the very various army of charming angels;
and more particularly, perhaps, because Venice had no other means of
expression than painting, in the singing and playing angels of the
old Venetians. These angels, whether they be the girlish, long-haired
creatures, robed in orange and green, of Carpaccio; or the naked babies,
with dimpled little legs and arms, and filetted silky curls of Gian
Bellini, seem to concentrate into music all the many things which that
strong pious Venice, tongue-tied by dialect, had no other way of saying;
and we feel to this day that it sounds in our hearts and attunes them to
worship or love or gentle contemplation. The sound of those lutes and
pipes, of those childish voices, heard and felt by the other holy persons
in those pictures--Roman knight Sebastian, Cardinal Jerome, wandering
palmer Roch, and all the various lovely princesses with towers and palm
boughs in their hands--moreover brings them together, unites them in one
solemn blissfulness round the enthroned Madonna. These are not people
come together by accident to part again accidentally; they are eternal,
part of a vision disclosed to the pious spectator, a crowning of the
Mass with its wax-lights and songs.

But the Venetian playing and singing angels are there for something more
important still. Those excellent old painters understood quite well that
in the midst of all this official, doge-like ceremony, it was hard, very
hard lines for the poor little Christ Child, having to stand or lie for
ever, for ever among those grown-up saints, on the knees of that majestic
throning Madonna; since the oligarchy, until very late, allowed no little
playfellow to approach the Christ Child, bringing lambs and birds and
such-like, and leading Him off to pick flowers as in the pictures of those
democratic Tuscans and Umbrians. None of that silly familiarity, said
stately Venetian piety. But the painters were kinder. They incarnated
their sympathy in the baby music-making angels, and bade them be friendly
to the Christ Child. They are so; and nowhere does it strike one so much
as in that fine picture, formerly called Bellini, but more probably Alvise
Vivarini, at the Redentore, where the Virgin, in her lacquer-scarlet
mantle, has ceased to be human altogether, and become a lovely female
Buddha in contemplation, absolutely indifferent to the poor little
sleeping Christ. The little angels have been sorry. Coming to make their
official music, they have brought each his share of heaven's dessert: a
little offering of two peaches, three figs, and three cherries on one
stalk (so precious therefore!), placed neatly, spread out to look much,
not without consciousness of the greatness of the sacrifice. They have
not, those two little angels, forgotten, I am sure, the gift they have
brought, during that rather weary music-making before the inattentive
Madonna. They keep on thinking how Christ will awake to find all those
precious things, and they steel their little hearts to the sacrifice.
The little bird who has come (invited for like reason) and perched on
the curtain bar, understands it all, respects their feelings, and refrains
from pecking.

Such is the heart of the saints, and out of it comes the painted triumph
of _El Magno Jesulino_.



In a Florentine street through which I pass most days, is a house
standing a little back (the place is called the Square of Purgatory),
the sight of which lends to that sordid street of stained palace backs,
stables, and dingy little shops, a certain charm and significance, in
virtue solely of three roses carved on a shield over a door. The house
is a humble one of the sixteenth century, and its three roses have just
sufficient resemblance to roses, with their pincushion heads and straight
little leaves, for us to know them as such. Yet that rude piece of
heraldic carving, that mere indication that some one connected with the
house once thought of roses, is sufficient, as I say, to give a certain
pleasurableness to the otherwise quite unpleasurable street.

This is by no means an isolated instance. In various places, as emblems
of various guilds or confraternities, one meets similarly carved, on
lintel or escutcheon, sheaves of lilies, or what is pleasanter still,
that favourite device of the Renaissance (become well known as the
monogram of the painter Benvenuto Garofalo), a jar with five clove-pinks.
And on each occasion of meeting them, that carved lily and those graven
clove-pinks, like the three roses in the Square of Purgatory, have shed
a charm over the street, given me a pleasure more subtle than that derived
from any bed of real lilies, or pot of real clove-pinks, or bush of real
roses; colouring and scenting the street with this imaginary colour and
perfume. What train of thought has been set up? It would be hard to say.
Something too vague to be perceived except as a whole impression of
pleasure; a half-seen vision, doubtless, of the real flowers, of the
places where they grow; perhaps even a faint reminiscence, a dust of
broken and pounded fragments, of stories and songs into which roses
enter, or lilies, or clove-pinks.

Hereby hangs a whole question of æsthetics. Those three stone roses
are the type of one sort of imaginative art; of one sort of art which,
beyond or independent of the charm of visible beauty, possesses a charm
that acts directly upon the imagination. Such charm, or at least such
interest, may be defined as the literary element in art; and I should
give it that name, did it not suggest a dependence upon the written word
which I by no means intend to imply. It is the element which, unlike
actual representation, is possessed by literature as well as by art;
indeed, it is the essence of the former, as actual representation is of
the latter. But it belongs to art, in the cases when it belongs to it at
all, not because the artist is in any way influenced by the writer, but
merely because the forms represented by the artist are most often the
forms of really existing things, and fraught, therefore, with associations
to all such as know them; and because, also, the artist who presents
these forms is a human being, and as such not only sees and draws,
but feels and thinks; because, in short, literature being merely the
expression of habits of thought and emotion, all such art as deals with
the images of real objects tends more or less, in so far as it is a
human being, to conform to its type.

This is one kind of artistic imagination, this which I have rudely
symbolised in the symbol of the three carved roses--the imagination
which delights the mind by holding before it some charming or uncommon
object, and conjuring up therewith a whole train of feeling and fancy;
the school, we might call it, of intellectual decoration, of arabesques
formed not of lines and colours, but of associations and suggestions.
And to this school of the three carved roses in the Square of Purgatory
belong, among others, Angelico, Benozzo, Botticelli, and all those
Venetians who painted piping shepherds, and ruralising magnificent
ladies absorbed in day-dreams.

But besides this kind of imagination in art, there is another and
totally different. It is the imagination of how an event would have
looked; the power of understanding and showing how an action would have
taken place, and how that action would have affected the bystanders; a
sort of second-sight, occasionally rising to the point of revealing, not
merely the material aspect of things and people, but the emotional value
of the event in the eyes of the painter. Thus, for instance, Tintoret
concentrated a beam of sunlight into the figure of Christ before Pilate,
not because he supposed Christ to have stood in that sunlight, but
because the white figure, shining yet ghost-like, seemed to him, perhaps
unconsciously, to indicate the position of the betrayed Saviour among
the indifference and wickedness of the world. Hence I would divide all
imaginative art, particularly that of the old Italian masters, into art
which stirs our own associations, and suggests to us trains of thought
and feeling perhaps unknown to the artist, and art which exhibits a
scene or event foreign to ourselves, and placed before us with a
deliberate intention. Both are categories of imaginative activity
due to inborn peculiarities of character; but one of them, namely, the
suggestive, is probably spontaneous, and quite unintentional, hence
never asked for by the public, nor sought after by the artist; while the
other, self-conscious and intentional, is therefore constantly sought
after by the artist, and bargained for by the public. I shall begin
with the latter, because it is the recognised commodity: artistic
imagination, as bought and sold in the market, whether of good quality
or bad.


The painters of the late thirteenth and early fourteenth century,
developing the meagre suggestions of Byzantine decoration, incorporating
the richer inventions of the bas-reliefs of the Pisan sculptors and
of the medallions surrounding the earliest painted effigies of holy
personages, produced a complete set of pictorial themes illustrative
of Gospel history and of the lives of the principal saints. These
illustrative themes--definite conceptions of situations and definite
arrangements of figures--became forthwith the whole art's stock, universal
and traditional; few variations were made from year to year and from
master to master, and those variations resolved themselves continually
back into the original type. And thus on, through the changes in artistic
means and artistic ends, until the Italian schools disappeared finally
before the schools of France and Flanders. Let us take a striking example.
The presentation of the Virgin remains unaltered in main sentiment and
significance of composition, despite the two centuries and more which
separate the Gaddi from Titian and Tintoret, despite the complete change
in artistic aims and methods separating still more completely the men of
the fourteenth century from the men of the sixteenth. The long flight of
steps stretching across the fresco in Santa Croce stretches also across
the canvas of the great Venetians; and the little girl climbs up them
alike, presenting her profile to the spectator; although at the top
of the steps there is in one case a Gothic portal, and in the other a
Palladian portico, and at the bottom of the steps in the fresco stand
Florentines who might personally have known Dante, and at the bottom
of the steps in the pictures the Venetian patrons of Aretino. Yet the
presentation of the little maiden to the High Priest is quite equally
conceivable in many other ways and from many other points of view. As
regards both dramatic conception and pictorial composition, the moment
might have been differently chosen; the child might still be with its
parents or already with the priest; and the flight of steps might have
been replaced by the court of the temple. Any man might have invented
his own representation of the occurrence. But the men of the sixteenth
century adhered scrupulously or indifferently to the inventions of the
men of the fourteenth.

This is merely one instance in a hundred. If we summon up in our mind
as many as we can of the various frescoes and pictures representing the
chief incidents of Scripture history, we shall find that, while there
are endless differences between them with respect to drawing, anatomy,
perspective, light and shade, colour and handling, there are but few and
slight variations as regards the conception of the situation and the
arrangement for the figures. In the Marriage of the Virgin the suitors
are dressed, sometimes in the loose robe and cap with lappets of the
days of Giotto, and sometimes in the tight hose and laced doublet of
the days of Raphael and of Luini; but they break their wands across
their knees with the same gesture and expression; and although the temple
is sometimes close at hand, and sometimes a little way off, the wedding
ceremony invariably takes place outside it, and not inside. The shepherds
in the Nativity are sometimes young and sometimes old, but they always
come in broad daylight, and the manger by which the Virgin is kneeling
is always outside the stable, and always in one corner of the picture.
Again, whatever slight difference there may be in the expression and
gesture of the apostles at the Last Supper, they are always seated on
one side only of a table facing the spectator, with Judas alone on a
stool on the opposite side. And although there are two themes of the
Entombment of Christ, one where the body is stretched on the ground, the
other where it is being carried to the sepulchre, the action is always
out of doors, and never, as might sometimes be expected, gives us the
actual burial in the vault. These examples are more than sufficient. Yet
I feel that any description in words is inadequate to convey the extreme
monotony of all these representations, because the monotony is not merely
one of sentiment by selection of the dramatic moment, but of the visible
composition of the paintings, of the outlines of the groups and the
balancing of them. A monotony so complete that any one of us almost
knows what to expect, in all save technical matters and the choice of
models, on being told that in such a place there is an old Italian
fresco, or panel, or canvas, representing some principal episode of
Gospel history.

The explanation of this fidelity to one theme of representation in an
art which was the very furthest removed from any hieratic prescriptions,
in an art which was perpetually growing--and growing more human and
secular--must be sought for, I think, in no peculiarities of spiritual
condition or national imagination, but in two facts concerning the merely
technical development of painting, and the results thereof. These two
facts are briefly: that at a given moment--namely, the end of the
thirteenth century and the beginning of the fourteenth--there existed
just enough power of imitating nature to admit of the simple indication
of a dramatic situation, without further realisation of detail; and
that at this moment, consequently, there originated such pictorial
indications of the chief dramatic situations as concerned the Christian
world. And secondly, that from then and until well into the sixteenth
century, the whole attention of artists was engrossed in changing the
powers of indication into powers of absolute representation, developing
completely the drawing, anatomy, perspective, colour, light and shade,
and handling, which Giotto and his contemporaries had possessed only in
a most rudimentary condition, and which had sufficed for the creation of
just such pictorial themes as they had invented, and no more.

Let me explain myself further. The artists of the fourteenth century,
with the exception of Giotto himself--to whose premature excellence none
of his contemporaries and disciples ever attained--give us, by means of
pictorial representation, just about the same as could be given to us
by the conventional symbolism of writing. In describing a Giottesque
fresco, or panel, we are not stopped by the difficulty of rendering
visible effects in words, because the visible effects that meet us are
in reality so many words; so that, to describe the picture, it almost
suffices to narrate the story, no arrangements of different planes and
of light and shade, no peculiarities of form, foreshortening, colour,
or texture requiring to be seen in order to be fully understood. The
artists of the fifteenth century--for the Giottesques do little more
than carry, without developing them, the themes of Giotto into various
parts of Italy--work at adding to the art exactly those qualities which
belong exclusively to it, and which baffle the mere written word: they
acquire the means, slowly and laboriously, of showing these events no
longer merely to the mind, but also to the eye; they place these people
in real space, in real relations of distance and light, they give them
a real body which can stand and move, made of real flesh and blood and
bones, and covered with real clothes; they turn these abstractions once
more into realities like the realities of nature whence they had been
abstracted. But the work of the fifteenth century does not go beyond
filling up the programme indicated by the Giottesques; and it is only
after the men of the sixteenth century have been enabled to completely
realise all that the men of the fourteenth century had indicated, that
art, with Michelangelo, Tintoret, and still more with the great painters
of Spain and Flanders, proceeds to encounter problems of foreshortening,
of light and shade, of atmospheric effect, that could never have been
imagined by the contemporaries of Giotto, nor even by the contemporaries
of Ghirlandaio and the Bellini. Hence, throughout the fifteenth century,
while there is a steady development of the artistic means required to
realise those narrative themes which the Giottesques had invented, there
is no introduction of any new artistic means unnecessary for this result,
but which, like the foreshortenings of Michelangelo, and the light
and shade of Tintoret, like the still further additions to painting
represented by men like Velasquez and Rembrandt, could suggest new
treatment of the old histories and enable the well-known events to be
shown from totally new intellectual standpoints, and in totally new
artistic arrangements. If we look into the matter, we shall recognise
that the monotony of representation throughout the Renaissance can
be amply accounted for without referring to the fact, which, however,
doubtless went for something, that the men of the fifteenth century were
too much absorbed in the working out of details to feel any desire for
new pictorial versions of the stories of the Gospel, and the lives of
the Saints.

Moreover, the Giottesques--among whom I include the immediate precursors,
sculptors as well as painters, of Giotto--put into their Scripture
stories an amount of logic, of sentiment, of dramatic and psychological
observation and imagination more than sufficient to furnish out the works
of three generations of later comers. Setting aside Giotto himself, who
concentrates and diffuses the vast bulk of dramatic invention as well
as of artistic observation and skill, there is in even the small and
smallest among his followers, an extraordinary happiness of individual
invention of detail. I may quote a few instances at random. It would be
difficult to find a humbler piece of work than the so-called Tree of
the Cross, in the Florentine Academy: a thing like a huge fern, with
medallion histories in each frond, it can scarcely be considered a work
of art, and stands halfway between a picture and a genealogical tree.
Yet in some of its medallions there is a great vivacity of imaginative
rendering; for instance, the Massacre of the Innocents represented by
a single soldier, mailed and hooded, standing before Herod on a floor
strewn with children's bodies, and holding up an infant by the arm, like
a dead hare, preparing slowly to spit it on his sword; and the kiss of
Judas, the soldiers crowding behind, while the traitor kisses Christ,
seems to bind him hand and foot with his embraces, to give him up, with
that stealthy look backwards to the impatient rabble--a representation
of the scene, infinitely superior in its miserable execution to Angelico's
Ave Rabbi! with its elaborate landscape of towers and fruit trees.
Again, in a series of predella histories of the Virgin, in the same
place, also a very mediocre and anonymous work, there is extraordinary
charm in the conception of the respective positions of Mary and Joseph
at their wedding: he is quite old and grey; she young, unformed, almost
a child, and she has to stand on two steps to be on his level, raising
her head with a beautiful, childlike earnestness, quite unlike the
conventional bridal timidity of other painters. Leaving these unknown
mediocrities, I would refer to the dramatic value (besides the great
pictorial beauty) of an Entombment by Giottino, in the corridor of the
Uffizi: the Virgin does not faint, or has recovered (thus no longer
diverting the attention from the dead Saviour to herself, as elsewhere),
and surrounds the head of her son with her arms; the rest of the figures
restrain themselves before her, and wink with strange blinking efforts
to keep back their tears. Still more would I speak of two small frescoes
in the Baroncelli Chapel at Santa Croce, which are as admirable in
poetical conception as they are unfortunately poor in artistic execution.
One of them represents the Annunciation to the Shepherds: they are lying
in a grey, hilly country, wrapped in grey mists, their flock below asleep,
but the dog vigilant, sniffing the supernatural. One is hard asleep; the
other awakes suddenly, and has turned over and looks up screwing his
eyes at the angel, who comes in a pale yellow winter sunrise cloud, in
the cold, grey mist veined with yellow. The chilliness of the mist at
dawn, the wonder of the vision, are felt with infinite charm. In the
other fresco the three kings are in a rocky place, and to them appears,
not the angel, but the little child Christ, half-swaddled, swimming
in orange clouds on a deep blue sky. The eldest king is standing, and
points to the vision with surprise and awe; the middle-aged one shields
his eyes coolly to see; while the youngest, a delicate lad, has already
fallen on his knees, and is praying with both hands crossed on his breast.
For dramatic, poetic invention, these frescoes can be surpassed, poor as
is their execution, only by Giotto's St. John ascending slowly from the
open grave, floating upwards, with outstretched arms and illumined face,
to where a cloud of prophets, with Christ at their head, enwraps him in
the deep blue sky.

These pictorial themes elaborated by the painters of the school of
Giotto were not merely as good, in a way, as any pictorial themes could
be: simple, straightforward, often very grand, so that the immediately
following generations could only spoil, but not improve upon them; they
were also, if we consider the matter, the only pictorial representations
of Scripture histories possible until art had acquired those new powers
of foreshortening, and light and shade and perspective, which were
sought for only after the complete attainment of the more elementary
powers which the Giottesques never fully possessed. Let us ask ourselves
how, in the fourteenth or fifteenth centuries, any notable change in
general arrangement of any well-known Scripture subject could well have
been introduced; and, in order to do so, let us realise one or two cases
where the same subjects have been treated by later masters. Tintoretto's
Last Judgment, where the Heavenly Hosts brood, poised on their wings,
above the river of hell which hurries the damned down its cataracts, is
impossible so long as perspective and foreshortening will barely admit
(as is the case up to the end of the fifteenth century), of figures
standing firmly on the ground and being separated into groups at various
distances. In Rembrandt's and Terburg's Adoration of the Shepherds, the
light emanates from the infant Christ; in Ribera's magnificent Deposition
from the Cross, the dead Saviour and His companions are represented,
not, as in the Entombments of Perugino and Raphael, in the open air,
but in the ghastly light of the mouth of the sepulchre. These are new
variations upon the hackneyed themes, but how were they possible so long
as the problems of light and shade were limited (as was the case even
with Leonardo), to giving the modelling, rather in form than in colour,
of a face or a limb? One of the earliest and greatest innovations is
Signorelli's treatment of the Resurrection in the chapel of San Brizio,
at Orvieto; he broke entirely with the tradition (exemplified particularly
by Angelico) of making the dead come fully fleshed and dressed as in
their lifetime from under the slabs of a burial place, goaded by grotesque
devils with the snouts and horns of weasels and rams, with the cardboard
masks of those carnival mummers who gave the great pageant of Hell
mentioned by old chroniclers. But Signorelli's innovation, his naked
figures partially fleshed and struggling through the earth's crust, his
naked demons shooting through the air and tying up the damned, could
not possibly have been executed or even conceived until his marvellous
mastery of the nude and of the anatomy of movement had been obtained.
Indeed, wherever, in the art of the fifteenth century, we find a beginning
of innovation in the conception and arrangement of a Scripture history,
we shall find also the beginning of the new technical method which has
suggested such a partial innovation. Thus, in the case of one of the
greatest, but least appreciated, masters of the early Renaissance, Paolo
Uccello. His Deluge, in the frescoes of the green cloister of S. Maria
Novella, is wonderfully original as a whole conception; and the figure
clinging to the side of the ark, with soaked and wind-blown drapery;
the man in a tub trying to sustain himself with his hands, the effort
and strain of the people in the water, are admirable as absolute
realisation of the scene. Again, in the Sacrifice of Noah, there is in
the foreshortened figure of God, floating, brooding, like a cloud, with
face downward and outstretched hands over the altar, something which is
a prophecy, and more than a prophecy, of what art will come to in the
Sixtine and the Loggie. But these inventions are due to Uccello's
special and extraordinary studies of the problems of modelling and
foreshortening; and when his contemporaries try to assimilate his
achievements, and unite them with the achievements of other men in other
special technical directions, there is an end of all individual poetical
conception, and a relapse into the traditional arrangements; as may be
seen by comparing the Bible stories of Paolo Uccello with those of
Benozzo Gozzoli at Pisa.

It is not wonderful that the painters of the fifteenth century should
have been satisfied with repeating the themes left by the Giottesques.
For the Giottesques had left them, besides this positive heritage, a
negative heritage, a programme to fill up, of which it is difficult to
realise the magnitude. The work of the Giottesques is so merely poetic,
or at most so merely decorative in the sense of a mosaic or a tapestry,
and it is in the case of Giotto and one or two of his greatest
contemporaries, particularly the Sienese, so well-balanced and
satisfying as a result of its elementary nature that we are apt to
overlook the fact that everything in the way of realisation as opposed
to indication, everything distinguishing the painting of a story from
the mere telling thereof, remained to be done. And such realisation
could be attained only through a series of laborious failures. It is by
comparing some of the later Giottesques themselves, notably the Gaddi
with Giotto, that we bring home to ourselves, for instance, that Giotto
did not, at least in his finest work at Florence, attempt to model his
frescoes in colour. Now the excessive ugliness of the Gaddi frescoes at
St. Croce is largely due to the effort to make form and boss depend, as
in nature, upon colour. Giotto, in the neighbouring Peruzzi and Bardi
chapels, is quite satisfied with outlining the face and draperies in
dark paint, and laying on the colour, in itself beautiful, as a child
will lay it on to a print or outline drawing, filling up the lines, but
not creating them. I give this as a solitary instance of one of the
first and most important steps towards pictorial realisation which the
great imaginative theme-inventors left to their successors. As a fact,
the items at which the fifteenth century had to work are too many to
enumerate; in many cases each man or group of men took up one particular
item, as perspective, modelling, anatomy, colour, movement, and their
several subdivisions, usually with the result of painful and grotesque
insistency and onesidedness, from the dreadful bag of bones anatomies
of Castagno and Pollaiolo, down to the humbler, but equally necessary,
architectural studies of Francesco di Giorgio. Add to this the necessity
of uniting the various attainments of such specialists, of taming down
these often grotesque monomaniacs, of making all these studies of drawing,
anatomy, colour, modelling, perspective, &c., into a picture. If that
picture was lacking in individual poetic conception; if those studies
were often intolerably silly and wrong-headed from the intellectual
point of view; if the old themes were not only worn threadbare, but
actually maltreated, what wonder? The themes were there, thank Heaven!
no one need bother about them; and no one did. Moreover, as I have
already pointed out, no one could have added anything, save in the
personal sentiment of the heads, the hands, the tilt of the figure,
or the quality of the form. Everything which depends upon dramatic
conception, which is not a question of form or sentiment, tended merely
to suffer a steady deterioration. Thus, nearly two hundred years after
Giotto, Ghirlandaio could find nothing better for his frescoes in
St. Trinità than the arrangement of Giotto's St. Francis, with the
difference that he omitted all the more delicate dramatic distinctions.
I have already alluded to the poetic conception of an early Marriage of
the Virgin in the Florence Academy; that essential point of the extreme
youth of Mary was never again attended to, although the rest of the
arrangement was repeated for two centuries. Similarly, no one noticed
or reproduced the delicate distinctions of action which Gaddi had put
into his two Annunciations of the Cappella Baroncelli; the shepherds
henceforth sprawled no matter how; and the scale of expression in the
vision of the Three Kings was not transferred to the more popular theme
of their visit to the stable at Bethlehem. In Giotto's Presentation at
the Temple in the Arena chapel at Padua, the little Mary is pushed up
the steps by her mother; in the Baroncelli frescoes the little girl,
ascending gravely, turns round for a minute to bless the children at
the foot of the steps. Here are two distinct dramatic conceptions, the
one more human, the other more majestic; both admirable. The fifteenth
century, nay, the fourteenth, took no account of either; the Virgin
merely went up the steps, connected by no emotion with the other
characters, a mere little doll, as she is still in the big pictures
of Titian and Tintoret, and quite subordinate to any group of richly
dressed men or barebacked women. It is difficult to imagine any miracle
quite so dull as the Raising of the King's Son in the Brancacci Chapel;
its dramatic or undramatic foolishness is surpassed only by certain
little panels of Angelico, with fiery rain and other plagues coming down
upon the silly blue and pink world of dolls.

A satisfactory study of the lack of all dramatic invention of the
painters of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries is afforded by the
various representations of the Annunciation of the Virgin, one of the
favourite themes of the early Renaissance. It never seems to have
occurred to any one that the Virgin and the Archangel might be displayed
otherwise than each in one corner of the picture. Such a composition as
that of Rossetti's Ancilla Domini, where the Virgin cowers on her bed
as the angel floats in with flames round his feet; such a suggestion as
that of the unfinished lily on the embroidery frame, was reserved for
our sceptical and irreverent, but imaginative times.

The variety in these Annunciations depends, as I have remarked, not upon
a new dramatic conception, producing, as in the case of Rossetti's, a new
visible arrangement; but upon the particular kind of form preferred by
the artist, and the particular kind of expression common in his pictures;
the variety, I may add, is, with one or two exceptions, a variety in
inertness. Let us look at a few, taking merely those in one gallery, the
Uffizi. The Virgin, in that superb piece of gilding by Simone Martini
(did those old painters ever think of the glorified evening sky when
they devised such backgrounds?), is turning away from the angel in sheer
loathing and anger, a great lady feeling sick at the sudden intrusion of
a cad. In a picture by Angelo Gaddi, she is standing with her hand on her
chest, just risen from her chair, like a prima donna going to answer an
_encore_--a gracious, but not too eager recognition of an expected
ovation. In one by Cosimo Rossetti she lifts both hands with shocked
astonishment as the angel scuddles in; in the lovely one, with blue
Alpine peaks and combed-out hair, now given to Verocchio, she raises one
hand with a vacant smile, as if she were exclaiming, "Dear me! there's
that angel again." The one slight deviation from the fixed type of
Annunciation, Angelico's, in a cell at St. Mark's, where he has made
the Virgin kneel and the angel stand, merely because he had painted
another Annunciation with a kneeling angel a few doors off, is due to
no dramatic inspiration. The angel standing upright with folded arms
(how different from Rossetti's standing angel!) while the Virgin kneels,
instead of kneeling to her as, according to etiquette, results merely
in an impression that this silly, stolid, timid little _Ancilla Domini_
(here again one thinks of Rossetti's cowering and dazed Virgin), has
been waiting for some time in that kneeling attitude, and that the
Archangel has come by appointment.

Among this crowd of unimpressive, nay brainless, representations of one
of the grandest and sweetest of all stories, there stand out two--an
Annunciation by Signorelli, a small oil painting in the Uffizi, and
one by Botticelli,[6] a large tempera picture in the same room. But
they stand out merely because the one is the work of the greatest
early master of form and movement, or rather the master whose form and
movement had a peculiar quality of the colossal; and the other is the
work of the man, of all Renaissance painters, whose soul seems to have
known most of human, or rather feminine wistfulness, and sorrow, and

  [Footnote 6: Probably executed from Botticelli's design, by Raffaellino
  del Garbo.]

The little panel by Signorelli (the lowest compartment, divided into
three, of an altar-piece) is perhaps, besides the Orvieto _Resurrection_,
his most superb and poetical work. The figures, only three inches high,
have his highest quality of powerful grandeur, solemnly rustic in the
kneeling shepherds--solemn in the very swagger, hand on hip, of the
parti-coloured bravoes of the Magi; the landscape, only a few centimetres
across, is one of the amplest and most austere that ever has been painted:
a valley, bounded by blue hills and dark green ilex groves, wide, silent,
inhabited by a race larger and stronger than the human, with more than
human passions, but without human speech. In it the Virgin is seated
beneath a portico, breathing, as such creatures must breathe, the vast
greenness, the deep evening breeze. And to her comes bounding, with
waving draperies and loosened hair, the Archangel, like a rushing wind,
the wind which the strong woman is quietly inhaling. There is no religious
sentiment here, still less any human: the Madonna bows gravely as one
who is never astonished; and, indeed, this race of giants, living in
this green valley, look as if nothing could ever astonish them--walking
miracles themselves, and in constant relation with the superhuman.

We must forget all such things in turning to that Annunciation of
Botticelli. The angel has knelt down vehemently, but drawn himself back,
frightened at his own message; moved overmuch and awed by what he has to
say, and her to whom he must say it; lifting a hand which seems to beg
patience, till the speech which is throbbing in his heart can pass his
lips; eagerness defeating itself, passionate excitement turned into awe
in this young, delicate, passionate, and imaginative creature. He has
not said the word; but she has understood. She has seen him before; she
knows what he means, this vehement, tongue-tied messenger; and at his
sight she reels, her two hands up, the beating of her own blood too loud
in her ears, a sudden mist of tears clouding her eyes. This is no simple
damsel receiving the message, like Rossetti's terrified and awe-stricken
girl, that she is the handmaid of the Lord. This is the nun who has been
waiting for years to become Christ's own bride, and receives at length
the summons to him, in a tragic overpowering ecstasy, like Catherine in
Sodoma's fresco, sinking down at the touch of the rays from Christ's
wounds. Nay, this is, in fact, the mere long-loving woman, suddenly
overcome by the approach of bliss ever hungered for, but never expected,
hearing that it is she who is the beloved; and the angel is the knight's
squire, excited at the message he has to carry, but terrified at the
sight of the woman to whom he must carry it, panting with the weight of
another man's love, and learning, as he draws his breath to say those
words, what love is himself.

The absence of individual invention, implying the absence of individual
dramatic realisation, strikes one more than anywhere in the works of
Angelico; and most of all in his frescoes of the cells of St. Mark's.
For, while these are evidently less cared for as art, indeed scarcely
intended, in their hasty execution, to be considered as paintings at
all, they are more strictly religious in intention than any other of
Angelico's works; indeed, perhaps, of all paintings in the world, the
most exclusively devoted to a religious object. They are, in fact, so
many pages of Scripture stuck up, like texts in a waiting-room, in the
cells of the convent: an adjunct to the actual written or printed Bible
of each monk. For this reason we expect them to possess what belongs so
completely to the German engravers of Dürer's school, the very essential
of illustrative art--imaginative realisation of the scenes, an attempt
to seize the attention and fill it with the subject. This is by no means
the case: for Angelico, although a saint, was a man of the fifteenth
century, and, despite all his obvious efforts, he was not a real follower
of Giotto. What impressiveness of actual artistic arrangement these
frescoes really possess, is due, I think, to no imaginative effort
of the artist, but to the exigencies of the place; as any similar
impressiveness is due in Signorelli's Annunciation to the quality of his
form, and in Botticelli's Annunciation to the pervading character of his
heads and gestures. These pale angels and St. Dominicks and Magdalens,
these diaphanous, dazzling Christs and Virgins of Angelico's, shining
out of the dark corner of the cell made darker, deeper, by the dark
green or inky purple ground on which they are painted, are less the
spiritual conception of the painter than the accidental result of the
darkness of the place, where lines must be simple and colours light, if
anything is to be visible. For in the more important frescoes in the
corridors and chapter-room, where the light is better, there is a return
to Angelico's hackneyed vapid pinks and blues and lilacs, and a return
also to his niminy-piminy lines, to all the wax-doll world of the missal
painter. The fine fresco of St. Dominick at the foot of the cross, which
seems to constitute an exception to this rule, really goes to prove it,
since it is intended to be seen very much like the cell frescoes: white
and black on a blue ground at the end of the first corridor, a thing
to be looked at from a great distance, to impress the lay world that
sees it at the cloister and from outside the convent railing. The cell
frescoes are, I have said, the most exclusively religious paintings in
the world, since they are to the highest degree, what all absolutely
pious art must be, _aids to devotion_. Their use is to assist the monk
in that conjuring up of the actual momentary feelings, nay, sensations,
of the life of Christ which is part of his daily duty. They are such
stimuli as the Church has given sometimes in an artistic, sometimes in a
literary form, to an imagination jaded by the monotonous contemplation
of one subject, or overexcited to the extent of rambling easily to
another: they are what we fondly imagine will be the portraits of the
dear dead which we place before us, forgetting that after a while we
look without seeing, or see without feeling. That this is so, that these
painted Gospel leaves stuck on the cell walls are merely such mechanical
aids to devotion, explains the curious and startling treatment of
some of the subjects, which are yet, despite the seeming novelty and
impressiveness, very cold, undramatic, and unimaginative. Thus, there
is the fresco of Christ enthroned, blindfold, with alongside of Him a
bodiless scoffing head, with hat raised, and in the act of spitting;
buffeting hands, equally detached from any body, floating also on the
blue background. There is a Christ standing at the foot of the cross,
but with his feet in a sarcophagus, the column of the flagellation
monumentally or heraldically on one side, the lance of Longinus on the
other; and above, to the right, the floating face of Christ being kissed
by that of Judas; to the left the blindfold floating head of Christ again,
with the floating head of a soldier spitting at Him; and all round
buffeting and jibing hands, hands holding the sceptre of reed, and
hands counting out money; all arranged very much like the nails, hammer,
tweezers and cock on roadside crosses; each a thing whereon to fix
the mind, so as to realise that kiss of Judas, that spitting of the
soldiers, those slaps; and to hear, if possible, the chink of the pieces
of silver that sold our Lord. How different, these two pictorial dodges
of the purely mechanical Catholicism of the fifteenth century from
the tender or harrowing gospel illustrations, where every detail is
conceived as happening in the artist's own town and to his own kinsfolk,
of the Lutheran engravers of the school of Dürer!

Thus things go on throughout the fifteenth century, and, indeed,
deep into the sixteenth, where traditional arrangement and individual
conception overlap, according as a new artistic power does or does not
call forth a new dramatic idea. I have already alluded to the fact that
the Presentation of the Virgin remains the same, so far as arrangement
is concerned, in the pictures of Titian and Tintoret as in the frescoes
of Giotto and Gaddi. Michelangelo's Creation of Adam seems still inherited
from an obscure painter in the "Green Cloister," who inherited it from
the Pisan sculptors. On the other hand, the Resurrection and Last Judgment
of Signorelli at Orvieto, painted some years earlier, constitutes in many
of its dramatic details a perfectly original work. Be this as it may, and
however frequent the recurrence of old themes, with the sixteenth century
commences the era of new individual dramatic invention. Michelangelo's
Dividing of the Light from the Darkness, where the Creator broods still
in chaos, and commands the world to exist; and Raphael's Liberation of
St. Peter, with its triple illumination from the moon, the soldier's
torches and the glory of the liberating angel, are witnesses that
henceforward each man may invent for himself, because each man is in
possession of those artistic means which the Giottesques had indicated
and the artists of the fifteenth century had laboriously acquired. And
now, the Giottesque programme being fulfilled, art may go abroad and
seek for new methods and effects, for new dramatic conceptions.


The other day, walking along the river near Careggi (with its memories
of Lorenzo dei Medici and his Platonists), close to the little cupola
and loggia built by Ghirlandaio, I came upon a strip of new grass,
thickly whitened with daisies, beneath the poplars beginning to yellow
with pale sprouting leaves. And immediately there arose in my mind, by
the side of this real grass and real budding of trees, the remembrance
of certain early Renaissance pictures: the rusty, green, stencilled
grass and flowers of Botticelli, the faded tapestry work of Angelico;
making, as it were, the greenness greener, the freshness fresher, of
that real grass and those real trees. And not by the force of contrast,
but rather by the sense that as all this appears to me green and fresh
in the present, so likewise did it appear to those men of four centuries
ago: the fact of their having seen and felt, making me, all the more,
see and feel.

This is one of the peculiarities of rudimentary art--of the art of
the early Renaissance as well as of that of Persia and India, of
Constantinople, of every peasant potter all through the world: that,
not knowing very well its own aims, it fills its imperfect work with
suggestion of all manner of things which it loves, and tries to gain in
general pleasurableness what it loses in actual achievement; and lays
hold of us, like fragments of verse, by suggestiveness, quite as much
as by pictorial realisation. And upon this depends the other half of
the imaginative art of the Renaissance, the school of intellectual
decoration, of arabesques formed, not of lines and of colours, but of
associations and suggestions.

The desire which lies at the bottom of it--a desire masked as religious
symbolism in the old mosaicists and carvers and embroiderers--is the
desire to paint nice things, in default of painting a fine picture. The
beginning of such attempts is naturally connected with the use of gilding;
whether those gold grounds of the panel pictures of the fourteenth century
represented to the painters only a certain expenditure of gold foil, or
whether (as I have suggested, but I fear fantastically) their streakings
and veinings of coppery or silvery splendour, their stencillings of rays
and dots and fretwork, their magnificent inequality and variety of brown
or yellow or greenish effulgence, were vaguely connected in the minds of
those men with the splendour of the heaven in which the Virgin and the
Saints really dwell. It is the cunning use of this gilding, of tools
for ribbing and stencilling and damascening, which give half of their
marvellous exotic loveliness to Simone Martini's frescoes at Assisi and
his Annunciation of the Florentine Gallery; this, and the feeling for
wonderful gold woven and embroidered stuffs, like that white cloth of
gold of the kneeling angel, fit, in its purity and splendour, for the
robe of Grail king. The want of mechanical dexterity, however, prevented
the Giottesques from doing very much in the decorative line except
in conjunction with the art--perhaps quite separate from that of the
painter, and exercised by a different individual--of the embosser and

It is with the fifteenth century that begins, in Italy as in Flanders (we
must think of the carved stonework, the Persian carpets, the damascened
armour, the brocade dresses of Van Eyck's and Memling's Holy Families),
the deliberate habit of putting into pictures as much as possible of the
beautiful and luxurious things of this world. The house of the Virgin,
originally a very humble affair, or rather, in the authority of the
early Giottesques, a _no place, nowhere_, develops gradually into a
very delightful residence in the choicest part of the town, or into a
pleasantly situated villa, like the one described in the Decameron,
commanding a fine view. The Virgin's bedchamber, where we are shown it,
as, for instance, in Crivelli's picture in the National Gallery, is
quite as well appointed in the way of beautiful bedding, carving, and
so forth, as the chamber of the lady of John Arnolfini of Lucca in Van
Eyck's portrait. Outside it, as we learn from Angelico, Cosimo Rosselli,
Lippi, Ghirlandaio, indeed, from almost every Florentine painter,
stretches a pleasant portico, decorated in the Ionic or Corinthian
style, as if by Brunellesco or Sangallo, with tesselated floor, or
oriental carpet, and usually a carved or gilded desk and praying
stool; while the privacy of the whole place is guarded by a high wall,
surmounted by vases, overtopped by cypresses, and in whose shelter
grows a row of well-kept roses and lilies. Sometimes this house, as I
have said, becomes a villa, as is the case, not unfrequently, with the
Lombards, who love to make the angel appear on the flowery grass against
a background of Alpine peaks, such as you see them, rising blue and
fairylike from the green ricefields about Pavia. Crivelli, however,
though a Lombard, prefers a genteel residence in town, the magnificent
Milan of Galeazzo and Filippo Visconti. He gives us a whole street,
where richly dressed and well peruked gentlemen look down from
the terraces, duly set with flower-pots, of houses ornamented with
terra-cotta figures and medallions like those of the hospital at Milan.
In this street the angel of the Annunciation is kneeling, gorgeously
got up in silks and brocades, and accompanied by a nice little bishop
carrying a miniature town on a tray. The Virgin seems to be receiving
the message through the window or the open door. She has a beautiful bed
with a red silk coverlet, some books, and a shelf covered with plates
and preserve jars. This evident appreciation of jam, as one of the
pleasant things of this world, corresponds with the pot of flowers on
the window, the bird-cage hanging up: the mother of Christ must have the
little tastes and luxuries of a well-to-do burgess's daughter. Again,
the cell of St. Jerome, painted some thirty years later by Carpaccio, in
the Church of the Slavonians, contains not only various convenient and
ornamental articles of furniture, but a collection of nick-nacks, among
which some antique bronzes are conspicuous.

The charm in all this is not so much that of the actual objects
themselves; it is that of their having delighted those people's minds.
We are pleased by their pleasure, and our imagination is touched by
their fancy. The effect is akin to that of certain kinds of poetry,
not the dramatic certainly, where we are pleased by the mere suggestion
of beautiful things, and quite as much by finding in the poet a mind
appreciative and desirous of them, constantly collecting them and
enhancing them by subtle arrangements; it is the case with much lyric
verse, with the Italian folk-rhymes, woven out of names of flowers
and herbs, with some of Shakespeare's and Fletcher's songs, with the
"Allegro" and "Penseroso," Keats, some of Heine, and, despite a mixture
of unholy intention, Baudelaire. The great master thereof in the early
Renaissance, the lyrist, if I may use the word, of the fifteenth century,
is of course Botticelli. He is one of those who most persistently
introduce delightful items into their works: elaborately embroidered
veils, scarves, and gold fringes. But being a man of fine imagination
and most delicate sense of form, he does not, like Angelico or Benozzo
or Carpaccio, merely stick pretty things about; he works them all into
his strange arabesque, half intellectual, half physical. Thus the screen
of roses[7] behind certain of his Madonnas, forming an exquisite Morris
pattern with the greenish-blue sky interlaced; and those beautiful,
carefully-drawn branches of spruce-fir and cypress, lace-like in his
Primavera; above all, that fan-like growth of myrtles, delicately cut
out against the evening sky, which not merely print themselves as shapes
upon the mind, but seem to fill it with a scent of poetry.

  [Footnote 7: I learn from the learned that the Florence and Louvre
  Madonnas, with the roses, are not Botticelli's; but Botticelli, I
  am sure, would not have been offended by those lovely bushes being
  attributed to him.]

This pleasure in the painter's pleasure in beautiful things is connected
with another quality, higher and rarer, in this sort of imaginative art.
It is our appreciation of the artist's desire for beauty and refinement,
of his search for the exquisite. Herein, to my mind, lies some of
the secret of Botticelli's fantastic grace; the explanation of that
alternate or rather interdependent ugliness and beauty. Botticelli,
as I have said elsewhere, must have been an admirer of the grace and
sentiment of Perugino, of the delicacy of form of certain Florentine
sculptors--Ghiberti, and those who proceed from him, Desiderio, Mino,
and particularly the mysterious Florentine sculptor of Rimini; and what
these men have done or do, Botticelli attempts, despite or (what is
worse) by means of the realistic drawing and ugly models of Florence,
the mechanism and arrangement of coarse men like the Pollaiolos.
The difficulty of attaining delicate form and sentiment with such
materials--it cannot be said to have been attained in that sense by any
other early Tuscan painter, not even Angelico or Filippo Lippi--makes the
desire but the keener, and turns it into a most persevering and almost
morbid research. Thence the extraordinary ingenuity displayed, frequently
to the detriment of the work, in the arrangement of hands (witness the
tying, clutching hands, with fingers bent curiously in intricate knots,
of the Calumny of Apelles), and of drapery; in the poising of bodies and
selection of general outline. This search for elegance and grace, for
the refined and unhackneyed, is frequently baffled by the ugliness of
Botticelli's models, and still more by Botticelli's deficient knowledge
of anatomy and habit of good form. But, when not baffled, this desire is
extraordinarily assisted by those very defects. This great decorator,
who uses the human form as so much pattern element, mere lines and
curves like those of a Raffaelesque arabesque, obtains with his
imperfect, anatomically defective, and at all events ill-fashioned
figures, a far-fetched and poignant grace impossible to a man dealing
with more perfect elements. For grace and distinction, which are
qualities of movement rather than of form, do not strike us very much in
a figure which is originally well made. The momentary charm of movement
is lost in the permanent charm of form; the creature could not be
otherwise than delightful, made as it is; and we thus miss the sense of
selection and deliberate arrangement, the sense of beauty as movement,
that is, as grace. Whereas, in the case of defective form, any grace
that may be obtained affects us _per se_. It need not have been there;
indeed, it was unlikely to be there; and hence it obtains the value and
charm of the unexpected, the rare, the far-fetched. This, I think, is
the explanation of the something of exotic beauty that attaches to
Botticelli: we perceive the structural form only negatively, sufficiently
to value all the more the ingenuity of arrangement by which it is made
to furnish a beautiful outline and beautiful movement; and we perceive
the great desire thereof. If we allow our eye to follow the actual
structure of the bodies, even in the Primavera, we shall recognise that
not one of these figures but is downright deformed and out of drawing.
Even the Graces have arms and shoulders and calves and stomachs all at
random; and the most beautiful of them has a slice missing out of her
head. But if, instead of looking at heads, arms, legs, bodies, separately,
and separate from the drapery, we follow the outline of the groups against
the background, drapery clinging or wreathing, arms intertwining, hands
combed out into wonderful fingers; if we regard these groups of figures
as a pattern stencilled on the background, we recognise that no pattern
could be more exquisite in its variety of broken up and harmonised lines.
The exquisite qualities of all graceful things, flowers, branches,
swaying reeds, and certain animals like the stag and peacock, seem to
have been abstracted and given to these half-human and wholly wonderful
creatures--these thin, ill put together, unsteady youths and ladies. The
ingenious grace of Botticelli passes sometimes from the realm of art
to that of poetry, as in the case of those flowers, with stiff, tall
stems, which he places by the uplifted foot of the middle Grace, thus
showing that she has trodden over it, like Virgil's Camilla, without
crushing it. But the element of sentiment and poetry depends in reality
upon the fascination of movement and arrangement; fascination seemingly
from within, a result of exquisite breeding in those imperfectly made
creatures. It is the grace of a woman not beautiful, but well dressed
and moving well; the exquisiteness of a song sung delicately by an
insufficient or defective voice: a fascination almost spiritual, since
it seems to promise a sensitiveness to beauty, a careful avoidance of
ugliness, a desire for something more delicate, a reverse of all things
gross and accidental, a possibility of perfection.

This imagination of pleasant detail and accessory, which delights us
by the intimacy into which we are brought with the artist's innermost
conception, develops into what, among the masters of the fifteenth
century, I should call the imagination of the fairy tale. A small number
of scriptural and legendary stories lend themselves quite particularly
to the development of such beautiful accessory, which soon becomes the
paramount interest, and vests the whole with a totally new character: a
romantic, childish charm, the charm of the improbable taken for granted,
of the freedom to invent whatever one would like to see but cannot, the
charm of the fairy story. From this unconscious altering of the value of
certain Scripture tales, arises a romantic treatment which is naturally
applied to all other stories, legends of saints, biographical accounts,
Decameronian tales (Mr. Leyland once possessed some Botticellian
illustrations of the tale of Nastagio degli Onesti, the hero of Dryden's
"Theodore and Honoria," a sort of pendant to the Griseldis attributed to
Pinturicchio), and mythological episodes: a new kind of invention, based
upon a desire to please, and as different from the invention of the
Giottesques as the Arabian Nights are different from Homer.

I have said that it begins with the unconscious altering of the values
of certain scriptural stories, owing to the preponderance of detail over
accessory. The chief example of this is the Adoration of the Magi. In
the paintings of the Giottesques, and in the paintings of the serious,
or duller, masters of the fifteenth century--Ghirlandaio, Rosselli,
Filippino, those for whom the fairy tale could exist no more than for
Michelangelo or Andrea del Sarto--the chief interest in this episode is
the Holy Family, the miraculous Babe whom these great folk came so far to
see. The fourteenth century made very short work of the kings, allowing
them a minimum of splendour; and those of the fifteenth century, who
cared only for artistic improvement, copied slavishly, giving the kings
their retinue only as they might have introduced any number of studio
models or burgesses aspiring at portraits, after the fashion of the
Brancacci and S. Maria Novella frescoes, where spectators of miracles
make a point never to look at the miraculous proceedings. But there
were men who felt differently: the men who loved splendour and detail.
To Gentile da Fabriano, that wonderful man in whom begins the colour and
romance of Venetian painting,[8] the adoration of the kings could not
possibly be what it had been for the Giottesques, or what it still was
for Angelico. The Madonna, St. Joseph, the child Christ did not cease to
be interesting: he painted them with evident regard, gave the Madonna a
beautiful gold hem to her dress, made St. Joseph quite unusually amiable,
and shed a splendid gilt glory about the child Christ. But to him the
wonderful part of the business was not the family in the shed at Bethlehem
which the kings came to see; but those kings themselves, who came from
such a long way off. He put himself at the point of view of a holy
family less persuaded of its holiness, who should suddenly see a bevy
of grand folks come up to their door: the miraculous was here. The
spiritual glory was of course on the side of the family of Joseph; but
the temporal glory, the glory that delighted Gentile, that went to
his brain and made him childishly happy, was with the kings and their
retinue. That retinue--the trumpeters prancing on white horses, with
gold lace covers, the pages, the armour-bearers, the treasurers, the
huntsmen with the hounds, the falconers with the hawks, winding for
miles down the hills, and expanding into the circle of strange and
delightful creatures that kings must have about their persons: jesters
with heads thrown back and eyes squeezed close, while thinking of some
funny jest; dwarfs and negroes, almost as amusing as their camels
and giraffes; tame lynxes chained behind the saddle, monkeys perched,
jabbering, on the horses' manes--all this was much more wonderful in
Gentile da Fabriano's opinion than all the wonders of the Church, which
grew somehow less wonderful the more implicitly you believed in them.
Then, in the midst of all these delightful splendours, the kings
themselves! The old grey-beard in the brown pomegranate embossed brocade
going on all fours, and kissing the little child's feet; the dark young
man, with peaked beard and wistful face, removing his coroneted turban;
and last, but far from least, the youngest king, the beardless boy, with
the complexion of a well-bred young lady, the almond eyes and golden
hair, standing up in his tunic of white cloth of silver, while one squire
unbuckled his spurs and another removed his cloak. The darling little
Prince Charming, between whom and the romantic bearded young king there
must for some time have been considerable rivalry, and alternating views
in the minds of men and the hearts of women (particularly when the
second king, the bearded one, became the John Palæologus of Benozzo),
until it was victoriously borne in upon the public that this delicate,
beardless creature, so much younger and always the last, must evidently
be _the_ prince, the youngest of the king's sons in the fairy tales, the
one who always succeeds where the two elder have failed, who gets the
Water that Dances and the Apple Branch that Sings, who carries off the
enchanted oranges, slays the ogre, releases the princess, flies through
the air, the hero, the prince of Fairyland....

  [Footnote 8: This quality, particularly in the Adoration of the Magi,
  is already very marked in the very charming and little known frescoes
  of Ottaviano Nelli, in the former Trinci Palace at Foligno. Nelli was
  the master of Gentile, and through him greatly influenced Venice.]

The fairy business of the story of the Three Kings takes even greater
proportions in the delightful frescoes of Benozzo Gozzoli in the Riccardi
Chapel. Here the Holy Family are suppressed, so to speak, altogether,
tucked into the altar in a picture, and the act of adoration at Bethlehem
becomes the mere excuse for the romantic adventures of three people of
the highest quality. The journey itself, where Gentile da Fabriano sums
up in that procession twisting about the background of his picture, here
occupies a whole series of frescoes. And on this journey is concentrated
all that the Renaissance knew of splendour, delightfulness, and romance.
The green valleys, watered by twisting streams, with matted grasses,
which Botticelli puts behind his enthroned Madonna and victorious
Judith; Angelico's favourite hillsides with blossoming fruit trees and
pointing cypresses; the mysterious firwoods--more mysterious for their
remoteness on the high Apennines--which fascinate the fancy of Filippo
Lippi; all this is here, and through it all winds the procession of
the Three Kings. There are the splendid stuffs and Oriental jewels and
trappings, the hounds and monkeys, and jesters and negroes, the falcon
on the wrist, the lynxes chained to the saddle, all the magnificence
dreamed by Gentile da Fabriano; and among it all ride, met by bevies
of peacock-winged angels, kneeling and singing before the flowering
rose-hedges, the Three Kings. The old man, who looks like some Platonist
philosopher, the beardless prince, surrounded by his noisy huntsmen and
pages; and that dark-bearded youth in the Byzantine dress and shovel
hat, the genuine king from the East, riding with ardent, wistful eyes, a
beautiful kingly young Quixote: Sir Percival seeking the Holy Grail, or
King Cophetua seeking for his beggar girl. It is a page of fairy tale,
retold by Boiardo or Spenser.

After such things as these it is difficult to speak of those more
prosaic tales, really intended as such, on which the painters of the
Renaissance spent their fancy. Still they have all their charm, these
fairy tales, not of the great poets indeed, but of the nursery.

There is, for instance, the story of a good young man (with a name for
a fairy tale too, Æneas Sylvius Piccolomini!) showing his adventures by
land and sea and at many courts, the honours conferred on him by kings
and emperors, and how at last he was made Pope, having begun as a mere
poor scholar on a grey nag; all painted by Pinturicchio in the Cathedral
library of Siena. There is the lamentable story of a bride and bridegroom,
by Vittore Carpaccio: the stately, tall bride, St. Ursula, and the dear
little foolish bridegroom, looking like her little brother; a story
containing a great many incidents: the sending of an embassy to the King;
the King being sorely puzzled in his mind, leaning his arm upon his bed
and asking the Queen's advice; the presence upon the palace steps of an
ill-favoured old lady, with a crutch and basket, suspiciously like the
bad fairy who had been forgotten at the christening; the apparition of
an angel to the Princess, sleeping, with her crown neatly put away at
the foot of the bed; the arrival of the big ship in foreign parts, with
the Bishop and Clergy putting their heads out of the port-holes and
asking very earnestly, "Where are we?" and finally, a most fearful
slaughter of the Princess and her eleven thousand ladies-in-waiting. The
same Carpaccio--a regular old gossip from whom one would expect all the
formulas, "and then he says to the king, Sacred Crown," "and then the
Prince walks, walks, walks, walks." "A company of knights in armour nice
and shining," "three comely ladies in a green meadow," and so forth of
the professional Italian story-teller--the same Carpaccio, who was also,
and much more than the more solemn Giovanni Bellini, the first Venetian
to handle oil paints like Titian and Giorgione, painted the fairy tale
of St. George, with quite the most dreadful dragon's walk, a piece of
sea sand embedded with bones and half-gnawed limbs, and crawled over
by horrid insects, that any one could wish to see; and quite the most
comical dragon, particularly when led out for execution among the
minarets and cupolas and camels and turbans and symbols of a kind of
small Constantinople.

One of the funniest of all such series of stories, and which shows that
when the Renaissance men were driven to it they could still invent,
though (apparently) when they had to invent in this fashion, they ceased
to be able to paint, is the tale of Griseldis, attributed in our National
Gallery to Pinturicchio, but certainly by a very inferior painter of his
school. The Marquis, after hunting deer on a steep little hill, shaded
by elm trees, sees Griseldis going to a well, a pitcher on her head. He
reins in his white horse, and cranes over in his red cloak, the young
parti-coloured lords-in-waiting pressing forwards to see her, but only
as much as politeness warrants. Scene II.--A stubbly landscape. The
Marquis, in red and gold cloak and well-combed yellow head of hair,
approaches on foot to the little pink farm-house. Surprise of old
Giannucole, who is coming down the exterior steps. "Bless my soul! the
Lord Marquis!" "Where is your daughter?" asks the Marquis, with pointing
finger. But the daughter, hearing voices, has come on to the balcony and
throws up her arms astonished. "Dear me! the cavalier who accosted me in
the wood!" The Marquis and Grizel walk off, he deferentially dapper, she
hanging back a little in her black smock. Scene III.--The Marquis, still
in purple and gold, and red stockings and Hessian boots, says with some
timidity and much grace, pointing to the magnificent clothes brought by
his courtiers, "Would you mind, dear Grizel, putting on these clothes
to please me?" But Griseldis is extremely modest. She tightens her white
shift about her, and doesn't dare look at the cloth of gold dress which
is so pretty. Scene IV.--A triumphal arch, with four gilt figures. The
Marquis daintily, with much wrist-twisting, offers to put the ring on
Griseldis' hand, who obediently accepts, while pages and trumpeters hold
the Marquis's three horses.

Act II. Scene I.--A portico. Griseldis reluctantly, but obediently,
gives up her baby. Scene II.--A conspirator in black cloak and red
stockings walks off with it on the tips of his toes, and then returns
and tells the Marquis that his Magnificence's orders have been executed.
Scene III.--Giannucole, father of Griseldis, having been sent for, arrives
in his best Sunday cloak. The Marquis in red, with a crown on, says,
standing hand on hip, "You see, after that I really cannot keep her on
any longer." Several small dogs sniff at each other in the background.
Scene V.--Triumphal arch, with bear chained to it, peacock, tame deer,
crowd of courtiers. A lawyer reads the act of divorce. The Marquis steps
forward to Grizel with hands raised, "After this kind of behaviour, it
is quite impossible for me to live with you any longer." Griseldis is
ladylike and resigned. The Marquis says with acrimonious politeness,
"I am sorry, madam, I must trouble you to restore to me those garments
before departing from my house." Griseldis slowly let her golden frock
fall to her feet, then walks off (Scene VI.) towards the little pink
farm, where her father is driving the sheep. The courtiers look on and
say, "Dear, dear, what very strange things do happen!"

Act III. Scene I.--Outside Giannucole's farm. The Marquis below. Griseldis
at the balcony. He says, "I want to hire you as a maid." "Yes, my Lord."
Scene II.--A portico, with a large company at dinner. The Marquis
introduces his supposed bride and brother-in-law, in reality his own
children. He turns round to Griseldis, who is waiting at table, and bids
her be a little more careful what she is about with those dishes. Scene
III.--Dumb show. Griseldis, in her black smock, is sweeping out the future
Marchioness's chamber. Scene IV.--At table. The Marquis suddenly bids
Griseldis, who is waiting, come and sit by him; he kisses her, and points
at the supposed bride and brother-in-law. "Those are our children, dear."
A young footman is quite amazed. Scene V.--A procession of caparisoned
horse, and giraffes carrying monkeys. A grand supper. "And they live
happy ever after."

But the fairy tale, beyond all others, with these painters of the
fifteenth century, is the antique myth. No Bibbienas and Bembos
and Calvos have as yet indoctrinated them (as Raphael, alas! was
indoctrinated) with the _real spirit of classical times_, teaching them
that the essence of antiquity was to have no essence at all; no Ariostos
and Tassos have taught the world at large the real Ovidian conception,
the monumental allegoric nature and tendency to vacant faces and
sprawling, big-toed nudity of the heroes and goddesses as Giulio Romano
and the Caracci so well understood to paint them. For all the humanists
that hung about courts, the humanities had not penetrated much into
the Italian people. The imaginative form and colour was still purely
mediæval; and the artists of the early Renaissance had to work out their
Ovidian stories for themselves, and work them out of their own material.
Hence the mythological creatures of these early painters are all, more
or less, gods in exile, with that charm of a long residence in the
Middle Ages which makes, for instance, the sweetheart of Ritter Tannhäuser
so infinitely more seductive than the paramour of Adonis; that charm
which, when we meet it occasionally in literature, in parts of Spenser,
for instance, or in a play like Peel's "Arraignment of Paris," is so
peculiarly delightful.

These early painters have made up their Paganism for themselves, out of
all pleasant things they knew; their fancy has brooded upon it; and the
very details that make us laugh, the details coming direct from the
Middle Ages, the spirit in glaring opposition occasionally to that of
Antiquity, bring home to us how completely this Pagan fairyland is a
genuine reality to these men. We feel this in nearly all the work of
that sort--least, in the archæological Mantegna's. We see it beginning
in the mere single figures--the various drawings of Orpheus, "Orpheus le
doux menestrier jouant de flutes et de musettes," as Villon called him,
much about that time--piping or fiddling among little toy animals out of
a Nuremberg box; the drawing of fauns carrying sheep, some with a queer
look of the Good Shepherd about them, of Pinturicchio; and rising to
such wonderful exhibitions (to me, with their obscure reminiscence of
pageants, they always seem like ballets) as Perugino's Ceiling of the
Cambio, where, among arabesqued constellations, the gods of antiquity
move gravely along: the bearded knight Mars, armed _cap-à-pie_ like a
mediæval warrior; the delicate Mercurius, a beautiful page-boy stripped
of his emblazoned clothes; Luna dragged along by two nymphs; and Venus
daintily poised on one foot on her dove-drawn chariot, the exquisite
Venus in her clinging veils, conquering the world with the demure
gravity and adorable primness of a high-born young abbess.

The actual fairy story becomes, little by little, more complete--the
painters of the fifteenth century work, little guessing it, are the
precursors of Walter Crane. The full-page illustration of a tale of
semi-mediæval romance--of a romance like Spenser's "Fairy Queen" or
Mr. Morris's "Earthly Paradise," exists distinctly in that picture
and drawing, by the young Raphael or whomsoever else, of Apollo and
Marsyas.[9] This piping Marsyas seated by the tree stump, this naked
Apollo, thin and hectic like an undressed archangel, standing against
the Umbrian valley with its distant blue hills, its castellated village,
its delicate, thinly-leaved trees--things we know so well in connection
with the Madonna and Saints, that this seems absent for only a few
minutes--all this is as little like Ovid as the triumphant antique
Galatea of Raphael is like Spenser. Again, there is Piero di Cosimo's
Death of Procris: the poor young woman lying dead by the lake, with
the little fishing town in the distance, the swans sailing and cranes
strutting, and the dear young faun--no Praxitelian god with invisible
ears, still less the obscene beast whom the late Renaissance copied from
Antiquity--a most gentle, furry, rustic creature, stooping over her in
puzzled, pathetic concern, at a loss, with his want of the practice of
cities and the knowledge of womankind, what to do for this poor lady
lying among the reeds and the flowering scarlet sage; a creature the
last of whose kind (friendly, shy, woodland things, half bears or half
dogs, frequent in mediæval legend), is the satyr of Fletcher's "Faithful
Shepherdess," the only poetic conception in that gross and insipid piece
of magnificent rhetoric. The perfection of the style must naturally be
sought from Botticelli, and in his Birth of Venus (but who may speak of
that after the writer of most subtle fancy, of most exquisite language,
among living Englishman?)[10] This goddess, not triumphant but sad in
her pale beauty, a king's daughter bound by some charm to flit on her
shell over the rippling sea, until the winds blow it in the kingdom of
the good fairy Spring, who shelters her in her laurel grove and covers
her nakedness with the wonderful mantle of fresh-blown flowers....

  [Footnote 9: I believe now unanimously given to Pinturicchio.]

  [Footnote 10: Alas! no longer among the living, though among those
  whose spiritual part will never die. Walter Pater died July 1894: a
  man whose sense of loveliness and dignity made him, in mature life,
  as learned in moral beauty as he had been in visible.]

But the imagination born of the love of beautiful and suggestive detail
soars higher; become what I would call the lyric art of the Renaissance,
the art which not merely gives us beauty, but stirs up in ourselves as
much beauty again of stored-up impression, reaches its greatest height
in certain Venetian pictures of the early sixteenth century. Pictures of
vague or enigmatic subject, or no subject at all, like Giorgione's Fête
Champêtre and Soldier and Gipsy, Titian's Sacred and Profane Love, The
Three Ages of Man, and various smaller pictures by Bonifazio, Palma,
Basaiti; pictures of young men in velvets and brocades, solemn women
with only the glory of their golden hair and flesh, seated in the grass,
old men looking on pensive, children rolling about; with the solemnity
of great, spreading trees, of greenish evening skies: the pathos of
the song about to begin or just finished, lute or viol or pipe still
lying hard by. Of such pictures it is best, perhaps, not to speak. The
suggestive imagination is wandering vaguely, dreaming; fumbling at
random sweet, strange chords out of its viol, like those young men and
maidens. The charm of such works is that they are never explicit; they
tell us, like music, deep secrets, which we feel, but cannot translate
into words.


The first new factor in art which meets us at the beginning of the
sixteenth century is not among the Italians, and is not a merely
artistic power. I speak of the passionate individual fervour for
the newly recovered Scriptures, manifest among the German engravers,
Protestants all or nearly all, and among whose works is for ever turning
up the sturdy, passionate face of Luther, the enthusiastic face of
Melanchthon. The very nature of these men's art is conceivable only
where the Bible has suddenly become the reading, and the chief reading,
of the laity. These prints, large and small, struck off in large numbers,
are not church ornaments like frescoes or pictures, nor aids to monastic
devotion like Angelico's Gospel histories at St. Mark's--they are
illustrations to the book which every one is reading, things to be
framed in the chamber of every burgher or mechanic, to be slipped into
the prayer-book of every housewife, to be conned over during the long
afternoons, by the children near the big stove or among the gooseberry
bushes of the garden. And they are, therefore, much more than the
Giottesque inventions, the expression of the individual artist's
ideas about the incidents of Scripture; and an expression not for the
multitude at large, fresco or mosaic that could be elaborated by a
sceptical or godless artist, but a re-explanation as from man to man
and friend: this is how the dear Lord looked, or acted--see, the words
in the Bible are so or so forth. Therefore, there enters into these
designs, which contain after all only the same sort of skill which was
rife in Italy, so much homeliness at once, and poignancy and sublimity
of imagination. The Virgin, they have discovered, is not that grandly
dressed lady, always in the very finest brocade, with the very finest
manners, and holding a divine infant that has no earthly wants, whom Van
Eyck and Memling and Meister Stephan painted. She is a good young woman,
a fairer version of their dear wife, or the woman who might have been
that; no carefully selected creature as with the Italians, no well-made
studio model, with figure unspoilt by child-bearing, but a real wife and
mother, with real milk in her breasts (the Italian virgin, save with one
or two Lombards, is never permitted to suckle)[11], which she very readily
and thoroughly gives to the child, guiding the little mouth with her
fingers. And she sits in the lonely fields by the hedges and windmills
in the fair weather; or in the neat little chamber with the walled town
visible between the pillar of the window, as in Bartholomew Beham's
exquisite design, reading, or suckling, or sewing, or soothing the
fretful baby; no angels around her, or rarely: the Scripture says
nothing about such a court of seraphs as the Italians and Flemings, the
superstitious Romanists, always placed round the mother of Christ. It
is all as it might have happened to them; they translate the Scripture
into their everyday life, they do not pick out of it the mere stately
and poetic incidents like the Giottesques. This everyday life of theirs
is crude enough, and in many cases nasty enough; they have in those
German free towns a perfect museum of loathsome ugliness, born of ill
ventilation, gluttony, starvation, or brutality: quite fearful wrinkled
harridans and unabashed fat, guzzling harlots, and men of every variety
of scrofula, and wart and belly, towards none of which (the best far
transcending the worst Italian Judas) they seem to feel any repugnance.
They have also a beastly love of horrors; their decollations and
flagellations are quite sickening in detail, as distinguished from the
tidy, decorous executions of the early Italians; and one feels that they
do enjoy seeing, as in one of their prints, the bowels of St. Erasmus
being taken out with a windlass, or Jael, as Altdorfer has shown her
in his romantic print, neatly hammering the nail into the head of the
sprawling, snoring Sisera. There is a good deal of grossness, too (of
which, among the Italians, even Robetta and similar, there is so little),
in the details of village fairs and adventures of wenches with their
Schatz; and a strange permeating nightmare, gruesomeness of lewd, warty
devils, made up of snouts, hoofs, bills, claws, and incoherent parts
of incoherent creatures; of perpetual skeletons climbing in trees, or
appearing behind flower-beds. But there is also--and Holbein's Dance of
Death, terrible, jocular, tender, vulgar and poetic, contains it all, this
German world--a great tenderness. Tenderness not merely in the heads of
women and children, in the fervent embrace of husband and wife and mother
and daughter; but in the feeling for dumb creatures and inanimate things,
the gentle dogs of St. Hubert, the deer that crouch among the rocks with
Genevieve, the very tangled grasses and larches and gentians that hang
to the crags, drawn as no Italian ever drew them; the quiet, sentimental
little landscapes of castles on fir-clad hills, of manor-houses, gabled
and chimneyed, among the reeds and willows of shallow ponds. These
feelings, Teutonic doubtless, but less mediæval than we might think, for
the Middle Ages of the Minnesingers were terribly conventional, seem to
well up at the voice of Luther; and it is this which make the German
engravers, men not always of the highest talents, invent new and beautiful
Gospel pictures. Of these I would take two as typical--typical of
individual fancy most strangely contrasting with the conventionalism of
the Italians. Let the reader think of any of the scores of Flights into
Egypt, and of Resurrections by fifteenth-century Italians, or even
Giottesques; and then turn to two prints, one of each of these subjects
respectively, by Martin Schongauer and Altdorfer. Schongauer gives a
delightful oasis: palms and prickly pears, the latter conceived as
growing at the top of a tree; below, lizards at play and deer grazing;
in this place the Virgin has drawn up her ass, who browses the thistles
at his feet, while St. Joseph, his pilgrim bottle bobbing on his back,
hangs himself with all his weight to the branches of a date palm, trying
to get the fruit within reach. Meanwhile a bevy of sweet little angels
have come to the rescue; they sit among the branches, dragging them down
towards him, and even bending the whole stem at the top so that he may
get at the dates. Such a thing as this is quite lovely, particularly
after the routine of St. Joseph trudging along after the donkey, the
eternal theme of the Italians. In Altdorfer's print Christ is ascending
in a glory of sunrise clouds, banner in hand, angels and cherubs peering
with shy curiosity round the cloud edge. The sepulchre is open, guards
asleep or stretching themselves, and yawning all round; and childish
young angels look reverently into the empty grave, rearranging the
cerecloths, and trying to roll back the stone lid. One of them leans
forward, and utterly dazzles a negro watchman, stepping forward, lantern
in hand; in the distance shepherds are seen prowling about. "This," says
Altdorfer to himself, "is how it must have happened."

  [Footnote 11: And the circular so-called Botticelli (now given, I
  believe, to San Gallo) in the National Gallery.]

Hence, among these Germans, the dreadful seriousness and pathos of the
Passion, the violence of the mob, the brutality of the executioners,
above all, the awful sadness of Christ. There is here somewhat of the
realisation of what He must have felt in finding the world He had come
to redeem so vile and cruel. In what way, under what circumstances,
such thoughts would come to these men, is revealed to us by that
magnificent head of the suffering Saviour--a design apparently for a
carved crucifix--under which Albrecht Dürer wrote the pathetic words:
"I drew this in my sickness."

Thus much of the power of that new factor, the individual interest in
the Scriptures. All other innovations on the treatment of religious
themes were due, in the sixteenth century, but still more in the
seventeenth, to the development of some new artistic possibility, or
to the gathering together in the hands of one man of artistic powers
hitherto existing only in a dispersed condition. This is the secret
of the greatness of Raphael as a pictorial poet, that he could do all
manner of new things merely by holding all the old means in his grasp.
This is the secret of those wonderful inventions of his, which do not
take our breath away like Michelangelo's or Rembrandt's, but seem at the
moment the one and only right rendering of the subject: the Liberation
of St. Peter, Heliodorus, Ezechiel, and the whole series of magnificent
Old Testament stories on the ceiling of the Loggie. In Raphael we see
the perfect fulfilment of the Giottesque programme: he can do all that
the first theme inventors required for the carrying out of their ideas;
and therefore he can have new, entirely new, themes. Raphael furnishes,
for the first time since Giotto, an almost complete set of pictorial
interpretations of Scripture.

We are now, as we proceed in the sixteenth century, in the region where
new artistic powers admit of new imaginative conceptions on the part
of the individual. We gain immensely by the liberation from the old
tradition, but we lose immensely also. We get the benefit of the fancy
and feelings of this individual, but we are at the mercy, also, of his
stupidity and vulgarity. Of this the great examples are Tintoretto, and
after him Velasquez and Rembrandt. Of Tintoret I would speak later,
for he is eminently the artist in whom the gain and the loss are most
typified, and perhaps most equally distributed, and because, therefore,
he contrasts best with the masters anterior to Raphael.

The new powers in Velasquez and Rembrandt were connected with the
problem of light, or rather, one might say, in the second case, of
darkness. This new faculty of seizing the beauties, momentary and not
inherent in the object, due to the various effects of atmosphere and
lighting up, added probably a good third to the pleasure-bestowing
faculty of art; it was the beginning of a kind of democratic movement
against the stern domination of such things as were privileged in shape
and colour. A thousand things, ugly or unimaginative in themselves, a
plain face, a sallow complexion, an awkward gesture, a dull arrangement
of lines, could be made delightful and suggestive. A wet yard, a pail
and mop, and a servant washing fish under a pump could become, in the
hands of Peter de Hoogh, and thanks to the magic of light and shade, as
beautiful and interesting in their way as a swirl of angels and lilies
by Botticelli. But this redemption of the vulgar was at the expense,
as I have elsewhere pointed out, of a certain growing callousness to
vulgarity. What holds good as to the actual artistic, visible quality,
holds good also as to the imaginative value. Velasquez's Flagellation,
if indeed it be his, in our National Gallery, has a pathos, a something
that catches you by the throat, in that melancholy weary body, broken
with ignominy and pain, sinking down by the side of the column, which
is inseparable from the dreary grey light, the livid colour of the
flesh--there is no joy in the world where such things can be. But the
angel who has just entered has not come from heaven--such a creature is
fit only to roughly shake up the pillows of paupers, dying in the damp
dawn in the hospital wards.

It is, in a measure, different with Rembrandt, exactly because he is the
master, not of light, but of darkness, or of light that utterly dazzles.
His ugly women and dirty Jews of Rotterdam are either hidden in the gloom
or reduced to mere vague outlines, specks like gnats in the sunshine, in
the effulgence of light. Hence we can enjoy, almost without any disturbing
impressions, the marvellous imagination shown in his etchings of Bible
stories. Rembrandt is to Dürer as an archangel to a saint: where the
German draws, the Dutchman seems to bite his etching plate with elemental
darkness and glory. Of these etchings I would mention a few; the reader
may put these indications alongside of his remembrances of the Arena
Chapel, or of Angelico's cupboard panels in the Academy at Florence:
they show how intimately dramatic imagination depends in art upon mere
technical means, how hopelessly limited to mere indication were the
early artists, how forced along the path of dramatic realisation are the
men of modern times.

_The Annunciation to the Shepherds_: The heavens open in a circular
whirl among the storm darkness, cherubs whirling distantly like
innumerable motes in a sunbeam; the angel steps forward on a ray of
light, projecting into the ink-black night. The herds have perceived
the vision, and rush headlong in all directions, while the trees groan
beneath the blast of that opening of heaven. A horse, seen in profile,
with the light striking on his eyeball, seems paralysed by terror. The
shepherds have only just awakened. _The Nativity_: Darkness. A vague
crowd of country folk jostling each other noiselessly. A lantern, a
white speck in the centre, sheds a smoky, uncertain light on the corner
where the Child sleeps upon the pillows, the Virgin, wearied, resting
by its side, her face on her hand. Joseph is seated by, only his head
visible above his book. The cows are just visible in the gloom. The
lantern is held by a man coming carefully forward, uncovering his head,
the crowd behind him. _A Halt on the Journey to Egypt_: Night. The
lantern hung on a branch. Joseph seated sleepily, with his fur cap
drawn down; the Virgin and Child resting against the packsaddle on the
ground. _An Interior_: The Virgin hugging and rocking the Child. Joseph,
outside, looks in through the window. _The Raising of Lazarus_: A vault
hung with scimitars, turbans, and quivers. Against the brilliant daylight
just let in, the figure of Christ, seen from behind, stands out in His
long robes, raising His hand to bid the dead arise. Lazarus, pale,
ghost-like in this effulgence, slowly, wearily raises his head in the
sepulchre. The crowd falls back. Astonishment, awe. This coarse Dutchman
has suppressed the incident of the bystanders holding their nose, to
which the Giottesques clung desperately. This is not a moment to think of
stenches or infection. _Entombment_: Night. The platform below the cross.
A bier, empty, spread with a winding-sheet, an old man arranging it at
the head. The dead Saviour being slipped down from the cross on a sheet,
two men on a ladder letting the body down, others below receiving it,
trying to prevent the arm from trailing. Immense solemnity, carefulness,
hushedness. A distant illuminated palace blazes out in the night. One
feels that they are stealing Him away.

I have reversed the chronological order and chosen to speak of Tintoret
after Rembrandt, because, being an Italian and still in contact with
some of the old tradition, the great Venetian can show more completely,
both what was gained and what was lost in imaginative rendering by the
liberation of the individual artist and the development of artistic
means. First, of the gain. This depends mainly upon Tintoret's handling
of light and shade, and his foreshortenings: it enables him to compose
entirely in huge masses, to divide or concentrate the interest, to throw
into vague insignificance the less important parts of a situation in
order to insist upon the more important; it gives him the power also of
impressing us by the colossal and the ominous. The masterpiece of this
style, and probably Tintoret's masterpiece therefore, is the great
Crucifixion at S. Rocco. To feel its full tragic splendour one must
think of the finest things which the early Renaissance achieved, such as
Luini's beautiful fresco at Lugano; by the side of the painting at S.
Rocco everything is tame, except, perhaps, Rembrandt's etching called
the Three Crosses. After this, and especially to be compared with the
frescoes of Masaccio and Ghirlandaio of the same subject, comes the
Baptism of Christ. The old details of figures dressing and undressing,
which gave so much pleasure to earlier painters, for instance, Piero
della Francesca, in the National Gallery, are entirely omitted, as the
nose-holding in the Raising of Lazarus, is omitted by Rembrandt. Christ
kneels in the Jordan, with John bending over him, and vague multitudes
crowding the banks, distant, dreamlike beneath the yellow storm-light.
Of Tintoret's Christ before Pilate, of that figure of the Saviour, long,
straight, wrapped in white and luminous like his own wraith, I have
spoken already. But I must speak of the S. Rocco Christ in the Garden,
as imaginative as anything by Rembrandt, and infinitely more beautiful.
The moonlight tips the draperies of the three sleeping apostles, gigantic,
solemn. Above, among the bushes, leaning His head on His hand, is seated
Christ, weary to death, numbed by grief and isolation, recruiting for
final resistance. The sense of being abandoned of all men and of God has
never been brought home in this way by any other painter; the little
tear-stained Saviours, praying in broad daylight, of Perugino and his
fellows, are mere distressed mortals. This betrayed and resigned Saviour
has upon Him the _weltschmerz_ of Prometheus. But even here we begin to
feel the loss, as well as the gain, of the painter being forced from the
dramatic routine of earlier days: instead of the sweet, tearful little
angel of the early Renaissance, there comes to this tragic Christ, in
a blood-red nimbus, a brutal winged creature thrusting the cup in His
face. The uncertainty of Tintoret's inspirations, the uncertainty of
result of these astonishing pictorial methods of attaining the dramatic,
the occasional vapidness and vulgarity of the man, unrestrained by any
stately tradition like the vapidness and vulgarity of so many earlier
masters,[12] comes out already at S. Rocco. And principally in the
scene of the Temptation, a theme rarely, if ever, treated before the
sixteenth century, and which Tintoret has made unspeakably mean in its
unclean and dramatically impotent suggestiveness: the Saviour parleying
from a kind of rustic edifice with a good-humoured, fat, half feminine
Satan, fluttering with pink wings like some smug seraph of Bernini's
pupils. After this it is scarce necessary to speak of whatever is
dramatically abortive (because successfully expressing just the wrong
sort of sentiment, the wrong situation) in Tintoret's work: his Woman
taken in Adultery, with the dapper young Rabbi, offended neither by
adultery in general nor by this adulteress in particular; the Washing of
the Feet, in London, where the conversation appears to turn upon the
excessive hotness or coldness of the water in the tub; the Last Supper
at S. Giorgio Maggiore, where, among the mysterious wreaths of smoke
peopled with angels, Christ rises from His seat and holds the cup to His
neighbour's lips with the gesture, as He says, "This is My blood," of
a conjuror to an incredulous and indifferent audience. To Tintoret
the contents of the chalice is the all-important matter: where is the
majesty of the old Giottesque gesture, preserved by Leonardo, of pushing
forward the bread with one hand, the wine with the other, and thus
uncovering the head and breast of the Saviour, the gesture which does
indeed mean--"I am the bread you shall eat, and the wine you shall
drink"? There remains, however, to mention another work of Tintoret's
which, coming in contact with one's recollections of earlier art, may
suggest strange doubts and well nigh shake one's faith in the imaginative
efficacy of all that went before: his enormous canvas of the Last Day,
at S. Maria dell' Orto. The first and overwhelming impression, even
before one has had time to look into this apocalyptic work, is that
no one could have conceived such a thing in earlier days, not even
Michelangelo when he painted his Last Judgment, nor Raphael when he
designed the Vision of Ezechiel. This is, indeed, one thinks, a revelation
of the end of all things. Great storm clouds, whereon throne the Almighty
and His Elect, brood over the world, across which, among the crevassed,
upheaving earth, pours the wide glacier torrent of Styx, with the boat
of Charon struggling across its precipitous waters. The angels, confused
with the storm clouds of which they are the spirit, lash the damned down
to the Hell stream, band upon band, even from the far distance. And in
the foreground the rocks are splitting, the soil is upheaving with the
dead beneath; here protrudes a huge arm, there a skull; in one place the
clay, rising, has assumed the vague outline of the face below. In the
rocks and water, among the clutching, gigantic men, the huge, full-bosomed
woman, tosses a frightful half-fleshed carcass, grass still growing from
his finger tips, his grinning skull, covered half with hair and half
with weeds, greenish and mouldering: a sinner still green in earth and
already arising.

  [Footnote 12: How peccable is the individual imagination, unchastened
  by tradition! I find among the illustrations of Mr. Berenson's very
  valuable monograph on Lotto, a most curious instance in point. This
  psychological, earnest painter has been betrayed, by his morbid
  nervousness of temper, into making the starting of a cat into the
  second most important incident in his Annunciation.]

A wonderful picture: a marvellous imaginative mind, with marvellous
imaginative means at his command. Yet, let us ask ourselves, what is the
value of the result? A magnificent display of attitudes and forms, a
sort of bravura ghastliness and impressiveness, which are in a sense
_barrocco_, reminding us of the wax plague models of Florence and of
certain poems of Baudelaire's. But of the feeling, the poetry of this
greatest of all scenes, what is there? And, standing before it, I think
instinctively of that chapel far off on the windswept Umbrian rock, with
Signorelli's Resurrection: a flat wall accepted as a flat wall, no
place, nowhere. A half-dozen groups, not closely combined. Colour
reduced to monochrome; light and shade nowhere, as nowhere also all
these devices of perspective. But in that simply treated fresco, with
its arrangement as simple as that of a vast antique bas-relief, there
is an imaginative suggestion far surpassing this of Tintoret's. The
breathless effort of the youths breaking through the earth's crust,
shaking their long hair and gasping; the stagger of those rising to
their feet; the stolidity, hand on hip, of those who have recovered
their body but not their mind, blinded by the light, deafened by the
trumpets of Judgment; the absolute self-abandonment of those who can
raise themselves no higher; the dull, awe-stricken look of those who
have found their companions, clasping each other in vague, weak wonder;
and further, under the two archangels who stoop downwards with the
pennons of their trumpets streaming in the blast, those figures who
beckon to the re-found beloved ones, or who shade their eyes and point
to a glory on the horizon, or who, having striven forward, sink on
their knees, overcome by a vision which they alone can behold. And
recollecting that fresco of Signorelli's, you feel as if this vast, tall
canvas at S. Maria dell' Orto, where topple and welter the dead and the
quick, were merely so much rhetorical rhodomontade by the side of the
old hymn of the Last Day--

 "Mors stupebit et natura
  Quum resurget creatura
  Judicanti responsura."


Again, in the chaos of newly-developing artistic means, and of struggling
individual imaginations, we get once more, at the end of the eighteenth
century, to what we found at the beginning of the fourteenth: the art
that does not show, but merely speaks. We find it in what, of all things,
are the apparently most different to the quiet and placid outline
illustration of the Giottesque: in the terrible portfolio of Goya's
etchings, called the Disasters of War. Like Dürer and Rembrandt, the
great Spaniard is at once extremely realistic and extremely imaginative.
But his realism means fidelity, not to the real aspect of things, of
the _thing in itself_, so to speak, but to the way in which things will
appear to the spectator at a given moment. He isolates what you might
call a case, separating it from the multitude of similar cases, giving
you one execution where several must be going on, one firing off of
cannon, one or two figures in a burning or a massacre; and his technique
conduces thereunto, blurring a lot, rendering only the outline and
gesture, and that outline and gesture frequently so momentary as to be
confused. But he is real beyond words in his reproduction of the way in
which such dreadful things must stamp themselves upon the mind. They are
isolated, concentrated, distorted: the multiplicity of horrors making
the perceiving mind more sensitive, morbid as from opium eating, and
thus making the single impression, which excludes all the rest, more vivid
and tremendous than, without that unconsciously perceived rest, it could
possibly be. Nay, more, these scenes are not merely rather such as they
were recollected than as they really were seen; they are such as they
were recollected in the minds and feelings of peasants and soldiers, of
people who could not free their attention to arrange all these matters
logically, to give them their relative logical value. The slaughtering
soldiers--Spaniards, English, or French--of the Napoleonic period become
in his plates Turks, Saracens, huge vague things in half Oriental
costumes, whiskered, almost turbaned in their fur caps, they become
almost ogres, even as they must have done in the popular mind. The
shooting of deserters and prisoners is reduced to the figures at the
stake, the six carbine muzzles facing them: no shooting soldiers, no
stocks to the carbines, any more than in the feeling of the man who
was being shot. The artistic training, the habit of deliberately or
unconsciously looking for visible effects which all educated moderns
possess, prevents even our writers from thus reproducing what has been
the actual mental reality. But Goya does not for a moment let us suspect
the presence of the artist, the quasi-writer. The impression reproduced
is the impression, not of the artistic bystander, but of the sufferer or
the sufferer's comrades. This makes him extraordinarily faithful to the
epigraphs of his plates. We feel that the woman, all alone, without
bystanders, earthworks, fascines, smoke, &c., firing off the cannon,
is the woman as she is remembered by the creature who exclaims, "Que
valor!" We feel that the half-dead soldier being stripped, the condemned
turning his head aside as far as the rope will permit, the man fallen
crushed beneath his horse or vomiting out his blood, is the wretch who
exclaims, "Por eso soy nacido!" They are, these etchings of Goya's, the
representation of the sufferings, real and imaginative, of the real
sufferers. In the most absolute sense they are the art which does not
merely show, but tells; the suggestive and dramatic art of the individual,
unaided and unhampered by tradition, indifferent to form and technicality,
the art which even like the art of the immediate predecessors of Giotto,
those Giuntas and Berlinghieris, who left us the hideous and terrible
Crucifixions, says to the world, "You shall understand and feel."



We are all of us familiar with the two adjacent rooms at South Kensington
which contain, respectively, the casts from antique sculpture and those
from the sculpture of the Renaissance; and we are familiar also with the
sense of irritation or of relief which accompanies our passing from
one of them to the other. This feeling is typical of our frame of mind
towards various branches of the same art, and, indeed, towards all
things which might be alike, but happen to be unlike. Times, countries,
nations, temperaments, ideas, and tendencies, all benefit and suffer
alternately by our habit of considering that if two things of one sort
are not identical, one must be in the right and the other in the wrong.
The act of comparison evokes at once our innate tendency to find fault;
and having found fault, we rarely perceive that, on better comparing,
there may be no fault at all to find.

As the result of such comparison, we shall find that Renaissance
sculpture is unrestful, huddled, lacking selection of form and harmony
of proportions; it reproduces ugliness and perpetuates effort; it is
sometimes grotesque, and frequently vulgar. Or again, that antique
sculpture is conventional, insipid, monotonous, without perception for
the charm of detail or the interest of individuality; afraid of movement
and expression, and at the same time indifferent to outline and grouping;
giving us florid nudities which never were alive, and which are doing
and thinking nothing whatever. Thus, according to which room or which
mood we enter first, we are sure to experience either irritation at
wrong-headedness or relief at right-doing; whether we pass from the
sculpture of ancient Greece to the sculpture of mediæval Italy, or _vice

But a more patient comparison of these two branches of sculpture, and of
the circumstances which made each what it was, will enable us to enjoy
the very different merits of both, and will teach us also something of
the vital processes of the particular spiritual organism which we call
an art.

In the early phase of the philosophy of art--a phase lingering on to our
own day in the works of certain critics--the peculiarities of a work of
art were explained by the peculiarities of character of the artist: the
paintings of Raphael and the music of Mozart partook of the gentleness
of their life; while the figures of Michelangelo and the compositions of
Beethoven were the outcome of their misanthropic ruggedness of temper.
The insufficiency, often the falseness, of such explanations became
evident when critics began to perceive that the works of one time and
country usually possessed certain common peculiarities which did not
correspond to any resemblance between the characters of their respective
artists; peculiarities so much more dominant than any others, that a
statue or a picture which was unsigned and of obscure history was
constantly attributed to half-a-dozen contemporary sculptors or painters
by half-a-dozen equally learned critics. The recognition of this fact
led to the substitution of the _environment_ (the _milieu_ of Monsieur
Taine) as an explanation of the characteristics, no longer of a single
work of art, but of a school or group of kindred works. Greek art
henceforth was the serene outcome of a serene civilisation of athletes,
poets, and philosophers, living with untroubled consciences in a good
climate, with slaves and helots to char for them while they ran races,
discussed elevated topics, and took part in Panathenaic processions,
riding half naked on prancing horses, or carrying olive branches and
sacrificial vases in honour of a divine patron, in whom they believed
only as much as they liked. And the art of the Middle Ages was the
fantastic, far-fetched, and often morbid production of nations of
crusaders and theologians, burning heretics, worshipping ladies, seeing
visions, and periodically joining hands in a vertiginous death-reel,
whose figures were danced from country to country. This new explanation,
while undoubtedly less misleading than the other one, had the disadvantage
of straining the characteristics of a civilisation or of an art in order
to tally with its product or producer; it forgot that Antiquity was not
wholly represented by the frieze of the Parthenon, and that the Gothic
cathedrals and the frescoes of Giotto had characteristics more
conspicuous than morbidness and insanity.

Moreover, in the same way that the old personal criticism was unable to
account for the resemblance between the works of different individuals
of the same school, so the theory of the environment fails to explain
certain qualities possessed in common by various schools of art and various
arts which have arisen under the pressure of different civilisations;
and it is obliged to slur over the fact that the sculpture of the time
of Pericles and Alexander, the painting of the early sixteenth century,
and the music of the age of Handel, Haydn, and Mozart are all very much
more like one another in their serene beauty than they are any of them
like the other productions, artistic or human, of their environment.
Behind this explanation there must therefore be another, not controverting
the portion of truth it contains, but completing it by the recognition
of a relation more intimate than that of the work of art with its
environment: the relation of form and material. The perceptions of the
artist, what he sees and how he sees it, can be transmitted to others
only through processes as various as themselves: hair seen as colour
is best imitated with paint, hair seen as form with twisted metal wire.
It is as impossible to embody certain perceptions in some stages of
handicraft as it would be to construct a complex machine in a rudimentary
condition of mechanics. Certain modes of vision require certain methods
of painting, and these require certain kinds of surface and pigment. Until
these exist, a man may see correctly, but he cannot reproduce what he is
seeing. In short, the work of art represents the meeting of a mode of
seeing and feeling (determined partly by individual characteristics,
partly by those of the age and country) and of a mode of treating
materials, a craft which may itself be, like the mind of the artist,
in a higher or lower stage of development.

The early Greeks had little occasion to become skilful carvers of
stone. Their buildings, which reproduced a very simple wooden structure,
were ornamented with little more than the imitation of the original
carpentering; for the Ionic order, poor as it is of ornament, came only
later; and the Corinthian, which alone offered scope for variety and
skill of carving, arose only when figure sculpture was mature. But the
Greeks, being only just in the iron period (and iron, by the way, is the
tool for stone), were great moulders of clay and casters of metal. The
things which later ages made of iron, stone, or wood, they made of clay
or bronze. The thousands of exquisite utensils, weapons, and toys in our
museums make this apparent; from the bronze greaves delicately modelled
like the legs they were to cover, to the earthenware dolls, little
Venuses, exquisitely dainty, with articulated legs and go-carts.

Hence the human figure came to be imitated by a process which was not
sculpture in the literal sense of carving. It is significant that the
Latin word whence we get _effigy_ has also given us _fictile_, the making
of statues being thus connected with the making of pots; and that the
whole vocabulary of ancient authors shows that they thought of statuary
not as akin to cutting and chiselling, but to moulding ([Greek: plassô]
= _fingo_), shaping out of clay on the wheel or with the modelling
tool.[13] It seems probable that marble-work was but rarely used for
the round until the sixth century; and the treatment of the hair,
the propping of projecting limbs and drapery, makes it obvious that a
large proportion of the antiques in our possession are marble copies of
long-destroyed bronzes.[14] So that the Greek statue, even if eventually
destined for marble, was conceived by a man having the habit of
modelling in clay.

  [Footnote 13: I am confirmed in these particulars by my friend
  Miss Eugenie Sellers, whose studies of the ancient authorities on
  art--Lucian, Pausanias, Pliny, and others, will be the more fruitful
  that they are associated with knowledge--uncommon in archæologists--of
  more modern artistic processes.]

  [Footnote 14: This becomes overwhelmingly obvious on reading Professor
  Furtwängler's great "Masterpieces of Greek Sculpture." Praxiteles
  appears to have been exceptional in his preference for marble.]

Let us turn from early Greece to mediæval Italy. Hammered iron had
superseded bronze for weapons and armour, and silver and gold, worked
with the chisel, for ornaments. On the other hand, the introduction from
the East of glazed pottery had banished to the art of the glass-blower
all fancy in shaping utensils. There was no demand in common life for
cast metal-work, and there being no demand for casting, there was no
practice either in its cognate preliminary art of moulding clay. Hence,
such bronze work as originated was very unsatisfactory; the lack of
skill in casting, and the consequent elaboration of bronze-work with the
file, lasting late into the Renaissance. But the men of the Middle Ages
were marvellously skilful carvers of stone. Architecture, ever since the
Roman time, had given more and more importance to sculptured ornament:
already exquisite in the early Byzantine screens and capitals, it
developed through the elaborate mouldings, traceries, and columns of
the Lombard style into the art of elaborate reliefs and groups of the
full-blown Gothic; indeed the Gothic church is, in Italy, the work no
longer of the mason, but of the sculptor. It is no empty coincidence
that the hillside villages which still supply Florence with stone and
with stonemasons should have given their names to three of its greatest
sculptors, Mino da Fiesole, Desiderio da Settignano, and Benedetto da
Maiano; that Michelangelo should have told Vasari that the chisel and
mallet had come to him with the milk of his nurse, a stonecutter's wife
from those same slopes, down which jingle to-day the mules carting
ready-shaped stone from the quarries. The mediæval Tuscans, the Pisans
of the thirteenth, and the Florentines of the fifteenth century, evidently
made small wax or clay sketches of their statues; but their works are
conceived and executed in the marble, and their art has come out of the
stone without interposition of other material, even as the figures which
Michelangelo chopped, living and colossal, direct out of the block.[15]

  [Footnote 15: Interesting details in Vasari's treatise, and in his
  Lives of J. della Quercia, Ferrucci, and other sculptors.]

The Greek, therefore, was a moulder of clay, a caster of bronze, in the
early time when the art acquires its character and takes its direction;
in that period, on the contrary, the Tuscan was a chaser of silver, a
hammerer of iron, above all a cutter of stone. Now clay (and we must
remember that bronze is originally clay) means the modelled plane and
succession of planes smoothed and rounded by the finger, the imitation
of all nature's gently graduated swellings and depressions, the absolute
form as it exists to the touch; but clay does not give interesting light
and shade, and bronze is positively blurred by high lights; and neither
clay nor bronze has any resemblance to the texture of human limbs or
drapery: it gives the form, but not the stuff. It is the exact reverse
with marble. Granulated like a living fibre, yet susceptible of a delicate
polish, it can imitate the actual substance of human flesh, with its
alternations of opacity and luminousness; it can reproduce, beneath
the varied strokes of the chisel, the grain, running now one way, now
another, which is given to the porous skin by the close-packed bone
and muscle below. Moreover, it is so docile, so soft, yet so resistant,
that the iron can cut it like butter or engrave it lightly like agate;
so that the shadows may pour deep into chasms and pools, or run over the
surface in a network of shallow threads; light and shade becoming the
artist's material as much as the stone itself.

The Greek, as a result, perceived form not as an appearance, but as a
reality; saw with the eye the complexities of projection and depression
perceivable by the hand. His craft was that of measurements, of minute
proportion, of delicate concave and convex--in one word, of _planes_.
His dull, malleable clay, and ductile, shining bronze had taught him
nothing of the way in which light and shadow corrode, blur, and pattern
a surface. His fancy, his skill, embraced the human form like the gypsum
of the moulder, received the stamp of its absolute being. The beauty he
sought was concrete, actual, the same in all lights and from all points
of view: the comely man himself, not the beautiful marble picture.

The marble picture, on the other hand--a picture in however high and
complete relief--a picture for a definite point of view, arranged by
receiving light projected at a given angle on a surface cut deep or
shallow especially to receive it--was produced by the sculpture that
spontaneously grew out of the architectural stone-cutting of the Byzantine
and Lombard schools. The mouldings on a church, still more the stone
ornaments of its capitals, pulpit, and choir rails, seen, as they are,
each at various and peculiar heights above the eye, under light which,
however varying, can never get behind or above them if outdoor, below
or in flank if indoor--these mouldings, part of a great architectural
pattern of black and white, inevitably taught the masons all the subtle
play of light and surface, all the deceits of position and perspective.
And the mere manipulation of the marble taught them, as we have seen,
the exquisite finenesses of surface, texture, crease, accent, and line.
What the figure actually was--the real proportions and planes, the
actual form of the model--did not matter; no hand was to touch it, no
eye to measure; it was to be delightful only in the position which the
artist chose, and in no other had it a right to be seen.


These were the two arts, originating from a material and a habit of work
which were entirely different, and which produced artistic necessities
diametrically opposed. It might be curious to speculate upon what would
have resulted had their position in history been reversed; what statues
we should possess had the marble-carving art born of architectural
decoration originated in Greece, and the art of clay and bronze flourished
in Christian and mediæval Italy. Be this as it may, the accident of the
surroundings--of the habits of life and thought which pressed on the
artist, and combined with the necessities of his material method--appears
to have intensified the peculiarities organic in each of the two
sculptures. I say _appears_, because we must bear in mind that the
combination was merely fortuitous, and guard against the habit of
thinking that because a type is familiar it is therefore alone

We all know all about the antique and the mediæval _milieu_. It is
useless to recapitulate the influence, on the one hand, of antique
civilisation, with its southern outdoor existence, its high training
of the body, its draped citizens, naked athletes, and half-clothed
work-folk, its sensuous religion of earthly gods and muscular demigods;
or the influence, on the other hand, of the more complex life of the
Middle Ages, essentially northern in type, sedentary and manufacturing,
huddled in unventilated towns, with its constant pre-occupation, even
among the most sordid grossness, of the splendour of the soul, the
beauty of suffering, the ignominy of the body, and the dangers of bodily
prosperity. Of all this we have heard even too much, thanks to the
picturesqueness which has recommended the _milieu_ of Monsieur Taine
to writers more mindful of literary effect than of the philosophy of
art. But there is another historical circumstance whose influence, in
differentiating Greek sculpture from the sculpture of mediæval Italy,
can scarcely be overrated. It is that, whereas in ancient Greece
sculpture was the important, fully developed art, and painting merely
its shadow; in mediæval Italy painting was the art which best answered
the requirements of the civilisation, the art struggling with the most
important problems; and that painting therefore reacted strongly upon
sculpture. Greek painting was the shadow of Greek sculpture in an almost
literal sense: the figures on wall and base, carefully modelled, without
texture, symmetrically arranged alongside of each other regardless of
pictorial pattern, seem indeed to be projected on to the flat surface by
the statues; they are, most certainly, the shadow of modelled figures
cast on the painter's mind.

The sculptor could learn nothing new from paintings where all that is
proper to painting is ignored:--plane always preferred to line, the
constructive details, perceptible only as projection, not as colour or
value (like the insertion of the leg and the thigh), marked by deep
lines that look like tattoo marks; and perspective almost entirely
ignored, at least till a late period. It is necessary thus to examine
Greek painting[16] in order to appreciate, by comparison with this
negative art, the very positive influence of mediæval painting or
mediæval sculpture. The painting on a flat surface--fresco or panel--which
became more and more the chief artistic expression of those times, taught
men to consider perspective; and, with perspective and its possibility
of figures on many planes, grouping: the pattern that must arise from
juxtaposed limbs and heads. It taught them to perceive form no longer as
projection or plane; but as line and light and shade, as something whose
charm lay mainly in the boundary curves, the silhouette, so much more
important in one single, unchangeable position than where, the eye
wandering round a statue, the only moderate interest of one point of
view is compensated by the additional interest of another. Moreover,
painting, itself the product of a much greater interest in colour than
Antiquity had known, forced upon men's attention the important influence
of colour upon form. For, although the human being, if we abstract the
element of colour, if we do it over with white paint, has indeed the
broad, somewhat vague form, the indecision of lines which characterises
antique sculpture; yet the human being as he really exists, with his
coloured hair, eyes, and lips, his cheeks, forehead, and chin patterned
with tint, has a much greater sharpness, precision, contrast of form,
due to the additional emphasis of the colour. Hence, as pictorial
perspective and composition undoubtedly inclined sculptors to seek
greater complexities of relief and greater unity of point of view, so
the new importance of drawing and colouring suggested to them a new view
of form. A human being was no longer a mere arrangement of planes and
of masses, homogeneous in texture and colour. He was made of different
substances, of hair, skin over fat, muscle, or bone, skin smooth,
wrinkled, or stubbly, and, besides this, he was painted different
colours. He had, moreover, what the Greeks had calmly whitewashed away,
or replaced by an immovable jewel or enamel: that extraordinary and
extraordinarily various thing called an Eye.

  [Footnote 16: At all events, Greek painting preceding or contemporaneous
  with the great period of sculpture. Later painting was, of course, much
  more pictorial.]

All these differences between the monochrome creature--colour
abstracted--of the Greeks and the mottled real human being, the
sculptors of the Renaissance were led to perceive by their brothers the
painters; and having perceived, they were dissatisfied at having to omit
in their representation. But how show that they too had seen them?

Here return to our notice two other peculiarities which distinguish
mediæval sculpture from antique: first, that mediæval sculpture, rarely
called upon for free open-air figures, was for ever producing architectural
ornament, seen at a given height and against a dark background; and
indoor decoration seen under an unvarying and often defective light;
and secondly, that mediæval sculpture was the handicraft of the subtle
carver in delicate stone.

The sculpture which was an essential part of Lombard and Gothic
architecture required a treatment that should adapt it to its particular
place and subordinate it to a given effect. According to the height
above the eye and the direction of the light, certain details had to be
exaggerated, certain others suppressed; a sculptured window, like those
of Orsanmichele, would not give the delightful pattern of black and
white unless some surfaces were more raised than others, some portions
of figure or leafage allowed to sink into quiescence, others to start
forward by means of the black rim of undercutting; and a sepulchral
monument, raised thirty feet above the spectator's eye, like those
inside Sta. Maria Novella, would present a mere intricate confusion
unless the recumbent figure, the canopy, and various accessories, were
such as to seem unnatural at the level of the eye. Thus, the heraldic
lions of one of these Gothic tombs have the black cavity of the jaw cut
by marble bars which are absolutely out of proportion to the rest of the
creature's body, and to the detail of the other features, but render the
showing of the teeth even at the other side of the transept. Again, in
the more developed art of the fifteenth century, Rossellino's Cardinal
of Portugal has the offside of his face shelved upwards so as to catch
the light, because he is seen from below, and the near side would
otherwise be too prominent; while the beautiful dead warrior, by an
unknown sculptor, at Ravenna has had a portion of his jaw and chin
deliberately cut away, because the spectator is intended to look down
upon his recumbent figure. If we take a cast of the Cardinal's head and
look down upon it, or hang a cast of the dead warrior on the wall, the
whole appearance alters; the expression is almost reversed and the
features are distorted. On the other hand, a cast from a real head,
placed on high like the Cardinal's, would become insignificant, and laid
at the height of a table, like the dead warrior's, would look lumbering
and tumid. Thus, again, the head of Donatello's Poggio, which is visible
and intelligible placed high up in the darkness of the Cathedral of
Florence, looks as if it had been gashed and hacked with a blunt knife
when seen in the cast at the usual height in an ordinary light.

Now this subtle circumventing of distance, height, and darkness; this
victory of pattern over place; this reducing of light and shadow into
tools for the sculptor, mean, as we see from the above examples,
sacrificing the reality to the appearance, altering the proportions
and planes so rigorously reproduced by the Greeks, mean sacrificing the
sacred absolute form. And such a habit of taking liberties with what
can be measured by the hand, in order to please the eye, allowed the
sculptors of the Renaissance to think of their model no longer as
the homogeneous _white man_ of the Greeks, but as a creature in whom
structure was accentuated, intensified, or contradicted by colour and

Furthermore, these men of the fifteenth century possessed the cunning
carving which could make stone vary in texture, in fibre, and almost in

A great many biographical details substantiate the evidence of statues
and busts that the sculptors of the Renaissance carried on their business
in a different manner from the ancient Greeks. The great development in
Antiquity of the art of casting bronze, carried on everywhere for the
production of weapons and household furniture, must have accustomed
Greek sculptors (if we may call them by that name) to limit their personal
work to the figure modelled in clay. And the great number of their
works, many tediously constructed of ivory and gold, shows clearly that
they did not abandon this habit in case of marble statuary, but merely
gave the finishing strokes to a copy of their clay model, produced by
workmen whose skill must have been fostered by the apparently thriving
trade in marble copies of bronzes.

It was different in the Renaissance. Vasari recommends, as obviating
certain miscalculations which frequently happened, that sculptors should
prepare large models by which to measure the capacities of their block
of marble. But these models, described as made of a mixture of plaster,
size, and cloth shavings over tow and hay, could serve only for the
rough proportions and attitude; nor is there ever any allusion to any
process of minute measurement, such as pointing, by which detail could
be transferred from the model to the stone. Most often we hear of small
wax models which the sculptors enlarged directly in the stone. Vasari,
while exaggerating the skill of Michelangelo in making his David out of
a block mangled by another sculptor, expresses no surprise at his having
chopped the marble himself; indeed, the anecdote itself affords evidence
of the commonness of such a practice, since Agostino di Duccio would not
have spoilt the block if he had not cut into it rashly without previous
comparison with a model.[17] We hear, besides, that Jacopo della
Quercia spent twelve years over one of the gates of S. Petronio, and
that other sculptors carried out similar great works with the assistance
of one man, or with no assistance at all,--a proceeding which would have
seemed the most frightful waste except in a time and country where
half of the sculptors were originally stone-masons and the other half
goldsmiths, that is to say, men accustomed to every stage, coarse or
subtle, of their work. The absence of replicas of Renaissance sculpture,
so striking a contrast to the scores of repetitions of Greek works,
proves, moreover, that the actual execution in marble was considered
an intrinsic part of the sculpture of the fifteenth century, in the
same way as the painting of a Venetian master. Phidias might leave the
carving of his statues to skilful workmen, once he had modelled the
clay, even as the painters of the merely designing and linear schools,
Perugino, Ghirlandaio, or Botticelli, might employ pupils to carry out
their designs on panel or wall. But in the same way as a Titian is not a
Titian without a certain handling of the brush, so a Donatello is not a
Donatello, or a Mino not a Mino, without a certain individual excellence
in the cutting of the marble.

  [Footnote 17: Several Greek vases and coins show the sculptor modelling
  his figure; while in Renaissance designs, from that of Nanni di Banco
  to a mediocre allegorical engraving in an early edition of Vasari, the
  sculptor, or the personified art of Sculpture, is actually working with
  chisel and mallet.]

These men brought, therefore, to the cutting of marble a degree of
skill and knowledge of which the ancients had no notion, as they had no
necessity. In their hands the chisel was not merely a second modelling
tool, moulding delicate planes, uniting insensibly broad masses of
projection and depression. It was a pencil, which, according as it was
held, could emphasise the forms in sharp hatchings or let them die away
unnoticed in subdued, imperceptible washes. It was a brush which could
give the texture and the values of the colour--a brush dipped in various
tints of light and darkness, according as it poured into the marble the
light and the shade, and as it translated into polishings and rough
hewings and granulations and every variety of cutting, the texture of
flesh, of hair, and of drapery; of the blonde hair and flesh of children,
the coarse flesh and bristly hair of old men, the draperies of wool, of
linen, and of brocade. The sculptors of Antiquity took a beautiful human
being--a youth in his perfect flower, with limbs trained by harmonious
exercise and ripened by exposure to the air and sun--and, correcting
whatever was imperfect in his individual forms by their hourly experience
of similar beauty, they copied in clay as much as clay could give of his
perfections: the subtle proportions, the majestic ampleness of masses,
the delicate finish of limbs, the harmonious play of muscles, the serene
simplicity of look and gesture, placing him in an attitude intelligible
and graceful from the greatest possible distance and from the largest
variety of points of view. And they preserved this perfect piece of
loveliness by handing it over to the faithful copyist in marble, to the
bronze, which, more faithful still, fills every minutest cavity left by
the clay. Being beautiful in himself, in all his proportions and details,
this man of bronze or marble was beautiful wherever he was placed and
from wheresoever he was seen; whether he appeared foreshortened on a
temple front, or face to face among the laurel trees, whether shaded by
a portico, or shining in the blaze of the open street. His beauty must
be judged and loved as we should judge and love the beauty of a real
human being, for he is the closest reproduction that art has given of
beautiful reality placed in reality's real surroundings. He is the
embodiment of the strength and purity of youth, untroubled by the
moment, independent of place and of circumstance.

Of such perfection, born of the rarest meeting of happy circumstances,
Renaissance sculpture knows nothing. A lesser art, for painting was then
what sculpture had been in Antiquity; bound more or less closely to
the service of architecture; surrounded by ill-grown, untrained bodies;
distracted by ascetic feelings and scientific curiosities, the sculpture
of Donatello and Mino, of Jacopo della Quercia and Desiderio da
Settignano, of Michelangelo himself, was one of those second artistic
growths which use up the elements that have been neglected or rejected
by the more fortunate and vigorous efflorescence which has preceded.
It failed in everything in which antique sculpture had succeeded; it
accomplished what Antiquity had left undone. Its sense of bodily beauty
was rudimentary; its knowledge of the nude alternately insufficient and
pedantic; the forms of Donatello's David and of Benedetto's St. John are
clumsy, stunted, and inharmonious; even Michelangelo's Bacchus is but
a comely lout. This sculpture has, moreover, a marvellous preference
for ugly old men--gross, or ascetically imbecile; and for ill-grown
striplings: except the St. George of Donatello, whose body, however, is
entirely encased in inflexible leather and steel, it never gives us the
perfection and pride of youth. These things are obvious, and set us
against the art as a whole. But see it when it does what Antiquity never
attempted; Antiquity which placed statues side by side in a gable,
balancing one another, but not welded into one pattern; which made
relief the mere repetition of one point of view of the round figure, the
shadow of the gable group; which, until its decline, knew nothing of the
pathos of old age, of the grotesque exquisiteness of infancy, of the
endearing awkwardness of adolescence; which knew nothing of the texture
of the skin, the silkiness of the hair, the colour of the eye.


Let us see Renaissance sculpture in its real achievement.

Here are a number of children by various sculptors of the fifteenth
century. This is the tiny baby whose little feet still project from a
sort of gaiter of flesh, whose little boneless legs cannot carry the fat
little paunch, the heavy big head. Note that its little skull is still
soft, like an apple, under the thin floss hair. Its elder brother or
sister is still vaguely contemplative of the world, with eyes that
easily grow sleepy in their blueness. Those a little older have learned
already that the world is full of solemn people on whom to practise
tricks; their features have scarcely accentuated, their hair has merely
curled into loose rings, but their eyes have come forward from below the
forehead, eyes and forehead working together already; and there are
great holes, into which you may dig your thumb, in the cheeks. Those of
fourteen or fifteen have deplorably thin arms, and still such terrible
calves; and a stomach telling of childish gigantic meals; but they have
the pert, humorous frankness of Verrocchio's David, who certainly flung
a jest at Goliath's unwieldy person together with his stone; or the
delicate, sentimental pretty woman's grace of Donatello's St. John of
the Louvre, and Benedetto da Maiano's: they will soon be poring over
the _Vita Nuova_ and Petrarch. Two other St. Johns--I am speaking of
Donatello's--have turned out differently. One, the first beard still
doubtful round his mouth, has already rushed madly away from earthly
loves; his limbs are utterly wasted by fasting; except his legs, which
have become incredibly muscular from continual walking; he has begun
to be troubled by voices in the wilderness--whether of angels or of
demons--and he flies along, his eyes fixed on his scroll, and with them
fixing his mind on unearthly things; he will very likely go mad, this
tempted saint of twenty-one. Here he is again, beard and hair matted,
almost a wild man of the woods, but with the gravity and self-possession
of a preacher; he has come out of the wilderness, overcome all temptations,
his fanaticism is now militant and conquering. This is certainly not
the same man, but perhaps one of his listeners, this old King David of
Donatello--a man at no time intelligent, whose dome-shaped head has
taken back, with the thin white floss hair that recalls infancy, an
infantine lack of solidity; whose mouth is drooping already, perhaps
after a first experience of paralysis, and his eyes getting vague in
look; but who, in this intellectual and physical decay, seems to have
become only the more full of gentleness and sweetness; misnamed David, a
Job become reconciled to his fate by becoming indifferent to himself, an
Ancient Mariner who has seen the water-snakes and blessed them and been
filled with blessing.

These are all statues or busts intended for a given niche or bracket, a
given portico or window, but in a measure free sculpture. Let us now
look at what is already decoration. Donatello's Annunciation, the big
coarse relief in friable grey stone (incapable of a sharp line), picked
out with delicate gilding; no fluttering or fainting, the angel and the
Virgin grave, decorous, like the neighbouring pilasters. Again, his
organ-loft of flat relief, with granulated groundwork: the flattened
groups of dancing children making, with deep, wide shadows beneath their
upraised, linked arms, a sort of human trellis-work of black and white.
Mino's Madonna at Fiesole: the relief turned and cut so as to look out
of the chapel into the church, so that the Virgin's head, receiving the
light like a glory on the pure, polished forehead, casts a nimbus of
shadow round itself, while the saints are sucked into the background,
their accessories only, staff and gridiron, allowed to assert themselves
by a sharp shadow; a marvellous vision of white heavenly roses, their
pointed buds and sharp spines flourishing on martyrs' blood and incense,
grown into the close lips and long eyes, the virginal body and thin
hands of Mary. From these reliefs we come to the compositions, group
inside group, all shelving into portico and forest vista, of the pulpit
of Sta. Croce, the perspective bevelling it into concavities, like those
of panelling; the heads and projecting shoulders lightly marked as some
carved knob or ornament; to the magnificent compositions in light and
shade, all balancing and harmonising each other, and framed round by
garlands of immortal blossom and fruit, of Ghiberti's gates.

Nor is this all. The sculpture of the Renaissance, not satisfied with
having portrayed the real human being made of flesh and blood, of bone
and skin, dark-eyed or flaxen-haired, embodied in the marble the
impalpable forms of dreams. Its latest, greatest, works are those
sepulchres of Michelangelo, whose pinnacle enthrones strange ghosts of
warriors, and whose steep sides are the unquiet couch of divinities
hewn, you would say, out of darkness and the light that is as darkness.



Every time, of late years, of my being once more in Rome, I have been
subject to a peculiar mental obsession: retracing my steps, if not
materially, in fancy at least, to such parts of the city as bear witness
to the strange meeting of centuries, where the Middle Ages have altered
to their purposes, or filled with their significance, the ruined remains
of Antiquity.

Such places are scarcer than one might have expected, and for that
reason perhaps more impressive, more fragmentary and enigmatic. There
are the colossal columns--great trickles and flakes of black etching as
with acid their marble--of the temple of Mars Ultor, with that Tuscan
palace of Torre della Milizia rising from among them. There is, inside
Ara Coeli--itself commemorating the legend of Augustus and the Sibyl--the
tomb of Dominus Pandulphus Sabelli, its borrowed vine-garlands and satyrs
and Cupids surmounted by mosaic crosses and Gothic inscriptions; and
outside the same church, on a ground of green and gold, a Mother of God
looking down from among gurgoyles and escutcheons on to the marble
river-god of the yard of the Capitol below. Then also, where pines and
laurels still root in the unrifled tombs, the skeleton feudal fortress,
gutted as by an earthquake, alongside of the tower of Cæcilia Metella.
These were the places to which my thoughts were for ever recurring; to
them, and to nameless other spots, the street-corner, for instance,
where an Ionic pillar, with beaded and full-horned capital, is walled
into the side of an insignificant modern house. I know not whether, in
consequence of this straining to see the meeting-point of Antiquity and
the Middle Ages (like the fancy, sometimes experienced, to reach the
confluence of rivers), or rather as a cause thereof, but a certain story
has long lurked in the corners of my mind. Twenty years have passed since
first I was aware of its presence, and it has undergone many changes. It
is presumably a piece of my inventing, for I have neither read it nor
heard it related. But by this time it has acquired a certain traditional
veracity in my eyes, and I give to the reader rather as historical fact
than as fiction the study which I have always called to myself: _Pictor


Domenico, the son of Luca Neroni, painter, sculptor, goldsmith, and
engraver, about whom, owing either to the scarcity of his works or
the scandal of his end, Vasari has but a few words in another man's
biography, must have been born shortly before or shortly after the year
1450, a contemporary of Perugino, of Ghirlandaio, of Filippino Lippi,
and of Signorelli, by all of whom he was influenced at various moments,
and whom he influenced by turns.

He was born and bred in the Etruscan town of Volterra, of a family which
for generations had exercised the art of the goldsmith, stimulated,
perhaps, by the sight of ornaments discovered in Etruscan tombs, and
carrying on, peradventure, some of the Etruscan traditions of two
thousand years before. The mountain city, situate on the verge of the
malarious seaboard of Southern Tuscany, is reached from one side through
windings of barren valleys, where the dried-up brooks are fringed,
instead of reed, with the grey, sand-loving tamarisk; and from the other
side, across a high-lying moorland of stunted heather and sere grass,
whence the larks rise up scared by only a flock of sheep or a mare and
her foal, and you journey for miles without meeting a house or a clump
of cypresses. In front, with the white road zigzagging along their
crests, is a wilderness of barren, livid hillocks, separated by huge
fissures and crevassed by huge cracks, with here and there separate
rocks, projecting like Druidic stones from the valley of gaping ravines;
and beyond them all a higher mountain, among whose rocks and ilexes you
doubtfully distinguish the walls and towers of the Etruscan city. A mass
of Cyclopean wall and great black houses, grim with stone brackets and
iron hooks and stanchions, all for defence and barricade, Volterra looks
down into the deep valleys, like the vague heraldic animal, black and
bristly, which peers from the high tower of the municipal palace. One
wonders how this could ever have been a city of the fat, voluptuous
Etruscans, whose images lie propped up and wide-eyed on their stone
coffin-lids. The long wars of old Italic times, in which Etruria fell
before Rome, must have burned and destroyed, as one would think, the
land as well as the inhabitants, leaving but grey cinders and blackened
stone behind. Siena and Florence ruined Volterra once more in the Middle
Ages, isolating it near the pestilential Maremma and checking its growth
outward and inward. The cathedral, the pride of a mediæval commonwealth,
is still a mean and unfinished building of the twelfth century. There
is no native art, of any importance, of a later period; what the town
possesses has come from other parts, the altar-pieces by Matteo di
Giovanni and Signorelli, for instance, and the marble candelabra,
carried by angels, of the school of Mino da Fiesole.

In this remote and stagnant town, the artistic training of Domenico
Neroni was necessarily imperfect and limited throughout his boyhood
to the paternal goldsmith's craft. Indeed, it seems likely that some
peculiarities of his subsequent life as an artist, his laboriousness
disproportionate to all results, his persistent harping on unimportant
detail, and his exclusive interest in line and curve, were due not
merely to an unhappy and laborious temperament, but also to the long
habit of an art full of manual skill and cunning tradition, which
presented the eye with ingenious patterns, but rarely attempted, save in
a few church ornaments, more of the domain of sculpture, to tell a story
or express a feeling.

Besides this influence of his original trade, we find in Domenico
Neroni's work the influence of his early surroundings. His native
country is such as must delight, or help to form, a painter of pale
anatomies. The painters of Southern Tuscany loved as a background the
arid and mountainous country of their birth. Taddeo di Bartolo placed
the Death of the Virgin among the curious undulations of pale clay and
sandy marl that stretch to the southernmost gates of Siena; Signorelli
was amused and fascinated by the odd cliffs and overhanging crags,
unnatural and grotesque like some Druidic monument, of the valleys of
the Paglia and the Chiana; and Pier della Francesca has left, in the
allegorical triumphs of Frederick of Urbino and his duchess, studies
most exquisite and correct, of what meets the traveller's eyes on the
watersheds of the central Apennine, sharp-toothed lines of mountain
peaks pale against the sky, dim distant whiteness of sea, and valleys
and roads and torrents twisting intricately as on a map. The country
about Volterra, revealing itself with rosy lividness at dawn, with
delicate periwinkle blue at sunset, through an open city gate or a gap
between the tall black houses, helped to make Neroni a lover of muscle
and sinew, of the strength and suppleness of movement, of the osseous
structure divined within the limbs; and made him shrink all his life
long, not merely from drapery or costume that blunted the lines of the
body, but from any warmth and depth of colour; till the figures stood
out like ghosts, or people in faded tapestries, from the pale lilacs and
greys and washed out cinnamons of his backgrounds. For the bold peaks
and swelling mountains of the valleys of the Arno and the Tiber, and the
depths of colour among vegetation and rivers, seemed crude and emphatic
to a man who carried in his memory those bosses of hill, pearly where
the waters have washed the sides, pale golden buff where a little sere
grass covers the rounded top; those great cracks and chasms, with the
white road snaking along the narrow table-land and the wide valleys; and
the ripple of far-off mountain chains, strong and restrained in curves,
exquisite in tints, like the dry white and purpled hemlock, and the
dusty lilac scabius, which seem to flower alone in that arid and
melancholy and beautiful country.

"Colour," wrote Domenico Neroni, among a mass of notes on his art,
measurements, and calculations, "is the enemy of noble art. It is the
enemy of all precise and perfect form, since where colour exists form
can be seen only as juxtaposition of colour. For this reason it has
pleased the Creator to lend colour only to the inanimate world, as
to senseless vegetables and plants, and to the lower kinds of living
creatures, as birds, fishes, and reptiles; whereas nobler creatures, as
lions, tigers, horses, cattle, stags, and unicorns, are robed in white
or dull skins, the noblest breeds, indeed, both of horses, as those of
the Soldans of Egypt and Numidia, and of oxen, as those of the valleys
of the Clitumnus and Chiana, being white; whence, indeed, the poet Virgil
has said that such latter are fittest for sacrifice to the immortal
gods; 'hinc albi, Clitumne, greges,' and what follows. And man, the
masterpiece of creation, is white; and only in the less noble portions
of his body, which have no sensitiveness and no shape (being, indeed,
vegetative and deciduous), as hair and beard, partaking of colour.
Wherefore the ancient Romans and Greeks, portraying their gods, chose
white marble for material, and not gaudy porphyry or jasper, and
portrayed them naked. Whence certain moderns, calling themselves
painters, who muffle our Lord and the Holy Apostles in many-coloured
garments, thinking thereby to do a seemly and honourable thing, but
really proceeding basely like tailors, might take a lesson if they

The quotation from Virgil, and the allusion to the statues of the
immortal gods, shows that Neroni must have written these lines in
the later part of his career, when already under the influence of
that humanist Filarete, who played so important a part in his life,
and when possessed already by those notions which brought him to so
strange and fearful an end. But from his earliest years he sought
for form, despising other things. He passed with contempt through a six
months' apprenticeship at Perugia, railing at the great factory of
devotional art established there by Perugino, of whom, with his rows of
splay-footed saints and spindle-shanked heroes, he spoke with the same
sweeping contempt as later Michelangelo. At Siena, which he described
(much as its earlier artists painted it) as a town of pink toy-houses
and scarlet toy-towers, he found nothing to admire save the marble
fountain of Jacopo della Quercia, for the antique group of the Three
Graces, later to be drawn by the young Raphael, had not yet been given
to the cathedral by the nephew of Pius II. The sight of these noble
reliefs, particularly of the one representing Adam and Eve driven out of
Paradise, with their strong and well-understood nudities, determined him
to exchange painting for sculpture, and made him hasten to Florence to
see the works of Donatello and of Ghiberti.

Domenico Neroni must have spent several years of his life--between
1470 and 1480--in Florence, but little of his work has remained in that
city,--little, at least, that we can identify with certainty. For taking
service, as he did, with the Pollaiolos, Verrocchio, Nanni di Banco, and
even with Filippino and Botticelli, wherever his inquisitive mind could
learn, or his restless, fastidious, laborious talent gain him bread, it
is presumable that much of his work might be discovered alongside that
of his masters, in the collective productions of the various workshops.
It is possible thus that he had a hand in much metal and relief work
of the Pollaiolos, and perhaps even in the embroidering and tapestries
of which they were undertakers; also in certain ornaments, friezes of
Cupids and dolphins, and exquisite shell and acanthus carving of the
monuments of Santa Croce; and it may be surmised that he occasionally
assisted Botticelli in his perspective and anatomy, since that master
took him to Rome when commissioned to paint in the chapel of Pope
Sixtus. Indeed, in certain little-known studies for Botticelli's Birth
of Venus and Calumny of Apelles one may discover, in the strong sweep of
the outline, in the solid fashion in which the figures are planted on
their feet--all peculiarities which disappear in the painted pictures,
where grace of motion and exquisitive research take the place of solid
draughtsman-ship--the hand of the artist whom the restless desire to
confront ever new problems alone prevented from attaining a place among
the great men of his time.

For there was in Domenico Neroni, from the very outset of his career, a
curiosity after the hidden, a passion for the unattainable, which kept
him, with greater power than many of his contemporaries, and vastly
greater science, a mere student throughout his lifetime. He resembled
in some respects his great contemporary Leonardo, but while the eager
inquisitiveness of the latter was tempered by a singular power of
universal enjoyment, a love of luxury and joyousness in every form, the
intellectual activity of Neroni was exasperated into a kind of unhappy
mania by the fact that its satisfaction was the only happiness that he
could conceive. He would never have understood, or understanding would
have detested, the luxurious _dilettante_ spirit which made Leonardo
prefer painting to sculpture, because whereas the sculptor is covered
with a mud of marble dust, and works in a place disorderly with chips
and rubbish, the painter "sits at his easel, well dressed and at ease,
in a clean house adorned with pictures, his work accompanied by music
or the reading of delightful books, which, untroubled by the sound of
hammering and other noises, may be listened to with very great pleasure."
The workshop of Neroni, when he had one of his own, was full of cobwebs
and dust, littered with the remains of frugal and unsavoury meals,
and resolutely closed to the rich and noble persons in whose company
Leonardo delighted. And if Neroni, in his many-sided activity, eventually
put aside sculpture for painting, it was merely because, as he was wont
to say, a figure must needs look real when it is solid and you can
walk round it; but to make men and women rise out of a flat canvas or
plastered wall, and stand and move as if alive, is truly the work of a

Men and women, said Neroni; and he should have added men and women nude.
For the studies which he made of the anatomy of horses and dogs were
destined merely to shed light on the construction of human creatures;
and his elaborate and exquisite drawings of undulating hills and sinuous
rivers, nay, of growths of myrtle and clumps of daffodils, were intended
as practice towards drawing the more subtle lines and curves of man's
body. And as to clothes, he could not understand that great anatomists
like Signorelli should huddle their figures quite willingly in immense
cloaks and gowns; still less how exquisite draughtsmen like his friend
Botticelli (who had the sense of line like no other man since Frate
Lippo, although his people were oddly out of joint) could take pleasure
in putting half-a-dozen veils atop of each other, and then tying them
all into bunches and bunches with innumerable bits of tape! As to himself,
he invariably worked out every detail of the nude, in the vain hope that
the priests and monks for whom he worked would allow at least half of
those beautiful anatomies to remain visible; and when, with infinite
difficulties and bad language, he gradually gave in to the necessity of
some sort of raiment, it was of such a nature--the hose and jerkins of
the men-at-arms like a second skin, the draperies of the womankind as
clinging as if they had been picked out of the river, that a great many
pious people absolutely declined to pay the agreed on sum for paintings
more suited to Pagan than to Christian countries; and indeed Fra Girolamo
Savonarola included much work of Domenico's in his very finest burnings.

Such familiarity with nude form was not easily attained in the fifteenth
century. Mediæval civilisation gave no opportunities for seeing naked
or half-naked people moving freely as in the antique palæstra; and
there had yet been discovered too few antique marbles for the empiric
knowledge of ancient sculptors to be empirically inherited by modern
ones. Observation of the hired model, utterly insufficient in itself,
required to be supplemented by a thorough science of the body's
mechanism. But physiology and surgery were still in their infancy;
and artists could not, as they could after the teachings of Vesalius,
Fallopius, and Cesalpinus, avail themselves of the science accumulated
for medical purposes. Verrocchio and the Pollaiolos most certainly, and
Donatello almost without a doubt, practised dissection as a part of
their business, as Michelangelo, with the advantage of twenty years of
their researches behind him, practised it passionately in his turn. Of
all the men of his day, Domenico Neroni, however, was the most fervent
anatomist. He ran every risk of contagion and of punishment in order
to procure corpses from the hospital and the gibbet. He undermined his
constitution by breathing and handling corruption, and when his friends
implored him to spare his health, he would answer, although unable to
touch food for sickness, by paraphrasing the famous words of Paolo
Uccello, and exclaiming from among his grisly and abominable properties,
"Ah! how sweet a thing is not anatomy!"

There was nothing, he said--for he spoke willingly to any one who
questioned him on these subjects--more beautiful than the manner in
which human beings are built, or indeed living creatures of any kind;
for, in the scarcity of corpses and skeletons, he would pick up on his
walks the bones of sheep that had died on the hill-sides, or those of
horses and mules furbished up by the scavenger dogs of the river-edge.
It was marvellous to listen to him when he was in the vein. He sat
handling horrible remains and talking about them like a lover about his
mistress or a preacher about God; indeed, bones, muscles, and tendons
were mistress and god all in one to this fanatical lover of human form.
He would insist on the loveliness of line of the scapula, finding in the
sweep of the _acromion_ ridge a fanciful resemblance to the pinion, and
in the angular shape of the _coracoid_ process to the neck and head of a
raven in full flight. Following with his finger the triangular outline
of the bone, he went on to explain how its freedom of movement is due to
its singular independence; laid loosely on the flat muscles behind the
upper ribs, it moves with absolute freedom, backwards and forwards, up
and down, unconnected with any other bone, till, turning the corner of
the shoulder, it is hinged rather than tied to the collar-bone; the
collar-bone itself free to move upwards from its articulation in the
sternum. And then talk of the great works of man! Talk of Brunellesco
and his cupola, of the engineers of the Duke of Calabria! Look at the
human arm: what engineer would have dared to fasten anything to such a
movable base as that? Yet an arm can swing round like a windmill, and
lift weights like the stoutest crane without being wrenched out of
its sockets, because the muscles act as pulleys in four different
directions. And see, under the big _deltoid_, which fits round the
shoulder like an epaulette and pulls the arm up, is the scapular
group, things like tidily sorted skeins, thick on the shoulder-blades,
diminished to a tendon string at their insertion in the arm; their
business is to pull the arm back, in opposition to the big pectoral
muscle which pulls it forwards. Here you have your arm working up,
backwards or forwards; but how about pulling it down? An exquisite
little arrangement settles that. Instead of being inserted with the rest
on the outside of the arm-bone, the lowest muscle takes another road,
and is inserted in the under part of the bone, in company with the great
_latissimus dorsi_, and these tightening while the _deltoid_ slackens,
pull the arm down. No other arrangement could have done it with so little
bulk; and an additional muscle on the under-arm or the ribs would have
spoilt the figure of Apollo himself.

Among the paintings of contemporary artists, the one which at that time
afforded Domenico the most unmingled satisfaction was Pollaiolo's tiny
panel of Hercules and the Hydra. There! You might cover it with the palm
of your hand; but in that hand you would be holding the concentrated
strength and valour of the world, the true son of Jove, the most beautiful
muscles that ever were seen! At least the most beautiful save in the
statues of Donatello; for, of course, Donato was the greatest craftsman
that had ever lived; and Domenico spoke of him as, in Vasari's day, men
were to speak of Michelangelo.

For I ask you, who save an angel in human shape could have modelled that
David, so young and triumphant and modest, treading on Goliath's head,
with toes just slightly turned downwards, and those sandals, of truly
divine workmanship? And that St. John in the Wilderness--how beautiful
are not his ribs, showing under the wasted pectoral muscles; and how one
sees that the _radius_ rolls across the _ulna_ in the forearm; surely
one's heart, rather than the statue, must be made of stone if one can
contemplate without rapture the exquisite rendering of the texture where
the shin-bone stands out from the muscles of the leg. Such must have
been the works of those famous Romans and Greeks, Phidias and Praxiteles.

Such were the notions of Domenico of Volterra in the earlier part of his
career. For a change came gradually upon him after his first visit to
Rome, whither, about 1480, he accompanied Botticelli, Rosselli, and
Ghirlandaio, whom His Beatitude Pope Sixtus had sent for to decorate the
new chapel of the palace.


We must not be deluded, like Domenico Neroni during his Florentine days,
into the easy mistake of considering mere realism as the veritable aim
of the art of his days. Deep in the life of that art, and struggling
for ever through whatever passion for scientific accuracy, technical
skill, or pathetic expression, is the sense of line and proportion, the
desire for pattern, growing steadily till its triumph under Michelangelo
and Raphael.

This reveals itself earliest in architecture. The men of the fifteenth
century had lost all sense of the logic of construction. Columns,
architraves, friezes, and the various categories of actual stone
and brick work, occurred to them merely as so much line and curve,
applicable to the surface of their buildings, with not more reference
to their architecture than a fresco or an arras. The Pazzi Chapel, for
instance, is one agglomeration of architectural members which perform
no architectural function; but, taken as a piece of surface decoration,
say as a stencilling, what could be more harmonious? Or take Alberti's
famous church at Rimini; it is but a great piece of architectural
veneering, nothing that meets the eye doing any real constructive duty,
its exquisite decoration no more closely connected with the building
than the strips of damask and yards of gold braid used in other places
on holidays. As the fifteenth century treats the architectural detail
of Græco-Roman art, so likewise does it proceed with its sculptured
ornament; all meaning vanishes before the absorbing interest in pattern.
For there is in antique architectural ornament a much larger proportion
of significance than can strike us at first. Thus the garlands of ivy
and fruit had actually hung round the tomb before being carved on its
sides; before ornamenting its corners the rams' heads and skulls of oxen
had lain for centuries on the altar. The medallions of nymphs, centaurs,
tritons, which to us are so meaningless and irrelevant, had a reference
either to the divinity or to the worshippers; and there is probably
almost as much spontaneous symbolism in the little cinerary box in the
Capitol (of a person called Felix), with its variously employed genii,
making music, carrying lanterns and torches, burning or extinguished
under a trellis hung with tragic masks, as in any Gothic tomb with
angels drawing the curtains of the deathbed. There has been, with the
change of religion, an interruption in the symbolic tradition; yet,
though we no longer interpret with readiness this dead language of
paganism, we feel, if we are the least attentive, that it contains
a real meaning. We feel that the sculptors cared not merely for the
representation, but also for the object represented. These things were
dear to them, a part of their life, their worship, their love; and they
put as much observation into their work as any Gothic sculptor, and
often as much fancy and humour (though both more beautiful), as one may
judge, with plenty of comparison at hand, by a certain antique altar in
Siena Cathedral, none of whose Gothic animals come up to the wonderful
half-human rams' heads and bored, cross griffins of this forlorn fragment
of paganism. The significance of classic ornament the men of the
fifteenth century straightway overlooked. They laid hold of it as
merely so much form, joining sirens, griffins, garlands, rams' heads,
victories, without a suspicion that they might mean or suggest anything.
They do, in fact, mean nothing, in most Florentine work, besides
exquisite pattern; in the less subtle atmosphere of Venice they reach
that frank senselessness which has moved the wrath of Ruskin. But what a
charm have not even those foolish monuments of doges and admirals, tier
upon tier of triumphal arch, of delicately flowered column and scalloped
niche, and then rows of dainty warriors and virtues; how full of meaning
to the eye and spirit is not this art so meaningless to the literary

Of course the painting of that age never became an art of mere pattern
like the architecture. The whole life and thought of the time was poured
into it; and the art itself developed in its upward movement a number
of scientific interests--perspective, anatomy, expression--which
counteracted that tendency to seek for mere beauty of arrangement and
detail. Yet the perfection of Renaissance art never lies in any realism
in our modern sense, still less in such suggestiveness as belongs to our
literary age; and its triumph is when Raphael can vary and co-ordinate
the greatest number of heads, of hands, feet, and groups, as in the
School of Athens, the Parnassus, the marvellous little Bible histories
of the Loggie; above all, in that "Vision of Ezekiel," which is the very
triumph of compact and harmonious composition; when Michelangelo can
tie human beings into the finest knots, twist them into the most shapely
brackets, frameworks, and key-stones. Even throughout the period of
utmost realism, while art was struggling with absorbing problems, men
never dreamed of such realism as ours. They never painted a corner of
nature at random, merely for the sake of veracity; they never modelled
a modern man or woman in their real everyday dress and at their real
everyday business. In the midst of everything composition ruled supreme,
and each object must needs find its echo, be worked into a scheme of
lines, or, with the Venetians, of symmetrically arranged colours. There
is an anatomical engraving by Antonio Pollaiolo, one of the strongest
realists of his time, which sums up the tendencies of fifteenth-century
art. It is a combat of twelve naked men, extraordinarily hideous and
in hideous attitudes, but they are so arranged that their ungainly and
flayed-looking limbs form with the background of gigantic ivy tendrils
an intricate and beautiful pattern, such as we find in Morris's paper
and stuffs.

This hankering after pattern, this desire for beauty as such, became
manifest in Domenico Neroni after his first sojourn in Rome.

The Roman basilicas, with their stately rows of columns, Corinthian and
Ionic, taken from some former temple, and their sunken floor, solemn
with Byzantine patterns of porphyry and serpentine, had impressed with
their simplicity and harmony the mind of this Florentine, surrounded
hitherto by the intricacies of Gothic buildings. They had formed the
link to those fragments of ancient architecture, more intact but also
more hidden than in our days, whose dignity of proportion and grace of
detail--vast rosetted arches and slender rows of fluted pillars--our
modern and Hellenicised taste has treated with too ready contempt. For
this Vitruvian art, unoriginal and bungling in the eyes of our purists,
was yet full of the serenity, the ampleness which the Middle Ages lacked,
and affected the men of the fifteenth century much like a passage of
Virgil after a canto of Dante. It formed the fit setting for those
remains of antique sculpture which were then gradually beginning to be
drawn from the earth. Of such statues and reliefs--which the men of
the Renaissance regarded as the work rather of ancient Rome than of
Greece--a certain amount was beginning to be carried all over Italy, and
notably to the houses of the rich Florentine merchants, who incrusted
their staircase walls with inscriptions and carvings, and set statues
and sarcophagi under the columns of their courtyards. But such sculpture
was chosen rather for its portable character than its excellence; and
although single busts and slabs were diligently studied by Florentine
artists, there could not have existed in Florence a number of antiques
sufficient to impress the ideal of ancient art upon men surrounded on
all sides by the works of medieval painters and sculptors.

To the various sights of Rome must be due that sudden enlarging of
style, that kind of new classicism, which distinguishes the work of
fifteenth-century masters after their visit to the Eternal City, enabling
Ghirlandaio, Signorelli, Perugino, and Botticelli to make the Sixtine
Chapel, and even the finical Pinturicchio, the Vatican library, into
centres of fresh influence for harmony and beauty.

The result upon Domenico Neroni was a momentary confusion in all his
artistic conceptions. Too much of a seeker for new things, for secret
and complicated knowledge, to undergo a mere widening of style like his
more gifted or more placid contemporaries, he fell foul of his previous
work and his previous masters, without finding a new line or new ideals.
The frescoes of Castagno, the little panels of the Pollaiolos, nay, even
the works of Donatello, were no longer what they had seemed before his
Roman journey, and even what he had remembered them in Rome; for it is
with more noble things, even as with the rooms which we inhabit, which
strike us as small and dingy only on returning from larger and better
lighted ones.

It is to this period of incipient but ill-understood classicism that
belongs the only work of Domenico Neroni--at least the only work still
extant nowadays--which possesses, over and above its artistic or
scientific merit, that indefinable quality which we must simply call
_charm_; to this time, with the one exception of the famous woodcuts
done for Filarete. Domenico began about this time, and probably under
the stress of necessity, to make frontispieces for the books with which
Florentine printers were rapidly superseding the manuscripts of twenty
years before: collections of sermons, of sonnets, lives of saints,
editions of Virgil and Terence, quaint versified encyclopædias, and even
books on medicine and astrology. From these little woodcuts, groups of
saints round the Cross, with Giotto's tower and Brunellesco's dome in
the distance, pictures of Fathers of the Church or ancient poets seated
at desks in neatly panelled closets--always with their globes, books,
and pot of lilies, and a vista of cloisters; or battles between chaste
viragos, in flying Botticellian draperies, and slim, naked Cupids; from
such frontispieces Domenico passed on to larger woodcuts, destined to
illustrate books never printed, or perhaps, like the so-called _playing
cards of Mantegna_ and certain prints of Robetta, to be bought as cheap
ornaments for walls. Some of those that remain to us have a classical
stiffness, reminding one of the Paduan school; others, and these his
best, remind one of the work of Botticelli. There is, for instance, the
figure of a Muse, elaborately modelled under her ample drapery, seated
cross-legged by a playing fountain, on a carpet of exquisitely designed
ground-ivy, a little bare trellis behind her, a tortoise lyre in her
hand; which has in it somewhat of that odd, vague, questioning character,
half of eagerness, half of extreme lassitude, which we find in
Botticelli. Only that in Neroni's work it seems not the outcome of a
certain dreamy spiritual dissatisfaction--the dissatisfaction which
makes us feel that Botticelli's flower-wreathed nymphs may end in the
pool under the willows like Ophelia--but rather of a torturing of line
and attitude in search of grace. Grace! Unclutchable phantom, which
had appeared tantalisingly in Neroni's recollections of the antique, a
something ineffable, which he could not even see clearly when it was
there before him, accustomed as he had been to all the hideousness of
anatomised reality. In these woodcuts he seems hunting it for ever; and
there is one of them which is peculiarly significant, of a nymph in
elaborately wound robes and veils, striding, with an odd, mad, uncertain
swing, through fields of stiff grass and stunted rushes, a baby faun in
her bosom, another tiny goat-legged creature led by the hand, while
she carries uncomfortably, in addition to this load, a silly trophy of
wild-flowers tied to a stick; the personification almost, this lady with
the wide eyes and crazy smile, of the artist's foolishly and charmingly
burdened journey in quest of the unattainable. The imaginative quality,
never intended or felt by the painter himself, here depends on his
embodying longings after the calm and stalwart goddesses on sarcophagus
and vase, in the very thing he most seeks to avoid, a creature borrowed
from a Botticelli allegory, or one of the sibyls of the unspeakable
Perugino himself! The circumstances of this quest, and the accidental
meeting in it of the antique and the mediæval, the straining, the
Quixote-riding or Three-King pilgrimaging after a phantom, gives to
such work of Domenico's that indefinable quality of _charm_; the man
does not indeed become a poet, but in a measure a subject for poetry.


In order to understand what must have passed in the mind of one of those
Florentines of the fifteenth century, we must realise the fact that,
unlike ourselves, they had not been brought up under the influence of
the antique, and, unlike the ancients, they had not lived in intimacy
with Nature. The followers of Giotto had studied little beyond the head
and hands, and as much of the body as could be guessed at under drapery
or understood from movement; and this achievement, with no artistic
traditions save those of the basest Byzantine decay, was far greater
than we easily appreciate. It remained for the men of the fifteenth
century, Donatello, Ghiberti, Masaccio, and their illustrious followers,
to become familiar with the human body. To do so is easy for every one
in our day, when we are born, so to speak, with an unconscious habit
of antique form, diffused not merely by ancient works of art in marble
or plaster, but by more recent schools of art, painting as well as
sculpture, themselves the outcome of classical imitation. The early
Italian Renaissance had little or none of these facilitations. Fragments
of Greek and Roman sculpture were still comparatively uncommon before
the great excavations of the sixteenth century; nor was it possible for
men so unfamiliar, not merely with the antique, but with Nature itself,
to profit very rapidly by the knowledge and taste stored up even in
those fragments. It was necessary to learn from reality to appreciate
the antique, however much the knowledge of the antique might later
supplement, and almost supplant, the study of reality. So these men of
the fifteenth century had to teach themselves, in the first instance,
the very elements of this knowledge. And here their position, while
yet so unlike ours, was even more utterly unlike that of the ancients
themselves. The great art of Greece undoubtedly had its days of
ignorance; but for those ancient painters and sculptors, who for
generations had watched naked lads exercising in the school or
racecourse, and draped, half-naked men and women walking in the
streets and working in the fields, their ignorance was of the means
of representation, not of the object represented. It is the hand, the
tool which is at fault in those constrained, simpering warriors of the
schools of Ægina, in those slim-waisted dæmonic dancers of the Apulian
vases; the eye is as familiar with the human body, the mind as accustomed
to select its beauty from its ugliness, as the eye and mind of such of us
as cannot paint are familiar nowadays with the shapes and colours, with
the charm of the trees and meadows that we love. The contemporaries, on
the contrary, of Donatello had received from the sculptors of the very
farthest Middle Ages, those who carved the magnificent patterns of
Byzantine coffins and the exquisite leafage of Longobard churches, a
remarkable mastery over the technical part of their craft. The hand
was cunning, but the eye unfamiliar. Hence it comes that the sculpture
of the earlier Renaissance displays perfection of workmanship, which
occasionally blinds us to its poverty of form, and even to its
deficiency of science. And hence also the rapidity with which every
additional item of knowledge is put into practice that seems to argue
perfect familiarity. But these men were not really familiar with their
work. The dullest modern student, brought up among casts and manuals,
would not be guilty of the actual anatomical mistakes committed every
now and then by these great anatomists, so passionately curious of
internal structure, so exquisitely faithful to minute peculiarity, let
alone the bunglings of men so certain of their pencil, so exquisitely
keen to form, as Botticelli. As a matter of fact, every statue or drawn
figure of this period represents a hard fight with ignorance and with
unfamiliarity worse than ignorance. The grosser the failure hard-by, the
more splendid the real achievement. For every limb modelled truthfully
from the life, every gesture rendered correctly, every bone or muscle
making itself felt under the skin, every crease or lump in the surface,
is so much conquered from the unknown.

So long as this study, or rather this ignorance, continued, the antique
could be appreciated only very partially, and almost exclusively in the
points in which it differed least from the works of these modern men.
It must have struck them by its unerring science, its great truthfulness
to nature, but its superior beauty could not have appealed to artists
too unfamiliar with form to think of selecting it.

The study of antique proportion, the reproduction of antique types, so
visible in the sculptures of Michelangelo, of Cellini, and of Sansovino,
and no less in the painting of Raphael, of Andrea, and even of the later
Venetians, was very unimportant in the school of Donatello; and it is
probable that he and his pupils did not even perceive the difference
between their own works and the old marbles, which they studied merely
as so many realistic documents.

During his Florentine days Domenico Neroni, like his masters, was
unconscious of the real superiority of the antique, and blind to its
difference from what his contemporaries and himself were striving to
produce. He did not perceive that the David of Donatello and that of
Verrocchio were unlike the marble gods and heroes with whom he would
complacently compare them, nor that the bas-reliefs of the divine
Ghiberti were far more closely connected with the Gothic work of
Orcagna, even of the Pisans, than with those sculptured sarcophagi
collected by Cosimo and Piero dei Medici. It was only when his insatiate
curiosity had exhausted those problems of anatomy which had still
troubled his teachers that he was able to see what the antique really
was, or rather to see that the modern was not the same thing. Ghirlandaio,
Filippino, Signorelli, and Botticelli undoubtedly were affected by
a similar intuition of the Antique; but they were diverted from its
thorough investigation by the manifold other problems of painting as
distinguished from sculpture, and by the vagueness, the unconsciousness
of great creative activity: the antique became one of the influences
in their development, helping very quietly to enlarge and refine their

It was different with Domenico, in whom the man of science was much more
powerful than the artist. His nature required definite decisions and
distinct formulas. It took him some time to understand that the school
of Donatello differed absolutely from the antique, but the difference
once felt, it appeared to him with extraordinary clearness.

He never put his thoughts into words, and probably never admitted even
to himself that the works he had most admired were lacking in beauty;
he merely asserted that the statues of the old Romans and Greeks were
astonishingly beautiful. In reality, however, he was perpetually
comparing the two, and always to the disadvantage of the moderns. It is
possible in our day to judge justly the comparative merits of antique
sculpture and of that of the early Renaissance; or rather to appreciate
them as two separate sorts of art, delightful in quite different ways,
letting ourselves be charmed not more by the actual beauty of form,
and nobility of movement of the one than by the simplicity, the very
homeliness, the essentially human quality of the other. To us there
is something delightful in the very fact that the Davids of Donatello
and Verrocchio are mere ordinary striplings from the street and the
workshop, that the singers of Luca della Robbia are simple unfledged
choir-boys, and the Virgins of Mino Florentine fine ladies; we have
enough of antique perfection, we have had too much of pseudo-antique
faultlessness, and we feel refreshed by this unconsciousness of beauty
and ugliness. A contemporary could not enter into such feelings, he
could not enjoy his own and his fellows' _naïveté_; besides, the antique
was only just becoming manifest, and therefore triumphant. To Domenico,
Donatello's David became more and more unsatisfactory, faulty above the
waist, positively ungainly below, weak and lubberly; how could so divine
an artist have been satisfied with that flat back, those narrow shoulders
and thick thighs? He felt freer to dislike the work of Verrocchio, his
own teacher, and a man without Donatello's overwhelming genius; that
David of his, with his immense head and wizen face, his pitiful child's
arms and projecting clavicles, straddling with hand on hip; was it
possible that a great hero, the slayer of a giant (Domenico's notions
of giants were taken rather from the romances of chivalry recited in
the market than from study of Scripture) should have been made like
that? And so, like his great contemporary Mantegna in far-off Lombardy,
Domenico turned that eager curiosity with which he had previously sought
for the secret of flayed limbs and fleshless skeletons, to studying the
mystery of proportion and beauty which was hidden, more subtly and
hopelessly, in the broken marbles of the Pagans.

It happened one day, somewhere about the year 1485, that he was called
to examine a group of Bacchus and a Faun, recently brought from Naples
by the banker Neri Altoviti, of the family which once owned a charming
house, recently destroyed, whose triple row of pillared balconies used
to put an odd Florentine note into the Papal Rome, turning the swirl of
the Tiber opposite Saint Angelo's into a reach of the Arno. The houses
of the Altovitis in Florence were in that portion of the town most
favoured by the fifteenth century, already a little way from the market:
the lion on the tower of the Podestà, and the Badia steeple printing the
sky close by; while not far off was the shop where the good bookseller
Vespasiano received orders for manuscripts, and conversed with the
humanists whose lives he was to write. The Albizis and Pandolfinis,
illustrious and numerous families, struck in so many of their members by
the vindictiveness of the Medicis, had their houses in the same quarter,
and at the corner of the narrow street hung the carved escutcheon--two
fishes rampant--of the Pazzis: their house shut up and avoided by the
citizens, who had so recently seen the conspirators dangling in hood and
cape from the windows of the public palace. The house of the Altovitis
was occupied on the ground floor by great warehouses, whose narrow,
grated windows were attainable only by a steep flight of steps. The
court was surrounded on three sides by a cloister or portico, which
repeated itself on the first and second floors, with the difference that
the lowest arches were supported by rude square pillars, ornamented
with only a carved marigold, while the uppermost weighed on stout oaken
shafts, between which ropes were stretched for the drying of linen; and
the middle colonnade consisted of charming Tuscan columns, where Sirens
and Cupids and heraldic devices replaced the acanthus or rams' horns of
the capitals. It was to this middle portion of the house that Domenico
ascended up a noble steep-stepped staircase, protected from the rain
by a vaulted and rosetted roof, for it was external and occupied the
side of the yard left free from cloisters. The great banker had bidden
Domenico to his midday meal, which was served with a frugality now fast
disappearing, but once habitual even among the richest Florentines. But
though the food was simple and almost scanty, nearly forty persons sat
down to meat together, for Neri Altoviti held to the old plan, commended
by Alberti in his dialogue on the governing of a household, that the
clerks and principal servants of a merchant were best chosen among his
own kinsfolk, living under his roof, and learning obedience from the
example of his children. Despite this frugality, the dining-room was,
though bare, magnificent. There were none of those carpets and Eastern
stuffs which surprised strangers from the North in the voluptuous little
palaces of contemporary Venetians, and the benches were hard and narrow.
But the ceiling overhead was magnificently arranged in carved compartments,
great gold sunflowers and cherubs projecting from a dark blue ground
among the brown raftering; in the middle of the stencilled wall was one
of those high sideboards so frequently shown in old paintings, covered
with gold and silver dishes and platters embossed by the most skilful
craftsmen; and at one end a great washing trough and fountain, such as
still exist in sacristies, ornamented with groups of dancing children
by Benedetto da Maiano; while behind the high seat of the father of
the family a great group of saints, emerging from blooming lilies and
surrounded by a glory of angels, was hanging in a frame divided into
carved compartments: the work, panel and frame, of the late Brother
Filippo Lippi. At one end of the board sat all the men, arranged
hierarchically, from the father in his black loose robe to lads in short
plaited tunic and striped hose; the womankind were seated together, and
the daughters, even the mother of the house, modest and almost nunlike
in apparel and head-dress, would rise and help to wait on the men, with
that silent and grave courtesy which, according to Vespasiano, had
disappeared from Florence with Alessandra dei Bardi. There was little
speech, and only in undertones; a Franciscan said a long grace, and
afterwards, and in the middle of the meal, a young student, educated by
the frequent munificence of the Altovitis, read out loud a chapter of
Cicero's "De Senectute;" for Neri, although a busy banker, with but
little time for study, was not behind his generation in the love of
letters and philosophy.

After meat Messer Neri dismissed the rest of the company to their various
avocations; the ladies silently retired to superintend the ironing and
mending of the house linen, and Domenico was escorted by his host to see
the newly arrived piece of statuary. It had been placed already in the
banker's closet, where he could feast his eyes on its perfection while
attending to his business or improving his mind by study. This closet,
compared to the rest of the house, was small and low-roofed. At its
end, as we see in the pictures of Van Eyck and Memling, opened out the
conjugal chamber, reflecting its vast, red-covered bed, raised several
steps, its crucifix and praying-stool, and its latticed window in a
circular mirror framed in cut facets, which hung opposite on the wall of
the closet. The latter was dark, a single trefoiled window admitting on
either side of its column and through its greenish bottle-glass but
little light from the narrow street. The chief furniture consisted of
shelves carrying books, small antique bronzes, some globes, a sand-glass,
and panel cupboards, ornamented with pictures of similar objects, and
with ingenious perspectives of inlaid wood. An elaborate iron safe,
painted blue and studded with beautiful metal roses, stood in a corner.
There were two or three arm chairs of carved oak for visitors. The
master sat upon a bench behind an oaken counter or desk, very much like
St. Jerome in his study. On the wall behind, and above his head, hung a
precious Flemish painting (Flemish paintings were esteemed for their
superior devoutness) representing the Virgin at the foot of the Cross,
with a Nativity and a Circumcision on either of the opened shutters. It
made a glowing patch of vivid geranium and wine colour, of warm yellow
glazing on the oak of the wall. On the counter or writing-table stood a
majolica pot with three lilies in it, a pile of manuscript and ledgers,
and a human skull alongside of a crucifix, beautifully wrought of bronze
by Desiderio da Settignano. A Latin translation of Plato's "Phædo" was
spread open on the desk, together with one of the earliest printed
copies of the "Divine Comedy."

Messer Neri did not take his seat at the counter, but, after a pause,
and with some solemnity, drew a curtain of dark brocade which had been
spread across one end of the closet, and displayed his new purchase.

"I have it from the king, for the settling of a debt of a thousand
crowns contracted with my father, when he was Duke of Calabria," said
the banker, with due appreciation of the sum. "'Tis said they found it
among the ruins of that famous palace of the Emperor Tiberius of which
Tacitus has told us."

The two marble figures, to which time and a long sojourn underground
had given a brownish yellow colour, reddish in places with rust stains,
stood out against a background of Flemish tapestry, whose emaciated
heads of kings and thin bodies of warrior saints made a confused pattern
on the general dusky blue and green. The group was in wonderful
preservation: the figure of Bacchus intact, that of the young faun
lacking only the arm, which had evidently been freely extended.

It exists in many repetitions and variations in most of our museums; a
work originally of the school of Praxiteles, but in none of the copies
handed to us of excellence sufficient to display the hand of the
original sculptor. Besides, we have been spoilt by familiarity with an
older and more powerful school, by knowledge of a few great masterpieces,
for complete appreciation of such a work. But it was different four
hundred years ago; and Domenico Neroni stood long and entranced before
the group. The principal figure embodied all those beauties which he had
been striving so hard to understand: it was, in the most triumphant
manner, the absolute reverse of the figures of Donatello.

The young god was represented walking with leisurely but vigorous step,
supporting himself upon the shoulder of the little satyr as the vine
supports itself, with tendrils trailed about branches and trunk, on the
propping tree from which the child Ampelos took his name. Like the head
with its elaborately dressed curls, the beautiful body had an ampleness
and tenderness that gave an impression almost womanly till you noticed
the cuirass-like sit of the chest on the loins, and the compressed
strength of the long light thighs. The creature, as you looked at him,
seemed to reveal more and more, beneath the roundness and fairness of
surface, the elasticity and strength of an athlete in training. But when
the eye was not exploring the delicate, hard, and yet supple depressions
and swellings of the muscles, the slender shapeliness of the long legs
and springy feet, the back bulging with strong muscles above, and going
in, tight, with a magnificent dip at the waist; all impressions were
merged in a sense of ease, of suavity, of full-blown harmony. Here was
no pomp of anatomical lore, of cunning handicraft, but the life seemed
to circulate strong and gentle in this exquisite effortless body. And
the creature was not merely alive with a life more harmonious than
that of living men or carved marbles, but beautiful, equally in simple
outline if you chose that, and in subtle detail when that came under
your notice, with a beauty that seemed to multiply itself, existing in
all manners, as it can only in things that have life, in perfect flowers
and fruits, or high-bred Oriental horses. Of such things did the
under-strata of consciousness consist in Neroni--vague impressions
of certain bunches of grapes with their great rounded leaves hanging
against the blue sky, of the flame-like tapered petals of wild tulips in
the fields, of the golden brown flanks of certain horses, and the broad
white foreheads of the Umbrian bullocks; forming as it were a background
for the perception of this god, for no man or woman had ever been like
unto him.

Domenico remained silent, his arms folded on his breast; it was not a
case for talking.

But the young man who had read Cicero aloud at table had come up behind
him, and thought it more seemly to praise his patron's new toy, while
at the same time displaying his learning; so he cleared his throat, and
said in a pompous manner:--

"It is stated in the fifth chapter of the Geography of Strabo that the
painter Parrhasius, having been summoned by the inhabitants of Lindos to
make them an image of their tutelary hero Hercules, obtained from the
son of Jupiter that he should appear to him in a dream, and thus enable
him worthily to portray the perfections of a demigod. Might we not be
tempted to believe that the divine son of Semele had vouchsafed a
similar boon to the happy sculptor of this marble?"

But Domenico only bit his thumb and sighed very heavily.


To the men of those days, which have taken their name from the revival
of classical studies, Antiquity, although studied and aped till its
phrases, feelings, and thoughts had entered familiarly into all life,
remained, nevertheless, a period of permanent miracle. It was natural,
therefore, to the contemporaries of Poggius and Æneas Sylvius, of
Ficinus and Politian, that the art of the Romans and Greeks should, like
their poetry, philosophy, and even their virtues, be of transcendent and
unqualified splendour. Why it should be thus they asked as little as why
the sun shines, mediæval men as they really were, and accepting quite
simply certain phenomena as the result of inscrutable virtues. Even later,
when Machiavelli began to examine why the ancients had been more valorous
and patriotic than his contemporaries, nay, when Montaigne expounded
with sceptical cynicism the superior sanity and wisdom of Pagan days,
people were satisfied to think--when they thought at all--that antique
art was excellent because it belonged to antiquity. And it was not till
the middle of the eighteenth century that the genius of Winkelmann brought
into fruitful contact the study of ancient works of art, and that of the
manners and notions of antiquity, showing the influence of a civilisation
which cultivated bodily beauty as an almost divine quality, and making
us see behind that beautiful nation of marble the generations of living
athletes, among whom the sculptor had found his critics and his models.

To a man like Domenico Neroni, devoid of classical learning and
accustomed to struggling with anatomy and perspective, the problem of
ancient art was not settled by the fact of its antiquity. He had gone
once more to Rome on purpose to see as many old marbles as possible,
and he brought to their study the feverish curiosity with which in
former years he had flayed and cut up corpses and spent his nights in
calculations of perspective. To such a mind, where modern scientific
methods were arising among mediæval habits of allegory and mysticism,
the statues and reliefs which he was perpetually analysing became a sort
of subsidiary nature, whose riddles might be read by other means than
mere investigation; for do not the forces of Nature, its elemental
spirits, give obedience to wonderful words and potent combinations of

Certain significant facts had flashed across his mind in his studies
of that almost abstract, nay, almost cabalistic thing, the science of
bodily proportions. It was plain that the mystery of antique beauty--the
ancient symmetry, _symmetria prisca_ as a humanist designs it in his
epitaph for Leonardo da Vinci--was but a matter of numbers. For a man's
length, if he stand with outstretched arms, is the same from finger tip
to finger tip as his length when erect from head to feet, namely, eight
times the length of his head. Now eight heads, if divided into halves,
give four as the measure of throat and thorax; and four heads to the
length of the leg from the acetabulum to the heel, divided themselves
into two heads going to the thigh and two heads to the shank; while in
the cross measurement two heads equal the breadth of the chest, and
three measure the length from the shoulder to the middle finger. These
measures--a mere rough rule of thumb in our eyes--contained to this
mediæval mind the promise of some great mystery. To him, accustomed to
hear all the occurrences of Nature, and all human concerns referred to
astrological calculations, and conceiving the universe as governed by
spirits--in shape, perhaps, like the Primum Mobile, the Mercurius and
Jupiter of Mantegna's playing cards, crowned with stars and poised upon
globes--it was as if the divining rod were turning pertinaciously to one
spot in the earth, where, had he but the necessary tools, he must strike
upon veins of the purest gold, or cause water to spirt high in the air.
This number _eight_, and the pertinacity of its recurrence, puzzled him
intensely. It seemed to point so clearly, much as in music the sensitive
seventh points to the tonic, to a sort of resolution on the number nine.
And if only nine could be established, it would seem to explain so
much.... For five being man's numeral in creation (and is not the
measurement of his face also _five eyes_?), it makes, when added to
four, the number of the material elements over which he dominates,
_nine_, which would thus represent the supremacy or perfection of man.
Man's power of reproduction being represented by three, its multiple
nine would be still more obviously important. How to turn this eight
into nine became Domenico's study, and he took measurement after
measurement for this purpose. At length he remembered that man's body
is a unity, therefore represented by the number one, and that will,
judgment, and supremacy are also comprised in the unit. Now one and
eight make nine beyond all possibility of doubt, and the formula--"man's
body is a unity--or one"--composed of harmonies of eight, would give
the formula _nine_ meaning _man's supremacy is expressed in his body_.
The importance of working round to this famous nine will be clear when
we reflect that, according to the Kabbala and the lost sacred book of
Hermes Trismegistus--the Pimandra, doubtless, which he is represented,
on the floor of Siena Cathedral, as offering to a Jew and a Gentile--nine
represents the sun and all beautiful bright things that draw their
influence from it, as the gleam of beaten gold, the rustle of silken
stuffs, the smell of the flower heliotrope, and all such men as
delineate human beings with colours, or make their effigy in stone or
metal; moreover, Phoebus Apollo, whom the poets describe as the most
beautiful of the gods, as indeed he is represented in all statues and

Domenico would often discuss these matters with a learned man who
greatly frequented his company. This was the humanist Niccolò Feo, known
as Filarete. Filarete was a native of Southern Apulia, a bastard of the
house of the Counts of Sulmona, who, in order to prevent any plots
against the legitimate branch, had handsomely provided for him in an
abbey of which they enjoyed the patronage. But his restless spirit
drove him from the cloister, and impelled him to long and adventurous
journeys. He had travelled in India and the East, and in Greece,
returning to Italy only when Constantinople fell before the Turks.
During these years he had acquired immense learning, considerable
wealth, and a vaguely sinister reputation. He had been persecuted by
Paul II. for taking part in the famous banquets, savouring oddly of
Paganism, of Pomponius Lætus; but the late Pontiff Sixtus IV. had taken
him into his favour together with Platina, one of his fellow-sufferers
in the castle of Saint Angelo. He was now old, and, after a life of
study, adventure, and possibly of sin, was living in affluence in a
house given him by the illustrious Cardinal at St. Peter ad Vincula, who
had also obtained him a canonry of St. John Lateran. He was busying his
last year in a great work of fancy and erudition, for which he required
the assistance of a skilful draughtsman and connoisseur of antiquities,
than whom none could suit him so well as Domenico Neroni.

The book of Filarete, of which the rare copies are among the most
precious relics of the Renaissance, was a strange mixture of romance,
allegory, and encyclopædic knowledge, such as had been common in the
Middle Ages, and was still fashionable during the revival of letters,
which merely added the element of classical learning. Like the
_Hypnerotomachia Poliphili_ of Francesco Colonna, of which it was
doubtless the prototype, the _Alcandros_ of Filarete, though never
carried beyond the first volume, is an amazing and wearisome display of
the author's archæological learning. It contains exact descriptions of
all the rarities of ancient art, and of things Oriental which he had
seen, and pages of transcripts from obscure Latin and Greek authors,
descriptive of religious ceremonies; varied with Platonic philosophy,
Decameronian obscenities, in laboured pseudo-Florentine style, and
Dantesque visions, all held together by the confused narrative of an
allegorical journey performed by the author. It is profusely ornamented
with woodcuts, representing architectural designs of a fantastic, rather
Oriental description, restorations of ancient buildings, reproductions
of antique inscriptions and designs, and last, but far from least, a
certain number of small compositions, of Mantegnesque quality, but
Botticellian charm, showing the various adventures of the hero in
terrible woods, delicious gardens, and in the company of nymphs, demigods,
and allegorical personages. These latter are undoubtedly from the hand
of Domenico Neroni; and it was while discussing these delightful damsels
seated with lutes and psalteries under vine-trellises, these scholars
in cap and gown, weeping in quaint chambers with canopied beds and
carnations growing on the window, these processions--suggesting
Mantegna's Triumph of Julius Cæsar--of priests and priestesses with
victories and trophies, that the painter from Volterra and the Apulian
humanist would discuss the secret of antique beauty--discuss it for
hours, surrounded by the precious manuscripts and inscriptions, the
fragments of sculpture, the Eastern rarities, of Filarete's little house
on the Quirinal hill, or among the box-hedges, clipped cypresses, and
fountains of his garden; while the riots and massacres, the fanatical
processions and feudal wars, of mediæval Rome raged unnoticed below. For
Pope Sixtus and his Riarios, and Pope Innocent and his Cybos, thirsting
for power and gold, drunken with lust and bloodshed, were benign and
courteous patrons of all art and all learning.


But that number nine, attained with so much difficulty, although it put
the human proportion into visible connection with the sun, with beaten
gold, the smell of the heliotrope, and the god Apollo, and opened a vista
of complicated astral influences, did not in reality bring Domenico one
step nearer the object of his desires. It had enabled those ancient men
to make statues that were perfectly beautiful, that was obvious; but it
did not make his own figures one tittle less hideous, for he felt them
now to be absolutely hideous. One wintry day, as he was roaming amongst
the fallen pillars and arches, thickly covered with myrtle and ilex, of
the desolate region beyond what had once been the Forum and was now the
cattle-market, there came across Domenico's mind, while he watched a
snake twisting in the grass, the remembrance of a certain anecdote about
a Greek painter, to whom Hercules had shown himself in a vision. He had
heard it, without taking any notice, two years before, from the young
scholar who read Cicero at table for Messer Neri Altoviti; and although
he had thought of it several times, it had never struck him except as
one of the usual impudent displays of learning of the parasitic tribe
of humanists.

But at this moment the remembrance of this fact came as a great light
into Domenico's soul. For what were these statues save the idols of the
heathens; and what wonder they should be divinely beautiful, when those
who made them might see the gods in visions?

This explanation, which to us must sound far-fetched and fantastic,
knowing, as we do, the real reason that made a people of athletes into a
people of sculptors, savoured of no strangeness to a man of the Middle
Ages. Visions of superhuman creatures were among the most undisputed
articles of his belief, and among the commonest subjects of his art. Had
not the Blessed Virgin appeared to St. Bernard, the Saviour among His
cherubim to St. Francis--the very stones shown at La Vernia where it
had happened--the Divine Bridegroom to Catherine of Siena? Had not St.
Anthony of Padua held the Divine Child in his arms? And all not so long
ago? Besides, every year there was some nun or monk claiming to have
conversed with Christ and His court; and the heavens were opening quite
frequently in the walls of cells and the clefts of hermitages. And did
not Dante relate a journey into Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise? It was
perfectly natural that what was constantly happening to holy men and
women nowadays should have happened in Pagan times also; and what men
could so well have deserved a visit from gods as those who spent their
lives faithfully portraying them? The story of Parrhasius and his vision
was familiar ground to a man accustomed to see, in all corners of Italy,
portraits of the Saviour painted by St. Luke, or finished, like the
famous Holy Face of Lucca, by angels. For an absolute contempt for the
artistic value of such miraculous images did not, in the mind of Neroni,
throw any doubt on their authenticity; in the same way that the passion
for antiquity, the hankering after Pagan beliefs, did not probably
interfere with the orthodoxy of so many of the humanists. Domenico,
besides, remembered that Virgil and Ovid, whom he had not read, but
whose fables he had sometimes been asked to illustrate, were constantly
talking of visions of gods and goddesses, nay, of their descending upon
earth to unite themselves with mortals in love or friendship, for he had
had to furnish designs for woodcuts representing Diana and Endymion,
Jupiter and Ganymede, the gods coming to Philemon and Baucis, and Apollo
tending the herds of Admetus. Neither did it occur to Domenico's mind
that the existence of the old gods might be a mere invention, or a mere
delusion of the heathen. For all their classic culture, the men of
the fifteenth century, as the men of the thirteenth for all their
scholasticism, were in an intellectual condition such as we rarely
meet with nowadays among educated persons; and Domenico, a mere
handicraftsman, had not learned from the study of Cicero and Plato to
examine and understand the difference between reality and fiction.
To him a scene which was frequently painted, an adventure which was
written down and could be read, was necessarily a reality. Dante had
spoken of the gods, and what Dante said was evidently true, the
allegorical meaning, the metaphor, entirely escaping this simple mind;
and Virgil, Homer, Ovid told the most minute details about gods and
goddesses, and they themselves were grave and learned men. Domenico did
not even think that the ancient gods were dead. Of course heaven was now
occupied by Christ and His saints, those heavenly hosts of whom he would
think, when he thought of them at all, as seated stepwise on a great
stand, blue and pink and green in dress, golden discs about their heads,
and an atmosphere of fretted gold, of swirling stencilled golden angels'
wings all round them, and God the Father, a great triangle blazing with
Alpha and Omega, above Jesus enthroned, and His mother; and it was they
who ruled things here, and to them he said his prayers night and
morning, and knelt in church. But _here_, somehow did not cover the
whole universe, nor did that pink and blue and gold miniature painter's
heaven extend everywhere, although, of course, somehow or other it did.
Anyhow, it was certain that not so very far off there were Saracens
and Turks--why he had seen some of the Duke of Calabria's Turkish
garrison--who believed in Macomet, Trevigant, and Apollinis; these to be
sure were false gods (the word _false_ carried no clear meaning to his
mind, or if any, one rather equivalent to _wrong, objectionable_ rather
than to non-existent), but they certainly worked wonderful miracles for
their people. And indeed--here Domenico's placid contemplation of the
kingdom of Macomet, Trevigant, and Apollinis was exchanged for a vague
horror, shot with gleams of curiosity--the devil also had his place in
the world, a place much nearer and universal, and did marvellous things,
pointing out treasures, teaching the future, lending invulnerable
strength to the men and women who worshipped him, of whom some might
be pointed out to you in every town--yes, grave and respectable men,
priests and monks among them, and even Cardinals of Holy Church, as
every one knew quite well.... So that, in a confused manner, rather
negative than positive, Domenico considered that the Pagan gods must
be somewhere or other, the past and present not very clearly separated
in his mind, or rather the past existing in a peculiar simultaneous
manner with the present, as a sort of St. Brandan's isle, in distant,
unattainable seas; or as Dante's mountain of Purgatory, a very solid
mountain indeed, yet which, for some mysterious and unquestioned reason,
people never stumbled upon except after death. All this was scarcely an
actual series of arguments; it was rather the arguments which, with much
effort, Domenico might have fished out of his obscure consciousness
had you summoned him to explain how the ancient gods could possibly
be immortal. As to him, he had always heard of them as immortal, and
although he had not been taught any respect or love for them as for
Christ, the Madonna, and the saints, they must be existing somewhere
since _immortal_ means that which cannot die.

But now he began to feel a certain shyness about immortal gods, for they
had begun to occupy his thoughts, and it was with much cunning that he
put questions to his friend Filarete, desirous to gain information on
certain points without actually seeming to ask it. The humanist, summoned
to explain what the Fathers of the Church--those worthies crowned with
mitres and offering rolls of manuscript, whom Domenico had occasionally
to portray for his customers--said about the ancient gods, answered with
much glibness but considerable contempt, for the Greek and Latin of
these saintly philosophers inspired the learned man with a feeling of
nausea. He got out of a chest several volumes covered with dust, and
began to quote the "Apology" of Justin Martyr, the "Legation" of
Athenagoras, the "Apology" of Tertullian and Lactantius, whose very name
caused him to writhe with philological loathing. And he told Domenico
that it was the opinion of these holy but ill-educated persons that
dæmons assumed the name and attributes of Jupiter, of Venus, of Apollo
and Bacchus, lurking in temples, instituting festivals and sacrifices,
and were often allowed by Heaven to distract the faithful by a display
of miracles.

"Then they are devils?" asked Domenico, trying to follow.

A smile passed over the beautifully cut mouth, the noble, wrinkled
face--like that of the marble Seneca--of the old humanist.

"Talk of devils to the barefoot friar who preaches in the midst of the
market-place," he said, "not to Filarete. The whole world, air, fire,
earth, water, the entire universe is governed by dæmons, and they
inspire our noblest thoughts. Hast never heard of the familiar dæmon
of Socrates, whispering to him superhuman wisdom? Yes, indeed, Venus,
Apollo, Æsculapius, Jove, the stars and planets, the winds and tides are
dæmons. But thou canst not understand such matters, my poor Domenico.
So get thee to Brother Baldassare of Palermo, and ask him questions."

But Filarete's expression was very different when, one day, Domenico
shyly inquired concerning the truth of that story of Parrhasius and
the Hercules of Lindos. Strange rumours were current in Rome of unholy
festivities in which Filarete and other learned men--some of those
whom Paul II. had thrown into prison--had once taken part. They had
not merely laid their tables and spread their couches according to
descriptions contained in ancient authors; but, crowned with roses,
laurel, myrtle, or parsley, had sung hymns to the heathen gods, and, it
was whispered, poured out libations and burned incense in their honour.
Their friends, indeed, had answered scornfully that these were but
amusements of learned men; not to be taken more seriously than the
invocations to the gods and muses in their poems, than the mythological
subjects which the Popes themselves selected to adorn their dwellings.
And doubtless this explanation was correct. Yet the pleasure of these
little pedantic and artistic mummeries, which took place in suburban
gardens, while the townsfolk streamed in the hot June nights, decked
with bunches of cloves and of lavender, to make bonfires in the empty
places near the Lateran, little guessing that their ancestors had
once done the same in honour of the neighbouring Venus--the innocent
childishness of these learned men was perhaps spiced, for some
individuals at least, by a momentary belief in the gods of the old
poets, by a sudden forbidden fervour for the exiled divinities of Virgil
and Ovid, under whose reign the world had been young, men had been free
to love and think, and Rome, now the object of the world's horror and
contempt, had been the world's triumphant mistress. But these had been
mere mummeries, mere child's play, and the soul of Filarete had thirsted
for a reality. He could not have answered had you asked whether he
believed in the absolute existence and power of the old gods, any more
than whether he disbelieved in the power of Christ and His avenging
angels; his cultivated and sceptical mind was, after all, in a state of
disorder similar to that of Domenico's ignorance. All that he knew with
certainty was that Christ and His worship represented to him all that
was unnatural, cruel, foolish, and hypocritical; while the gods were
associated with every thought of liberty, of beauty, and of glory. And
so, one evening, after working up still further the enthusiasm, the
passionate desire of his friend, he told Domenico that, if he chose, he
too perhaps might see a god.

In his antiquarian rambles Filarete had discovered, a mile or two
outside the southern gates of Rome, a subterranean chamber, richly
adorned with stuccoes--known nowadays as the tomb of certain members of
the Flavian family, but which, thanks to the defective knowledge of his
day and the habit of seeing people buried in churches, the humanist had
mistaken for a temple--intact, and scarcely desecrated, of the Eleusinian
Bacchus. Above its vaults, barely indicated by a higher mound in the
waving ground of the pasture land, had once stood a Christian church, as
ancient almost as the supposed temple below, whose Byzantine columns lay
half hidden by the high grass, and the walls of whose apse had become
overgrown by ivy and weeds, the nest of lazy snakes. The Gothic soldiers,
Arians or heathens, who had burned down, in some drunken bout, the
little church above-ground, had penetrated at the same time into the
tomb beneath in search of treasure, and finding none, dispersed the
bones in the sarcophagi they had opened. They had left open the aperture
leading downward, which had been matted over by a thick growth of ivy
and wild clematis. One day, while surveying the remains of the Christian
church, always in hopes of discovering in it a former temple of the
Pagans, Filarete had walked into that tuft of solid green, and found
himself, buried and half stunned, in the mouth of the tomb below. It
was through this that he bade Domenico follow him, bearing a certain
mysterious package in his cloak, one January day of the year fourteen
hundred and eighty-eight.

Above-ground it had frozen in the night; here below, when they had
descended the rugged sepulchral stairs, the air had a damp warmth, an
odd feel of inhabitation. Above-ground, also, everything lay in ruins,
while here all was intact. As the light of the torches moved slowly
along the vaulted and stuccoed ceilings, it showed the delicate lines
of a profusion of little reliefs and ornaments, fresh as if cast and
coloured yesterday. Slender garlands of leaves, and long knotted ribbons
and veils in lowest relief partitioned the space; and framed by them, now
round, now oval, now oblong, were medallions of naked gods banqueting
and playing games, of satyrs and nymphs dancing, nereids swinging on
the backs of hippocamps, tritons curling their tails and blowing their
horns, Cupids fluttering among griffins and chimæras; a life of laughter
and love, which mocked the eye, starting into vividness in one place,
dying away in a mere film where the torchlight pressed on too closely
in others. All along the walls, below the line of the stuccoes, were
excavated shelves, on which stood numbers of small cinerary boxes, each
bearing a name. In the middle of the vaulted chamber was a huge stone
coffin, carved with revelling Bacchantes, and grim tragic masks at its
corners; and all round the coffin, broken in one of its flanks by the
tools of the treasure-seeker, lay bones and skulls, dispersed on the
damp ground even as the Goths had left them.

It was this sarcophagus which, with its Dionysiac revels, and the name
of one Dionysius carved on it, a freedman of the Flavians, had led
Filarete to consider the tomb as a kind of temple consecrated to

Filarete bade Domenico stick the pointed end of his torch into the mouth
of an amphora standing erect in a corner, and began to unpack the load
they had brought on a mule. It looked like the preparation for a feast:
there were loaves of bread, fruit, a flask of choice wine; and Domenico,
for a moment, thought the old man mad. But his feelings changed when
Filarete produced a set of silver lamps, and bade him trim and light
them, placing them on the ledges alongside of the cinerary urns; and
when he lit some strange incense and filled the place with its smoke.
Despite the many descriptions of ancient sacrifices with which the
humanist had entertained him, Domenico had brought a vague notion of a
raising of devils, and felt relieved at the absence of brimstone fumes,
and of the magic books that accompanied them.

Although more passionately longing--he knew not, he dared not tell
himself for what--Domenico did not come with the curious exaltation of
spirits of his companion, all whose antiquarian lore had gone to his
head, and who really imagined himself to be a genuine Pagan engaged in
Pagan rites. For Filarete the ceremony was everything; for Domenico it
was merely a means, a sort of sacrilegious juggling, into which he had
not inquired more particularly, which was to give him the object of his
wishes at the price of great peril to his soul. But when the subterranean
chamber was filled with a cloud of incense, through which, in the dim
yellow light of the lamp, the naked gods and goddesses on the vault, the
satyrs and nymphs, the Tritons and Bacchantes seemed to float in and out
of sight, a feeling of awe, of an unknown kind of reverence and rapture,
began to fill his soul, and his eyes became fixed on the lid of the
carved sarcophagus--vague images of Christian resurrections mingling
with his hopes--Would the god appear?

Filarete, meanwhile, had enveloped his head in a long linen veil,
and, after washing his hands thrice in a golden basin brought for the
purpose, he placed some faggots on the sarcophagus, lit them, and
throwing grains of incense and of salt alternately into the flames,
began to chant in an unknown tongue, which Domenico guessed to be Greek.
Then beckoning to the painter, who was kneeling, as at church, in a
corner, he bade him unpack a basket matted over with leaves, whose
movements and sounds had puzzled Domenico as he carried it down. In
great surprise, and with a vague sense of he knew not what, he handed
its contents to Filarete. It was a miserable little lamb, newly born,
its long, soft legs tied together, its almost sightless, pale eyes
half-started from its sockets. As the humanist took it, it bleated with
sudden shrill strength, and Domenico could not help thinking of certain
images he had seen on monastery walls of the Good Shepherd carrying the
lame lamb on his shoulders. This was very different. For, with an odd
ferocity, Filarete placed the miserable young creature on the stone
before the fire, and slit its throat and chest with a long knife.

The god did not appear. They extinguished the lamps, left the carcase
of the lamb half charred in a pool of blood on the stone, and slowly
reascended into the daylight, leaving behind them, in the vaulted
chamber, a stifling fume of incense, of burnt flesh, and mingled damp.

Up above, among the ruins of the Christian church, where they had left
their mules, it was cold and sunny, and the light seemed curiously blue,
almost grey and dusty, after the yellow illumination below. Before them,
interrupted here and there by a mass of ruined masonry, or a few arches
of aqueduct, waved the grey-green, billowy plain, where the wind, which
rolled the great winter cloud-balls overhead, danced and sang with the
tall, dry hemlocks and sere white thistles, shining and rattling like
skeletons. And on to it seemed to descend cloud-mountains, vague
blueness and darkness--cloud or hill, you could not tell which--out of
whose flank, ever and anon, a sunbeam conjured up a visionary white
resplendent city.

The short winter day was beginning to draw in when they approached
silently the city walls, solemn with their towers and gates, endless
as it seemed, and enclosing, one felt vaguely, an endless, distant,
invisible city.

The sound of its bells came as from afar to meet the sacrilegious men.


The culminating sacrilege was yet to come. The place that witnessed it
remains unchanged--a half-deserted church among the silent grass-grown
lanes, the crumbling convent walls, and ill-tended vineyards of the
Aventine; a hill that has retained in Christian times a look of its
sinister fame in Pagan ones. Among the cypresses, which seem to wander
up the hillside, rises the square belfry, among whose brickwork, flushed
in the sunset, are inlaid discs of porphyry torn from some temple
pavement, and plates of green majolica brought from the East, it is
said, by pilgrims or Crusaders. The arum-fringed lane widens before the
outer wall of the church, overtopped by its triangular gable. Behind
this wall is a yard or atrium, the pavement grass-grown, the walls
stained with great patches of mildew, and showing here and there in
their dilapidation the shaft and capital of a bricked-up Ionic pillar.
The place tells of centuries of neglect, of the gradual invasion of
resistless fever; and it was fitly chosen, some fifty years ago, for the
abode of a community of Trappists. In the reign of Innocent VIII. it
was still nominally in the hands of certain Cistercians; but the fever
had long driven these monks to the more wholesome end of the hill, where
they had erected a smaller church; and the convent had served for years
as a fortress of the turbulent family of the Capranicas, one of whose
members was always the nominal abbot, with the Cardinal's hat, and title
Jervase and Protasius. And now, at the end of the fifteenth century, a
Cardinal Ascanio Capranica, famous for his struggle in magnificence and
sinfulness with the magnificent and sinful young nephews of Pope Sixtus,
had determined to restore the fortified monastery, to combat the fever
by abundant plantations, and to make the church a monument of his
splendour. And, in order to secure some benefit by his own munificence,
he had begun by commissioning Domenico Neroni to design and execute
a sepulchre three storeys high, full of carvings, and covered with
statues, so that his soul, if sent untimely to heaven, might not be
dishonoured by the unworthy resting-place of its trusty companion, the
Cardinal's handsome and well-tended body.

This church of SS. Jervase and Protasius, which imitated, like most
churches of the early Christian period, the form of a basilica or court
of law, was constructed out of fragments of Pagan edifices, and occupied
the site of a Pagan edifice, whose columns had been employed to carry
the roof of the church, or, when of porphyry or serpentine, had been
sawed into discs for the pavement. On the slant of the hill, supporting
the apse, encircled by pillarets, is a round mass of masonry, overgrown
with ivy and ilex scrub, the remains of some antique bath or grotto;
and under the battlemented walls, the cloistered courts of the convent,
there stretches, it is said, a network of subterranean passages running
down to the Tiber. Four hundred years ago they were not to be discovered
if looked for, being completely hidden by the fallen masonry and the
cypress roots and growths of poisonous plants--nightshade, and hemlock,
and green-flowered hellebore; but wicked monks had sometimes been sucked
into them while digging the ground, or decoyed into their labyrinths by
devils. Was it possible that there had lingered on through the ages a
vague and horrified remembrance of those rites, the discovery of whose
mysterious and wide-spread abominations had frozen Rome with horror in
her most high and palmy days; and was there a connection between those
neophytes, wandering with blood-stained limbs and dishevelled locks
among the groves of the Aventine, then rushing to quench their burning
torches in the Tiber, two centuries before Christ, and the devils who
troubled the Benedictines of SS. Jervase and Protasius? These evil
spirits would appear, it had been said, in the cloisters of the convent,
processions carrying lights and garlands; and on certain nights, when
the monks were in prayer in their cells, strange sounds would issue
from the church itself, of flutes and timbrels, and demon laughter, and
demon voices chanting some unknown litany, and clearly aping the mass;
and Cardinal Capranica was blamed by many pious persons for his rash
intention of filling once more the deserted convent, and exposing holy
men to the wrath of such very pertinacious devils. Meanwhile mass upon
mass was said to clear the place of this demoniac infection. It was in
this church that the sacrilege of Domenico and Filarete rose to its
highest, and that an event took place which the men of the fifteenth
century could scarce find words to designate.

Domenico had grown tired of his friend's archæological impieties.
It gave him no satisfaction to pour out wine, burn incense, arrange
garlands, and even cut the throats of animals according to a correct
Pagan ritual. It was nothing to him that Horace and Ovid and Tibullus
should have done alike. He was a good Christian, never doubting for
a moment the power of the Blessed Virgin, the saints, and even the
smallest and meanest priest, nor the heat of hell-fire. But he wanted to
have the secret of antique proportions, and he was convinced that this
secret could be communicated only by a Pagan divinity, just as certain
theological mysteries, such as the use of the rosary, had been revealed
to the saints by Christ or the Virgin. The Pagan gods were devils, and
to hold communication with devils was mortal sin and sure damnation. But
lots of people communicated with devils for much more paltry motives, for
greed of gold or love of woman, and were yet saved by the intercession
of some heavenly patron, or found it worth while not to be saved at all.
Domenico, like them, put the question of salvation behind him. He might
think of that afterwards, when he had possessed himself of the proportion
of the ancients. At all events, at present he was willing to risk
everything in order to attain that. He was determined to see that god of
the heathens, not as he had seen him once in the house of Messer Neri
Altoviti, cut out of marble, but alive, moving, speaking; for _that_ was
the god.

The god was a devil. Now it is well known that there is a way of
compelling every devil to show himself, providing you use sufficiently
strong spells. They had sacrificed goats and lambs enough, also doves,
and had burned perfumes, and spilt wine sufficient for one of Cardinal
Riario's suppers. It was evidently not that sort of sacrifice which
would rejoice the god or compel him to show himself. For weeks and weeks
Domenico ruminated over the subject. And little by little the logical,
inevitable answer dawned upon his horrified but determined mind. For
what was the sacrifice which witches and warlocks notoriously offered
their Master?

The place could not be better chosen. This church was full, every one
knew, of demons, who were certainly none other than the gods of the
heathen, as Tertullian, Lactantius, Athenagoras, Justin Martyr, and all
those other holy doctors had written. It was deserted, its keys in the
hands of Cardinal Capranica's confidential architect and decorator; and
there were masses being said every holiday to scare the evil spirits.
The sacrament was frequently left on the altar.

All this Domenico expounded frequently to Filarete. But Filarete's
classic taste did not approve of Domenico's methods, which savoured of
vulgar witchcraft; perhaps also the learned man, who did not want the
secret of antique proportion, recoiled from a degree of profanity and of
danger, both to body and soul, which his companion willingly incurred in
such a quest as his. So Filarete demurred for a time, until at length
his feebler nature took fire at Domenico's determination, and the guilty
pair fixed upon the day and place for this unspeakable sacrilege.

The Church of SS. Jervase and Protasius has undergone no change since
the feast of Corpus Christi of the year 1488. The damp that lies in the
atrium outside, making the grass and poppies sprout round the Byzantine
pillar which carries a cross over a pine-cone, has invaded the flat-roofed
nave and the wide aisles, separated from it by a single colonnade. A
greenish mildew marks the fissures in the walls, rent here and there
by landslips and earthquakes. The cipolline columns carrying the round
arches on their square capitals are lustreless, and their green-veined
marble looks like long-buried wood. The mosaic pavement stretches its
discs and volutes of porphyry and serpentine or yellowed Parian marble,
a tarnished and uneven carpet, to the greenish-white marble steps of
the chancel. The mosaics have long fallen out of the circle of the apse;
and the frescoes, painted by some obscure follower of Giotto, have left
only a green vague stain over the arches of the aisle. Pictures or
statues there are none, and no conspicuous sepulchre. Only, over the low
entrance, a colossal wooden crucifix of the thirteenth century hangs at
an angle from the wall, a painted Christ, stretching his writhing livid
limbs in agony opposite the high altar. It was in this stately and
desolate church, under the misty light that pours in through the wide
windows of grey coarse glass, and on the marble altar, facing that
effigy of the dying Saviour, that, in derision as it were of the miracle
which the church commemorates on that feast-day, Domenico and Filarete
were about to offer up to the demons Apollo, Bacchus, and Jove the
freshly consecrated wafer, the very body and blood of Christ.

But an accomplice of theirs, a certain monk well versed in magic, whom
they employed in sundry details of devil-raising, on the score that they
were seeking treasure hidden in the church, had suddenly been seized
with qualms of conscience. Instead of appearing at the appointed time
alone, and bearing certain necessaries of his art, he kept them waiting
a full hour, until they began their proceedings without his assistance.
And even as Domenico was reaching his companion the ostensorium, which
had remained on the altar after the morning's mass, the church was
surrounded by the officers of the Podestà, on horseback, and by a crowd
of monks and priests, and rabble who had followed them. Of these persons,
not a few affirmed in after years, that, as they arrived at the church
door, they had heard sounds of flutes and timbrels, and mocking songs
filling the place; and that the devil, dressed in skins and garlands
like a wild man of the woods, had cleft the roof with his head, and
disappeared with many blasphemous yells as they entered.


In those last years of the fifteenth century, Rome was a city of the
Middle Ages. The cupola of the Pantheon, the circular hulk of the
Colosseum, and the twin columns of Trajan and Antoninus projected, like
the fantastic antiquities of some fresco of Benozzo Gozzoli, above
domeless church roofs, battlemented palace walls, and innumerable
Gothic belfries and feudal towers. In the theatre of Marcellus rose the
fortress of the Orsinis; against the tower whence Nero, as the legend
ran, had watched the city burning, were clustered the fortifications of
the Colonnas; and in every quarter the stern palaces of their respective
partisans frowned with their rough-hewn fronts, their holes for barricade
beams, and hooks for chains. The bridge of St. Angelo was covered with
the shops of armourers, as the old bridge of more peaceful Florence with
those of silversmiths. Walls and towers encircled the Leonine City where
the Pope sat unquietly in the big battlemented donjon by the Sixtine
Chapel; and in its midst was still old St. Peter's, half Lombard, half
Byzantine. In Rome there was no industry, no order, no safety. Through
its gates rushed raids of Colonnas and Orsinis, sold to or betrayed by
the Popes, from their castles of Umbria or the Campagna to their castles
in town; and their feuds meant battles also between the citizens who
obeyed or thwarted them. Houses were sacked and burnt, and occasionally
razed to the ground, for the ploughshare and the salt-sower to go over
their site. A few years later, when Pope Borgia dredged the Tiber for
the body of his son, the boatmen of Ripetta reported that so many
bodies were thrown over every night that they no longer heeded such
occurrences. And when, two centuries later, the Corsinis dug the
foundations of their house on the Longara, there were discovered
quantities of human bones in what had been the palace of Pope della
Rovere's nephew. Meanwhile Ghirlandaio and Perugino were painting the
walls of the Sixtine; Pinturicchio was designing the blue and gold
allegorical ceilings of the library; Bramante building the Chancellor's
palace, and the Pollaiolas and Mino da Fiesole carving the tombs in St.
Peter's, while learned men translated Plato and imitated Horace.

Of this Rome there remains nowadays nothing, or next to nothing.
Sometimes, indeed, looking up the green lichened sides of some mediæval
tower, with its hooks for chains, and its holes for beams, a vague vision
thereof rises in our mind. And in the presence of certain groups by
Signorelli, representing murderous scuffles or supernatural destruction,
we feel as if we had come in contact with the other reality of those
times, the thing which serene art and literature and the love of antiquity
have driven into the background. But the complete vision of the time and
place, the certain knowledge of that Rome of Sixtus IV. and Innocent
VIII., we can now no longer grasp, a dreadful phantom passing too
rapidly across the centuries.

It is with this feeling of impotence in my attempt to follow the
thoughts of an illiterate artist of the Renaissance, that I prefer
to conclude this strange story of the quest after antique beauty and
antique gods by quoting a page from one of the barbarous chroniclers
of mediæval Rome. The entry in the continuation of Infessura's diary
is headed "Pictor Sacrilegus":--

"On the 20th July of the year of salvation fourteen hundred and
eighty-eight, there were placed for three days in a cage on high in
the Campo dei Fiori, Messer Niccolò Filarete, Canon of Sancto Joanne;
also Domenico, the Volterran, painter and architect to the magnificent
Cardinal Ascanio, and Frate Garofalo of Valmontone, they having been
discovered in the act of desecrating the Church of SS. Jervase and
Protasius, and stealing for magic purposes the ostensorium and many gold
chalices and reliquaries with precious stones; and it was Frate Garofalo
who, being versed in witchcraft and treasure finding, was the accomplice
of the above, and denounced them on the feast of Corpus Domini. And the
twenty-third of the said month of July they were justiced, and in this
manner. _Videlicet_, Filarete and Domenico, having been removed from the
cage, were dragged on hurdles as far as the square of San Joanni, and
Frate Garofalo went on an ass, all of them crowned with paper mitres.
Frate Garofalo was hanged to the elm-tree of the square. Of Filarete and
Domenico, the right hand was chopped off, after which they were burned
in the said square. And their chopped off right hands were taken to the
Capitol and nailed up above the gate, alongside of the She-wolf of
metal. Laus Deo."



While gathering together the foregoing pages, written at different
periods and in different phases of thought, the knowledge has grown on
me that I was saying farewell to some of the ambitions and to most of
the plans of my youth.

All writers start with the hope of solving a problem or establishing a
formula, however fragmentary or humble; and many, the most fortunate,
and probably the most useful, continue to work out their program, or at
least to think that they do so. Life to them is but the framework for
work; and that is why they manage to leave a fair amount of work behind
them,--work for other workers to employ or to undo. But with some
persons, life somehow gets the better of work, becomes, whether in the
form of circumstance or of new problems, infinitely the stronger; and
scatters work, tossing about such fragments as itself, in its irregular,
irresistible fashion, has torn into insignificance, or (once in a blue
moon!) shaped into more complete meaning.

As regards my own case, I began by believing I should be an historian
and a philosopher, as most young people have done before me; then,
coming in contact with the concrete miseries of others, called social
and similar problems, I sought to apply some of my historical or
philosophic lore (such as it was) to their removal; and finally, life
having manifested itself as offering problems (unexpected occurrence!)
not merely concerning the Past, nor even the abstract Present, but
respecting my own comfort and discomfort, I have found myself at last
wondering in what manner thoughts and impressions could make the world,
the Past and Present, the near and the remote, more satisfying and
useful to myself. Circumstances of various kinds, and particularly
ill-health, have thus put me, although a writer, into the position of a
reader; and have made me ask myself, as I collected these fragments of
my former studies, what can the study of history, particularly of the
history of art and of other manifestations of past conditions of soul,
do for us in the present?

All knowledge is bound to be useful. Apart from this truism, I believe
that all study of past conditions and activities will eventually result,
if not in the better management of present conditions and activities (as
all partisan historians have hoped, from Machiavelli to Macaulay), at
all events in a greater familiarity with the various kinds of character
expressed in historical events and in the way of looking at them; for
even if we cannot learn to guide and employ such multifold forces as
make, for instance, a French revolution, we may learn to use for the
best the individual minds and temperaments of those who describe them:
a Carlyle, a Michelet, a Taine, are natural forces also, which may serve
or may damage us.

Moreover, I hold by the belief, expressed years ago, in my previous
volume of Renaissance studies, to wit, that historical reading (and in
historical I include the history of thoughts and feelings as much as of
events and persons) is a useful exercise for our sympathies, bringing us
wider and more wholesome notions of justice and charity. And I feel sure
that other uses for historical studies could be pointed out by other
persons, apart from the satisfaction they afford to those who pursue
them, which, considered merely as so much spiritual gymnastics, or
cricket, or football, or alpineering, is surely not to be despised.

But now, having dropped long since out of the ranks of those who study
in order to benefit others, or even to benefit only themselves, I would
say a few words about the advantage which mere readers, as distinguished
from writers, may get from familiarity with the Past.

This advantage is that they may find in the Past not merely a fine field
for solitary and useless delusions (though that also seems necessary),
but an additional world for real companionship and congenial activity.
Our individual activities and needs of this kind are innumerable, and of
infinite delicate variety; and there is reason to suppose that the place
in which our lot is cast does not necessarily fit them to perfection. For
things in this world are very roughly averaged; and although averaging
is a useful, rapid way of despatching business, it does undoubtedly
waste a great deal which is too good for wasting. Hence, it seems to me,
the need which many of us feel, which most of us would feel, if secured
of food and shelter, of spending a portion of their life of the spirit
in places and climates beyond that River Oceanus which bounds the land
of the living.

As I write these words, I am conscious that this will strike many
readers as the expression of a superfine and selfish dilettantism,
arising no doubt from morbid lack of sympathy with the world into which
Heaven has put us. What! become absentees from the poor, much troubled
Present; turn your backs to Realities, become idle strollers in the
Past? And why not, dear friends? why not recognise the need for a holiday?
why not admit, just because work has to be done and loads to be borne,
that we cannot grind and pant on without interruption? Nay, that the
bearing of the load, the grinding of the work, is useless save to diminish
the total grinding and panting on this earth. Moreover, I maintain
that we have but a narrow conception of life if we confine it to the
functions which are obviously practical, and a narrow conception of
reality if we exclude from it the Past. And not because the Past has
been, has actually existed outside some one, but because it may, and
often does, actually exist within ourselves. The things in our mind,
due to the mind's constitution and its relation with the universe, are,
after all, realities; and realities to count with, as much as the tables
and chairs, and hats and coats, and other things subject to gravitation
outside it. It would seem, indeed, as if the chief outcome of the
spiritualising philosophy which maintains the immaterial and independent
quality of mind had been to make mind, the contents of our consciousness,
ideas, images, and feelings, into something quite separate from this
real material universe, and hence unworthy of practical consideration.
But granted that mind is not a sort of independent and foreign entity,
we must admit that what exists in it has a place in reality, and
requires, like the rest of reality, to be dealt with. But to return to
my thesis: that we require occasionally to live in the Past (and I shall
go on to state that it may be a Past of our own making); Do we not
require to travel in foreign parts which know us not, to sojourn for
our welfare in cities where we can neither elect members nor exercise
professions, but whence we bring back, not merely wider views, but
sounder nerves, tempers more serene and elastic? Nor is this all. We
think poorly of a man or woman who, besides practical cases for self
or others, does not require to come in contact also with the tangible,
breathable, visible, audible universe for its own sake; require to
wander in fields and on moors, to steep in sunshine or be battered by
winds, for the sake of a certain specific emotion of participation
in, of closer union with, the universal. Now the Past--the joys and
sufferings of the men long dead, their efforts, ideals, emotions,
nay, their very sensations and temperaments as registered in words
or expressed in art, are but another side of the universe, of that
universal life, to participate ever deeper in which is the condition of
our strength and serenity, the imperious necessity of our ever giving,
ever taking soul.

And so, for our greater nobility and happiness, we require, all of us,
to live to some extent in the Past, as to live to some extent in what
we significantly call _nature_. We require, as we require mountain air
or sea scents, hayfields or wintry fallows, sun, storm, or rain, each
individual according to individual subtle affinities, certain emotions,
ideals, persons, or works of art from out of the Past. For one it will
be Socrates; for another St. Francis; for every one something somewhat
different, or at all events something differently conceived and
differently felt: some portion of the universe in time, as of the
universe in space, which answers in closest and most intimate way to
the complexion and habits of that individual soul.


The satisfaction which it can bring to every individual soul: this is,
therefore, one of the uses of the Past to the Present, and surely not
one of the smallest. It is, I venture to insist, the special, the
essential use of all art and all poetry; any additional knowledge
of Nature's proceedings, any additional discipline of thought and
observation which may accrue in the study of art as an historic or
psychological phenomenon being, after all, valuable eventually for
the amount of such mere satisfaction of the spirit as that additional
knowledge or additional discipline can conduce towards. Scientific
results are important for the maintenance of life, doubtless; but the
sense of satisfaction, whether simple or complex, high or low, is
the sign that the processes we call life are being fulfilled and not
thwarted; so, since satisfaction is no such contemptible thing, why not
allow art to furnish it unmixed?

I am sure to be misunderstood. I do not in the least mean to imply that
art can best be appreciated with the least trouble. The mere fact that
the pleasure of a faculty is proportioned to its activity negatives that;
and the fact that the richness, fulness, and hence also the durability,
of all artistic pleasure answers to the amount of our attention: the
mine, the ore, will yield, other things equal, according as we dig, and
wash, and smelt, and separate to the last possibility of separation what
we want from what we do not want.

The historic or psychological study of art does thus undoubtedly increase
our familiarity, and hence our enjoyment. The mere scientific inquiry
into the difference between originals and copies, into the connection
between master and pupil, makes us alive to the special qualities which
can delight us. As long as we looked in a manner so slovenly that a
spurious Botticelli could pass for a genuine one, we could evidently
never benefit by the special quality, the additional excellence of
Botticelli's own work. And similarly in the case of archæology. Indeed,
in the few cases where I have myself hazarded an hypothesis on some
point of artistic history, as, for instance, regarding the respective
origin of antique and mediæval sculpture, I am inclined to think that
the chief use (if any at all) of my work, will be to make my readers
more sensitive to the specific pleasure they may get from Praxiteles or
from Mino da Fiesole, than they could have been when the works of both
were so little understood as to be judged by one another's standards.

But to return. It seems as if at present the development, the contagion,
so to speak, of scientific methods applied to art were making people
forget a little that art, besides being, like everything else, the
passive object of scientific treatment, is (what most other things
are not) an active, positive, special factor of pleasure; and that,
therefore, save to special students, the greater, more efficacious form
of art should occupy an immensely larger share of attention than the
lesser and more inefficient. We are made, nowadays, to look at too much
mediocre art on the score of its historical value; we are kept too long
in contemplation of pictures and statues which cannot give much pleasure,
on the score that they led to or proceeded from other pictures or statues
which can.

As regards Greek sculpture, the insistance on archaic forms is becoming,
if I may express my own feelings, a perfect bore. Why should we be kept
in the kitchen tasting half-cooked stuff out of ladles, when most of
us have barely time to eat our fully cooked dinner, which we like
and thrive on, in peace? Similarly with such painters as are mainly
precursors. They are taking up too much of our attention; and one might
sometimes be tempted to think that the only use of great artists, like
the only functions of those patriarchs who kept begetting one another,
was to produce other great artists: Giotto to produce eventually Masaccio,
Masaccio through various generations Michelangelo and Raphael, and
Michelangelo and Raphael, through even more, Manet and Degas, who in
their turn doubtless dutifully.... Meanwhile why should art have gone
on evolving, artists gone on making _filiations of schools_, if art, if
artists, if schools of artists had not answered an imperious, undying
wish for the special pleasures which painting can give?

Therefore it seems to me that, desirable for all reasons as may be the
study of art, the knowledge of _filiations and influences_, it is still
more desirable that each of us should find out some painter whom he
can care for individually; and that all of us should find out certain
painters who can, almost infallibly, give immense pleasure to all of
us; painters who, had they been produced out of nothingness and been
followed by nobody, would yet stand in the most important relation in
which an artist can be: the relation of being beloved by the whole
world, or even by a few solitary individuals.

For this reason let not the mere reader, who comes to art not for work,
but for refreshment, let not the mere reader (I call him reader, to
note his passive, leisurely character) be vexed with too much study of
Florentine and Paduan _precursors_, but go straight to the masters, whom
those useful and dreary persons rendered possible by their grinding.
Our ancestors, or rather those cardinals and superb lords with whom we
have neither spiritual nor temporal relationship, who made the great
collections of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, placing statues
under delicate colonnades and green ilex hedges, and hanging pictures in
oak-panelled corridors and tapestried guard-rooms, were occasionally
mistaken in thinking that a Roman emperor much restored, or a chalky,
sprawling Guido Reni, could afford lasting æsthetic pleasure; but,
bating such errors, were they not nearer good sense than we moderns, who
arrange pictures and statues as we might minerals or herbs in a museum,
and who, for instance, insist that poor tired people, longing for a
little beauty, should carefully examine the works of Castagno, of
Rosselli, and of that artist, so interesting as a specimen of the
minimum of talent, Neri di Bicci? They were unscientific, those lords
and cardinals, and desperately pleasure-seeking; but surely, surely
they were more sensible than we.

Connected with this fact, and to be borne in mind by those not called
upon to elucidate art scientifically, is the further fact, which I have
analogically pointed out, when I said that every individual has in the
Past affinities, possibilities of spiritual satisfaction differing
somewhat from those of every other. It is well that we should try to
enlarge those possibilities; and we must never make up our mind that a
picture, statue, piece of music or poetry, says little to us until we
have listened to its say. But although we strive to make new friends,
let us waste no further time on such persons as we have vainly tried to
make friends of; and let each of us, in heaven's name, cherish to the
utmost his natural affinities. There are persons to whom, for instance,
Botticelli can never be what he truly is to some of their neighbours:
the very quality which gives such marvellous poignancy of pleasure to
certain temperaments causing almost discomfort to others; and similarly
about many other artists, representing very special conditions of being,
and appealing to special conditions in consequence. High Alpine air,
sea-water, Roman melting westerly winds, so vitalising, so soothing to
some folk, are mere worry, or fever, or lassitude to others, without its
being correct to say that one set of persons is healthy and the other
morbid: each being, in truth, healthy or morbid just in proportion as it
realises its necessities of existence, fitting equally into the universe
providing it be fitted each into the proper piece thereof.

On the other hand (and this, rather than _filiations of schools_ and
_influences_ of artistic _milieus_, it were well we should know), it
becomes daily more empirically certain, and will some day doubtless
become scientifically obvious, that there are works of art which
awaken such emotion that they can be delectable only to creatures with
instincts out of gear and perception upside down; while there are others,
infinitely more plentiful, which, in greater or lesser degree, must
delight all persons who are sane, as all such are delighted by fine
weather, normal exercise, and kindly sympathy; and, _vice versâ_, that
as these wholesome works of art merely bore or actually distress the
poor morbid exceptions, so the unwholesome ones sicken or harrow the
sound generality; the world of art, moreover, like every other world,
being best employed in keeping alive its sound, not its unsound,

Such works of art, such artists of widest wholesome appealingness, there
are in all periods of artistic development; more in certain fortunate
moments, say the Periklean age and the early sixteenth century, than
in others; and most perhaps in certain specially favoured regions--in
Attica during Antiquity, and during painting times, in the happy Venetian
country. These we all know of; but by the grace of Nature, which creates
men occasionally so fortunately balanced that their work, learned or
unlearned, must needs be fortunately balanced also, they arise sometimes
in the midst of mere artistic worry and vexation of spirit, or of artist
bleakness, perfect like the almond and peach trees, which blossom, white
and pink, on the frost-bitten green among the sapless vines of wintry
Tuscan hills; and to some natures, doubtless, these are more pleasant
and health-giving than more mature or mellow summer or autumnal
loveliness. But, as I have said, each must find his own closest
affinities in art and history as in friendship.


There are some more things, and more important, still to be said, from
the reader's standpoint rather than the writer's, about the influence on
our lives of the Past and of its art, and more particularly of the vague
period called the Renaissance.

When the Renaissance began to attract attention, some twenty or
twenty-five years ago, there happened among English historians and
writers on art, and among their readers, something very similar to what
had happened, apparently, when the Englishmen of the sixteenth century
first came in contact with the Italian Renaissance itself, or whatever
remained of it. Their conscience was sickened, their imagination
hag-ridden, by the discovery of so much beauty united to so much
corruption; and, among our latter-day students of the Renaissance, there
became manifest the same morbid pre-occupation, the same exaggerated
repulsion, which is but inverted attraction, which were rife among
the playwrights who wrote of _Avengers_ and _Atheists_, Giovannis and
Annabellas, Brachianos and Corombonas, and other _White Devils_, as old
Webster picturesquely put it, _of Italy_. Indeed, the second discovery
of the Renaissance by Englishmen had spiritual consequences so similar
to those of the first, that in an essay written fifteen years ago I
analysed the feelings of the Elizabethan playwrights towards Italian
things in order to vent the intense discomfort of spirit which I shared
assuredly with students older and more competent than myself.

This kind of feeling has passed away among writers, together with much
of the fascination of the Renaissance itself. But it has left, I see,
vague traces in the mind of readers, rendering the Renaissance a little
distasteful (and no wonder) to the majority; or worse, a little too
congenial to an unsound minority; worst of all, tarnishing a little the
fair fame of Art; and as a writer now turned reader, I am anxious to
deliver, to the best of my powers, other readers from this perhaps
inevitable but false and unprofitable view of such matters.

The conscience of writers on history and art has long become quite
comfortable about the Renaissance; and the Websterian or (in some cases
John Fordian) phenomenon of twenty years ago been forgotten as a piece
of childish morbidness. Does this mean that the conscience has become
hardened, that evil has ceased to repel us, or that beauty has been
accepted calmly as a pleasant and necessary, but somewhat immoral thing?
Very far from it. Our conscience has become quieter, not because it has
grown more callous, but because it has become more healthily sensitive,
more perceptive of many sides, instead of only one side of life. For
with experience and maturity there surely comes, to every one of us
in his own walk of life, a growing, at length an intuitive sense that
evil is a thing incidentally to fight, but not to think very much
about, because if it is evil, it is in so far sporadic, deciduous, and
eminently barren; while good, that is to say, soundness, harmony of
feeling, thought, and action with themselves, with others' feeling,
thought, and action, and with the great eternities, is organic, fruitful
and useful, as well as delightful to contemplate. Hence that the evil
of past ages should not concern us, save in so far as the understanding
thereof may teach us to diminish the evil of the Present. In any case,
that evil must be handled not with terror, which enervates and subjects
to contagion, but with the busy serenity of the physician, who studies
disease for the sake of health, and eats his wholesome food after
washing his hands, confident in the ultimate wholesomeness of nature.

And in such frame of mind the corruption of the Renaissance leaves us
calm, and we know we had better turn our backs on it, and get from the
Renaissance only what was good. Only, if we are physicians, or more
correctly (since in a private capacity we all are) only _when_ we are
physicians, must we handle the unwholesome. Meanwhile, if we wish to be
sound, let us fill our soul with images and emotions of good; we shall
tackle evil, when need be, only the better. And here, by the way, let
me open a parenthesis to say that, of the good we moderns may get from
occasional journeys into the Past, there is a fine example in our
imaginary and emotional commerce with St. Francis and his joyous
theology. For while other times, our own among them, have given us
loftier morality and severer good sense, no period save that of St.
Francis could have given us a blitheness of soul so vivifying and so
cleansing. For the essence of his teaching, or rather the essence of
his personality, was the trust that serenity and joyfulness must be
incompatible with evil; that simple, spontaneous happiness is, even like
the air and the sunshine in which his beloved brethren the birds flew
about and sang, the most infallible antidote to evil, and the most
sovereign disinfectant. And because we require such doctrine, such
personal conviction, for the better living of our lives, we must, even
as to better climates, journey forth occasionally into that distant Past
of mediæval Italy; and as to the Ezzelinos, Borgias, and Riarios, and
the foul-mouthed humanists, good heavens! why should we sicken ourselves
with the thought of this long dead and done for abomination?

So much for the history of the Renaissance and the good it can be to
us. Now as to the art. That more organic mode of feeling and thinking
which results in active maturity, from the ever-increasing connections
between our individual soul and the surrounding world; that same
intuition which told us that historic evil was no subject for
contemplation, does also admonish us never to be suspicious of true
beauty, of thoroughly delightful art. Nay, beauty and art in any case;
for though beauty may be adulterated, and art enslaved to something not
itself, be sure that the element of beauty, the activity of art, so far
as they are themselves specific, are far above suspicion even in the
most suspicious company. For even if beauty is united to perverse
fashions, and art (as with Baudelaire and the decadents) employed to
adorn the sentiments of maniacs and gaol-birds, the beauty and the art
remain sound; and if we must needs put them behind us, on account of too
inextricable a fusion, we should remember it is as we sometimes throw
away noble ore, for lack of skill to separate it from a base alloy. As
regards the nightmare anomaly of perfect art arisen in times of moral
corruption, those unconscious analogies I have spoken of, and which
perhaps are our most cogent reasons, have taught us that such anomalies
are but nightmares and horrid delusions. For, taking the phenomenon
historically, we shall see that although art has arisen in periods of
stress and change, and therefore of moral anarchy, it has never arisen
among the immoral classes nor to serve any immoral use: the apparent
anomaly in the Renaissance, for instance, was not an anomaly, but a
coincidence of contrary movements: a materially prosperous, intellectually
innovating epoch, producing on the one hand moral anarchy, on the
other artistic perfection, connected not as cause and effect, but as
coincidence, the one being the drawback, the other the advantage, of
that particular phase of being. The Malatestas and Borgias, of whom we
have heard too much, did not employ Alberti and Pier della Francesca,
Pinturicchio and Bramante, to satisfy their convict wickedness, but to
satisfy their artistic taste, which, in so far, was perfectly sound, as
various others among their faculties, their eye and ear, and sense of
cause and effect, were apparently sound also. And the architecture of
Alberti, the decorations of Pinturicchio, remain as spotless of all
contact with their evil instincts as the hills they may have looked at,
the sea they may have listened to, the eternal verity that two and two
make four, which had doubtless passed through their otherwise badly
inhabited minds. And, moreover, the sea is still sonorous, the mountains
are still hyacinth blue, and the buildings and frescoes still noble,
while the rest of those disagreeable mortals' cravings and strivings are
gone, and on the whole were best forgotten.

But there is another side of this same question, and of it we are
admonished, as it seems to me, still louder by our growing intellectual
instincts--those instincts, let us remember, which do but represent
whatever has been congruous and uniform in repeated experience. Art is
a much greater and more cosmic thing than the mere expression of man's
thoughts or opinions on any one subject, of man's attitude towards his
neighbour or towards his country, much as all this concerns us. Art is
the expression of man's life, of his mode of being, of his relations
with the universe, since it is, in fact, man's inarticulate answer to
the universe's unspoken message. Hence it represents not the details of
his existence, which, more's the pity, are rarely what they should be,
whether in thought or action, but the bulk of his existence, _when that
bulk is unusually sound_. This clause contains the whole philosophy of
art. For art is the outcome of a surplus of human energy, the expression
of a state of vital harmony, striving for and partly realising a yet
greater energy, a more complete harmony in one sphere or another of man's
relations with the universe. Now if evil is a non-vital, deciduous, and
sterile phenomenon _par excellence_, art must be necessarily opposed to
it, and opposed in proportion to art's vigour. While, on the other hand,
the seeking, the realisation of greater harmony, whether harmony visible,
audible, thinkable, and livable, is as necessarily opposed to anomaly
and perversity as the great healthinesses of air and sunshine are
opposed to bodily disease. Hence, in whatever company we find art,
even as in whatever company we find bodily health and vigour, let us
understand that _in so far as truly art_, it is good and a source of
good. Let us never waver in our faith in art, for in so doing we should
be losing (what, alas! Puritan contemners of art, and decadent defilers
thereof, are equally doing) much of our faith in nature and much of our
faith in man. For art is the expression of the harmonies of nature,
conceived and incubated by the harmonious instincts of man.

I have given the influence of St. Francis as an example of what added
strength our modern soul may get by a sojourn in the Past. What our soul
may get of similar but more sober joy may be shown by another example
from that wonderful Umbrian district, one of the earth's oases of
spiritual rest and refreshment. Among all the sane and satisfying art
of the Renaissance, Umbria, on the whole, has surely grown for us the
highest and the holiest. I am not speaking of the fact that Perugino
painted saints in devout contemplation, nor of their type of face and
expression. Whatever his people might be doing, or if they were not
people at all, but variations only of his little slender trees or distant
domes and steeples, his art would have been equally high and holy. And
this because of its effect, direct, unreasoning, on our spirit, making
us, while we look, live with a deeper, more devoutly joyful life. What
the man Perugino was, in his finite dealings with his clients and
neighbours, has mattered nothing in the painting of these pictures and
frescoes; still less what samples of conduct he was shown by the
ephemeral magnificos who bought his works.

The tenderness and strength of the mediæval Italian temper (as shown in
Dante when he is human, but above all in Francis of Assisi) has been
working through generations toward these paintings, interpreting in its
spirit, selecting and emphasising for its meaning the country in all the
world most naturally fit to express it; and thus in these paintings we
have the incomparable visible manifestation of a perfect mood: that wide
pale shimmering valley, circular like a temple, and domed by the circular
vault of sky, really turned, for our feelings, into a spiritual church,
wherein not merely saints meditate and Madonnas kneel, but ourselves in
deepest devout happiness.


Thoughts such as these bring with them the memory of the master we have
recently lost, of the master who, in the midst of æsthetical anarchy,
taught us once more, and with subtle and solemn efficacy, the old
Platonic and Goethian doctrine of the affinity between artistic beauty
and human worthiness.

The spiritual evolution of the late Walter Pater--with whose name I
am proud to conclude my second, as with it I began my first book on
Renaissance matters--had been significantly similar to that of his own
Marius. He began as an æsthete, and ended as a moralist. By faithful and
self-restraining cultivation of the sense of harmony, he appears to have
risen from the perception of visible beauty to the knowledge of beauty
of the spiritual kind, both being expressions of the same perfect
fittingness to an ever more intense and various and congruous life.

Such an evolution, which is, in the highest meaning, an æsthetic
phenomenon in itself, required a wonderful spiritual endowment and an
unflinchingly discriminating habit. For Walter Pater started by being
above all a writer, and an æsthete in the very narrow sense of twenty
years ago: an æsthete of the school of Mr. Swinburne's _Essays_, and of
the type still common on the Continent. The cultivation of sensations,
vivid sensations, no matter whether healthful or unhealthful, which that
school commended, was, after all, but a theoretic and probably unconscious
disguise for the cultivation of something to be said in a new way, which
is the danger of all persons who regard literature as an end, and not
as a means, feeling in order that they may write, instead of writing
because they feel. And of this Mr. Pater's first and famous book was a
very clear proof. Exquisite in technical quality, in rare perception and
subtle suggestion, it left, like all similar books, a sense of caducity
and barrenness, due to the intuition of all sane persons that only an
active synthesis of preferences and repulsions, what we imply in the
terms _character_ and _moral_, can have real importance in life, affinity
with life--be, in short, vital; and that the yielding to, nay, the
seeking for, variety and poignancy of experience, must result in a
crumbling away of all such possible unity and efficiency of living.
But even as we find in the earliest works of a painter, despite the
predominance of his master's style, indications already of what will
expand into a totally different personality, so even in this earliest
book, examined retrospectively, it is easy to find the characteristic
germs of what will develop, extrude all foreign admixture, knit together
congruous qualities, and give us presently the highly personal synthesis
of _Marius_ and the _Studies on Plato_.

These characteristic germs may be defined, I think, as the recurrence of
impressions and images connected with physical sanity and daintiness;
of aspiration after orderliness, congruity, and one might almost say
_hierarchy_; moreover, a certain exclusiveness, which is not the contempt
of the craftsman for the _bourgeois_, but the aversion of the priest for
the profane uninitiated. Some day, perhaps, a more scientific study of
æsthetic phenomena will explain the connection which we all feel between
physical sanity and purity and the moral qualities called by the same
names; but even nowadays it might have been prophesied that the man who
harped upon the clearness and livingness of water, upon the delicate
bracingness of air, who experienced so passionate a preference for the
whole gamut, the whole palette, of spring, of temperate climates and of
youth and childhood; a person who felt existence in the terms of its
delicate vigour and its restorative austerity, was bound to become,
like Plato, a teacher of self-discipline and self-harmony. Indeed, who
can tell whether the teachings of Mr. Pater's maturity--the insistance
on scrupulously disciplined activity, on cleanness and clearness of
thought and feeling, on the harmony attainable only through moderation,
the intensity attainable only through effort--who can tell whether this
abstract part of his doctrine would affect, as it does, all kindred
spirits if the mood had not been prepared by some of those descriptions
of visible scenes--the spring morning above the Catacombs, the Valley of
Sparta, the paternal house of Marius, and that temple of Æsculapius with
its shining rhythmical waters--which attune our whole being, like the
music of the Lady in _Comus_, to modes of _sober certainty of waking

This inborn affinity for refined wholesomeness made Mr. Pater the natural
exponent of the highest æsthetic doctrine--the search for harmony
throughout all orders of existence. It gave the nucleus of what was
his soul's synthesis, his system (as Emerson puts it) of rejection and
acceptance. Supreme craftsman as he was, it protected him from the
craftsman's delusion--rife under the inappropriate name of "art for
art's sake" in these uninstinctive, over-dextrous days--that subtle
treatment can dignify all subjects equally, and that expression,
irrespective of the foregoing _impression_ in the artist and the
subsequent _impression_ in the audience, is the aim of art. Standing as
he did, as all the greatest artists and thinkers (and he was both) do,
in a definite, inevitable relation to the universe--the equation between
himself and it--he was utterly unable to turn his powers of perception
and expression to idle and irresponsible exercises; and his conception
of art, being the outcome of his whole personal mode of existence, was
inevitably one of art, not for art's sake, but of art for the sake of
life--art as one of the harmonious functions of existence.

Harmonious, and in a sense harmonising. For, as I have said, he rose
from the conception of physical health and congruity to the conception
of health and congruity in matters of the spirit; the very thirst for
healthiness, which means congruity, and congruity which implies health,
forming the vital and ever-expanding connection between the two orders
of phenomena. Two orders, did I say? Surely to the intuition of this
artist and thinker, the fundamental unity--the unity between man's
relations with external nature, with his own thoughts and with others'
feelings--stood revealed as the secret of the highest æsthetics.

This which we guess at as the completion of Walter Pater's message,
alas! must remain for ever a matter of surmise. The completion,
the rounding of his doctrine, can take place only in the grateful
appreciation of his readers. We have been left with unfinished systems,
fragmentary, sometimes enigmatic, utterances. Let us meditate their
wisdom and vibrate with their beauty; and, in the words of the prayer of
Socrates to the Nymphs and to Pan, ask for beauty in the inward soul,
and congruity between the inner and the outer man; and reflect in such
manner the gifts of great art and of great thought in our soul's depths.
For art and thought arise from life; and to life, as principle of
harmony, they must return.

Many years ago, in the fulness of youth and ambition, I was allowed, by
him whom I already reverenced as a master, to write the name of Walter
Pater on the flyleaf of a book which embodied my beliefs and hopes as a
writer. And now, seeing books from the point of view of the reader, I
can find no fitter ending to this present volume than to express what
all we readers have gained, and lost, alas! in this great master.


_Edinburgh and London_


The following changes have been made to the text:

 and will bare (...) new       and will _bear_ (...) new
 spiritual wonders             spiritual wonders

 per speculum et ænigmata      per speculum _in ænigmate_

 In was in this church that    _It_ was in this church that

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