RENAISSANCE FANCIES AND STUDIES:
BEING A SEQUEL TO EUPHORION
BY VERNON LEE
LONDON SMITH, ELDER, & CO., 15 WATERLOO PLACE 1895
[All rights reserved]
Printed by BALLANTYNE, HANSON & CO. At the Ballantyne Press
MY DEAR FRIENDS MARIA AND PIER DESIDERIO PASOLINI
These essays being mainly the outcome of direct personal impressions of certain works of art and literature, and of the places in which they were produced, I have but few acknowledgments to make to the authors of books treating of the same subject. Among the exceptions to this rule, I must mention foremost Professor Tocco's Eresia nel Medio Evo, Monsieur Gebhart's Italie Mystique, and Monsieur Paul Sabatier's St. Francois d'Assise.
I am, on the other hand, very deeply indebted to the conversation and advice of certain among my friends, for furnishing me second-hand a little of that archaeological and critical knowledge which is now-a-days quite unattainable save by highly trained specialists. My best thanks, therefore, to Miss Eugenie Sellers, editor of Furtwaengler's "Masterpieces of Greek Sculpture;" to Mr. Bernhard Berenson, author of "Venetian Painters," and a monograph on Lorenzo Lotto; and particularly to my friend Mrs. Mary Logan, whose learned catalogue of the Italian paintings at Hampton Court is sufficient warrant for the correctness of my art-historical statements, which she has had the kindness to revise.
MAIANO, NEAR FLORENCE,
THE LOVE OF THE SAINTS 1
THE IMAGINATIVE ART OF THE RENAISSANCE 65
TUSCAN SCULPTURE 135
A SEEKER OF PAGAN PERFECTION, BEING THE LIFE OF DOMENICO NERONI, PICTOR SACRILEGUS 163
THE LOVE OF THE SAINTS
"Panis Angelicus fit panis hominum. O res mirabilis, manducat Dominum Pauper, Servus et Humilis." These words of the Matins of the Most Holy Sacrament I heard for the first time many years ago, to the beautiful and inappropriate music of Cherubini. They struck me at that time as foolish, barbarous, and almost gross; but since then I have learned to think of them, and in a measure to feel of them, as of something greater and more solemn than all the music that Cherubini ever wrote.
All the hymns of the same date are, indeed, things to think upon. They affect one—the "Stabat Mater," for instance, and the "Ave Verum"—very much in the same way as the figures which stare down, dingy green and blue, from the gold of the Cosmati's mosaics: childish, dreary, all stiff and agape, but so solemn and pathetic, and full of the greatest future. For out of those Cosmati mosaics, and those barbarous frescoes of the old basilicas, will come Giotto and all the Renaissance; and out of those Church songs will come Dante; they are all signs, poor primitive rhymes and primitive figures, that the world is teeming again, and will bear, for centuries to come, new spiritual wonders. Hence the importance, the venerableness of all those mediaeval hymns. But of none so much, to my mind, as of those words I have quoted from the Matins of the Most Holy Sacrament—
"O res mirabilis, manducat Dominum, Pauper, Servus et Humilis."
For their crude and pathetic literality, their image of the Godhead actually giving Himself, as they emphatically say, to be chewed by the poor and humble man and the serf, show them to have been most especially born, abortions though they be, in the mightiest throes of mystical feeling, after the incubation of whole nations, born of the great mediaeval marriage, sublime, grotesque, morbid, yet health-bringing, between abstract idealising religious thought and the earthly affections of lovers and parents—a strange marriage, like that of St. Francis and Poverty, of which the modern soul also had to be born anew.
Indeed, if we realise in the least what this hymn must have meant, shouted in the processions of Flagellants, chaunted in the Pacts of Peace after internecine town wars; above all, perhaps, muttered in the cell of the friar, in the den of the weaver; if we sum up, however inadequately, the state of things whence it arose, and whence it helped to deliver us, we may think that the greatest music is scarcely reverent enough to accompany these poor blundering rhymes.
The Feast of the Most Holy Sacrament, to whose liturgy this hymn, "O Res Mirabilis," belongs, was instituted to commemorate the miracle of Bolsena, which, coming late as it did, in the country of St. Francis, and within two years of the birth of Dante, seems in its significant coincidences, in its startling symbolism, the fit material summing up of what is conveniently designated as the Franciscan revival: the introduction into religious matters of passionate human emotion. For in the year 1263, at Bolsena in Umbria, the consecrated wafer dropped blood upon the hands of an unbelieving priest.
This trickery of a single individual, or more probably hallucination—this lie and self-delusion of interested or foolish bystanders—just happened to symbolise a very great reality. For during the earlier Middle Ages, before the coming of Francis of Assisi, the souls of men, or, more properly, their hearts, had been sorely troubled and jeopardised.
The mixture of races and civilisations, southern and northern and eastern, antique and barbarian, which had been slowly taking place ever since the fall of the Roman Empire, had seemed, in its consummation of the twelfth century, less fertile on the whole than poisonous. The old tribal system, the old civic system, triumphant centralising imperialism, had all been broken up long since; and now feudalism was going to pieces in its turn, leaving a chaos of filibustering princelets, among whom loomed the equivocal figures of Provencal counts, of Angevin and Swabian kings, brutal as men of the North, and lax as men of the South; moreover, suspiciously oriental; brilliant and cynical persons, eventually to be typified in Frederick II., who was judiciously suspected of being Antichrist in person. In the midst of this anarchy, over-rapid industrial development had moreover begotten the tendencies to promiscuity, to mystical communism, always expressive of deep popular misery. The Holy Land had become a freebooter's Eldorado; the defenders of Christ's sepulchre were turned half-Saracen, infected with unclean mixtures of creeds. Theology was divided between neo-Aristotelean logic, abstract and arid, and Alexandrian esoteric mysticism, quietistic, nay, nihilistic; and the Church had ceased to answer to any spiritual wants of the people. Meanwhile, on all sides everywhere, heresies were teeming, austere and equivocal, pure and unclean according to individuals, but all of them anarchical, and therefore destructive at a moment when, above all, order and discipline were wanted. The belief in the world's end, in the speedy coming of Antichrist and the Messiah, was rife among all sects; and learned men, the disciples of Joachim of Flora, were busy calculating the very year and month. Lombardy, and most probably the south of France, Flanders and the Rhine towns, were full of strange Manichean theosophies, pessimistic dualism of God and devil, in which God always got the worst of it, when God did not happen to be the devil himself. The ravening lions, the clawing, tearing griffins, the nightmare brood carved on the capitals, porches, and pulpits of pre-Franciscan churches, are surely not, as orthodox antiquarians assure us, mere fanciful symbols of the Church's vigilance and virtues: they express too well the far-spread occult Manichean spirit, the belief in a triumphant power of evil.
Michelet, I think, has remarked that there was a moment in the early Middle Ages when, in the mixture of all contrary things, in the very excess of spiritual movement, there seemed a possibility of dead level, of stagnation, of the peoples of Europe becoming perhaps bastard Saracens, as in Merovingian times they had become bastard Romans; a chance of Byzantinism in the West. Be this as it may, it seems certain that, towards the end of the twelfth century, men's souls were shaken, crumbling, and what was worse, excessively arid. There was as little certainty of salvation as in the heart of that Priest saying Mass at Bolsena; but the miracle came to mankind at large some seventy years before it came to him. It had begun, no doubt, unnoticed in scores of obscure heresies, in hundreds of unnoticed individuals; it became manifest to all the world in the persons of Dominick, of Elizabeth of Hungary, of King Lewis—above all, of Francis of Assisi. As in the hands of the doubting priest, so in the hands of all suffering mankind, the mystic wafer broke, proving itself true food for the soul: the life-blood of hope and love welled forth and fertilised the world. For the second time, and in far more humble and efficacious way, Christ had been given to man.
To absorb the Eternal Love, to feed on the Life of the World, to make oneself consubstantial therewith, these passionate joys of poor mediaeval humanity are such as we should contemplate with sympathy only and respect, even when the miracle is conceived and felt in the grossest, least spiritual manner. That act of material assimilation, that feeding off the very Godhead in most literal manner, as described in the hymn to the Most Holy Sacrament, was symbolic of the return from exile of the long-persecuted instincts of mankind. It meant that, spiritually or grossly, each according to his nature, men had cast fear behind them, and—O res mirabilis!—grown proud once more to love.
Of this new wonder—questionable enough at times, but, on the whole, marvellously beneficent—the German knightly poets, so early in the field, are naturally among the earliest (for the Provencals belonged to a sceptical, sensual country) to give us a written record. Nearly all of the Minnesingers composed what we must call religious erotics, in no way different, save for names of Christ and the Virgin, from their most impassioned secular ones. The Song of Solomon, therefore, is one of the few pieces of written literature of which we find constant traces in the works of these very literally illiterate poets. Yet the quality of their love, if one may say so, is very different from anything Hebrew, or, for the matter of that, Greek or Roman; their ardour is not a transient phenomenon which disturbs them, like that of the Shulamite, or the lover described by Sappho or Plato, but a chief business of their life, as in the case of Dante, of Petrarch, of Francesca and Paolo, or Tristram and Yseult. Indeed, it is difficult to guess whether this self-satisfied, self-glorifying quality, which distinguishes mediaeval passion from the passion (always regarded as an interlude, harmless or hurtful, in civic concerns) of unromantic Antiquity—whether, I say, this peculiarity of mediaeval love is due to its having served for religious as well as for secular use, or whether the possibility of its being brought into connection with the highest mysteries and aspirations was not itself a result of the dignity in which mere earthly ardours had come to be held. Be this as it may, these German devotional rhapsodies display their essentially un-Hebrew, un-antique characters only the more by the traces of the canticus canticorum in them, as in all devout love lyrics.
Any one curious in such matters may turn to a very striking poem by Dante's contemporary, Frauenlob, in Von der Hagen's great collection. Also to a very strange composition, from the heyday of minne-song, by Heinrich von Meissen. This is not the furious love ode, but the ceremonious epithalamium of devotional poetry. It is the bearing in triumph, among flare of torches and incense smoke, over flower-strewn streets and beneath triumphal arches, of the Bride of the Soul, her enthroning on a stately couch, like some new-wed Moorish woman, for men to come and covet and admire. Above all, and giving one a shock of surprise by association with the man's other work, is a very long and elaborate poem addressed to Christ or God by no less a minnesinger than Master Gottfried of Strasburg. In it the Beloved is compared to all the things desired by eye or ear or taste or smell: cool water and fruit slaking feverish thirst, lilies with vertiginous scent, wine firing the blood, music wakening tears, precious stones of Augsburger merchants, essences and spices of an Eastern cargo:—
"Ach herzen Trut, genaden vol, Ach wol u je mer mere wol, Ein suez in Arzenie Ach herzen bruch, ach herzen not. Ach Rose rot, Ach rose wandels vrie! Ach jugend in jugent, ach jugender Muot, Ach bluejender herzen Minne!"
And so on for pages; the sort of words which poor Brangwain may have overheard on the calm sea, when the terrible knowledge rushed cold to her heart that Tristram and Yseult had drained the fatal potion.
All this is foolish and unwholesome enough, just twice as much so, for its spiritual allegorising, as the worldly love poetry of these often foolish and unwholesome German chivalrous poets. But, for our consolation, in that same huge collection of Von der Hagen's Minnesingers, stand the following six lines, addressed to the Saviour, if tradition is correct, by a knightly monk, Bruder Wernher von der Tegernsee:—
"Du bist min, ih bin din; Des solt du gewis sin. Du bist beslozzen In minem herzen; Verlorn ist daz sluzzelin: Du muost immer drinne sin."
"Thou art locked up in my heart; the little key is lost; thou must remain inside."
This is a way of loving not logically suitable, perhaps, to a divine essence, but it is the lovingness which fertilises the soul, and makes flowers bud and birds sing in the heart of man. Out of it, through simple creatures like Bruder Wernher, through the simplicity of scores of obscurer singers and craftsmen than he, of hundreds of nameless good men and women, comes one large half of the art of Dante and Giotto, nay, of Raphael and Shakespeare: the tenderness of the modern world, unknown to stoical Antiquity.
The early Middle Ages—the times before Love came, and with it the gradual dignifying of all realities which had been left so long to mere gross or cunning or violent men—the early Middle Ages have left behind them one of the most complete and wonderful of human documents, the letters of Abelard and Heloise. This is a book which each of us should read, in order to learn, with terror and self-gratulation, how the aridity of the world's soul may neutralise the greatest individual powers for happiness and good. These letters are as chains which we should keep in our dwelling-place, to remind us of past servitude, perhaps to warn us against future.
No other two individuals could have been found to illustrate, by the force of contrast, the intellectual and moral aridity of that eleventh century, which yet, in a degree, was itself a beginning of better things. For Heloise and Abelard were not merely among the finest intellects of the Middle Ages; they were both, in different ways, to the highest degree passionately innovating natures. No woman has ever been more rich and bold and warm of mind and heart than Heloise; nor has any woman ever questioned the unquestioned ideas and institutions of her age, of any age, with such vehemence and certainty of intuition. She judges questions which are barely asked and judged of now-a-days, applying to consecrated sentimentality the long-lost instinctive human rationalism of the ancient philosophers. How could St. Luke recommend us to desist from getting back our stolen property? She feels, however obscurely, that this is foolish, antisocial, unnatural. Nay, why should God prefer the penitence of one sinner to the constant goodness of ninety-nine righteous men? She is, this learned theologian of the eleventh century, as passionately human in thought as any Mme. Roland or Mary Wolstonecraft of a hundred years ago.
Abelard, on the other hand, we know to have been one of the most subtle and solvent thinkers of the Middle Ages; pursued by the greatest theologians, crushed by two Councils, and remaining, in the popular fancy, as a sort of Friar Bacon, a forerunner of the wizard Faustus; a man whom Bernard of Clairvaux called a thief of souls, a rapacious wolf, a Herod; a man who reveals himself a Pagan in his attempts to turn Plato into a Christian; a man who disputes about Faith in the teeth of Faith, and criticises the Law in the name of the Law; a man, most enormous of all, who sees nothing as symbol or emblem (per speculum in aenigmate), but dares to look all things in the face (facie ad faciem omnia intuetur). Facie ad faciem omnia intuetur, this, which is the acknowledged method of all modern, as it had been of all antique, thought, nay, of all modern, all antique, all healthy spiritual life—this was the most damnable habit of Abelard; and, as the letters show, of Heloise. What shall we think, in consequence, of the intellectual and moral sterility of the orthodox world of the eleventh century, when we find this heretical man, this rebellious woman, arguing incessantly about unrealities, crushing out all human feeling, judging all questions of cause and effect, settling all relations of life, with reference to a system of intricate symbolical riddles? These things are exceedingly difficult for a modern to realise; we feel as though we had penetrated into some Gulliver's world or kingdom of the Moon; for theology and its methods have been relegated, these many hundred years, to a sort of Hortus inclusus where nothing human grows. These mediaeval men of science apply their scientific energies to mastering, collecting, comparing and generalising, not of any single fact of nature, but of the words of other theologians. The magnificent sense of intellectual duty, so evident in Abelard, and in a dozen monastic authors quoted by him, is applied solely to fantasticating over Scripture and its expositors, and diverting their every expression from its literal, honest, sane meaning. And indeed, are some of the high efforts of mediaeval genius, the calculations of Joachim and the Eternal Gospel, any better than the Book of Dreams and the Key to the Lottery? Most odious, perhaps, in this theology triumphant (sickening enough, in good sooth, even in the timid official theology of later days), is the loss of all sense of what's what, of fitness and decency, which interprets allegorically the grosser portions of Scripture, and, by a reverse process, lends to the soul the vilest functions of the body, and discusses virtue in the terms of fleshliness. No knowledge can come out of this straw-splitting in vacuo; and certainly no art out of this indecent pedant's symbolism: all things are turned to dusty, dirty lumber.
As with the intellectual, so also, in large degree, with the moral: a splendid will to do right is applied, in its turn, to phantoms. Here again the letters of Abelard and Heloise are extraordinarily instructive. The highest virtue, the all-including (how differently Dante feels, whatever he may say!), is obedience. Thus Abelard, having quoted from St. Augustine that all which is done for obedience' sake is well done, proceeds very logically: "It is more advantageous for us to act rightly than to do good.... We should think not so much of the action itself, as of the manner in which it is performed."
Do not imagine that this care for the motive and contempt of the action arises from an estimate of the importance of a man's sum-total of tendencies, contrasted with his single, perhaps unintentional, acts; still less that the advantage thus referred to has anything to do with other men's happiness. The advantage is merely to the individual soul, or in a cruder, truer view, to the individual combustible body to which that soul shall be eternally reunited hereafter. And the spirit which makes virtue alone virtuous is the spirit of obedience: obedience theoretically to a god, but practically to a father of the Church, a Council, an abbot or abbess. In this manner right-doing is emptied of all rational significance, becomes dependent upon what itself, having no human, practical reason, is mere arbitrary command. Chastity, for instance, which is, together with mansuetude, the especial Christian virtue, becomes in this fashion that mere guarding of virginity which, for some occult reason, is highly prized in Heaven; as to clean living being indispensable for bearable human relations, which even the unascetic ancients recognised so clearly, there is never an inkling of that. Whence, indeed, such persons as do not go in for professionally pleasing the divinity, who are neither priests, monks, nor nuns, need not stickle about it; and the secular literature of the Middle Ages, with its Launcelots, Tristrams, Flamencas, and all its German and Provencal lyrists, becomes the glorification of illicit love. Indeed, in the letters before us, Abelard regrets his former misconduct only with reference to religious standards: as a layman he was perfectly free to seduce Heloise; the scandal, the horrible sin, was not the seduction, but the profanation by married love of the dress of a nun, the sanctuary of the virgin. So it is with the renunciation of all the world's pleasures and interests. The ascetic sacrifice of inclination, which the stoics had conceived as resistance to the tyrant without and the tyrant within, as a method for serene and independent life and death, this ascetic renunciation becomes, in this arid theological world, the mere giving up to please a jealous God of all that is not He. Abelard's regulations for the nuns, which he gives as rules of perfection (save in the matter of that necessary half sin, marriage) to devout lay folk, come after all to this: give human nature enough to keep it going, so that it may be able to sacrifice everything else to the jealousy of the Godhead. Eating, clothing oneself, washing (though, by the way, there is no mention of this save for the sick), nay, speaking and thinking, are merely instrumental to the contemplation of God; any more than suffices for this is sinful. On this point Abelard quotes, with stolidest approval, one of the most heart-rending of anecdotes. A certain monk being asked why he had fled humankind, answered, on account of his great love for it, and the impossibility of loving God and it at the same time.
Think upon that. Think on the wasted treasure of loving-kindness of which that monk and the thousands he represents cheated his fellow-men. O love of human creatures, of man for woman, parents and children, of brethren, love of friends; fuel and food, which keeps the soul alive, balm curing its wounds, or, if they be incurable, helps the poor dying thing to die at last in peace—this was those early saints' notion of thee!
To refuse thus to love is to refuse not merely the highest usefulness, but to refuse also the best kind of justice. Here again, nay, here more than ever, we may learn from those wonderful letters. They constitute, indeed, a document of the human soul to which, in my recollection, one other only, Benjamin Constant's Adolphe, can be compared. But in these letters,—hers of grief, humiliation, hopelessness, making her malign her noble self; and his, bitter, self-righteous, crammed with theological moralisings—we see not merely the dual drama of two ill-assorted creatures, but the much more terrible tragedy, superadded by the presence, looming, impassive, as of Cypris in Euripides' Hippolytus, of a third all-powerful and superhuman entity: the spirit of monasticism. The unequal misery, the martyrdom of Heloise arises herefrom, that she rebels against this Deus ex machina; that this nun of the eleventh century is a strong warm-hearted modern woman, fit for Browning. While Abelard is her whole life, the intimate companion of her highest thoughts, she is only a toy to him, and a toy which his theologian's pride, his monkish self-debasement, makes him afraid and ashamed of. Abelard has been for her, and ever remains, something like Brahma to Goethe's Bayadere; her love, her love above all for his intrepid intellect, has raised him to a sacredness so great, that his whim, his fame, his peace, his very petulance can be refused nothing; and that, on the other hand, any concession taken from him seems positive sacrilege. Hence her refusal of marriage, her answer, "that she would be prouder as his mistress—the Latin word is harlot—than as the wife of Caesar." Fifty years later, in the kind, passionate, poetical days of St. Francis, Heloise might have given this loving fervour to Christ, and been a happy, if a deluded, woman; but in those frigid monkish days, there was no one for her to love, save this frigid monkish Abelard. As it is, therefore, she loves Christ and God in obedience to Abelard; she passionately cons the fathers, the Scriptures, merely because, so to speak, the hand of Abelard has lain on the page, the eyes of Abelard have followed the characters; and finally, after all her vain entreaties for (she scarce knows what!) love, sympathy, one personal word, she feeds her starving heart on the only answer to her supplications—the dialectic exercises, metaphysical treatises, and theological sermons (containing even the forms applicable only to a congregation) which he doles out to her. Thankful for anything which comes from him, however little it comes to her.
How different with Abelard! Despite occasional atrocious misery and unparalleled temporal misfortunes (which on the whole act upon him as tonics), this great metaphysician is well suited to his times, and spiritually thrives in their exhausted, chill atmosphere. The public rumour (which Heloise hurls at him in a fit of broken-hearted rage), that his passion for her had been but a passing folly of the flesh, he never denies, but, on the contrary, reiterates perpetually for her spiritual improvement; let her understand clearly from what inexpressible degradation God in His mercy has saved them, at least saved him; let her realise that he wanted only carnal indulgence, and would have got it, if need be, through threats and blows. He recognises, in his past, only a feeling which, now it is over, fills his ascetic mind with nothing but disgust and burning shame, and hence he tries, by degrading it still more, by cynically raking up all imaginable filth, to separate that past from his present. So far, were only he himself concerned, one would sympathise, though contemptuously, with this agonised reaction of a proud, perhaps a vain, man of mere intellect. But the atrocious thing is, that he treats her as a loathsome relic of this past dishonour; and answers her prayer (after twelve years' silence!) for a word of loving-kindness by elaborate denunciations of their former love, and reiterated jubilations that he, at least, has long been purged thereof; not unmixed with sharp admonishment that she had better not try to infect his soul afresh, but set about, if needful, cleansing her own. Now it so happens that what he would cure her of is incurable, being, in fact, eternal, divine—simple human love. So, to his pious and cynical admonitions she answers with strange inconsistency. Long brooding over his taunts will sometimes make her, to whom he is always the divinity, actually believe, despite her reiteration, that she had sinned out of obedience to him, that she really is a polluted creature, guilty of the unutterable crime of contaminating a man of God, nay, a god himself. And then, unable to silence affection, she cries out in agony at the perversity of her nature, incapable even of hating sincerely its sinfulness; for would she not do it again, is she not the same Heloise who would have left the very altar, the very communion with Christ, at Abelard's word? At other times she is pious, resigned, almost serene; for is that not Abelard's wish? a careful mother to her nuns. But when, encouraged by her docility and blind to her undying love, Abelard believes that he has succeeded in quieting her down, and rewards her piety by some rhetorical phrase of Monkish eulogy, she suddenly turns round, a terrible tragic figure. She repudiates the supposed purity and piety, blazons out her wickedness and hypocrisy, and cries out, partly with the horror of the sacrilegious nun, mainly with the pride of the faithful wife, that it is not God she loves but Abelard.
After the most violent of these outbreaks there is a dead silence. One guesses that some terrible message has come, warning her that unless she promised that she would never write to Abelard save as the Abbess of the Paraclete to the monk of Cluny, not a word from him shall ever come; and that, in order to keep this last miserable comfort, she has bitten out that truth-speaking tongue of hers. For after this there are only questions on theological points and on the regulation of nunneries; and Abelard becomes as liberal of words as he used to be chary, as full of encouragement as he once was of insult, now that he feels comfortably certain that Heloise has changed from a mistress to a penitent, and that in her also there is an end at last of all that sinful folly of love. And thus, upon Heloise pacified, numbed, dead of soul, among her praying and scrubbing and cooking and linen-mending nuns; and Abelard reassured, serene, spiritually proud once more among the raging controversies, the ecclesiastical persecutions in which his soul prospered, the volume closes; the curtain falls upon one of the most terrible tragedies of the heart, as poignant after seven hundred years as in those early Middle Ages, before St. Francis claimed sun and swallows as brethren, and the baby Christ was given to hold to St. Anthony of Padua.
The humanising movement, due no doubt to greater liberty and prosperity, to the growing importance of honest burgher life, which the Church authorised in the person of Francis of Assisi, doubtless after persecuting it in the persons of dozens of obscure heresiarchs—this great revival of religious faith was essentially the triumph of profane feeling in the garb of religious: the sanctification, however much disguised, of all forms of human love. One is fully aware of the moral dangers attendant upon every such equivocation; and the great saints (like their last modern representatives, the fervent, shrewd, and kindly leaders of certain Protestant revivals) were probably, for all their personal extravagances, most fully prepared for every sort of unwholesome folly among their disciples. The whole of a certain kind of devotional literature, manuals of piety, Church hymns, lives and correspondence of saintly persons, is unanimous in testifying to the hysterical self-consciousness, intellectual enervation, emotional going-to-bits, and moral impotence produced by such vicarious and barren expenditure of feeling. Yet it seems to me certain that this enthroning of human love in matters spiritual was an enormous, indispensable improvement, which, whatever detriment it may have brought in individual and, so to say, professionally religious cases, nay, perhaps to all religion as a whole, became perfectly wholesome and incalculably beneficent in the enormous mass of right-minded laity.
For human emotion, although so often run to waste, had been at least elicited, and, once elicited, could find, in nine cases out of ten, its true and beneficent channel; whereas, in the earlier mediaeval days, the effort to crush out all human feeling (as with that holy man quoted by Abelard), to break all human solidarity, had not merely left the world in the hands of unscrupulous and brutal persons, but had imprisoned all finer souls in solitary and selfish thoughts of their individual salvation. Things were now different. The story of Lucchesio of Poggibonsi, recovered from oblivion by M. Paul Sabatier, is the most lovely expression of Franciscan tenderness and reverence towards the affections of the laymen, and ought to be remembered in company with the legend of the wood-pigeons, whom St. Francis established in his cabin and blessed in their courtship and nesting. This Lucchesio had exercised a profession which has ever savoured of damnation to the minds of the poor and their lovers, that of corn merchant or speculator in grain; but touched by Franciscan preaching, he had kept only one small garden, which, together with his wife, he cultivated half for the benefit of the poor. One day the wife, known in the legend only as Bona Donna, sickened and knew she must die, and the sacrament was brought to her accordingly. But Lucchesio never thought that it could be God's will that he should remain on earth after his wife had been taken from him. So he got himself shriven, received the last sacraments with her, held her hands while she died; and when she was dead, stretched himself out, made the sign of the cross, called on Jesus, Mary, and St. Francis, and peacefully died in his turn: God could not have wished him to live on without her. The passionate Franciscan sympathy with human love makes light of all the accepted notions of bereavement being acceptable as a divine dispensation. Lucchesio of Poggibonsi was, we are told, a member of the Third Order of Franciscans, and his legend may help us to appreciate the value of such institutions, which gave heaven to the laity, to the married burgher, the artisan, the peasant; which fertilised the religious ideal with the simplest and sweetest instincts of mankind. But, Third Order apart, the mission of the regular Franciscans and Dominicans is wholly different from that of the earlier orders of monasticism proper. The earlier monks, however useful and venerable as tillers of the soil and students of all sciences, were, nevertheless, only agglomerated hermits, retired from the world for the safety each of his own soul; whereas the preaching, wandering friars are men who mix with the world for the sake of souls of others. Thus, throughout the evolution of religious communities, down to the Jesuits and Oratorians, to the great nursing brother-and sisterhoods of the seventeenth century, we can watch the substitution of care for lay souls in the place of more saintly ones—a gradual secularisation in unsuspected harmony with the heretical and philosophical movements which tend more and more to make religion an essential function of life, instead of an activity with which life is for ever at variance.
In accordance with this evolution is the great enthroning of love in the thirteenth century: it means the replacing of the terror of a divinity, who was little better than a metaphysical Moloch (sometimes, and oftener than we think, a metaphysical Ormuzd and Ahriman of Manichean character), by the idolatry of an all-gracious Virgin, of an all-compassionate and all-sympathising Christ.
It was an effort at self-righting of the unhappy world, this love-fever which followed on the many centuries of monastic self-mutilation; for, in sickness of the spirit, the hot stage, for all its delirium, means a possibility of life. Moreover, it gave to mankind a plenitude of happiness such as is necessary, whether reasonable or unreasonable, for mankind to continue living at all; art, poetry, freedom, all the things which form the Viaticum on mankind's journey through the dreary ages, requiring for their production, it would seem, an extra dose of faith, of hope, and happiness. Indeed, the Franciscan movement is important not so much for its humanitarian quality as for its optimism.
Many other religious movements have asserted, with equal and greater efficacy, the need for charity and loving-kindness; but none, as it seems to me, has conceived like it that charity and loving-kindness are not mitigations of misery, but aids to joy. The universal brotherhood, preached by Francis of Assisi, is a brotherhood not of suffering, but of happiness, nay, of life and of happiness.
The sun, in the wonderful song which he made—characteristically—during his sickness, is the brother of man because of his radiance and splendour; water and fire are his brethren on account of their virtues of purity and humbleness, of jocund and beautiful strength; and if we find, throughout his legends, the Saint perpetually accompanied by birds—the swallows he begged to let him speak, the falcon who called him in the morning, the turtle-doves whose pairing he blessed, and all the feathered flock whom Benozzo represents him preaching to in the lovely fresco at Montefalco—if, as I say, there is throughout his life and thoughts a sort of perpetual whir and twitter of birds, it is, one feels sure, because the creatures of the air, free to come and go, to sit on beautiful trees, to drink of clear streams, to play in the sunshine and storm, able above all to be like himself, poets singing to God, are the symbols, in the eyes of Francis, of the greatest conceivable felicity.
[Footnote 1: St. Francis's hymn (Sabatier, St. Francois d'Assise):—
Laudato sie, mi signore, cum tucte le tue creature, Spetialimento messer lo frate sole, Lo quale jorna, et illumini per lui; Et ello e bello e radiante cum grande splendore. * * * * * Laudato si, me signore per frate Vento Et per aere et nubilo et sereno et omne tempo * * * * * Laudato, si, mi signore, per sor acqua La quale e multo utile et humele et pretiosa et casta; Laudato si, mi signore, per frate focu Per lo quale ennallumini la nocte Et ello e bello et jocundo e robustioso e forte.
In its rudeness, how magnificent is this last line!]
[Footnote 2: St. Francis's sermon to the birds in the valley of Bevagna (Fioretti xvi.): "Ancora gli (a Dio) siete tenuti per lo elemento dell' aria che egli ha diputato a voi ... e Iddio vi pasce, e davvi li fiumi e le fonti per vostro bere; davvi li monti e le valli per vostro rifugio e gli alberi alti per fare li vostri nidi ... e pero guardatevi, sirocchie mie, del peccato della ingratitudine, e sempre vi studiate di lodare Iddio ... e allora tutti qugli uccilli si levarons in aria con maraviglios canti."
Fioretti xxviii. "... Questo dono, che era dato a frate Bernardo da Quintevalle, cioe, che volando si pascesse come la rondine." Fioretti xxii., Considerazioni i.]
Indeed, we can judge of what the Franciscan movement was to the world by what its gospel, the divine Fioretti, are even to ourselves. This humble collection of stories and sayings, sometimes foolish, always childlike, becomes, to those who have read it with more than the eyes of the body, a beloved and necessary companion, like the solemn serene books of antique wisdom, the passionate bitter Book of Job, almost, in a way, like the Gospels of Christ. But not for the same reason: the book of Francis teaches neither heroism nor resignation, nor divine justice and mercy; it teaches love and joyfulness. It keeps us for ever in the company of creatures who are happy because they are loving: whether the creatures be poor, crazy Brother Juniper (the comic person of the cycle) eating his posset in brotherly happiness with the superior he had angered; or Brother Masseo, unable from sheer joy in Christ to articulate anything save "U-u-u," "like a pigeon;" or King Lewis of France falling into the arms of Brother Egidio; or whether they be the Archangel Michael in friendly converse with Brother Peter, or the Madonna handing the divine child for Brother Conrad to kiss, or even the Wolf of Gubbio, converted, and faithfully fulfilling his bargain. There are sentences in the Fioretti such as exist perhaps in no other book in the world, and which teach something as important, after all, as wisdom even and perfect charity—"And there answered Brother Egidio: Beloved brethren, know that as soon as he and I embraced one another, the light of wisdom revealed and manifested to me his heart, and to him mine; and thus by divine operation, seeing one into the other's heart, that which I would have said to him and he to me, each understood much better than had we spoken with our tongue, and with greater joyfulness...." Again, Jesus appeared to Brother Ruffino and said, "Well didst thou do, my son, inasmuch as thou believedst the words of St. Francis; for he who saddened thee was the demon, whereas I am Christ thy teacher; and for token thereof I will give thee this sign: As long as thou live, thou shalt never feel affliction of any sort nor sadness of heart."
St. Francis, we are told, being infirm of body, was comforted through God's goodness by a vision of the joy of the blessed. "Suddenly there appeared to him an angel in a great radiance, which angel held a viol in his left hand and a bow in his right. And while St. Francis remained in stupefaction at the sight, this angel drew the bow once upwards across the viol, and instantly there issued such sweetness of melody as melted the soul of St. Francis, and suspended it from all bodily sense. And, as he afterwards told his companions, he was of opinion that if that angel had drawn the bow downwards (instead of upwards) across the viol, his soul would have departed from his body for the very excess of delight."
It was not so much to save the souls of men from hell, about which, indeed, there is comparatively little talk in the Fioretti, but to draw them also into the mystic circle where such angelic music was heard, that Francis of Assisi preached throughout Umbria, and even as far as the Soldan's country; and, if we interpret it rightly, the strings of that heavenly viol were the works of creation and the souls of all creatures, and the bow, whose upward movement ravished, and whose downward movement would have almost annihilated with its sweetness, that bow drawn across the vibrating world was no other than love.
Justice preached by Hebrew prophets, charity and purity taught by Jesus of Nazareth, fortitude recommended by Epictetus and Aurelius, none of these great messages to men necessarily produce that special response which we call Art. But the message of loving joyfulness, of happiness in the world and the world's creatures, whether men or birds, or sun or moon,—this message, which was that of St. Francis, sets the soul singing; and just such singing of the soul makes art. Hence, even as the Apennine blazed with supernatural light, and its forests and rocks became visible to the most distant wayfarers, when the Eternal Love smote with its beams the praying saint on La Vernia; so also the souls of those men of the Middle Ages were made luminous and visible by the miracle of poetry and painting, and we can see them still, distinct even at this distance.
One of the earliest of the souls so revealed is that of the Blessed Jacopone of Todi. Jacopo dei Benedetti, a fellow-countryman of St. Francis, must have been born in the middle of the thirteenth century, and is said to have died in 1316, when Dante, presumably, was writing his "Purgatory" and "Paradise;" to him is ascribed the authorship of the hymn "Stabat Mater," remembered, and to be remembered (owing to the embalming power of music) far beyond his vernacular poems. Tradition has it that he turned to the religious life in consequence of the sudden death of his beloved, and the discovery that she had worn a hair-shirt next her delicate body. Be this as it may, many allusions in his poems suggest that he had lived the wild life of the barbarous Umbrian cities, being a highwayman perhaps, forfeiting his life, and also having to fly the country before the fury of some family vendetta. On the other hand, it is plain at every line that he was a frantic ascetic, taking a savage pleasure in vilifying all mundane things, and passionately disdainful of study, of philosophical and theological subtleties. No poet, therefore, of the troubadour sort, or of the idealising learned refinement of Guinicelli or Cavalcanti. Nor was his life one of apostolic sweetness. Having taken part in the furious Franciscan schism, and pursued with invectives Boniface VIII., he was cast by that Pope into a dungeon at Palestrina. "My dwelling," he writes, "is subterranean, and a cesspool opens on to it; hence a smell not of musk. No one can speak to me; the man who waits on me may, but he is obliged to make confession of my sayings. I wear jesses like a falcon, and ring whenever I move: he who comes near my room may hear a queer kind of dance. When I have laid myself down, I am tripped up by the irons, and wound round in a big chain (negli ferri inzampagliato, inguainato in catenone). I have a little basket hung up so that the mice may not injure it; it can hold five loaves.... While I eat them little by little, I suffer great cold."
Moreover, Pope Boniface refuses him absolution, and Jacopone's invectives are alternated with heart-rending petitions that this mercy at least be shown him; as to his other woes, he will endure them till his death. In this frightful place Jacopone had visions, which the Church, giving him therefore the title of Blessed, ratifies as genuine. One might expect nightmares, such as troubled the early saints in the wilderness, or John Bunyan in gaol; but that was not the spirit of the mediaeval revival: terror had been cast out by love. More than a quarter of Jacopone's huge volume consists in what is merely love poetry: he is languishing, consumed by love; when the beloved departs, he sighs and weeps, and shrieks, and dies alive. Will the beloved have no mercy? "Jesu, donami la morte, o di te fammi assaggiare." Then the joys of love, depicted with equal liveliness, amplifications as usual of the erotic hyperboles of the Shulamite and her lover; the phenomenon, to whose uncouth strangeness devotional poetry accustoms us even now-a-days, which we remarked in Gottfried von Strasburg and Frauenlob, and on which it is needless further to insist.
But there is here in Jacopone something which we missed in Gottfried and Frauenlob, of which there is no trace in the Song of Solomon, but which, suggested in the lovely six lines of Bruder Wernher, makes the emotionalism of the Italian Middle Ages wholesome and fruitful. A child-like boy and girlish light-heartedness that makes love a matter not merely of sighing and dying, but of singing and dancing; and, proceeding thence, a fervour of loving delightedness which is no longer of the man towards the woman, but of the man and the woman towards the baby. The pious monk, in his ecstasies over Jesus, intones a song which might be that of those passionate farandoles of angels who dance and carol in Botticelli's most rapturous pictures:—
"Amore, amor, dove m'hai tu menato? Amore, amor, fuor di me m'hai trattato. Ciascun amante, amator del Signore, Venga alla danza cantando d'amore."
Can we not see them, the souls of such fervent lovers, swaying and eddying, with joined hands and flapping wings, flowers dropping from their hair, above the thatched roof of the stable at Bethlehem?
The stable at Bethlehem! It is perpetually returning to Jacopone's thoughts. The cell, the dreadful underground prison at Palestrina, is broken through, irradiated by visions which seem paintings by Lippo or Ghirlandaio, nay, by Correggio and Titian themselves, "the tender baby body (il tenerin corpo) of the blood of Mary has been given in charge to a pure company; St. Joseph and the Virgin contemplate the little creature (il piccolino) with stupefaction. O gran piccolino Jesu nostro diletto, he who had seen Thee between the ox and the little ass, breathing upon thy holy breast, would not have guessed thou were begotten of the Trinity!" But besides the ox and the ass there are the angels. "In the worthy stable of the sweet baby the angels are singing round the little one; they sing and cry out, the beloved angels, quite reverent, timid and shy (tutti riverenti, timidi e subbietti, this beautiful expression is almost impossible save in Italian), round the little baby Prince of the Elect who lies naked among the prickly hay. He lies naked and without covering; the angels shout in the heights. And they wonder greatly that to such lowliness the Divine Verb should have stooped. The Divine Verb, which is highest knowledge, this day seems as if He knew nothing of anything (il verbo divino che e sommo sapiente, in questo di par che non sappia niente!). Look at him on the hay, crying and kicking (che gambetta piangente), as if He were not at all a divine man...." Meanwhile, other angels, as in Benozzo's frescoes, are busy "picking rarest flowers in the garden." In the garden! Why He Himself is a fragrant garden; Jesus is a garden of many sweet odours; and "what they are those can tell who are the lovers of this sweet little brother of ours."
Di Questo nostro dolce fratellino: it is such expressions as these, Bambolino, Piccolino, Garzolino, "el magno Jesulino," these caressing, ever-varied diminutives, which make us understand the monk's passionate pleasure in the child; and which, by the emotion they testify to and re-awaken, draw more into relief, make visible and tangible the little kicking limbs on the straw, the dimpled baby's body.
And then there are the choruses of angels. "O new song," writes Jacopone, "which has killed the weeping of sick mankind! Its melody, methinks, begins upon the high Fa, descending gently on the Fa below, which the Verb sounds. The singers, jubilating, forming the choir, are the holy angels, singing songs in that hostelry, before the little babe, who is the Incarnate Word. On lamb's parchment, behold! the divine note is written, and God is the scribe, Who has opened His hand, and has taught the song."
Have we not here, in this odd earliest allegory of music and theology, this earliest precursor of the organ-playing of Abt Vogler, one of those choirs, clusters of singing childish heads—clusters, you might almost say, of sweet treble notes, tied like nosegays by the score held scrollwise across them, which are among the sweetest inventions of Italian art, from Luca della Robbia to Raphael, "cantatori, guibilatori, che tengon il coro?"
And this is the place for a remark which, in the present uncertainty of all aesthetic psychology, I put forward as a mere suggestion, but a suggestion less wide of the truth than certain theories now almost unquestioned: the theories which arbitrarily assume that art is the immediate and exact expression of contemporary spiritual aspirations and troubles. That such may be the case with literature, particularly the more ephemeral kinds thereof, is very likely, since literature, save in the great complex structures of epos, tragedy, choral lyric, is but the development of daily speech, and possibly as upstart, as purely passing, as daily speech itself; moreover, in its less artistic forms, requiring little science or apprenticeship.
But art is a thing of older ancestry; you cannot, however bursting with emotion, embody your feelings in forms like those of Phidias, of Michelangelo, of Bach, or Mozart, unless such forms have come ready to hand through the long, steady working of generations of men: Phidias and Bach in person, cut off from their precursors, would not, for all their genius, get as far as a schoolboy's caricature, or a savage's performance on a marrow-bone. And these slowly elaborated forms, representing the steady impact of so many powerful minds, representing, moreover, the organic necessity by which, a given movement once started, that movement is bound to proceed in a given direction, these forms cannot be altered, save infinitesimally, to represent the particular state of the human soul at a given moment. You might as well suppose that the human shape itself, evolved through these millions of years, could suddenly be accommodated to perfect representation of the momentary condition of certain human beings; even the Tricoteuses of the guillotine had the heads and arms of ordinary women, not the beaks and claws of harpies. Hence such expressiveness must be limited to microscopic alterations; and, indeed, one marvels at the modest demands of the art critics, who are satisfied with the pucker of a frontal muscle of a Praxitelean head as testimony to the terrible deep disorder in the post-Periclean Greek spirit, and who can still find in the later paintings of Titian, when all that makes Titian visible and admirable is deducted, a something, just a little je ne sais quoi, which proves these later Titians to have originated in the Catholic reaction. If the theory of art as the outcome of momentary conditions be limited to such particularities, I am quite willing to accept it; only, such particularities do not constitute the large, important and really valuable characteristics of art, and it matters very little by what they are produced.
How then do matters stand between art and civilisation? Here follows my hypothesis. There is in the history of every art (and for brevity's sake, I include in this term every distinct category, say, renaissance sculpture as distinguished from antique, of the same art) a moment when, for one reason or other, that art begins to come to the fore, to bestir itself. The circumstances of the nation and time make this art materially advantageous or spiritually attractive; the opening up of quarries, the discovery of metallic alloys, the necessity of roofing larger spaces, the demand for a sedentary amusement, for music to dance to in new social gatherings—any such humble reason, besides many others, can cause one art to issue more particularly out of the limbo of the undeveloped, or out of the lumber-room of the unused.
It is during this historic moment—a moment which may last years or scores of years—that, as it seems to me, an art can really be deeply affected by its surrounding civilisation. For is it not called forth by that civilisation's requirements, material or spiritual; and is it not, by the very fact of being thus new, or at all events nascent, devoid of all conditioning factors, save those which the civilisation and its requirements impose from without? An art, like everything vital, takes shape not merely by pressure from without, but much more by the necessities inherent in its own constitution, the almost mechanical necessities by which all variable things can vary only in certain fashions. All the natural selection, all the outer pressure in the world, cannot make a stone become larger by cutting, cannot make colour less complex by mixing, cannot make the ear perceive a dissonance more easily than a consonance, cannot make the human mind turn back from problems once opened up, or revert instantaneously to effects it is sick of; and a number of such immutable necessities constitute what we call the organism of an art, which can therefore respond only in one way and not another to the influences of surrounding civilisation. Given the sculpture of the AEgina period, it is impossible we should not arrive at the sculpture of the time of Alexander: the very constitution of clay and bronze, of marble, chisel and mallet, let alone that of the human mind, makes it inevitable; and you would have it inevitably if you could invert history, and put Chaeronea in the place of Salamis. But there is no reason why you should eventually get Lysippian and Praxitelean sculpture instead of Egyptian or Assyrian, say, in the time of Homer, whenever that may have been. For the causes which forced Greek sculpture along the line leading to Praxiteles and Lysippus were not yet at work; and had other forces, say, a preference for stone work instead of clay and bronze work, a habit of Persian or Gaulish garments, of Lydian effeminate life instead of Dorian athleticism, supervened, had satraps ordered rock-reliefs of battles instead of burghers ordering brazen images of boxers and runners, Praxiteles and Lysippus might have remained in mente Dei, if, indeed, even there. Similarly, once given your Pisan sculptors, Giotto, nay, your imaginary Cimabue, you inevitably get your Donatello, Masaccio, Ghirlandajo, and eventually your Leonardo, Michelangelo, and Titian; for the problems of form and of sentiment, the questions of perspective, anatomy, dramatic expression, lyric suggestion, architectural decoration, were established, in however rudimentary a manner, as soon as painting was ordered to leave off doing idle, emotionless Christs, rows of gala saints and symbols of metaphysic theology, and told to set about showing the episodes of Scripture, the things Christ and the Apostles did, and the places where they did them, and the feelings they felt about it all; told to make visible to the eye the gallant archangels, the lovable Madonnas, the dear little baby Saviours, the angels with their flowers and songs, all the human hope and pity and passion and tenderness which possessed the world in the days of St. Francis.
What pictures should we have seen if Christianity (which was impossible) had continued in the habits of thought and feeling of the earlier Middle Ages? Byzantine icones become frightfuler and frightfuler, their theological piety perhaps sometimes relieved by odd wicked Manichean symbolism; all talent and sentiment abandoning painting, perhaps to the advantage of music, whose solemn period of recondite contrapuntal complexity—something corresponding to the ingenuities and mysticism of theology—might have come two centuries earlier, and delighted the world instead of being unnoticed by it. Be this as it may, there is no need for wondering, as people occasionally wonder, how the solemn terror, the sweetness, pathos, or serenity of men like Signorelli, Botticelli, or Perugino, nay Michelangelo, Raphael, or Giorgione, could have originated among Malatestas, Borgias, Poggios, or Aretines. It did not. And, therefore, since literature always precedes its more heavily cumbered fellow-servant art, we must look for the literary counterpart of the painters of the Renaissance among the writers who preceded them by many generations, men more obviously in touch with the great mediaeval revival: Dante, Boccaccio, the compilers of the "Fioretti di San Francesco," and, as we have just seen, Fra Jacopone da Todi.
What art would there have been without that Franciscan revival, or rather what emotional synthesis of life would art have had to record? This speculation has been dismissed as futile, because it is impossible to conceive that mankind could have gone on without some such enthusiastic return of faith in the goodness of things. But another question remains to be answered, remains to be asked; and that is, what was the spiritual meaning of the art which immediately preceded the Franciscan revival? what was the emotional synthesis of life given by those who had come too early to partake in the new religion of love?
The question seems scarcely to have occurred to any one, perhaps because the Church found it expedient to obliterate, to the best of her power, all records of her terrible mediaeval vicissitudes, and to misinterpret, for the benefit of purblind antiquarians, the architectural symbolism of the earlier Middle Ages.
Since, in the deciphering of such expressions of mankind's moods and intuitions, scientific investigation is scarcely more important than the moods and intuitions of the looker-on, it seems quite fitting that I should begin these suggestions about pre-Franciscan Italian art by saying that some years ago there met by accident in my mind a certain impression of Lombard twelfth-century art, and a certain anecdote of Lombard twelfth-century history.
It was at Lucca, a place most singularly rich in round-arched buildings, that I was, so to speak, overwhelmed by the fact that the Italian churches of immediately pre-Franciscan days possess by way of architectural ornamentation nothing but images of deformity and emblems of wickedness. This fact, apart from its historical bearing, may serve also to illustrate a theory I have already put forth, to wit, that the only art which is necessarily expressive of contemporary thought and feeling is such as embodies very little skill, and as expresses but very few organic necessities of form, both of which can result only from the activity and the influence of generations of craftsmen; since in these Lucchese churches the architectural forms proclaim one thing and the sculptural details another. The first speak only of logic and serenity; the second only of the most abominable nightmare. The truth is, that these churches of Lucca, and their more complex and perfect prototypes, like Sant' Ambrogio of Milan, and San Miniato of Florence, are not the real outcome of the century which built them. It is quite natural that, with their stately proportions, their harmonious restrained vaultings, their easy, efficient colonnades, their ample and equable illumination, above all their obvious pleasure in constructive logic, these churches should affect us as being classic as opposed to romantic, and even in a very large measure actually antique; for they have come, through generations as long-lived and as scanty as those of the patriarchs, straight from the classic, the antique; grandchildren of the courts of law and temples of Pagan Rome, children of the Byzantine basilicas of early Christian days; strange survivals from distant antiquity, testifying to the lack of artistic initiative in the barbarous centuries between Constantine to Barbarossa. No period in the world's history could have produced anything so organic without the work of previous periods; and when the Middle Ages did in their turn produce an architecture original to themselves, it was by altering these still classic forms into something absolutely different: that thirteenth-century Gothic which answers to the material and necessities of the democratic and romantic times heralded by St. Francis. The twelfth century, therefore, could not express itself in the architectural forms and harmonies of those Lucchese churches; but it could express itself in their rude and thoroughly original sculpture. Hence, while there is in them no indication of the symbolism of the coming ogival Gothic, there is no trace either of the symbolism belonging to Byzantine buildings. None of the Gothic imagery testifying faith and joy in God and His creatures; no effigies of saints; at most only of the particular building's patron; no Madonnas, infant Christs, burning cherubim, singing and playing angels, armed romantic St. Michael or St. George; none of those goodly rows of kings and queens guarding the portals, or of those charming youthful heads marking the spring of the pointed arch, the curve of the spandril. Nor, on the other hand, any remnant of Byzantine devices of the date-loaded palms, the peacocks and doves, the bunches of grapes, the serene, almost Pagan imagery which graces the churches of the Caelian and Aventine, the basilicas of Ravenna, and which would seem the necessary accompaniment of this stately Neo-Byzantine architecture. The churches of Lucca, like their contemporaries and immediate predecessors throughout Tuscany and North Italy, are ornamented only with symbols of terror.
[Footnote 3: The Cathedral of Assisi, a very early mediaeval building, affords a singular instance of the meeting of the last remnant of that serene symbolism of Roman and Byzantine-Roman churches with the usual Lombard horrors. A fine passion-flower or vine encircles the porch, peacocks strut and drink from an altar, while, on the other hand, lions mangle a man and a sheep, and horrible composite monsters, resembling the prehistoric plesiosaurus, bite each other's necks. A Madonna and Christ are enthroned on Byzantine seats, the weight resting on human beings, not so realistically crushed as those of Ferrara and Milan, but suffering. There is a similar meeting of symbols in the neighbouring Cathedral of Foligno; and, so far as I could see, the Umbrian valley is rich in very early churches of this type, sometimes lovely in ornamentation, like S. Pietro of Spoleto, sometimes very rude, like the tiny twin churches of Bevagna.]
The minds of the sculptors seem haunted by the terror of wicked wild beasts, irresistible and mysterious, as in the night fears of children. The chief ornament of St. Michael of Lucca is a curious band of black and white inlaid work, of which Mr. Ruskin has said, with the optimism of an orthodox symbolist, that it shows that the people of Lucca loved hunting, even as the people of Florence loved the sciences and crafts symbolised on their belfry. But the two or three solitary mannikins of the frieze of St. Michael exemplify not the pleasures, but the terrors of the chase; or rather they are not hunting, but being hunted by the wild beasts all round; attacked rather than pursuing, flying on their little horses from the unequal fight, or struggling under the hug of bears, the grip of lions; never does one of them carry off a dead creature or deal a mortal blow. The wild beasts are masters of the situation, the men mere intruders, speedily worsted; and this is proved by the fact that where the wolves, lions, and bears are not struggling with human beings, they are devouring each another, the appearance of the poor little scared men being only an interlude in the everlasting massacre of one beast by another. The people who worked this frieze may have pretended, perhaps, that they were expressing the pleasures of hunting; but what they actually realised was evidently the horrors of a world given over to ravening creatures. The porch sculptures of this and all the other churches of Lucca remove all further doubt upon this point. For here what human beings there lie under the belly and in the claws (sometimes a mere horrid mangled human head) of the lions and lionesses who project like beamheads out of the wall or carry the porch columns on their back: scowling, murderous creatures, with which the twelfth and early thirteenth century ornamented even houses and public tanks like Fonte Branda, which less terrified generations adorned with personified virtues. The nightmare of wild beasts is carried on in the inside of the churches: there again, under the columns of the pulpits are the lions and lionesses gnashing their teeth, tearing stags and gazelles and playing with human heads. And, to increase the horror, there also loom on the capitals of the nave strange unknown birds of prey, fantastic terrible vultures and griffins. Everywhere massacre and nightmare in those churches of Lucca. And the impression they made on my mind was naturally strengthened by the recollection of the similar and often more terrible carvings in other places, Milan, Pavia, Modena, Volterra, the Pistoiese and Lucchese hill-towns, in all other places rich in pre-Franciscan art. Above all, there came to my mind the image of the human figures which in most of such pre-Franciscan places express the other half of all this terror, the feelings of mankind in this kingdom of wicked, mysterious wild beasts. I allude to the terrible figures, crushed into dwarfs and hunchbacks by the weight of porch columns and pulpits, amid which the tragic creature, with broken spine and starting eyes, of Sant' Ambrogio of Milan is, through sheer horrified realisation, a sort of masterpiece. But there are wild beasts, lions and lionesses, among the works of thirteenth-century sculptors, and lions and lionesses continue for a long time as ornaments of pure Gothic architecture. Of course; but it was the very nearness of the resemblance of these later creatures that brought home to me the utterly different, the uniform and extraordinary character, of those of earlier date: the emblem was kept by the force of tradition, but the meaning thereof was utterly changed. The Pisani, for instance, carved lions and lionesses under all their pulpits; some of them are merely looking dignified, others devouring their prey, but they are conceived by a semi-heraldic decorator or an intelligent naturalist; nay, the spirit of St. Francis has entered into the sculptors, the feeling for animal piety and happiness, to the extent of representing the lionesses as suckling and tenderly licking their whelps. The men of that time cannot even conceive, in their newly acquired faith and joy in God and His creatures, what feelings must have been uppermost in the men who first set the fashion of adorning churches with men-devouring monsters.
Such were my impressions during those days spent among the serene Lucchese churches and their terrible emblems. And under their influence, thinking of the times which had built the churches and carved the emblems, there came to my memory a very curious anecdote, unearthed by the learned ecclesiastical historian Tocco, and consigned in his extremely suggestive book on mediaeval heresies. A certain priest of Milan became so revered for his sanctity and learning, and for the marvellous cures he worked, that the people insisted on burying him before the high altar, and resorting to his tomb as to that of a saint. The holy man became even more undoubtedly saintly after his death; and in the face of the miracles which were wrought by his intercession, it became necessary to proceed to his beatification. The Church was about to establish his miraculous sainthood, when, in the official process of collecting the necessary information, it was discovered that the supposed saint was a Manichean heretic, a Catharus, a believer in the wicked Demiurgus, the creating Satan, the defeat of the spiritual God, and the uselessness of the coming of Christ. It was quite probable that he had spat upon the crucifix as a symbol of the devil's triumph; it was quite possible that he had said masses to Satan as the true creator of all matter. Be this as it may, that priest's half-canonised bones were publicly burnt and their ashes scattered to the wind. The anecdote shows that the Manichean heresies, some ascetic and tender, others brutal and foul, had made their way into the most holy places. And, indeed, when we come to think of it, no longer startled by so extraordinary a revelation, this was the second time that Christianity ran the risk of becoming a dualistic religion—a religion, like some of its Asiatic rivals, of pessimism, transcendentally spiritual or cynically base according to the individual believer. Nor is it surprising that such views, identical with those of the transcendental theologians of the fourth century, and equivalent to the philosophical pessimism of our own day, as expounded particularly by Schopenhauer, should have found favour among the best and most thoughtful men of the early Middle Ages. In those stern and ferocious, yet tender-hearted and most questioning times, there must have been something logically satisfying, and satisfying also to the harrowed sympathies, in the conviction, if not in the dogma, that the soul of man had not been made by the maker of the foul and cruel world of matter; and that the suffering of all good men's hearts corresponded with the suffering, the humiliation of a mysteriously dethroned God of the Spirit. And what a light it must have shed, completely solving all terrible questions, upon the story of Christ's martyrdom, so constantly uppermost in the thoughts and feelings of mediaeval men!
Now, the men who built Sant' Ambrogio and San Miniato a Monte, who carved the stone nightmares, the ravening lions, the squashed and writhing human figures of the early Lombard and Tuscan churches, were the contemporaries of that Manichean priest of Milan, who, although a saint, had believed in the triumph of the Devil and the wickedness of the Creator. And among his fellow-heretics—those heretics lurking everywhere, and most among the most religious—should we not expect to find the mysterious guilds of Lombard freemasons, and the craftsmen to whom they gradually revealed their secrets, affirming in their stone symbolism to the already initiated, and suggesting to the uninitiated, their terrible creed of inevitable misery on earth? Nay, can we not imagine some of them, even as the Templars were accused of doing (and the Templars were patrons, remember, of important guilds of masons), propitiating the Great Enemy by service and ritual, proclaiming his Power, even as the ancients propitiated the divinities of darkness whom they hated? For the God of Good, we can fancy them reasoning, the Pure Spirit who will triumph when all this cruel universe goes to pieces, can wish for no material altars, and can have no use for churches. Or did not the idea of a dualism become confused into a vacillating, contradictory notion of a Power at once good and evil, something inscrutable, unthinkable, but inspiring less confidence than terror?
[Footnote 4: Here are a few dates, as given by Murray's Handbooks.
Fiesole Cathedral begun 1028; S. Miniato a Monte, 1013; Pisa Cathedral consecrated 1118; baptistery (lower storey), 1153. Lucca facade (interior later), 1204; S. Frediano of Lucca begun by Perharit 671, altered in twelfth century; S. Michele facade, 1188. Pistoia: S. Giovanni Evangelista by Gruamons, 1166; S. Andrea, also by Gruamons; S. Bartolomeo by Rudolphinus, 1167. Pulpit of S. Ambrogio of Milan, 1201; church traditionally begun about 868, probably much more modern.]
Whatever the secret of those sculptured monsters, this much is historically certain, that a dualistic, profoundly pessimist belief had honeycombed Christianity throughout Provence and Northern and Central Italy. But for this knowledge it would be impossible to explain the triumphant reception given to St. Francis and his sublime, illogical optimism, his train of converted wolves, sympathising birds, and saints and angels mixing familiarly with mortal men. The Franciscan revival has the strength and success of a reaction. And in sweeping away the pessimistic terrors of mankind, it swept away, by what is at least a strange coincidence, the nightmare sculpture of the old Lombard stonemasons.
What the things were which made room for the carved virgins and saints, the lute-playing angels and nibbling squirrels and twittering birds of Gothic sculpture, I wish to put before the reader in one significant example. The Cathedral of Ferrara is a building which, although finished in the thirteenth century, had been begun and consecrated so early as 1135, and the porch thereof, as is frequently the case, appears to have been erected earlier than other portions. Of this porch two pillars are supported by life-sized figures, one bearded, one beardless, both dressed in the girdled smock of the early Middle Ages. The enormous weight of the porch is resting, not conventionally (as in the antique caryatid) on the head, but on the spine; and the head is protruded forwards in a fearful effort to save itself, the face most frightfully convulsed: another moment and the spine must be broken and the head droop freely down. Before the portals, but not supporting anything, are six animals of red marble—a griffin, two lions, two lionesses, or what seem such, and a second griffin. The central lions are well preserved, highly realistic, but also decorative; one of them is crushing a large ram, another an ox, both creatures splendidly rendered. I imagine these central lions to be more recent (having perhaps replaced others) than their neighbours, which are obliterated to the extent of being lions or lionesses only by guesswork. These nameless feline creatures hold what appear to be portions of sheep, one of them having at its flank a curious excrescence like the stinging scorpion of the Mithra groups. The griffins, on the other hand, although every detail is rubbed out, are splendid in power and expression—great lion-bodied creatures, with gigantic eagle's beak, manifestly birds rather than beasts, with the muscular neck and probably the movement of a hawk. Like hawks, they have not swooped on to their prey, but let themselves drop on to it, arriving not on their belly like lions, but on their wings like birds. The prey is about a fourth of the griffin's size. One of the griffins has swooped down upon a wain, whose two wheels just protrude on either side of him; the heads of two oxen are under his paws, and the head, open mouthed, with terrified streaming hair, of the driver; beasts and men have come down flat on their knees. The other griffin has captured a horse and his rider; the horse has shied and fallen sideways beneath the griffin's loins, with head protruding on one side and hoofs on the other, the empty stirrup is still swinging. The rider, in mail-shirt and Crusader's helmet, has been thrown forward, and lies between the griffin's claws, his useless triangular shield clasped tight against his breast. Perhaps merely because the attitude of the two griffins had to be symmetrical, and the horse and rider filled up the space under their belly less closely than the cart, oxen, and driver, there arises the suggestive fact that the poor man and his bullocks are crushed more mercilessly than the rich man and his horse. But be this as it may, poor and rich, serf and knight, the griffin of destiny encompasses and pounces upon each; and the talons of evil pin down and the beak of misery rends with impartial cruel certainty.
Such is the account of the world and man, of justice and mercy, recorded for us by the stonemasons of Ferrara.
As with the emotional, the lyric element in Renaissance art, so also with the narrative or dramatic; it belongs not to the original, real, or at all events primitive Christianity of the time when the Man Jesus walked on earth in the body, but to that day when He arose once more, no less a Christ, be sure, in the soul of those men of the Middle Ages. The Evangelists had never felt—why should they, good, fervent Jewish laymen?—the magic of the baby Christ as it was felt by those mediaeval ascetics, suddenly reawakened to human feeling. There is neither tenderness nor reverence in the Gospels for the mother of the Lord; some rather rough words on her motherhood; and that mention in St. John, intended so evidently to bring the Evangelist, or supposed Evangelist, into closer communion with Christ, not to draw attention to Christ's mother. Yet out of those slight, and perhaps almost contemptuous indications, the Middle Ages have made three or four perfect and wonderful types of glorified womanhood: the Mother in adoration, the crowned, enthroned Virgin, the Mater Gloriosa; the broken-hearted Mother, Mater Dolorosa, as found at the foot of the cross or fainting at the deposition therefrom; types more complete and more immortal than that of any Greek divinity; above all, perhaps, the mere young mother holding the child for kindly, reverent folk to look at, for the little St. John to play with, or alone, looking at it, thinking of it in solitude and silence: the whole lovingness of all creatures rising in a clear flame to heaven. Nay, is not the suffering Christ a fresh creation of the Middle Ages, made really to bear the sorrows of a world more sorrowful than that of Judea? That strange Christ of the Resurrection, as painted occasionally by Angelico, by Pier della Francesca, particularly in a wonderful small panel by Botticelli; the Christ not yet triumphant at Easter, but risen waist-high in the sepulchre, sometimes languidly seated on its rim, stark, bloodless, with scarce seeing eyes, and the motionless agony of one recovering from a swoon, enduring the worst of all his martyrdom, the return to life in that chill, bleak landscape, where the sparse trees bend in the dawn wind; returning from death to a new, an endless series of sufferings, even as that legend made him answer the wayfaring Peter, returning to be crucified once more—iterum crucifigi.
All this is the lyric side, on which, in art as in poetry, there are as many variations as there are individual temperaments, and the variety in Renaissance art is therefore endless. Let us consider the narrative or dramatic side, on which, as I have elsewhere tried to show, all that could be done was done, only repetition ensuing, very early in the history of Italian art, by the Pisans, Giotto and Giotto's followers.
These have their counterpart, their precursors, in the writers and reciters of devotional romances.
Among the most remarkable of these is the "Life of the Magdalen," printed in certain editions of Frate Domenico Cavalca's well known charming translations of St. Jerome's "Lives of the Saints." Who the author may be seems quite doubtful, though the familiar and popular style might suggest some small burgher turned Franciscan late in life. As the spiritual love lyrics of Jacopone stand to the Canzonieri of Dante and of Dante's circle of poets, so does this devout novel stand to Boccaccio's more serious tales, and even to his "Fiammetta;" only, I think that the relation of the two novelists is the reverse of that of the poets; for, with an infinitely ruder style, the biographer of the Magdalen, whoever he was, has also an infinitely finer psychological sense than Boccaccio. Indeed, this little novel ought to be reprinted, like "Aucasin et Nicolette," as one of the absolutely satisfactory works, so few but so exquisite, of the Middle Ages.
It is the story of the relations of Jesus with the family of Lazarus, whose sister Mary is here identified with the Magdalen; and it is, save for the account of the Passion, which forms the nucleus, a perfect tissue of inventions. Indeed, the author explains very simply that he is narrating not how he knows of a certainty that things did happen, but how it pleases him to think that they might have happened. For the man puts his whole heart in the story, and alters, amplifies, explains away till his heart is satisfied. The Magdalen, for instance, was not all the sort of woman that foolish people think. If she took to scandalous courses, it was only from despair at being forsaken by her bridegroom, who left her on the wedding-day to follow Christ to the desert, and who was no other than the Evangelist John. Moreover, let no vile imputations be put upon it; in those days, when everybody was so good and modest, it took very little indeed (in fact, nothing which our wicked times would notice at all) to get a woman into disrepute.
Judged by our low fourteenth-century standard, this sinning Magdalen would have been only a little over-cheerful, a little free, barely what in the fourteenth century is called (the mere notion would have horrified the house of Lazarus) a trifle fast; our unknown Franciscan—for I take him to be a Franciscan—insists very much on her having sung and whistled on the staircase, a thing no modest lady of Bethany would then have done; but which, my dear brethren, is after all....
This sinful Magdalen, repenting of her sins, such as they are, is living with her sister Mary and her brother Lazarus; the whole little family bound to Jesus by the miracle which had brought Lazarus back to life. Jesus and his mother are their guests during Passion week; and the awful tragedy of the world and of heaven passes, in the anonymous narrative, across the narrow stage of that little burgher's house. As in the art of the fifteenth century, the chief emotional interest of the Passion is thrown not on the Apostles, scarcely on Jesus, but upon the two female figures, facing each other as in some fresco of Perugino, the Magdalen and the Mother of Christ. Facing one another, but how different! This Magdalen has the terrific gesture of despair of one of those colossal women of Signorelli's, flung down, as a town by earthquake, at the foot of the cross. She was pardoned "because she had loved much"—quia multo amavit. The unknown friar knew what that meant as well as his contemporary Dante, when Love showed him the vision of Beatrice's death. Never was there such heart-breaking as that of his heroine: she becomes almost the chief personage of the Passion; for she knows not merely all the martyrdom of the Beloved, feels all the agonies of His flesh and His spirit, but knows—how well!—that she has lost Him. Opposite this terrible convulsive Magdalen, sobbing, tearing her hair and rolling on the ground, is the other heart-broken woman, the mother; but how different! She remains maternal through her grief, with motherly thoughtfulness for others; for to the real mother (how different in this to the lover!) there will always remain in the world some one to think of. She bridles her sorrow; when John at last hesitatingly suggests that they must not stay all night on Calvary, she turns quietly homeward; and, once at home, tries to make the mourners eat, tries to eat with them, makes them take rest that dreadful night. For such a mother there shall not be mere bitterness in death; and here follows a most beautiful and touching invention: the glorified Christ, returning from Limbo, takes the happy, delivered souls to visit his mother.
"And Messer Giesu having tarried awhile with them in that place, said: 'Now let us go and make my mother happy, who with most gentle tears is calling upon me.' And they went forthwith, and came to the room where our Lady was praying, and with gentle tears asking God to give her back her son, saying it was to-day the third day. And as she stayed thus, Messer Giesu drew near to her on one side, and said: 'Peace and cheerfulness be with thee, Holy Mother.' And straightway she recognised the voice of her blessed son, and opened her eyes and beheld him thus glorious, and threw herself down wholly on the ground and worshipped him. And the Lord Jesus knelt himself down like her; and then they rose to their feet and embraced one another most sweetly, and gave each other peace, and then went and sat together," while all the holy people from Limbo looked on in admiration, and knelt down one by one, first the Baptist, and Adam and Eve, and all the others, saluting the mother of Christ, while the angels sang the end of all sorrows.
There would be much to say on this subject. One might point out, for instance, not only that Dante has made the lady he loved in his youth into the heroine—a heroine smiling in fashion more womanlike than theological—of his vision of hell and heaven; but what would have been even less possible at any previous moment of the world's history, he has interwoven his theogony so closely with strands of most human emotion and passion (think of that most poignant of love dramas in the very thick of hell!), that, instead of a representation, a chart, so to speak, of long-forgotten philosophical systems, his poem has become a picture, pattern within pattern, of the life of all things: flowers blowing, trees waving, men and women moving and speaking in densest crowds among the flaming rocks of hell, the steps of purgatory, the planispheres of heaven's stars making the groundwork of that wondrous tapestry. But it is better to read Dante than to read about Dante, so I let him be.
On the other hand, and lest some one take Puritanic umbrage at my remarks on early Italian art, and deprecate the notion that religious painters could be so very human, I shall say a few parting words about the religious painter, the saint par excellence, I mean the Blessed Angelico. Heaven forbid I should attempt to turn him into a brother Lippo, of the Landor or Browning pattern! He was very far indeed, let alone from profanity, even from such flesh and blood feeling as that of Jacopone and scores of other blessed ones. He was, emotionally, rather bloodless; and whatsoever energy he had probably went in tussels with the technical problems of the day, of which he knew much more, for all his cloistered look, than I suspected when I wrote of him before. Angelico, to return to the question, was not a St. Francis, a Fra Jacopone. But even Angelico had his passionately human side, though it was only the humanness of a nice child. In a life of hard study, and perhaps hard penance, that childish blessed one nourished childish desires—desires for green grass and flowers, for gay clothes, for prettily-dressed pink and lilac playfellows, for the kissing and hugging in which he had no share, for the games of the children outside the convent gate. How human, how ineffably full of a good child's longing, is not his vision of Paradise! The gaily-dressed angels are leading the little cowled monks—little baby black and white things, with pink faces like sugar lambs and Easter rabbits—into deep, deep grass quite full of flowers, the sort of grass every child on this wicked earth has been cruelly forbidden to wade in! They fall into those angels' arms, hugging them with the fervour of children in the act of loving a cat or a dog. They join hands with those angels, outside the radiant pink and blue toy-box towers of the celestial Jerusalem, and go singing "Round the Mulberry Bush" much more like the babies in Kate Greenaway's books than like the Fathers of the Church in Dante. The joys of Paradise, for this dear man of God, are not confined to sitting ad dexteram domini....
[Footnote 5: Mme. Darmesteter's charming essays "The End of the Middle Ages," contain some amusing instances of such repressed love of finery on the part of saints. Compare Fioretti xx., "And these garments of such fair cloth, which we wear (in Heaven) are given us by God in exchange for our rough frocks."]
Di questo nostro dolce Fratellino; that line of Jacopone da Todi, hymning to the child Christ, sums up, in the main, the vivifying spirit of early Italian art; nay, is it not this mingled emotion of tenderness, of reverence, and deepest brotherhood which made St. Francis claim sun and birds, even the naughty wolf, for brethren? This feeling becomes embodied, above all, in the very various army of charming angels; and more particularly, perhaps, because Venice had no other means of expression than painting, in the singing and playing angels of the old Venetians. These angels, whether they be the girlish, long-haired creatures, robed in orange and green, of Carpaccio; or the naked babies, with dimpled little legs and arms, and filetted silky curls of Gian Bellini, seem to concentrate into music all the many things which that strong pious Venice, tongue-tied by dialect, had no other way of saying; and we feel to this day that it sounds in our hearts and attunes them to worship or love or gentle contemplation. The sound of those lutes and pipes, of those childish voices, heard and felt by the other holy persons in those pictures—Roman knight Sebastian, Cardinal Jerome, wandering palmer Roch, and all the various lovely princesses with towers and palm boughs in their hands—moreover brings them together, unites them in one solemn blissfulness round the enthroned Madonna. These are not people come together by accident to part again accidentally; they are eternal, part of a vision disclosed to the pious spectator, a crowning of the Mass with its wax-lights and songs.
But the Venetian playing and singing angels are there for something more important still. Those excellent old painters understood quite well that in the midst of all this official, doge-like ceremony, it was hard, very hard lines for the poor little Christ Child, having to stand or lie for ever, for ever among those grown-up saints, on the knees of that majestic throning Madonna; since the oligarchy, until very late, allowed no little playfellow to approach the Christ Child, bringing lambs and birds and such-like, and leading Him off to pick flowers as in the pictures of those democratic Tuscans and Umbrians. None of that silly familiarity, said stately Venetian piety. But the painters were kinder. They incarnated their sympathy in the baby music-making angels, and bade them be friendly to the Christ Child. They are so; and nowhere does it strike one so much as in that fine picture, formerly called Bellini, but more probably Alvise Vivarini, at the Redentore, where the Virgin, in her lacquer-scarlet mantle, has ceased to be human altogether, and become a lovely female Buddha in contemplation, absolutely indifferent to the poor little sleeping Christ. The little angels have been sorry. Coming to make their official music, they have brought each his share of heaven's dessert: a little offering of two peaches, three figs, and three cherries on one stalk (so precious therefore!), placed neatly, spread out to look much, not without consciousness of the greatness of the sacrifice. They have not, those two little angels, forgotten, I am sure, the gift they have brought, during that rather weary music-making before the inattentive Madonna. They keep on thinking how Christ will awake to find all those precious things, and they steel their little hearts to the sacrifice. The little bird who has come (invited for like reason) and perched on the curtain bar, understands it all, respects their feelings, and refrains from pecking.
Such is the heart of the saints, and out of it comes the painted triumph of El Magno Jesulino.
THE IMAGINATIVE ART OF THE RENAISSANCE
In a Florentine street through which I pass most days, is a house standing a little back (the place is called the Square of Purgatory), the sight of which lends to that sordid street of stained palace backs, stables, and dingy little shops, a certain charm and significance, in virtue solely of three roses carved on a shield over a door. The house is a humble one of the sixteenth century, and its three roses have just sufficient resemblance to roses, with their pincushion heads and straight little leaves, for us to know them as such. Yet that rude piece of heraldic carving, that mere indication that some one connected with the house once thought of roses, is sufficient, as I say, to give a certain pleasurableness to the otherwise quite unpleasurable street.