Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

´╗┐Title: The Renaissance: Studies in Art and Poetry
Author: Pater, Walter, 1839-1894
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
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 "The Renaissance: Studies in Art and Poetry" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



THE RENAISSANCE

STUDIES IN ART AND POETRY


by

Walter Pater



Sixth Edition



  Dedication
  To C.L.S.



PREFACE

Many attempts have been made by writers on art and poetry to define
beauty in the abstract, to express it in the most general terms, to find
a universal formula for it. The value of these attempts has most often
been in the suggestive and penetrating things said by the way. Such
discussions help us very little to enjoy what has been well done in art
or poetry, to discriminate between what is more and what is less
excellent in them, or to use words like beauty, excellence, art, poetry,
with a more precise meaning than they would otherwise have. Beauty, like
all other qualities presented to human experience, is relative; and the
definition of it becomes unmeaning and useless in proportion to its
abstractness. To define beauty, not in the most abstract, but in the
most concrete terms possible, to find, not a universal formula for it,
but the formula which expresses most adequately this or that special
manifestation of it, is the aim of the true student of aesthetics.

"To see the object as in itself it really is," has been justly said to
be the aim of all true criticism whatever; and in aesthetic criticism
the first step towards seeing one's object as it really is, is to know
one's own impression as it really is, to discriminate it, to realise it
distinctly. The objects with which aesthetic criticism deals--music,
poetry, artistic and accomplished forms of human life--are indeed
receptacles of so many powers or forces: they possess, like the products
of nature, so many virtues or qualities. What is this song or picture,
this engaging personality presented in life or in a book, to ME? What
effect does it really produce on me? Does it give me pleasure? and if
so, what sort or degree of pleasure? How is my nature modified by its
presence, and under its influence? The answers to these questions are
the original facts with which the aesthetic critic has to do; and, as in
the study of light, of morals, of number, one must realise such primary
data for oneself, or not at all. And he who experiences these
impressions strongly, and drives directly at the discrimination and
analysis of them, has no need to trouble himself with the abstract
question what beauty is in itself, or what its exact relation to truth
or experience--metaphysical questions, as unprofitable as metaphysical
questions elsewhere. He may pass them all by as being, answerable or
not, of no interest to him.

The aesthetic critic, then, regards all the objects with which he has to
do, all works of art, and the fairer forms of nature and human life, as
powers or forces producing pleasurable sensations, each of a more or
less peculiar or unique kind. This influence he feels, and wishes to
explain, analysing it and reducing it to its elements. To him, the
picture, the landscape, the engaging personality in life or in a book,
La Gioconda, the hills of Carrara, Pico of Mirandola, are valuable for
their virtues, as we say, in speaking of a herb, a wine, a gem; for the
property each has of affecting one with a special, a unique, impression
of pleasure. Our education becomes complete in proportion as our
susceptibility to these impressions increases in depth and variety. And
the function of the aesthetic critic is to distinguish, analyse, and
separate from its adjuncts, the virtue by which a picture, a landscape,
a fair personality in life or in a book, produces this special
impression of beauty or pleasure, to indicate what the source of that
impression is, and under what conditions it is experienced. His end is
reached when he has disengaged that virtue, and noted it, as a chemist
notes some natural element, for himself and others; and the rule for
those who would reach this end is stated with great exactness in the
words of a recent critic of Sainte-Beuve:--De se borner a connaitre de
pres les belles choses, et a s'en nourrir en exquis amateurs, en
humanistes accomplis.

What is important, then, is not that the critic should possess a correct
abstract definition of beauty for the intellect, but a certain kind of
temperament, the power of being deeply moved by the presence of
beautiful objects. He will remember always that beauty exists in many
forms. To him all periods, types, schools of taste, are in themselves
equal. In all ages there have been some excellent workmen, and some
excellent work done. The question he asks is always:--In whom did the
stir, the genius, the sentiment of the period find itself? where was the
receptacle of its refinement, its elevation, its taste? "The ages are
all equal," says William Blake, "but genius is always above its age."

Often it will require great nicety to disengage this virtue from the
commoner elements with which it may be found in combination. Few
artists, not Goethe or Byron even, work quite cleanly, casting off all
debris, and leaving us only what the heat of their imagination has
wholly fused and transformed. Take, for instance, the writings of
Wordsworth. The heat of his genius, entering into the substance of his
work, has crystallised a part, but only a part, of it; and in that great
mass of verse there is much which might well be forgotten. But scattered
up and down it, sometimes fusing and transforming entire compositions,
like the Stanzas on Resolution and Independence, and the Ode on the
Recollections of Childhood, sometimes, as if at random, depositing a
fine crystal here or there, in a matter it does not wholly search
through and transform, we trace the action of his unique, incommunicable
faculty, that strange, mystical sense of a life in natural things, and
of man's life as a part of nature, drawing strength and colour and
character from local influences, from the hills and streams, and from
natural sights and sounds. Well! that is the virtue, the active
principle in Wordsworth's poetry; and then the function of the critic of
Wordsworth is to follow up that active principle, to disengage it, to
mark the degree in which it penetrates his verse.

The subjects of the following studies are taken from the history of the
Renaissance, and touch what I think are the chief points in that
complex, many-sided movement. I have explained in the first of them what
I understand by the word, giving it a much wider scope than was
intended by those who originally used it to denote only that revival of
classical antiquity in the fifteenth century which was but one of many
results of a general excitement and enlightening of the human mind, of
which the great aim and achievements of what, as Christian art, is often
falsely opposed to the Renaissance, were another result. This outbreak
of the human spirit may be traced far into the middle age itself, with
its qualities already clearly pronounced, the care for physical beauty,
the worship of the body, the breaking down of those limits which the
religious system of the middle age imposed on the heart and the
imagination. I have taken as an example of this movement, this earlier
Renaissance within the middle age itself, and as an expression of its
qualities, two little compositions in early French; not because they
constitute the best possible expression of them, but because they help
the unity of my series, inasmuch as the Renaissance ends also in France,
in French poetry, in a phase of which the writings of Joachim du Bellay
are in many ways the most perfect illustration; the Renaissance thus
putting forth in France an aftermath, a wonderful later growth, the
products of which have to the full that subtle and delicate sweetness
which belongs to a refined and comely decadence; just as its earliest
phases have the freshness which belongs to all periods of growth in art,
the charm of ascesis, of the austere and serious girding of the loins in
youth.

But it is in Italy, in the fifteenth century, that the interest of the
Renaissance mainly lies,--in that solemn fifteenth century which can
hardly be studied too much, not merely for its positive results in the
things of the intellect and the imagination, its concrete works of art,
its special and prominent personalities, with their profound aesthetic
charm, but for its general spirit and character, for the ethical
qualities of which it is a consummate type.

The various forms of intellectual activity which together make up the
culture of an age, move for the most part from different
starting-points, and by unconnected roads. As products of the same
generation they partake indeed of a common character, and unconsciously
illustrate each other; but of the producers themselves, each group is
solitary, gaining what advantage or disadvantage there may be in
intellectual isolation. Art and poetry, philosophy and the religious
life, and that other life of refined pleasure and action in the open
places of the world, are each of them confined to its own circle of
ideas, and those who prosecute either of them are generally little
curious of the thoughts of others. There come, however, from time to
time, eras of more favourable conditions, in which the thoughts of men
draw nearer together than is their wont, and the many interests of the
intellectual world combine in one complete type of general culture. The
fifteenth century in Italy is one of these happier eras; and what is
sometimes said of the age of Pericles is true of that of Lorenzo:--it is
an age productive in personalities, many-sided, centralised, complete.
Here, artists and philosophers and those whom the action of the world
has elevated and made keen, do not live in isolation, but breathe a
common air, and catch light and heat from each other's thoughts. There
is a spirit of general elevation and enlightenment in which all alike
communicate. It is the unity of this spirit which gives unity to all the
various products of the Renaissance; and it is to this intimate alliance
with mind, this participation in the best thoughts which that age
produced, that the art of Italy in the fifteenth century owes much of
its grave dignity and influence.

I have added an essay on Winckelmann, as not incongruous with the
studies which precede it, because Winckelmann, coming in the eighteenth
century, really belongs in spirit to an earlier age. By his enthusiasm
for the things of the intellect and the imagination for their own sake,
by his Hellenism, his life-long struggle to attain to the Greek spirit,
he is in sympathy with the humanists of an earlier century. He is the
last fruit of the Renaissance, and explains in a striking way its motive
and tendencies.



CONTENTS

  TWO EARLY FRENCH STORIES
  PICO DELLA MIRANDOLA
  SANDRO BOTTICELLI
  LUCA DELLA ROBBIA
  THE POETRY OF MICHELANGELO
  LEONARDO DA VINCI
  THE SCHOOL OF GIORGIONE
  JOACHIM DU BELLAY
  WINCKELMANN
  CONCLUSION



TWO EARLY FRENCH STORIES

The history of the Renaissance ends in France, and carries us away from
Italy to the beautiful cities of the country of the Loire. But it was in
France also, in a very important sense, that the Renaissance had begun;
and French writers, who are so fond of connecting the creations of
Italian genius with a French origin, who tell us how Francis of Assisi
took not his name only, but all those notions of chivalry and romantic
love which so deeply penetrated his thoughts, from a French source, how
Boccaccio borrowed the outlines of his stories from the old French
fabliaux, and how Dante himself expressly connects the origin of the art
of miniature-painting with the city of Paris, have often dwelt on this
notion of a Renaissance in the end of the twelfth and the beginning of
the thirteenth century, a Renaissance within the limits of the middle
age itself--a brilliant, but in part abortive effort to do for human
life and the human mind what was afterwards done in the fifteenth. The
word Renaissance, indeed, is now generally used to denote not merely
that revival of classical antiquity which took place in the fifteenth
century, and to which the word was first applied, but a whole complex
movement, of which that revival of classical antiquity was but one
element or symptom. For us the Renaissance is the name of a many-sided
but yet united movement, in which the love of the things of the
intellect and the imagination for their own sake, the desire for a more
liberal and comely way of conceiving life, make themselves felt, urging
those who experience this desire to search out first one and then
another means of intellectual or imaginative enjoyment, and directing
them not merely to the discovery of old and forgotten sources of this
enjoyment, but to the divination of fresh sources thereof--new
experiences, new subjects of poetry, new forms of art. Of such feeling
there was a great outbreak in the end of the twelfth and the beginning
of the following century. Here and there, under rare and happy
conditions, in Pointed architecture, in the doctrines of romantic love,
in the poetry of Provence, the rude strength of the middle age turns to
sweetness; and the taste for sweetness generated there becomes the seed
of the classical revival in it, prompting it constantly to seek after
the springs of perfect sweetness in the Hellenic world. And coming after
a long period in which this instinct had been crushed, that true "dark
age," in which so many sources of intellectual and imaginative enjoyment
had actually disappeared, this outbreak is rightly called a Renaissance,
a revival.

Theories which bring into connexion with each other modes of thought and
feeling, periods of taste, forms of art and poetry, which the narrowness
of men's minds constantly tends to oppose to each other, have a great
stimulus for the intellect, and are almost always worth understanding.
It is so with this theory of a Renaissance within the middle age, which
seeks to establish a continuity between the most characteristic work of
the middle age, the sculpture of Chartres and the windows of Le Mans,
and the work of the later Renaissance, the work of Jean Cousin and
Germain Pilon, and thus heals that rupture between the middle age and
the Renaissance which has so often been exaggerated. But it is not so
much the ecclesiastical art of the middle age, its sculpture and
painting--work certainly done in a great measure for pleasure's sake, in
which even a secular, a rebellious spirit often betrays itself--but
rather the profane poetry of the middle age, the poetry of Provence, and
the magnificent after-growth of that poetry in Italy and France, which
those French writers have in view, when they speak of this Renaissance
within the middle age. In that poetry, earthly passion, with its
intimacy, its freedom, its variety--the liberty of the heart--makes
itself felt; and the name of Abelard, the great clerk and the great
lover, connects the expression of this liberty of heart with the free
play of human intelligence around all subjects presented to it, with the
liberty of the intellect, as that age understood it. Every one knows the
legend of Abelard, a legend hardly less passionate, certainly not less
characteristic of the middle age, than the legend of Tannhaeuser; how
the famous and comely clerk, in whom Wisdom herself, self-possessed,
pleasant, and discreet, seemed to sit enthroned, came to live in the
house of a canon of the church of Notre-Dame, where dwelt a girl
Heloise, believed to be the old priest's orphan niece, his love for whom
he had testified by giving her an education then unrivalled, so that
rumour even asserted that, through the knowledge of languages, enabling
her to penetrate into the mysteries of the older world, she had become a
sorceress, like the Celtic druidesses; and how as Abelard and Heloise
sat together at home there, to refine a little further on the nature of
abstract ideas, "Love made himself of the party with them." You conceive
the temptations of the scholar, who, in such dreamy tranquillity, amid
the bright and busy spectacle of the "Island," lived in a world of
something like shadows; and that for one who knew so well how to assign
its exact value to every abstract idea, those restraints which lie on
the consciences of other men had been relaxed. It appears that he
composed many verses in the vulgar tongue: already the young men sang
them on the quay below the house. Those songs, says M. de Remusat, were
probably in the taste of the Trouveres, of whom he was one of the first
in date, or, so to speak, the predecessor. It is the same spirit which
has moulded the famous "letters," written in the quaint Latin of the
middle age. At the foot of that early Gothic tower, which the next
generation raised to grace the precincts of Abelard's school, on the
"Mountain of Saint Genevieve," the historian Michelet sees in thought "a
terrible assembly; not the hearers of Abelard alone, fifty bishops,
twenty cardinals, two popes, the whole body of scholastic philosophy;
not only the learned Heloise, the teaching of languages, and the
Renaissance; but Arnold of Brescia--that is to say, the revolution." And
so from the rooms of this shadowy house by the Seine side we see that
spirit going abroad, with its qualities already well defined, its
intimacy, its languid sweetness, its rebellion, its subtle skill in
dividing the elements of human passion, its care for physical beauty,
its worship of the body, which penetrated the early literature of Italy,
and finds an echo in Dante.

That Abelard is not mentioned in the Divine Comedy may appear a singular
omission to the reader of Dante, who seems to have inwoven into the
texture of his work whatever had impressed him as either effective in
colour or spiritually significant among the recorded incidents of actual
life. Nowhere in his great poem do we find the name, nor so much as an
allusion to the story of one who had left so deep a mark on the
philosophy of which Dante was an eager student, of whom in the Latin
Quarter, and from the lips of scholar or teacher in the University of
Paris, during his sojourn among them, he can hardly have failed to hear.
We can only suppose that he had indeed considered the story and the man,
and had abstained from passing judgment as to his place in the scheme
of "eternal justice." In the famous legend of Tannhaeuser, the erring
knight makes his way to Rome, to seek absolution at what was then the
centre of Christian religion. "So soon," thought and said the Pope, "as
the staff in his hand should bud and blossom, so soon might the soul of
Tannhaeuser be saved, and no sooner; and it came to pass not long after
that the dry wood of a staff which the Pope had carried in his hand was
covered with leaves and flowers." So, in the cloister of Godstow a
petrified tree was shown, of which the nuns told that the fair Rosamond,
who had died among them, had declared that, the tree being then alive
and green, it would be changed into stone at the hour of her salvation.
When Abelard died, like Tannhaeuser, he was on his way to Rome: what
might have happened had he reached his journey's end is uncertain; and
it is in this uncertain twilight that his relation to the general
beliefs of his age has always remained. In this, as in other things, he
prefigures the character of the Renaissance, that movement in which, in
various ways, the human mind wins for itself a new kingdom of feeling
and sensation and thought, not opposed to, but only beyond and
independent of the spiritual system then actually realised. The
opposition into which Abelard is thrown, which gives its colour to his
career, which breaks his soul to pieces, is a no less subtle opposition
than that between the merely professional, official, hireling ministers
of that system, with their ignorant worship of system for its own sake,
and the true child of light, the humanist, with reason and heart and
senses quick, while theirs were almost dead. He reaches out towards, he
attains, modes of ideal living, beyond the prescribed limits of that
system, though possibly contained in essential germ within it. As always
happens, the adherents of the poorer and narrower culture had no
sympathy with, because no understanding of, a culture richer and more
ample than their own: after the discovery of wheat they would still live
upon acorns--apres l'invention du ble ils voulaient encore vivre du
gland; and would hear of no service to the higher needs of humanity with
instruments not of their forging.

But the human spirit, bold through those needs, was too strong for them.
Abelard and Heloise write their letters--letters with a wonderful
outpouring of soul--in medieval Latin; and Abelard, though he composes
songs in the vulgar tongue, writes also in Latin those treatises in
which he tries to find a ground of reality below the abstractions of
philosophy, as one bent on trying all things by their congruity with
human experience, who had felt the hand of Heloise, and looked into her
eyes, and tested the resources of humanity in her great and energetic
nature. Yet it is only a little later, early in the thirteenth century,
that French prose romance begins; and in one of the pretty volumes of
the Bibliotheque Elzevirienne some of the most striking fragments of it
may be found, edited with much intelligence. In one of these
thirteenth-century stories, Li Amitiez de Ami et Amile, that free play
of human affection, of the claims of which Abelard's story is an
assertion, makes itself felt in the incidents of a great friendship, a
friendship pure and generous, pushed to a sort of passionate exaltation,
and more than faithful unto death. Such comradeship, though instances of
it are to be found everywhere, is still especially a classical motive;
Chaucer expressing the sentiment of it so strongly in an antique tale,
that one knows not whether the love of both Palamon and Arcite for
Emelya, or of those two for each other, is the chiefer subject of the
Knight's Tale--

  He cast his eyen upon Emelya,
  And therewithal he bleynte and cried, ah!
  As that he stongen were unto the herte.

What reader does not refer part of the bitterness of that cry to the
spoiling, already foreseen, of that fair friendship, which had hitherto
made the prison of the two lads sweet with its daily offices--though the
friendship is saved at last?

The friendship of Amis and Amile is deepened by the romantic
circumstance of an entire personal resemblance between the two heroes,
so that they pass for each other again and again, and thereby into many
strange adventures; that curious interest of the Doppelgaenger, which
begins among the stars with the Dioscuri, being entwined in and out
through all the incidents of the story, like an outward token of the
inward similitude of their souls. With this, again, like a second
reflexion of that inward similitude, is connected the conceit of two
marvellously beautiful cups, also exactly like each other--children's
cups, of wood, but adorned with gold and precious stones. These two
cups, which by their resemblance help to bring the friends together at
critical moments, were given to them by the Pope, when he baptized them
at Rome, whither the parents had taken them for that purpose, in
thankfulness for their birth, and cross and recross in the narrative,
serving the two heroes almost like living things, and with that
well-known effect of a beautiful object kept constantly before the eye
in a story or poem, of keeping sensation well awake, and giving a
certain air of refinement to all the scenes into which it enters; with a
heightening also of that sense of fate, which hangs so much of the
shaping of human life on trivial objects, like Othello's strawberry
handkerchief; and witnessing to the enjoyment of beautiful handiwork by
primitive people, almost dazzled by it, so that they give it an oddly
significant place among the factors of a human history.

Amis and Amile, then, are true to their comradeship through all trials;
and in the end it comes to pass that at a moment of great need Amis
takes the place of Amile in a tournament for life or death. "After this
it happened that a leprosy fell upon Amis, so that his wife would not
approach him, and wrought to strangle him; and he departed from his
home, and at last prayed his servants to carry him to the house of
Amile"; and it is in what follows that the curious strength of the piece
shows itself:--

"His servants, willing to do as he commanded, carried him to the place
where Amile was: and they began to sound their rattles before the court
of Amile's house, as lepers are accustomed to do. And when Amile heard
the noise he commanded one of his servants to carry meat and bread to
the sick man, and the cup which was given to him at Rome filled with
good wine. And when the servant had done as he was commanded, he
returned and said, Sir, if I had not thy cup in my hand, I should
believe that the cup which the sick man has was thine, for they are
alike, the one to the other, in height and fashion. And Amile said, Go
quickly and bring him to me. And when Amis stood before his comrade
Amile demanded of him who he was, and how he had gotten that cup. I am
of Briquam le Chastel, answered Amis, and the cup was given to me by the
Bishop of Rome, who baptized me. And when Amile heard that, he knew that
it was his comrade Amis, who had delivered him from death, and won for
him the daughter of the King of France to be his wife. And straightway
he fell upon him, and began to weep greatly, and kissed him. And when
his wife heard that, she ran out with her hair in disarray, weeping and
distressed exceedingly, for she remembered that it was he who had slain
the false Ardres. And thereupon they placed him in a fair bed, and said
to him, Abide with us until God's will be accomplished in thee, for all
that we have is at thy service. So he and the two servants abode with
them.

"And it came to pass one night, when Amis and Amile lay in one chamber
without other companions, that God sent His angel Raphael to Amis, who
said to him, Amis, art thou asleep? And he, supposing that Amile had
called him, answered and said, I am not asleep, fair comrade! And the
angel said to him, Thou hast answered well, for thou art the comrade of
the heavenly citizens.--I am Raphael, the angel of our Lord, and am come
to tell thee how thou mayest be healed; for thy prayers are heard. Thou
shalt bid Amile, thy comrade, that he slay his two children and wash
thee in their blood, and so thy body shall be made whole. And Amis said
to him, Let not this thing be, that my comrade should become a murderer
for my sake. But the angel said, It is convenient that he do this. And
thereupon the angel departed.

"And Amile also, as if in sleep, heard those words; and he awoke and
said, Who is it, my comrade, that hath spoken with thee? And Amis
answered, No man; only I have prayed to our Lord, as I am accustomed.
And Amile said, Not so! but some one hath spoken with thee. Then he
arose and went to the door of the chamber; and finding it shut he said,
Tell me, my brother, who it was said those words to thee to-night. And
Amis began to weep greatly, and told him that it was Raphael, the angel
of the Lord, who had said to him, Amis, our Lord commands thee that thou
bid Amile slay his two children, and wash thee in their blood, and thou
shalt be healed of thy leprosy. And Amile was greatly disturbed at those
words, and said, I would have given to thee my man-servants and my
maid-servants and all my goods, and thou feignest that an angel hath
spoken to thee that I should slay my two children. And immediately Amis
began to weep, and said, I know that I have spoken to thee a terrible
thing, but constrained thereto; I pray thee cast me not away from the
shelter of thy house. And Amile answered that what he had covenanted
with him, that he would perform, unto the hour of his death: But I
conjure thee, said he, by the faith which there is between me and thee,
and by our comradeship, and by the baptism we received together at Rome,
that thou tell me whether it was man or angel said that to thee. And
Amis answered, So truly as an angel hath spoken to me this night, so may
God deliver me from my infirmity!

"Then Amile began to weep in secret, and thought within himself: If this
man was ready to die before the king for me, shall I not for him slay my
children? Shall I not keep faith with him who was faithful to me even
unto death? And Amile tarried no longer, but departed to the chamber of
his wife, and bade her go hear the Sacred Office. And he took a sword,
and went to the bed where the children were lying, and found them
asleep. And he lay down over them and began to weep bitterly and said,
Hath any man yet heard of a father who of his own will slew his
children? Alas, my children! I am no longer your father, but your cruel
murderer.

"And the children awoke at the tears of their father, which fell upon
them; and they looked up into his face and began to laugh. And as they
were of the age of about three years, he said, Your laughing will be
turned into tears, for your innocent blood must now be shed, and
therewith he cut off their heads. Then he laid them back in the bed, and
put the heads upon the bodies, and covered them as though they were
sleeping: and with the blood which he had taken he washed his comrade,
and said, Lord Jesus Christ! who hast commanded men to keep faith on
earth, and didst heal the leper by Thy word! cleanse now my comrade, for
whose love I have shed the blood of my children.

"Then Amis was cleansed of his leprosy. And Amile clothed his companion
in his best robes; and as they went to the church to give thanks, the
bells, by the will of God, rang of their own accord. And when the people
of the city heard that, they ran together to see the marvel. And the
wife of Amile, when she saw Amis and Amile coming, began to ask which of
the twain was her husband, and said, I know well the vesture of them
both, but I know not which of them is Amile. And Amile said to her, I am
Amile, and my companion is Amis, who is healed of his sickness. And she
was full of wonder, and desired to know in what manner he was healed.
Give thanks to our Lord, answered Amile, but trouble not thyself as to
the manner of the healing.

"Now neither the father nor the mother had yet entered where the
children were; but the father sighed heavily because of their death, and
the mother asked for them, that they might rejoice together; but Amile
said, Dame! Let the children sleep. And it was already the hour of
Tierce. And going in alone to the children to weep over them, he found
them at play in the bed; only, in the place of the sword-cuts about
their throats was as it were a thread of crimson. And he took them in
his arms and carried them to his wife and said, Rejoice greatly, for thy
children whom I had slain by the commandment of the angel are alive, and
by their blood is Amis healed."

There, as I said, is the strength of the old French story. For the
Renaissance has not only the sweetness which it derives from the
classical world, but also that curious strength of which there are great
resources in the true middle age. And as I have illustrated the early
strength of the Renaissance by the story of Amis and Amile, a story
which comes from the North, in which even a certain racy Teutonic
flavour is perceptible, so I shall illustrate that other element of its
early sweetness, a languid excess of sweetness even, by another story
printed in the same volume of the Bibliotheque Elzevirienne, and of
about the same date, a story which comes, characteristically, from the
South, and connects itself with the literature of Provence.

The central love-poetry of Provence, the poetry of the Tenson and the
Aubade, of Bernard de Ventadour and Pierre Vidal, is poetry for the few,
for the elect and peculiar people of the kingdom of sentiment. But below
this intenser poetry there was probably a wide range of literature, less
serious and elevated, reaching, by lightness of form and comparative
homeliness of interest, an audience which the concentrated passion of
those higher lyrics left untouched. This literature has long since
perished, or lives only in later French or Italian versions. One such
version, the only representative of its species, M. Fauriel thought he
detected in the story of Aucassin and Nicolette, written in the French
of the latter half of the thirteenth century, and preserved in a unique
manuscript, in the national library of Paris; and there were reasons
which made him divine for it a still more ancient ancestry, traces in it
of an Arabian origin, as in a leaf lost out of some early Arabian
Nights.* The little book loses none of its interest through the
criticism which finds in it only a traditional subject, handed on by one
people to another; for after passing thus from hand to hand, its outline
is still clear, its surface untarnished; and, like many other stories,
books, literary and artistic conceptions of the middle age, it has come
to have in this way a sort of personal history, almost as full of risk
and adventure as that of its own heroes. The writer himself calls the
piece a cantefable, a tale told in prose, but with its incidents and
sentiment helped forward by songs, inserted at irregular intervals. In
the junctions of the story itself there are signs of roughness and want
of skill, which make one suspect that the prose was only put together to
connect a series of songs--a series of songs so moving and attractive
that people wished to heighten and dignify their effect by a regular
framework or setting. Yet the songs themselves are of the simplest kind,
not rhymed even, but only imperfectly assonant, stanzas of twenty or
thirty lines apiece, all ending with a similar vowel sound. And here, as
elsewhere in that early poetry, much of the interest lies in the
spectacle of the formation of a new artistic sense. A new music is
arising, the music of rhymed poetry, and in the songs of Aucassin and
Nicolette, which seem always on the point of passing into true rhyme,
but which halt somehow, and can never quite take flight, you see people
just growing aware of the elements of a new music in their possession,
and anticipating how pleasant such music might become. The piece was
probably intended to be recited by a company of trained performers, many
of whom, at least for the lesser parts, were probably children. The
songs are introduced by the rubric, Or se cante (ici on chante); and
each division of prose by the rubric, Or dient et content et fabloient
(ici on conte). The musical notes of part of the songs have been
preserved; and some of the details are so descriptive that they
suggested to M. Fauriel the notion that the words had been accompanied
throughout by dramatic action. That mixture of simplicity and refinement
which he was surprised to find in a composition of the thirteenth
century, is shown sometimes in the turn given to some passing expression
or remark; thus, "the Count de Garins was old and frail, his time was
over"--Li quens Garins de Beaucaire estoit vix et frales; si avoit son
tans trespasse. And then, all is so realised! One still sees the ancient
forest, with its disused roads grown deep with grass, and the place
where seven roads meet--u a forkeut set cemin qui s'en vont par le pais;
we hear the light-hearted country people calling each other by their
rustic names, and putting forward, as their spokesman, one among them
who is more eloquent and ready than the rest--li un qui plus fu enparles
des autres; for the little book has its burlesque element also, so that
one hears the faint, far-off laughter still. Rough as it is, the piece
certainly possesses this high quality of poetry, that it aims at a
purely artistic effect. Its subject is a great sorrow, yet it claims to
be a thing of joy and refreshment, to be entertained not for its matter
only, but chiefly for its manner; it is cortois, it tells us, et bien
assis.

*Recently, Aucassin and Nicolette has been edited and translated into
English, with much graceful scholarship, by Mr. F. W. Bourdillon. More
recently still we have had a translation--a poet's translation--from the
ingenious and versatile pen of Mr. Andrew Lang. The reader should
consult also the chapter on "The Out-door Poetry," in Vernon Lee's most
interesting Euphorion; being Studies of the Antique and Mediaeval in the
Renaissance, a work abounding in knowledge and insight on the subjects
of which it treats.

For the student of manners, and of the old language and literature, it
has much interest of a purely antiquarian order. To say of an ancient
literary composition that it has an antiquarian interest, often means
that it has no distinct aesthetic interest for the reader of to-day.
Antiquarianism, by a purely historical effort, by putting its object in
perspective, and setting the reader in a certain point of view, from
which what gave pleasure to the past is pleasurable for him also, may
often add greatly to the charm we receive from ancient literature. But
the first condition of such aid must be a real, direct, aesthetic charm
in the thing itself; unless it has that charm, unless some purely
artistic quality went to its original making, no merely antiquarian
effort can ever give it an aesthetic value, or make it a proper subject
of aesthetic criticism. This quality, wherever it exists, it is always
pleasant to define, and discriminate from the sort of borrowed interest
which an old play, or an old story, may very likely acquire through a
true antiquarianism. The story of Aucassin and Nicolette has something
of this quality. Aucassin, the only son of Count Garins of Beaucaire, is
passionately in love with Nicolette, a beautiful girl of unknown
parentage, bought of the Saracens, whom his father will not permit him
to marry. The story turns on the adventures of these two lovers, until
at the end of the piece their mutual fidelity is rewarded. These
adventures are of the simplest sort, adventures which seem to be chosen
for the happy occasion they afford of keeping the eye of the fancy,
perhaps the outward eye, fixed on pleasant objects, a garden, a ruined
tower, the little hut of flowers which Nicolette constructs in the
forest whither she has escaped from her enemies, as a token to Aucassin
that she has passed that way. All the charm of the piece is in its
details, in a turn of peculiar lightness and grace given to the
situations and traits of sentiment, especially in its quaint fragments
of early French prose.

All through it one feels the influence of that faint air of overwrought
delicacy, almost of wantonness, which was so strong a characteristic of
the poetry of the Troubadours. The Troubadours themselves were often men
of great rank; they wrote for an exclusive audience, people of much
leisure and great refinement, and they came to value a type of personal
beauty which has in it but little of the influence of the open air and
sunshine. There is a languid Eastern deliciousness in the very scenery
of the story, the full-blown roses, the chamber painted in some
mysterious manner where Nicolette is imprisoned, the cool brown marble,
the almost nameless colours, the odour of plucked grass and flowers.
Nicolette herself well becomes this scenery, and is the best
illustration of the quality I mean--the beautiful, weird, foreign girl,
whom the shepherds take for a fay, who has the knowledge of simples, the
healing and beautifying qualities of leaves and flowers, whose skilful
touch heals Aucassin's sprained shoulder, so that he suddenly leaps from
the ground; the mere sight of whose white flesh, as she passed the place
where he lay, healed a pilgrim stricken with sore disease, so that he
rose up, and returned to his own country. With this girl Aucassin is so
deeply in love that he forgets all his knightly duties. At last
Nicolette is shut up to get her out of his way, and perhaps the
prettiest passage in the whole piece is the fragment of prose which
describes her escape from this place:--

"Aucassin was put in prison, as you have heard, and Nicolette remained
shut up in her chamber. It was summer-time, in the month of May, when
the days are warm and long and clear, and the nights coy and serene.

"One night Nicolette, lying on her bed, saw the moon shine clear through
the little window, and heard the nightingale sing in the garden, and
then came the memory of Aucassin, whom she so much loved. She thought of
the Count Garins of Beaucaire, who so mortally hated her, and, to be rid
of her, might at any moment cause her to be burned or drowned. She
perceived that the old woman who kept her company was asleep; she rose
and put on the fairest gown she had; she took the bed-clothes and the
towels, and knotted them together like a cord, as far as they would go.
Then she tied the end to a pillar of the window, and let herself slip
down quite softly into the garden, and passed straight across it, to
reach the town.

"Her hair was yellow in small curls, her smiling eyes blue-green, her
face clear and feat, the little lips very red, the teeth small and
white; and the daisies which she crushed in passing, holding her skirt
high behind and before, looked dark against her feet; the girl was so
white!

"She came to the garden-gate and opened it, and walked through the
streets of Beaucaire, keeping on the dark side of the way to avoid the
light of the moon, which shone quietly in the sky. She walked as fast as
she could, until she came to the tower where Aucassin was. The tower was
set about with pillars, here and there. She pressed herself against one
of the pillars, wrapped herself closely in her mantle, and putting her
face to a chink of the tower, which was old and ruined, she heard
Aucassin crying bitterly within, and when she had listened awhile she
began to speak."

But scattered up and down through this lighter matter, always tinged
with humour and often passing into burlesque, which makes up the general
substance of the piece, there are morsels of a different quality,
touches of some intenser sentiment, coming it would seem from the
profound and energetic spirit of the Provencal poetry itself, to which
the inspiration of the book has been referred. Let me gather up these
morsels of deeper colour, these expressions of the ideal intensity of
love, the motive which really unites together the fragments of the
little composition. Dante, the perfect flower of ideal love, has
recorded how the tyranny of that "Lord of terrible aspect" became
actually physical, blinding his senses, and suspending his bodily
forces. In this Dante is but the central expression and type of
experiences known well enough to the initiated, in that passionate age.
Aucassin represents this ideal intensity of passion--

  Aucassin, li biax, li blons,
  Li gentix, li amorous;

the slim, tall, debonair figure, dansellon, as the singers call him,
with curled yellow hair, and eyes of vair, who faints with love, as
Dante fainted, who rides all day through the forest in search of
Nicolette, while the thorns tear his flesh, so that one night have
traced him by the blood upon the grass, and who weeps at evening because
he has not found her--who has the malady of his love, so that he
neglects all knightly duties. Once he is induced to put himself at the
head of his people, that they, seeing him before them, might have more
heart to defend themselves; then a song relates how the sweet, grave
figure goes forth to battle, in dainty, tight-laced armour. It is the
very image of the Provencal love-god, no longer a child, but grown to
pensive youth, as Pierre Vidal met him, riding on a white horse, fair as
the morning, his vestment embroidered with flowers. He rode on through
the gates into the open plain beyond. But as he went, that great malady
of his love came upon him, so that the bridle fell from his hands; and
like one who sleeps walking, he was carried on into the midst of his
enemies, and heard them talking together how they might most
conveniently kill him.

One of the strongest characteristics of that outbreak of the reason and
the imagination, of that assertion of the liberty of the heart, in the
middle age, which I have termed a medieval Renaissance, was its
antinomianism, its spirit of rebellion and revolt against the moral and
religious ideas of the time. In their search after the pleasures of the
senses and the imagination, in their care for beauty, in their worship
of the body, people were impelled beyond the bounds of the Christian
ideal; and their love became sometimes a strange idolatry, a strange
rival religion. It was the return of that ancient Venus, not dead, but
only hidden for a time in the caves of the Venusberg, of those old pagan
gods still going to and fro on the earth, under all sorts of disguises.
And this element in the middle age, for the most part ignored by those
writers who have treated it pre-eminently as the "Age of Faith"--this
rebellious and antinomian element, the recognition of which has made the
delineation of the middle age by the writers of the Romantic school in
France, by Victor Hugo for instance in Notre-Dame de Paris, so
suggestive and exciting, is found alike in the history of Abelard and
the legend of Tannhaeuser. More and more, as we come to mark changes and
distinctions of temper in what is often in one all-embracing confusion
called the middle age, this rebellious element, this sinister claim for
liberty of heart and thought, comes to the surface. The Albigensian
movement, connected so strangely with the history of Provencal poetry,
is deeply tinged with it. A touch of it makes the Franciscan order, with
its poetry, its mysticism, its "illumination," from the point of view of
religious authority, justly suspect. It influences the thoughts of those
obscure prophetical writers, like Joachim of Flora, strange dreamers in
a world of flowery rhetoric of that third and final dispensation of a
"spirit of freedom," in which law shall have passed away. Of this spirit
Aucassin and Nicolette contains perhaps the most famous expression: it
is the answer Aucassin gives when he is threatened with the pains of
hell, if he makes Nicolette his mistress. A creature wholly of affection
and the senses, he sees on the way to paradise only a feeble company of
aged priests, "clinging day and night to the chapel altars," barefoot or
in patched sandals. With or even without Nicolette, "his sweet mistress
whom he so much loves," he, for his part, is ready to start on the way
to hell, along with "the good scholars," as he says, and the actors, and
the fine horsemen dead in battle, and the men of fashion,* and "the fair
courteous ladies who had two or three chevaliers apiece beside their own
true lords," all gay with music, in their gold and silver and beautiful
furs--"the vair and the grey."

*Parage, peerage--which came to signify all that ambitious youth
affected most on the outside of life, in that old world of the
Troubadours, with whom this term is of frequent recurrence.

But in the House Beautiful the saints too have their place; and the
student of the Renaissance has this advantage over the student of the
emancipation of the human mind in the Reformation, or the French
Revolution, that in tracing the footsteps of humanity to higher levels,
he is not beset at every turn by the inflexibilities and antagonisms of
some well-recognised controversy, with rigidly defined opposites,
exhausting the intelligence and limiting one's sympathies. The
opposition of the professional defenders of a mere system to that more
sincere and general play of the forces of human mind and character,
which I have noted as the secret of Abelard's struggle, is indeed always
powerful. But the incompatibility of souls really "fair" is not
essential; and within the enchanted region of the Renaissance, one needs
not be for ever on one's guard: here there are no fixed parties, no
exclusions: all breathes of that unity of culture in which "whatsoever
things are comely" are reconciled, for the elevation and adorning of our
spirits. And just in proportion as those who took part in the
Renaissance become centrally representative of it, just so much the more
is this condition realised in them. The wicked popes, and the loveless
tyrants, who from time to time became its patrons, or mere speculators
in its fortunes, lend themselves easily to disputations, and, from this
side or that, the spirit of controversy lays just hold upon them. But
the painter of the Last Supper, with his kindred, live in a land where
controversy has no breathing-place, and refuse to be classified. In the
story of Aucassin and Nicolette, in the literature which it represents,
the note of defiance, of the opposition of one system to another, is
sometimes harsh: let me conclude with a morsel from Amis and Amile, in
which the harmony of human interests is still entire. For the story of
the great traditional friendship, in which, as I said, the liberty of
the heart makes itself felt, seems, as we have it, to have been written
by a monk--La vie des saints martyrs Amis et Amile. It was not till the
end of the seventeenth century that their names were finally excluded
from the martyrology; and their story ends with this monkish miracle of
earthly comradeship, more than faithful unto death:--

"For, as God had united them in their lives in one accord, so they were
not divided in their death, falling together side by side, with a host
of other brave men, in battle for King Charles at Mortara, so called
from that great slaughter. And the bishops gave counsel to the king and
queen that they should bury the dead, and build a church in that place;
and their counsel pleased the king greatly; and there were built there
two churches, the one by commandment of the king in honour of Saint
Oseige, and the other by commandment of the queen in honour of Saint
Peter.

"And the king caused the two chests of stone to be brought in the which
the bodies of Amis and Amile lay; and Amile was carried to the church of
Saint Peter, and Amis to the church of Saint Oseige; and the other
corpses were buried, some in one place and some in the other. But lo!
next morning, the body of Amile in his coffin was found lying in the
church of Saint Oseige, beside the coffin of Amis his comrade. Behold
then this wondrous amity, which by death could not be dissevered!

"This miracle God did, who gave to His disciples power to remove
mountains. And by reason of this miracle the king and queen remained in
that place for a space of thirty days, and performed the offices of the
dead who were slain, and honoured the said churches with great gifts:
and the bishop ordained many clerks to serve in the church of Saint
Oseige, and commanded them that they should guard duly, with great
devotion, the bodies of the two companions, Amis and Amile."

1872.



PICO DELLA MIRANDOLA

No account of the Renaissance can be complete without some notice of the
attempt made by certain Italian scholars of the fifteenth century to
reconcile Christianity with the religion of ancient Greece. To reconcile
forms of sentiment which at first sight seem incompatible, to adjust the
various products of the human mind to each other in one many-sided type
of intellectual culture, to give humanity, for heart and imagination to
feed upon, as much as it could possibly receive, belonged to the
generous instincts of that age. An earlier and simpler generation had
seen in the gods of Greece so many malignant spirits, the defeated but
still living centres of the religion of darkness, struggling, not always
in vain, against the kingdom of light. Little by little, as the natural
charm of pagan story reasserted itself over minds emerging out of
barbarism, the religious significance which had once belonged to it was
lost sight of, and it came to be regarded as the subject of a purely
artistic or poetical treatment. But it was inevitable that from time to
time minds should arise, deeply enough impressed by its beauty and power
to ask themselves whether the religion of Greece was indeed a rival of
the religion of Christ; for the older gods had rehabilitated themselves,
and men's allegiance was divided. And the fifteenth century was an
impassioned age, so ardent and serious in its pursuit of art that it
consecrated everything with which art had to do as a religious object.
The restored Greek literature had made it familiar, at least in Plato,
with a style of expression concerning the earlier gods, which had about
it much of the warmth and unction of a Christian hymn. It was too
familiar with such language to regard mythology as a mere story; and it
was too serious to play with a religion.

"Let me briefly remind the reader"--says Heine, in the Gods in Exile, an
essay full of that strange blending of sentiment which is characteristic
of the traditions of the middle age concerning the pagan religions--"how
the gods of the older world, at the time of the definite triumph of
Christianity, that is, in the third century, fell into painful
embarrassments, which greatly resembled certain tragical situations of
their earlier life. They now found themselves beset by the same
troublesome necessities to which they had once before been exposed
during the primitive ages, in that revolutionary epoch when the Titans
broke out of the custody of Orcus, and, piling Pelion on Ossa, scaled
Olympus. Unfortunate Gods! They had then to take flight ignominiously,
and hide themselves among us here on earth, under all sorts of
disguises. The larger number betook themselves to Egypt, where for
greater security they assumed the forms of animals, as is generally
known. Just in the same way, they had to take flight again, and seek
entertainment in remote hiding-places, when those iconoclastic zealots,
the black brood of monks, broke down all the temples, and pursued the
gods with fire and curses. Many of these unfortunate emigrants, now
entirely deprived of shelter and ambrosia, must needs take to vulgar
handicrafts, as a means of earning their bread. Under these
circumstances, many whose sacred groves had been confiscated, let
themselves out for hire as wood-cutters in Germany, and were forced to
drink beer instead of nectar. Apollo seems to have been content to take
service under graziers, and as he had once kept the cows of Admetus, so
he lived now as a shepherd in Lower Austria. Here, however, having
become suspected on account of his beautiful singing, he was recognised
by a learned monk as one of the old pagan gods, and handed over to the
spiritual tribunal. On the rack he confessed that he was the god Apollo;
and before his execution he begged that he might be suffered to play
once more upon the lyre, and to sing a song. And he played so
touchingly, and sang with such magic, and was withal so beautiful in
form and feature, that all the women wept, and many of them were so
deeply impressed that they shortly afterwards fell sick. And some time
afterwards the people wished to drag him from the grave again, so that a
stake might be driven through his body, in the belief that he had been a
vampire, and that the sick women would by this means recover. But they
found the grave empty."

The Renaissance of the fifteenth century was, in many things, great
rather by what it designed than by what it achieved. Much which it
aspired to do, and did but imperfectly or mistakenly, was accomplished
in what is called the eclaircissement of the eighteenth century, or in
our own generation; and what really belongs to the rival of the
fifteenth century is but the leading instinct, the curiosity, the
initiatory idea. It is so with this very question of the reconciliation
of the religion of antiquity with the religion of Christ. A modern
scholar occupied by this problem might observe that all religions may be
regarded as natural products; that, at least in their origin, their
growth, and decay, they have common laws, and are not to be isolated
from the other movements of the human mind in the periods in which they
respectively prevailed; that they arise spontaneously out of the human
mind, as expressions of the varying phases of its sentiment concerning
the unseen world; that every intellectual product must be judged from
the point of view of the age and the people in which it was produced.
He might go on to observe that each has contributed something to the
development of the religious sense, and ranging them as so many stages
in the gradual education of the human mind, justify the existence of
each. The basis of the reconciliation of the religions of the world
would thus be the inexhaustible activity and creativeness of the human
mind itself, in which all religions alike have their root, and in
which all alike are reconciled; just as the fancies of childhood and the
thoughts of old age meet and are laid to rest, in the experience of the
individual. Far different was the method followed by the scholars of the
fifteenth century. They lacked the very rudiments of the historic sense,
which, by an imaginative act, throws itself back into a world unlike
one's own, and estimates every intellectual creation in its connexion
with the age from which it proceeded; they had no idea of development,
of the differences of ages, of the gradual education of the human race.
In their attempts to reconcile the religions of the world, they were
thus thrown back upon the quicksand of allegorical interpretation. The
religions of the world were to be reconciled, not as successive stages,
in a gradual development of the religious sense, but as subsisting side
by side, and substantially in agreement with each other. And here the
first necessity was to misrepresent the language, the conceptions, the
sentiments, it was proposed to compare and reconcile. Plato and Homer
must be made to speak agreeably to Moses. Set side by side, the mere
surfaces could never unite in any harmony of design. Therefore one must
go below the surface, and bring up the supposed secondary, or still more
remote meaning, that diviner signification held in reserve, in recessu
divinius aliquid, latent in some stray touch of Homer, or figure of
speech in the books of Moses.

And yet as a curiosity of the human mind, a "madhouse-cell," if you
will, into which we  peep for a moment, and see it at work weaving
strange fancies, the allegorical interpretation of the fifteenth century
has its interest. With its strange web of imagery, its quaint conceits,
its unexpected combinations and subtle moralising, it is an element in
the local colour of a great age. It illustrates also the faith of that
age in all oracles, its desire to hear all voices, its generous belief
that nothing which had ever interested the human mind could wholly lose
its vitality. It is the counterpart, though certainly the feebler
counterpart, of that practical truce and reconciliation of the gods of
Greece with the Christian religion, which is seen in the art of the
time; and it is for his share in this work, and because his own story is
a sort of analogue or visible equivalent to the expression of this
purpose in his writings, that something of a general interest still
belongs to the name of Pico della Mirandola, whose life, written by his
nephew Francis, seemed worthy, for some touch of sweetness in it, to be
translated out of the original Latin by Sir Thomas More, that great
lover of Italian culture, among whose works this life of Pico, Earl
of Mirandola, and a great lord of Italy, as he calls him, may still be
read, in its quaint, antiquated English.

Marsilio Ficino has told us how Pico came to Florence. It was the very
day--some day probably in the year 1482--on which Ficino had finished
his famous translation of Plato into Latin, the work to which he had
been dedicated from childhood by Cosmo de' Medici, in furtherance of his
desire to resuscitate the knowledge of Plato among his fellow-citizens.
Florence indeed, as M. Renan has pointed out, had always had an affinity
for the mystic and dreamy philosophy of Plato, while the colder and more
practical philosophy of Aristotle had flourished in Padua, and other
cities of the north; and the Florentines, though they knew perhaps very
little about him, had had the name of the great idealist often on their
lips. To increase this knowledge, Cosmo had founded the Platonic
academy, with periodical discussions at the villa of Careggi. The fall
of Constantinople in 1453, and the council in 1438 for the
reconciliation of the Greek and Latin Churches, had brought to Florence
many a needy Greek scholar. And now the work was completed, the door of
the mystical temple lay open to all who could construe Latin, and the
scholar rested from his labour; when there was introduced into his
study, where a lamp burned continually before the bust of Plato, as
other men burned lamps before their favourite saints, a young man fresh
from a journey, "of feature and shape seemly and beauteous, of stature
goodly and high, of flesh tender and soft, his visage lovely and fair,
his colour white, intermingled with comely reds, his eyes grey, and
quick of look, his teeth white and even, his hair yellow and abundant,"
and trimmed with more than the usual artifice of the time. It is thus
that Sir Thomas More translates the words of the biographer of Pico,
who, even in outward form and appearance, seems an image of that inward
harmony and completeness, of which he is so perfect an example. The word
mystic has been usually derived from a Greek word which signifies to
shut, as if one shut one's lips, brooding on what cannot be uttered; but
the Platonists themselves derive it rather from the act of shutting the
eyes, that one may see the more, inwardly. Perhaps the eyes of the
mystic Ficino, now long past the midway of life, had come to be thus
half-closed; but when a young man, not unlike the archangel Raphael, as
the Florentines of that age depicted him in his wonderful walk with
Tobit, or Mercury, as he might have appeared in a painting by Sandro
Botticelli or Piero di Cosimo, entered his chamber, he seems to have
thought there was something not wholly earthly about him; at least, he
ever afterwards believed that it was not without the co-operation of the
stars that the stranger had arrived on that day. For it happened that
they fell into a conversation, deeper and more intimate than men usually
fall into at first sight. During this conversation Ficino formed the
design of devoting his remaining years to the translation of Plotinus,
that new Plato, in whom the mystical element in the Platonic philosophy
had been worked out to the utmost limit of vision and ecstasy; and it is
in dedicating this translation to Lorenzo de' Medici that Ficino has
recorded these incidents.

It was after many wanderings, wanderings of the intellect as well as
physical journeys, that Pico came to rest at Florence. He was then about
twenty years old, having been born in 1463. He was called Giovanni at
baptism; Pico, like all his ancestors, from Picus, nephew of the Emperor
Constantine, from whom they claimed to be descended; and Mirandola, from
the place of his birth, a little town afterwards part of the duchy of
Modena, of which small territory his family had long been the feudal
lords. Pico was the youngest of the family, and his mother, delighting
in his wonderful memory, sent him at the age of fourteen to the famous
school of law at Bologna. From the first, indeed, she seems to have had
some presentiment of his future fame, for, with a faith in omens
characteristic of her time, she believed that a strange circumstance had
happened at the time of Pico's birth--the appearance of a circular flame
which suddenly vanished away, on the wall of the chamber where she lay.
He remained two years at Bologna; and then, with an inexhaustible,
unrivalled thirst for knowledge, the strange, confused, uncritical
learning of that age, passed through the principal schools of Italy and
France, penetrating, as he thought, into the secrets of all ancient
philosophies, and many eastern languages. And with this flood of
erudition came the generous hope, so often disabused, of reconciling the
philosophers with each other, and all alike with the Church. At last he
came to Rome. There, like some knight-errant of philosophy, he offered
to defend nine hundred bold paradoxes, drawn from the most opposite
sources, against all comers. But the pontifical court was led to suspect
the orthodoxy of some of these propositions, and even the reading of the
book which contained them was forbidden by the Pope. It was not until
1493 that Pico was finally absolved, by a brief of Alexander the Sixth.
Ten years before that date he had arrived at Florence; an early instance
of those who, after following the vain hope of an impossible
reconciliation from system to system, have at last fallen back
unsatisfied on the simplicities of their childhood's belief.

The oration which Pico composed for the opening of this philosophical
tournament still remains; its subject is the dignity of human nature,
the greatness of man. In common with nearly all medieval speculation,
much of Pico's writing has this for its drift; and in common also with
it, Pico's theory of that dignity is founded on a misconception of the
place in nature both of the earth and of man. For Pico the earth is the
centre of the universe: and around it, as a fixed and motionless point,
the sun and moon and stars revolve, like diligent servants or ministers.
And in the midst of all is placed man, nodus et vinculum mundi, the bond
or copula of the world, and the "interpreter of nature": that famous
expression of Bacon's really belongs to Pico. Tritum est in scholis, he
says, esse hominem minorem mundum, in quo mixtum ex elementis corpus et
spiritus coelestis et plantarum anima vegetalis et brutorum sensus et
ratio et angelica mens et Dei similitudo conspicitur.--"It is a
commonplace of the schools that man is a little world, in which we may
discern a body mingled of earthy elements, and ethereal breath, and the
vegetable life of plants, and the senses of the lower animals, and
reason, and the intelligence of angels, and a likeness to God."--A
commonplace of the schools! But perhaps it had some new significance and
authority, when men heard one like Pico reiterate it; and, false as its
basis was, the theory had its use. For this high dignity of man, thus
bringing the dust under his feet into sensible communion with the
thoughts and affections of the angels, was supposed to belong to him,
not as renewed by a religious system, but by his own natural right. The
proclamation of it was a counterpoise to the increasing tendency of
medieval religion to depreciate man's nature, to sacrifice this or that
element in it, to make it ashamed of itself, to keep the degrading or
painful accidents of it always in view. It helped man onward to that
reassertion of himself, that rehabilitation of human nature, the body,
the senses, the heart, the intelligence, which the Renaissance fulfils.
And yet to read a page of one of Pico's forgotten books is like a glance
into one of those ancient sepulchres, upon which the wanderer in
classical lands has sometimes stumbled, with the old disused ornaments
and furniture of a world wholly unlike ours still fresh in them. That
whole conception of nature is so different from our own. For Pico the
world is a limited place, bounded by actual crystal walls, and a
material firmament; it is like a painted toy, like that map or system of
the world, held, as a great target or shield, in the hands of the
grey-headed father of all things, in one of the earlier frescoes of the
Campo Santo at Pisa. How different from this childish dream is our own
conception of nature, with its unlimited space, its innumerable suns,
and the earth but a mote in the beam; how different the strange new awe,
or superstition, with which it fills our minds! "The silence of those
infinite spaces," says Pascal, contemplating a starlight night, "the
silence of those infinite spaces terrifies me"--Le silence eternel de
ces espaces infinis m'effraie.

He was already almost wearied out when he came to Florence. He had loved
much and been beloved by women, "wandering over the crooked hills of
delicious pleasure"; but their reign over him was over, and long before
Savonarola's famous "bonfire of vanities," he had destroyed those
love-songs in the vulgar tongue, which would have been such a relief to
us, after the scholastic prolixity of his Latin writings. It was in
another spirit that he composed a Platonic commentary, the only work of
his in Italian which has come down to us, on the "Song of Divine
Love"--secondo la mente ed opinione dei Platonici--"according to the
mind and opinion of the Platonists," by his friend Hieronymo Beniveni,
in which, with an ambitious array of every sort of learning, and a
profusion of imagery borrowed indifferently from the astrologers, the
Cabala, and Homer, and Scripture, and Dionysius the Areopagite, he
attempts to define the stages by which the soul passes from the earthly
to the unseen beauty. A change indeed had passed over him, as if the
chilling touch of the abstract and disembodied beauty Platonists profess
to long for was already upon him; and perhaps it was a sense of this,
coupled with that over-brightness which in the popular imagination
always betokens an early death, that made Camilla Rucellai, one of those
prophetic women whom the preaching of Savonarola had raised up in
Florence, declare, seeing him for the first time, that he would depart
in the time of lilies--prematurely, that is, like the field-flowers
which are withered by the scorching sun almost as soon as they are
sprung up. It was now that he wrote down those thoughts on the religious
life which Sir Thomas More turned into English, and which another
English translator thought worthy to be added to the books of the
Imitation. "It is not hard to know God, provided one will not force
oneself to define Him":--has been thought a great saying of Joubert's.
"Love God," Pico writes to Angelo Politian, "we rather may, than either
know Him, or by speech utter Him. And yet had men liefer by knowledge
never find that which they seek, than by love possess that thing, which
also without love were in vain found."

Yet he who had this fine touch for spiritual things did not--and in this
is the enduring interest of his story--even after his conversion, forget
the old gods. He is one of the last who seriously and sincerely
entertained the claims on men's faith of the pagan religions; he is
anxious to ascertain the true significance of the obscurest legend, the
lightest tradition concerning them. With many thoughts and many
influences which led him in that direction, he did not become a monk;
only he became gentle and patient in disputation; retaining "somewhat of
the old plenty, in dainty viand and silver vessel," he gave over the
greater part of his property to his friend, the mystical poet Beniveni,
to be spent by him in works of charity, chiefly in the sweet charity of
providing marriage-dowries for the peasant girls of Florence. His end
came in 1494, when, amid the prayers and sacraments of Savonarola, he
died of fever, on the very day on which Charles the Eighth entered
Florence, the seventeenth of November, yet in the time of lilies--the
lilies of the shield of France, as the people now said, remembering
Camilla's prophecy. He was buried in the cloister at Saint Mark's, in
the hood and white frock of the Dominican order.

It is because the life of Pico, thus lying down to rest in the
Dominican habit, yet amid thoughts of the older gods, himself like one
of those comely divinities, reconciled indeed to the new religion, but
still with a tenderness for the earlier life, and desirous literally to
"bind the ages each to each by natural piety"--it is because this life
is so perfect a parallel to the attempt made in his writings to
reconcile Christianity with the ideas of paganism, that Pico, in spite
of the scholastic character of those writings, is really interesting.
Thus, in the Heptaplus, or Discourse on the Seven Days of the Creation,
he endeavours to reconcile the accounts which pagan philosophy had given
of the origin of the world with the account given in the books of
Moses--the Timaeus of Plato with the book of Genesis. The Heptaplus is
dedicated to Lorenzo the Magnificent, whose interest, the preface tells
us, in the secret wisdom of Moses is well known. If Moses seems in his
writings simple and even popular, rather than either a philosopher or a
theologian, that is because it was an institution with the ancient
philosophers, either not to speak of divine things at all, or to speak
of them dissemblingly: hence their doctrines were called mysteries.
Taught by them, Pythagoras became so great a "master of silence," and
wrote almost nothing, thus hiding the words of God in his heart, and
speaking wisdom only among the perfect. In explaining the harmony
between Plato and Moses, Pico lays hold on every sort of figure and
analogy, on the double meanings of words, the symbols of the Jewish
ritual, the secondary meanings of obscure stories in the later Greek
mythologists. Everywhere there is an unbroken system of correspondences.
Every object in the terrestrial world is an analogue, a symbol or
counterpart, of some higher reality in the starry heavens, and this
again of some law of the angelic life in the world beyond the stars.
There is the element of fire in the material world; the sun is the fire
of heaven; and in the super-celestial world there is the fire of the
seraphic intelligence. "But behold how they differ! The elementary fire
burns, the heavenly fire vivifies, the super-celestial fire loves." In
this way, every natural object, every combination of natural forces,
every accident in the lives of men, is filled with higher meanings.
Omens, prophecies, supernatural coincidences, accompany Pico himself all
through life. There are oracles in every tree and mountain-top, and a
significance in every accidental combination of the events of life.

This constant tendency to symbolism and imagery gives Pico's work a
figured style, by which it has some real resemblance to Plato's, and he
differs from other mystical writers of his time by a real desire to know
his authorities at first hand. He reads Plato in Greek, Moses in Hebrew,
and by this his work really belongs to the higher culture. Above all, we
have a constant sense in reading him, that his thoughts, however little
their positive value may be, are connected with springs beneath them of
deep and passionate emotion; and when he explains the grades or steps by
which the soul passes from the love of a physical object to the love of
unseen beauty, and unfolds the analogies between this process and other
movements upward of human thought, there is a glow and vehemence in his
words which remind one of the manner in which his own brief existence
flamed itself away.

I said that the Renaissance of the fifteenth century was in many things
great, rather by what it designed or aspired to do, than by what it
actually achieved. It remained for a later age to conceive the true
method of effecting a scientific reconciliation of Christian sentiment
with the imagery, the legends, the theories about the world, of pagan
poetry and philosophy. For that age the only possible reconciliation was
an imaginative one, and resulted from the efforts of artists, trained in
Christian schools, to handle pagan subjects; and of this artistic
reconciliation work like Pico's was but the feebler counterpart.
Whatever philosophers had to say on one side or the other, whether they
were successful or not in their attempts to reconcile the old to the
new, and to justify the expenditure of so much care and thought on the
dreams of a dead faith, the imagery of the Greek religion, the direct
charm of its story, were by artists valued and cultivated for their own
sake. Hence a new sort of mythology, with a tone and qualities of its
own. When the ship-load of sacred earth from the soil of Jerusalem was
mingled with the common clay in the Campo Santo at Pisa, a new flower
grew up from it, unlike any flower men had seen before, the anemone with
its concentric rings of strangely blended colour, still to be found by
those who search long enough for it, in the long grass of the Maremma.
Just such a strange flower was that mythology of the Italian
Renaissance, which grew up from the mixture of two traditions, two
sentiments, the sacred and the profane. Classical story was regarded as
so much imaginative material to be received and assimilated. It did not
come into men's minds to ask curiously of science concerning its origin,
its primary form and import, its meaning for those who projected it. It
sank into their minds, to issue forth again with all the tangle about it
of medieval sentiment and ideas. In the Doni Madonna in the Tribune of
the Uffizii, Michelangelo actually brings the pagan religion, and with
it the unveiled human form, the sleepy-looking fauns of a Dionysiac
revel, into the presence of the Madonna, as simpler painters had
introduced there other products of the earth, birds or flowers; and he
has given to that Madonna herself much of the uncouth energy of the
older and more primitive "Mighty Mother."

It is because this picturesque union of contrasts, belonging properly to
the art of the close of the fifteenth century, pervades, in Pico della
Mirandola, an actual person, that the figure of Pico is so attractive.
He will not let one go; he wins one on, in spite of oneself, to turn
again to the pages of his forgotten books, although we know already that
the actual solution proposed in them will satisfy us as little as
perhaps it satisfied him. It is said that in his eagerness for
mysterious learning he once paid a great sum for a collection of
cabalistic manuscripts, which turned out to be forgeries; and the story
might well stand as a parable of all he ever seemed to gain in the way
of actual knowledge. He had sought knowledge, and passed from system to
system, and hazarded much; but less for the sake of positive knowledge
than because he believed there was a spirit of order and beauty in
knowledge, which would come down and unite what men's ignorance had
divided, and renew what time had made dim. And so, while his actual work
has passed away, yet his own qualities are still active, and he himself
remains, as one alive in the grave, caesiis et vigilibus oculis, as his
biographer describes him, and with that sanguine, clear skin, decenti
rubore interspersa, as with the light of morning upon it; and he has a
true place in that group of great Italians who fill the end of the
fifteenth century with their names, he is a true HUMANIST. For the
essence of humanism is that belief of which he seems never to have
doubted, that nothing which has ever interested living men and women can
wholly lose its vitality--no language they have spoken, nor oracle
beside which they have hushed their voices, no dream which has once been
entertained by actual human minds, nothing about which they have ever
been passionate, or expended time and zeal.

1871.



SANDRO BOTTICELLI

In Leonardo's treatise on painting only one contemporary is mentioned by
Name--Sandro Botticelli. This pre-eminence may be due to chance only,
but to some will rather appear a result of deliberate judgment; for
people have begun to find out the charm of Botticelli's work, and his
name, little known in the last century, is quietly becoming important.
In the middle of the fifteenth century he had already anticipated much
of that meditative subtlety, which is sometimes supposed peculiar to the
great imaginative workmen of its close. Leaving the simple religion
which had occupied the followers of Giotto for a century, and the simple
naturalism which had grown out of it, a thing of birds and flowers only,
he sought inspiration in what to him were works of the modern world, the
writings of Dante and Boccaccio, and in new readings of his own of
classical stories: or, if he painted religious incidents, painted them
with an under-current of original sentiment, which touches you as the
real matter of the picture through the veil of its ostensible subject.
What is the peculiar sensation, what is the peculiar quality of
pleasure, which his work has the property of exciting in us, and which
we cannot get elsewhere? For this, especially when he has to speak of a
comparatively unknown artist, is always the chief question which a
critic has to answer.

In an age when the lives of artists were full of adventure, his life is
almost colourless. Criticism indeed has cleared away much of the gossip
which Vasari accumulated, has touched the legend of Lippo and Lucrezia,
and rehabilitated the character of Andrea del Castagno; but in
Botticelli's case there is no legend to dissipate. He did not even go by
his true name: Sandro is a nickname, and his true name is Filipepi,
Botticelli being only the name of the goldsmith who first taught him
art. Only two things happened to him, two things which he shared with
other artists:--he was invited to Rome to paint in the Sistine Chapel,
and he fell in later life under the influence of Savonarola, passing
apparently almost out of men's sight in a sort of religious melancholy,
which lasted till his death in 1515, according to the received date.
Vasari says that he plunged into the study of Dante, and even wrote a
comment on the Divine Comedy. But it seems strange that he should have
lived on inactive so long; and one almost wishes that some document
might come to light, which, fixing the date of his death earlier, might
relieve one, in thinking of him, of his dejected old age.

He is before all things a poetical painter, blending the charm of story
and sentiment, the medium of the art of poetry, with the charm of line
and colour, the medium of abstract painting. So he becomes the
illustrator of Dante. In a few rare examples of the edition of 1481, the
blank spaces, left at the beginning of every canto for the hand of the
illuminator, have been filled, as far as the nineteenth canto of the
Inferno, with impressions of engraved plates, seemingly by way of
experiment, for in the copy in the Bodleian Library, one of the three
impressions it contains has been printed upside down, and much awry, in
the midst of the luxurious printed page. Giotto, and the followers of
Giotto, with their almost childish religious aim, had not learned to put
that weight of meaning into outward things, light, colour, everyday
gesture, which the poetry of the Divine Comedy involves, and before the
fifteenth century Dante could hardly have found an illustrator.
Botticelli's illustrations are crowded with incident, blending, with a
naive carelessness of pictorial propriety, three phases of the same
scene into one plate. The grotesques, so often a stumbling-block to
painters who forget that the words of a poet, which only feebly present
an image to the mind, must be lowered in key when translated into form,
make one regret that he has not rather chosen for illustration the more
subdued imagery of the Purgatorio. Yet in the scene of those who "go
down quick into hell," there is an invention about the fire taking hold
on the upturned soles of the feet, which proves that the design is no
mere translation of Dante's words, but a true painter's vision; while
the scene of the Centaurs wins one at once, for, forgetful of the actual
circumstances of their appearance, Botticelli has gone off with delight
on the thought of the Centaurs themselves, bright, small creatures of
the woodland, with arch baby face and mignon forms, drawing tiny bows.

Botticelli lived in a generation of naturalists, and he might have been
a mere naturalist among them. There are traces enough in his work of
that alert sense of outward things, which, in the pictures of that
period, fills the lawns with delicate living creatures, and the
hillsides with pools of water, and the pools of water with flowering
reeds. But this was not enough for him; he is a visionary painter, and
in his visionariness he resembles Dante. Giotto, the tried companion of
Dante, Masaccio, Ghirlandajo even, do but transcribe, with more or less
refining, the outward image; they are dramatic, not visionary painters;
they are almost impassive spectators of the action before them. But the
genius of which Botticelli is the type usurps the data before it as the
exponent of ideas, moods, visions of its own; in this interest it plays
fast and loose with those data, rejecting some and isolating others, and
always combining them anew. To him as to Dante, the scene, the colour,
the outward image or gesture, comes with all its incisive and
importunate reality; but awakes in him, moreover, by some subtle law of
his own structure, a mood which it awakes in no one else, of which it is
the double or repetition, and which it clothes, that all may share it,
with sensuous circumstance.

But he is far enough from accepting the conventional orthodoxy of Dante
which, referring all human action to the simple formula of purgatory,
heaven and hell, leaves an insoluble element of prose in the depths of
Dante's poetry. One picture of his, with the portrait of the donor,
Matteo Palmieri, below, had the credit or discredit of attracting some
shadow of ecclesiastical censure. This Matteo Palmieri--two dim figures
move under that name in contemporary history--was the reputed author of
a poem, still unedited, La Citta Divina, which represented the human
race as an incarnation of those angels who, in the revolt of Lucifer,
were neither for Jehovah nor for His enemies, a fantasy of that earlier
Alexandrian philosophy about which the Florentine intellect in that
century was so curious. Botticelli's picture may have been only one of
those familiar compositions in which religious reverie has recorded its
impressions of the various forms of beatified existence--Glorias, as
they were called, like that in which Giotto painted the portrait of
Dante; but somehow it was suspected of embodying in a picture the
wayward dream of Palmieri, and the chapel where it hung was closed.
Artists so entire as Botticelli are usually careless about philosophical
theories, even when the philosopher is a Florentine of the fifteenth
century, and his work a poem in terza rima. But Botticelli, who wrote a
commentary on Dante, and became the disciple of Savonarola, may well
have let such theories come and go across him. True or false, the story
interprets much of the peculiar sentiment with which he infuses his
profane and sacred persons, comely, and in a certain sense like angels,
but with a sense of displacement or loss about them--the wistfulness of
exiles, conscious of a passion and energy greater than any known issue
of them explains, which runs through all his varied work with a
sentiment of ineffable melancholy.

So just what Dante scorns as unworthy alike of heaven and hell,
Botticelli accepts, that middle world in which men take no side in great
conflicts, and decide no great causes, and make great refusals. He thus
sets for himself the limits within which art, undisturbed by any moral
ambition, does its most sincere and surest work. His interest is neither
in the untempered goodness of Angelico's saints, nor the untempered evil
of Orcagna's Inferno; but with men and women, in their mixed and
uncertain condition, always attractive, clothed sometimes by passion
with a character of loveliness and energy, but saddened perpetually by
the shadow upon them of the great things from which they shrink. His
morality is all sympathy; and it is this sympathy, conveying into his
work somewhat more than is usual of the true complexion of humanity,
which makes him, visionary as he is, so forcible a realist.

It is this which gives to his Madonnas their unique expression and
charm. He has worked out in them a distinct and peculiar type, definite
enough in his own mind, for he has painted it over and over again,
sometimes one might think almost mechanically, as a pastime during that
dark period when his thoughts were so heavy upon him. Hardly any
collection of note is without one of these circular pictures, into which
the attendant angels depress their heads so naively. Perhaps you have
sometimes wondered why those peevish-looking Madonnas, conformed to no
acknowledged or obvious type of beauty, attract you more and more, and
often come back to you when the Sistine Madonna and the Virgins of Fra
Angelico are forgotten. At first, contrasting them with those, you may
have thought that there was something in them mean or abject even, for
the abstract lines of the face have little nobleness, and the colour is
wan. For with Botticelli she too, though she holds in her hands the
"Desire of all nations," is one of those who are neither for Jehovah nor
for His enemies; and her choice is on her face. The white light on it is
cast up hard and cheerless from below, as when snow lies upon the
ground, and the children look up with surprise at the strange whiteness
of the ceiling. Her trouble is in the very caress of the mysterious
child, whose gaze is always far from her, and who has already that sweet
look of devotion which men have never been able altogether to love, and
which still makes the born saint an object almost of suspicion to his
earthly brethren. Once, indeed, he guides her hand to transcribe in a
book the words of her exaltation, the Ave, and the Magnificat, and the
Gaude Maria, and the young angels, glad to rouse her for a moment from
Her dejection, are eager to hold the inkhorn and to support the book;
but the pen almost drops from her hand, and the high cold words have no
meaning for her, and her true children are those others, among whom in
her rude home, the intolerable honour came to her, with that look of
wistful inquiry on their irregular faces which you see in startled
animals--gipsy children, such as those who, in Apennine villages, still
hold out their long brown arms to beg of you, but on Sundays become
enfants du choeur, with their thick black hair nicely combed, and fair
white linen on their sunburnt throats.

What is strangest is that he carries this sentiment into classical
subjects, its most complete expression being a picture in the Uffizii,
of Venus rising from the sea, in which the grotesque emblems of the
middle age, and a landscape full of its peculiar feeling, and even its
strange draperies, powdered all over in the Gothic manner with a quaint
conceit of daisies, frame a figure that reminds you of the faultless
nude studies of Ingres. At first, perhaps, you are attracted only by a
quaintness of design, which seems to recall all at once whatever you
have read of Florence in the fifteenth century; afterwards you may think
that this quaintness must be incongruous with the subject, and that the
colour is cadaverous or at least cold. And yet, the more you come to
understand what imaginative colouring really is, that all colour is no
mere delightful quality of natural things, but a spirit upon them by
which they become expressive to the spirit, the better you will like
this peculiar quality of colour; and you will find that quaint design of
Botticelli's a more direct inlet into the Greek temper than the works of
the Greeks themselves even of the finest period. Of the Greeks as they
really were, of their difference from ourselves, of the aspects of their
outward life, we know far more than Botticelli, or his most learned
contemporaries; but for us long familiarity has taken off the edge of
the lesson, and we are hardly conscious of what we owe to the Hellenic
spirit. But in pictures like this of Botticelli's you have a record of
the first impression made by it on minds turned back towards it, in
almost painful aspiration, from a world in which it had been ignored so
long; and in the passion, the energy, the industry of realisation, with
which Botticelli carries out his intention, is the exact measure of the
legitimate influence over the human mind of the imaginative system of
which this is the central myth. The light is indeed cold--mere sunless
dawn; but a later painter would have cloyed you with sunshine; and you
can see the better for that quietness in the morning air each long
promontory, as it slopes down to the water's edge. Men go forth to their
labours until the evening; but she is awake before them, and you might
think that the sorrow in her face was at the thought of the whole long
day of love yet to come. An emblematical figure of the wind blows hard
across the grey water, moving forward the dainty-lipped shell on which
she sails, the sea "showing his teeth" as it moves in thin lines of
foam, and sucking in, one by one, the falling roses, each severe in
outline, plucked off short at the stalk but embrowned a little, as
Botticelli's flowers always are. Botticelli meant all that imagery to be
altogether pleasurable; and it was partly an incompleteness of
resources, inseparable from the art of that time, that subdued and
chilled it; but his predilection for minor tones counts also; and what
is unmistakable is the sadness with which he has conceived the goddess
of pleasure, as the depositary of a great power over the lives of men.

I have said that the peculiar character of Botticelli is the result of a
blending in him of a sympathy for humanity in its uncertain condition,
its attractiveness, its investiture at rarer moments in a character of
loveliness and energy, with his consciousness of the shadow upon it of
the great things from which it shrinks, and that this conveys into his
work somewhat more than painting usually attains of the true complexion
of humanity. He paints the story of the goddess of pleasure in other
episodes besides that of her birth from the sea, but never without some
shadow of death in the grey flesh and wan flowers. He paints Madonnas,
but they shrink from the pressure of the divine child, and plead in
unmistakable undertones for a warmer, lower humanity. The same
figure--tradition connects it with Simonetta, the Mistress of Giuliano
de' Medici--appears again as Judith, returning home across the hill
country, when the great deed is over, and the moment of revulsion come,
when the olive branch in her hand is becoming a burthen; as Justice,
sitting on a throne, but with a fixed look of self-hatred which makes
the sword in her hand seem that of a suicide; and again as Veritas, in
the allegorical picture of Calumnia, where one may note in passing the
suggestiveness of an accident which identifies the image of Truth with
the person of Venus. We might trace the same sentiment through his
engravings; but his share in them is doubtful, and the object of this
brief study has been attained, if I have defined aright the temper in
which he worked.

But, after all, it may be asked, is a painter like Botticelli--a
secondary painter--a proper subject for general criticism? There are a
few great painters, like Michelangelo or Leonardo, whose work has become
a force in general culture, partly for this very reason that they have
absorbed into themselves all such workmen as Sandro Botticelli; and,
over and above mere technical or antiquarian criticism, general
criticism may be very well employed in that sort of interpretation which
adjusts the position of these men to general culture, whereas smaller
men can be the proper subjects only of technical or antiquarian
treatment. But, besides those great men, there is a certain number of
artists who have a distinct faculty of their own by which they convey to
us a peculiar quality of pleasure which we cannot get elsewhere; and
these, too, have their place in general culture, and must be interpreted
to it by those who have felt their charm strongly, and are often the
objects of a special diligence and a consideration wholly affectionate,
just because there is not about them the stress of a great name and
authority. Of this select number Botticelli is one; he has the
freshness, the uncertain and diffident promise which belongs to the
earlier Renaissance itself, and makes it perhaps the most interesting
period in the history of the mind: in studying his work one begins to
understand to how great a place in human culture the art of Italy had
been called.

1870.



LUCA DELLA ROBBIA

The Italian sculptors of the earlier half of the fifteenth century are
more than mere forerunners of the great masters of its close, and often
reach perfection, within the narrow limits which they chose to impose on
their work. Their sculpture shares with the paintings of Botticelli and
the churches of Brunelleschi that profound expressiveness, that intimate
impress of an indwelling soul, which is the peculiar fascination of the
art of Italy in that century. Their works have been much neglected, and
often almost hidden away amid the frippery of modern decoration, and we
come with some surprise on the places where their fire still smoulders.
One longs to penetrate into the lives of the men who have given
expression to so much power and sweetness; but it is part of the
reserve, the austere dignity and simplicity of their existence, that
their histories are for the most part lost, or told but briefly. From
their lives, as from their work, all tumult of sound and colour has
passed away. Mino, the Raffaelle of sculpture, Maso del Rodario, whose
works add a new grace to the church of Como, Donatello even--one asks in
vain for more than a shadowy outline of their actual days.

Something more remains of Luca della Robbia; something more of a
history, of outward changes and fortunes, is expressed through his work.
I suppose nothing brings the real air of a Tuscan town so vividly to
mind as those pieces of pale blue and white earthenware, by which he is
best known, like fragments of the milky sky itself, fallen into the cool
streets, and breaking into the darkened churches. And no work is less
imitable; like Tuscan wine, it loses its savour when moved from its
birthplace, from the crumbling walls where it was first placed. Part of
the charm of this work, its grace and purity and finish of expression,
is common to all the Tuscan sculptors of the fifteenth century; for Luca
was first of all a worker in marble, and his works in earthenware only
transfer to a different material the principles of his sculpture.

These Tuscan sculptors of the fifteenth century worked for the most part
in low relief, giving even to their monumental effigies something of its
depression of surface, getting into them by this means a pathetic
suggestion of the wasting and etherealisation of death. They are haters
of all heaviness and emphasis, of strongly-opposed light and shade, and
seek their means of expression among those last refinements of shadow,
which are almost invisible except in a strong light, and which the
finest pencil can hardly follow. The whole essence of their work is
EXPRESSION, the passing of a smile over the face of a child, the ripple
of the air on a still day over the curtain of a window ajar.

What is the precise value of this system of sculpture, this low relief?
Luca della Robbia, and the other sculptors of the school to which he
belongs, have before them the universal problem of their art; and this
system of low relief is the means by which they meet and overcome the
special limitation of sculpture--a limitation resulting from the
material and the essential conditions of all sculptured work, and which
consists in the tendency of this work to a hard realism, a one-sided
presentment of mere form, that solid material frame which only motion
can relieve, a thing of heavy shadows, and an individuality of
expression pushed to caricature. Against this tendency to the hard
presentment of mere form trying vainly to compete with the reality of
nature itself, all noble sculpture constantly struggles: each great
system of sculpture resisting it in its own way, etherealising,
spiritualising, relieving its hardness, its heaviness and death. The use
of colour in sculpture is but an unskilful contrivance to effect, by
borrowing from another art, what the nobler sculpture effects by
strictly appropriate means. To get not colour, but the equivalent of
colour; to secure the expression and the play of life; to expand the too
fixed individuality of pure, unrelieved, uncoloured form--this is the
problem which the three great styles in sculpture have solved in three
different ways.

Allgemeinheit--breadth, generality, universality--is the word chosen by
Winckelmann, and after him by Goethe and many German critics, to express
that law of the most excellent Greek sculptors, of Pheidias and his
pupils, which prompted them constantly to seek the type in the
individual, to abstract and express only what is structural and
permanent, to purge from the individual all that belongs only to him,
all the accidents, the feelings, and actions of the special moment, all
that (because in its own nature it endures but for a moment) is apt to
look like a frozen thing if one arrests it.

In this way their works came to be like some subtle extract or essence,
or almost like pure thoughts or ideas: and hence the breadth of humanity
in them, that detachment from the conditions of a particular place or
people, which has carried their influence far beyond the age which
produced them, and insured them universal acceptance.

That was the Greek way of relieving the hardness and unspirituality of
pure form. But it involved to a certain degree the sacrifice of what we
call expression; and a system of abstraction which aimed always at the
broad and general type, at the purging away from the individual of what
belonged only to him, and of the mere accidents of a particular time
and place, imposed upon the range of effects open to the Greek sculptor
limits somewhat narrowly defined; and when Michelangelo came, with a
genius spiritualised by the reverie of the middle age, penetrated by its
spirit of inwardness and introspection, living not a mere outward life
like the Greek, but a life full of inward experiences, sorrows,
consolations, a system which sacrificed so much of what was inward and
unseen could not satisfy him. To him, lover and student of Greek
sculpture as he was, work which did not bring what was inward to the
surface, which was not concerned with individual expression, with
individual character and feeling, the special history of the special
soul, was not worth doing at all.

And so, in a way quite personal and peculiar to himself, which often is,
and always seems, the effect of accident, he secured for his work
individuality and intensity of expression, while he avoided a too hard
realism, that tendency to harden into caricature which the
representation of feeling in sculpture must always have. What time and
accident, its centuries of darkness under the furrows of the "little
Melian farm," have done with singular felicity of touch for the Venus of
Melos, fraying its surface and softening its lines, so that some spirit
in the thing seems always on the point of breaking out, as though in it
classical sculpture had advanced already one step into the mystical
Christian age, its expression being in the whole range of ancient work
most like that of Michelangelo's own:--this effect Michelangelo gains by
leaving nearly all his sculpture in a puzzling sort of incompleteness,
which suggests rather than realises actual form. Something of the
wasting of that snow-image which he moulded at the command of Piero de'
Medici, when the snow lay one night in the court of the Pitti palace,
almost always lurks about it, as if he had determined to make the
quality of a task, exacted from him half in derision, the pride of all
his work. Many have wondered at that incompleteness, suspecting,
however, that Michelangelo himself loved and was loath to change it, and
feeling at the same time that they too would lose something if the
half-realised form ever quite emerged from the stone, so rough hewn
here, so delicately finished there; and they have wished to fathom the
charm of this incompleteness. Well! that incompleteness is
Michelangelo's equivalent for colour in sculpture; it is his way of
etherealising pure form, of relieving its hard realism, and
communicating to it breath, pulsation, the effect of life. It was a
characteristic too which fell in with his peculiar temper and mode of
life, his disappointments and hesitations. And it was in reality perfect
finish. In this way he combines the utmost amount of passion and
intensity with the sense of a yielding and flexible life: he gets not
vitality merely, but a wonderful force of expression.

Midway between these two systems--the system of the Greek sculptors and
the system of Michelangelo--comes the system of Luca della Robbia. And
the other Tuscan sculptors of the fifteenth century, partaking both of
the Allgemeinheit of the Greeks, their way of extracting certain select
elements only of pure form and sacrificing all the rest, and the studied
incompleteness of Michelangelo, relieving that expression of intensity,
passion, energy, which might otherwise have hardened into caricature.
Like Michelangelo, these sculptors fill their works with intense and
individualised expression: their noblest works are the studied
sepulchral portraits of particular persons--the monument of Conte Ugo in
the Badia of Florence, of the youthful Medea Colleoni, with the
wonderful, long throat, in the chapel on the cool north side of the
Church of Santa Maria Maggiore at Bergamo--monuments which abound in the
churches of Rome, inexhaustible in suggestions of repose, of a subdued
Sabbatic joy, a kind of sacred grace and refinement:--and they unite
these elements of tranquillity, of repose, to that intense and
individual expression by a system of conventionalism as skilful and
subtle as that of the Greeks, subduing all such curves as indicate solid
form, and throwing the whole into lower relief.

The life of Luca, a life of labour and frugality, with no adventure and
no excitement except what belongs to the trial of new artistic
processes, the struggle with new artistic difficulties, the solution of
purely artistic problems, fills the first seventy years of the fifteenth
century. After producing many works in marble for the Duomo and the
Campanile of Florence, which place him among the foremost sculptors of
that age, he became desirous to realise the spirit and manner of that
sculpture, in a humbler material, to unite its science, its exquisite
and expressive system of low relief, to the homely art of pottery, to
introduce those high qualities into common things, to adorn and
cultivate daily household life. In this he is profoundly characteristic
of the Florence of that century, of that in it which lay below its
superficial vanity and caprice, a certain old-world modesty and
seriousness and simplicity. People had not yet begun to think that what
was good art for churches was not so good, or less fitted, for their own
houses. Luca's new work was in plain white earthenware at first, a mere
rough imitation of the costly, laboriously wrought marble, finished in a
few hours. But on this humble path he found his way to a fresh success,
to another artistic grace. The fame of the oriental pottery, with its
strange, bright colours--colours of art, colours not to be attained in
the natural stone--mingled with the tradition of the old Roman pottery
of the neighbourhood. The little red, coral-like jars of Arezzo, dug up
in that district from time to time, are still famous. These colours
haunted Luca's fancy. "He still continued seeking something more," his
biographer says of him; "and instead of making his figures of baked
earth simply white, he added the further invention of giving them
colour, to the astonishment and delight of all who beheld them"--Cosa
singolare, e multo utile per la state!--a curious thing, and very useful
for summertime, full of coolness and repose for hand and eye. Luca loved
the forms of various fruits, and wrought them into all sorts of
marvellous frames and garlands, giving them their natural colours, only
subdued a little, a little paler than nature. But in his nobler
terra-cotta work he never introduces colour into the flesh, keeping
mostly to blue and white, the colours of the Virgin Mary.

I said that the work of Luca della Robbia possessed in an unusual
measure that special characteristic which belongs to all the workmen of
his school, a characteristic which, even in the absence of much positive
information about their actual history, seems to bring those workmen
themselves very near to us--the impress of a personal quality, a
profound expressiveness, what the French call intimite, by which is
meant some subtler sense of originality--the seal on a man's work of
what is most inward and peculiar in his moods, and manner of
apprehension: it is what we call expression, carried to its highest
intensity of degree. That characteristic is rare in poetry, rarer still
in art, rarest of all in the abstract art of sculpture; yet essentially,
perhaps, it is the quality which alone makes works in the imaginative
and moral order really worth having at all. It is because the works of
the artists of the fifteenth century possess this quality in an
unmistakable way that one is anxious to know all that can be known about
them, and explain to oneself the secret of their charm.

1872.



THE POETRY OF MICHELANGELO

Critics of Michelangelo have sometimes spoken as if the only
characteristic of his genius were a wonderful strength, verging, as in
the things of the imagination great strength always does, on what is
singular or strange. A certain strangeness, something of the blossoming
of the aloe, is indeed an element in all true works of art; that they
shall excite or surprise us is indispensable. But that they shall give
pleasure and exert a charm over us is indispensable too; and this
strangeness must be sweet also--a lovely strangeness. And to the true
admirers of Michelangelo this is the true type of the
Michelangelesque--sweetness and strength, pleasure with surprise, an
energy of conception which seems at every moment about to break through
all the conditions of comely form, recovering, touch by touch, a
loveliness found usually only in the simplest natural things--ex forti
dulcedo.

In this way he sums up for them the whole character of medieval art
itself in that which distinguishes it most clearly from classical work,
the presence of a convulsive energy in it, becoming in lower hands
merely monstrous or forbidding, but felt, even in its most graceful
products, as a subdued quaintness or grotesque. Yet those who feel this
grace or sweetness in Michelangelo might at the first moment be puzzled
if they were asked wherein precisely the quality resided. Men of
inventive temperament--Victor Hugo, for instance, in whom, as in
Michelangelo, people have for the most part been attracted or repelled
by the strength, while few have understood his sweetness--have sometimes
relieved conceptions of merely moral or spiritual greatness, but with
little aesthetic charm of their own, by lovely accidents or accessories,
like the butterfly which alights on the blood-stained barricade in Les
Miserables, or those sea-birds for which the monstrous Gilliatt comes to
be as some wild natural thing, so that they are no longer afraid of him,
in Les Travailleurs de la Mer. But the austere genius of Michelangelo
will not depend for its sweetness on any mere accessories like these.
The world of natural things has almost no existence for him; "When one
speaks of him," says Grimm, "woods, clouds, seas, and mountains
disappear, and only what is formed by the spirit of man remains behind";
and he quotes a few slight words from a letter of his to Vasari as the
single expression in all he has left of a feeling for nature. He has
traced no flowers, like those with which Leonardo stars over his
gloomiest rocks; nothing like the fretwork of wings and flames in which
Blake frames his most startling conceptions; no forest-scenery like
Titian's fills his backgrounds, but only blank ranges of rock, and dim
vegetable forms as blank as they, as in a world before the creation of
the first five days.

Of the whole story of the creation he has painted only the creation of
the first man and woman, and, for him at least, feebly, the creation of
light. It belongs to the quality of his genius thus to concern itself
almost exclusively with the creation of man. For him it is not, as in
the story itself, the last and crowning act of a series of developments,
but the first and unique act, the creation of life itself in its supreme
form, off-hand and immediately, in the cold and lifeless stone. With him
the beginning of life has all the characteristics of resurrection; it is
like the recovery of suspended health or animation, with its gratitude,
its effusion, and eloquence. Fair as the young men of the Elgin marbles,
the Adam of the Sistine Chapel is unlike them in a total absence of that
balance and completeness which express so well the sentiment of a
self-contained, independent life. In that languid figure there is
something rude and satyr-like, something akin to the rugged hillside on
which it lies. His whole form is gathered into an expression of mere
expectation and reception; he has hardly strength enough to lift his
finger to touch the finger of the creator; yet a touch of the
finger-tips will suffice.

This creation of life--life coming always as relief or recovery, and
always in strong contrast with the rough-hewn mass in which it is
kindled--is in various ways the motive of all his work, whether its
immediate subject be Pagan or Christian, legend or allegory; and this,
although at least one-half of his work was designed for the adornment of
tombs--the tomb of Julius, the tombs of the Medici. Not the Judgment but
the Resurrection is the real subject of his last work in the Sistine
Chapel; and his favourite Pagan subject is the legend of Leda, the
delight of the world breaking from the egg of a bird. As I have already
pointed out, he secures that ideality of expression which in Greek
sculpture depends on a delicate system of abstraction, and in early
Italian sculpture on lowness of relief, by an incompleteness, which is
surely not always undesigned, and which I suppose no one regrets, and
trusts to the spectator to complete the half-emergent form. And as his
persons have something of the unwrought stone about them, so, as if to
realise the expression by which the old Florentine records describe a
sculptor--master of live stone--with him the very rocks seem to have
life; they have but to cast away the dust and scurf that they may rise
and stand on their feet. He loved the very quarries of Carrara, those
strange grey peaks which even at mid-day convey into any scene from
which they are visible something of the solemnity and stillness of
evening, sometimes wandering among them month after month, till at last
their pale ashen colours seem to have passed into his painting; and on
the crown of the head of the David there still remains a morsel of uncut
stone, as if by one touch to maintain its connexion with the place from
which it was hewn.

And it is in this penetrative suggestion of life that the secret of that
sweetness of his is to be found. He gives us indeed no lovely natural
objects like Leonardo or Titian, but only the coldest, most elementary
shadowing of rock or tree; no lovely draperies and comely gestures of
life, but only the austere truths of human nature; "simple persons"--as
he replied in his rough way to the querulous criticism of Julius the
Second, that there was no gold on the figures of the Sistine
Chapel--"simple persons, who wore no gold on their garments"; but he
penetrates us with a sense of that power which we associate with all the
warmth and fulness of the world, and the sense of which brings into
one's thoughts a swarm of birds and flowers and insects. The brooding
spirit of life itself is there; and the summer may burst out in a
moment.

He was born in an interval of a rapid midnight journey in March, at a
place in the neighbourhood of Arezzo, the thin, clear air of which, as
was then thought, being favourable to the birth of children of great
parts. He came of a race of grave and dignified men, who, claiming
kinship with the family of Canossa, and some colour of imperial blood in
their veins, had, generation after generation, received honourable
employment under the government of Florence. His mother, a girl of
nineteen years, put him out to nurse at a country house among the hills
of Settignano, where every other inhabitant is a worker in the marble
quarries, and the child early became familiar with that strange first
stage in the sculptor's art. To this succeeded the influence of the
sweetest and most placid master Florence had yet seen, Domenico
Ghirlandajo. At fifteen he was at work among the curiosities of the
garden of the Medici, copying and restoring antiques, winning the
condescending notice of the great Lorenzo. He knew too how to excite
strong hatreds; and it was at this time that in a quarrel with a
fellow-student he received a blow on the face which deprived him for
ever of the comeliness of outward form. It was through an accident that
he came to study those works of the early Italian sculptors which
suggested much of his own grandest work, and impressed it with so deep a
sweetness. He believed in dreams and omens. One of his friends dreamed
twice that Lorenzo, then lately dead, appeared to him in grey and dusty
apparel. To Michelangelo this dream seemed to portend the troubles which
afterwards really came, and with the suddenness which was characteristic
of all his movements, he left Florence. Having occasion to pass through
Bologna, he neglected to procure the little seal of red wax which the
stranger entering Bologna must carry on the thumb of his right hand. He
had no money to pay the fine, and would have been thrown into prison had
not one of the magistrates interposed. He remained in this man's house a
whole year, rewarding his hospitality by readings from the Italian poets
whom he loved. Bologna, with its endless colonnades and fantastic
leaning towers, can never have been one of the lovelier cities of Italy.
But about the portals of its vast unfinished churches and its dark
shrines, half hidden by votive flowers and candles, lie some of the
sweetest works of the early Tuscan sculptors, Giovanni da Pisa and
Jacopo della Quercia, things as winsome as flowers; and the year which
Michelangelo spent in copying these works was not a lost year. It was
now, on returning to Florence, that he put forth that unique presentment
of Bacchus, which expresses, not the mirthfulness of the god of wine,
but his sleepy seriousness, his enthusiasm, his capacity for profound
dreaming. No one ever expressed more truly than Michelangelo the notion
of inspired sleep, of faces charged with dreams. A vast fragment of
marble had long lain below the Loggia of Orcagna, and many a sculptor
had had his thoughts of a design which should just fill this famous
block of stone, cutting the diamond, as it were, without loss. Under
Michelangelo's hand it became the David which stood till lately on the
steps of the Palazzo Vecchio, when it was replaced below the Loggia.
Michelangelo was now thirty years old, and his reputation was
established. Three great works fill the remainder of his life--three
works often interrupted, carried on through a thousand hesitations, a
thousand disappointments, quarrels with his patrons, quarrels with his
family, quarrels perhaps most of all with himself--the Sistine Chapel,
the Mausoleum of Julius the Second, and the Sacristy of San Lorenzo.

In the story of Michelangelo's life the strength, often turning to
bitterness, is not far to seek; a discordant note sounds throughout it
which almost spoils the music. He "treats the Pope as the King of France
himself would not dare to treat him"; he goes along the streets of Rome
"like an executioner," Raffaelle says of him. Once he seems to have shut
himself up with the intention of starving himself to death. As we come
in reading his life on its harsh, untempered incidents, the thought
again and again arises that he is one of those who incur the judgment of
Dante, as having "wilfully lived in sadness." Even his tenderness and
pity are embittered by their strength. What passionate weeping in that
mysterious figure which, in the Creation of Adam, crouches below the
image of the Almighty, as he comes with the forms of things to be, woman
and her progeny, in the fold of his garment! What a sense of wrong in
those two captive youths, who feel the chains like scalding water on
their proud and delicate flesh! The idealist who became a reformer with
Savonarola, and a republican superintending the fortification of
Florence--the nest where he was born, il nido ove naqqu'io, as he calls
it once, in a sudden throb of affection--in its last struggle for
liberty, yet believed always that he had imperial blood in his veins and
was of the kindred of the great Matilda, had within the depths of his
nature some secret spring of indignation or sorrow. We know little of
his youth, but all tends to make one believe in the vehemence of its
passions. Beneath the Platonic calm of the sonnets there is latent a
deep delight in carnal form and colour. There, and still more in the
madrigals, he often falls into the language of less tranquil affections;
while some of them have the colour of penitence, as from a wanderer
returning home. He who spoke so decisively of the supremacy in the
imaginative world of the unveiled human form had not been always, we may
think, a mere Platonic lover. Vague and wayward his loves may have been;
but they partook of the strength of his nature, and sometimes, it may
be, would by no means become music, so that the comely order of his days
was quite put out: par che amaro ogni mio dolce io senta.

But his genius is in harmony with itself; and just as in the products of
his art we find resources of sweetness within their exceeding strength,
so in his own story also, bitter as the ordinary sense of it may be,
there are select pages shut in among the rest--pages one might easily
turn over too lightly, but which yet sweeten the whole volume. The
interest of Michelangelo's poems is that they make us spectators of this
struggle; the struggle of a strong nature to adorn and attune itself;
the struggle of a desolating passion, which yearns to be resigned and
sweet and pensive, as Dante's was. It is a consequence of the occasional
and informal character of his poetry, that it brings us nearer to
himself, his own mind and temper, than any work done only to support a
literary reputation could possibly do. His letters tell us little that
is worth knowing about him--a few poor quarrels about money and
commissions. But it is quite otherwise with these songs and sonnets,
written down at odd moments, sometimes on the margins of his sketches,
themselves often unfinished sketches, arresting some salient feeling or
unpremeditated idea as it passed. And it happens that a true study of
these has become within the last few years for the first time possible.
A few of the sonnets circulated widely in manuscript, and became almost
within Michelangelo's own lifetime a subject of academical discourses.
But they were first collected in a volume in 1623 by the great-nephew of
Michelangelo, Michelangelo Buonarroti the younger. He omitted much,
re-wrote the sonnets in part, and sometimes compressed two or more
compositions into one, always losing something of the force and
incisiveness of the original. So the book remained, neglected even by
Italians themselves in the last century, through the influence of that
French taste which despised all compositions of the kind, as it despised
and neglected Dante. "His reputation will ever be on the increase,
because he is so little read," says Voltaire of Dante.--But in 1858 the
last of the Buonarroti bequeathed to the municipality of Florence the
curiosities of his family. Among them was a precious volume containing
the autograph of the sonnets. A learned Italian, Signor Cesare Guasti,
undertook to collate this autograph with other manuscripts at the
Vatican and elsewhere, and in 1863 published a true version of
Michelangelo's poems, with dissertations and a paraphrase.*

*The sonnets have been translated into English, with much poetic taste
and skill, by Mr. J. A. Symonds.

People have often spoken of these poems as if they were a mere cry of
distress, a lover's complaint over the obduracy of Vittoria Colonna. But
those who speak thus forget that though it is quite possible that
Michelangelo had seen Vittoria, that somewhat shadowy figure, as early
as 1537, yet their closer intimacy did not begin till about the year
1542, when Michelangelo was nearly seventy years old. Vittoria herself,
an ardent neo-catholic, vowed to perpetual widowhood since the news had
reached her, seventeen years before, that her husband, the youthful and
princely Marquess of Pescara, lay dead of the wounds he had received in
the battle of Pavia, was then no longer an object of great passion. In a
dialogue written by the painter, Francesco d'Ollanda, we catch a glimpse
of them together in an empty church at Rome, one Sunday afternoon,
discussing indeed the characteristics of various schools of art, but
still more the writings of Saint Paul, already following the ways and
tasting the sunless pleasures of weary people, whose hold on outward
things is slackening. In a letter still extant he regrets that when he
visited her after death he had kissed her hands only. He made, or set to
work to make, a crucifix for her use, and two drawings, perhaps in
preparation for it, are now in Oxford. From allusions in the sonnets, we
may divine that when they first approached each other he had debated
much with himself whether this last passion would be the most
unsoftening, the most desolating of all--un dolce amaro, un si e no mi
muovi; is it carnal affection, or, del suo prestino stato (Plato's
ante-natal state) il raggio ardente? The older, conventional criticism,
dealing with the text of 1623, had lightly assumed that all or nearly
all the sonnets were actually addressed to Vittoria herself; but Signor
Guasti finds only four, or at most five, which can be so attributed on
genuine authority. Still, there are reasons which make him assign the
majority of them to the period between 1542 and 1547, and we may regard
the volume as a record of this resting-place in Michelangelo's story. We
know how Goethe escaped from the stress of sentiments too strong for him
by making a book about them; and for Michelangelo, to write down his
passionate thoughts at all, to make sonnets about them, was already in
some measure to command, and have his way with them--

  La vita del mia amor non e il cor mio,
  Ch'amor, di quel ch'io t'amo, e senza core.

It was just because Vittoria raised no great passion that the space in
his life where she reigns has such peculiar suavity; and the spirit of
the sonnets is lost if we once take them out of that dreamy atmosphere
in which men have things as they will, because the hold of all outward
things upon them is faint and thin. Their prevailing tone is a calm and
meditative sweetness. The cry of distress is indeed there, but as a mere
residue, a trace of bracing chalybeate salt, just discernible in the
song which rises as a clear, sweet spring from a charmed space in his
life.

This charmed and temperate space in Michelangelo's life, without which
its excessive strength would have been so imperfect, which saves him
from the judgment of Dante on those who "wilfully lived in sadness," is
then a well-defined period there, reaching from the year 1542 to the
year 1547, the year of Vittoria's death. In it the lifelong effort to
tranquillise his vehement emotions by withdrawing them into the region
of ideal sentiment, becomes successful; and the significance of Vittoria
there is, that she realises for him a type of affection which even in
disappointment may charm and sweeten his spirit. In this effort to
tranquillise and sweeten life by idealising its vehement sentiments,
there were two great traditional types, either of which an Italian of
the sixteenth century might have followed. There was Dante, whose little
book of the Vita Nuova had early become a pattern of imaginative love,
maintained somewhat feebly by the later followers of Petrarch; and since
Plato had become something more than a name in Italy by the publication
of the Latin translation of his works by Marsilio Ficino, there was the
Platonic tradition also. Dante's belief in the resurrection of the body,
through which, even in heaven, Beatrice loses for him no tinge of
flesh-colour, or fold of raiment even--and the Platonic dream of the
passage of the soul through one form of life after another, with its
passionate haste to escape from the burden of bodily form
altogether--are, for all effects of art or poetry, principles
diametrically opposite; and it is the Platonic tradition rather than
Dante's that has moulded Michelangelo's verse. In many ways no sentiment
could have been less like Dante's love for Beatrice than Michelangelo's
for Vittoria Colonna. Dante's comes in early youth: Beatrice is a child,
with the wistful, ambiguous vision of a child, with a character still
unaccentuated by the influence of outward circumstances, almost
expressionless. Vittoria is a woman already weary, in advanced age, of
grave intellectual qualities. Dante's story is a piece of figured wood,
inlaid with lovely incidents. In Michelangelo's poems, frost and fire
are almost the only images--the refining fire of the goldsmith; once or
twice the phoenix; ice melting at the fire; fire struck from the rock
which it afterwards consumes. Except one doubtful allusion to a journey,
there are almost no incidents. But there is much of the bright, sharp,
unerring skill, with which in boyhood he gave the look of age to the
head of a faun by chipping a tooth from its jaw with a single stroke of
the hammer. For Dante, the amiable and devout materialism of the middle
age sanctifies all that is presented by hand and eye. Michelangelo is
always pressing forward from the outward beauty--il bel del fuor che
agli occhi piace--to apprehend the unseen beauty; trascenda nella forma
universale--that abstract form of beauty, about which the Platonists
reason. And this gives the impression in him of something flitting and
unfixed, of the houseless and complaining spirit, almost clairvoyant
through the frail and yielding flesh. He accounts for love at first
sight by a previous state of existence--la dove io t'amai prima.

And yet there are many points in which he is really like Dante, and
comes very near to the original image, beyond those later and feebler
followers of Petrarch. He learns from Dante rather than from Plato, that
for lovers, the surfeiting of desire--ove gran desir gran copia affrena,
is a state less happy than misery full of hope--una miseria di speranza
piena. He recalls him in the repetition of the words gentile and
cortesia, in the personification of Amor, in the tendency to dwell
minutely on the physical effects of the presence of a beloved object on
the pulses and the heart. Above all, he resembles Dante in the warmth
and intensity of his political utterances, for the lady of one of his
noblest sonnets was from the first understood to be the city of
Florence; and he avers that all must be asleep in heaven, if she, who
was created "of angelic form," for a thousand lovers, is appropriated by
one alone, some Piero, or Alessandro de' Medici. Once and again he
introduces Love and Death, who dispute concerning him; for, like Dante
and all the nobler souls of Italy, he is much occupied with thoughts of
the grave, and his true mistress is death; death at first as the worst
of all sorrows and disgraces, with a clod of the field for its brain;
afterwards, death in its high distinction, its detachment from vulgar
needs, the angry stains of life and action escaping fast.

Some of those whom the gods love die young. This man, because the gods
loved him, lingered on to be of immense, patriarchal age, till the
sweetness it had taken so long to secrete in him was found at last. Out
of the strong came forth sweetness, ex forti dulcedo. The world had
changed around him. The New-catholicism had taken the place of the
Renaissance. The spirit of the Roman Church had changed: in the vast
world's cathedral which his skill had helped to raise for it, it looked
stronger than ever. Some of the first members of the Oratory were among
his intimate associates. They were of a spirit as unlike as possible
from that of Lorenzo, or Savonarola even. The opposition of the
Reformation to art has been often enlarged upon; far greater was that of
the Catholic revival. But in thus fixing itself in a frozen orthodoxy,
the Roman Catholic Church has passed beyond him, and he was a stranger
to it. In earlier days, when its beliefs had been in a fluid state, he
too might have been drawn into the controversy; he might have been for
spiritualising the papal sovereignty, like Savonarola; or for adjusting
the dreams of Plato and Homer with the words of Christ, like Pico of
Mirandola. But things had moved onward, and such adjustments were no
longer possible. For himself, he had long since fallen back on that
divine ideal, which above the wear and tear of creeds has been forming
itself for ages as the possession of nobler souls. And now he began to
feel the soothing influence which since that time the Roman Church has
often exerted over spirits too independent to be its subjects, yet
brought within the neighbourhood of its action; consoled and
tranquillised, as a traveller might be, resting for one evening in a
strange city, by its stately aspect, and the sentiment of its many
fortunes, just because with those fortunes he has nothing to do. So he
lingers on; a revenant, as the French say, a ghost out of another age,
in a world too coarse to touch his faint sensibilities too closely;
dreaming, in a worn-out society, theatrical in its life, theatrical in
its art, theatrical even in its devotion, on the morning of the world's
history, on the primitive form of man, on the images under which that
primitive world had conceived of spiritual forces.

I have dwelt on the thought of Michelangelo as thus lingering beyond his
time in a world not his own, because, if one is to distinguish the
peculiar savour of his work, he must be approached, not through his
followers, but through his predecessors; not through the marbles of
Saint Peter's, but through the work of the sculptors of the fifteenth
century over the tombs and altars of Tuscany. He is the last of the
Florentines, of those on whom the peculiar sentiment of the Florence of
Dante and Giotto descended: he is the consummate representative of the
form that sentiment took in the fifteenth century with men like Luca
Signorelli and Mino da Fiesole. Up to him the tradition of sentiment is
unbroken, the progress towards surer and more mature methods of
expressing that sentiment continuous. But his professed disciples did
not share this temper; they are in love with his strength only, and seem
not to feel his grave and temperate sweetness. Theatricality is their
chief characteristic; and that is a quality as little attributable to
Michelangelo as to Mino or Luca Signorelli. With him, as with them, all
Is serious, passionate, impulsive.

This discipleship of Michelangelo, this dependence of his on the
tradition of the Florentine schools, is nowhere seen more clearly than
in his treatment of the Creation. The Creation of Man had haunted the
mind of the middle age like a dream; and weaving it into a hundred
carved ornaments of capital or doorway, the Italian sculptors had early
impressed upon it that pregnancy of expression which seems to give it
many veiled meanings. As with other artistic conceptions of the middle
age, its treatment became almost conventional, handed on from artist to
artist, with slight changes, till it came to have almost an independent,
abstract existence of its own. It was characteristic of the medieval
mind thus to give an independent traditional existence to a special
pictorial conception, or to a legend, like that of Tristram or
Tannhaeuser, or even to the very thoughts and substance of a book, like
the Imitation, so that no single workman could claim it as his own, and
the book, the image, the legend, had itself a legend, and its fortunes,
and a personal history; and it is a sign of the medievalism of
Michelangelo, that he thus receives from tradition his central
conception, and does but add the last touches, in transferring it to the
frescoes of the Sistine Chapel.

But there was another tradition of those earlier more serious
Florentines, of which Michelangelo is the inheritor, to which he gives
the final expression, and which centres in the sacristy of San Lorenzo,
as the tradition of the Creation centres in the Sistine Chapel. It has
been said that all the great Florentines were preoccupied with death.
Outre-tombe! Outre-tombe!--is the burden of their thoughts, from Dante
to Savonarola. Even the gay and licentious Boccaccio gives a keener edge
to his stories by putting them in the mouths of a party of people who
had taken refuge from the danger of death by plague, in a country-house.
It was to this inherited sentiment, this practical decision that to be
pre-occupied with the thought of death was in itself dignifying, and a
note of high quality, that the seriousness of the great Florentines of
the fifteenth century was partly due; and it was reinforced in them by
the actual sorrows of their times. How often, and in what various ways,
had they seen life stricken down, in their streets and houses! La bella
Simonetta dies in early youth, and is borne to the grave with uncovered
face. The young Cardinal Jacopo di Portogallo dies on a visit to
Florence--insignis forma fui et mirabili modestia--his epitaph dares to
say. Antonio Rossellino carves his tomb in the church of San Miniato,
with care for the shapely hands and feet, and sacred attire; Luca della
Robbia puts his skyeyest works there; and the tomb of the youthful and
princely prelate became the strangest and most beautiful thing in that
strange and beautiful place. After the execution of the Pazzi
conspirators, Botticelli is employed to paint their portraits. This
preoccupation with serious thoughts and sad images might easily have
resulted, as it did, for instance, in the gloomy villages of the Rhine,
or in the overcrowded parts of medieval Paris, as it still does in many
a village of the Alps, in something merely morbid or grotesque, in the
Danse Macabre of many French and German painters, or the grim inventions
of Duerer. From such a result the Florentine masters of the fifteenth
century were saved by their high Italian dignity and culture, and still
more by their tender pity for the thing itself. They must often have
leaned over the lifeless body, when all was at length quiet and smoothed
out. After death, it is said, the traces of slighter and more
superficial dispositions disappear; the lines become more simple and
dignified; only the abstract lines remain, in a great indifference.
They came thus to see death in its distinction; and following it perhaps
one stage further, dwelling for a moment on the point where all that
transitory dignity must break up, and discerning with no clearness a new
body, they paused just in time, and abstained, with a sentiment of
profound pity.

Of all this sentiment Michelangelo is the achievement; and first of all,
of pity. Pieta--pity--the pity of the Virgin Mother over the dead body
of Christ, expanded into the pity of all mothers over all dead sons, the
entombment, with its cruel "hard stones"--that is the subject of his
predilection. He has left it in many forms, sketches, half-finished
designs, finished and unfinished groups of sculpture; but always as a
hopeless, rayless, almost heathen sorrow--no divine sorrow, but mere
pity and awe at the stiff limbs and colourless lips. There is a drawing
of his at Oxford, in which the dead body has sunk to the earth between
the mother's feet, with the arms extended over her knees. The tombs in
the sacristy of San Lorenzo are memorials, not of any of the nobler and
greater Medici, but of Giuliano, and Lorenzo the younger, noticeable
chiefly for their somewhat early death. It is mere human nature
therefore which has prompted the sentiment here. The titles assigned
traditionally to the four symbolical figures, Night and Day, The
Twilight and The Dawn, are far too definite for them; for these figures
come much nearer to the mind and spirit of their author, and are a more
direct expression of his thoughts, than any merely symbolical
conceptions could possibly have been. They concentrate and express, less
by way of definite conceptions than by the touches, the promptings of a
piece of music, all those vague fancies, misgivings, presentiments,
which shift and mix and define themselves and fade again, whenever the
thoughts try to fix themselves with sincerity on the conditions and
surroundings of the disembodied spirit. I suppose no one would come to
the sacristy of San Lorenzo for consolation; for seriousness, for
solemnity, for dignity of impression, perhaps, but not for consolation.
It is a place neither of terrible nor consoling thoughts, but of vague
and wistful speculation. Here, again, Michelangelo is the disciple not
so much of Dante as of the Platonists. Dante's belief in immortality is
formal, precise, and firm, as much so almost as that of a child, who
thinks the dead will hear if you cry loud enough. But in Michelangelo
you have maturity, the mind of the grown man, dealing cautiously and
dispassionately with serious things; and what hope he has is based on
the consciousness of ignorance--ignorance of man, ignorance of the
nature of the mind, its origin and capacities. Michelangelo is so
ignorant of the spiritual world, of the new body and its laws, that he
does not surely know whether the consecrated Host may not be the body of
Christ. And of all that range of sentiment he is the poet, a poet still
alive, and in possession of our inmost thoughts--dumb inquiry over the
relapse after death into the formlessness which preceded life, the
change, the revolt from that change, then the correcting, hallowing,
consoling rush of pity; at last, far off, thin and vague, yet not more
vague than the most definite thoughts men have had through three
centuries on a matter that has been so near their hearts, the new
body--a passing light, a mere intangible, external effect, over those
too rigid, or too formless faces; a dream that lingers a moment,
retreating in the dawn, incomplete, aimless, helpless; a thing with
faint hearing, faint memory, faint power of touch; a breath, a flame in
the doorway, a feather in the wind.

The qualities of the great masters in art or literature, the combination
of those qualities, the laws by which they moderate, support, relieve
each other, are not peculiar to them; but most often typical standards,
or revealing instances, of the laws by which certain aesthetic effects
are produced. The old masters indeed are simpler; their characteristics
are written larger, and are easier to read, than their analogues in all
the mixed, confused productions of the modern mind. But when once we
have succeeded in defining for ourselves those characteristics, and the
law of their combination, we have acquired a standard or measure which
helps us to put in its right place many a vagrant genius, many an
unclassified talent, many precious though imperfect products of art. It
is so with the components of the true character of Michelangelo. That
strange interfusion of sweetness and strength is not to be found in
those who claimed to be his followers; but it is found in many of those
who worked before him, and in many others down to our own time, in
William Blake, for instance, and Victor Hugo, who, though not of his
school, and unaware, are his true sons, and help us to understand him,
as he in turn interprets and justifies them. Perhaps this is the chief
use in studying old masters.

1871.



LEONARDO DA VINCI

HOMO MINISTER ET INTERPRES NATURAE


In Vasari's life of Leonardo da Vinci as we now read it there are some
variations from the first edition. There, the painter who has fixed the
outward type of Christ for succeeding centuries was a bold speculator,
holding lightly by other men's beliefs, setting philosophy above
Christianity. Words of his, trenchant enough to justify this impression,
are not recorded, and would have been out of keeping with a genius of
which one characteristic is the tendency to lose itself in a refined and
graceful mystery. The suspicion was but the time-honoured mode in which
the world stamps its appreciation of one who has thoughts for himself
alone, his high indifference, his intolerance of the common forms of
things; and in the second edition the image was changed into something
fainter and more conventional. But it is still by a certain mystery in
his work, and something enigmatical beyond the usual measure of great
men, that he fascinates, or perhaps half repels. His life is one of
sudden revolts, with intervals in which he works not at all, or apart
from the main scope of his work. By a strange fortune the works on which
his more popular fame rested disappeared early from the world, as the
Battle of the Standard; or are mixed obscurely with the work of meaner
hands, as the Last Supper. His type of beauty is so exotic that it
fascinates a larger number than it delights, and seems more than that of
any other artist to reflect ideas and views and some scheme of the world
within; so that he seemed to his contemporaries to be the possessor of
some unsanctified and sacred wisdom; as to Michelet and others to have
anticipated modern ideas. He trifles with his genius, and crowds all his
chief work into a few tormented years of later life; yet he is so
possessed by his genius that he passes unmoved through the most tragic
events, overwhelming his country and friends, like one who comes across
them by chance on some secret errand.

His legend, as the French say, with the anecdotes which every one knows,
is one of the most brilliant in Vasari. Later writers merely copied it,
until, in 1804, Carlo Amoretti applied to it a criticism which left
hardly a date fixed, and not one of those anecdotes untouched. The
various questions thus raised have since that time become, one after
another, subjects of special study, and mere antiquarianism has in this
direction little more to do. For others remain the editing of the
thirteen books of his manuscripts, and the separation by technical
criticism of what in his reputed works is really his, from what is only
half his, or the work of his pupils. But a lover of strange souls may
still analyse for himself the impression made on him by those works, and
try to reach through it a definition of the chief elements of Leonardo's
genius. The legend, corrected and enlarged by its critics, may now and
then intervene to support the results of this analysis.

His life has three divisions--thirty years at Florence, nearly twenty
years at Milan, then nineteen years of wandering, till he sinks to rest
under the protection of Francis the First at the Chateau de Clou. The
dishonour of illegitimacy hangs over his birth. Piero Antonio, his
father, was of a noble Florentine house, of Vinci in the Val d'Arno, and
Leonardo, brought up delicately among the true children of that house,
was the love-child of his youth, with the keen, puissant nature such
children often have. We see him in his youth fascinating all men by his
beauty, improvising music and songs, buying the caged birds and setting
them free, as he walked the streets of Florence, fond of odd bright
dresses and spirited horses.

From his earliest years he designed many objects, and constructed models
in relief, of which Vasari mentions some of women smiling. His father,
pondering over this promise in the child, took him to the workshop of
Andrea del Verrocchio, then the most famous artist in Florence.
Beautiful objects lay about there--reliquaries, pyxes, silver images for
the pope's chapel at Rome, strange fancy-work of the middle age, keeping
odd company with fragments of antiquity, then but lately discovered.
Another student Leonardo may have seen there--a boy into whose soul the
level light and aerial illusions of Italian sunsets had passed, in after
days famous as Perugino. Verrocchio was an artist of the earlier
Florentine type, carver, painter, and worker in metals, in one;
designer, not of pictures only, but of all things for sacred or
household use, drinking-vessels, ambries, instruments of music, making
them all fair to look upon, filling the common ways of life with the
reflexion of some far-off brightness; and years of patience had refined
his hand till his work was now sought after from distant places.

It happened that Verrocchio was employed by the brethren of Vallombrosa
to paint the Baptism of Christ, and Leonardo was allowed to finish an
angel in the left hand corner. It was one of those moments in which the
progress of a great thing--here, that of the art of Italy--presses hard
and sharp on the happiness of an individual, through whose
discouragement and decrease, humanity, in more fortunate persons, comes
a step nearer to its final success.

For beneath the cheerful exterior of the mere well-paid craftsman,
chasing brooches for the copes of Santa Maria Novella, or twisting metal
screens for the tombs of the Medici, lay the ambitious desire of
expanding the destiny of Italian art by a larger knowledge and insight
into things, a purpose in art not unlike Leonardo's still unconscious
purpose; and often, in the modelling of drapery, or of a lifted arm, or
of hair cast back from the face, there came to him something of the
freer manner and richer humanity of a later age. But in this Baptism the
pupil had surpassed the master; and Verrocchio turned away as one
stunned, and as if his sweet earlier work must thereafter be distasteful
to him, from the bright animated angel of Leonardo's hand.

The angel may still be seen in Florence, a space of sunlight in the
cold, laboured old picture; but the legend is true only in sentiment,
for painting had always been the art by which Verrocchio set least
store. And as in a sense he anticipates Leonardo, so to the last
Leonardo recalls the studio of Verrocchio, in the love of beautiful
toys, such as the vessel of water for a mirror, and lovely needle-work
about the implicated hands in the Modesty and Vanity, and of reliefs
like those cameos which in the Virgin of the Balances hang all round the
girdle of Saint Michael, and of bright variegated stones, such as the
agates in the Saint Anne, and in a hieratic preciseness and grace, as of
a sanctuary swept and garnished. Amid all the cunning and intricacy of
his Lombard manner this never left him. Much of it there must have been
in that lost picture of Paradise, which he prepared as a cartoon for
tapestry, to be woven in the looms of Flanders. It was the perfection of
the older Florentine style of miniature-painting, with patient putting
of each leaf upon the trees and each flower in the grass, where the
first man and woman were standing.

And because it was the perfection of that style, it awoke in Leonardo
some seed of discontent which lay in the secret places of his nature.
For the way to perfection is through a series of disgusts; and this
picture--all that he had done so far in his life at Florence--was after
all in the old slight manner.  His art, if it was to be something in the
world, must be weighted with more of the meaning of nature and purpose
of humanity. Nature was "the true mistress of higher intelligences." So
he plunged into the study of nature. And in doing this he followed the
manner of the older students; he brooded over the hidden virtues of
plants and crystals, the lines traced by the stars as they moved in the
sky, over the correspondences which exist between the different orders
of living things, through which, to eyes opened, they interpret each
other; and for years he seemed to those about him as one listening to a
voice, silent for other men.

He learned here the art of going deep, of tracking the sources of
expression to their subtlest retreats, the power of an intimate presence
in the things he handled. He did not at once or entirely desert his art;
only he was no longer the cheerful, objective painter, through whose
soul, as through clear glass, the bright figures of Florentine life,
only made a little mellower and more pensive by the transit, passed on
to the white wall. He wasted many days in curious tricks of design,
seeming to lose himself in the spinning of intricate devices of lines
and colours. He was smitten with a love of the impossible--the
perforation of mountains, changing the course of rivers, raising great
buildings, such as the church of San Giovanni, in the air; all those
feats for the performance of which natural magic professed to have the
key. Later writers, indeed, see in these efforts an anticipation of
modern mechanics; in him they were rather dreams, thrown off by the
overwrought and labouring brain. Two ideas were especially fixed in him,
as reflexes of things that had touched his brain in childhood beyond the
measure of other impressions--the smiling of women and the motion of
great waters.

And in such studies some interfusion of the extremes of beauty and
terror shaped itself, as an image that might be seen and touched, in the
mind of this gracious youth, so fixed that for the rest of his life it
never left him; and as catching glimpses of it in the strange eyes or
hair of chance people, he would follow such about the streets of
Florence till the sun went down, of whom many sketches of his remain.
Some of these are full of a curious beauty, that remote beauty
apprehended only by those who have sought it carefully; who, starting
with acknowledged types of beauty, have refined as far upon these, as
these refine upon the world of common forms. But mingled inextricably
with this there is an element of mockery also; so that, whether in
sorrow or scorn, he caricatures Dante even. Legions of grotesques sweep
under his hand; for has not nature too her grotesques--the rent rock,
the distorting light of evening on lonely roads, the unveiled structure
of man in the embryo, or the skeleton?

All these swarming fancies unite in the Medusa of the Uffizii. Vasari's
story of an earlier Medusa, painted on a wooden shield, is perhaps an
invention; and yet, properly told, has more of the air of truth about it
than any-thing else in the whole legend. For its real subject is not the
serious work of a man, but the experiment of a child. The lizards and
glow-worms and other strange small creatures which haunt an Italian
vineyard bring before one the whole picture of a child's life in a
Tuscan dwelling--half castle, half farm--and are as true to nature as
the pretended astonishment of the father for whom the boy has prepared a
surprise. It was not in play that he painted that other Medusa, the one
great picture which he left behind him in Florence. The subject has been
treated in various ways; Leonardo alone cuts to its centre; he alone
realises it as the head of a corpse, exercising its powers through all
the circumstances of death. What may be called the fascination of
corruption penetrates in every touch its exquisitely finished beauty.
About the dainty lines of the cheek the bat flits unheeded. The delicate
snakes seem literally strangling each other in terrified struggle to
escape from the Medusa brain. The hue which violent death always brings
with it is in the features: features singularly massive and grand, as we
catch them inverted, in a dexterous foreshortening, sloping upwards,
almost sliding down upon us, crown foremost, like a great calm stone
against which the wave of serpents breaks. But it is a subject that may
well be left to the beautiful verses of Shelley.

The science of that age was all divination, clairvoyance, unsubjected to
our exact modern formulas, seeking in an instant of vision to
concentrate a thousand experiences. Later writers, thinking only of the
well-ordered treatise on painting which a Frenchman, Raffaelle du
Fresne, a hundred years afterwards, compiled from Leonardo's bewildered
manuscripts, written strangely, as his manner was, from right to left,
have imagined a rigid order in his inquiries. But this rigid order was
little in accordance with the restlessness of his character; and if we
think of him as the mere reasoner who subjects design to anatomy, and
composition to mathematical rules, we shall hardly have of him that
impression which those about him received from him. Poring over his
crucibles, making experiments with colour, trying, by a strange
variation of the alchemist's dream, to discover the secret, not of an
elixir to make man's natural life immortal, but rather of giving
immortality to the subtlest and most delicate effects of painting, he
seemed to them rather the sorcerer or the magician, possessed of curious
secrets and a hidden knowledge, living in a world of which he alone
possessed the key. What his philosophy seems to have been most like is
that of Paracelsus or Cardan; and much of the spirit of the older
alchemy still hangs about it, with its confidence in short cuts and odd
byways to knowledge. To him philosophy was to be something giving
strange swiftness and double sight, divining the sources of springs
beneath the earth or of expression beneath the human countenance,
clairvoyant of occult gifts in common or uncommon things, in the reed at
the brook-side, or the star which draws near to us but once in a
century. How, in this way, the clear purpose was overclouded, the fine
chaser's hand perplexed, we but dimly see; the mystery which at no point
quite lifts from Leonardo's life is deepest here. But it is certain that
at one period of his life he had almost ceased to be an artist.

The year 1483--the year of the birth of Raffaelle and the thirty-first
of Leonardo's life--is fixed as the date of his visit to Milan by the
letter in which he recommends himself to Ludovico Sforza, and offers to
tell him, for a price, strange secrets in the art of war. It was that
Sforza who murdered his young nephew by slow poison, yet was so
susceptible of religious impressions that he blended mere earthly
passions with a sort of religious sentimentalism, and who took for his
device the mulberry-tree--symbol, in its long delay and sudden yielding
of flowers and fruit together, of a wisdom which economises all forces
for an opportunity of sudden and sure effect. The fame of Leonardo had
gone before him, and he was to model a colossal statue of Francesco, the
first Duke of Milan. As for Leonardo himself, he came not as an artist
at all, or careful of the fame of one; but as a player on the harp, a
strange harp of silver of his own construction, shaped in some curious
likeness to a horse's skull. The capricious spirit of Ludovico was
susceptible also of the charm of music, and Leonardo's nature had a kind
of spell in it. Fascination is always the word descriptive of him. No
portrait of his youth remains; but all tends to make us believe that up
to this time some charm of voice and aspect, strong enough to balance
the disadvantage of his birth, had played about him. His physical
strength was great; it was said that he could bend a horse-shoe like a
coil of lead.

The Duomo, the work of artists from beyond the Alps, so fantastic to the
eye of a Florentine used to the mellow, unbroken surfaces of Giotto and
Arnolfo, was then in all its freshness; and below, in the streets of
Milan, moved a people as fantastic, changeful and dreamlike. To Leonardo
least of all men could there be anything poisonous in the exotic flowers
of sentiment which grew there. It was a life of brilliant sins and
exquisite amusements: Leonardo became a celebrated designer of pageants:
and it suited the quality of his genius, composed in almost equal parts
of curiosity and the desire of beauty, to take things as they came.

Curiosity and the desire of beauty--these are the two elementary forces
in Leonardo's genius; curiosity often in conflict with the desire of
beauty, but generating, in union with it, a type of subtle and curious
grace.

The movement of the fifteenth century was twofold; partly the
Renaissance, partly also the coming of what is called the "modern
spirit," with its realism, its appeal to experience: it comprehended a
return to antiquity, and a return to nature. Raffaelle represents the
return to antiquity, and Leonardo the return to nature. In this return
to nature, he was seeking to satisfy a boundless curiosity by her
perpetual surprises, a microscopic sense of finish by her finesse, or
delicacy of operation, that subtilitas naturae which Bacon notices. So
we find him often in intimate relations with men of science,--with Fra
Luca Poccioli the mathematician, and the anatomist Marc Antonio della
Torre. His observations and experiments fill thirteen volumes of
manuscript; and those who can judge describe him as anticipating long
before, by rapid intuition, the later ideas of science. He explained the
obscure light of the unilluminated part of the moon, knew that the sea
had once covered the mountains which contain shells, and the gathering
of the equatorial waters above the polar.

He who thus penetrated into the most secret parts of nature preferred
always the more to the less remote, what, seeming exceptional, was an
instance of law more refined, the construction about things of a
peculiar atmosphere and mixed lights. He paints flowers with such
curious felicity that different writers have attributed to him a
fondness for particular flowers, as Clement the cyclamen, and Rio the
jasmin; while, at Venice, there is a stray leaf from his portfolio
dotted all over with studies of violets and the wild rose. In him first
appears the taste for what is bizarre or recherche in landscape; hollow
places full of the green shadow of bituminous rocks, ridged reefs of
trap-rock which cut the water into quaint sheets of light--their exact
antitype is in our own western seas; all the solemn effects of moving
water; you may follow it springing from its distant source among the
rocks on the heath of the Madonna of the Balances, passing, as a little
fall, into the treacherous calm of the Madonna of the Lake, next, as a
goodly river, below the cliffs of the Madonna of the Rocks, washing the
white walls of its distant villages, stealing out in a network of
divided streams in La Gioconda to the seashore of the Saint Anne--that
delicate place, where the wind passes like the hand of some fine etcher
over the surface, and the untorn shells are lying thick upon the sand,
and the tops of the rocks, to which the waves never rise, are green with
grass, grown fine as hair. It is the landscape, not of dreams or of
fancy, but of places far withdrawn, and hours selected from a thousand
with a miracle of finesse. Through Leonardo's strange veil of sight
things reach him so; in no ordinary night or day, but as in faint light
of eclipse, or in some brief interval of falling rain at daybreak, or
through deep water.

And not into nature only; but he plunged also into human personality,
and became above all a painter of portraits; faces of a modelling more
skilful than has been seen before or since, embodied with a reality
which almost amounts to illusion, on dark air. To take a character as it
was, and delicately sound its stops, suited one so curious in
observation, curious in invention. So he painted the portraits of
Ludovico's mistresses, Lucretia Crivelli and Cecilia Galerani the
poetess, of Ludovico himself, and the Duchess Beatrice. The portrait of
Cecilia Galerani is lost; but that of Lucretia Crivelli has been
identified with La Belle Feroniere of the Louvre, and Ludovico's pale,
anxious face still remains in the Ambrosian library. Opposite is the
portrait of Beatrice d'Este, in whom Leonardo seems to have caught some
presentiment of early death, painting her precise and grave, full of the
refinement of the dead, in sad earth-coloured raiment, set with pale
stones.

Sometimes this curiosity came in conflict with the desire of beauty; it
tended to make him go too far below that outside of things in which art
begins and ends. This struggle between the reason and its ideas, and the
senses, the desire of beauty, is the key to Leonardo's life at
Milan--his restlessness, his endless re-touchings, his odd experiments
with colour. How much must he leave unfinished, how much recommence!
His problem was the transmutation of ideas into images. What he had
attained so far had been the mastery of that earlier Florentine style,
with its naive and limited sensuousness. Now he was to entertain in this
narrow medium those divinations of a humanity too wide for it, that
larger vision of the opening world, which is only not too much for the
great, irregular art of Shakspere; and everywhere the effort is visible
in the work of his hands. This agitation, this perpetual delay, give him
an air of weariness and ennui. To others he seems to be aiming at an
impossible effect, to do something that art, that painting, can never
do. Often the expression of physical beauty at this or that point seems
strained and marred in the effort, as in those heavy German
foreheads--too German and heavy for perfect beauty.

For there was a touch of Germany in that genius which, as Goethe said,
had "thought itself weary"--muede sich gedacht. What an anticipation of
modern Germany, for instance, in that debate on the question whether
sculpture or painting is the nobler art.* But there is this difference
between him and the German, that, with all that curious science, the
German would have thought nothing more was needed; and the name of
Goethe himself reminds one how great for the artist may be the danger of
overmuch science; how Goethe, who, in the Elective Affinities and the
first part of Faust, does transmute ideas into images, who wrought many
such transmutations, did not invariably find the spell-word, and in the
second part of Faust presents us with a mass of science which has almost
no artistic character at all. But Leonardo will never work till the
happy moment comes--that moment of bien-etre, which to imaginative men
is a moment of invention. On this moment he waits; other moments are but
a preparation, or after-taste of it. Few men distinguish between them as
jealously as he did. Hence so many flaws even in the choicest work. But
for Leonardo the distinction is absolute, and, in the moment of
bien-etre, the alchemy complete: the idea is stricken into colour and
imagery: a cloudy mysticism is refined to a subdued and graceful
mystery, and painting pleases the eye while it satisfies the soul.

*How princely, how characteristic of Leonardo, the answer, Quanto piu,
un'arte porta seco fatica di corpo, tanto piu e vile!

This curious beauty is seen above all in his drawings, and in these
chiefly in the abstract grace of the bounding lines. Let us take some of
these drawings, and pause over them awhile; and, first, one of those at
Florence--the heads of a woman and a little child, set side by side, but
each in its own separate frame. First of all, there is much pathos in
the reappearance in the fuller curves of the face of the child, of the
sharper, more chastened lines of the worn and older face, which leaves
no doubt that the heads are those of a little child and its mother. A
feeling for maternity is indeed always characteristic of Leonardo; and
this feeling is further indicated here by the half-humorous pathos of
the diminutive, rounded shoulders of the child. You may note a like
pathetic power in drawings of a young man seated in a stooping posture,
his face in his hands, as in sorrow; of a slave sitting in an uneasy
inclined posture, in some brief interval of rest; of a small Madonna and
Child, peeping sideways in half-reassured terror, as a mighty griffin
with batlike wings, one of Leonardo's finest inventions, descends
suddenly from the air to snatch up a lion wandering near them. But note
in these, as that which especially belongs to art, the contour of the
young man's hair, the poise of the slave's arm above his head, and the
curves of the head of the child, following the little skull within, thin
and fine as some seashell worn by the wind.

Take again another head, still more full of sentiment, but of a
different kind, a little drawing in red chalk which every one remembers
who has examined at all carefully the drawings by old masters at the
Louvre. It is a face of doubtful sex, set in the shadow of its own hair,
the cheek-line in high light against it, with something voluptuous and
full in the eyelids and the lips. Another drawing might pass for the
same face in childhood, with parched and feverish lips, but with much
sweetness in the loose, short-waisted childish dress, with necklace and
bulla, and in the daintily bound hair. We might take the thread of
suggestion which these two drawings offer, when thus set side by side,
and, following it through the drawings at Florence, Venice, and Milan,
construct a sort of series, illustrating better than anything else
Leonardo's type of womanly beauty. Daughters of Herodias, with their
fantastic head-dresses knotted and folded so strangely to leave the
dainty oval of the face disengaged, they are not of the Christian
family, or of Raffaelle's. They are the clairvoyants, through whom, as
through delicate instruments, one becomes aware of the subtler forces of
nature, and the modes of their action, all that is magnetic in it, all
those finer conditions wherein material things rise to that subtlety of
operation which constitutes them spiritual, where only the finer nerve
and the keener touch can follow: it is as if in certain revealing
instances we actually saw them at their work on human flesh. Nervous,
electric, faint always with some inexplicable faintness, they seem to be
subject to exceptional conditions, to feel powers at work in the common
air unfelt by others, to become, as it were, receptacles of them, and
pass them on to us in a chain of secret influences.

But among the more youthful heads there is one at Florence which Love
chooses for its own--the head of a young man, which may well be the
likeness of Andrea Salaino, beloved of Leonardo for his curled and
waving hair--belli capelli ricci e inanellati--and afterwards his
favourite pupil and servant. Of all the interests in living men and
women which may have filled his life at Milan, this attachment alone is
recorded; and in return Salaino identified himself so entirely with
Leonardo, that the picture of Saint Anne, in the Louvre, has been
attributed to him. It illustrates Leonardo's usual choice of pupils, men
of some natural charm of person or intercourse like Salaino, or men of
birth and princely habits of life like Francesco Melzi--men with just
enough genius to be capable of initiation into his secret, for the sake
of which they were ready to efface their own individuality. Among them,
retiring often to the Villa of the Melzi at Canonica al Vaprio, he
worked at his fugitive manuscripts and sketches, working for the present
hour, and for a few only, perhaps chiefly for himself. Other artists
have been as careless of present or future applause, in
self-forgetfulness, or because they set moral or political ends above
the ends of art; but in him this solitary culture of beauty seems to
have hung upon a kind of self-love, and a carelessness in the work of
art of all but art itself. Out of the secret places of a unique
temperament he brought strange blossoms and fruits hitherto unknown; and
for him, the novel impression conveyed, the exquisite effect woven,
counted as an end in itself--a perfect end.

And these pupils of his acquired his manner so thoroughly, that though
the number of Leonardo's authentic works is very small indeed, there is
a multitude of other men's pictures through which we undoubtedly see
him, and come very near to his genius. Sometimes, as in the little
picture of the Madonna of the Balances, in which, from the bosom of His
mother, Christ weighs the pebbles of the brooks against the sins of men,
we have a hand, rough enough by contrast, working upon some fine hint or
sketch of his. Sometimes, as in the subjects of the Daughter of Herodias
and the Head of John the Baptist, the lost originals have been re-echoed
and varied upon again and again by Luini and others. At other times the
original remains, but has been a mere theme or motive, a type of which
the accessories might be modified or changed; and these variations have
but brought out the more the purpose, or expression of the original. It
is so with the so-called Saint John the Baptist of the Louvre--one of
the few naked figures Leonardo painted--whose delicate brown flesh and
woman's hair no one would go out into the wilderness to seek, and whose
treacherous smile would have us understand something far beyond the
outward gesture or circumstance. But the long, reedlike cross in the
hand, which suggests Saint John the Baptist, becomes faint in a copy at
the Ambrosian Library, and disappears altogether in another, in the
Palazzo Rosso at Genoa. Returning from the last to the original, we are
no longer surprised by Saint John's strange likeness to the Bacchus
which hangs near it, which set Theophile Gautier thinking of Heine's
notion of decayed gods, who, to maintain themselves, after the fall of
paganism, took employment in the new religion. We recognise one of those
symbolical inventions in which the ostensible subject is used, not as
matter for definite pictorial realisation, but as the starting-point of
a train of sentiment as subtle and vague as a piece of music. No one
ever ruled over his subject more entirely than Leonardo, or bent it more
dexterously to purely artistic ends. And so it comes to pass that though
he handles sacred subjects continually, he is the most profane of
painters; the given person or subject, Saint John in the Desert, or the
Virgin on the knees of Saint Anne, is often merely the pretext for a
kind of work which carries one quite out of the range of its
conventional associations.

About the Last Supper, its decay and restorations, a whole literature
has risen up, Goethe's pensive sketch of its sad fortunes being far the
best. The death in childbirth of the Duchess Beatrice was followed in
Ludovico by one of those paroxysms of religious feeling which in him
were constitutional. The low, gloomy Dominican church of Saint Mary of
the Graces had been the favourite shrine of Beatrice. She had spent her
last days there, full of sinister presentiments; at last it had been
almost necessary to remove her from it by force; and now it was here
that mass was said a hundred times a day for her repose. On the damp
wall of the refectory, oozing with mineral salts, Leonardo painted the
Last Supper. A hundred anecdotes were told about it, his retouchings and
delays. They show him refusing to work except at the moment of
invention, scornful of whoever thought that art was a work of mere
industry and rule, often coming the whole length of Milan to give a
single touch. He painted it, not in fresco, where all must be impromptu,
but in oils, the new method which he had been one of the first to
welcome, because it allowed of so many afterthoughts, so refined a
working out of perfection. It turned out that on a plastered wall no
process could have been less durable. Within fifty years it had fallen
into decay. And now we have to turn back to Leonardo's own studies,
above all to one drawing of the central head at the Brera, which, in a
union of tenderness and severity in the face-lines, reminds one of the
monumental work of Mino da Fiesole, to trace it as it was.

It was another effort to lift a given subject out of the range of its
conventional associations. Strange, after all the misrepresentations of
the middle age, was the effort to see it, not as the pale Host of the
altar, but as one taking leave of his friends. Five years afterwards the
young Raffaelle, at Florence, painted it with sweet and solemn effect in
the refectory of Saint Onofrio; but still with all the mystical
unreality of the school of Perugino. Vasari pretends that the central
head was never finished; but finished or unfinished, or owing part of
its effect to a mellowing decay, this central head does but consummate
the sentiment of the whole company--ghosts through which you see the
wall, faint as the shadows of the leaves upon the wall, on autumn
afternoons; this figure is but the faintest, most spectral of them all.
It is the image of what the history it symbolises has more and more
become for the world, paler and paler as it recedes into the distance.
Criticism came with its appeal from mystical unrealities to originals,
and restored no lifelike reality but these transparent shadows, spirits
which have not flesh and bones.

The Last Supper was finished in 1497; in 1498 the French entered Milan,
and whether or not the Gascon bowmen used it as a mark for their arrows,
the model of Francesco Sforza certainly did not survive. What, in that
age, such work was capable of being--of what nobility, amid what racy
truthfulness to fact--we may judge from the bronze statue of Bartolomeo
Colleoni on horseback, modelled by Leonardo's master, Verrocchio (he
died of grief, it was said, because, the mould accidentally failing, he
was unable himself to complete it), still standing in the piazza of
Saint John and Saint Paul at Venice. Some traces of the thing may remain
in certain of Leonardo's drawings, and also, perhaps, by a singular
circumstance, in a far-off town of France. For Ludovico became a
prisoner, and ended his days at Loches in Touraine;--allowed at last, it
is said, to breathe fresher air for awhile in one of the rooms of a high
tower there, after many years of captivity in the dungeons below, where
all seems sick with barbarous feudal memories, and where his prison is
still shown, its walls covered with strange painted arabesques, ascribed
by tradition to his hand, amused a little, in this way, through the
tedious years:--vast helmets and faces and pieces of armour, among
which, in great letters, the motto Infelix Sum is woven in and out, and
in which, perhaps, it is not too fanciful to see the fruit of a wistful
after-dreaming over all those experiments with Leonardo on the armed
figure of the great duke, that had occupied the two so often during the
days of his good fortune at Milan.

The remaining years of Leonardo's life are more or less years of
wandering. From his brilliant life at court he had saved nothing, and he
returned to Florence a poor man. Perhaps necessity kept his spirit
excited: the next four years are one prolonged rapture or ecstasy of
invention. He painted the pictures of the Louvre, his most authentic
works, which came there straight from the cabinet of Francis the First,
at Fontainebleau. One picture of his, the Saint Anne--not the Saint Anne
of the Louvre, but a mere cartoon, now in London--revived for a moment a
sort of appreciation more common in an earlier time, when good pictures
had still seemed miraculous; and for two days a crowd of people of all
qualities passed in naive excitement through the chamber where it hung,
and gave Leonardo a taste of Cimabue's triumph. But his work was less
with the saints than with the living women of Florence; for he lived
still in the polished society that he loved, and in the houses of
Florence, left perhaps a little subject to light thoughts by the death
of Savonarola--the latest gossip (1869) is of an undraped Monna Lisa,
found in some out-of-the-way corner of the late Orleans collection--he
saw Ginevra di Benci, and Lisa, the young third wife of Francesco del
Giocondo. As we have seen him using incidents of sacred story, not for
their own sake, or as mere subjects for pictorial realisation, but as a
symbolical language for fancies all his own, so now he found a vent for
his thoughts in taking one of these languid women, and raising her, as
Leda or Pomona, Modesty or Vanity, to the seventh heaven of symbolical
expression.

La Gioconda is, in the truest sense, Leonardo's masterpiece, the
revealing instance of his mode of thought and work. In suggestiveness,
only the Melancholia of Duerer is comparable to it; and no crude
symbolism disturbs the effect of its subdued and graceful mystery. We
all know the face and hands of the figure, set in its marble chair, in
that cirque of fantastic rocks, as in some faint light under sea.
Perhaps of all ancient pictures time has chilled it least.* As often
happens with works in which invention seems to reach its limits, there
is an element in it given to, not invented by, the master. In that
inestimable folio of drawings, once in the possession of Vasari, were
certain designs by Verrocchio, faces of such impressive beauty that
Leonardo in his boyhood copied them many times. It is hard not to
connect with these designs of the elder, by-past master, as with its
germinal principle, the unfathomable smile, always with a touch of
something sinister in it, which plays over all Leonardo's work.
Besides, the picture is a portrait. From childhood we see this image
defining itself on the fabric of his dreams; and but for express
historical testimony, we might fancy that this was but his ideal lady,
embodied and beheld at last. What was the relationship of a living
Florentine to this creature of his thought? By means of what strange
affinities had the person and the dream grown up thus apart, and yet so
closely together? Present from the first incorporeally in Leonardo's
thought, dimly traced in the designs of Verrocchio, she is found present
at last in Il Giocondo's house. That there is much of mere portraiture
in the picture is attested by the legend that by artificial means, the
presence of mimes and flute-players, that subtle expression was
protracted on the face. Again, was it in four years and by renewed
labour never really completed, or in four months and as by stroke of
magic, that the image was projected?

*Yet for Vasari there was some further magic of crimson in the lips and
cheeks, lost for us.

The presence that thus rose so strangely beside the waters, is
expressive of what in the ways of a thousand years men had come to
desire. Hers is the head upon which all "the ends of the world are
come," and the eyelids are a little weary. It is a beauty wrought out
from within upon the flesh, the deposit, little cell by cell, of strange
thoughts and fantastic reveries and exquisite passions. Set it for a
moment beside one of those white Greek goddesses or beautiful women of
antiquity, and how would they be troubled by this beauty, into which the
soul with all its maladies has passed! All the thoughts and experience
of the world have etched and moulded there, in that which they have of
power to refine and make expressive the outward form, the animalism of
Greece, the lust of Rome, the reverie of the middle age with its
spiritual ambition and imaginative loves, the return of the Pagan world,
the sins of the Borgias. She is older than the rocks among which she
sits; like the vampire, she has been dead many times, and learned the
secrets of the grave; and has been a diver in deep seas, and keeps their
fallen day about her; and trafficked for strange webs with Eastern
merchants: and, as Leda, was the mother of Helen of Troy, and, as Saint
Anne, the mother of Mary; and all this has been to her but as the sound
of lyres and flutes, and lives only in the delicacy with which it has
moulded the changing lineaments, and tinged the eyelids and the hands.
The fancy of a perpetual life, sweeping together ten thousand
experiences, is an old one; and modern thought has conceived the idea of
humanity as wrought upon by, and summing up in itself, all modes of
thought and life. Certainly Lady Lisa might stand as the embodiment of
the old fancy, the symbol of the modern idea.

During these years at Florence Leonardo's history is the history of his
art; he himself is lost in the bright cloud of it. The outward history
begins again in 1502, with a wild journey through central Italy, which
he makes as the chief engineer of Caesar Borgia. The biographer, putting
together the stray jottings of his manuscripts, may follow him through
every day of it, up the strange tower of Siena, which looks towards
Rome, elastic like a bent bow, down to the seashore at Piombino, each
place appearing as fitfully as in a fever dream.

One other great work was left for him to do, a work all trace of which
soon vanished, The Battle of the Standard, in which he had Michelangelo
for his rival. The citizens of Florence, desiring to decorate the walls
of the great council-chamber, had offered the work for competition, and
any subject might be chosen from the Florentine wars of the fifteenth
century. Michelangelo chose for his cartoon an incident of the war with
Pisa, in which the Florentine soldiers, bathing in the Arno, are
surprised by the sound of trumpets, and run to arms. His design has
reached us only in an old engraving, which perhaps helps us less than
what we remember of the background of his Holy Family in the Uffizii to
imagine in what superhuman form, such as might have beguiled the heart
of an earlier world, those figures may have risen from the water.
Leonardo chose an incident from the battle of Anghiari, in which two
parties of soldiers fight for a standard. Like Michelangelo's, his
cartoon is lost, and has come to us only in sketches, and in a fragment
of Rubens. Through the accounts given we may discern some lust of
terrible things in it, so that even the horses tore each other with
their teeth; and yet one fragment of it, in a drawing of his at
Florence, is far different--a waving field of lovely armour, the chased
edgings running like lines of sunlight from side to side. Michelangelo
was twenty-seven years old; Leonardo more than fifty; and Raffaelle,
then nineteen years old, visiting Florence for the first time, came and
watched them as they worked.

We catch a glimpse of him again, at Rome in 1514, surrounded by his
mirrors and vials and furnaces, making strange toys that seemed alive of
wax and quicksilver. The hesitation which had haunted him all through
life, and made him like one under a spell, was upon him now with double
force. No one had ever carried political indifferentism farther; it had
always been his philosophy to "fly before the storm"; he is for the
Sforzas, or against them, as the tide of their fortune turns. Yet now in
the political society of Rome, he came to be suspected of concealed
French sympathies. It paralysed him to find himself among enemies; and
he turned wholly to France, which had long courted him.

France was about to become an Italy more Italian than Italy itself.
Francis the First, like Lewis the Twelfth before him, was attracted by
the finesse of Leonardo's work; La Gioconda was already in his cabinet,
and he offered Leonardo the little Chateau de Clou, with its vineyards
and meadows, in the pleasant valley of the Masse, just outside the walls
of the town of Amboise, where, especially in the hunting season, the
court then frequently resided. A Monsieur Lyonard, peinteur du Roy pour
Amboyse--so the letter of Francis the First is headed. It opens a
prospect, one of the most interesting in the history of art, where,
under a strange mixture of lights, Italian art dies away as a French
exotic.

Two questions remain, after much busy antiquarianism, concerning
Leonardo's death--the question of the precise form of his religion, and
the question whether Francis the First was present at the time. They are
of about equally little importance in the estimate of Leonardo's genius.
The directions in his will about the thirty masses and the great candles
for the church of Saint Florentin are things of course, their real
purpose being immediate and practical; and on no theory of religion
could these hurried offices be of much consequence. We forget them in
speculating how one who had been always so desirous of beauty, but
desired it always in such definite and precise forms, as hands or
flowers or hair, looked forward now into the vague land, and experienced
the last curiosity.

1869.



THE SCHOOL OF GIORGIONE

It is the mistake of much popular criticism to regard poetry, music, and
Painting--all the various products of art--as but translations into
different languages of one and the same fixed quantity of imaginative
thought, supplemented by certain technical qualities of colour, in
painting--of sound, in music--of rhythmical words, in poetry. In this
way, the sensuous element in art, and with it almost everything in art
that is essentially artistic, is made a matter of indifference; and a
clear apprehension of the opposite principle--that the sensuous material
of each art brings with it a special phase or quality of beauty,
untranslatable into the forms of any other, an order of impressions
distinct in kind--is the beginning of all true aesthetic criticism. For,
as art addresses not pure sense, still less the pure intellect, but the
"imaginative reason" through the senses, there are differences of kind
in aesthetic beauty, corresponding to the differences in kind of the
gifts of sense themselves. Each art, therefore, having its own peculiar
and incommunicable sensuous charm, has its own special mode of reaching
the imagination, its own special responsibilities to its material. One
of the functions of aesthetic criticism is to define these limitations;
to estimate the degree in which a given work of art fulfils its
responsibilities to its special material; to note in a picture that true
pictorial charm, which is neither a mere poetical thought nor sentiment,
on the one hand, nor a mere result of communicable technical skill in
colour or design, on the other; to define in a poem that true poetical
quality, which is neither descriptive nor meditative merely, but comes
of an inventive handling of rhythmical language--the element of song in
the singing; to note in music the musical charm--that essential music,
which presents no words, no matter of sentiment or thought, separable
from the special form in which it is conveyed to us.

To such a philosophy of the variations of the beautiful, Lessing's
analysis of the spheres of sculpture and poetry, in the Laocoon, was a
very important contribution. But a true appreciation of these things is
possible only in the light of a whole system of such art-casuistries.
And it is in the criticism of painting that this truth most needs
enforcing, for it is in popular judgments on pictures that that false
generalisation of all art into forms of poetry is most prevalent. To
suppose that all is mere technical acquirement in delineation or touch,
working through and addressing itself to the intelligence, on the one
side, or a merely poetical, or what may be called literary interest,
addressed also to the pure intelligence, on the other;--this is the way
of most spectators, and of many critics, who have never caught sight,
all the time, of that true pictorial quality which lies between (unique
pledge of the possession of the pictorial gift) the inventive or
creative handling of pure line and colour, which, as almost always in
Dutch painting, as often also in the works of Titian or Veronese, is
quite independent of anything definitely poetical in the subject it
accompanies. It is the drawing--the design projected from that peculiar
pictorial temperament or constitution, in which, while it may possibly
be ignorant of true anatomical proportions, all things whatever, all
poetry, every idea however abstract or obscure, floats up as a visible
scene, or image: it is the colouring--that weaving as of just
perceptible gold threads of light through the dress, the flesh, the
atmosphere, in Titian's Lace-girl--the staining of the whole fabric of
the thing with a new, delightful physical quality. This drawing,
then--the arabesque traced in the air by Tintoret's flying figures, by
Titian's forest branches; this colouring--the magic conditions of light
and hue in the atmosphere of Titian's Lace-girl, or Rubens's Descent
from the Cross--these essential pictorial qualities must first of all
delight the sense, delight it as directly and sensuously as a fragment
of Venetian glass; and through this delight only be the medium of
whatever poetry or science may lie beyond them, in the intention of the
composer. In its primary aspect, a great picture has no more definite
message for us than an accidental play of sunlight and shadow for a
moment, on the wall or floor: is itself, in truth, a space of such
fallen light, caught as the colours are caught in an Eastern carpet, but
refined upon, and dealt with more subtly and exquisitely than by nature
itself. And this primary and essential condition fulfilled, we may trace
the coming of poetry into painting, by fine gradations upwards; from
Japanese fan-painting, for instance, where we get, first, only abstract
colour; then, just a little interfused sense of the poetry of flowers;
then, sometimes, perfect flower-painting; and so, onwards, until in
Titian we have, as his poetry in the Ariadne, so actually a touch of
true childlike humour in the diminutive, quaint figure with its silk
gown, which ascends the temple stairs, in his picture of the
Presentation of the Virgin, at Venice.

But although each art has thus its own specific order of impressions,
and an untranslatable charm, while a just apprehension of the ultimate
differences of the arts is the beginning of aesthetic criticism; yet it
is noticeable that, in its special mode of handling its given material,
each art may be observed to pass into the condition of some other art,
by what German critics term an Anders-streben--a partial alienation from
its own limitations, by which the arts are able, not indeed to supply
the place of each other, but reciprocally to lend each other new forces.

Thus some of the most delightful music seems to be always approaching to
figure, to pictorial definition. Architecture, again, though it has its
own laws--laws esoteric enough, as the true architect knows only too
well--yet sometimes aims at fulfilling the conditions of a picture, as
in the Arena chapel; or of sculpture, as in the flawless unity of
Giotto's tower at Florence; and often finds a true poetry, as in those
strangely twisted staircases of the chateaux of the country of the
Loire, as if it were intended that among their odd turnings the actors
in a wild life might pass each other unseen: there being a poetry also
of memory and of the mere effect of time, by which it often profits
greatly. Thus, again, sculpture aspires out of the hard limitation of
pure form towards colour, or its equivalent; poetry also, in many ways,
finding guidance from the other arts, the analogy between a Greek
tragedy and a work of Greek sculpture, between a sonnet and a relief, of
French poetry generally with the art of engraving, being more than mere
figures of speech; and all the arts in common aspiring towards the
principle of music; music being the typical, or ideally consummate art,
the object of the great Anders-streben of all art, of all that is
artistic, or partakes of artistic qualities.

All art constantly aspires towards the condition of music. For while in
all other works of art it is possible to distinguish the matter from the
form, and the understanding can always make this distinction, yet it is
the constant effort of art to obliterate it. That the mere matter of a
poem, for instance--its subject, its given incidents or situation; that
the mere matter of a picture--the actual circumstances of an event, the
actual topography of a landscape--should be nothing without the form,
the spirit, of the handling; that this form, this mode of handling,
should become an end in itself, should penetrate every part of the
matter:--this is what all art constantly strives after, and achieves in
different degrees.

This abstract language becomes clear enough, if we think of actual
examples. In an actual landscape we see a long white road, lost suddenly
on the hill-verge. That is the matter of one of the etchings of M.
Legros: only, in this etching, it is informed by an indwelling solemnity
of expression, seen upon it or half-seen, within the limits of an
exceptional moment, or caught from his own mood perhaps, but which he
maintains as the very essence of the thing, throughout his work.
Sometimes a momentary tint of stormy light may invest a homely or too
familiar scene with a character which might well have been drawn from
the deep places of the imagination. Then we might say that this
particular effect of light, this sudden inweaving of gold thread through
the texture of the haystack, and the poplars, and the grass, gives the
scene artistic qualities; that it is like a picture. And such tricks of
circumstance are commonest in landscape which has little salient
character of its own; because, in such scenery, all the material details
are so easily absorbed by that informing expression of passing light,
and elevated, throughout their whole extent, to a new and delightful
effect by it. And hence the superiority, for most conditions of the
picturesque, of a river-side in France to a Swiss valley, because, on
the French river-side, mere topography, the simple material, counts for
so little, and, all being so pure, untouched, and tranquil in itself,
mere light and shade have such easy work in modulating it to one
dominant tone. The Venetian landscape, on the other hand, has in its
material conditions much which is hard, or harshly definite; but the
masters of the Venetian school have shown themselves little burdened by
them. Of its Alpine background they retain certain abstracted elements
only, of cool colour and tranquillising line; and they use its actual
details, the brown windy turrets, the straw-coloured fields, the forest
arabesques, but as the notes of a music which duly accompanies the
presence of their men and women, presenting us with the spirit or
essence only of a certain sort of landscape--a country of the pure
reason or half-imaginative memory.

Poetry, again, works with words addressed in the first instance to the
mere intelligence; and it deals, most often, with a definite subject or
situation. Sometimes it may find a noble and quite legitimate function
in the expression of moral or political aspiration, as often in the
poetry of Victor Hugo. In such instances it is easy enough for the
understanding to distinguish between the matter and the form, however
much the matter, the subject, the element which is addressed to the mere
intelligence, has been penetrated by the informing, artistic spirit.
But the ideal types of poetry are those in which this distinction is
reduced to its minimum; so that lyrical poetry, precisely because in it
we are least able to detach the matter from the form, without a
deduction of something from that matter itself, is, at least
artistically, the highest and most complete form of poetry. And the very
perfection of such poetry often seems to depend, in part, on a certain
suppression or vagueness of mere subject, so that the meaning reaches us
through ways not distinctly traceable by the understanding, as in some
of the most imaginative compositions of William Blake, and often in
Shakspere's songs, as pre-eminently in that song of Mariana's page in
Measure for Measure, in which the kindling force and poetry of the whole
play seems to pass for a moment into an actual strain of music.

And this principle holds good of all things that partake in any degree
of artistic qualities, of the furniture of our houses, and of dress, for
instance, of life itself, of gesture and speech, and the details of
daily intercourse; these also, for the wise, being susceptible of a
suavity and charm, caught from the way in which they are done, which
gives them a worth in themselves; wherein, indeed, lies what is valuable
and justly attractive, in what is called the fashion of a time, which
elevates the trivialities of speech, and manner, and dress, into "ends
in themselves," and gives them a mysterious grace and attractiveness in
the doing of them.

Art, then, is thus always striving to be independent of the mere
intelligence, to become a matter of pure perception, to get rid of its
responsibilities to its subject or material; the ideal examples of
poetry and painting being those in which the constituent elements of the
composition are so welded together, that the material or subject no
longer strikes the intellect only; nor the form, the eye or the ear
only; but form and matter, in their union or identity, present one
single effect to the "imaginative reason," that complex faculty for
which every thought and feeling is twin-born with its sensible analogue
or symbol.

It is the art of music which most completely realises this artistic
ideal, this perfect identification of form and matter. In its ideal,
consummate moments, the end is not distinct from the means, the form
from the matter, the subject from the expression; they inhere in and
completely saturate each other; and to it, therefore, to the condition
of its perfect moments, all the arts may be supposed constantly to tend
and aspire. Music, then, and not poetry, as is so often supposed, is the
true type or measure of perfected art. Therefore, although each art has
its incommunicable element, its untranslatable order of impressions, its
unique mode of reaching the "imaginative reason," yet the arts may be
represented as continually struggling after the law or principle of
music, to a condition which music alone completely realises; and one of
the chief functions of aesthetic criticism, dealing with the products of
art, new or old, is to estimate the degree in which each of those
products approaches, in this sense, to musical law.

By no school of painters have, the necessary limitations of the art of
painting been so unerringly though instinctively apprehended, and the
essence of what is pictorial in a picture so justly conceived, as by the
school of Venice; and the train of thought suggested in what has been
now said is, perhaps, a not unfitting introduction to a few pages about
Giorgione, who, though much has been taken by recent criticism from what
was reputed to be his work, yet, more entirely than any other painter,
sums up, in what we know of himself and his art, the spirit of the
Venetian school.

The beginnings of Venetian painting link themselves to the last, stiff,
half-barbaric splendours of Byzantine decoration, and are but the
introduction into the crust of marble and gold on the walls of the Duomo
of Murano, or of Saint Mark's, of a little more of human expression. And
throughout the course of its later development, always subordinate to
architectural effect, the work of the Venetian school never escaped from
the influence of its beginnings. Unassisted, and therefore unperplexed,
by naturalism, religious mysticism, philosophical theories, it had no
Giotto, no Angelico, no Botticelli. Exempt from the stress of thought
and sentiment, which taxed so severely the resources of the generations
of Florentine artists, those earlier Venetian painters, down to
Carpaccio and the Bellini, seem never for a moment to have been tempted
even to lose sight of the scope of their art in its strictness, or to
forget that painting must be, before all things decorative, a thing for
the eye; a space of colour on the wall, only more dexterously blent than
the marking of its precious stone or the chance interchange of sun and
shade upon it--this, to begin and end with--whatever higher matter of
thought, or poetry, or religious reverie might play its part therein,
between. At last, with final mastery of all the technical secrets of his
art, and with somewhat more than "a spark of the divine fire" to his
share, comes Giorgione. He is the inventor of genre, of those easily
movable pictures which serve neither for uses of devotion, nor of
allegorical or historic teaching--little groups of real men and women,
amid congruous furniture or landscape--morsels of actual life,
conversation or music or play, refined upon or idealised, till they come
to seem like glimpses of life from afar. Those spaces of more cunningly
blent colour, obediently filling their places, hitherto, in a mere
architectural scheme, Giorgione detaches from the wall; he frames them
by the hands of some skilful carver, so that people may move them
readily and take with them where they go, like a poem in manuscript, or
a musical instrument, to be used, at will, as a means of self-education,
stimulus or solace, coming like an animated presence, into one's
cabinet, to enrich the air as with some choice aroma, and, like persons,
live with us, for a day or a lifetime. Of all art like this, art which
has played so large a part in men's culture since that time, Giorgione
is the initiator. Yet in him too that old Venetian clearness or justice,
in the apprehension of the essential limitations of the pictorial art,
is still undisturbed; and, while he interfuses his painted work with a
high-strung sort of poetry, caught directly from a singularly rich and
high-strung sort of life, yet in his selection of subject, or phase of
subject, in the subordination of mere subject to pictorial design, to
the main purpose of a picture, he is typical of that aspiration of all
the arts towards music, which I have endeavoured to explain,--towards
the perfect identification of matter and form.

Born so near to Titian, though a little before him, that these two
companion pupils of the aged Giovanni Bellini may almost be called
contemporaries, Giorgione stands to Titian in something like the
relationship of Sordello to Dante, in Mr. Browning's poem. Titian, when
he leaves Bellini, becomes, in turn, the pupil of Giorgione; he lives in
constant labour more than sixty years after Giorgione is in his grave;
and with such fruit, that hardly one of the greater towns of Europe is
without some fragment of it. But the slightly older man, with his so
limited actual product (what remains to us of it seeming, when narrowly
examined, to reduce itself to almost one picture, like Sordello's one
fragment of lovely verse), yet expresses, in elementary motive and
principle, that spirit--itself the final acquisition of all the long
endeavours of Venetian art--which Titian spreads over his whole life's
activity.

And, as we might expect, something fabulous and illusive has always
mingled itself in the brilliancy of Giorgione's fame. The exact
relationship to him of many works--drawings, portraits, painted
idylls--often  fascinating enough, which in various collections went by
his name, was from the first uncertain. Still, six or eight famous
pictures at Dresden, Florence and the Louvre, were undoubtedly
attributed to him, and in these, if anywhere, something of the splendour
of the old Venetian humanity seemed to have been preserved. But of those
six or eight famous pictures it is now known that only one is certainly
from Giorgione's hand. The accomplished science of the subject has come
at last, and, as in other instances, has not made the past more real for
us, but assured us that we possess of it less than we seemed to possess.
Much of the work on which Giorgione's immediate fame depended, work done
for instantaneous effect, in all probability passed away almost within
his own age, like the frescoes on the facade of the fondaco dei Tedeschi
at Venice, some crimson traces of which, however, still give a strange
additional touch of splendour to the scene of the Rialto. And then there
is a barrier or borderland, a period about the middle of the sixteenth
century, in passing through which the tradition miscarries, and the true
outlines of Giorgione's work and person become obscured. It became
fashionable for wealthy lovers of art, with no critical standard of
authenticity, to collect so-called works of Giorgione, and a multitude
of imitations came into circulation. And now, in the "new Vasari,"* the
great traditional reputation, woven with so profuse demand on men's
admiration, has been scrutinised thread by thread; and what remains of
the most vivid and stimulating of Venetian masters, a live flame, as it
seemed, in those old shadowy times, has been reduced almost to a name by
his most recent critics.

*Crowe and Cavalcaselle: History of Painting in North Italy.

Yet enough remains to explain why the legend grew up, above the name,
why the name attached itself, in many instances, to the bravest work of
other men. The Concert in the Pitti Palace, in which a monk, with cowl
and tonsure, touches the keys of a harpsichord, while a clerk, placed
behind him, grasps the handle of the viol, and a third, with hat and
plume, seems to wait upon the true interval for beginning to sing, is
undoubtedly Giorgione's. The outline of the lifted finger, the trace of
the plume, the very threads of the fine linen, which fasten themselves
on the memory, in the moment before they are lost altogether in that
calm unearthly glow, the skill which has caught the waves of wandering
sound, and fixed them for ever on the lips and hands--these are indeed
the master's own; and the criticism which, while dismissing so much
hitherto believed to be Giorgione's, has established the claims of this
one picture, has left it among the most precious things in the world of
art.

It is noticeable that the "distinction" of this Concert, its sustained
evenness of perfection, alike in design, in execution, and in choice of
personal type, becomes for the "new Vasari" the standard of Giorgione's
genuine work. Finding here enough to explain his influence, and the true
seal of mastery, its authors assign to Pellegrino da San Daniele the
Holy Family in the Louvre, for certain points in which it comes short of
that standard, but which will hardly diminish the spectator's enjoyment
of a singular charm of liquid air, with which the whole picture seems
instinct, filling the eyes and lips, the very garments, of its sacred
personages, with some wind-searched brightness and energy; of which fine
air the blue peak, clearly defined in the distance, is, as it were, the
visible pledge. Similarly, another favourite picture in the Louvre, the
subject of a Sonnet by a poet whose own painted work often comes to mind
as one ponders over these precious things--the Fete Champetre, is
assigned to an imitator of Sebastian del Piombo; and the Tempest, in the
Academy at Venice (a slighter loss, perhaps, though not without its
pleasant effect of clearing weather, towards the left, its one untouched
morsel), to Paris Bordone, or perhaps to "some advanced craftsman of the
sixteenth century." From the gallery at Dresden, the Knight embracing a
Lady, where the knight's broken gauntlets seem to mark some well-known
pause in a story we would willingly hear the rest of; is conceded to "a
Brescian hand," and Jacob meeting Rachel to a pupil of Palma; and,
whatever their charm, we are called on to give up the Ordeal and the
Finding of Moses with its jewel-like pools of water, perhaps to Bellini.

Nor has the criticism, which thus so freely diminishes the number of his
authentic works, added anything important to the well-known outline of
the life and personality of the man: only, it has fixed one or two
dates, one or two circumstances, a little more exactly. Giorgione was
born before the year 1477, and spent his childhood at Castelfranco,
where the last crags of the Venetian Alps break down romantically, with
something of parklike grace, to the plain. A natural child of the family
of the Barbarelli by a peasant-girl of Vedelago, he finds his way early
into the circle of notable persons--people of courtesy; and becomes
initiated into those differences of personal type, manner, and even of
dress, which are best understood there--that "distinction" of the
Concert of the Pitti Palace. Not far from his home lives Catherine of
Cornara, formerly Queen of Cyprus; and, up in the towers which still
remain, Tuzio Costanzo, the famous condottiere--a picturesque remnant of
medieval manners, amid a civilisation rapidly changing. Giorgione paints
their portraits; and when Tuzio's son, Matteo, dies in early youth,
adorns in his memory a chapel in the church of Castelfranco, painting on
this occasion, perhaps, the altar-piece, foremost among his authentic
works, still to be seen there, with the figure of the warrior-saint,
Liberale, of which the original little study in oil, with the delicately
gleaming, silver-grey armour, is one of the greater treasures of the
National Gallery, and in which, as in some other knightly personages
attributed to him, people have supposed the likeness of his own
presumably gracious presence. Thither, at last, he is himself brought
home from Venice, early dead, but celebrated. It happened, about his
thirty-fourth year, that in one of those parties at which he entertained
his friends with music, he met a certain lady of whom he became greatly
enamoured, and "they rejoiced greatly," says Vasari, "the one and the
other, in their loves." And two quite different legends concerning it
agree in this, that it was through this lady he came by his death:
Ridolfi relating that, being robbed of her by one of his pupils, he died
of grief at the double treason;--Vasari, that she being secretly
stricken of the plague, and he making his visits to her as usual, he
took the sickness from her mortally, along with her kisses, and so
briefly departed.

But, although the number of Giorgione's extant works has been thus
limited by recent criticism, all is not done when the real and the
traditional elements in what concerns him have been discriminated; for,
in what is connected with a great name, much that is not real is often
very stimulating; and, for the aesthetic philosopher, over and above the
real Giorgione and his authentic extant works, there remains the
Giorgionesque also--an influence, a spirit or type in art, active in men
so different as those to whom many of his supposed works are really
assignable--a veritable school, which grew together out of all those
fascinating works rightly or wrongly attributed to him; out of many
copies from, or variations on him, by unknown or uncertain workmen,
whose drawings and designs were, for various reasons, prized as his; out
of the immediate impression he made upon his contemporaries, and with
which he continued in men's minds; out of many traditions of subject and
treatment, which really descend from him to our own time, and by
retracing which we fill out the original image; Giorgione thus becoming
a sort of impersonation of Venice itself, its projected reflex or ideal,
all that was intense or desirable in it thus crystallising about the
memory of this wonderful young man.

And now, finally, let me illustrate some of the characteristics of this
School of Giorgione, as we may call it, which, for most of us,
notwithstanding all that negative criticism of the "new Vasari," will
still identify itself with those famous pictures at Florence, Dresden
and Paris; and in which a certain artistic ideal is defined for us--the
conception of a peculiar aim and procedure in art, which we may
understand as the Giorgionesque, wherever we find it, whether in
Venetian work generally, or in work of our own time--and of which the
Concert, that undoubted work of Giorgione in the Pitti Palace, is the
typical instance, and a pledge authenticating the connexion of the
school with the master.

I have spoken of a certain interpretation of the matter or subject of a
work of art with the form of it, a condition realised absolutely only in
music, as the condition to which every form of art is perpetually
aspiring. In the art of painting, the attainment of this ideal
condition, this perfect interpretation of the subject with colour and
design, depends, of course, in great measure, on dexterous choice of
that subject, or phase of subject; and such choice is one of the secrets
of Giorgione's school. It is the school of genre, and employs itself
mainly with "painted idylls," but, in the production of this pictorial
poetry, exercises a wonderful tact in the selecting of such matter as
lends itself most readily and entirely to pictorial form, to complete
expression by drawing and colour. For although its productions are
painted poems, they belong to a sort of poetry which tells itself
without an articulated story. The master is pre-eminent for the
resolution, the ease and quickness, with which he reproduces
instantaneous motion--the lacing-on of armour, with the head bent back
so stately--the fainting lady--the embrace, rapid as the kiss caught,
with death itself, from dying lips--the momentary conjunction of mirrors
and polished armour and still water, by which all the sides of a solid
image are presented at once, solving that casuistical question whether
painting can present an object as completely as sculpture. The sudden
act, the rapid transition of thought, the passing expression--this he
arrests with that vivacity which Vasari has attributed to him, il fuoco
Giorgionesco, as he terms it. Now it is part of the ideality of the
highest sort of dramatic poetry, that it presents us with a kind of
profoundly significant and animated instants, a mere gesture, a look, a
smile, perhaps--some brief and wholly concrete moment--into which,
however, all the motives, all the interests and effects of a long
history, have condensed themselves, and which seem to absorb past and
future in an intense consciousness of the present. Such ideal instants
the school of Giorgione selects, with its admirable tact, from that
feverish, tumultuously coloured life of the old citizens of
Venice--exquisite pauses in time, in which, arrested thus, we seem to be
spectators of all the fulness of existence, and which are like some
consummate extract or quintessence of life.

It is to the law or condition of music, as I said, that all art like
this is really aspiring and, in the school of Giorgione, the perfect
moments of music itself, the making or hearing of music, song or its
accompaniment, are themselves prominent as subjects. On that background
of the silence of Venice, which the visitor there finds so impressive,
the world of Italian music was then forming. In choice of subject, as in
all besides, the Concert of the Pitti Palace is typical of all that
Giorgione, himself an admirable musician, touched with his influence;
and in sketch or finished picture, in various collections, we may follow
it through many intricate variations--men fainting at music, music heard
at the pool-side while people fish, or mingled with the sound of the
pitcher in the well, or heard across running water, or among the flocks;
the tuning of instruments--people with intent faces, as if listening,
like those described by Plato in an ingenious passage, to detect the
smallest interval of musical sound, the smallest undulation in the air,
or feeling for music in thought on a stringless instrument, ear and
finger refining themselves infinitely, in the appetite for sweet
sound--a momentary touch of an instrument in the twilight, as one passes
through some unfamiliar room, in a chance company.

In such favourite incidents, then, of Giorgione's school, music or
music-like intervals in our existence, life itself is conceived as a
sort of listening--listening to music, to the reading of Bandello's
novels, to the sound of water, to time as it flies. Often such moments
are really our moments of play, and we are surprised at the unexpected
blessedness of what may seem our least important part of time; not
merely because play is in many instances that to which people really
apply their own best powers, but also because at such times, the stress
of our servile, everyday attentiveness being relaxed, the happier powers
in things without us are permitted free passage, and have their way with
us. And so, from music, the school of Giorgione passes often to the play
which is like music; to those masques in which men avowedly do but play
at real life, like children "dressing up," disguised in the strange old
Italian dresses, parti-coloured, or fantastic with embroidery and furs,
of which the master was so curious a designer, and which, above all the
spotless white linen at wrist and throat, he painted so dexterously.

And when people are happy in this thirsty land water will not be far
off; and in the school of Giorgione, the presence of water--the well, or
marble-rimmed pool, the drawing or pouring of water, as the woman pours
it from a pitcher with her jewelled hand in the Fete Champetre,
listening, perhaps, to the cool sound as it falls, blent with the music
of the pipes--is as characteristic, and almost as suggestive, as that of
music itself. And the landscape feels, and is glad of it also--a
landscape full of clearness, of the effects of water, of fresh rain
newly passed through the air, and collected into the grassy channels;
the air, too, in the school of Giorgione, seeming as vivid as the people
who breathe it, and literally empyrean, all impurities being burnt out
of it, and no taint, no floating particle of anything but its own proper
elements allowed to subsist within it.

Its scenery is such as in England we call "park scenery," with some
elusive refinement felt about the rustic buildings, the choice grass,
the grouped trees, the undulations deftly economised for graceful
effect. Only, in Italy all natural things are, as it were, woven through
and through with gold thread, even the cypress revealing it among the
folds of its blackness. And it is with gold dust, or gold thread, that
these Venetian painters seem to work, spinning its fine filaments,
through the solemn human flesh, away into the white plastered walls of
the thatched huts. The harsher details of the mountains recede to a
harmonious distance, the one peak of rich blue above the horizon
remaining but as the visible warrant of that due coolness which is all
we need ask here of the Alps, with their dark rains and streams. Yet
what real, airy space, as the eye passes from level to level, through
the long-drawn valley in which Jacob embraces Rachel among the flocks!
Nowhere is there a truer instance of that balance, that modulated unison
of landscape and persons--of the human image and its
accessories--already noticed as characteristic of the Venetian school,
so that, in it, neither personage nor scenery is ever a mere pretext for
the other.

Something like this seems to me to be the vraie verite about Giorgione,
if I may adopt a serviceable expression, by which the French recognise
those more liberal and durable impressions which, in respect of any
really considerable person or subject, anything that has at all
intricately occupied men's attention, lie beyond, and must supplement,
the narrower range of the strictly ascertained facts about it. In this,
Giorgione is but an illustration of a valuable general caution we may
abide by in all criticism. As regards Giorgione himself, we have indeed
to take note of all those negations and exceptions, by which, at first
sight, a "new Vasari" seems merely to have confused our apprehension of
a delightful object, to have explained away out of our inheritance from
past time what seemed of high value there. Yet it is not with a full
understanding even of those exceptions that one can leave off just at
this point. Properly qualified, such exceptions are but a salt of
genuineness in our knowledge; and beyond all those strictly ascertained
facts, we must take note of that indirect influence by which one like
Giorgione, for instance, enlarges his permanent efficacy and really
makes himself felt in our culture. In a just impression of that, is the
essential truth, the vraie verite concerning him.

1877.



JOACHIM DU BELLAY

In the middle of the sixteenth century, when the spirit of the
Renaissance was everywhere, and people had begun to look back with
distaste on the works of the middle age, the old Gothic manner had still
one chance more, in borrowing something from the rival which was about
to supplant it. In this way there was produced, chiefly in France, a new
and peculiar phase of taste with qualities and a charm of its own,
blending the somewhat attenuated grace of Italian ornament with the
general outlines of Northern design. It produced the Chateau de Gaillon,
as you may still see it in the delicate engravings of Israel
Silvestre--a Gothic donjon veiled faintly by a surface of dainty Italian
traceries--Chenonceaux, Blois, Chambord, and the church of Brou. In
painting, there came from Italy workmen like Maitre Roux and the masters
of the school of Fontainebleau, to have their later Italian
voluptuousness attempered by the naive and silvery qualities of the
native style; and it was characteristic of these painters that they were
most successful in painting on glass, an art so essentially medieval.
Taking it up where the middle age had left it, they found their whole
work among the last subtleties of colour and line; and keeping within
the true limits of their material, they got quite a new order of effects
from it, and felt their way to refinements on colour never dreamed of by
those older workmen, the glass-painters of Chartres or Le Mans. What is
called the Renaissance in France is thus not so much the introduction of
a wholly new taste ready-made from Italy, but rather the finest and
subtlest phase of the middle age itself, its last fleeting splendour and
temperate Saint Martin's summer. In poetry, the Gothic spirit in France
had produced a thousand songs; and in the Renaissance, French poetry too
did but borrow something to blend with a native growth, and the poems of
Ronsard, with their ingenuity, their delicately figured surfaces, their
slightness, their fanciful combinations of rhyme, are but the
correlative of the traceries of the house of Jacques Coeur at Bourges,
or the Maison de Justice at Rouen.

There was indeed something in the native French taste naturally akin to
that Italian finesse. The characteristic of French work had always been
a certain nicety, a remarkable daintiness of hand, une nettete
remarquable d'execution. In the paintings of Francois Clouet, for
example, or rather of the Clouets--for there was a whole family of
them--painters remarkable for their resistance to Italian influences,
there is a silveriness of colour and a clearness of expression which
distinguish them very definitely from their Flemish neighbours, Hemling
or the Van Eycks. And this nicety is not less characteristic of old
French poetry. A light, aerial delicacy, a simple elegance--une nettete
remarquable d'execution:--these are essential characteristics alike of
Villon's poetry, and of the Hours of Anne of Brittany. They are
characteristic too of a hundred French Gothic carvings and traceries.
Alike in the old Gothic cathedrals, and in their counterpart, the old
Gothic chansons de geste, the rough and ponderous mass becomes, as if by
passing for a moment into happier conditions, or through a more gracious
stratum of air, graceful and refined, like the carved ferneries on the
granite church at Folgoat, or the lines which describe the fair priestly
hands of Archbishop Turpin, in the song of Roland; although below both
alike there is a fund of mere Gothic strength, or heaviness.*

*The purely artistic aspects of this subject have been interpreted, in a
work of great taste and learning, by Mrs. Mark Pattison:--The
Renaissance of Art in France.

And Villon's songs and Clouet's paintings are like these. It is the
higher touch making itself felt here and there, betraying itself, like
nobler blood in a lower stock, by a fine line or gesture or expression,
the turn of a wrist, the tapering of a finger. In Ronsard's time that
rougher element seemed likely to predominate. No one can turn over the
pages of Rabelais without feeling how much need there was of softening,
of castigation. To effect this softening is the object of the revolution
in poetry which is connected with Ronsard's name. Casting about for the
means of thus refining upon and saving the character of French
literature, he accepted that influx of Renaissance taste, which, leaving
the buildings, the language, the art, the poetry of France, at bottom,
what they were, old French Gothic still, gilds their surfaces with a
strange, delightful, foreign aspect passing over all that Northern land,
in itself neither deeper nor more permanent than a chance effect of
light. He reinforces, he doubles the French daintiness by Italian
finesse. Thereupon, nearly all the force and all the seriousness of
French work disappear; only the elegance, the aerial touch, the perfect
manner remain. But this elegance, this manner, this daintiness of
execution are consummate, and have an unmistakable aesthetic value.

So the old French chanson, which, like the old Northern Gothic ornament,
though it sometimes refined itself into a sort of weird elegance, was
often, in its essence, something rude and formless, became in the hands
of Ronsard a Pindaric ode. He gave it structure, a sustained system,
strophe and antistrophe, and taught it a changefulness and variety of
metre which keep the curiosity always excited, so that the very aspect
of it, as it lies written on the page, carries the eye lightly onwards,
and of which this is a good instance:--

  Avril, la grace, et le ris
    De Cypris,
  Le flair et la douce haleine;
  Avril, le parfum des dieux,
    Qui, des cieux,
  Sentent l'odeur de la plaine;

  C'est toy, courteis et gentil,
    Qui, d'exil
  Retire ces passageres,
  Ces arondelles qui vont,
    Et qui sont
  Du printemps les messageres.

That is not by Ronsard, but by Remy Belleau, for Ronsard soon came to
have a school. Six other poets threw in their lot with him in his
literary revolution--this Remy Belleau, Antoine de Baif, Pontus de
Tyard, Etienne Jodelle, Jean Daurat, and lastly Joachim du Bellay; and
with that strange love of emblems which is characteristic of the time,
which covered all the works of Francis the First with the salamander,
and all the works of Henry the Second with the double crescent, and all
the works of Anne of Brittany with the knotted cord, they called
themselves the Pleiad; seven in all, although, as happens with the
celestial Pleiad, if you scrutinise this constellation of poets more
carefully you may find there a great number of minor stars.

The first note of this literary revolution was struck by Joachim du
Bellay in a little tract written at the early age of twenty-four, which
coming to us through three centuries seems of yesterday, so full is it
of those delicate critical distinctions which are sometimes supposed
peculiar to modern writers. The piece has for its title La Deffense et
Illustration de la langue Francoyse; and its problem is how to
illustrate or ennoble the French language, to give it lustre. We are
accustomed to speak of the varied critical and creative movement of the
fifteenth and sixteenth centuries as the Renaissance, and because we
have a single name for it we may sometimes fancy that there was more
unity in the thing itself than there really was. Even the Reformation,
that other great movement of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, had
far less unity, far less of combined action, than is at first sight
supposed; and the Renaissance was infinitely less united, less conscious
of combined action, than the Reformation. But if anywhere the
Renaissance became conscious, as a German philosopher might say, if ever
it was understood as a systematic movement by those who took part in it,
it is in this little book of Joachim du Bellay's, which it is impossible
to read without feeling the excitement, the animation, of change, of
discovery. "It is a remarkable fact," says M. Sainte-Beuve, "and an
inversion of what is true of other languages, that, in French, prose has
always had the precedence over poetry." Du Bellay's prose is perfectly
transparent, flexible, and chaste. In many ways it is a more
characteristic example of the culture of the Pleiad than any of its
verse; and those who love the whole movement of which the Pleiad is a
part, for a weird foreign grace in it, and may be looking about for a
true specimen of it, cannot have a better than Joachim du Bellay and
this little treatise of his.

Du Bellay's object is to adjust the existing French culture to the
rediscovered classical culture; and in discussing this problem, and
developing the theories of the Pleiad, he has lighted upon many
principles of permanent truth and applicability. There were some who
despaired of the French language altogether, who thought it naturally
incapable of the fulness and elegance of Greek and Latin--cette elegance
et copie qui est en la langue Grecque et Romaine--that science could be
adequately discussed, and poetry nobly written, only in the dead
languages. "Those who speak thus," says Du Bellay, "make me think of
those relics which one may only see through a little pane of glass, and
must not touch with one's hands. That is what these people do with all
branches of culture, which they keep shut up in Greek and Latin books,
not permitting one to see them otherwise, or transport them out of dead
words into those which are alive, and wing their way daily through the
months of men." "Languages," he says again, "are not born like plants
and trees, some naturally feeble and sickly, others healthy and strong
and apter to bear the weight of men's conceptions, but all their virtue
is generated in the world of choice and men's freewill concerning them.
Therefore, I cannot blame too strongly the rashness of some of our
countrymen, who being anything rather than Greeks or Latins, depreciate
and reject with more than stoical disdain everything written in French;
nor can I express my surprise at the odd opinion of some learned men who
think that our vulgar tongue is wholly incapable of erudition and good
literature."

It was an age of translations. Du Bellay himself translated two books of
the Aeneid, and other poetry, old and new, and there were some who
thought that the translation of the classical literature was the true
means of ennobling the French language:--strangers are ever favourites
with us--nous favorisons toujours les etrangers. Du Bellay moderates
their expectations. "I do not believe that one can learn the right use
of them"--he is speaking of figures and ornament in language--"from
translations, because it is impossible to reproduce them with the same
grace with which the original author used them. For each language has, I
know not what peculiarity of its own; and if you force yourself to
express the naturalness (le naif) of this, in another language,
observing the law of translation, which is, not to expatiate beyond the
limits of the author himself; your words will be constrained, cold and
ungraceful." Then he fixes the test of all good translation:--"To prove
this, read me Demosthenes and Homer in Latin, Cicero and Virgil in
French, and see whether they produce in you the same affections which
you experience in reading those authors in the original."

In this effort to ennoble the French language, to give it grace, number,
perfection, and as painters do to their pictures, that last, so
desirable, touch--cette derniere main que nous desirons--what Du Bellay
is pleading for is his mother-tongue, the language, that is, in which
one will have the utmost degree of what is moving and passionate. He
recognised of what force the music and dignity of languages are, how
they enter into the inmost part of things; and in pleading for the
cultivation of the French language, he is pleading for no merely
scholastic interest, but for freedom, impulse, reality, not in
literature merely, but in daily communion of speech. After all, it was
impossible to have this impulse in Greek and Latin, dead languages shut
up in books as in reliquaries--peris et mises en reliquaires de livres.
By aid of this starveling stock--pauvre plante et vergette--of the
French language, he must speak delicately, movingly, if he is ever to
speak so at all: that, or none, must be for him the medium of what he
calls, in one of his great phrases, le discours fatal des choses
mondaines--that discourse about affairs which decides men's fates. And
it is his patriotism not to despair of it; he sees it already perfect in
all elegance and beauty of words--parfait en toute elegance et venuste
de paroles.

Du Bellay was born in the disastrous year 1525, the year of the battle
of Pavia, and the captivity of Francis the First. . His parents died
early, and to him, as the younger son, his mother's little estate, ce
petit Lire, the beloved place of his birth, descended. He was brought up
by a brother only a little older than himself; and left to themselves,
the two boys passed their lives in day-dreams of military glory. Their
education was neglected; "The time of my youth," says Du Bellay, "was
lost, like the flower which no shower waters, and no hand cultivates."
He was just twenty years old when the elder brother died, leaving
Joachim to be the guardian of his child. It was with regret, with a
shrinking feeling of incapacity, that he took upon him the burden of
this responsibility. Hitherto he had looked forward to the profession of
a soldier, hereditary in his family. But at this time a sickness
attacked him which brought him cruel sufferings, and seemed likely to be
mortal. It was then for the first time that he read the Greek and Latin
poets. These studies came too late to make him what he so much desired
to be, a trifler in Greek and Latin verse, like so many others of his
time now forgotten; instead, they made him a lover of his own homely
native tongue, that poor starveling stock of the French language. It was
through this fortunate shortcoming in his education that he became
national and modern; and he learned afterwards to look back on that wild
garden of his youth with only a half regret. A certain Cardinal du
Bellay was the successful member of the family, a man often employed in
high official affairs. It was to him that the thoughts of Joachim turned
when it became necessary to choose a profession, and in 1552 he
accompanied the Cardinal to Rome. He remained there nearly five years,
burdened with the weight of affairs, and languishing with home-sickness.
Yet it was under these circumstances that his genius yielded its best
fruits. From Rome, which to most men of an imaginative temperament such
as his would have yielded so many pleasurable sensations, with all the
curiosities of the Renaissance still fresh there, his thoughts went back
painfully, longingly, to the country of the Loire, with its wide
expanses of waving corn, its homely pointed roofs of grey slate, and its
far-off scent of the sea. He reached home at last, but only to die
there, quite suddenly, one wintry day, at the early age of thirty-five.

Much of Du Bellay's poetry illustrates rather the age and school to
which he belonged than his own temper and genius. As with the writings
of Ronsard and the other poets of the Pleiad, its interest depends not
so much on the impress of individual genius upon it, as on the
circumstance that it was once poetry a la mode, that it is part of the
manner of a time--a time which made much of manner, and carried it to a
high degree of perfection. It is one of the decorations of an age which
threw much of its energy into the work of decoration. We feel a pensive
pleasure in seeing these faded decorations, and observing how a group of
actual men and women pleased themselves long ago. Ronsard's poems are a
kind of epitome of his age. Of one side of that age, it is true, of the
strenuous, the progressive, the serious movement, which was then going
on, there is little; but of the catholic side, the losing side, the
forlorn hope, hardly a figure is absent. The Queen of Scots, at whose
desire Ronsard published his odes, reading him in her northern prison,
felt that he was bringing back to her the true flavour of her early days
in the court of Catherine at the Louvre, with its exotic Italian
gaieties. Those who disliked that poetry, disliked it because they found
that age itself distasteful. The poetry of Malherbe came, with its
sustained style and weighty sentiment, but with nothing that set people
singing; and the lovers of such poetry saw in the poetry of the Pleiad
only the latest trumpery of the middle age. But the time came also when
the school of Malherbe had had its day; and the Romanticists, who in
their eagerness for excitement, for strange music and imagery, went back
to the works of the middle age, accepted the Pleiad too with the rest;
and in that new middle age which their genius has evoked, the poetry of
the Pleiad has found its place. At first, with Malherbe, you may find
it, like the architecture, the whole mode of life, the very dresses of
that time, fantastic, faded, rococo. But if you look long enough to
understand it, to conceive its sentiment, you will find that those
wanton lines have a spirit guiding their caprices. For there is style
there; one temper has shaped the whole; and everything that has style,
that has been done as no other man or age could have done it, as it
could never, for all our trying, be done again, has its true value and
interest. Let us dwell upon it for a moment, and try to gather from it
that special flower, ce fleur particulier, which Ronsard himself tells
us every garden has.

It is poetry not for the people, but for a confined circle, for
courtiers, great lords and erudite persons, people who desire to be
humoured, to gratify a certain refined voluptuousness they have in them.
Ronsard loves, or dreams that he loves, a rare and peculiar type of
beauty, la petite pucelle Angevine, with golden hair and dark eyes. But
he has the ambition not only of being a courtier and a lover, but a
great scholar also; he is anxious about orthography, about the letter e
Grecque, the true spelling of Latin names in French writing, and the
restoration of the letter i to its primitive liberty--del' i voyelle en
sa premiere liberte. His poetry is full of quaint, remote learning. He
is just a little pedantic, true always to his own express judgment, that
to be natural is not enough for one who in poetry desires to produce
work worthy of immortality. And therewithal a certain number of Greek
words, which charmed Ronsard and his circle by their gaiety and
daintiness, and a certain air of foreign elegance about them, crept into
the French language: and there were other strange words which the poets
of the Pleiad forged for themselves, and which had only an ephemeral
existence.

With this was mixed the desire to taste a more exquisite and various
music than that of the older French verse, or of the classical poets.
The music of the measured, scanned verse of Latin and Greek poetry is
one thing; the music of the rhymed, unscanned verse of Villon and the
old French poets, la poesie chantee, is another. To unite together these
two kinds of music in a new school of French poetry, to make verse which
should scan and rhyme as well, to search out and harmonise the measure
of every syllable, and unite it to the swift, flitting, swallow-like
motion of rhyme, to penetrate their poetry with a double music--this was
the ambition of the Pleiad. They are insatiable of music, they cannot
have enough of it; they desire a music of greater compass perhaps than
words can possibly yield, to drain out the last drops of sweetness which
a certain note or accent contains.

This eagerness for music is almost the only serious thing in the poetry
of the Pleiad; and it was Goudimel, the severe and protestant Goudimel,
who set Ronsard's songs to music. But except in this matter these poets
seem never quite in earnest. The old Greek and Roman mythology, which
for the great Italians had been a motive so weighty and severe, becomes
with them a mere toy. That "Lord of terrible aspect," Amor, has become
Love, the boy or the babe. They are full of fine railleries; they
delight in diminutives, ondelette, fontelette, doucelette, Cassandrette.
Their loves are only half real, a vain effort to prolong the imaginative
loves of the middle age beyond their natural lifetime. They write
love-poems for hire. Like that party of people who tell the tales in
Boccaccio's Decameron, they form a circle which in an age of great
troubles, losses, anxieties, amuses itself with art, poetry, intrigue.
But they amuse themselves with wonderful elegance; and sometimes their
gaiety becomes satiric, for, as they play, real passions insinuate
themselves, and at least the reality of death; their dejection at the
thought of leaving this fair abode of our common daylight--le beau
sejour du commun jour--is expressed by them with almost wearisome
reiteration. But with this sentiment too they are able to trifle: the
imagery of death serves for delicate ornament, and they weave into the
airy nothingness of their verses their trite reflexions on the vanity of
life; just as the grotesques of the charnel-house nest themselves,
together with birds and flowers and the fancies of the pagan mythology,
in the traceries of the architecture of that time, which wantons in its
delicate arabesques with the images of old age and death.

Ronsard became deaf at sixteen; and it was this circumstance which
finally determined him to be a man of letters instead of a diplomatist,
significantly, one might fancy; of a certain premature agedness, and of
the tranquil, temperate sweetness appropriate to that, in the school of
poetry which he founded. Its charm is that of a thing not vigorous or
original, but full of the grace that comes of long study and reiterated
refinements, and many steps repeated, and many angles worn down, with an
exquisite faintness, une fadeur exquise, a certain tenuity and caducity,
as for those who can bear nothing vehement or strong; for princes weary
of love, like Francis the First, or of pleasure, like Henry the Third,
or of action, like Henry the Fourth. Its merits are those of the
old,--grace and finish, perfect in minute detail. For these people are a
little jaded, and have a constant desire for a subdued and delicate
excitement, to warm their creeping fancy a little. They love a constant
change of rhyme in poetry, and in their houses that strange, fantastic
interweaving of thin, reed-like lines, which are a kind of rhetoric in
architecture.

But the poetry of the Pleiad is true not only to the physiognomy of its
age, but also to its country--ce pays du Vendomois--the names and scenery
of which so often recur in it; the great Loire, with its long spaces of
white sand; the little river Loir; the heathy, upland country, with its
scattered pools of water and waste road-sides, and retired manors, with
their crazy old feudal defences half fallen into decay; La Beauce, the
granary of France, where the vast rolling fields of corn seem to
anticipate the great western sea itself. It is full of the traits of that
country. We see Du Bellay and Ronsard gardening, or hunting with their
dogs, or watch the pastimes of a rainy day; and with this is connected a
domesticity, a homeliness and simple goodness, by which this Northern
country gains upon the South. They have the love of the aged for warmth,
and understand the poetry of winter; for they are not far from the
Atlantic, and the west wind which comes up from it, turning the poplars
white, spares not this new Italy in France. So the fireside often
appears, with the pleasures of winter, about the vast emblazoned chimneys
of the time, and with a bonhomie as of little children, or old people.

It is in Du Bellay's Olive, a collection of sonnets in praise of a
half-imaginary lady, Sonnetz a la louange d'Olive, that these
characteristics are most abundant. Here is a perfectly crystallised
specimen:--

  D'amour, de grace, et de haulte valeur
    Les feux divins estoient ceinctz et les cieulx
    S'estoient vestuz d'un manteau precieux
    A raiz ardens di diverse couleur:
  Tout estoit plein de beaute, de bonheur,
    La mer tranquille, et le vent gracieulx,
    Quand celle la nasquit en ces bas lieux
    Qui a pille du monde tout l'honneur.
  Ell' prist son teint des beux lyz blanchissans,
    Son chef de l'or, ses deux levres des rozes,
    Et du soleil ses yeux resplandissans:
  Le ciel usant de liberalite,
    Mist en l'esprit ses semences encloses,
    Son nom des Dieux prist l'immortalite.


That he is thus a characteristic specimen of the poetical taste of that
age, is indeed Du Bellay's chief interest. But if his work is to have the
highest sort of interest, if it is to do something more than satisfy
curiosity, if it is to have an aesthetic as distinct from an historical
value, it is not enough for a poet to have been the true child of his
age, to have conformed to its aesthetic conditions, and by so conforming
to have charmed and stimulated that age; it is necessary that there
should be perceptible in his work something individual, inventive,
unique, the impress there of the writer's own temper and personality.
This impress M. Sainte-Beuve thought he found in the Antiquites de Rome,
and the Regrets, which he ranks as what has been called poesie intime,
that intensely modern sort of poetry in which the writer has for his aim
the portraiture of his own most intimate moods, and to take the reader
into his confidence. That generation had other instances of this intimacy
of sentiment: Montaigne's Essays are full of it, the carvings of the
church of Brou are full of it. M. Sainte-Beuve has perhaps exaggerated
the influence of this quality in Du Bellay's Regrets; but the very name
of the book has a touch of Rousseau about it, and reminds one of a whole
generation of self-pitying poets in modern times. It was in the
atmosphere of Rome, to him so strange and mournful, that these pale
flowers grew up; for that journey to Italy, which he deplored as the
greatest misfortune of his life, put him in full possession of his
talent, and brought out all its originality. And in effect you do find
intimacy, intimite, here. The trouble of his life is analysed, and the
sentiment of it conveyed directly to our minds; not a great sorrow or
passion, but only the sense of loss in passing days, the ennui of a
dreamer who has to plunge into the world's affairs, the opposition
between actual life and the ideal, a longing for rest, nostalgia,
home-sickness--that pre-eminently childish, but so suggestive sorrow, as
significant of the final regret of all human creatures for the familiar
earth and limited sky. The feeling for landscape is often described as a
modern one; still more so is that for antiquity, the sentiment of ruins.
Du Bellay has this sentiment. The duration of the hard, sharp outlines of
things is a grief to him, and passing his wearisome days among the ruins
of ancient Rome, he is consoled by the thought that all must one day end,
by the sentiment of the grandeur of nothingness--la grandeur du rien.
With a strange touch of far-off mysticism, he thinks that the great
whole--le grand tout--into which all other things pass and lose
themselves, ought itself sometimes to perish and pass away. Nothing less
can relieve his weariness. From the stately aspects of Rome his thoughts
went back continually to France, to the smoking chimneys of his little
village, the longer twilight of the North, the soft climate of Anjou--la
douceur Angevine; yet not so much to the real France, we may be sure,
with its dark streets and its roofs of rough-hewn slate, as to that other
country, with slenderer towers, and more winding rivers, and trees like
flowers, and with softer sunshine on more gracefully-proportioned fields
and ways, which the fancy of the exile, and the pilgrim, and of the
schoolboy far from home, and of those kept at home unwillingly,
everywhere builds up before or behind them.

He came home at last, through the Grisons, by slow journeys; and there,
in the cooler air of his own country, under its skies of milkier blue,
the sweetest flower of his genius sprang up. There have been poets whose
whole fame has rested on one poem, as Gray's on the Elegy in a Country
Churchyard, or Ronsard's, as many critics have thought, on the eighteen
lines of one famous ode. Du Bellay has almost been the poet of one poem;
and this one poem of his is an Italian thing transplanted into that green
country of Anjou; out of the Latin verses of Andrea Navagero, into
French: but it is a thing in which the matter is almost nothing, and the
form almost everything; and the form of the poem as it stands, written in
old French, is all Du Bellay's own. It is a song which the winnowers are
supposed to sing as they winnow the corn, and they invoke the winds to
lie lightly on the grain.

D'UN VANNEUR DE BLE AUX VENTS*

  A vous trouppe legere
    Qui d'aile passagere
    Par le monde volez,
    Et d'un sifflant murmure
    L'ombrageuse verdure
    Doulcement esbranlez.

  J'offre ces violettes,
    Ces lis & ces fleurettes,
    Et ces roses icy,
    Ces vermeillettes roses
    Sont freschement ecloses,
    Et ces oelliets aussi.

  De vostre doulce haleine,
    Eventez ceste plaine
    Eventez ce sejour;
    Ce pendant que j'ahanne
    A mon ble que je vanne
    A la chaleur du jour.

*A graceful translation of this and some other poems of the Pleiad may be
found in Ballads and Lyrics of old France, by Mr. Andrew Lang.

That has, in the highest degree, the qualities, the value, of the whole
Pleiad school of poetry, of the whole phase of taste from which that
school derives--a certain silvery grace of fancy, nearly all the
pleasures of which is in the surprise at the happy and dexterous way in
which a thing slight in itself is handled. The sweetness of it is by no
means to be got at by crushing, as you crush wild herbs to get at their
perfume. One seems to hear the measured falling of the fans, with a
child's pleasure on coming across the incident for the first time, in one
of those great barns of Du Bellay's own country, La Beauce, the granary
of France. A sudden light transfigures a trivial thing, a weather-vane, a
windmill, a winnowing flail, the dust in the barn door: a moment--and the
thing has vanished, because it was pure effect; but it leaves a relish
behind it, a longing that the accident may happen again.

1872.



WINCKELMANN

ET EGO IN ARCADIA FUI

Goethe's fragments of art-criticism contain a few pages of strange
pregnancy on the character of Winckelmann. He speaks of the teacher who
had made his career possible, but whom he had never seen, as of an
abstract type of culture, consummate, tranquil, withdrawn already into
the region of ideals, yet retaining colour from the incidents of a
passionate intellectual life. He classes him with certain works of art,
possessing an inexhaustible gift of suggestion, to which criticism may
return again and again with renewed freshness. Hegel, in his lectures on
the Philosophy of Art, estimating the work of his predecessors, has also
passed a remarkable judgment on Winckelmann's writings:--"Winckelmann, by
contemplation of the ideal works of the ancients, received a sort of
inspiration, through which he opened a new sense for the study of art.
He is to be regarded as one of those who, in the sphere of art, have
known how to initiate a new organ for the human spirit." That it has
given a new sense, that it has laid open a new organ, is the highest that
can be said of any critical effort. It is interesting then to ask what
kind of man it was who thus laid open a new organ. Under what conditions
was that effected?

Johann Joachim Winckelmann was born at Stendal, in Brandenburg, in the
year 1717. The child of a poor tradesman, he passed through many
struggles in early youth, the memory of which ever remained in him as a
fitful cause of dejection. In 1763, in the full emancipation of his
spirit, looking over the beautiful Roman prospect, he writes--"One gets
spoiled here; but God owed me this; in my youth I suffered too much."
Destined to assert and interpret the charm of the Hellenic spirit, he
served first a painful apprenticeship in the tarnished intellectual world
of Germany in the earlier half of the eighteenth century. Passing out of
that into the happy light of the antique, he had a sense of exhilaration
almost physical. We find him as a child in the dusky precincts of a
German school, hungrily feeding on a few colourless books. The master of
this school grows blind; Winckelmann becomes his famulus. The old man
would have had him study theology. Winckelmann, free of the master's
library, chooses rather to become familiar with the Greek classics.
Herodotus and Homer win, with their "vowelled" Greek, his warmest
enthusiasm; whole nights of fever are devoted to them; disturbing dreams
of an Odyssey of his own come to him. "He felt in himself," says Madame
de Stael, "an ardent attraction towards the South." In German
imaginations even now traces are often to be found of that love of the
sun, that weariness of the North (cette fatigue du nord), which carried
the northern peoples away into those countries of the South. A fine sky
brings to birth sentiments not unlike the love of one's Fatherland.

To most of us, after all our steps towards it, the antique world, in
spite of its intense outlines, its perfect self-expression, still remains
faint and remote. To him, closely limited except on the one side of the
ideal, building for his dark poverty "a house not made with hands," it
early came to seem more real than the present. In the fantastic plans of
foreign travel continually passing through his mind, to Egypt, for
instance, and to France, there seems always to be rather a wistful sense
of something lost to be regained, than the desire of discovering anything
new. Goethe has told us how, in his eagerness actually to handle the
antique, he became interested in the insignificant vestiges of it which
the neighbourhood of Strasburg contained. So we hear of Winckelmann's
boyish antiquarian wanderings among the ugly Brandenburg sandhills. Such
a conformity between himself and Winckelmann, Goethe would have gladly
noted.

At twenty-one he enters the University at Halle, to study theology, as
his friends desire; instead, he becomes the enthusiastic translator of
Herodotus. The condition of Greek learning in German schools and
universities had fallen, and there were no professors at Halle who could
satisfy his sharp, intellectual craving. Of his professional education he
always speaks with scorn, claiming to have been his own teacher from
first to last. His appointed teachers did not perceive that a new source
of culture was within their hands. Homo vagus et inconstans!--one of them
pedantically reports of the future pilgrim to Rome, unaware on which side
his irony was whetted. When professional education confers nothing but
irritation on a Schiller, no one ought to be surprised; for Schiller, and
such as he, are primarily spiritual adventurers. But that Winckelmann,
the votary of the gravest of intellectual traditions, should get nothing
but an attempt at suppression from the professional guardians of
learning, is what may well surprise us.

In 1743 he became master of a school at Seehausen. This was the most
wearisome period of his life. Notwithstanding a success in dealing with
children, which seems to testify to something simple and primeval in his
nature, he found the work of teaching very depressing. Engaged in this
work, he writes that he still has within him a longing desire to attain
to the knowledge of beauty--sehnlich wuenschte zur Kenntniss des Schoenen
zu gelangen. He had to shorten his nights, sleeping only four hours, to
gain time for reading. And here Winckelmann made a step forward in
culture. He multiplied his intellectual force by detaching from it all
flaccid interests. He renounced mathematics and law, in which his reading
had been considerable,--all but the literature of the arts. Nothing was
to enter into his life unpenetrated by its central enthusiasm. At this
time he undergoes the charm of Voltaire. Voltaire belongs to that
flimsier, more artificial, classical tradition, which Winckelmann was one
day to supplant, by the clear ring, the eternal outline of the genuine
antique. But it proves the authority of such a gift as Voltaire's that it
allures and wins even those born to supplant it. Voltaire's impression on
Winckelmann was never effaced; and it gave him a consideration for French
literature which contrasts with his contempt for the literary products of
Germany. German literature transformed, siderealised, as we see it in
Goethe, reckons Winckelmann among its initiators. But Germany at that
time presented nothing in which he could have anticipated Iphigenie, and
the formation of an effective classical tradition in German literature.

Under this purely literary influence, Winckelmann protests against
Christian Wolff and the philosophers. Goethe, in speaking of this
protest, alludes to his own obligations to Emmanuel Kant. Kant's
influence over the culture of Goethe, which he tells us could not have
been resisted by him without loss, consisted in a severe limitation to
the concrete. But he adds, that in born antiquaries, like Winckelmann,
constant handling of the antique, with its eternal outline, maintains
that limitation as effectually as a critical philosophy. Plato, however,
saved so often for his redeeming literary manner, is excepted from
Winckelmann's proscription of the philosophers. The modern student most
often meets Plato on that side which seems to pass beyond Plato into a
world no longer pagan, based on the conception of a spiritual life. But
the element of affinity which he presents to Winckelmann is that which is
wholly Greek, and alien from the Christian world, represented by that
group of brilliant youths in the Lysis, still uninfected by any spiritual
sickness, finding the end of all endeavour in the aspects of the human
form, the continual stir and motion of a comely human life.

This new-found interest in Plato's dialogues could not fail to increase
his desire to visit the countries of the classical tradition. "It is my
misfortune," he writes, "that I was not born to great place, wherein I
might have had cultivation, and the opportunity of following my instinct
and forming myself." A visit to Rome probably was already purposed, and
he silently preparing for it. Count Buenau, the author of an historical
work then of note, had collected at Noethenitz a valuable library, now
part of the library of Dresden. In 1784 Winckelmann wrote to Buenau in
halting French:--He is emboldened, he says, by Buenau's indulgence for
needy men of letters. He desires only to devote himself to study, having
never allowed himself to be dazzled by favourable prospects of the
Church. He hints at his doubtful position "in a metaphysical age, when
humane literature is trampled under foot. At present," he goes on,
"little value is set on Greek literature, to which I have devoted myself
so far as I could penetrate, when good books are so scarce and
expensive." Finally, he desires a place in some corner of Buenau's
library. "Perhaps, at some future time, I shall become more useful to the
public, if, drawn from obscurity in whatever way, I can find means to
maintain myself in the capital."

Soon afterwards we find Winckelmann in the library at Noethenitz. Thence
he made many visits to the collection of antiquities at Dresden. He
became acquainted with many artists, above all with Oeser, Goethe's
future friend and master, who, uniting a high culture with the practical
knowledge of art, was fitted to minister to Winckelmann's culture. And
now there opened for him a new way of communion with the Greek life.
Hitherto he had handled the words only of Greek poetry, stirred indeed
and roused by them, yet divining beyond the words an unexpressed
pulsation of sensuous life. Suddenly he is in contact with that life,
still fervent in the relics of plastic art. Filled as our culture is with
the classical spirit, we can hardly imagine how deeply the human mind was
moved, when, at the Renaissance, in the midst of a frozen world, the
buried fire of ancient art rose up from under the soil. Winckelmann here
reproduces for us the earlier sentiment of the Renaissance. On a sudden
the imagination feels itself free. How facile and direct, it seems to
say, is this life of the senses and the understanding, when once we have
apprehended it! Here, surely, is the more liberal life we have been
seeking so long, so near to us all the while. How mistaken and roundabout
have been our efforts to reach it by mystic passion, and monastic
reverie; how they have deflowered the flesh; how little they have
emancipated us! Hermione melts from her stony posture, and the lost
proportions of life right themselves. Here, then, we see in vivid
realisation the native tendency of Winckelmann to escape from abstract
theory to intuition, to the exercise of sight and touch. Lessing, in the
Laocoon, has theorised finely on the relation of poetry to sculpture; and
philosophy can give us theoretical reasons why not poetry but sculpture
should be the most sincere and exact expression of the Greek ideal. By a
happy, unperplexed dexterity, Winckelmann solves the question in the
concrete. It is what Goethe calls his Gewahrwerden der griechischen
Kunst, his FINDING of Greek art.

Through the tumultuous richness of Goethe's culture, the influence of
Winckelmann is always discernible, as the strong, regulative
under-current of a clear, antique motive. "One learns nothing from him,"
he says to Eckermann, "but one becomes something." If we ask what the
secret of this influence was, Goethe himself will tell us--elasticity,
wholeness, intellectual integrity. And yet these expressions, because
they fit Goethe, with his universal culture, so well, seem hardly to
describe the narrow, exclusive interest of Winckelmann. Doubtless
Winckelmann's perfection is a narrow perfection: his feverish nursing of
the one motive of his life is a contrast to Goethe's various energy. But
what affected Goethe, what instructed him and ministered to his culture,
was the integrity, the truth to its type, of the given force. The
development of his force was the single interest of Winckelmann,
unembarrassed by anything else in him. Other interests, practical or
intellectual, those slighter talents and motives not supreme, which in
most men are the waste part of nature, and drain away their vitality, he
plucked out and cast from him. The protracted longing of his youth is not
a vague, romantic longing: he knows what he longs for, what he wills.
Within its severe limits his enthusiasm burns like lava. "You know," says
Lavater, speaking of Winckelmann's countenance, "that I consider ardour
and indifference by no means incompatible in the same character. If ever
there was a striking instance of that union, it is in the countenance
before us." "A lowly childhood," says Goethe, "insufficient instruction
in youth, broken, distracted studies in early manhood, the burden of
school-keeping! He was thirty years old before he enjoyed a single favour
of fortune: but as soon as he had attained to an adequate condition of
freedom, he appears before us consummate and entire, complete in the
ancient sense."

But his hair is turning grey, and he has not yet reached the south. The
Saxon court had become Roman Catholic, and the way to favour at Dresden
was through Romish ecclesiastics. Probably the thought of a profession of
the Romish religion was not new to Winckelmann. At one time he had
thought of begging his way to Rome, from cloister to cloister, under the
pretence of a disposition to change his faith. In 1751, the papal nuncio,
Archinto, was one of the visitors at Noethenitz. He suggested Rome as the
fitting stage for Winckelmann's attainments, and held out the hope of a
place in the papal library. Cardinal Passionei, charmed with
Winckelmann's beautiful Greek writing, was ready to play the part of
Maecenas, on condition that the necessary change should be made.
Winckelmann accepted the bribe, and visited the nuncio at Dresden.
Unquiet still at the word "profession," not without a struggle, he joined
the Romish Church, July the 11th, 1754.

Goethe boldly pleads that Winckelmann was a pagan, that the landmarks of
Christendom meant nothing to him. It is clear that he intended to deceive
no one by his disguise; fears of the inquisition are sometimes visible
during his life in Rome; he entered Rome notoriously with the works of
Voltaire in his possession; the thought of what Count Buenau might be
thinking of him seems to have been his greatest difficulty. On the other
hand, he may have had a sense of a certain antique, and as it were pagan
grandeur in the Roman Catholic religion. Turning from the crabbed
Protestantism, which had been the weariness of his youth, he might
reflect that while Rome had reconciled itself to the Renaissance, the
Protestant principle in art had cut off Germany from the supreme
tradition of beauty. And yet to that transparent nature, with its
simplicity as of the earlier world, the loss of absolute sincerity must
have been a real loss. Goethe understands that Winckelmann had made this
sacrifice. Yet at the bar of the highest criticism, perhaps, Winckelmann
may be absolved. The insincerity of his religious profession was only one
incident of a culture in which the moral instinct, like the religious or
political, was merged in the artistic. But then the artistic interest was
that by desperate faithfulness to which Winckelmann was saved from the
mediocrity, which, breaking through no bounds, moves ever in a bloodless
routine, and misses its one chance in the life of the spirit and the
intellect. There have been instances of culture developed by every high
motive in turn, and yet intense at every point; and the aim of our
culture should be to attain not only as intense but as complete a life as
possible. But often the higher life is only possible at all, on condition
of the selection of that in which one's motive is native and strong; and
this selection involves the renunciation of a crown reserved for others.
Which is better?--to lay open a new sense, to initiate a new organ for
the human spirit, or to cultivate many types of perfection up to a point
which leaves us still beyond the range of their transforming power?
Savonarola is one type of success; Winckelmann is another; criticism can
reject neither, because each is true to itself. Winckelmann himself
explains the motive of his life when he says, "It will be my highest
reward, if posterity acknowledges that I have written worthily."

For a time he remained at Dresden. There his first book appeared,
Thoughts on the Imitation of Greek Works of Art in Painting and
Sculpture. Full of obscurities as it was, obscurities which baffled but
did not offend Goethe when he first turned to art-criticism, its purpose
was direct--an appeal from the artificial classicism of the day to the
study of the antique. The book was well received, and a pension supplied
through the king's confessor. In September 1755 he started for Rome, in
the company of a young Jesuit. He was introduced to Raphael Mengs, a
painter then of note, and found a home near him, in the artists' quarter,
in a place where he could "overlook, far and wide, the eternal city." At
first he was perplexed with the sense of being a stranger on what was to
him, spiritually, native soil. "Unhappily," he cries in French, often
selected by him as the vehicle of strong feeling, "I am one of those whom
the Greeks call opsimatheis.--I have come into the world and into Italy
too late." More than thirty years afterwards, Goethe also, after many
aspirations and severe preparation of mind, visited Italy. In early
manhood, just as he too was FINDING Greek art, the rumour of that high
artist's life of Winckelmann in Italy had strongly moved him. At Rome,
spending a whole year drawing from the antique, in preparation for
Iphigenie, he finds the stimulus of Winckelmann's memory ever active.
Winckelmann's Roman life was simple, primeval, Greek. His delicate
constitution permitted him the use only of bread and wine. Condemned by
many as a renegade, he had no desire for places of honour, but only to
see his merits acknowledged, and existence assured to him. He was simple
without being niggardly; he desired to be neither poor nor rich.

Winckelmann's first years in Rome present all the elements of an
intellectual situation of the highest interest. The beating of the
intellect against its bars, the sombre aspect, the alien traditions, the
still barbarous literature of Germany, are afar off; before him are
adequate conditions of culture, the sacred soil itself, the first tokens
of the advent of the new German literature, with its broad horizons, its
boundless intellectual promise. Dante, passing from the darkness of the
Inferno, is filled with a sharp and joyful sense of light, which makes
him deal with it, in the opening of the Purgatorio, in a wonderfully
touching and penetrative way. Hellenism, which is the principle
pre-eminently of intellectual light (our modern culture may have more
colour, the medieval spirit greater heat and profundity, but Hellenism is
pre-eminent for light), has always been most effectively conceived by
those who have crept into it out of an intellectual world in which the
sombre elements predominate. So it had been in the ages of the
Renaissance. This repression, removed at last, gave force and glow to
Winckelmann's native affinity to the Hellenic spirit. "There had been
known before him," says Madame de Stael, "learned men who might be
consulted like books; but no one had, if I may say so, made himself a
pagan for the purpose of penetrating antiquity." "One is always a poor
executant of conceptions not one's own."--On execute mal ce qu'on n'a pas
concu soi-meme*--words spoken on so high an occasion--are true in their
measure of every genuine enthusiasm. Enthusiasm--that, in the broad
Platonic sense of the Phaedrus, was the secret of his divinatory power
over the Hellenic world. This enthusiasm, dependent as it is to a great
degree on bodily temperament, has a power of re-enforcing the purer
emotions of the intellect with an almost physical excitement. That his
affinity with Hellenism was not merely intellectual, that the subtler
threads of temperament were inwoven in it, is proved by his romantic,
fervent friendships with young men. He has known, he says, many young men
more beautiful than Guido's archangel. These friendships, bringing him in
contact with the pride of human form, and staining his thoughts with its
bloom, perfected his reconciliation with the spirit of Greek sculpture.
A letter on taste, addressed from Rome to a young nobleman, Friedrich von
Berg, is the record of such a friendship.

*Words of Charlotte Corday before the Convention.

"I shall excuse my delay," he begins, "in fulfilling my promise of an
essay on the taste for beauty in works of art, in the words of Pindar. He
says to Agesidamus, a youth of Locri--ideai te kalon, horai te
kekramenon--whom he had kept waiting for an intended ode, that a debt
paid with usury is the end of reproach. This may win your good-nature on
behalf of my present essay, which has turned out far more detailed and
circumstantial than I had at first intended.

"It is from yourself that the subject is taken. Our intercourse has been
short, too short both for you and me; but the first time I saw you, the
affinity of our spirits was revealed to me: your culture proved that my
hope was not groundless; and I found in a beautiful body a soul created
for nobleness, gifted with the sense of beauty. My parting from you was
therefore one of the most painful in my life; and that this feeling
continues our common friend is witness, for your separation from me
leaves me no hope of seeing you again. Let this essay be a memorial of
our friendship, which, on my side, is free from every selfish motive, and
ever remains subject and dedicate to yourself alone."

The following passage is characteristic--

"As it is confessedly the beauty of man which is to be conceived under
one general idea, so I have noticed that those who are observant of
beauty only in women, and are moved little or not at all by the beauty of
men, seldom have an impartial, vital, inborn instinct for beauty in art.
To such persons the beauty of Greek art will ever seem wanting, because
its supreme beauty is rather male than female. But the beauty of art
demands a higher sensibility than the beauty of nature, because the
beauty of art, like tears shed at a play, gives no pain, is without life,
and must be awakened and repaired by culture. Now, as the spirit of
culture is much more ardent in youth than in manhood, the instinct of
which I am speaking must be exercised and directed to what is beautiful,
before that age is reached, at which one would be afraid to confess that
one had no taste for it."

Certainly, of that beauty of living form which regulated Winckelmann's
friendships, it could not be said that it gave no pain. One notable
friendship, the fortune of which we may trace through his letters, begins
with an antique, chivalrous letter in French, and ends noisily in a burst
of angry fire. Far from reaching the quietism, the bland indifference of
art, such attachments are nevertheless more susceptible than any others
of equal strength of a purely intellectual culture. Of passion, of
physical excitement, they contain only just so much as stimulates the eye
to the finest delicacies of colour and form. These friendships, often the
caprices of a moment, make Winckelmann's letters, with their troubled
colouring, an instructive but bizarre addition to the History of Art,
that shrine of grave and mellow light for the mute Olympian family. The
impression which Winckelmann's literary life conveyed to those about him
was that of excitement, intuition, inspiration, rather than the
contemplative evolution of general principles. The quick, susceptible
enthusiast, betraying his temperament even in appearance, by his olive
complexion, his deep-seated, piercing eyes, his rapid movements,
apprehended the subtlest principles of the Hellenic manner, not through
the understanding, but by instinct or touch. A German biographer of
Winckelmann has compared him to Columbus. That is not the aptest of
comparisons; but it reminds one of a passage in which M. Edgar Quinet
describes the great discoverer's famous voyage. His science was often at
fault; but he had a way of estimating at once the slightest indication of
land, in a floating weed or passing bird; he seemed actually to come
nearer to nature than other men. And that world in which others had moved
with so much embarrassment, seems to call out in Winckelmann new senses
fitted to deal with it. He is in touch with it; it penetrates him, and
becomes part of his temperament. He remodels his writings with constant
renewal of insight; he catches the thread of a whole sequence of laws in
some hollowing of the hand, or dividing of the hair; he seems to realise
that fancy of the reminiscence of a forgotten knowledge hidden for a time
in the mind itself; as if the mind of one, lover and philosopher at once
in some phase of pre-existence-philosophesas pote met' erotos--fallen
into a new cycle, were beginning its intellectual culture over again, yet
with a certain power of anticipating its results. So comes the truth of
Goethe's judgments on his works; they are a life, a living thing,
designed for those who are alive--ein Lebendiges fuer die Lebendigen
geschrieben, ein Leben selbst.

In 1785 Cardinal Albani, who possessed in his Roman villa a precious
collection of antiquities, became Winckelmann's patron. Pompeii had just
opened its treasures; Winckelmann gathered its first-fruits. But his plan
of a visit to Greece remained unfulfilled. From his first arrival in Rome
he had kept the History of Ancient Art ever in view. All his other
writings were a preparation for that. It appeared, finally, in 1764; but
even after its publication Winckelmann was still employed in perfecting
it. It is since his time that many of the most significant examples of
Greek art have been submitted to criticism. He had seen little or nothing
of what we ascribe to the age of Pheidias; and his conception of Greek
art tends, therefore, to put the mere elegance of the imperial society of
ancient Rome in place of the severe and chastened grace of the palaestra.
For the most part he had to penetrate to Greek art through copies,
imitations, and later Roman art itself; and it is not surprising that
this turbid medium has left in Winckelmann's actual results much that a
more privileged criticism can correct.

He had been twelve years in Rome. Admiring Germany had many calls to him;
at last, in 1768, he set out to revisit the country of his birth; and as
he left Rome, a strange, inverted home-sickness, a strange reluctance to
leave it at all, came over him. He reached Vienna: there he was loaded
with honours and presents: other cities were awaiting him. Goethe, then
nineteen years old, studying art at Leipsic, was expecting his coming,
with that wistful eagerness which marked his youth, when the news of
Winckelmann's murder arrived. All that "weariness of the North" had
revived with double force. He left Vienna, intending to hasten back to
Rome. At Trieste a delay of a few days occurred. With characteristic
openness, Winckelmann had confided his plans to a fellow-traveller, a man
named Arcangeli, and had shown him the gold medals received at Vienna.
Arcangeli's avarice was aroused. One morning he entered Winckelmann's
room, under pretence of taking leave; Winckelmann was then writing
"memoranda for the future editor of the History of Art," still seeking
the perfection of his great work. Arcangeli begged to see the medals once
more. As Winckelmann stooped down to take them from the chest, a cord was
thrown round his neck. Some time afterwards, a child whose friendship
Winckelmann had made to beguile the delay, knocked at the door, and
receiving no answer, gave an alarm. Winckelmann was found dangerously
wounded, and died a few hours later, after receiving the sacraments of
the Romish Church. It seemed as if the gods, in reward for his devotion
to them, had given him a death which, for its swiftness and its
opportunity, he might well have desired. "He has," says Goethe, "the
advantage of figuring in the memory of posterity, as one eternally able
and strong; for the image in which one leaves the world is that in which
one moves among the shadows." Yet, perhaps, it is not fanciful to regret
that the meeting with Goethe did not take place. Goethe, then in all the
pregnancy of his wonderful youth, still unruffled by the press and storm
of his earlier manhood, was awaiting Winckelmann with a curiosity of the
worthiest kind. As it was, Winckelmann became to him something like what
Virgil was to Dante. And Winckelmann, with his fiery friendships, had
reached that age and that period of culture at which emotions hitherto
fitful, sometimes concentrate themselves in a vital, unchangeable
relationship. German literary history seems to have lost the chance of
one of those famous friendships, the very tradition of which becomes a
stimulus to culture, and exercises an imperishable influence.

In one of the frescoes of the Vatican, Raffaelle has commemorated the
tradition of the Catholic religion. Against a strip of peaceful sky,
broken in upon by the beatific vision, are ranged the great personages
of. Christian history, with the Sacrament in the midst. Another fresco of
Raffaelle in the same apartment presents a very different company, Dante
alone appearing in both. Surrounded by the muses of Greek mythology,
under a thicket of myrtles, sits Apollo, with the sources of Castalia at
his feet. On either side are grouped those on whom the spirit of Apollo
descended, the classical and Renaissance poets, to whom the waters of
Castalia come down, a river making glad this other city of God. In this
fresco it is the classical tradition, the orthodoxy of taste, that
Raffaelle commemorates. Winckelmann's intellectual history authenticates
the claims of this tradition in human culture. In the countries where
that tradition arose, where it still lurked about its own artistic
relics, and changes of language had not broken its continuity, national
pride might sometimes light up anew an enthusiasm for it. Aliens might
imitate that enthusiasm, and classicism become from time to time an
intellectual fashion. But Winckelmann was not further removed by
language, than by local aspects and associations, from those vestiges of
the classical spirit; and he lived at a time when, in Germany, classical
studies were out of favour. Yet, remote in time and place, he feels after
the Hellenic world, divines the veins of ancient art, in which its life
still circulates, and, like Scyles, the half-barbarous yet Hellenising
king, in the beautiful story of Herodotus, is irresistibly attracted by
it. This testimony to the authority of the Hellenic tradition, its
fitness to satisfy some vital requirement of the intellect, which
Winckelmann contributes as a solitary man of genius, is offered also by
the general history of culture. The spiritual forces of the past, which
have prompted and informed the culture of a succeeding age, live, indeed,
within that culture, but with an absorbed, underground life. The Hellenic
element alone has not been so absorbed, or content with this underground
life; from time to time it has started to the surface; culture has been
drawn back to its sources to be clarified and corrected. Hellenism is not
merely an absorbed element in our intellectual life; it is a conscious
tradition in it.

Again, individual genius works ever under conditions of time and place:
its products are coloured by the varying aspects of nature, and type of
human form, and outward manners of life. There is thus an element of
change in art; criticism must never for a moment forget that "the artist
is the child of his time." But besides these conditions of time and
place, and independent of them, there is also an element of permanence, a
standard of taste, which genius confesses. This standard is maintained in
a purely intellectual tradition; it acts upon the artist, not as one of
the influences of his own age, but by means of the artistic products of
the previous generation, which in youth have excited, and at the same
time directed into a particular channel, his sense of beauty. The supreme
artistic products of each generation thus form a series of elevated
points, taking each from each the reflexion of a strange light, the
source of which is not in the atmosphere around and above them, but in a
stage of society remote from ours. This standard takes its rise in
Greece, at a definite historical period. A tradition for all succeeding
generations, it originates in a spontaneous growth out of the influences
of Greek society. What were the conditions under which this ideal, this
standard of artistic orthodoxy, was generated? How was Greece enabled to
force its thought upon Europe?

Greek art, when we first catch sight of it, is entangled with Greek
religion. We are accustomed to think of Greek religion as the religion of
art and beauty, the religion of which the Olympian Zeus and the Athena
Polias are the idols, the poems of Homer the sacred books. Thus Cardinal
Newman speaks of "the classical polytheism which was gay and graceful, as
was natural in a civilised age." Yet such a view is only a partial one;
in it the eye is fixed on the sharp, bright edge of high Hellenic culture
but loses sight of the sombre world across which it strikes. Greek
religion, where we can observe it most distinctly, is at once a
magnificent ritualistic system, and a cycle of poetical conceptions.
Religions, as they grow by natural laws out of man's life, are modified
by whatever modifies his life. They brighten under a bright sky, they
become liberal as the social range widens, they grow intense and shrill
in the clefts of human life, where the spirit is narrow and confined, and
the stars are visible at noonday; and a fine analysis of these
differences is one of the gravest functions of religious criticism.
Still, the broad foundation, in mere human nature, of all religions as
they exist for the greatest number, is a universal pagan sentiment, a
paganism which existed before the Greek religion, and has lingered far
onward into the Christian world, ineradicable, like some persistent
vegetable growth, because its seed is an element of the very soil out of
which it springs. This pagan sentiment measures the sadness with which
the human mind is filled, whenever its thoughts wander far from what is
here, and now. It is beset by notions of irresistible natural powers, for
the most part ranged against man, but the secret also of his fortune,
making the earth golden and the grape fiery for him. He makes gods in his
own image, gods smiling and flower-crowned, or bleeding by some sad
fatality, to console him by their wounds, never closed from generation to
generation. It is with a rush of home-sickness that the thought of death
presents itself. He would remain at home for ever on the earth if he
could: as it loses its colour and the senses fail, he clings ever closer
to it; but since the mouldering of bones and flesh must go on to the end,
he is careful for charms and talismans, that may chance to have some
friendly power in them, when the inevitable shipwreck comes. Such
sentiment is a part of the eternal basis of all religions, modified
indeed by changes of time and place, but indestructible, because its root
is so deep in the earth of man's nature. The breath of religious
initiators passes over them; a few "rise up with wings as eagles," but
the broad level of religious life is not permanently changed. Religious
progress, like all purely spiritual progress, is confined to a few. This
sentiment fixes itself in the earliest times to certain usages of
patriarchal life, the kindling of fire, the washing of the body, the
slaughter of the flock, the gathering of harvest, holidays and dances.
Here are the beginnings of a ritual, at first as occasional and unfixed
as the sentiment which it expresses, but destined to become the permanent
element of religious life. The usages of patriarchal life change; but
this germ of ritual remains, developing, but always in a religious
interest, losing its domestic character, and therefore becoming more and
more inexplicable with each generation. This pagan worship, in spite of
local variations, essentially one, is an element in all religions. It is
the anodyne which the religious principle, like one administering opiates
to the incurable, has added to the law which makes life sombre for the
vast majority of mankind.

More definite religious conceptions come from other sources, and fix
themselves upon this ritual in various ways, changing it, and giving it
new meanings. In Greece they were derived from mythology, itself not due
to a religious source at all, but developing in the course of time into a
body of religious conceptions, entirely human in form and character. To
the unprogressive ritual element it brought these conceptions,
itself--he pterou dunamis, the power of the wing--an element of
refinement, of ascension, with the promise of an endless destiny. While
the ritual remains fixed, the aesthetic element, only accidentally
connected with it, expands with the freedom and mobility of the things of
the intellect. Always, the fixed element is the religious observance; the
fluid, unfixed element is the myth, the religious conception. This
religion is itself pagan, and has in any broad view of it the pagan
sadness. It does not at once, and for the majority, become the higher
Hellenic religion. The country people, of course, cherish the unlovely
idols of an earlier time, such as those which Pausanias found still
devoutly preserved in Arcadia. Athenaeus tells the story of one who,
coming to a temple of Latona, had expected to find some worthy
presentment of the mother of Apollo, and laughed on seeing only a
shapeless wooden figure. The wilder people have wilder gods, which,
however, in Athens, or Corinth, or Lacedaemon, changing ever with the
worshippers in whom they live and move and have their being, borrow
something of the lordliness and distinction of human nature there. Greek
religion too has its mendicants, its purifications, its antinomian
mysticism, its garments offered to the gods, its statues worn with
kissing, its exaggerated superstitions for the vulgar only, its worship
of sorrow, its addolorata, its mournful mysteries. Scarcely a wild or
melancholy note of the medieval church but was anticipated by Greek
polytheism! What should we have thought of the vertiginous prophetess at
the very centre of Greek religion? The supreme Hellenic culture is a
sharp edge of light across this gloom. The fiery, stupefying wine becomes
in a happier region clear and exhilarating. The Dorian worship of Apollo,
rational, chastened, debonair, with his unbroken daylight, always opposed
to the sad Chthonian divinities, is the aspiring element, by force and
spring of which Greek religion sublimes itself. Out of Greek religion,
under happy conditions, arises Greek art, to minister to human culture.
It was the privilege of Greek religion to be able to transform itself
into an artistic ideal.

For the thoughts of the Greeks about themselves, and their relation to
the world generally, were ever in the happiest readiness to be
transformed into objects for the senses. In this lies the main
distinction between Greek art and the mystical art of the Christian
middle age, which is always struggling to express thoughts beyond itself.
Take, for instance, a characteristic work of the middle age, Angelico's
Coronation of the Virgin, in the cloister of Saint Mark's at Florence. In
some strange halo of a moon Christ and the Virgin Mary are sitting, clad
in mystical white raiment, half shroud, half priestly linen. Our Lord,
with rosy nimbus and the long pale hair--tanquam lana alba et tanquam
nix--of the figure in the Apocalypse, sets with slender finger-tips a
crown of pearl on the head of his mother, who, corpse-like in her
refinement, is bending forward to receive it, the light lying like snow
upon her forehead. Certainly, it cannot be said of Angelico's fresco that
it throws into a sensible form our highest thoughts about man and his
relation to the world; but it did not do this adequately even for
Angelico. For him, all that is outward or sensible in his work--the hair
like wool, the rosy nimbus, the crown of pearl--is only the symbol or
type of an inexpressible world, to which he wishes to direct the
thoughts; he would have shrunk from the notion that what the eye
apprehended was all. Such forms of art, then, are inadequate to the
matter they clothe; they remain ever below its level. Something of this
kind is true also of oriental art. As in the middle age from an
exaggerated inwardness, so in the East from a vagueness, a want of
definition, in thought, the matter presented to art is unmanageable:
forms of sense struggle vainly with it. The many-headed gods of the East,
the orientalised Diana of Ephesus, with its numerous breasts, like
Angelico's fresco, are at best overcharged symbols, a means of hinting at
an idea which art cannot adequately express, which still remains in the
world of shadows.

But take a work of Greek art,--the Venus of Melos. That is in no sense a
symbol, a suggestion of anything beyond its own victorious fairness. The
mind begins and ends with the finite image, yet loses no part of the
spiritual motive. That motive is not lightly and loosely attached to the
sensuous form, as the meaning to the allegory, but saturates and is
identical with it. The Greek mind had advanced to a particular stage of
self-reflexion, but was careful not to pass beyond it. In oriental
thought there is a vague conception of life everywhere, but no true
appreciation of itself by the mind, no knowledge of the distinction of
man's nature: in its consciousness of itself, humanity is still confused
with the fantastic, indeterminate life of the animal and vegetable world.
In Greek thought the "lordship of the soul" is recognised; that lordship
gives authority and divinity to human eyes and hands and feet; inanimate
nature is thrown into the background. But there Greek thought finds its
happy limit; it has not yet become too inward; the mind has not begun to
boast of its independence of the flesh; the spirit has not yet absorbed
everything with its emotions, nor reflected its own colour everywhere.
It has indeed committed itself to a train of reflexion which must end in
a defiance of form, of all that is outward, in an exaggerated idealism.
But that end is still distant: it has not yet plunged into the depths of
religious mysticism.

This ideal art, in which the thought does not outstrip or lie beyond its
sensible embodiment, could not have arisen out of a phase of life that
was uncomely or poor. That delicate pause in Greek reflexion was joined,
by some supreme good luck, to the perfect animal nature of the Greeks.
Here are the two conditions of an artistic ideal. The influences which
perfected the animal nature of the Greeks are part of the process by
which the ideal was evolved. Those "Mothers" who, in the second part of
Faust, mould and remould the typical forms which appear in human history,
preside, at the beginning of Greek culture, over such a concourse of
happy physical conditions as ever generates by natural laws some rare
type of intellectual or spiritual life. That delicate air, "nimbly and
sweetly recommending itself" to the senses, the finer aspects of nature,
the finer lime and clay of the human form, and modelling of the dainty
framework of the human countenance:--these are the good luck of the Greek
when he enters upon life. Beauty becomes a distinction, like genius, or
noble place.

"By no people," says Winckelmann, "has beauty been so highly esteemed as
by the Greeks. The priests of a youthful Jupiter at Aegae, of the
Ismenian Apollo, and the priest who at Tanagra led the procession of
Mercury, bearing a lamb upon his shoulders, were always youths to whom
the prize of beauty had been awarded. The citizens of Egesta, in Sicily,
erected a monument to a certain Philip, who was not their fellow-citizen,
but of Croton, for his distinguished beauty; and the people made
offerings at it. In an ancient song, ascribed to Simonides or Epicharmus,
of four wishes, the first was health, the second beauty. And as beauty
was so longed for and prized by the Greeks, every beautiful person sought
to become known to the whole people by this distinction, and above all to
approve himself to the artists, because they awarded the prize; and this
was for the artists an opportunity of having supreme beauty ever before
their eyes. Beauty even gave a right to fame; and we find in Greek
histories the most beautiful people distinguished. Some were famous for
the beauty of one single part of their form; as Demetrius Phalereus, for
his beautiful eyebrows, was called Charito-blepharos. It seems even to
have been thought that the procreation of beautiful children might be
promoted by prizes: this is shown by the existence of contests for
beauty, which in ancient times were established by Cypselus, King of
Arcadia, by the river Alpheus; and, at the feast of Apollo of Philae, a
prize was offered to the youths for the deftest kiss. This was decided by
an umpire; as also at Megara, by the grave of Diodes. At Sparta, and at
Lesbos, in the temple of Juno, and among the Parrhasii, there were
contests for beauty among women. The general esteem for beauty went so
far, that the Spartan women set up in their bedchambers a Nireus, a
Narcissus, or a Hyacinth, that they might bear beautiful children."

So, from a few stray antiquarianisms, a few faces cast up sharply from
the waves, Winckelmann, as his manner is, divines the temperament of the
antique world, and that in which it had delight. It has passed away with
that distant age, and we may venture to dwell upon it. What sharpness and
reality it has is the sharpness and reality of suddenly arrested life.
The Greek system of gymnastics originated as part of a religious ritual.
The worshipper was to recommend himself to the gods by becoming fleet and
fair, white and red, like them. The beauty of the palaestra, and the
beauty of the artist's studio, reacted on each other. The youth tried to
rival his gods; and his increased beauty passed back into them.--"I take
the gods to witness, I had rather have a fair body than a king's
crown"--Omnumi pantas theous me helesthai an ten basileos arkhen anti tou
kalos einai.--That is the form in which one age of the world chose the
higher life--a perfect world, if the gods could have seemed for ever only
fleet and fair, white and red. Let us not regret that this unperplexed
youth of humanity, seeing itself and satisfied, passed, at the due
moment, into a mournful maturity; for already the deep joy was in store
for the spirit, of finding the ideal of that youth still red with life in
the grave.

It followed that the Greek ideal expressed itself pre-eminently in
sculpture. All art has a sensuous element, colour, form, sound--in poetry
a dexterous recalling of these, together with the profound, joyful
sensuousness of motion: each of these may be a medium for the ideal: it
is partly accident which in any individual case makes the born artist,
poet, or painter rather than sculptor. But as the mind itself has had an
historical development, one form of art, by the very limitations of its
material, may be more adequate than another for the expression of any one
phase of its experience. Different attitudes of the imagination have a
native affinity with different types of sensuous form, so that they
combine, with completeness and ease. The arts may thus be ranged in a
series, which corresponds to a series of developments in the human mind
itself. Architecture, which begins in a practical need, can only express
by vague hint or symbol the spirit or mind of the artist. He closes his
sadness over him, or wanders in the perplexed intricacies of things, or
projects his purpose from him clean-cut and sincere, or bares himself to
the sunlight. But these spiritualities, felt rather than seen, can but
lurk about architectural form as volatile effects, to be gathered from it
by reflexion; their expression is not really sensuous at all. As human
form is not the subject with which it deals, architecture is the mode in
which the artistic effort centres, when the thoughts of man concerning
himself are still indistinct, when he is still little preoccupied with
those harmonies, storms, victories, of the unseen and intellectual world,
which, wrought out into the bodily form, give it an interest and
significance communicable to it alone. The art of Egypt, with its supreme
architectural effects, is, according to Hegel's beautiful comparison, a
Memnon waiting for the day, the day of the Greek spirit, the humanistic
spirit, with its power of speech. Again, painting, music, and poetry,
with their endless power of complexity, are the special arts of the
romantic and modern ages. Into these, with the utmost attenuation of
detail, may be translated every delicacy of thought and feeling,
incidental to a consciousness brooding with delight over itself. Through
their gradations of shade, their exquisite intervals, they project in an
external form that which is most inward in humour, passion, sentiment.
Between architecture and the romantic arts of painting, music, and
poetry, comes sculpture, which, unlike architecture, deals immediately
with man, while it contrasts with the romantic arts, because it is not
self-analytical. It has to do more exclusively than any other art with
the human form, itself one entire medium of spiritual expression,
trembling, blushing, melting into dew, with inward excitement. That
spirituality which only lurks about architecture as a volatile effect, in
sculpture takes up the whole given material, and penetrates it with an
imaginative motive; and at first sight sculpture, with its solidity of
form, seems a thing more real and full than the faint, abstract world of
poetry or painting. Still the fact is the reverse. Discourse and action
show man as he is, more directly than the springing of the muscles and
the moulding of the flesh; and over these poetry has command. Painting,
by the flushing of colour in the face and dilatation of light in the
eye--music, by its subtle range of tones--can refine most delicately upon
a single moment of passion, unravelling its finest threads.

But why should sculpture thus limit itself to pure form? Because, by this
limitation, it becomes a perfect medium of expression for one peculiar
motive of the imaginative intellect. It therefore renounces all these
attributes of its material which do not help forward that motive. It has
had, indeed, from the beginning an unfixed claim to colour; but this
element of colour in it has always been more or less conventional, with
no melting or modulation of tones, never admitting more than a very
limited realism. It was maintained chiefly as a religious tradition. In
proportion as the art of sculpture ceased to be merely decorative, and
subordinate to architecture, it threw itself upon pure form. It renounces
the power of expression by sinking or heightening tones. In it, no member
of the human form is more significant than the rest; the eye is wide, and
without pupil; the lips and brow are hardly less significant than hands,
and breasts, and feet. The limitation of its resources is part of its
pride it has no backgrounds, no sky or atmosphere, to suggest and
interpret a train of feeling; a little of suggested motion, and much of
pure light on its gleaming surfaces, with pure form--only these. And it
gains more than it loses by this limitation to its own distinguishing
motives; it unveils man in the repose of his unchanging characteristics.
Its white light, purged from the angry, bloodlike stains of action and
passion, reveals, not what is accidental in man, but the god in him, as
opposed to man's restless movement. The art of sculpture records the
first naive, unperplexed recognition of man by himself; and it is a proof
of the high artistic capacity of the Greeks, that they apprehended and
remained true to these exquisite limitations, yet, in spite of them, gave
to their creations a vital and mobile individuality.

Heiterkeit--blitheness or repose, and Allgemeinheit--generality or
breadth, are, then, the supreme characteristics of the Hellenic ideal.
But that generality or breadth has nothing in common with the lax
observation, the unlearned thought, the flaccid execution, which have
sometimes claimed superiority in art, on the plea of being "broad" or
"general." Hellenic breadth and generality come of a culture minute,
severe, constantly renewed, rectifying and concentrating its impressions
into certain pregnant types. The base of all artistic genius is the power
of conceiving humanity in a new, striking, rejoicing way, of putting a
happy world of its own creation in place of the meaner world of common
days, of generating around itself an atmosphere with a novel power of
refraction, selecting, transforming, recombining the images it transmits,
according to the choice of the imaginative intellect. In exercising this
power, painting and poetry have a choice of subject almost unlimited.
The range of characters or persons open to them is as various as life
itself; no character, however trivial, misshapen, or unlovely, can resist
their magic. That is because those arts can accomplish their function in
the choice and development of some special situation, which lifts or
glorifies a character, in itself not poetical. To realise this situation,
to define in a chill and empty atmosphere, the focus where rays, in
themselves pale and impotent, unite and begin to burn, the artist has to
employ the most cunning detail, to complicate and refine upon thought and
passion a thousand-fold. The poems of Robert Browning supply brilliant
examples of this power. His poetry is pre-eminently the poetry of
situations. The characters themselves are always of secondary importance;
often they are characters in themselves of little interest; they seem to
come to him by strange accidents from the ends of the world. His gift is
shown by the way in which he accepts such a character, and throws it into
some situation, or apprehends it in some delicate pause of life, in which
for a moment it becomes ideal. Take an instance from Dramatis Personae.
In the poem entitled Le Byron de nos Jours, we have a single moment of
passion thrown into relief in this exquisite way. Those two jaded
Parisians are not intrinsically interesting; they only begin to interest
us when thrown into a choice situation. But to discriminate that moment,
to make it appreciable by us, that we may "find" it, what a cobweb of
allusions, what double and treble reflexions of the mind upon itself,
what an artificial light is constructed and broken over the chosen
situation; on how fine a needle's point that little world of passion is
balanced! Yet, in spite of this intricacy, the poem has the clear ring of
a central motive; we receive from it the impression of one imaginative
tone, of a single creative act.

To produce such effects at all requires all the resources of painting,
with its power of indirect expression, of subordinate but significant
detail, its atmosphere, its foregrounds and backgrounds. To produce them
in a pre-eminent degree requires all the resources of poetry, language in
its most purged form, its remote associations and suggestions, its double
and treble lights. These appliances sculpture cannot command. In it,
therefore, not the special situation, but the type, the general character
of the subject to be delineated, is all-important. In poetry and
painting, the situation predominates over the character; in sculpture,
the character over the situation. Excluded by the limitations of its
material from the development of exquisite situations, it has to choose
from a select number of types intrinsically interesting--interesting,
that is, independently of any special situation into which they may be
thrown. Sculpture finds the secret of its power in presenting these
types, in their broad, central, incisive lines. This it effects not by
accumulation of detail, but by abstracting from it. All that is
accidental, all that distracts the simple effect upon us of the supreme
types of humanity, all traces in them of the commonness of the world, it
gradually purges away.

Works of art produced under this law, and only these, are really
characterised by Hellenic generality or breadth. In every direction it is
a law of limitation; it keeps passion always below that degree of
intensity at which it must necessarily be transitory, never winding up
the features to one note of anger, or desire, or surprise. In some of the
feebler allegorical designs of the middle age, we find isolated qualities
portrayed as by so many masks; its religious art has familiarised us with
faces fixed immovably into blank types of placid reverie; and men and
women, in the hurry of life, often wear the sharp impress of one
absorbing motive, from which it is said death sets their features free.
All such instances may be ranged under the grotesque; and the Hellenic
ideal has nothing in common with the grotesque. It allows passion to play
lightly over the surface of the individual form, losing thereby nothing
of its central impassivity, its depth and repose. To all but the highest
culture, the reserved faces of the gods will ever have something of
insipidity. Again, in the best Greek sculpture, the archaic immobility
has been thawed, its forms are in motion; but it is a motion ever kept in
reserve, which is very seldom committed to any definite action. Endless
as are the attitudes of Greek sculpture, exquisite as is the invention of
the Greeks in this direction, the actions or situations it permits are
simple and few. There is no Greek Madonna; the goddesses are always
childless. The actions selected are those which would be without
significance, except in a divine person--binding on a sandal or preparing
for the bath. When a more complex and significant action is permitted, it
is most often represented as just finished, so that eager expectancy is
excluded, as in the image of Apollo just after the slaughter of the
Python, or of Venus with the apple of Paris already in her hand. The
Laocoon, with all that patient science through which it has triumphed
over an almost unmanageable subject, marks a period in which sculpture
has begun to aim at effects legitimate, because delightful, only in
painting. The hair, so rich a source of expression in painting, because,
relatively to the eye or to the lip, it is mere drapery, is withdrawn
from attention; its texture, as well as the colour, is lost, its
arrangement faintly and severely indicated, with no enmeshed or broken
light. The eyes are wide and directionless, not fixing anything with
their gaze, or riveting the brain to any special external object; the
brows without hair. It deals almost exclusively with youth, where the
moulding of the bodily organs is still as if suspended between growth and
completion, indicated but not emphasised; where the transition from curve
to curve is so delicate and elusive, that Winckelmann compares it to a
quiet sea, which, although we understand it to be in motion, we
nevertheless regard as an image of repose; where, therefore, the exact
degree of development is so hard to apprehend. If one had to choose a
single product of Hellenic art, to save in the wreck of all the rest, one
would choose from the "beautiful multitude" of the Panathenaic frieze,
that line of youths on horseback, with their level glances, their proud,
patient lips, their chastened reins, their whole bodies in exquisite
service. This colourless, unclassified purity of life, with its blending
and interpenetration of intellectual, spiritual, and physical elements,
still folded together, pregnant with the possibilities of a whole world
closed within it, is the highest expression of that indifference which
lies beyond all that is relative or partial. Everywhere there is the
effect of an awaking, of a child's sleep just disturbed. All these
effects are united in a single instance--the adorante of the museum of
Berlin, a youth who has gained the wrestler's prize, with hands lifted
and open, in praise for the victory. Fresh, unperplexed, it is the image
of man as he springs first from the sleep of nature; his white light
taking no colour from any one-sided experience, characterless, so far as
character involves subjection to the accidental influences of life.

"This sense," says Hegel, "for the consummate modelling of divine and
human forms was pre-eminently at home in Greece. In its poets and
orators, its historians and philosophers, Greece cannot be conceived from
a central point, unless one brings, as a key to the understanding of it,
an insight into the ideal forms of sculpture, and regards the images of
statesmen and philosophers, as well as epic and dramatic heroes, from the
artistic point of view; for those who act, as well as those who create
and think, have, in those beautiful days of Greece, this plastic
character. They are great and free, and have grown up on the soil of
their own individuality, creating themselves out of themselves, and
moulding themselves to what they were, and willed to be. The age of
Pericles was rich in such characters; Pericles himself, Pheidias, Plato,
above all Sophocles, Thucydides also, Xenophon and Socrates, each in his
own order, the perfection of one remaining undiminished by that of the
others. They are ideal artists of themselves, cast each in one flawless
mould, works of art, which stand before us as an immortal presentment of
the gods. Of this modelling also are those bodily works of art, the
victors in the Olympic games; yes, and even Phryne, who, as the most
beautiful of women, ascended naked out of the water, in the presence of
assembled Greece."

This key to the understanding of the Greek spirit, Winckelmann possessed
in his own nature, itself like a relic of classical antiquity, laid open
by accident to our alien modern atmosphere. To the criticism of that
consummate Greek modelling he brought not only his culture but his
temperament. We have seen how definite was the leading motive of his
culture; how, like some central root-fibre, it maintained the
well-rounded unity of his life through a thousand distractions.
Interests not his, nor meant for him, never disturbed him. In morals, as
in criticism, he followed the clue of an unerring instinct. Penetrating
into the antique world by his passion, his temperament, he enunciates no
formal principles, always hard and one-sided. Minute and anxious as his
culture was, he never became one-sidedly self-analytical. Occupied ever
with himself, perfecting himself and cultivating his genius, he was not
content, as so often happens with such natures, that the atmosphere
between him and other minds should be thick and clouded; he was ever
jealously refining his meaning into a form, express, clear, objective.
This temperament he nurtured and invigorated by friendships which kept
him ever in direct contact with the spirit of youth. The beauty of the
Greek statues was a sexless beauty; the statues of the gods had the least
traces of sex. Here there is a moral sexlessness, a kind of ineffectual
wholeness of nature, yet with a true beauty and significance of its own.

One result of this temperament is a serenity--Heiterkeit--which
characterises Winckelmann's handling of the sensuous side of Greek art.
This serenity is, perhaps, in great measure, a negative quality; it is
the absence of any sense of want, or corruption, or shame. With the
sensuous element in Greek art he deals in the pagan manner; and what is
implied in that? It has been sometimes said that art is a means of escape
from "the tyranny of the senses." It may be so for the spectator; he may
find that the spectacle of supreme works of art takes from the life of
the senses something of its turbid fever. But this is possible for the
spectator only because the artist, in producing those works, has
gradually sunk his intellectual and spiritual ideas in sensuous form. He
may live, as Keats lived, a pure life; but his soul, like that of Plato's
false astronomer, becomes more and more immersed in sense, until nothing
which lacks an appeal to sense has interest for him. How could such an
one ever again endure the greyness of the ideal or spiritual world? The
spiritualist is satisfied in seeing the sensuous elements escape from his
conceptions; his interest grows, as the dyed garment bleaches in the
keener air. But the artist steeps his thought again and again into the
fire of colour. To the Greek this immersion in the sensuous was
indifferent. Greek sensuousness, therefore, does not fever the blood; it
is shameless and childlike. Christian asceticism, on the other hand,
discrediting the slightest touch of sense, has from time to time provoked
into strong emphasis the contrast or antagonism to itself, of the
artistic life, with its inevitable sensuousness.--I did but taste a
little honey with the end of the rod that was in mine hand, and lo, I
must die!--It has sometimes seemed hard to pursue that life without
something of conscious disavowal of a spiritual world; and this imparts
to genuine artistic interests a kind of intoxication. From this
intoxication Winckelmann is free; he fingers those pagan marbles with
unsinged hands, with no sense of shame or loss. That is to deal with the
sensuous side of art in the pagan manner.

The longer we contemplate that Hellenic ideal, in which man is at unity
with himself, with his physical nature, with the outward world, the more
we may be inclined to regret that he should ever have passed beyond it,
to contend for a perfection that makes the blood turbid, and frets the
flesh, and discredits the actual world about us. But if he was to be
saved from the ennui which ever attaches itself to realisation, even the
realisation of perfection, it was necessary that a conflict should come,
and some sharper note grieve the perfect harmony, to the end that the
spirit chafed by it might beat out at last a larger and profounder music.
In Greek tragedy this conflict has begun; man finds himself face to face
with rival claims. Greek tragedy shows how such a conflict may be treated
with serenity, how the evolution of it may be a spectacle of the dignity,
not of the impotence, of the human spirit. But it is not only in tragedy
that the Greek spirit showed itself capable of thus winning joy out of
matter in itself full of discouragements. Theocritus, too, often strikes
a note of romantic sadness. But what a blithe and steady poise, above
these discouragements, in a clear and sunny stratum of the air!

Into this stage of Greek achievement Winckelmann did not enter. Supreme
as he is where his true interest lay, his insight into the typical unity
and repose of the highest sort of sculpture seems to have involved
limitation in another direction. His conception of art excludes that
bolder type of it which deals confidently and serenely with life,
conflict, evil. Living in a world of exquisite but abstract and
colourless form, he could hardly have conceived of the subtle and
penetrative, but somewhat grotesque art of the modern world. What would
he have thought of Gilliatt, in Victor Hugo's Travailleurs de la Mer, or
of the bleeding mouth of Fantine in the first part of Les Miserables,
penetrated as it is with a sense of beauty, as lively and transparent as
that of a Greek? There is even a sort of preparation for the romantic
temper within the limits of the Greek ideal itself, which Winckelmann
failed to see. For Greek religion has not merely its mournful mysteries
of Adonis, of Hyacinthus, of Demeter, but it is conscious also of the
fall of earlier divine dynasties. Hyperion gives way to Apollo, Oceanus
to Poseidon. Around the feet of that tranquil Olympian family still crowd
the weary shadows of an earlier, more formless, divine world. Even their
still minds are troubled with thoughts of a limit to duration, of
inevitable decay, of dispossession. Again, the supreme and colourless
abstraction of those divine forms, which is the secret of their repose,
is also a premonition of the fleshless, consumptive refinements of the
pale medieval artists. That high indifference to the outward, that
impassivity, has already a touch of the corpse in it; we see already
Angelico and the Master of the Passion in the artistic future. The
crushing of the sensuous, the shutting of the door upon it, the ascetic
interest, is already traceable. Those abstracted gods, "ready to melt out
their essence fine into the winds," who can fold up their flesh as a
garment, and still remain themselves, seem already to feel that bleak
air, in which, like Helen of Troy, they wander as the spectres of the
middle age.

Gradually, as the world came into the church, an artistic interest,
native in the human soul, reasserted its claims. But Christian art was
still dependent on pagan examples, building the shafts of pagan temples
into its churches, perpetuating the form of the basilica, in later times
working the disused amphitheatres as quarries. The sensuous expression of
conceptions which unreservedly discredit the world of sense, was the
delicate problem which Christian art had before it. If we think of
medieval painting, as it ranges from the early German schools, still with
something of the air of the charnel-house about them, to the clear
loveliness of Perugino, we shall see how that problem was solved. Even in
the worship of sorrow the native blitheness of art asserted itself; the
religious spirit, as Hegel says, "smiled through its tears." So perfectly
did the young Raffaelle infuse that Heiterkeit, that pagan blitheness,
into religious works, that his picture of Saint Agatha at Bologna became
to Goethe a step in the evolution of Iphigenie.* But in proportion as
this power of smiling was found again, there came also an aspiration
towards that lost antique art, some relics of which Christian art had
buried in itself, ready to work wonders when their day came.

*Italiaenische Reise. Bologna, 19 Oct. 1776.

The history of art has suffered as much as any history by trenchant and
absolute divisions. Pagan and Christian art are sometimes harshly
opposed, and the Renaissance is represented as a fashion which set in at
a definite period. That is the superficial view: the deeper view is that
which preserves the identity of European culture. The two are really
continuous; and there is a sense in which it may be said that the
Renaissance was an uninterrupted effort of the middle age, that it was
ever taking place. When the actual relics of the antique were restored to
the world, in the view of the Christian ascetic it was as if an ancient
plague-pit had been opened: all the world took the contagion of the life
of nature and of the senses. And now it was seen that the medieval spirit
too had done something for the destiny of the antique. By hastening the
decline of art, by withdrawing interest from it, and yet keeping unbroken
the thread of its traditions, it had suffered the human mind to repose
that it might awake when day came, with eyes refreshed, to those antique
forms.

The aim of a right criticism is to place Winckelmann in an intellectual
perspective, of which Goethe is the foreground. For, after all, he is
infinitely less than Goethe; it is chiefly because at certain points he
comes in contact with Goethe, that criticism entertains consideration of
him. His relation to modern culture is a peculiar one. He is not of the
modern world; nor is he of the eighteenth century, although so much of
his outer life is characteristic of it. But that note of revolt against
the eighteenth century, which we detect in Goethe, was struck by
Winckelmann. Goethe illustrates that union of the Romantic spirit, in its
adventure, its variety, its profound subjectivity of soul, with
Hellenism, in its transparency, its rationality, its desire of
Beauty--that marriage of Faust and Helena--of which the art of the
nineteenth century is the child, the beautiful lad Euphorion, as Goethe
conceives him, on the crags, in the "splendour of battle and in harness
as for victory," his brows bound with light.* Goethe illustrates, too,
the preponderance in this marriage of the Hellenic element; and that
element, in its true essence, was made known to him by Winckelmann.

*Faust, Th. ii. Act. 3.

Breadth, centrality, with blitheness and repose, are the marks of
Hellenic culture. Is that culture a lost art? The local, accidental
colouring of its own age has passed from it; the greatness that is dead
looks greater when every link with what is slight and vulgar has been
severed; we can only see it at all in the reflected, refined light which
a high education creates for us. Can we bring down that ideal into the
gaudy, perplexed light of modern life?

Certainly, for us of the modern world, with its conflicting claims, its
entangled interests, distracted by so many sorrows, so many
preoccupations, so bewildering an experience, the problem of unity with
ourselves, in blitheness and repose, is far harder than it was for the
Greek within the simple terms of antique life. Yet, not less than ever,
the intellect demands completeness, centrality. It is this which
Winckelmann imprints on the imagination of Goethe, at the beginning of
his culture, in its original and simplest form, as in a fragment of Greek
art itself, stranded on that littered, indeterminate shore of Germany in
the eighteenth century. In Winckelmann, this type comes to him, not as in
a book or a theory, but importunately, in a passionate life or
personality. For Goethe, possessing all modern interests, ready to be
lost in the perplexed currents of modern thought, he defines, in clearest
outline, the problem of culture--balance, unity with oneself, consummate
Greek modelling.

It could no longer be solved, as in Phryne ascending naked out of the
water, by perfection of bodily form, or any joyful union with the world
without: the shadows had grown too long, the light too solemn, for that.
It could hardly be solved, as in Pericles or Pheidias, by the direct
exercise of any single talent: amid the manifold claims of modern
culture, that could only have ended in a thin, one-sided growth. Goethe's
Hellenism was of another order, the Allgemeinheit and Heiterkeit, the
completeness and serenity, of a watchful, exigent intellectualism. Im
Ganzen, Guten, Wahren, resolut zu leben--is Goethe's description of his
own higher life; and what is meant by life in the whole--im Ganzen? It
means the life of one for whom, over and over again, what was once
precious has become indifferent. Every one who aims at the life of
culture is met by many forms of it, arising out of the intense,
laborious, one-sided development of some special talent. They are the
brightest enthusiasms the world has to show. It is not their part to
weigh the claims which this or that alien form of culture makes upon
them. But the pure instinct of self-culture cares not so much to reap all
that these forms of culture can give, as to find in them its own
strength. The demand of the intellect is to feel itself alive. It must
see into the laws, the operation, the intellectual reward of every
divided form of culture; but only that it may measure the relation
between itself and them. It struggles with those forms till its secret is
won from each, and then lets each fall back into its place; in the
supreme, artistic view of life. With a kind of passionate coldness, such
natures rejoice to be away from and past their former selves. Above all,
they are jealous of that abandonment to one special gift which really
limits their capabilities. It would have been easy for Goethe, with the
gift of a sensuous nature, to let it overgrow him. It comes easily and
naturally, perhaps, to certain "other-worldly" natures to be even as the
Schoene Seele, that ideal of gentle pietism, in Wilhelm Meister: but to
the large vision of Goethe, that seemed to be a phase of life that a man
might feel all round, and leave behind him. Again, it is easy to indulge
the commonplace metaphysical instinct. But a taste for metaphysics may be
one of those things which we must renounce, if we mean to mould our lives
to artistic perfection. Philosophy serves culture, not by the fancied
gift of absolute or transcendental knowledge, but by suggesting questions
which help one to detect the passion, and strangeness, and dramatic
contrasts of life.

But Goethe's culture did not remain "behind the veil"; it ever emerged in
the practical functions of art, in actual production. For him the problem
came to be:--Can the blitheness and universality of the antique ideal be
communicated to artistic productions, which shall contain the fulness of
the experience of the modern world? We have seen that the development of
the various forms of art has corresponded to the development of the
thoughts of man concerning himself, to the growing revelation of the mind
to itself. Sculpture corresponds to the unperplexed, emphatic outlines of
Hellenic humanism; painting to the mystic depth and intricacy of the
middle age; music and poetry have their fortune in the modern world. Let
us understand by poetry all literary production which attains the power
of giving pleasure by its form, as distinct from its matter. Only in this
varied literary form can art command that width, variety, delicacy of
resources, which will enable it to deal with the conditions of modern
life. What modern art has to do in the service of culture is so to
rearrange the details of modern life, so to reflect it, that it may
satisfy the spirit. And what does the spirit need in the face of modern
life? The sense of freedom. That naive, rough sense of freedom, which
supposes man's will to be limited, if at all, only by a will stronger
than his, he can never have again. The attempt to represent it in art
would have so little verisimilitude that it would be flat and
uninteresting. The chief factor in the thoughts of the modern mind
concerning itself is the intricacy, the universality of natural law, even
in the moral order. For us, necessity is not, as of old, a sort of
mythological personage without us, with whom we can do warfare: it is a
magic web woven through and through us, like that magnetic system of
which modern science speaks, penetrating us with a network, subtler than
our subtlest nerves, yet bearing in it the central forces of the world.
Can art represent men and women in these bewildering toils so as to give
the spirit at least an equivalent for the sense of freedom? Certainly, in
Goethe's romances, and even more in the romances of Victor Hugo, there
are high examples of modern art dealing thus with modern life, regarding
that life as the modern mind must regard it, yet reflecting upon
blitheness and repose. Natural laws we shall never modify, embarrass us
as they may; but there is still something in the nobler or less noble
attitude with which we watch their fatal combinations. In those romances
of Goethe and Victor Hugo, in some excellent work done after them, this
entanglement, this network of law, becomes the tragic situation, in which
certain groups of noble men and women work out for themselves a supreme
Denouement. Who, if he saw through all, would fret against the chain of
circumstance which endows one at the end with those great experiences?

1867.



CONCLUSION*

*This brief "Conclusion" was omitted in the second edition of this book,
as I conceived it might possibly mislead some of those young men into
whose hands it might fall. On the whole, I have thought it best to
reprint it here, with some slight changes which bring it closer to my
original meaning. I have dealt more fully in Marius the Epicurean with
the thoughts suggested by it.

Legei pou Herakleitos hoti panta khorei kai ouden menei.


To regard all things and principles of things as inconstant modes or
fashions has more and more become the tendency of modern thought. Let us
begin with that which is without--our physical life. Fix upon it in one
of its more exquisite intervals, the moment, for instance, of delicious
recoil from the flood of water in summer heat. What is the whole physical
life in that moment but a combination of natural elements to which
science gives their names? But these elements, phosphorus and lime and
delicate fibres, are present not in the human body alone: we detect them
in places most remote from it. Our physical life is a perpetual motion of
them--the passage of the blood, the wasting and repairing of the lenses
of the eye, the modification of the tissues of the brain by every ray of
light and sound--processes which science reduces to simpler and more
elementary forces. Like the elements of which we are composed, the action
of these forces extends beyond us; it rusts iron and ripens corn. Far out
on every side of us those elements are broadcast, driven by many forces;
and birth and gesture and death and the springing of violets from the
grave are but a few out of ten thousand resultant combinations. That
clear, perpetual outline of face and limb is but an image of ours, under
which we group them--a design in a web, the actual threads of which pass
out beyond it. This at least of flamelike our life has, that it is but
the concurrence, renewed from moment to moment, of forces parting sooner
or later on their ways.

Or if we begin with the inward world of thought and feeling, the
whirlpool is still more rapid, the flame more eager and devouring. There
it is no longer the gradual darkening of the eye and fading of colour
from the wall,--the movement of the shore-side, where the water flows
down indeed, though in apparent rest,--but the race of the mid-stream, a
drift of momentary acts of sight and passion and thought. At first sight
experience seems to bury us under a flood of external objects, pressing
upon us with a sharp and importunate reality, calling us out of ourselves
in a thousand forms of action. But when reflexion begins to act upon
those objects they are dissipated under its influence; the cohesive force
seems suspended like a trick of magic; each object is loosed into a group
of impressions--colour, odour, texture--in the mind of the observer. And
if we continue to dwell in thought on this world, not of objects in the
solidity with which language invests them, but of impressions unstable,
flickering, inconsistent, which burn and are extinguished with our
consciousness of them, it contracts still further; the whole scope of
observation is dwarfed to the narrow chamber of the individual mind.
Experience, already reduced to a swarm of impressions, is ringed round
for each one of us by that thick wall of personality through which no
real voice has ever pierced on its way to us, or from us to that which we
can only conjecture to be without. Every one of those impressions is the
impression of the individual in his isolation, each mind keeping as a
solitary prisoner its own dream of a world. Analysis goes a step farther
still, and assures us that those impressions of the individual mind to
which, for each one of us, experience dwindles down, are in perpetual
flight; that each of them is limited by time, and that as time is
infinitely divisible, each of them is infinitely divisible also; all that
is actual in it being a single moment, gone while we try to apprehend it,
of which it may ever be more truly said that it has ceased to be than
that it is. To such a tremulous wisp constantly re-forming itself on the
stream, to a single sharp impression, with a sense in it, a relic more or
less fleeting, of such moments gone by, what is real in our life fines
itself down. It is with this movement, with the passage and dissolution
of impressions, images, sensations, that analysis leaves off--that
continual vanishing away, that strange, perpetual weaving and unweaving
of ourselves.

Philosophiren, says Novalis, ist dephlegmatisiren vivificiren. The
service of philosophy, of speculative culture, towards the human spirit
is to rouse, to startle it into sharp and eager observation. Every moment
some form grows perfect in hand or face; some tone on the hills or the
sea is choicer than the rest; some mood of passion or insight or
intellectual excitement is irresistibly real and attractive for us,--for
that moment only. Not the fruit of experience, but experience itself, is
the end. A counted number of pulses only is given to us of a variegated,
dramatic life. How may we see in them all that is to be seen in them by
the finest senses? How shall we pass most swiftly from point to point,
and be present always at the focus where the greatest number of vital
forces unite in their purest energy?

To burn always with this hard, gemlike flame, to maintain this ecstasy,
is success in life. In a sense it might even be said that our failure is
to form habits: for, after all, habit is relative to a stereotyped world,
and meantime it is only the roughness of the eye that makes any two
persons, things, situations, seem alike. While all melts under our feet,
we may well catch at any exquisite passion, or any contribution to
knowledge that seems by a lifted horizon to set the spirit free for a
moment, or any stirring of the senses, strange dyes, strange colours, and
curious odours, or work of the artist's hands, or the face of one's
friend. Not to discriminate every moment some passionate attitude in
those about us, and in the brilliancy of their gifts some tragic dividing
of forces on their ways, is, on this short day of frost and sun, to sleep
before evening. With this sense of the splendour of our experience and of
its awful brevity, gathering all we are into one desperate effort to see
and touch, we shall hardly have time to make theories about the things we
see and touch. What we have to do is to be for ever curiously testing new
opinions and courting new impressions, never acquiescing in a facile
orthodoxy of Comte, or of Hegel, or of our own. Philosophical theories or
ideas, as points of view, instruments of criticism, may help us to gather
up what might otherwise pass unregarded by us. "Philosophy is the
microscope of thought." The theory or idea or system which requires of us
the sacrifice of any part of this experience, in consideration of some
interest into which we cannot enter, or some abstract theory we have not
identified with ourselves, or what is only conventional, has no real
claim upon us.

One of the most beautiful passages in the writings of Rousseau is that in
the sixth book of the Confessions, where he describes the awakening in
him of the literary sense. An undefinable taint of death had always clung
about him, and now in early manhood he believed himself smitten by mortal
disease. He asked himself how he might make as much as possible of the
interval that remained; and he was not biassed by anything in his
previous life when he decided that it must be by intellectual excitement,
which he found just then in the clear, fresh writings of Voltaire. Well!
we are all condamnes, as Victor Hugo says: we are all under sentence of
death but with a sort of indefinite reprieve--les hommes sont tous
condamnes a mort avec des sursis indefinis: we have an interval, and then
our place knows us no more. Some spend this interval in listlessness,
some in high passions, the wisest, at least among "the children of this
world," in art and song. For our one chance lies in expanding that
interval, in getting as many pulsations as possible into the given time.
Great passions may give us this quickened sense of life, ecstasy and
sorrow of love, the various forms of enthusiastic activity, disinterested
or otherwise, which come naturally to many of us. Only be sure it is
passion--that it does yield you this fruit of a quickened, multiplied
consciousness. Of this wisdom, the poetic passion, the desire of beauty,
the love of art for art's sake, has most; for art comes to you professing
frankly to give nothing but the highest quality to your moments as they
pass, and simply for those moments' sake.





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Renaissance: Studies in Art and Poetry" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home