LITTLE JOURNEYS TO THE HOMES OF THE GREAT, VOLUME 6
Little Journeys to the Homes of Eminent Artists
And with all this vast creative activity, he recognized only one self-imposed limitation—beauty. Hence, though his span of life was short, his work is imperishable. He steadily progressed: but he was ever true, beautiful and pure, and freer than any other master from superficiality and mannerism. He produced a vast number of pictures, elevating to men of every race and of every age, and before whose immortal beauty artists of every school unite in common homage. —Wilhelm Lubke
The term "Preraphaelite" traces a royal lineage to William Morris. Just what the word really meant, William Morris was not sure, yet he once expressed the hope that he would some day know, as a thousand industrious writers were laboring to make the matter plain.
Seven men helped William Morris to launch the phrase, by forming themselves into an organization which they were pleased to call the "Preraphaelite Brotherhood."
The word "brotherhood" has a lure and a promise for every lonely and tired son of earth. And Burne-Jones pleaded for the prefix because it was like holy writ: it gave everybody an opportunity to read anything into it that he desired.
Of this I am very sure, in the Preraphaelite Brotherhood there was no lack of appreciation for Raphael. In fact, there is proof positive that Burne-Jones and Madox Brown studied him with profit, and loved him so wisely and well that they laid impression-paper on his poses. This would have been good and sufficient reason for hating the man; and possibly this accounts for their luminous flashes of silence concerning him. The Preraphaelite Brotherhood, like all other liberal organizations, was quite inclined to be illiberal. And the prejudice of this clanship, avowedly founded without prejudice, lay in the assumption that life and art suffered a degeneration from the rise of Raphael. In art, as in literature, there is overmuch tilting with names—so the Preraphaelites enlisted under the banner of Botticelli.
Raphael marks an epoch. He did what no man before him had ever done, and by the sublimity of his genius placed the world forever under obligations to him. In fact, the art of the Preraphaelites was built on Raphael, with an attempt to revive the atmosphere and environment that belonged to another. Raphael mirrored the soul of things—he used the human form and the whole natural world as symbols of spirit. And this is exactly what Burne-Jones did, and the rest of the Brotherhood tried to do. The thought of Raphael and of Burne- Jones often seems identical; in temperament, disposition and aspiration they were one. That poetic and fervid statement of Mrs. Jameson, that Burne-Jones is the avatar of Raphael, contains the germ of truth. The dream-women of Burne-Jones have the same haunting and subtle spiritual wistfulness that is to be seen in the Madonnas of Raphael. Each of these men loved a woman—and each pictured her again and again. Whether this woman had an existence outside the figment of the brain matters not: both painted her as they saw her— tender, gentle and trustful.
When jealous and o'erzealous competitors made the charge against Raphael that he was lax in his religious duties, Pope Leo the Tenth waived the matter by saying, "Well, well, well!—he is an artistic Christian!" As much as to say, he works his religion up into art, and therefore we grant him absolution for failure to attend mass: he paints and you pray—it is really all the same thing. Good work and religion are one.
The busy and captious critics went away, but came back next day with the startling information that Raphael's pictures were more Pagan than Christian. Pope Leo heard the charge, and then with Lincoln- like wit said that Raphael was doing this on his order, as the desire of the Mother Church was to annex the Pagan art-world, in order to Christianize it.
The charges of Paganism and Infidelity are classic accusations. The gentle Burne-Jones was stoutly denounced by his enemies as a Pagan Greek. I think he rather gloried in the contumely, but fifty years earlier he might have been visited by a "lettre de cachet," instead of a knighthood; for we can not forget how, in Eighteen Hundred Fifteen, Parliament refused to pay for the Elgin Marbles because, as Lord Falmouth put it, "These relics will tend to prostitute England to the depth of unbelief that engulfed Pagan Greece." The attitude of Parliament on the question of Paganism finds voice occasionally even yet by Protestant England making darkness dense with the asseveration that Catholics idolatrously worship the pictures and statues in their churches.
The Romans tumbled the Athenian marbles from their pedestals, on the assumption that the statues represented gods that were idolatrously worshiped by the Greeks. And they continued their work of destruction until a certain Roman general (who surely was from County Cork) stopped the vandalism by issuing an order, coupled with the dire threat that any soldier who stole or destroyed a statue should replace it with another equally good.
Lord Elgin bankrupted himself in order to supply the British Museum its crowning glory, and for this he achieved the honor of getting himself poetically damned by Lord Byron. Monarchies, like republics, are ungrateful. Lord Elgin defended himself vigorously against the charge of Paganism, just as Raphael had done three hundred years before. But Burne-Jones was silent in the presence of his accusers, for the world of buyers besieged his doors with bank-notes in hand, demanding pictures. And now today we find Alma-Tadema openly and avowedly Pagan, and with a grace and loveliness that compel the glad acclaim of every lover of beautiful things.
We are making head. We have ceased to believe that Paganism is "bad." All the men and women who have ever lived and loved and hoped and died, were God's children, and we are no more. With the nations dead and turned to dust, we reach out through the darkness of forgotten days and touch friendly hands. Some of these people that existed two, three or four thousand years ago did things so marvelously grand and great that in presence of the broken fragments of their work we stand silent, o'erawed and abashed. We realize, too, that long before the nations lived that have left a meager and scattered history hewn in stone, lived still other men, possibly greater far than we; and no sign or signal comes to us from those whose history, like ours, is writ in water.
Yet we are one with them all. The same Power that brought them upon this stage of Time brought us. As we were called into existence without our consent, so are we being sent out of it, day by day, against our will. The destiny of all who live or have lived, is one; and no taunt of "paganism," "heathenism" or "infidelity" escapes our lips. With love and sympathy, we salute the eternity that lies behind, realizing that we ourselves are the oldest people that have tasted existence—the newest nation lingers away behind Assyria and Egypt, back of the Mayas, lost in continents sunken in shoreless seas that hold their secrets inviolate. Yes, we are brothers to all that have trod the earth; brothers and heirs to dust and shade— mayhap to immortality!
In the story of "John Ball," William Morris pictured what to him was the Ideal Life. And Morris was certainly right in this: The Ideal Life is only the normal or natural life as we shall some day know it. The scene of Morris' story was essentially a Preraphaelite one. It was the great virtue (or limitation) of William Morris that the Dark Ages were to him a time of special light and illumination. Life then was simple. Men worked for the love of it, and if they wanted things they made them. "Every trade exclusively followed means a deformity," says Ruskin. Division of labor had not yet come, and men were skilled in many ways. There was neither poverty nor riches, and the idea of brotherhood was firmly fixed in the minds of men. The feverish desire for place, pelf and power was not upon them. The rise of the barons and an entailed aristocracy were yet to come.
Governments grant men immunity from danger on payment of a tax. Thus men cease protecting themselves, and so in the course of time lose the ability to protect themselves, because the faculty of courage has atrophied through disuse. Brooding apprehension and crouching fear are the properties of civilized men—men who are protected by the State. The joy of reveling in life is not possible in cities. Bolts and bars, locks and keys, soldiers and police, and a hundred other symbols of distrust, suspicion and hate, are on every hand, reminding us that man is the enemy of man, and must be protected from his brothers. Protection and slavery are near of kin.
Before Raphael, art was not a profession—the man did things to the glory of God. When he painted a picture of the Holy Family, his wife served as his model, and he grouped his children in their proper order, and made the picture to hang on a certain spot on the walls of his village church. No payment was expected nor fee demanded—it was a love-offering. It was not until ecclesiastics grew ambitious and asked for more pictures that bargains were struck. Did ever a painter of that far-off day marry a maid, and in time were they blessed with a babe, then straightway the painter worked his joy up into art by painting the Mother and Child, and presenting the picture as a thank-offering to God. The immaculate conception of love and the miracle of birth are recurring themes in the symphony of life. Love, religion and art have ever walked and ever will walk hand in hand. Art is the expression of man's joy in his work; and art is the beautiful way of doing things. Pope Julius was right— work is religion when you put your soul into your task.
Giotto painted the "Mother and Child," and the mother was his wife, and the child theirs. Another child came to them, and Giotto painted another picture, calling the older boy Saint John, and the wee baby Jesus. The years went by and we find still another picture of the Holy Family by this same artist, in which five children are shown, while back in the shadow is the artist himself, posed as Joseph. And with a beautiful contempt for anachronism, the elder children are called Isaiah, Ezekiel and Elijah. This fusing of work, love and religion gives us a glimpse into the only paradise mortals know. It is the Ideal—and the Natural.
The swift-passing years have lightly touched the little city of Urbino, in Umbria. The place is sleepy and quiet, and you seek the shade of friendly awnings to shield you from the fierce glare of the sun. Standing there you hear the bells chime the hours, as they have done for four hundred years; and you watch the flocks of wheeling pigeons, the same pigeons that Vasari saw when he came here in Fifteen Hundred Forty-one, for the birds never grow old. Vasari tells of the pigeons, the old cathedral—old even then—the flower- girls and fruit-sellers, the passing black-robed priests, the occasional soldier, and the cobbler who sits on the curbstone and offers to mend your shoes while you wait.
The world is debtor to Vasari. He was not much of a painter and he failed at architecture, but he made up for lack of skill by telling all about what others were doing; and if his facts ever faltered, his imagination bridged the break. He is as interesting as Plutarch, as gossipy as Pepys, and as luring as Boswell.
A slim slip of a girl, selling thyme and mignonette out of a reed basket, offered to show Vasari the birthplace of Raphael; and a brown-cheeked, barefoot boy, selling roses on which the dew yet lingered, volunteered a like service for me, three hundred years later.
The house is one of a long row of low stone structures, with the red-tile roof everywhere to be seen. Above the door is a bronze tablet which informs the traveler that Raphael Sanzio was born here, April Sixth, Fourteen Hundred Eighty-three. Herman Grimm takes three chapters to prove that Raphael was not born in this house, and that nothing is so unreliable as a bronze tablet, except figures. Grimm is a painstaking biographer, but he fails to distinguish between fact and truth. Of this we are sure, Giovanni di Sanzio, the father of Raphael, lived in this house. There are church records to show that here other children of Giovanni were born, and this very naturally led to the assumption that Raphael was born here, also.
Just one thing of touching interest is to be seen in this house, and that is a picture of a Mother and Child painted on the wall. For many years this picture was said to be the work of Raphael; but there is now very good reason to believe it was the work of Raphael's father, and that the figures represent the baby Raphael and his mother. The picture is faded and dim, like the history of this sainted woman who gave to earth one of the gentlest, greatest and best men that ever lived. Mystery enshrouds the early days of Raphael. There is no record of his birth. His father we know was a man of decided power, and might yet rank as a great artist, had he not been so unfortunate as to have had a son that outclassed him. But now Giovanni Sanzio's only claim to fame rests on his being the father of his son. Of the boy's mother we have only obstructed glances and glimpses through half-flung lattices in the gloaming. Raphael was her only child. She was scarce twenty when she bore him. In a sonnet written to her, on the back of a painting, Raphael's father speaks of her wondrous eyes, slender neck, and the form too frail for earth's rough buffets. Mention is also made of "this child born in purest love, and sent by God to comfort and caress."
The mother grew aweary and passed away when her boy was scarce eight years old, but his memories of her were deeply etched. She told him of Cimabue, Giotto, Ghirlandajo, Leonardo and Perugino, and especially of the last two, who were living and working only a few miles away. It was this spiritual and loving mother who infused into his soul the desire to do and to become. That hunger for harmony which marked his life was the heritage of mother to child.
When an artist paints a portrait, he paints two—himself and the sitter. Raphael gave himself; and as his father more than once said the boy was the image of his mother, we have her picture, too. Father and son painted the same woman. Their hearts went out to her with a sort of idolatrous love. The sonnets indited to her by her husband were written after her death, and after his second marriage. Do then men love dead women better than they do the living? Perhaps. And then a certain writer has said: "To have known a great and exalted love, and have had it flee from your grasp—flee as a shadow before it is sullied by selfishness or misunderstanding—is the highest good. The memory of such a love can not die from out the heart. It affords a ballast 'gainst all the sordid impulses of life, and though it gives an unutterable sadness, it imparts an unspeakable peace."
Raphael's father followed the boy's mother when the lad was eleven years old. We know the tender, poetic love this father had for the child, and we realize somewhat of the mystical mingling in the man's heart of the love for the woman dead and her child alive. Reverencing the mother's wish that the boy should be an artist, Giovanni Sanzio, proud of his delicate and spiritual beauty, took the lad to visit all the other artists in the vicinity. They also visited the ducal palace, built by Federigo the Second, and lingered there for hours, viewing the paintings, statuary, carvings, tapestries and panelings.
The palace still stands, and is yet one of the most noble in Italy, vying in picturesqueness with those marble piles that line the Grand Canal at Venice. We know that Giovanni Sanzio contributed by his advice and skill to the wealth of beauty in the palace, and we know that he was always a welcome visitor there. From his boyhood Raphael was familiar with these artistic splendors, and how much this early environment contributed to his correct taste and habit of subdued elegance, no man can say. When Giovanni Sanzio realized that death was at his door, he gave Raphael into the keeping of the priest Bartolomeo and the boy's stepmother. The typical stepmother lives, moves and has her being in neurotic novels written by very young ladies.
Instances can be cited of great men who were loved and nurtured and ministered to by their stepmothers. I think well of womankind. The woman who abuses a waif that Fate has sent into her care would mistreat her own children, and is a living libel on her sex.
Let Lincoln and Raphael stand as types of men who were loved with infinite tenderness by stepmothers. And then we must not forget Leonardo da Vinci, who never knew a mother, and had no business to have a father, but who held averages good with four successive stepmothers, all of whom loved him with a tender, jealous and proud devotion.
Bartolomeo, following the wish of the father, continued to give the boy lessons in drawing and sketching. This Bartolomeo must not be confused with the Bartolomeo, friend of Savonarola, who was largely to influence Raphael later on. It was Bartolomeo, the priest, that took Raphael to Perugino, who lived in Perugia. Perugino, although he was a comparatively young man, was bigger than the town in which he lived. His own name got blown away by a high wind, and he was plain Perugino—as if there was only one man in Perugia, and he were that one. "Here is a boy I have brought you as a pupil," said the priest to Perugino. And Perugino glancing up from his easel answered, "I thought it was a girl!"
The priest continued, "Here is a boy I have brought you for a pupil, and your chief claim to fame may yet be that he worked here with you in your studio." Perugino parried the thrust with a smile. He looked at the boy and was impressed with his beauty. Perugino afterwards acknowledged that the only reason he took him was because he thought he would work in well as a model.
Perugino was the greatest master of technique of his time. He had life, and life in abundance. He reveled in his work, and his enthusiasm ran over, inundating all those who were near. Courage is a matter of the red corpuscle. It is oxygen that makes every attack; without oxygen in his blood to back him, a man attacks nothing—not even a pie, much less a blank canvas. Perugino was a success; he had orders ahead; he matched his talent against titles; power flowed his way. Raphael's serious, sober manner and spiritual beauty appealed to him. They became as father and son. The methodical business plan, which is a prime aid to inspiration; the habit of laying out work and completing it; the high estimate of self; the supreme animation and belief in the divinity within—all these Raphael caught from Perugino. Both men were egotists, as are all men who do things. They had heard the voice—they had had a "call." The talent is the call, and if a man fails to do his work in a masterly way, make sure he has mistaken a lazy wish for a divine passion. There is a difference between loving the muse and lusting after her.
Perugino had been called, and before Raphael had worked with him a year, he was sure he had been called, too. The days in Perugia for Raphael were full of quiet joy and growing power. He was in the actual living world of men, and things, and useful work. Afternoons, when the sun's shadows began to lengthen towards the east, Perugino would often call to his helpers, especially Raphael, and Pinturicchio, another fine spirit, and off they would go for a tramp, each with a stout staff and the inevitable portfolio. Out along the narrow streets of the town, across the Roman arched bridge, by the market-place to the terraced hillside that overlooked the Umbrian plain, they went; Perugino stout, strong, smooth-faced, with dark, swarthy features; Pinturicchio with downy beard, merry eyes and tall, able form; and lingering behind, came Raphael. His small black cap fitted closely on his long bronze-gold hair; his slight, slender and graceful figure barely suggested its silken strength held in fine reserve—and all the time the great brown eyes, which looked as if they had seen celestial things, scanned the sky, saw the tall cedars of Lebanon, the flocks on the slopes across the valley, the scattered stone cottages, the fleecy clouds that faintly flecked the deep blue of the sky, the distant spire of a church. All these treasures of the Umbrian landscape were his. Well might he have anticipated, four hundred years before he was born, that greatest of American writers, and said, "I own the landscape!" In frescos signed by Perugino in the year Fourteen Hundred Ninety- two—a date we can not forget—we see a certain style. In the same design duplicated in Fourteen Hundred Ninety-eight, we behold a new and subtle touch—it is the stroke and line of Raphael.
The "Resurrection" by Perugino, in the Vatican, and the "Diotalevi Madonna" signed by the same artist, in the Berlin Museum, show the touch of Raphael, unmistakably. The youth was barely seventeen, but he was putting himself into Perugino's work—and Perugino was glad. Raphael's first independent work was probably done when he was nineteen, and was for the Citta di Castello. These frescos are signed, "Raphael Urbinas, 1502." Other lesser pictures and panels thus signed are found dated Fifteen Hundred Four. They are all the designs of Perugino, but worked out with the painstaking care always shown by very young artists; yet there is a subtle, spiritual style that marks, unmistakably, Raphael's Perugino period.
The "Sposalizio," done in Fifteen Hundred Four, now in the Brera at Milan, is the first really important work of Raphael. Next to this is the "Connestabile Madonna," which was painted at Perugia and remained there until Eighteen Hundred Seventy-one, when it was sold by a degenerate descendant of the original owner to the Emperor of Russia for sixty-five thousand dollars. Since then a law has been passed forbidding any one on serious penalty to remove a "Raphael" from Italy. But for this law, that threat of a Chicago syndicate to buy the Pitti Gallery and move its contents to the "lake front" might have been carried out.
The Second Period of Raphael's life opens with his visit to Florence in Fifteen Hundred Four. He was now twenty-one years of age, handsome, proud, reserved. Stories of his power had preceded him, and the fact that for six years he had worked with Perugino and been his confidant and friend made his welcome sure.
Leonardo and Michelangelo were at the height of their fame, and no doubt they stimulated the ambition of Raphael more than he ever admitted. He considered Leonardo the more finished artist of the two. Michelangelo's heroic strength and sweep of power failed to win him. The frescos of Masaccio in the Church of Santa Carmine in Florence he considered better than any performance of Michelangelo: and as a Roland to this Oliver, we have a legend to the effect that Raphael once called upon Michelangelo and the master sent down word from the scaffold, where he was at work, that he was too busy to see visitors, and anyway, he had all the apprentices that he could look after!
How much this little incident biased Raphael's opinion concerning Michelangelo's art we can not say: possibly Raphael could not have told, either. But such things count, I am told, for even Doctor Johnson thought better of Reynolds' work after they had dined together.
It seems that Fra Bartolomeo was one of the first and best friends Raphael had at Florence. The monk's gentle spirit and his modest views of men and things won the young Umbrian; and between these two there sprang up a friendship so firm and true that death alone could sever it.
The deep religious devotion of Bartolomeo set the key for the first work done by Raphael at Florence. Most of the time the young man and the monk lived and worked in the same studio. It was a wonderfully prolific period for Raphael; from Fifteen Hundred Four to Fifteen Hundred Eight he pushed forward with a zest and an earnestness he never again quite equaled. Most of his beautiful Madonnas belong to this period, and in them all are a dignity, grace and grandeur that lift them out of ecclesiastic art, and place them in the category of living portraits.
Before this, Raphael belonged to the Umbrian School, but now his work must be classed, if classed at all, as Florentine. The handling is freer, the nude more in evidence, and the anatomy shows that the artist is working from life.
Bartolomeo used to speak of Raphael affectionately as "my son," and called the attention of Bramante, the architect, to his work. The beauty of his Madonnas was being discussed in every studio, and when the "Ansidei" was exhibited in the Church of Santa Croce, such a crowd flocked to see the picture that services had to be dismissed. The rush continued until a thrifty priest bethought him to stand at the main entrance with a contribution-box and a stout stick, and allow no one to enter who did not contribute good silver for "the worthy poor."
Bartolomeo acknowledged that his "pupil" was beyond him. He was invited to add a finishing touch to the Masaccio frescos; Leonardo, the courtly, had smiled a gracious recognition, and Michelangelo had sneezed at mention of his name. Bramante, back at Rome, told Pope Julius the Second, "There is a young Umbrian at Florence we must send for."
Great things were happening at Rome about this time: all roads led thitherward. Pope Julius had just laid the cornerstone of Saint Peter's, and full of ambition was carrying out the dictum of Pope Nicholas the Fifth, that "the Church should array herself in all the beauteous spoils of the world, in order to win the minds of men."
The Renaissance was fairly begun, fostered and sustained by the Church alone. The Quattrocento—that time of homely peace and the simple quiet of John Ball and his fellows—lay behind.
Raphael had begun his Roman Period, which was to round out his working life of barely eighteen years, ere the rest of the Pantheon was to be his.
Before this his time had been his own, but now the Church was his mistress. But it was a great honor that had come to him, greater far than had ever before been bestowed on any living artist. Barely twenty-five years of age, the Pope treated him as an equal, and worked him like a packhorse. "He has the face of an angel," cried Julius, "and the soul of a god!"—when some one suggested his youth.
Pope Leo the Tenth, of the Medici family, succeeded Julius. He sent Michelangelo to Florence to employ his talents upon the Medicean church of San Lorenzo. He dismissed Perugino, Pinturicchio and Piero Delia Francesca, although Raphael in tears pleaded for them all. Their frescos were destroyed, and Raphael was told to go ahead and make the Vatican what it should be.
His first large work was to decorate the Hall of the Signatures (Stanza della Segnatura), where we today see the "Dispute." Near at hand is the famous "School of Athens." In this picture his own famous portrait is to be seen with that of Perugino. The first place is given to Perugino, and the faces affectionately side by side are posed in a way that has given a cue to ten thousand photographers.
The attitude is especially valuable, as a bit of history showing Raphael's sterling attachment to his old teacher. The Vatican is filled with the work of Raphael, and aside from the galleries to which the general public is admitted, studies and frescos are to be seen in many rooms that are closed unless, say, Archbishop Ireland be with you, when all doors fly open at your touch. The seven Raphael tapestries are shown at the Vatican an hour each day; the rest of the time the room is closed to protect them from the light. However, the original cartoons at South Kensington reveal the sweep and scope of Raphael's genius better than the tapestries themselves.
Work, unceasing work, filled his days. The ingenuity and industry of the man were marvelous. Upwards of eighty portraits were painted during the Roman Period, besides designs innumerable for engravings, and even for silver and iron ornaments required by the Church. Pupils helped him much, of course, and among these must be mentioned Giulio Romano and Gianfrancesco Penni. These young men lived with Raphael in his splendid house that stood halfway between Saint Peter's and the Castle Angelo. Fire swept the space a hundred years later, and the magnificence it once knew has never been replaced. Today, hovels built from stone quarried from the ruins mark the spot. But as one follows this white, dusty road, it is well to remember that the feet of Raphael, passing and repassing, have, more than any other one street of Rome, made it sacred soil.
We have seen that Bramante brought Raphael to Rome, and Pope Leo the Tenth remembered this when the first architect of Saint Peter's passed away. Raphael was appointed his successor. The honor was merited, but the place should have gone to one not already overworked. In Fifteen Hundred Fifteen Raphael was made Director of Excavations, another office for which his esthetic and delicate nature was not fitted. In sympathy, of course, his heart went out to the antique workers of the ancient world, on whose ruins the Eternal City is built; but the drudgery of overseeing and superintendence belonged to another type of man.
The stress of the times had told on Raphael; he was thirty-five, rich beyond all Umbrian dreams of avarice, on an equality with the greatest and noblest men of his time, honored above all other living artists. But life began to pall; he had won all—and thereby had learned the worthlessness of what the world has to offer. Dreams of rest, of love and a quiet country home, came to him. He was betrothed to Maria di Bibbiena, a niece of Cardinal Bibbiena. The day of the wedding had been set, and the Pope was to perform the ceremony.
But the Pope regarded Raphael as a servant of the Church: he had work for him to do, and moreover he had fixed ideas concerning the glamour of sentimentalism, so he requested that the wedding be postponed for a space.
A request from the Pope was an order, and so the country house was packed away with other dreams that were to come true all in God's good time.
But the realization of love's dream did not come true, for Raphael had a rival. Death claimed his bride.
She was buried in the Pantheon, where within a year Raphael's wornout body was placed beside hers; and there the dust of both mingle.
The history of this love-tragedy has never been written; it lies buried there with the lovers. But a contemporary said that the fear of an enforced separation broke the young woman's heart; and this we know, that after her death, Raphael's hand forgot its cunning, and his frame was ripe for the fever that was so soon to burn out the strands of his life.
Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Perugino and Fra Bartolomeo had all made names for themselves before Raphael appeared upon the scene. Yet they one and all profited by his example, and were the richer in that he had lived.
Michelangelo was born nine years before Raphael and survived him forty-three years.
Titian was six years old when Raphael was born, and he continued to live and work for fifty-six years after Raphael had passed away.
It was a cause of grief to Michelangelo, even to the day of his death, that he and Raphael had not been close, personal and loving friends, as indeed they should have been.
The art-world was big enough for both. Yet Rome was divided into two hostile camps: those who favored Raphael; and those who had but one prophet, Michelangelo. Busybodies rushed back and forth, carrying foolish and inconsequential messages; and these strong yet gentle men, both hungering for sympathy and love, were thrust apart.
When Raphael realized the end was nigh, he sent for Perugino, and directed that he should complete certain work. His career had begun by working with Perugino, and now this friend of a lifetime must finish the broken task and make good the whole. He bade his beloved pupils, one by one, farewell; signed his will, which gave most of his valuable property to his fellow-workers; and commended his soul to the God who gave it. He died on his birthday, Good Friday, April Sixth, Fifteen Hundred Twenty, aged thirty-seven years. Michelangelo wore mourning upon his sleeve for a year after Raphael's death. And once Michelangelo said, "Raphael was a child, a beautiful child, and if he had only lived a little longer, he and I would have grasped hands as men and worked together as brothers."
The world, perhaps, contains no other example of a genius so universal as Leonardo's, so creative, so incapable of self- contentment, so athirst for the infinite, so naturally refined, so far in advance of his own and subsequent ages. His pictures express incredible sensibility and mental power; they overflow with unexpressed ideas and emotions. Alongside of his portraits Michelangelo's personages are simply heroic athletes; Raphael's virgins are only placid children whose souls are still asleep. His beings feel and think through every line and trait of their physiognomy. Time is necessary to enter into communion with them; not that their sentiment is too slightly marked, for, on the contrary, it emerges from the whole investiture; but it is too subtle, too complicated, too far above and beyond the ordinary, too dreamlike and inexplicable. —Taine in "A Journey Through Italy"
There is a little book by George B. Rose, entitled, "Renaissance Masters," which is quite worth your while to read. I carried a copy, for company, in the side-pocket of my coat for a week, and just peeped into it at odd times. I remember that I thought so little of the volume that I read it with a lead-pencil and marked it all up and down and over, and filled the fly-leaves with random thoughts, and disfigured the margins with a few foolish sketches.
Then one fine day White Pigeon came out to the Roycroft Shop from Buffalo, as she was passing through. She came on the two-o'clock train and went away on the four-o'clock, and her visit was like a window flung open to the azure.
White Pigeon remained at East Aurora only two hours—"not long enough" she said, "to knock the gold and emerald off the butterfly's beautiful wings."
White Pigeon saw the little book I have mentioned, on my table in the tower-room. She picked it up and turned the leaves aimlessly; then she opened her Boston bag and slipped the book inside, saying as she did so:
"You do not mind?"
And I said, "Certainly not!"
Then she added, "I like to follow in the pathway you have blazed."
That closed the matter so far as the little book was concerned. Save, perhaps, that after I had walked to the station with White Pigeon and she had boarded the car, she stepped out upon the rear platform, and as I stood there at the station watching the train disappear around the curve, White Pigeon reached into the Boston bag, took out the little book and held it up.
That was the last time I saw White Pigeon. She was looking well and strong, and her step, I noticed, was firm and sure, and she carried the crown of her head high and her chin in. It made me carry my chin in, too, just by force of example, I suppose—so easily are we influenced. When you walk with some folks you slouch along, but others there be who make you feel an upward lift and skyey gravitation—it is very curious!
Yet I do really believe White Pigeon is forty, or awfully close to it. There are silver streaks among her brown braids, and surely the peachblow has long gone from her cheek. Then she was awfully tanned —and that little mole on her forehead, and its mate on her chin, stand out more than ever, like the freckles on the face of Alcibiades Roycroft when he has taken on his August russet.
I think White Pigeon must be near forty! That is the second book she has stolen from me; the other was Max Muller's "Memories"—it was at the Louvre in Paris, August the Fourteenth, Eighteen Hundred Ninety- five, as we sat on a bench, silent before the "Mona Lisa" of Leonardo.
This book, "Renaissance Masters," I didn't care much for, anyway. I got no information from it, yet it gave me a sort o' glow—that is all—like that lecture which I heard in my boyhood by Wendell Phillips.
There is only one thing in the book I remember, but that stands out as clearly as the little mole on White Pigeon's forehead. The author said that Leonardo da Vinci invented more useful appliances than any other man who ever lived, except our own Edison.
I know Edison: he is a most lovable man (because he is himself), very deaf—and glad of it, he says, because it saves him from hearing a lot of things he doesn't wish to hear. "It is like this," he once said to me: "deafness gives you a needed isolation; reduces your sensitiveness so things do not disturb or distract; allows you to concentrate and focus on a thought until you run it down—see?"
Edison is a great Philistine—reads everything I write—has a complete file of the little brownie magazine; and some of the "Little Journeys" I saw he had interlined and marked. I think Edison is one of the greatest men I ever met—he appreciates Good Things.
I told Edison how this writer, Rose, had compared him with Leonardo. He smiled and said, "Who is Rose?" Then after a little pause he continued, "The Great Man is one who has been a long time dead—the woods are full of wizards, but not many of them know that"; and the Wizard laughed softly at his own joke.
What kind of a man was Leonardo? Why, he was the same kind of a man as Edison—only Leonardo was thin and tall, while Edison is stout. But you and I would be at home with either. Both are classics and therefore essentially modern. Leonardo studied Nature at first hand —he took nothing for granted—Nature was his one book. Stuffy, fussy, indoor professors—men of awful dignity—frighten folks, cause children to scream, and ladies to gaze in awe; but Leonardo was simple and unpretentious. He was at home in any society, high or low, rich or poor, learned or unlearned—and was quite content to be himself. It's a fine thing to be yourself!
Thackeray once said, "If I had met Shakespeare on the stairs, I know I should have fainted dead away!" I do not believe Shakespeare's presence ever made anybody faint. He was so big that he could well afford to put folks at their ease.
If Leonardo should come to East Aurora, Bertie, Oliver, Lyle and I would tramp with him across the fields, and he would carry that leather bag strung across his shoulder, just as he ever did when in the country. He was a geologist and a botanist, and was always collecting things (and forgetting where they were).
We would tramp with him, I say, and if the season were right we would go through orchards, sit under the trees and eat apples. And Leonardo would talk, as he liked to do, and tell why the side of fruit that was towards the sun took on a beautiful color first; and when an apple fell from the tree he would, so to speak, anticipate Sir Isaac Newton and explain why it fell down and not up.
That leather bag of his, I fear, would get rather heavy before we got back, and probably Oliver and Lyle would dispute the honor of carrying it for him.
Leonardo was once engaged by Cesare Borgia to fortify the kingdom of Romagna. It was a brand-new kingdom, presented to the young man by Pope Alexander the Sixth. It was really the Pope who ordered Leonardo to survey the tract and make plans for the fortifications and canals and all that—so Leonardo didn't like to refuse. Cesare Borgia had the felicity of being the son of the Pope, but the Pope used to refer to him as his nephew—it was a habit that Popes once had. Pope Alexander also had a daughter—by name, Lucrezia Borgia— sister to Cesare and very much like him, for they took their diversion in the same way.
Leonardo started in to do the work and make plans for fortifications that should be impregnable. He looked the ground over thoroughly, traveling on horseback, and his two servants followed him up in a cart drawn by a bull, which Leonardo calmly explains was a "side- wheeler."
Leonardo carried a big sketchbook, and as he made plans for redoubts, he made notes to the effect that crows fly in flocks without a leader, and wild ducks have a system and fly V shape, with a leader that changes off from time to time with the privates. Also, a waterfall runs the musical gamut, and the water might be separated so as to play a tune. Also, the leaves turn to gold through oxidation, and robins pair for life.
Leonardo also wrote at this time on the movements of the clouds, the broken strata of rocks, the fertilization of flowers, the habits of bees, and a hundred other themes which fill the library of notebooks that he left.
Meanwhile, Cesare Borgia was getting a trifle impatient about the building of his forts. Two years had passed when Cesare and his father met with an accident not uncommon in those times. The precious pair had indulged in their Borgian specialty for the benefit of a certain cardinal, whom they did not warmly admire, though the plot seems to have been chiefly the work of Cesare. By mistake they drank the poisoned wine prepared for the cardinal, and the Pope was cut off amidst a life of usefulness, his son surviving for a worse fate. Pope Julius the Second coming upon the scene, speedily dispossessed the Borgias, and the idea of the new kingdom was abandoned.
Leonardo evidently did not go into mourning for the Pope. He had a bullock-cart loaded with specimens, sketches and notebooks, and he set to work to sort them out. He was very happy in this employment— being essentially a man of peace—and while he made forts and planned siege-guns he was a deal more interested in certain swallows that made nests and glued the work into a most curious and beautiful structure, and when the birds were old enough to fly, tore up the nest, pushing the wee birds out to "swim in the air" or perish.
I made some notes about Leonardo's bird observations in the back of that "Renaissance" book that White Pigeon appropriated. I can not recall just what they were—I think I'll hunt White Pigeon up the next time I am in Paris, and get the book back.
When that painstaking biographer, Arsene Houssaye, was endeavoring to fix the date of Leonardo da Vinci's birth, he interviewed a certain bishop, who waived the matter thus: "Surely what difference does it make, since he had no business to be born at all?"—a very Milesian-like reply. Houssaye is too sensible a man to waste words with the spiritually obese, and so merely answered in the language of Terence, "I am a man and nothing that is human is alien to me!"
The gentle Erasmus when a boy was once taunted by a schoolfellow with having "no name." And Erasmus replied, "Then, I'll make one for myself." And he did.
No record of Leonardo's birth exists, but the year is fixed upon in a very curious way. Caterina, his mother, was married one year after his birth. The date of this marriage is proven, and the fact that the son of Piero da Vinci was then a year old is also shown. As the marriage occurred in Fourteen Hundred Fifty-three, we simply go back one year and say that Leonardo da Vinci was born in Fourteen Hundred Fifty-two.
Most accounts say that Caterina was a servant in the Da Vinci family, but a later and seemingly more authentic writer informs us that she was a governess and a teacher of needlework. That her kinsmen hastened her marriage with the peasant, Vacca Accattabriga, seems quite certain: they sought to establish her in a respectable position. And so she acquiesced, and avoided society's displeasure, very much as Lord Bacon escaped disgrace by leaving "Hamlet" upon Shakespeare's doorstep.
This child of Caterina's found a warm welcome in the noble family of his father. From his babyhood he seems to have had the power of winning hearts—he came fresh from God and brought love with him. We even hear a little rustle of dissent from grandmother and aunts when his father, Piero da Vinci, married, and started housekeeping as did Benjamin Franklin "with a wife and a bouncing boy."
The charm of the child is again revealed in the fact that his stepmother treated him as her own babe, and lavished her love upon him even from her very wedding morn.
Perhaps the compliment should go to her, as well as to the child, for the woman whose heart goes out to another woman's babe is surely good quality. And this was the only taste of motherhood that this brave woman knew, for she passed out in a few months.
Fate decreed that Leonardo should have successively four stepmothers, and should live with all of them in happiness and harmony, for he always made his father's house his own.
Leonardo was the idol of his father and all these stepmothers. He had ten half-brothers, who alternately boasted of his kinship and flouted him. Yet nothing could seriously disturb the serenity of his mind. When his father died, without a will, the brothers sought to dispossess Leonardo of his rights, and we hear of a lawsuit, which was finally compromised. Yet note the magnanimity of Leonardo—in his will he leaves bequests to these brothers who had sought to undo him!
Of the life of the mother after her marriage we know nothing. There is a vague reference in Vasari's book to her "large family and growing cares," but whether she knew of her son's career, we can not say. Leonardo never mentions her, yet one writer has attempted to show that the rare beauty of that mysterious face shown in so many of Leonardo's pictures was modeled from the face of his mother.
No love-story comes to us in Leonardo's own life—he never married. Ventura suggests that "on account of his birth, he was indifferent to the divine institution of marriage." But this is pure conjecture. We know that his great contemporaries, Michelangelo, Raphael, Titian and Giorgione, never married; and we know further that there was a sentiment in the air at that time, that an artist belonged to the Church, and his life, like that of the priest, was sacred to her service.
Like Sir William Davenant, Leonardo was always proud of the mystery that surrounded his birth—it differentiated him from the mass, and placed him as one set apart. Well might he have used the language put into the mouth of Edmund in "King Lear." In one of Leonardo's manuscripts is found an interjected prayer of thankfulness for "the divinity of my birth, and the angels that have guarded my life and guided my feet"
This idea of "divinity" is strong in the mind of every great man. He recognizes his sonship, and claims his divine parentage. The man of masterly mind is perforce an Egotist. When he speaks he says, "Thus saith the Lord." If he did not believe in himself, how could he make others believe in him? Small men are apologetic and give excuses for being on earth, and reasons for staying here so long, and run and peek about to find themselves dishonorable graves. Not so the Great Souls—the fact that they are here is proof that God sent them. Their actions are regal, their language oracular, their manner affirmative. Leonardo's mental attitude was sublimely gracious—he had no grievance or quarrel with his Maker—he accepted life, and ever found it good. "We are all sons of God and it doth not yet appear what we shall be."
Philip Gilbert Hamerton, who wrote "The Intellectual Life," names Leonardo da Vinci as having lived the richest, fullest and best- rounded life of which we know. Yet while Leonardo lived, there also lived Shakespeare, Loyola, Cervantes, Columbus, Martin Luther, Savonarola, Erasmus, Michelangelo, Titian and Raphael. Titans all— giants in intellect and performance, doing and daring, and working such wonders as men never worked before: writing plays, without thought of posterity, that are today the mine from which men work their poetry; producing comedies that are classic; sailing trackless seas and discovering continents; tacking proclamations of defiance on church-doors; hunted and exiled for the right of honest speech; welcoming fierce flames of fagots; falling upon blocks of marble and liberating angels; painting pictures that have inspired millions! But not one touched life at so many points, or reveled so in existence, or was so captain of his soul as was Leonardo da Vinci.
Vasari calls him the "divinely endowed," "showered with the richest gifts as by celestial munificence" and speaks of his countenance thus: "The radiance of his face was so splendidly beautiful that it brought cheerfulness to the hearts of the most melancholy, and his presence was such that his lightest word would move the most obstinate to say 'Yes' or 'No.'"
Bandello, the story-teller who was made a Bishop on account of his peculiar talent, had the effrontery to put one of his worst stories, that about the adventures of Fra Lippo Lippi, into the mouth of Leonardo. This rough-cast tale, somewhat softened down and hand- polished, served for one of Browning's best-known poems. Had Bandello allowed Botticelli to tell the tale, it would have been much more in keeping. Leonardo's days were too full of work to permit of his indulging in the society of roysterers—his life was singularly dignified and upright.
When about twenty years old Leonardo was a fellow-student with Perugino in the bottega of good old Andrea del Verrocchio. It seems the master painted a group and gave Leonardo the task of drawing in one figure. Leonardo painted in an angel—an angel whose grace and subtle beauty stand out, even today, like a ray of light. The story runs that good old Verrocchio wept on first seeing it—wept unselfish tears of joy, touched with a very human pathos—his pupil had far surpassed him, and never again did Verrocchio attempt to paint.
In physical strength Leonardo surpassed all his comrades. "He could twist horseshoes between his fingers, bend bars of iron across his knees, disarm every adversary, and in wrestling, running, vaulting and swimming he had no equals. He was especially fond of horses, and in the joust often rode animals that had never before been ridden, winning prizes from the most daring." Brawn is usually purchased at the expense of brain, but not so in this case. Leonardo was the courtier and diplomat, and all the finer graces were in his keeping, even from boyhood. And a recent biographer has made the discovery that he was called from Florence to the Court of Milan "because he was such an adept harpist, playing and singing his own compositions."
Yet we have the letter written by Leonardo to the Duke of Milan, wherein he commends himself, and in humility tells of a few things he can do. This most precious document is now in the Ambrosian Library at Milan. After naming nine items in the way of constructing bridges, tunnels, canals, fortifications, the making of cannon, use of combustibles and explosives—known to him alone—he gets down to things of peace and says: "I believe I am equaled by no one in architecture in constructing public and private buildings, and in conducting water from one place to another. I can execute sculpture, whether in marble, bronze or terra cotta, and in drawing and painting I believe I can do as much as any other man, be he who he may. Further, I could engage to execute the bronze statue in memory of your honored father. And again, if any of the above-mentioned things should appear impossible or overstated, I am ready to make such performance in any place or at any time to prove to you my power. In humility I thus commend myself to your illustrious house, and am your servant, Leonardo da Vinci."
And the strange part of all this is that Leonardo could do all he claimed—or he might, if there were a hundred hours in a day and man did not grow old.
The things he predicted and planned have mostly been done. He knew the earth was round, and understood the orbits of the planets— Columbus knew no more. His scheme of building a canal from Pisa to Florence and diverting the waters of the Arno, was carried out exactly as he had planned, two hundred years after his death. He knew the expansive quality of steam, the right systems of dredging, the action of the tides, the proper use of levers, screws and cranes, and how immense weights could be raised and lowered. He placed a new foundation under a church that was sinking in the sand and elevated the whole stone structure several feet. But when Vasari seriously says he had a plan for moving mountains (aside from faith), I think we had better step aside and talk of other things.
And all this time that he was working at physics and mathematics, he was painting and modeling in clay, just for recreation.
Then behold the Duke of Milan, the ascetic and profligate, libertine and dreamer, hearing of him and sending straightway for Leonardo because he is "the most accomplished harpist in Italy"!
So Leonardo came and led the dance and the tourney, improvised songs and planned the fetes and festivals where strange animals turned into birds and gigantic flowers opened, disclosing beautiful girls.
Yet Leonardo found time to plan the equestrian statue of Francisco Sporza, the Duke's father, and finding the subject so interesting he took up the systematic study of the horse, and dived to the depths of horse anatomy in a way that no living man had done before. He dissected the horse, articulated the skeletons of different breeds for comparison, and then wrote a book upon the subject which is a textbook yet; and meanwhile he let the statue wait. He discovered that in the horse there are rudimentary muscles, and unused organs— the "water-stomach" for instance—thus showing that the horse evolved from a lower form of life—anticipating Darwin by three hundred years.
The Duke was interested in statues and pictures—what he called "results"—he didn't care for speculations or theories, and only a live horse that could run fast interested him. So to keep the peace, the gracious Leonardo painted portraits of the Duke's mistress, posing her as the Blessed Virgin, thus winning the royal favor and getting carte-blanche orders on the Keeper of the Exchequer. As a result of this Milan period we have the superb portrait, now in the Louvre, of Lucrezia Crivelli, who was supposed to be the favorite of the Duke.
But the Duke was a married man, and the good wife must be placated. She had turned to religion when her lover's love grew cold, just as women always do; and for her Leonardo painted the "Last Supper" in the dining-room of the monastery which was under her especial protection, and where she often dined.
The devout lady found much satisfaction in directing the work, which was to be rather general and simply decorative. But the heart of Leonardo warmed to the task and as he worked he planned the most famous painting in the world. All this time Leonardo had many pupils in painting and sculpture. Soon he founded the Milan Academy of Art. At odd times he made designs for the Duke's workers in silver and gold, drew patterns for the nuns to embroider from, and gave them and the assembled ladies, invited on the order of the Duke's wife, lessons in literature and the gentle art of writing poetry.
The Prior of the monastery watched the work of the "Last Supper" with impatient eyes. He had given up the room to the lumbering scaffolds, hoping to have all cleaned up and tidy in a month, come Michaelmas. But the month had passed and only blotches of color and black, curious outlines marred the walls. Once the Prior threatened to remove the lumber by force and wipe the walls clean, but Leonardo looked at him and he retreated.
Now he complained to the Duke about the slowness of the task. Leonardo worked alone, allowing no pupil or helper to touch the picture. Five good, lively men could do the job in a week—"I could do it myself, if allowed," the good Prior said. Often Leonardo would stand with folded arms and survey the work for an hour at a time and not lift a brush; the Prior had seen it all through the keyhole!
The Duke listened patiently and then summoned Leonardo. The painter's gracious speech soon convinced the Duke that men of genius do not work like hired laborers. This painting was to be a masterpiece, fit monument to a wise and virtuous ruler. So consummate a performance must not be hastened; besides there was no one to pose for either the head of Christ or of Judas. The Christ must be ideal and the face could only be conjured forth from the painter's own soul, in moments of inspiration. As for Judas, "Why, if nothing better can be found—and I doubt it much—I believe I will take as model for Judas our friend the Prior!" And Leonardo turned to the Prior, who fled and never again showed his face in the room until the picture was finished.
The Prior's complaint, that Leonardo had too many irons in the fire, was the universal cry the groundlings raised against him. "He begins things, but never completes them," they said.
The man of genius conceives things; the man of talent carries them forward to completion. This the critics did not know. It is too much to expect the equal balance of genius and talent in one individual. Leonardo had great talent, but his genius outstripped it, for he planned what twenty lifetimes could not complete. He was indeed the endless experimenter—his was in very truth the Experimental Life. His incentive was self-development—to conceive was enough—common men could complete. To try many things means Power: to finish a few is Immortality.
God's masterpiece is the human face. A woman's smile may have in it more sublimity than a sunset; more pathos than a battle-scarred landscape; more warmth than the sun's bright ray; more love than words can say.
The human face is the masterpiece of God.
The eyes reveal the soul, the mouth the flesh, the chin stands for purpose, the nose means will. But over and behind all is that fleeting Something we call "expression." This Something is not set or fixed, it is fluid as the ether, changeful as the clouds that move in mysterious majesty across the surface of a summer sky, subtle as the sob of rustling leaves—too faint at times for human ears—elusive as the ripples that play hide-and-seek over the bosom of a placid lake.
And yet men have caught expression and held it captive. On the walls of the Louvre hangs the "Mona Lisa" of Leonardo da Vinci. This picture has been for four hundred years an exasperation and an inspiration to every portrait-painter who has put brush to palette. Well does Walter Pater call it, "The Despair of Painters." The artist was over fifty years of age when he began the work, and he was four years in completing the task.
Completing, did I say? Leonardo's dying regret was that he had not completed this picture. And yet we might say of it, as Ruskin said of Turner's work, "By no conceivable stretch of imagination can we say where this picture could be bettered or improved upon."
Leonardo did not paint this portrait for the woman who sat for it, nor for the woman's husband, who we know was not interested in the matter. The painter made the picture for himself, but succumbing to temptation, sold it to the King of France for a sum equal to something over eighty thousand dollars—an enormous amount at that time to be paid for a single canvas. The picture was not for sale, which accounts for the tremendous price that it brought.
Unlike so many other works attributed to Leonardo, no doubt exists as to the authenticity of "La Gioconda." The correspondence relative to its sale yet exists, and even the voucher proving its payment may still be seen. Fate and fortune have guarded the "Mona Lisa"; and neither thief nor vandal, nor impious infidel nor unappreciative stupidity, nor time itself has done it harm. France bought the picture; France has always owned and housed it; it still belongs to France.
We call the "Mona Lisa" a portrait, and we have been told how La Gioconda sat for the picture, and how the artist invented ways of amusing her, by stories, recitations, the luring strain of hidden lutes, and strange flowers and rare pictures brought in as surprises to animate and cheer.
That Leonardo loved this woman we are sure, and that their friendship was close and intimate the world has guessed; but the picture is not her portrait—it is himself whom the artist reveals.
Away back in his youth, when Leonardo was a student with Verrocchio, he gave us glimpses of this same face. He showed this woman's mysterious smile in the Madonna, in Saint Anne, Mary Magdalen, and the outlines of the features are suggested in the Christ and the Saint John of the "Last Supper." But not until La Gioconda had posed for him did the consummate beauty and mysterious intellect of this ideal countenance find expression.
There is in the face all you can read into it, and nothing more. It gives you what you bring, and nothing else. It is as silent as the lips of Memnon, as voiceless as the Sphinx. It suggests to you every joy that you have ever felt, every sorrow you have ever known, every triumph you have ever experienced.
This woman is beautiful, just as all life is beautiful when we are in health. She has no quarrel with the world—she loves and she is loved again. No vain longing fills her heart, no feverish unrest disturbs her dreams, for her no crouching fear haunts the passing hours—that ineffable smile which plays around her mouth says plainly that life is good. And yet the circles about the eyes and the drooping lids hint of world-weariness, and speak the message of Koheleth and say, "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity."
La Gioconda is infinitely wise, for she has lived. That supreme poise is only possible to one who knows. All the experiences and emotions of manifold existence have etched and molded that form and face until the body has become the perfect instrument of the soul.
Like every piece of intense personality, this picture has power both to repel and to attract. To this woman nothing is either necessarily good or bad. She has known strange woodland loves in far-off eons when the world was young. She is familiar with the nights and days of Cleopatra, for they were hers—the lavish luxury, the animalism of a soul on fire, the smoke of curious incense that brought poppy- like repose, the satiety that sickens—all these were her portion; the sting of the asp yet lingers in her memory, and the faint scar from its fangs is upon her white breast, known and wondered at by Leonardo who loved her. Back of her stretches her life, a mysterious, purple shadow. Do you not see the palaces turned to dust, the broken columns, the sunken treasures, the creeping mosses and the rank ooze of fretted waters that have undermined cities and turned kingdoms into desert seas? The galleys of Pagan Greece have swung wide for her on the unforgetting tide, for her soul dwelt in the body of Helen of Troy, and Pallas Athene has followed her ways and whispered to her the secrets even of the gods.
Aye! not only was she Helen, but she was Leda, the mother of Helen. Then she was Saint Anne, mother of Mary; and next she was Mary, visited by an Angel in a dream, and followed by the Wise Men who had seen the Star in the East.
The centuries, that are but thoughts, found her a Vestal Virgin in Pagan Rome when brutes were kings, and lust stalked rampant through the streets. She was the bride of Christ, and her fair, frail body was flung to the wild beasts, and torn limb from limb while the multitude feasted on the sight.
True to the central impulse of her soul the Dark Ages rightly called her Cecilia, and then Saint Cecilia, mother of sacred music, and later she ministered to men as Melania, the Nun of Tagaste; next as that daughter of William the Conqueror, the Sister of Charity who went throughout Italy, Spain and France and taught the women of the nunneries how to sew, to weave, to embroider, to illuminate books, and make beauty, truth and harmony manifest to human eyes. And so this Lady of the Beautiful Hands stood to Leonardo as the embodiment of a perpetual life; moving in a constantly ascending scale, gathering wisdom, graciousness, love, even as he himself in this life met every experience halfway and counted it joy, knowing that experience is the germ of power. Life writes its history upon the face, so that all those who have had a like experience read and understand. The human face is the masterpiece of God.
In Leonardo's "Treatise on Painting," only one contemporary is named—Sandro Botticelli.... The Pagan and Christian world mingle in the work of Botticelli; but the man himself belonged to an age that is past and gone—an age that flourished long before men recorded history. His best efforts seem to spring out of a heart that forgot all precedent, and arose, Venus-like, perfect and complete, from the unfathomable Sea of Existence. —Walter Pater
One Professor Max Lautner has recently placed a small petard under the European world of Art, and given it a hoist to starboard, by asserting that Rembrandt did not paint Rembrandt's best pictures. The Professor makes his point luminous by a cryptogram he has invented and for which he has filed a caveat. It is a very useful cryptogram; no well-regulated family should be without it—for by it you can prove any proposition you may make, even to establishing that Hopkinson Smith is America's only stylist. My opinion is that this cryptogram is an infringement on that of our lamented countryman, Ignatius Donnelly.
But letting that pass, the statement that Rembrandt could not have painted the pictures that are ascribed to him, "because the man was low, vulgar and untaught," commands respect on account of the extreme crudity of the thought involved. Lautner is so dull that he is entertaining.
"I have the capacity in me for every crime," wrote that gentlest of gentle men, Ralph Waldo Emerson. Of course he hadn't, and in making this assertion Emerson pulled toward him a little more credit than was his due. That is, he overstated a great classic truth.
"If Rembrandt painted the 'Christ at Emmaus' and the 'Sortie of the Civic Guard,' then Rembrandt had two souls," exclaims Professor Lautner.
And the simple answer of Emerson would have been, "He had."
That is just the difference between Rembrandt and Professor Lautner. Lautner has one flat, dead-level, unprofitable soul that neither soars high nor dives deep; and his mind reasons unobjectionable things out syllogistically, in a manner perfectly inconsequential. He is icily regular, splendidly null.
Every man measures others by himself—he has only one standard. When a man ridicules certain traits in other men, he ridicules himself. How would he know that other men were contemptible, did he not look into his own heart and there see the hateful things? Thackeray wrote his book on Snobs, because he was a Snob—which is not to say that he was a Snob all the time. When you recognize a thing, good or bad, in the outside world, it is because it was yours already.
"I carry the world in my heart," said the Prophet of old. All the universe you have is the universe you have within.
Old Walt Whitman, when he saw the wounded soldier, exclaimed, "I am that man!" And two thousand years before this, Terence said, "I am a man, and nothing that is human is alien to me."
I know just why Professor Lautner believes that Rembrandt never could have painted a picture with a deep, tender, subtle and spiritual significance. Professor Lautner averages fairly well, he labors hard to be consistent, but his thought gamut runs just from Bottom the weaver to Dogberry the judge. He is a cauliflower—that is to say, a cabbage with a college education.
Yes, I understand him, because for most of the time I myself am supremely dull, childishly dogmatic, beautifully self-complacent.
I am Lautner.
Lautner says that Rembrandt was "untaught," and Donnelly said the same of Shakespeare, and each critic gives this as a reason why the man could not have done a sublime performance. Yet since "Hamlet" was never equaled, who could have taught its author how? And since Rembrandt at his best was never surpassed, who could have instructed him?
Rembrandt sold his wife's wedding-garments, and spent the money for strong drink.
The woman was dead.
And then there came to him days of anguish, and nights of grim, grinding pain. He paced the echoing halls, as did Robert Browning after the death of Elizabeth Barrett when he cried aloud, "I want her! I want her!". The cold gray light of morning came creeping into the sky. Rembrandt was fevered, restless, sleepless. He sat by the window and watched the day unfold. And as he sat there looking out to the east, the light of love gradually drove the darkness from his heart. He grew strangely calm—he listened, he thought he heard the rustle of a woman's garments; he caught the smell of her hair—he imagined Saskia was at his elbow. He took up the palette and brushes that for weeks had lain idle, and he outlined the "Christ at Emmaus"—the gentle, loving, sympathetic Christ—the worn, emaciated, thorn-crowned, bleeding Christ, whom the Pharisees misunderstood, and the soldiers spat upon.
Don't you know how Rembrandt painted the "Christ at Emmaus"? I do. I am that man.
Shortly after Sandro Botticelli had painted that distinctly pagan picture, "The Birth of Venus," he equalized matters, eased conscience and silenced the critics, by producing a beautiful Madonna, surrounded by a circle of singing angels. Yet George Eliot writes that there were wiseacres who shook their heads and said: "This Madonna is the work of some good monk—only a man who is deeply religious could put that look of exquisite tenderness and sympathy in a woman's face. Some one is trying to save Sandro's reputation, and win him back from his wayward ways."
In the lives of Botticelli and Rembrandt there is a close similarity. In temperament as well as in experience they seem to parallel each other. In boyhood Botticelli and Rembrandt were dull, perverse, wilful. Both were given up by teachers and parents as hopelessly handicapped by stupidity. Botticelli's father, seeing that the boy made no progress at school, apprenticed him to a metalworker. The lad showed the esteem in which he held his parent by dropping the family name of Filipepi and assuming the name of Botticelli, the name of his employer.
Rembrandt's father thought his boy might make a fair miller, but beyond this his ambition never soared. Botticelli and Rembrandt were splendid animals. The many pictures of Rembrandt, painted by himself, show great physical vigor and vital power.
The picture of Botticelli, by himself, in the "Adoration of the Magi," reveals a powerful physique and a striking personality. The man is as fine as an Aztec, as strong and self-reliant as a cliff- dweller. Character and habit are revealed in the jaw—the teeth of the Aztecs were made to grind corn in the kernel, and as long as they continued grinding dried corn in the kernel, they had good teeth. Dentists were not required until men began to feed on mush.
Botticelli had broad, strong, square jaws, wide nostrils, full lips, large eyes set wide apart, forehead rather low and sloping, and a columnar neck that rose right out of his spine. A man with such a neck can "stand punishment"—and give it. Such a neck is only seen once in a thousand times. Men with such necks have been mothered by women who bore burdens balanced on their heads, boycotted the corsetier, and eschewed all deadly French heels.
Do you know the face of Oliver Goldsmith, the droop of the head, the receding chin and the bulging forehead? Well, Botticelli's face was the antithesis of this.
Most of the truly great artists have been men of this Stone Age— quality men who dared. Michelangelo was the pure type: Titian who lived a century (lacking one year) was another. Leonardo was the same fine savage (who in some miraculous way also possessed the grace of a courtier). Franz Hals, Van Dyck, Rembrandt and Botticelli were all men of fierce appetites and heroic physiques. They had animality plus that would have carried them across the century-mark, had they not drawn checks on futurity, in a belief that their bank- balance was unlimited.
Botticelli and Rembrandt kept step in their history, both receiving instant recognition in early life and becoming rich. Then fashion and society turned against them—the tide of popularity began to ebb. One reinforced his genius with strong drink, and the other became intoxicated with religious enthusiasm. Finally, both begged alms in the public streets; and the bones of each filled a pauper's grave.
Ruskin unearthed Botticelli (Just as he discovered Turner), and gave him to the Preraphaelites, who fell down and worshiped him. Whether we would have had Burne-Jones without Botticelli is a grave question, and anyway it would have been another Burne-Jones. There would have been no processions of tall, lissome, melancholy beauties wending their way to nowhere, were it not for the "Spring." Ruskin held up the picture, and the Preraphaelites got them to their easels. At once all original "Botticellis" were gotten out, "restored" and reframed. The prices doubled, trebled, quadrupled, as the brokers scoured Europe. By the year Eighteen Hundred Eighty-six every "Botticelli" had found a home in some public institution or gallery, and no lure of gold could bring one forth.
At Yale University there is a modest collection of good pictures. Among them is a "Botticelli": not a great picture like the "Crowned Madonna" of the Uffizi, or "The Nativity" of the National Gallery, but still a picture painted by Sandro Botticelli, beyond a doubt. Recently, J. Pierpont Morgan, alumnus of Harvard, conceived the idea that the "Botticelli" at Yale would look quite as well and be safer if it were hung on the walls of the new granite fireproof Art- Gallery at Cambridge. Accordingly, he dispatched an agent to New Haven to buy the "Botticelli." The agent offered fifty thousand dollars, seventy-five, one hundred—no. Then he proposed to build Yale a new art-gallery and stock it with Pan-American pictures, all complete, in exchange for that little, insignificant and faded "Botticelli.". But no trade was consummated, and on the walls of Yale the picture still hangs. Each night a cot is carried in and placed beneath the picture. And there a watchman sleeps and dreams of that portrait of the Duchess of Devonshire by Gainsborough, stolen from its frame, lost for a quarter of a century, and then rescued by one Colonel Patrick Sheedy (philanthropist and friend of art), for a consideration, and sold to J. Pierpont Morgan, alumnus of Harvard (and a very alert, alive and active man).
A short time ago, there shot across the artistic firmament a comet of daring and dazzling brightness. Every comet is hurling onward to its death: destruction is its only end: and upon each line and tracery of the work of Aubrey Beardsley is the taint of decay.
To deny the genius of the man were vain—he had elements in his character that made him akin to Keats, Shelley, Burns, Byron, Chopin and Stephen Crane. With these his name will in brotherhood be forever linked. He was one made to suffer, sin and die—a few short summers, and autumn came with yellow leaves and he was gone. And the principal legacy he left us is the thought of wonder as to what he might have been had he only lived!
Aubrey Beardsley's art was the art of the ugly. His countenances are so repulsive that they attract. The psychology of the looks, and leers, and grins, and hot, hectic desires on the faces of his women is a puzzle that we can not lay aside—we want to solve the riddle of this paradox of existence—the woman whose soul is mire and whose heart is hell. Many men have tried to fathom it at close range, but we devise a safer plan and follow the trail in books, art and imagination. Art shows you the thing you might have done or been. Burke says the ugly attracts us, because we congratulate ourselves that we are not it.
The Madonna pictures, multiplied without end, stand for peace, faith, hope, trustfulness and love. All that is fairest, holiest, purest, noblest, best, men have tried to portray in the face of the Madonna. All the good that is in the hearts of all the good women they know, all the good that is in their own hearts, they have made to shine forth from the "Mother of God." Woman has been the symbol of righteousness and faith.
On the other hand, it was a woman—Louise de la Ramee—who said, "Woman is the instrument of lust." Saint Chrysostom wrote, "She is the snare the Devil uses to lure men to their doom." I am not quite ready to accept the dictum of that old, old story that it was the woman who collaborated with the serpent and first introduced sin and sorrow into the world. Or, should I believe this, I wish to give woman due credit for giving to man the Fruit of the Tree of Knowledge—the best gift that ever came his way. But the first thought holds true in a poetic way: it has always been, is yet, and always will be true, that the very depths of degradation are sounded only by woman. As poets, painters and sculptors have ever chosen a woman to stand for what is best in humanity, so she has posed as their model when they wanted to reveal the worst.
This desire to depict villainy on a human face seems to have found its highest modern exponent in Aubrey Beardsley. With him man is an animal, and woman a beast. Aye, she is worse than a beast—she is a vampire. Kipling's summing up of woman as "a rag and a bone and a hank of hair" gives no clue to the possibilities in way of subtle, reckless reaches of deviltry compared with a single, simple, outline drawing by Beardsley. Beardsley's heroines are the kind of women who can kill a man with a million pin-pricks, so diabolically, subtly and slyly administered that no one but the victim would be aware of the martyrdom—and he could not explain it.
As you enter the main gallery of statuary at the Luxembourg, you will see, on a slightly raised platform, at the opposite end of the room, the nude figure of a man. The mold is heroic, and the strong pose at once attracts your attention. As you approach closer you will see, standing behind the man, the figure of a woman. Her form is elevated so she is leaning over him and her face is turned so her lips are about to be pressed upon his. You approach still closer, and a feeling of horror flashes through you—you see that the beautiful arms of the woman end in hairy claws. The claws embrace the man in deadly grasp, and are digging deep into his vitals. On his face is a look of fearful pain, and every splendid muscle is tense with awful agony.
Now, if you do as I did, you will suddenly turn and go out into the fresh air—the fearful realism of the marble will for the moment unnerve you.
This is the piece of statuary that gave Philip Burne-Jones the cue for his painting, "The Vampire," which picture suggested the poem, by the same name, to Rudyard Kipling.
Aubrey Beardsley gloated on the Vampire—she was the sole goddess of his idolatry.
No wonder it was that the story of Salome attracted him! Salome was a woman so wantonly depraved that Beardsley, with a touch of pious hypocrisy, said he dared not use her for dramatic purposes, save for the fact that she was a Bible character.
You remember the story: John the Baptist, the strong, fine youth, came up out of the wilderness crying in the streets of Jerusalem, "Repent ye! Repent ye!" Salome heard the call and looked upon the semi-naked young fanatic from her window, with half-closed, catlike eyes. She smiled, did this idle creature of luxury, as she lay there amid the cushions on her couch, arid gazed through the casement upon the preacher in the street. Suddenly a thought came to her! She arose on her elbow—she called her slaves.
They clothed her in a gaudy gown, dressed her hair, and led her forth.
Salome followed the wild, weird, religious enthusiast. She pushed through the crowd and placed herself near the man, so the smell of her body would reach his nostrils, and his eyes would range the swelling lines of her body.
Their eyes met. She half-smiled and gave him that look which had snared the soul of many another. But he only gazed at her with passionless, judging intensity, and repeated his cry, "Repent ye, Repent ye, for the day is at hand!"
Her reply, uttered soft and low, was this: "I would kiss thy lips!"
He turned away and she reached to seize his garment, repeating, "I would kiss thy lips—I would kiss thy lips!" He turned aside and forgot her, as he continued his warning cry, and went his way.
The next day she waylaid the youth again; as he came near she suddenly and softly stepped forth and said in that same low voice, "I would kiss thy lips!"
He repulsed her with scorn. She threw her arms about him and sought to draw his head down near hers. He pushed her from him with sinewy hands, sprang as from a pestilence, and was lost in the pressing throng.
That night she danced before Herod Antipas, and when the promise was recalled that she should have anything she wished, she named the head of the only man who had ever turned away from her—"The head of John the Baptist on a charger!"
In an hour the wish is gratified. Two eunuchs stand before Salome with a silver tray bearing its fearsome burden. The woman smiles—a smile of triumph—as she steps forth with tinkling feet. A look of pride comes over the painted face. Her jeweled fingers reach into the blood-matted hair. She lifts the head aloft, and the bracelets on her brown, bare arms fall to her shoulders, making strange music. Her face presses the face of the dead. In exultation she exclaims, "I have kissed thy lips!"
The most famous picture by Botticelli is the "Spring," now in the Academy at Florence. The picture has given rise to endless inquiry, and the explanation was made in the artist's day, and is still made, that it was painted to illustrate a certain passage in Lucretius. This innocent little subterfuge of giving a classic turn to things in art and literature has allowed many a man to shield his reputation and gloss his good name. When Art relied upon the protecting wing of the Church, the poet-painters called their risky little things, "Susannah and the Elders," "The Wife of Uriah," or "Pharaoh's Daughter." Lucas van Leyden once pictured a Dutch wench with such startling and realistic fidelity that he scandalized a whole community, until he labeled the picture, "Potiphar's Wife."
When the taste for the classics began to be cultivated, we had "Leda and the Swan," "Psyche," "Phryne Before the Judges," "Aphrodite Rising From the Sea," and, later, England experienced quite an artistic eruption of Lady Godivas. Literature is filled with many such naive little disguises as "Sonnets From the Portuguese," and Robert Browning himself caught the idea and put many a maxim into the mouth of another, for which he preferred not to stand sponsor.
Botticelli painted the "Spring" for Lorenzo the Magnificent, to be placed in the Medici villa at Castello. The picture, it will be remembered, represents seven female figures, a flying cupid, and a youth. The youth is a young man of splendid proportions; he stands in calm indifference with his back to the sparsely clad beauties, and reaches into the branches of a tree for the plenteous fruit. This youth is a composite portrait of Botticelli and his benefactor, Lorenzo. The women were painted from life, and represent various favorites and beauties of the court. The drawing is faulty, the center of gravity being lost in several of the figures, and the anatomy is of a quality that must have given a severe shock to the artist's friend, Leonardo. Yet the grace, the movement and the joyous quality of Spring are in it all. It is a most fascinating picture, and we can well imagine the flutter it produced when first exhibited four hundred years ago.
Two figures in the picture challenge attention. One of these represents approaching maternity—a most daring thing to attempt. This feature seems to belong to the School of Hogarth alone—a school which, let us pray, is hopelessly dead.
Cimabue and several of his pupils painted realistic pictures representing Mary visiting Elizabeth, but the intense religious zeal back of them was a salt that saved from offending. Occasionally, the staid and sober Dutch successfully attempted the same theme, and their stolidity stood for them as religious zeal had done for the early Italians—we pardon them simply because they knew no better than to choose a subject that is beyond the realm of art.
The restorers and engravers have softened down Botticelli's intent, which was originally well defined, but we can easily see that the effect was delicate and spiritual. The woman's downcast gaze is full of tenderness and truth. That figure when it was painted was history, and must have had a very tender interest for two persons at least. Had the painter dared to suggest motherhood in that other figure—the one with the flowered raiment—he would have offended against decency, and the art-sense of the world would have stricken his name from the roster of fame forever, and made him anathema. More has been written and said, and more copies made of that woman in the flowered dress in the "Spring" than of any other portrait I can remember, save possibly the "Mona Lisa."
The face is not without a certain attractiveness; the high cheek- bones, the narrow forehead, and the lines above her brow show that this is no ideal sketch—it is the portrait of a woman who once lived. But the peculiar mark of depravity is the eye: this woman looks at you with a cold, calm, calculating, brazen leer. Hidden in the folds of her dress or in the coil of her hair is a stiletto—she can find it in an instant—and as she looks at you out of those impudent eyes, she is mentally searching out your most vulnerable spot. In this woman's face there is an entire absence of wonder, curiosity, modesty or passion. All that we call the eternally feminine is obliterated.
"Mona Lisa" is infinitely wise, while this woman is only cunning. All the lure she possesses is the lure of warm, pulsing youth—grown old she will be a repulsive hag. Speculation has made her one of the Borgias, for in the days of Botticelli a Borgia was Pope, and Cesare Borgia and his court were well known to Botticelli—from such a group he could have picked his model, if anywhere. Ruskin has linked this unknown wicked beauty with Machiavelli. But Machiavelli had a head that outmatched hers, and he would certainly have left her to the fool moths that fluttered around her candle. Machiavelli used women, and this woman has only one ambition, and that is to use men. She represents concrete selfishness—the mother-instinct swallowed up in pride, and conscience smothered by hate. Certainly sex is not dead in her, but it is perverted below the brute. Her passion would be so intense and fierce that even as she caressed her lover, with arm about his neck, she would feel softly for his jugular, mindful the while of the stiletto hidden in her hair. And this is the picture that fired the brain of Aubrey Beardsley, and caused him to fix his ambition on becoming the Apostle of the Ugly.
To liken Beardsley to Botticelli, however, seems indeed a sin. The master was an artist, but Beardsley only gave chalk talks. His work is often crude, rude and raw. He is only a promise, turned to dust. Yet let the simple fact stand for what it is worth, that Beardsley had but one god, and that was Botticelli. Most of the things Beardsley did were ugly; many of the things Botticelli did were supremely beautiful.