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Title: Bernardino Luini - Masterpieces in Colour Series
Author: Mason, James
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.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Bernardino Luini - Masterpieces in Colour Series" ***

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    ARTIST.             AUTHOR.
  REYNOLDS.           S. L. BENSUSAN.
  TURNER.             C. LEWIS HIND.
  ROMNEY.             C. LEWIS HIND.
  BELLINI.            GEORGE HAY.
  LEIGHTON.           A. LYS BALDRY.
  RAPHAEL.            PAUL G. KONODY.
  TITIAN.             S. L. BENSUSAN.
  MILLAIS.            A. LYS BALDRY.
  LUINI.              JAMES MASON.

_In Preparation_

  VAN DYCK.           PERCY M. TURNER.
  RUBENS.             S. L. BENSUSAN.
  CHARDIN.            PAUL G. KONODY.
  HOLBEIN.            S. L. BENSUSAN.
  WATTEAU.            C. LEWIS HIND.
  MURILLO.            S. L. BENSUSAN.


[Illustration: PLATE I.--MADONNA AND CHILD. Frontispiece

(In the Wallace Collection)

This is another admirably painted study of the artist's favourite
subject. The attitude of the child is most engaging, the painting of
the limbs is full of skill, and the background adds considerably to
the picture's attractions. It will be noted that Luini appears to have
employed the same model for most of his studies of the Madonna.]

Bernardino LUINI







     I. Madonna and Child                     Frontispiece
          In the Wallace Collection
    II. Il Salvatore                                    14
          In the Ambrosiana, Milan

   III. Salomé and the Head of St. John the Baptist     24
          In the Uffizi Gallery, Florence

    IV. The Mystic Marriage of St. Catherine            34
          In the Brera, Milan

     V. The Madonna of the Rose                         40
          In the Brera, Milan

    VI. Detail of Fresco                                50
          In the Brera, Milan

   VII. Head of Virgin                                  60
          In the Ambrosiana, Milan

  VIII. Burial of St. Catherine                         70
          In the Brera, Milan




In the beginning of the long and fascinating history of Italian Art we
see that the spirit of the Renaissance first fluttered over the minds
of men much as the spirit of life is said have moved over the face of
the waters before the first chapter of creation's marvellous story was
written. Beginnings were small, progress was slow, and the lives of
the great artists moved very unevenly to their appointed end.

There were some who rose to fame and fortune during their life, and
then died so completely that no biography can hope to rouse any
interest in their work among succeeding generations.

There were others who worked in silence and without _réclame_ of any
sort, content with the respect and esteem of those with whom they came
into immediate contact, indifferent to the plaudits of the crowd or
the noisy praises of those who are not qualified to judge. True
servants of the western world's religion, they translated work into
terms of moral life, and moral life into terms of work. Merit like
truth will out, and when time has sifted good work from bad and
spurious reputations from genuine ones, many men who fluttered the
dovecotes of their own generation disappear from sight altogether;
some others who wrought unseen, never striving to gain the popular ear
or eye, rise on a sudden to heights that might have made them giddy
had they lived to be conscious of their own elevation. They were
lowly, but their fame inherits the earth.

Bernardino Luini, the subject of this little study, calls us away from
the great art centres--from Venice and Florence and Rome; his record
was made and is to be found to-day amid the plains of Lombardy. Milan
is not always regarded as one of the great art centres of Italy in
spite of the Brera, the Ambrosiana, and the Poldi Pezzoli Palace
collections, but no lover of pictures ever went for the first time to
the galleries of Milan in a reverent spirit and with a patient eye
without feeling that he had discovered a painter of genius. He may not
even have heard his name before, but he will come away quite
determined to learn all he may about the man who painted the wonderful
frescoes that seem destined to retain their spiritual beauty till the
last faint trace of the design passes beyond the reach of the eye, the
man who painted the panel picture of the "Virgin of the Rose Trees,"
reproduced with other of his master-works in these pages.

[Illustration: PLATE II.--IL SALVATORE

(In the Ambrosiana, Milan)

This picture, one of the treasures of the beautiful collection in the
Pinacoteca of Ambrosiana in the Piazza della Rosa, hangs by the same
artist's picture of "John the Baptist as a Child." The right hand of
Christ is raised in the attitude of benediction, and the head has a
curiously genuine beauty. The preservation of this picture is
wonderful, the colouring retains much of its early glow. The head is
almost feminine in its tenderness and bears a likeness to Luini's
favourite model.]

To go to the Brera is to feel something akin to hunger for the history
of Bernardino Luini or Luino or Luvino as he is called by the few
who have found occasion to mention him, although perhaps Luini is the
generally accepted and best known spelling of the name. Unfortunately
the hungry feeling cannot be fully satisfied. Catalogues or guide
books date the year of Luini's birth at or about 1470, and tell us
that he died in 1533, and as this is a period that Giorgio Vasari
covers, we turn eagerly to the well-remembered volumes of the old
gossip hoping to find some stories of the Lombard painter's life and
work. We are eager to know what manner of man Luini was, what forces
influenced him, how he appeared to his contemporaries, whether he had
a fair measure of the large success that attended the leading artists
of his day. Were his patrons great men who rewarded him as he
deserved--how did he fare when the evening came wherein no man may
work? Surely there is ample scope for the score of quaint comments and
amusing if unreliable anecdotes with which Vasari livens his pages. We
are confident that there will be much to reward the search, because
Bernardino Luini and Giorgio Vasari were contemporaries after a
fashion. Vasari would have been twenty-one years old when Luini died,
the writer of the "Lives" would have seen frescoes and panel pictures
in all the glory of their first creation. He could not have failed to
be impressed by the extraordinary beauty of the artist's conceptions,
the skill of his treatment of single figures, the wealth of the
curious and elusive charm that we call atmosphere--a charm to which
all the world's masterpieces are indebted in varying degrees--the
all-pervading sense of a delightful and refined personality, leaves
us eager for the facts that must have been well within the grasp of
the painter's contemporaries.

Alas for these expectations! Vasari dismisses Bernardino del Lupino,
as he calls him, in six or eight sentences, and what he says has no
biographical value at all. The reference reads suspiciously like what
is known in the world of journalism as padding. Indeed, as Vasari was
a fair judge, and Bernardino Luini was not one of those Venetians whom
Vasari held more or less in contempt, there seems to be some reason
for the silence. Perhaps it was an intimate and personal one, some
unrecorded bitterness between the painter and one of Vasari's friends,
or between Vasari himself and Luini or one of his brothers or
children. Whatever the cause there is no mistake about the result. We
grumble at Vasari, we ridicule his inaccuracies, we regret his
limitations, we scoff at his prejudices, but when he withholds the
light of his investigation from contemporary painters who did not
enjoy the favour of popes and emperors, we wander in a desert land
without a guide, and search with little or no success for the details
that would serve to set the painter before us.

Many men have taken up the work of investigation, for Luini grows
steadily in favour and esteem, but what Vasari might have done in a
week nobody has achieved in a decade.

A few unimportant church documents relating to commissions given to
the painter are still extant. He wrote a few words on his frescoes;
here and there a stray reference appears in the works of Italian
writers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, but our knowledge
when it has been sifted and arranged is remarkably small and
deplorably incomplete. Dr. J. C. Williamson, a painstaking critic and
a competent scholar, has written an interesting volume dealing with
the painter, and in the making of it he has consulted nearly fifty
authorities--Italian, French, English, and German--only to find it is
impossible to gather a short chapter of reliable and consecutive
biography from them all. Our only hope lies in the discovery of some
rich store of information in the public or private libraries of Milan
among the manuscripts that are the delight of the scholars. Countless
documents lie unread, many famous libraries are uncatalogued, the
archives of several noble Italian houses that played an important part
in fifteenth and sixteenth century Italy have still to be given to the
world. It is not unreasonable to suppose that records of Luini's life
exist, and in these days when scholarship is ever extending its
boundaries there is hope that some scholar will lay the ever growing
circle of the painter's admirers under lasting obligations. Until that
time comes we must be content to know the man through the work that he
has left behind him, through the medium of fading frescoes, stray
altarpieces, and a few panel pictures. Happily they have a definite
and pleasant story to tell.

We must go to Milan for Luini just as we must go to Rome for Raphael
and to Madrid for Velazquez and Titian and to Venice for Jacopo
Robusti whom men still call the Little Dyer (Tintoretto). In London we
have one painting on wood, "Christ and the Pharisees," brought from
the Borghese Palace in Rome. The head of Christ is strangely feminine,
the four Pharisees round him are finely painted, and the picture has
probably been attributed to Leonardo da Vinci at some period of its
career. There are three frescoes in South Kensington and a few panel
pictures in private collections. The Louvre is more fortunate than our
National Gallery, it has several frescoes and two or three panels. In
Switzerland, in the Church of St. Mary and the Angels in Lugano, is a
wonderful screen picture of the "Passion of Christ" with some hundreds
of figures in it, and the rest of Luini's work seems to be in Italy.
The greater part is to be found in Milan, some important frescoes
having been brought to the Brera from the house of the Pelucca family
in Monza, while there are some important works in Florence in the
Pitti and Uffizi Galleries. In the Church of St. Peter at Luino on the
shores of Lake Maggiore, the little town where Benardino was born and
from which he took his name, there are some frescoes but they are in a
very faded condition. The people of the lake side town have much to
say about the master who has made Luino a place of pilgrimage but
their stories are quite unreliable.


(In the Uffizi Gallery, Florence)

In this striking and finely preserved picture Bernardino Luini has
contrived to avoid all sense of horror. The head of the dead John the
Baptist is full of beauty, and even Herodias is handled without any
attempt to make her repulsive. Sufficient contrast is supplied by the
executioner on the right.]

It might be held, seeing that the artist's work is scanty, and often
in the last stages of decay, while his life story has faded quite from
the recovered records of his contemporaries, that Luini is hardly fit
subject for discussion here. In a series of little books that
seeks to introduce great artists to new friends through the medium of
reproductions that show the work as it is, and a brief concise
description that aims at helping those who are interested to study the
master for themselves, there is a temptation to deal only with popular
men. These give no trouble to their biographer or his readers, but
after all it is not the number of pictures that an artist paints or
the wealth of detail that his admirers have collected that establishes
his claim to be placed among the immortals. His claim rests upon the
quality of the work done, its relation to the times in which it was
painted, the mood or spirit it reveals, the light it throws upon the
mind that conceived and the hand that executed it.

We know enough and to spare of the more flamboyant personalities of
the Venetian and Florentine schools. Long periods of study will not
exhaust all there is to learn about men like Titian, Michelangelo,
Raphael of Urbino, and the rest, but Luini, though he left no written
record, will not be denied. We dare not pass him by, seeing that we
may introduce him to some admirers who will, in days to come, seek and
find what remains beyond our reach at present. His appeal is so
irresistible, the beauty of his work is so rare and so enduring that
we must endeavour to the best of our ability, however small it be, to
declare his praise, to stimulate inquiry, enlarge his circle, and give
him the place that belongs to him of right. There are painters in
plenty whose work is admired and praised, whose claims we acknowledge
instantly while admitting to ourselves that we should not care to live
with their pictures hanging on round us. The qualities of cleverness
and brilliance pall after a little time, the mere conquest of
technical difficulties of the kind that have been self-inflicted
rouses admiration for a while and then leaves us cold. But the man who
is the happy possessor of a fresco or a panel picture by Luini is to
be envied. Even he who lives in the neighbourhood of some gallery or
church and only sees the rare master's works where, "blackening in the
daily candle smoke, they moulder on the damp wall's travertine," will
never tire of Luini's company. He will always find inspiration,
encouragement, or consolation in the reflection of the serene and
beautiful outlook upon life that gave the work so much of its
enduring merit. Luini, whatever manner of man he may have been, was so
clearly enamoured of beauty, so clearly intolerant of what is ugly and
unrefined, that he shrank from all that was coarse and revolting
either in the life around him or in certain aspects of the Bible
stories that gave him subjects for his brush. Beauty and simplicity
were the objects of his unceasing search, his most exquisite

Like all other great painters he had his marked periods of
development, his best work was done in the last years of his life, but
there is nothing mean or trivial in any picture that he painted and
this is the more to his credit because we know from the documents
existing to-day that he lived in the world and not in the cloister.
We admire the perennial serenity of Beato Angelico, we rejoice with
him in his exquisite religious visions. The peaceful quality of his
painting and the happy certainty of his faith move us to the deepest
admiration, but we may not forget that Angelico lived from the time
when he was little more than a boy to the years when he was an old man
in the untroubled atmosphere of the monastery of San Marco in
Florence, that whether he was at home in that most favoured city or
working in the Vatican at Rome, he had no worldly troubles. Honour,
peace, and a mind at peace with the world were with him always.

Bernardino Luini on the other hand travelled from one town in Italy to
another, employed by religious houses from time to time, but always as
an artist who could be relied upon to do good work cheaply. He could
not have been rich, he could hardly have been famous, it is even
reasonable to suppose that his circumstances were straitened, and on
this account the unbroken serenity of his work and his faithful
devotion to beauty are the more worthy of our praise. What was
beautiful in his life and work came from within, not from without, and
perhaps because he was a stranger to the cloistered seclusion that
made Fra Angelico's life so pleasantly uneventful his work shows
certain elements of strength that are lacking from the frescoes that
adorn the walls of San Marco to this day. To his contemporaries he was
no more than a little planet wandering at will round those fixed stars
of the first magnitude that lighted all the world of art. Now some of
those great stars have lost their light and the little planet shines
as clear as Hesperus.


As we have said already nothing is known of Luini's early life,
although the fact that he was born at Luino on the Lago Maggiore seems
to be beyond dispute. The people of that little lake side town have no
doubt at all about the matter, and they say that the family was one of
some distinction, that Giacomo of Luino who founded a monastery in his
native place was the painter's uncle. Perhaps the wish was father to
the thought, and because every man who sets out to study the life and
work of an artist is as anxious to know as was Miss Rosa Dartle
herself, there are always facts of a sort at his service. He who
seeks the truth can always be supplied with something as much like it
as paste is to diamonds, and can supplement the written word with the
aid of tradition. The early life of the artist is a blank, and the
authorities are by no means in agreement about the year of his birth.
1470 would seem to be a reasonable date, with a little latitude on
either side. Many men writing long years after the painter's death,
have held that he was a pupil of Leonardo da Vinci, indeed several
pictures that were attributed to da Vinci by the authorities of
different European galleries are now recognised as Luini's work, but
the mistake is not at all difficult to explain. If we turn to "La
Joconda," a portrait by da Vinci that hangs in the Louvre to-day, and
is apparently beyond dispute in the eyes of the present generation
of critics, and then go through the Brera in Milan with a photograph
of "La Joconda's" portrait in our hand, it will be impossible to
overlook the striking resemblance between Luini's types and da Vinci's
smiling model. Leonardo had an academy in Milan, and it is reasonable
to suppose that Luini worked in it, although at the time when he is
supposed to have come for the first time to the capital of Lombardy,
Leonardo da Vinci had left, apparently because Louis XII. of France,
cousin and successor of that Charles VIII. who had troubled the peace
of Italy for so long, was thundering at the city gates, and at such a
time great artists were apt to remember that they had good patrons
elsewhere. The school may, however, have remained open because no
great rulers made war on artists, and Luini would have learned
something of the spirit that animated Leonardo's pictures. For other
masters and influence he seems to have gone to Bramantino and Foppa.
Bramantino was a painter of Milan and Ambrosio Foppa known as
Caradosso was a native of Pavia and should not be reckoned among
Milanese artists as he has so often been. He was renowned for the
beauty of his medals and his goldsmith's work; and he was one of the
men employed by the great family of Bentivoglio.


(In the Brera, Milan)

This is a singularly attractive picture in which the child Christ may
be seen placing the ring upon the finger of St. Catherine. The little
open background, although free from the slightest suggestion of
Palestine, is very charming, and the head of the Virgin and St.
Catherine help to prove that Luini used few models.]

It may be mentioned in this place that many Italian artists,
particularly those of the Florentine schools, suffered very greatly
from their unceasing devotion to the art of the miniaturist. They
sought to achieve his detail, his fine but cramped handling, and this
endeavour was fatal to them when they came to paint large pictures
that demanded skilled composition, and the subordination of detail to
a large general effect. The influence of the miniature painter and the
maker of medals kept many a fifteenth-century painter in the second
grade and Luini never quite survived his early devotion to their
methods, often making the fatal mistake of covering a large canvas
with many figures of varying size but equal value. It may be remarked
that Tintoretto was the first great painter of the Renaissance who
learned to subordinate parts to the whole, and he had to face a great
deal of unpopularity because he saw with his own eyes instead of using
those of his predecessors.


(In the Brera, Milan)

Modern criticism proclaims this picture of the Virgin in a Bower of
Roses to be the finest of the master's paintings. Not only is it
delightfully composed and thought out but the background is painted
with rare skill, and the colour is rich and pleasing to this day.]

It may be suggested, with all possible respect to those who hold
different opinions, that Luini, though he responded to certain
influences, had no master in the generally accepted sense of the term.
One cannot trace the definite relation between him and any older
painter that we find between Titian and Gian Bellini, for example. He
took a certain type from Leonardo, his handling from time to time
recalls the other masters--we have already referred to the most
important of these--but had he studied in the school of one man, had
he served an apprenticeship after the fashion of his contemporaries,
his pictures would surely have been free from those faults of
composition and perspective that detract so much from the value of the
big works. He seems to have been self-taught rather than to have been
a schoolman. While his single figures are wholly admirable whether
on fresco or on panel, his grouping is nearly always ineffective,
one might say childish, and his sense of perspective is by no means
equal to that of his greatest contemporaries. As a draughtsman and a
colourist Luini had little to learn from anybody, and the poetry of
his conceptions is best understood when it is remembered that he was a
poet as well as a painter. He is said to have written poems and
essays, though we are not in a position to say where they are to be
found, and it is clear that he had a singularly detached spirit and
that the hand of a skilled painter was associated with the mind of a
little child. In some aspects he is as simple as those primitive
painters of Umbria whose backgrounds are all of gold. Like so many
other painters of the Renaissance Luini's saints and angels are
peasant folk, the people he saw around him. He may have idealised
them, but they remain as they were made.

A few records of the prices paid for Luini's work exist among the
documents belonging to churches and religious houses, and while they
justify a belief that at the time he came to Milan Luini had achieved
some measure of distinction in his calling, they seem to prove that he
was hardly regarded as a great painter. The prices paid to him are
ridiculously small, no more than a living wage, but he had the
reputation of being a reliable and painstaking artist and he would
seem to have been content with a small reward for work that appealed
to him. His early commissions executed in and around Milan when he
first came from Luini were numerous and consisted very largely of
frescoes which are the work of a young man who has not yet freed his
own individuality from the influence of his elders. One of the most
charming works associated with this period is the "Burial of St.
Catherine," which is reproduced in these pages. The composition is
simple enough, the handling does not touch the summit of the painter's
later achievements, but the sentiment of the picture is quite
delightful. St. Catherine is conceived in a spirit of deepest
reverence and devotion, but the angels are just Lombardy peasant girls
born to labour in the fields and now decorated with wings in honour of
a great occasion. And yet the man who could paint this fresco and
could show so unmistakably his own simple faith in the story it sets
out, was a poet as well as a painter even though he had never written
a line, while the treatment of his other contemporary frescoes and
the fine feeling for appropriate colour suggest a great future for the
artist who had not yet reached middle age. We see that Luini devoted
his brush to mythological and sacred subjects, touching sacred history
with a reverent hand, shutting his eyes to all that was painful,
expressing all that was pitiful or calculated to strengthen the hold
of religion upon the mass in fashion destined to appeal though in
changing fashion for at least four centuries. Where the works have
failed to triumph as expressions of a living faith they have charmed
agnostics as an expression of enduring beauty.

From Milan Luini seems to have gone to Monza, a city a few miles away
from the capital of Lombardy where the rulers of united Italy come
after their coronation to receive the iron crown that has been worn by
the kings of Lombardy for nearly a thousand years. This is the city in
which the late King Umberto, that brave and good man, was foully
murdered by an anarchist. To-day one reaches Monza by the help of a
steam-tram that blunders heavily enough over the wide flat Lombardy
plain. The Milanese go to Monza for the sake of an outing, but most of
the tourists who throng the city stay away, and it is possible to
spend a few pleasant hours in the cathedral and churches with never a
flutter of red-covered guide book to distract one's attention from the
matters to which the hasty tourist is blind. Here Luini painted
frescoes, and it is known that he stayed for a long time at the house
of one of the strong men of Monza and painted a large number of
frescoes there. To-day the fortress, if it was one, has become a
farmhouse, and the frescoes, more than a dozen in all, have been taken
away to the Royal Palace in Milan. Dr. Williamson in his interesting
volume to which the student of Luini must be deeply indebted, says
that there is one left at the Casa Pelucca. The writer in the course
of two days spent in Monza was unfortunate enough to overlook it.

It has been stated that the facts relating to Luini's life are few and
far between. Fiction on the other hand is plentiful, and there is a
story that Luini, shortly after his arrival in Milan, was held
responsible by the populace for the death of a priest who fell from a
hastily erected scaffolding in the church of San Giorgio where the
artist was working. The rest of the legend follows familiar lines that
would serve the life story of any leading artist of the time, seeing
that they all painted altar-pieces and used scaffolding. He is said to
have fled to Monza, to have been received by the chief of the Pelucca
family, to have paid for his protection with the frescoes that have
now been brought from Monza to the Brera, to have fallen violently in
love with the beautiful daughter of the house, to have engaged in
heroic contests against great odds on her behalf, and so on, _ad
absurdum_. If we look at the portraits the painter is said to have
made of himself and to have placed in pictures at Saronna and
elsewhere we shall see that Luini was hardly the type of man to have
engaged in the idle pursuits of chivalry in the intervals of the work
to which his life was given. We have the head of a man of thought not
that of a man of action, and all the character of the face gives the
lie to the suggestions of the storytellers. It is clear, however, that
the painter made a long stay in Monza and when he came back to Milan
he worked for the churches of St. Maurizio, Santa Maria della Pace,
Santa Maria di Brera, and St. Ambrosia.


(In the Brera, Milan)

This prettily posed figure is at the base of a fresco of the Virgin
with Saints in the Brera. Part of the artist's signature (Bernardinus
Louinus) may be seen below. It will be remembered that Carpaccio
painted a very similar subject. The fresco is not too well preserved.]

In Milan he found a great patron, no less a man than Giovanni
Bentivoglio who had been driven from his rule over Bologna by the
"Terrible Pontiff" Julius II., that life-long opponent and bitter
enemy of the Borgia Pope Alexander VI. Alessandro Bentivoglio, the son
of the ruined Giovanni, married Ippolita Sforza, daughter of one
of the house that had done so much to rule Rome until Pope
Alexander VI. broke its power. Alessandro Bentivoglio commissioned
Luini to paint altar-pieces in St. Maurizio where his father was
buried, and the painter included in his work a portrait of Ippolita
Sforza with three female saints. He did much other work in this
church; some of it has faded almost beyond recognition.

At the same time there is no need to think that we have recovered the
last work of Luini or indeed of the great masters even in the churches
of Italy. Only a few months ago the writer was in a small Italian
church that had suffered a few years ago from disastrous floods. The
water unable to find no outlet had risen for a time almost to the top
of the supporting columns. The smooth wall above was plastered, and
when the waters had subsided it was found that the plaster had become
so damaged that it was necessary to remove it. Happily the work was
done carefully, for under the whitewash some excellent frescoes were
discovered. They would seem to have profited by their covering for as
much as has been uncovered is rich and well preserved. It may be that
in days when the State of Italy was seriously disturbed, and Napoleon,
greatest of highwaymen and conquerors, after being crowned in Milan
with the famous Monza crown, was laying his hand on all that seemed
worth carrying away, some one in authority thought of this simple
method of concealment, and obtained expert advice that enabled the
frescoes to be covered without serious damage. Under similar
conditions we may yet discover some of the earlier work of Luini,
because it is clear that the years in which his reputation was in the
making must have been full of achievement of which the greater part
has now been lost. He could hardly have been less than thirty years of
age when he came to Milan with a reputation sufficient to gain
commissions for work in churches; that reputation must have taken
years to acquire, and must have been associated with very definite
accomplishment. The lack of all record was essentially the misfortune
that beset men who were not very high in the esteem of their
contemporaries. A painter like Luini would have executed a great many
pictures for people who could not pay very well, and had no great
gallery or well-built church to harbour the work, and in the course
of time the work would tend inevitably to disappear before the
devouring candle-smoke, or to be carried away by unscrupulous
purchasers who chanced to be better equipped with taste than
conscience. On the other hand, painters who led the various movements
of their time would be honoured by successive generations and their
work would be stored in the best and safest places. To be sure, fire
was never a respecter of palaces or persons, and the flames have
consumed more work than a collection of the finest Renaissance
pictures in existence could show, but even then the odds seem to be in
favour of the bigger men because special efforts would be made to save
their paintings while those of lesser men would be left with few
regrets to take their chance.

When Luini was engaged to work in the Church of St. Maurizio there was
a fair chance that his altar-pieces and frescoes would be well looked
after, but when he worked for a small provincial family like the
Pelucca the house sank with the family fortunes till at last it became
a farm, and in the early years of the nineteenth century the frescoes
were taken from the walls with as much care as was deemed advisable.
Doubtless Luini worked for many men whose worldly position was not as
considerable as that of the Pelucca family, and that work may have
disappeared altogether. The painter, as we have seen, did not enjoy
the patronage of many great men before Alessandro Bentivoglio, and
large institutions were not numbered among his early clients. But he
was not altogether without valuable patronage in the latter days, and
in the early 'twenties of the sixteenth century the influential
Brotherhood of the Holy Crown, one of the leading charitable
institutions of Milan, would seem to have given him some official
connection with their institution; a recognised position without fixed
salary. For them he painted the magnificent frescoes now in the
Ambrosian Library. The great work there was divided by the artist into
three parts separated by pillars. In the centre Luini has depicted the
crowning with thorns, Christ being seated upon a throne while thorns
are being put upon His head; His arms are crossed; His expression one
of supreme resignation. Above Him little angels look down or point
to a cartouche on which is written "Caput Regis Gloriæ Spinis
Coranatur." In the left hand division of the fresco and on the right,
the fore-ground is filled with kneeling figures whose heads are
supposed to be portraits of the most prominent members of the Society.
Clearly they are all men who have achieved some measure of honour and
distinction. Above the kneeling figures on the left hand side St. John
is pointing out the tragedy of the central picture to the Virgin Mary,
while on the right hand side a man in armour and another who is seen
faintly behind him call the attention of a third to what is happening.
A crown of thorns hangs above the right and the left hand compartment
and there is a landscape for background. It is recorded that this work
took about six months, and was finished in March 1522 at a cost to the
Society of 115 soldi. So Luini's work looks down to-day upon a part
of the great Ambrosian Library, and it may well be that the library
itself will yield to patient investigation some record, however
simple, of the painter's life, sufficient perhaps to enable us to
readjust our mental focus and see his lovable figure more clearly.


(In the Ambrosiana, Milan)

Here we have another well painted and finely preserved head painted
from one of Luini's favourite models. The artist must have known most
of the secrets of colour preparation, for his work has survived much
that was painted centuries later. Unfortunately his frescoes were
exposed to the elements and have suffered accordingly.]

It may be urged that for those of us who are content to see with the
spiritual eye Luini is expressed more eloquently by his work, and
particularly by this great picture in the Ambrosian Library, than he
could hope to be by the combined efforts of half-a-dozen critics, each
with his own special point of view and his properly profound contempt
for the views of others. The painter's low tones and subtle harmonies,
his pure but limited vision, speak to us of a gentle, refined, and
delicate nature, of an achievement that stopped short of
cleverness and consequently limited him to the quieter byways of
artistic life, while those whose inspiration was less, and whose gifts
were more, moved with much pomp and circumstance before admiring
contemporaries. The refined mind, the sensitive soul, shrank from
depicting the tragedy of the Crown of Thorns in the realistic fashion
that would have proved acceptable to so many other artists. Luini
forgets the blood and the spikes, he almost forgets the physical pain,
and gives us the Man of Sorrows who has forgiven His tormentors
because "they know not what they do."

Continental galleries show us many treatments of the same familiar
theme, they have none to show that can vie with this in a combination
of strength and delicacy that sets out an immortal story while
avoiding the brutal realism to which so many other artists have
succumbed. We may suppose that the objects of the Society roused
Luini's sympathy to an extent that made it easy for him to accept the
somewhat paltry remuneration with which the Brotherhood of the Holy
Crown rewarded him, and so the picture makes its own appeal on the
painter's behalf, and tells a story of his claims upon our regard. A
man may lie, in fact it may be suggested on the strength of the
Psalmist's statement that most men do, but an artist's life work tells
his story in spite of himself, and if he labour with pen or brush his
truest biography will be seen in what he leaves behind him. It is not
possible to play a part throughout all the vicissitudes of a long
career, and no man could have given us the pictures that Luini has
left unless he chanced to be a choice and rare spirit. We may remember
here and now that the time was richer in violent contrasts than any of
its successors, the most deplorable excesses on the one hand, the most
rigid virtues on the other, seem to have been the special product of
the Renaissance. While there were men who practised every vice under
the sun there were others who sought to arrest Divine Retribution by
the pursuit of all the virtues, and while the progress of the years
has to a certain extent made men neutral tinted in character, the
season of the Renaissance was one of violent contrasts. On behalf of
the section that went in pursuit of righteousness let it be remembered
that heaven and the saints were not matters for speculation, they
were certainties. Every man knew that God was in heaven, and that if
the workers of iniquity flourished, it was that they might be
destroyed for ever. Every man knew that the saints still exerted their
supernatural powers and would come down to earth if need be to protect
a devotee. Satan, on the other hand, went armed about the earth
seeking whom he might devour, and hell was as firmly fixed as heaven.
In order to understand Luini, his life and times, these facts must be
borne in mind. The greater the unrest in the cities the more the
public attention would be turned to statesmen and warriors, and when
the personalities of artists began to be considered, those who lived
and thrived in the entourage of popes and rulers monopolised the
attention. Hundreds of men were at work earning a fair living and
some local repute, it was left to foreign favour to set a seal upon
success. Had Luini chanced to be invited to Venice or to Rome he would
have been honoured throughout Lombardy; but a painter like a prophet
is often without honour in his own country. Luini's gifts were of a
more quiet and domestic order than those of his great contemporaries
Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, for example, were more than
painters, and perhaps it was only in Venice that painting stood by
itself and managed to thrive alone. Luini would have come into his
kingdom while he lived had Venice been his birthplace. The genius of
the Florentine school sought to express itself in half-a-dozen
different ways, no triumph in one department of work could satisfy men
whose longing for self-expression was insatiable. In those days it
was possible for a man to make himself master of all knowledge,
literally he could discourse _de omnibus rebus et quibusdam aliis_.
And this diffusion of interests was fatal to many a genius that might
have moved to amazing triumph along one road.

It is clear that Bernardino Luini never travelled very far from his
native country either physically or mentally. In the eyes of his
contemporaries he was not a man of sufficient importance to receive
commissions from the great art centres of Italy. This, of course, may
be because he did not have the good fortune to attract the attention
of the connoisseurs of his day, for we find that outside Milan, and
the little town of Luino where he was born and whence he took his
name, his work was done in comparatively small towns like Como,
Legnano, Lugano, Ponte, and Saronno. Milan and Monza may be
disregarded because we have already dealt with the work there.
Saronno, which lies some fourteen miles north-west of Milan, is little
more than a village to-day, and its chief claim upon the attention of
the traveller is its excellent gingerbread for which it is famous
throughout Lombardy. It has a celebrated church known as the Sanctuary
of the Blessed Virgin and here one finds some very fine examples of
our painter's frescoes. Some of the frescoes in the church are painted
by Cesare del Magno others by Lanini, and the rest are from the hand
of Bernardino Luini. Round these frescoes, which are of abiding
beauty, and include fine studies of the great plague saint, St. Roque,
and that very popular martyr St. Sebastian, many legends congregate.
It is said that Luini having killed a man in a brawl fled from Milan
to the Church of the Blessed Virgin in Monza to claim sanctuary at the
hand of the monks. They gave him the refuge he demanded, and, says the
legend, he paid for it with frescoes. This is little more than a
variant of the story that he went to Monza under similar circumstances
and obtained the protection of the Pelucca family on the same terms.
In the absence of anything in the nature of reliable record this story
has been able to pass, but against it one likes to put the tradition
that one of the heads in the frescoes is that of Luini himself. We
find that head so simple, so refined, and so old--the beard is long
and the hair is scanty--and so serene in its expression that it is
exceedingly difficult to believe that brawling could have entered into
the artist's life.


(In the Brera, Milan)

This is one of the frescoes painted by Luini for the Casa Pelucca and
transferred to Milan in the beginning of the nineteenth century. It
will be seen that although the three angels bearing the Saint to her
grave are obviously peasant girls from the plains of Lombardy winged
for the occasion, the artist has handled his subject with faith and
reverence. The fresco is better preserved than others from the same

The subjects of the pictures in Saronno's Sanctuary are all biblical.
We have an Adoration of the Magi, showing the same muddled composition
that detracts from the other merits of the artist's work; a beautiful
Presentation in the Temple in which the composition is a great deal
better; and a perfectly delightful Nativity. There is a Christ is
Disputing with the Doctors, and this is the picture in which we find
the head that is said to be a portrait of the painter himself. Two
female saints figure in another picture, and Luini's favourites St.
Roque and St. Sebastian are not forgotten. Certainly if the monks
obtained all that work at the price of the painter's safety they were
very fortunate in his choice of sanctuary.

Como is, of course, a more important town with large industries and
important factories, and one of the finest cathedrals in northern
Italy. For the interior Luini painted another Adoration of the Magi
and another of his favourite Nativities. It is not easy to speak about
the conditions under which this work was done, and the inhabitants
have so many more profitable matters to attend to that they do not
seem to trouble themselves about the history of the painter who helped
to make their beautiful cathedral still more beautiful.

Legnano, with its memories of Frederick Barbarossa, is within twenty
miles of Milan, and for the Church of San Magno Luini painted one of
his finest altar-pieces. It is in seven divisions and has earned as
much critical admiration as any work from the master's brush.

Lugano is of course in Switzerland, well across the Italian border. It
is a popular place enough to-day, and so far as we can tell, it was
the city in which Luini painted his last pictures. He must have left
Milan about 1528 or 1529, and he would seem to have gone there to
execute commissions, for in the Church of Santa Maria degli Angioli we
find some of his latest and finest work. The Crucifixion and the
Passion, on the wall of the screen, contains several hundred figures
arranged in lines in most archaic fashion. At first sight the work
appears as a mere mass of figures without any central point in the
composition, and with very little relief for the eye of the spectator
who may come to the church surfeited with the bewildering riches of
many Italian galleries. But for those who will take the trouble to
study the details of this fine work there is very much to admire. In
the scene of the picture Christ is seen on the cross surrounded by
angels. On his right hand the penitent thief on the cross is guarded
by an angel, while on the left the impenitent one is watched by a
devil with a curly tail and spiked wings. Below in perfectly
bewildering fashion are many figures that may be recognised with
little effort--Mary Magdalen, the Madonna, Joseph of Arimathæa, Roman
soldiers, some of the general public--a confused crowd. The whole
picture is supported by figures of San Sebastian and St. Roque seen on
either side of the arch. Stories from the life of Christ are depicted
in the upper parts of the picture, all are painted with the skill of a
great artist and the fervour of a devotee, but the arrangement is
hopelessly confused. Luini also painted a "Last Supper" for this
church and a "Madonna with the Infant Christ and St. John." This is
signed "Bernardino Luini, anno 1530." From 1530 until 1533 the career
of the artist cannot be traced, but in 1533 he was in Lugano again,
and after that year he passes altogether from our sight. Stray writers
mention his name, some venture to carry the date of his life into the
'forties, but we have no proof save their word, no work to record the
later years, and all our conjecture is vain. It must suffice for us
that Luini's life as far as his art was concerned ends for us with the
year 1533. If he lived and worked after that date the facts relating
to the following years and the work done in the latter days are left
for future students to discover. It is well to remember that the
Saronno portrait makes the painter look much older than he is supposed
to have been.

To his contemporaries it is clear that Luini was a man of small
importance. His best work is seen outside the radius of the great Art
centres of Italy, and it was only when he attracted the attention of
great critics and sound judges like Morelli, John Ruskin, and John
Addington Symonds that the lovers of beautiful pictures began to go
out of their way to find his best work in the little towns whose
churchmen were his patrons. So many of the lesser men had all his
faults--that is to say, lack of perspective and inability to compose a
big picture--that he was classed with them by those critics whose
special gift lies in the discovery of faults. The qualities that make
the most enduring appeal to us to-day were those that were least
likely to make a strong impression upon the strenuous age of physical
force in which he lived. When great conquerors and men who had
accomplished all that force could achieve felt themselves at liberty
to turn to prolonged consideration of the other sides of life they
employed other masters. Then as now there were fashions in painters.
The men for whom Luini strove were of comparatively small importance.
A conqueror could have gathered up in the hollow of his hand all the
cities, Milan excepted, in which Luini worked throughout his
well-spent life, and in the stress and strife of the later years when
great pictures did change hands from time to time by conquest, Luini's
panel pictures in the little cities of his labours passed quite
unnoticed, while even if the frescoes were admired it was not easy to
move them. When at last his undoubted merits began to attract
attention of connoisseurs, these connoisseurs were wondering why
Leonardo da Vinci had left such a small number of pictures. They
found work that bore a great resemblance to Leonardo and they promptly
claimed that they had discovered the lost masterpieces. Consequently
Leonardo received the credit that was due to the man who may have
worked in his Milanese school and was undoubtedly under his influence
for a time. And many of the beautiful panel pictures that show Luini
at his best were attributed to Leonardo until nineteenth-century
criticism proved competent enough to render praise where it was due,
and to say definitely and with firm conviction that the unknown
painter from Luino, who lived sometime between 1470 and 1540, was the
true author.

If, in dealing with the life of Bernardino Luini, we are forced to
content ourselves with meagre scraps of biography and little details
that would have no importance at all in dealing with a life that was
traceable from early days to its conclusion, it is well to remember
that the most important part of the great artist is his work.
Beethoven's nine symphonies, Milton's "Paradise Lost," the landscapes
of Corot, the portraits of Velazquez, and the carving of Grinling
Gibbons are not more precious to us because we know something of the
life of the men who did the work. Nor are the "Iliad" and the
fragments that remain of the works of the great Greek sculptors less
to us because a shadowy tradition is all that surrounds the lives of
the men who gave immortal work to the world. We must remember that it
is as difficult to deal with art in terms of literature as it is to
express the subtle charm of music in words. Had Luini's years boasted
or regretted a series of gossiping newspapers we should have gathered
a rich harvest of fact, but the facts would have left the painter
where he is. There is enough of Luini left in Milan and the smaller
places we have named to tell us what the man was and the spirit in
which he worked, and while we will welcome the new-comer who can add
to our scanty store of authenticated facts we can hardly expect that
they will deepen our admiration of work that for all its shortcomings
must be remembered when we turn to ponder the greatest achievements of
Italian Art. It forms "a magic speculum, much gone to rust, indeed,
yet in fragments still clear; wherein the marvellous image of his
existence does still shadow itself, though fitfully, and as with an
intermittent light."

The plates are printed by BEMROSE DALZIEL, LTD., Watford

The text at the BALLANTYNE PRESS, Edinburgh

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