SIX CENTURIES OF PAINTING
SIX CENTURIES OF
LONDON: T. C. & E. C. JACK
67 LONG ACRE, W.C., AND EDINBURGH
TUSCAN SCHOOLS— PAGE
I. GIOVANNI CIMABUE 1
II. GIOTTO DI BONDONE 10
III. THE EARLIER QUATTROCENTISTS 18
IV. THE LATER QUATTROCENTISTS 26
V. LEONARDO DA VINCI 33
VI. MICHELANGELO BUONARROTI 40
VII. RAFFAELLO DI SANTI 47
I. THE VIVARINI AND BELLINI 59
II. TIZIANO VECELLIO 78
III. PAOLO VERONESE AND IL TINTORETTO 99
SPANISH SCHOOL 109
I. HUBERT AND JAN VAN EYCK 121
II. PETER PAUL RUBENS 143
III. THE PUPILS OF RUBENS 157
I. FRANS HALS 165
II. REMBRANDT VAN RYN 171
III. PAINTERS OF GENRE 183
IV. PAINTERS OF ANIMALS 191
V. PAINTERS OF LANDSCAPE 202
GERMAN SCHOOLS 211
I. THE SEVENTEENTH CENTURY 225
II. THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY 235
THE ENGLISH SCHOOL—
I. THE EARLY PORTRAIT PAINTERS 251
II. WILLIAM HOGARTH 258
III. SIR JOSHUA REYNOLDS AND THOMAS GAINSBOROUGH 267
IV. THE CLOSE OF THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY 295
THE NINETEENTH CENTURY—
I. THE SPIRIT OF REVOLT 305
II. EUGENE DELACROIX 309
III. RUSKIN AGAINST THE PHILISTINES 313
IV. MANET AND WHISTLER AGAINST THE WORLD 324
V. THE ROYAL ACADEMY 329
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
VITTORE PISANO (called PISANELLO)—St Anthony and St George Frontispiece National Gallery, London
PLATE FACING PAGE
I. FILIPPO LIPPI—The Annunciation 22 National Gallery, London
II. SANDRO BOTTICELLI(?)—The Virgin and Child 26
National Gallery, London
III. SANDRO BOTTICELLI—Portrait of a Young Man 28 National Gallery, London
IV. SANDRO BOTTICELLI—The Nativity 32 National Gallery, London
V. LEONARDO DA VINCI—The Virgin of the Rocks 36 National Gallery, London
VI. PIETRO PERUGINO—Central Portion of Altar-Piece 50 National Gallery, London
VII. RAPHAEL—The Ansidei Madonna 52 National Gallery, London
VIII. RAPHAEL—La Belle Jardiniere 52 Louvre, Paris
IX. RAPHAEL—Portrait of Baldassare Castiglione 56 Louvre, Paris
X. CORREGGIO—Mercury, Cupid, and Venus 58 National Gallery, London
XI. ANDREA MANTEGNA—The Madonna della Vittoria 68 Louvre, Paris
XII. GIOVANNI BELLINI—The Doge Loredano 72 National Gallery, London
XIII. GIORGIONE—Venetian Pastoral 78 Louvre, Paris
XIV. TITIAN—Portrait said to be of Ariosto 84 National Gallery, London
XV. TITIAN—The Holy Family 86 National Gallery, London
XVI. TITIAN—The Entombment 88 Louvre, Paris
XVII. TINTORETTO—St George and the Dragon 102 National Gallery, London
XVIII. VELAZQUEZ—The Infante Philip Prosper 112 Imperial Gallery, Vienna
XIX. VELAZQUEZ—The Rokeby Venus 118 National Gallery, London
XX. MURILLO—A Boy Drinking 120 National Gallery, London
XXI. JAN VAN EYCK—Jan Arnolfini and His Wife 128 National Gallery, London
XXII. JAN VAN EYCK—Portrait of the Painter's Wife 132 Town Gallery, Bruges
XXIII. JAN MABUSE—Portrait of Jean Carondelet 136 Louvre, Paris
XXIV. SIR PETER PAUL RUBENS—Portrait of Helene Fourment, the Artist's Second Wife, and two of Her Children 150 Louvre, Paris
XXV. FRANS HALS—Portrait of a Lady 168 Louvre, Paris
XXVI. REMBRANDT—Portrait of Hendrickje Stoffels 176 Louvre, Paris
XXVII. REMBRANDT—Portrait of an Old Lady 182 National Gallery, London
XXVIII. TERBORCH—The Concert 186 Louvre, Paris
XXIX. GABRIEL METSU—The Music Lesson 188 National Gallery, London
XXX. PIETER DE HOOCH—Interior of a Dutch House 190 National Gallery, London
XXXI. JAN VERMEER—The Lace Maker 192 Louvre, Paris
XXXII. "THE MASTER OF ST BARTHOLOMEW"—Two Saints 212 National Gallery, London
XXXIII. HANS HOLBEIN—Portrait of Christina, Duchess of Milan 224 National Gallery, London
XXXIV. ANTOINE WATTEAU—L'Indifferent 236 Louvre, Paris
XXXV. JEAN-BAPTISTE GREUZE—The Broken Pitcher 244 Louvre, Paris
XXXVI. JEAN HONORE FRAGONARD—L'Etude 248 Louvre, Paris
XXXVII. HANS HOLBEIN—Anne of Cleves 256 Louvre, Paris
XXXVIII. WILLIAM HOGARTH—The Shrimp Girl 260 National Gallery, London
XXXIX. SIR JOSHUA REYNOLDS—Lady Cockburn and Her Children 274 National Gallery, London
XL. SIR JOSHUA REYNOLDS—The Age of Innocence 284 National Gallery, London
XLI. THOMAS GAINSBOROUGH—The Market Cart 290 National Gallery, London
XLII. GEORGE ROMNEY—The Parson's Daughter 298 National Gallery, London
XLIII. GEORGE ROMNEY—Mrs Robinson—"Perdita" 300 Hertford House, London
XLIV. JACQUES LOUIS DAVID—Portrait of Mme. Recamier 306 Louvre, Paris
XLV. EUGENE DELACROIX—Dante and Virgil 310 Louvre, Paris
XLVI. JOHN CONSTABLE—The Hay Wain 312 National Gallery, London
XLVII. J. M. W. TURNER—Crossing the Brook 316 National Gallery of British Art, London
XLVIII. EDOUARD MANET—Olympia 326 Louvre, Paris
XLIX. J. M. WHISTLER—Lillie in Our Alley 328 In the possession of John J. Cowan, Esq.
So far as it concerns pictures painted upon panel or canvas in tempera or oils, the history of painting begins with Cimabue, who worked in Florence during the latter half of the thirteenth century. That the art was practised in much earlier times may readily be admitted, and the life-like portraits in the vestibule at the National Gallery taken from Greek tombs of the second or third century are sufficient proofs of it; but for the origin of painting as we are now generally accustomed to understand the term we need go no further back than to Cimabue and his contemporaries, from whose time the art has uninterruptedly developed throughout Europe until the present day.
Oddly enough it is to the Christian Church, whose early fathers put their heaviest ban upon all forms of art, that this development is almost wholly due. The reaction against paganism began to die out when the Christian religion was more firmly established, and representations of Christ and the Saints executed in mosaic became more and more to be regarded as a necessary, or at any rate a regular embellishment of the numerous churches which were built. For these mosaics panel paintings began in time to be substituted; but it was long before any of the human feeling of art was to be found in them. The influence of S. Francis of Assisi was needed to prepare the way, and it was only towards the close of the thirteenth century that the breath of life began to be infused into these conventional representations, and painting became a living art.
As it had begun in Italy, under the auspices of the Church, so it chiefly developed in that country; at first in Florence and Siena, later in Rome, whither its greatest masters were summoned by the Pope, and in Venice, where, farther from the ecclesiastical influence, it flourished more exuberantly, and so became more capable of being transplanted to other countries. In Germany, however, and the Low Countries it had appeared early enough to be considered almost as an independent growth, though not till considerably later were the northern schools capable of sustaining the reputation given them by the Van Eycks and Roger Van der Weyden.
But for the effects of the Renaissance in Italy in the fifteenth century it is questionable whether painting would ever have spread as it did in the sixteenth and seventeenth to Spain and France. But by the close of the fifteenth century such enormous progress had been made by the Italian painters towards the realisation of human action and emotion in pictures, that from being merely an accessory of religious establishments, painting had become as much a part of the recognised means of intellectual enjoyment of everyday life as music, sculpture, or even the refinements of food and clothing.
Portraiture, in particular, had gradually advanced to a foremost place in painting. Originally it was used exclusively for memorials of the dead—as we have seen in the case of the paintings from the Greek tombs—and on coins and medals. But gradually the practice arose, as painters became more skilful in representing the appearance of the model, of introducing the features and figures of actual personages into religious pictures, in the character of "donors," and as these increased in importance, the sacred personages were gradually relegated to the background, and ultimately dispensed with altogether. At the beginning of the sixteenth century we find Hans Holbein (as an example) recommended by Erasmus to Sir Thomas More as a portrait painter who wished to try his fortunes in England; and during the rest of his life painting practically nothing but portraits.
By the end of the sixteenth century, if not earlier, painting had become almost as much a business as an art, not only in Italy but in most other countries in Europe, and was established in each country more or less independently. So that making every allowance for the various foreign influences that affected each different country, it is convenient to trace the development of painting in each country separately, and we arrange our chapters accordingly under the titles of Tuscan and Venetian (the two main divisions of Italian painting), Spanish, Flemish, Dutch, German, French, and British Schools. In each country, as might be expected—and especially in Italy—there are subdivisions; but, broadly speaking, the lover of pictures will be quite well enough equipped for the enjoyment of them if he is able to recognise their country, and roughly their period, without troubling about the particular district or personal influence of their origin.
For while it is undoubtedly true that the more one knows about the history of painting in general the greater will be the appreciation of the various excellences which tend to perfection, it is absolutely ridiculous to suppose that only the learned in such matters are capable of deriving enjoyment from a beautiful picture, or of expressing an opinion upon it. In the first place, the picture is intended for the public, and the public have therefore the best right to say whether it pleases them or not—and why. And it may be noted as a positive fact that whenever the public, in any country, have a free choice in matters of art, that choice generally turns out to be right, and is ultimately endorsed by the best critics. Most of the vulgar art to be found in advertisements and the illustrated papers is put there by ignorant and vulgar providers, who imagine that the whole public are as ignorant and vulgar as themselves; whereas whenever a better standard of taste is given an opportunity, it never fails to find a welcome. Until Sir Henry Wood inaugurated the present regime, the Promenade Concerts at Covent Garden were popularly supposed to represent the national taste in music. Until the Temple Classics and Every Man's Library were published it was commonly supposed that the people at large cared for nothing but Bow Bells, the Penny Novelette, or such unclassical if alluring provender. In the domain of painting, the Royal Academy has such a firm and ancient hold on the popular imagination of the English that its influence is difficult to dispel; but there are many signs that its baneful ascendency is at length on the decline; and it is well known that the National Gallery is attracting more and more visitors and Burlington House less and less as the years go on.
In the following attempt at a general survey of the history of painting—imperfect or ill-proportioned as it may appear to this or that specialist or lover of any particular school—I have thought it best to assume a fair amount of ignorance of the subject on the part of the reader, though without, I hope, taking any advantage of it, even if it exists; and I have therefore drawn freely upon several old histories and handbooks for both facts and opinions concerning the old masters and their works. In some cases, I think, a dead lion is decidedly better than a live dog.
By the will of God, in the year 1240, we are told by Vasari, GIOVANNI CIMABUE, of the noble family of that name, was born in the city of Florence, to give the first light to the art of painting. Vasari's "Lives of the Painters" was first published in Florence in 1550, and with all its defects and all its inaccuracies, which have afforded so much food for contention among modern critics, it is still the principal source of our knowledge of the earlier history of painting as it was revived in Italy in the thirteenth century.
Making proper allowance for Vasari's desire to glorify his own city, and to make a dignified commencement to his work by attributing to Cimabue more than was possibly his due, we need not be deterred by the very latest dicta of the learned from accepting the outlines of his life of Cimabue as an embodiment of the tradition of the time in which he lived—two centuries and a quarter after Cimabue—and, until contradicted by positive evidence, as worthy of general credence. In the popular mind Cimabue still remains "The Father of modern painting," and though his renown may have attracted more pictures and more legends to his name than properly belong to him, it is certain that Dante, his contemporary, wrote of him thus:—
Credette Cimabue nella pintura Tener lo campo, ed ora ha Giotto il grido Si che la fama di colui s'oscura.
This is at least as important as anything written by a contemporary of William Shakespeare; and even if we are required to believe that some of his most important works are by another hand, his influence on the history of art is beyond question. Let us then follow Vasari a little further, and we shall find, at any rate, what is typical of the development of genius.
"This youth," Vasari continues, "being considered by his father and others to give proof of an acute judgment and a clear understanding, was sent to Santa Maria Novella to study letters under a relation who was then master in grammar to the novices of that convent. But Cimabue, instead of devoting himself to letters, consumed the whole day in drawing men, horses, houses, and other various fancies on his books and different papers—an occupation to which he felt himself impelled by nature."
This is exactly what is recorded of Reynolds, it may be noted, and very much the same as in the case of Gainsborough, Benjamin West—and many a modern painter.
"This natural inclination was favoured by fortune, for the governors of the city had invited certain Greek (probably Byzantine) painters to Florence, for the purpose of restoring the art of painting, which had not merely degenerated but was altogether lost. These artists, among other works, began to paint the chapel of the Gondi in Santa Maria Novella, and Cimabue, often escaping from the school, and having already made a commencement of the art he was so fond of, would stand watching these masters at their work. His father, and the artists themselves, therefore concluded that he must be well endowed for painting, and thought that much might be expected from him if he devoted himself to it. Giovanni was accordingly, much to his delight, placed with these masters, whom he soon greatly surpassed both in design and colouring. For they, caring little for the progress of art, executed their works not in the excellent manner of the ancient Greeks, but in the rude modern style of their own day. Wherefore, though Cimabue imitated them, he very much improved the art, relieving it greatly from their uncouth manner and doing honour to his country by the name that he acquired and by the works which he performed. Of this we have evidence in Florence from the pictures which he painted there—as for example the front of the altar of Saint Cecilia and a picture of the Virgin, in Santa Croce, which was and still is (i.e. in 1550) attached to one of the pilasters on the right of the choir."
Unfortunately the very first example cited pulls us up short alongside the official catalogue of the Uffizi Gallery (where the picture was placed in 1841), in which it is catalogued (No. 20) as "Unknown ... Vasari erroneously attributes it to Cimabue."
Tiresome as it may seem to be thus distracted, at the very outset, by the question of authenticity, it is nevertheless desirable to start with a clear understanding that in surveying in a general way the history and development of painting, it will be quite hopeless to wait for the final word on the supposed authorship of every picture mentioned. In this instance, as it happens, there is no reason to question the modern catalogue, though that is by no means the same thing as denying that Cimabue painted the picture which existed in the church of S. Cecilia in Vasari's time. Is it more likely, it may be asked, that Vasari, who is accused of unduly glorifying Cimabue, would attribute to him a work not worthy of his fame, or that during the three centuries since Vasari wrote a substitution was effected? The other picture, the Madonna and Child Enthroned, which found its way into our National Gallery in 1857, is still officially catalogued as the work of Cimabue, and it is to be hoped that this precious relic, together with the Madonnas in the Louvre, the Florence Academy, and in the lower church at Assisi, may be long spared to us by the authority of the critics as "genuine productions" of the beloved master.
On the general question, however, let me reassure the reader by stating that so far as possible I have avoided the mention of any pictures, in the following pages, about which there is any grave doubt, save in a few cases where tradition is so firmly established that it seems heartless to disturb it until final judgment is entered—of which the following examples of Cimabue's reputed work may be taken as types. The latest criticism seeks to deprive him of every single existing picture he is believed to have painted; those mentioned by Vasari which have perished may be considered equally unauthentic, but, as before mentioned, his account of them gives us as well as anything else the story of the beginnings of the art.
Having afterwards undertaken, Vasari continues, to paint a large picture in the Abbey of the Santa Trinita in Florence for the monks of Vallombrosa, he made great efforts to justify the high opinion already formed of him and showed greater powers of invention, especially in the attitude of the Virgin, whom he depicted with the child in her arms and numerous angels around her, on a gold ground. This is the picture now in the Accademia in Florence. The frescoes next described are no longer in existence:—
"Cimabue next painted in fresco at the hospital of the Porcellana at the corner of the Via Nuova which leads into the Borgo Ogni Santi. On the front of this building, which has the principal door in the centre, he painted the Virgin receiving the Annunciation from the angel, on one side, and Christ with Cleophas and Luke on the other, all the figures the size of life. In this work he departed more decidedly from the dry and formal manner of his instructors, giving more life and movement to the draperies, vestments and other accessories, and rendering all more flexible and natural than was common to the manner of those Greeks whose work were full of hard lines and sharp angles as well in mosaic as in painting. And this rude unskilful manner the Greeks had acquired not so much from study or settled purpose as from having servilely followed certain fixed rules and habits transmitted through a long series of years by one painter to another, while none ever thought of the amelioration of his design, the embellishment of his colouring, or the improvement of his invention."
After describing Cimabue's activities at Pisa and Assisi with equal circumstance, Vasari passes to the famous Rucellai Madonna, now supposed to be by the hand of Duccio of Siena. However doubtful the story may appear in the light of modern criticism, historical or artistic, it certainly forms part of the history of painting—for its spirit if not for its accuracy—and as such it can never be too often quoted:—
"He afterwards painted the picture of the Virgin for the Church of Santa Maria Novella, where it is suspended on high between the chapel of the Rucellai family and that of the Bardi. This picture is of larger size than any figure that had been painted down to those times, and the angels surrounding it make it evident that although Cimabue still retained the Greek manner, he was nevertheless gradually approaching the mode of outline and general method of modern times. Thus it happened that this work was an object of so much admiration to the people of that day—they having never seen anything better—that it was carried in solemn procession, with the sound of trumpets and other festal demonstration, from the house of Cimabue to the Church, he himself being highly rewarded and honoured for it. It is further reported, and may be read in certain records of old painters, that while Cimabue was painting this picture in a garden near the gate of S. Pietro, King Charles the Elder of Anjou passed through Florence, and the authorities of the city, among other marks of respect, conducted him to see the picture of Cimabue. When this work was thus shown to the King, it had not before been seen by anyone; wherefore all the men and women of Florence hastened in great crowds to admire it, making all possible demonstration of delight."
Now whether or not Vasari was right in crediting Cimabue with these honours in Florence instead of Duccio in Siena, makes little difference in the story of the origin and early development of the art of painting. One may doubt the accuracy of the mosaic account of the Creation, the authorship of the Fourth Gospel or the Shakespearean poems, or the list of names of the Normans who are recorded to have fought with William the Conqueror. But what if one may? The Creation, the poems and plays of Shakespeare and the battle of Hastings are all of them historic facts, and neither science, nor literature, nor history is a penny the worse for the loose though perfectly understandable conditions under which these facts have been handed down to us. When we come down to times nearer to our own the accuracy of data is more easily ascertainable, though the confusion arising out of them often obscures their real significance; but in looking for origins we are content to ignore the details, provided we can find enough general information on which to form an idea of them. To these first chapters of Vasari, then, we need not hesitate to resort for the main sources of the earlier history of painting. Even so far as we have gone we have learnt several important facts as to the nature of the foundations on which the glorious structure was to be raised.
First of all, it is apparent that the practice of painting, though strictly forbidden by the earliest Fathers of the Church, was used by the faithful in the Eastern churches for purposes of decoration, and was introduced into Italy—we may safely say Tuscany—for the same purpose.
Second, that being transplanted into this new soil, it put forth such wonderful blossoms that it came to be cultivated with much more regard; and from being merely a necessary or conventional ornament of certain portions of the church, was soon accounted its greatest glory.
Third, that it was accorded popular acclamation.
Fourth, that its most attractive feature in the eyes of beholders was its life-like representation of the human form and other natural objects.
Prosaic as these considerations may appear, they are nevertheless the fundamental principles that underlie the whole of the subsequent development of painting; and unless every picture in the world were destroyed, and the art of painting wholly lost for at least a thousand years, there could not be another picture produced which would not refer back through continuous tradition to one or every one of them. First, the basis of religion. Second, the development peculiar to the soil. Third, the imitation of nature. Fourth, the approbation of the public—there we have the four cardinal points in the chart of painting.
It would be easy enough to contend that painting had nothing whatever to do with religion—if only by reference to the godless efforts of some of the modernists; but such a contention could only be based on the imperfect recognition of what religion actually means. In Italy in the thirteenth century, as in Spain in the seventeenth, it meant the Church of Rome. In Germany of the sixteenth, as in England in the eighteenth, it meant something totally different. To put it a little differently, all painting that is worth so calling has been done to the glory of God; and after making due allowance for human frailties of every variety, it is hard to say that among all the hundreds of great and good painters there has ever been one who was not a good man.
As for the influence of environment, or nationality, this is so universally recognised that the term "school" more often means locality than tuition. We talk generally of the French, English, or Dutch schools, and more particularly of the Paduan, Venetian, or Florentine. It is only when we hesitate to call our national treasure a Botticelli or a Bellini that we add the words "school of" to the name of the master who is fondly supposed to have inspired its author. The difference between a wood block of the early eighteenth century executed in England and Japan respectively may be cited as an extreme instance of the effect of locality on idea, when the method is identical.
With reference to the imitation of nature, at the mere mention of which modernists become so furious, it is worth recalling that the earliest story about painting relates to Zeuxis, who is said to have painted a bunch of grapes with such skill that the birds ignored the fruit and pecked at the picture. In later times we hear of Rembrandt being the butt of his pupils, who, knowing his love of money, used to paint coins on the floor; and there are plenty of stories of people painting flies and other objects so naturally as to deceive the unwary spectator. Vasari is continually praising his compatriots for painting "like the life."
Lastly, the approbation, or if possible the acclamation, of the public has seldom if ever been unconsidered by the artist. Where it has, it has only been the greatest genius that has been able to exist without it. A man who has anything to say must have somebody to say it to; and though a painter may seem to be wasting the best part of his life in trying to make the people understand what he has to say in his language instead of talking to them in their own common tongue, it is rarely that he fails in the end, even if, alas for him, the understanding comes too late to be of any benefit to himself.
Cimabue's last work is said to be a figure, which was left unfinished, of S. John, in mosaic, for the Duomo at Pisa. This was in 1302, which is supposed to be the date of his death, though Vasari puts it two years earlier, at the time he was engaged with the architect Arnolfo Lapi in superintending the building of the Duomo in Florence, where he is buried.
GIOTTO DI BONDONE
While according all due honour, and probably more, to Cimabue as the originator of modern painting, it is to his pupil, GIOTTO, that we are accustomed to look for the first developments of its possibilities. Had Cimabue's successors been as conservative as his instructors, we might still be not very much better off than if he had never lived. For much as there is to admire in Cimabue's painting, it is only the first flush of the dawn which it heralded, and though containing the germ of the future development of the art, is yet without any of the glory which in the fulness of time was to result from it.
To Giotto, Vasari considers, "is due the gratitude which the masters in painting owe to Nature, seeing that he alone succeeded in resuscitating art and restoring her to a path that may be called the true one; and that the art of design, of which his contemporaries had little if any knowledge, was by his means effectually recalled to life." This seems to detract in some degree from his eulogies of Cimabue; but it is to the last sentence that our attention should be directed, which implies that in profiting by the master's example he succeeded in extending the possibilities of the new art beyond its first limits. Cimabue, we may believe, drew his Virgins and Saints from living models, whereas his predecessors had merely repeated formulas laid down for them by long tradition. Giotto went further, and extended his scope to the world at large. For the plain gold background he substituted the landscape, thus breaking down, as it were, a great wall, and seeing beyond it. Nor was this innovation merely a technical one—it was the man's nature that effected it and made his art a living thing.
Giotto, who was born in 1276, was the son of a simple husbandman, who lived at Vespignano, about fourteen miles from Florence. Cimabue chanced upon the boy when he was only about ten years old, tending his father's sheep, and was astonished to find that he was occupied in making a drawing of one of them upon a smooth piece of rock with a sharp stone. He was so pleased with this that he asked to be allowed to take him back to Florence, and the boy proved so apt a pupil that before very long he was regularly employed in painting.
His influence was not confined to Florence, or even to Tuscany, but the whole of Italy was indebted to him for a new impulse in art, and he is said to have followed Pope Clement V. to Avignon and executed many pictures there. Giotto was not only a painter, but his name is also famous in the history of architecture: the wonderful Campanile adjoining the Duomo in Florence was designed by him, and the foundations laid and the building erected under his instructions. On sculpture too he exercised a considerable influence, as may be seen in the panels and statues which adorn the lower part of the tower, suggested if not actually designed by Giotto, and carved by Andrea Pisano.
Chief of the earlier works of Giotto are his frescoes in the under church at Assisi, and in these may be seen the remarkable fertility of invention with which he endowed his successors. Instead of the conventional Madonna and Child, and groups of saints and angels, we have here whole legends represented in a series of pictures of almost dramatic character. In the four triangular compartments of the groined vaulting are the three vows of the Franciscan Order, namely, Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience, and in the fourth the glorification of the saint. In the first, the Vow of Poverty, it is significant to find that he has taken his subject from Dante. Poverty appears as a woman whom Christ gives in marriage to S. Francis: she stands among thorns; in the foreground are two youths mocking her, and on either side a group of angels as witnesses of the holy union. On the left is a youth, attended by an angel, giving his cloak to a poor man; on the right are the rich and great, who are invited by an angel to approach, but turn scornfully away. The other designs appear to be Giotto's own invention. Chastity, as a young woman, sits in a fortress surrounded by walls, and angels pay her devotion. On one side are laymen and churchmen led forward by S. Francis, and on the other Penance, habited as a hermit, driving away earthly love and impurity. S. Francis in glory is more conventional, as might be expected from the nature of the subject.
In the ancient Basilica of S. Peter in Rome Giotto made the celebrated mosaic of the Navicella, which is now in the vestibule of S. Peter's. It represents a ship, in which are the disciples, on a stormy sea. According to the early Christian symbolisation the ship denoted the Church. In the foreground on the right the Saviour, walking on the waves, rescues Peter. Opposite sits a fisherman in tranquil expectation, typifying the confident hope of the simple believer. This mosaic has frequently been moved, and has undergone so much restoration that only the composition can be attributed to Giotto.
Of the paintings of scriptural history attributed to Giotto very few remain, and the greater part of those have in recent times been pronounced to be the work of his followers. Foremost, however, among the undoubted examples are paintings in the Chapel of the Madonna dell'Arena at Padua, which was erected in 1303. In thirty-eight pictures, extending in three rows along the wall, is contained the life of the Virgin. The ground of the vaulting is blue studded with gold stars, among which appear the heads of Christ and the prophets, while above the arch of the choir is the Saviour in a glory of angels. Combined with these sacred scenes and personages are introduced fitting allusions to the moral state of man, the lower part of the side walls containing, in medallions painted in monochrome, allegorical figures of the virtues and vices—the former feminine and ideal, the latter masculine and individual—while the entrance wall is covered with the wonderful Last Judgment.
Here, as in his allegorical pieces, Giotto appears as a great innovator, a number of situations suggested by the Scriptures being now either represented for the first time or seen in a totally new form. Well-known subjects are enriched with numerous subordinate figures, making the picture more truthful and more intelligible; as in the Flight into Egypt, where the Holy Family is accompanied by a servant, and three other figures are introduced to complete the composition. In the Raising of Lazarus, too, the disciples behind the Saviour on the one side and the astonished multitude on the other form two choruses, an arrangement which is followed, but with considerable modification, in Ouwater's unique picture of the same subject now in the Kaiser Friedrich Museum at Berlin. This approach to dramatic reality sometimes assumes a character which, as Kugler puts it, oversteps the strict limits of the higher ecclesiastical style. It is worth noting, however, that the early Netherlandish school—as we shall see in a later chapter—developed this characteristic to a far greater extent, continuing the tradition handed down, quite independently of Giotto, through illuminated manuscripts, and with less of that expression of the highest religious or moral feeling which is so evident in Giotto.
The few existing altar-pieces of Giotto are less important than his frescoes, inasmuch as they do not admit of the exhibition of his higher and most original gifts. Two signed examples are a Coronation of the Virgin in Santa Croce at Florence, and a Madonna, with saints and angels on the side panels, originally in S. Maria degli Angeli at Bologna, and now in the Brera at Milan. The latter, however, is not now recognised as his. The earliest authentic example is the so-called Stefaneschi altar-piece, painted in 1298 for the same patron who commissioned the Navicella. Giotto's highest merit consists especially in the number of new subjects which he introduced, in the life-like and spiritual expression with which he heightened all familiar occurrences and scenes, and in the choice of the moment of representation. In all these no earlier Christian painter can be compared with him. Another and scarcely less important quality he possessed is in the power of conveying truth of character. The faces introduced into some of his compositions bear an inward guarantee of their lively resemblance to some living model, and this characteristic seems to have been eagerly seized upon by his immediate followers for emulation, as is noticeable in two of the principal works—in the Bargello at Florence, and in the church of the Incoronata at Naples—formerly attributed to him but now relegated to his pupils. The portrait of Dante in a fresco on the wall of the Bargello shows a deep and penetrating mind, and in the Sacraments at Naples we find heads copied from life with obvious fidelity and such a natural conception of particular scenes as brings them to the mind of the spectator with extraordinary distinctness.
Of Giotto's numerous followers in the fourteenth century it is impossible in the present work to give any particular account, but of his influence at large on the practice as on the treatment and conception of painting at this stage of its development, one or two examples may be cited as typical of the progress he urged, such as the frescoes in the Campo Santo at Pisa. This wonderful cloister, which measures four hundred feet in length and over a hundred in width—traditionally the dimensions of Noah's ark—was founded by the Archbishop Ubaldo, before 1200, on his return from Palestine bringing fifty-three ships laden with earth from the Holy Land. On this soil it was erected, and surrounded by high walls in 1278. The whole of these walls were afterwards adorned with paintings, in two tiers.
So far as concerns the history of painting, the question of the authorship of these frescoes—which are by several distinct hands—is altogether subordinate to that of the subjects depicted and the manner in which they are treated, and we shall learn more from a general survey of them than by following out the fortunes of particular painters. The earliest are those on the east side, near the chapel, but more important are those on the north, of about the middle of the fourteenth century, which show a decided advance, both in feeling and execution, beyond Giotto. The first is The Triumph of Death, in which the supernatural is tempered with representations of what is mortal to an extent that already shows that painting was not to be confined to religious uses alone. All the pleasures and sorrows of life are here represented, on the earth; it is only in the sky that we see the demons and angels. On one side is a festive company of ladies and cavaliers, with hawks and dogs, seated under orange trees, with rich carpets at their feet, all splendidly dressed. A troubadour and a singing girl amuse them with songs, amorini flutter around them and wave their torches. On the other side is another group, also a hunting party, on splendidly caparisoned horses, and accompanied by a train of attendants. On the mountains in the background are several hermits, who in contrast to the votaries of pleasure have attained in a life of contemplation and abstinence the highest term of human existence. Many of the figures are traditionally supposed to be portraits.
The centre foreground is devoted to the less fortunate on earth, the beggars and cripples, and also corpses of the mighty; and with these we may turn to the allegorical treatment of the subject. To the first group descends the angel of death, swinging a scythe, and to her the unfortunate are stretching out their arms in supplication for an end to their sorrows. The second group, it will be seen, are tracing a path which leads to three open coffins in which lie the bodies of three princes in different stages of decay, while a monk on crutches—intended for S. Macarius—is pointing to them. The air is filled with angels and demons, some of whom receive the souls of the dead.
A second picture is The Last Judgment, and a third Hell, the resemblance between which and the great altar-piece in the Strozzi Chapel in Santa Maria Novella at Florence, painted by Andrea Orcagna in 1357, was formerly considered proof of the same authorship. They are now attributed to an unknown disciple of Pietro Lorenzetti, who was painting in Siena between 1306 and 1348, and is assumed to have been a pupil of Duccio.
The fourth picture, apparently by another hand—possibly that of Lorenzetti himself—is The Life of the Hermits in the wilderness of Thebais, composed of a number of single groups in which the calm life of contemplation is represented in the most varied manner. In front flows the Nile, and a number of hermits are seen on its banks still subjected to earthly occupations; they catch fish, hew wood, carry burdens to the city, etc. Higher up, in the mountains, they are more estranged from the world, but the Tempter follows them in various disguises, sometimes frightful, sometimes seducing. As a whole this composition is constructed in the ancient manner—as in Byzantine art—several series rising one above the other, each of equal size, and without any pretension to perspective: the single groups, at the same time, are executed with much grace and feeling.
Next to this are six pictures of the history of S. Ranieri, and as many of the lives of S. Efeso and S. Potito. The latter are known to have been painted in 1392 by Spinello of Arezzo, or Spinello Aretino as he is called, of whose work we have some fragments in the National Gallery—alas too few! Two of these fragments are from his large fresco The Fall of the Rebellious Angels, painted for the church of S. Maria degli Angeli at Arezzo, which after being whitewashed over were rescued on the conversion of the church to secular uses. Vasari relates that when Spinello had finished this work the devil appeared to him in the night as horrible and deformed as in the picture, and asked him where he had seen him in so frightful a form, and why he had treated him so ignominiously. Spinello awoke from his dream with horror, fell into a state of abstraction, and soon afterwards died.
On the third part of the south wall is represented the history of Job, in a series of paintings which were formerly attributed to Giotto himself, though it is now recognised that they cannot be of an earlier date than about 1370.
The Temptation of Job is by Taddeo Gaddi, and the others, painted in 1372, are probably by Francesco da Volterra—not to be confused with the sixteenth century painter Daniele da Volterra.
The paintings on the west wall are of inferior workmanship, while those on the north were the crowning achievement of Benozzo Gozzoli a century later.
THE EARLIER QUATTROCENTISTS
COMING to the second period in the development of the new art—roughly, that is to say, from 1400 to 1450—Vasari observes that even where there is no great facility displayed, yet the works evince great care and thought; the manner is more free and graceful, the colouring more varied and pleasing; more figures are employed in the compositions, and the drawing is more correct inasmuch as it is closer to nature. It was Masaccio, he says, who during this period superseded the manner of Giotto in regard to the painting of flesh, draperies, buildings, etc., and also restored the practice of foreshortening and brought to light that modern manner which has been followed by all artists. More natural attitudes, and more effectual expression of feeling in the gestures and movements of the body resulted, as art seeking to approach the truth of nature by more correct drawing and to exhibit so close a resemblance to the face of the living person that each figure might at once be recognised. Thus these masters constantly endeavoured to reproduce what they beheld in nature and no more; their works became consequently more carefully considered and better understood. This gave them courage to lay down rules for perspective and to carry the foreshortenings precisely to the point which gives an exact imitation of the relief apparent in nature and the real form. Minute attention to the effects of light and shade and to various technical difficulties ensued, and efforts were made towards a better order of composition. Landscapes also were attempted; tracts of country, trees, shrubs, flowers, clouds, the air, and other natural objects were depicted with some resemblance to the realities represented; insomuch that the art might be said not only to have become ennobled, but to have attained to that flower of youth from which the fruit afterwards to follow might reasonably be looked for.
Foremost among the painters of this period was FRA ANGELICO, or to give him his proper title, Frate Giovanni da Fiesole, who was born in 1387 not far from Florence, and died in 1455. When he was twenty years old he joined the order of the preaching friars, and all his painting is devoted to religious subjects. He was a man of the utmost simplicity, and most holy in every act of his life. He disregarded all worldly advantages. Kindly to all, and temperate in all his habits, he used to say that he who practised the art of painting had need of quiet, and should live without cares and anxious thoughts; adding that he who would do the work of Christ should perpetually remain with Christ. He was most humble and modest, and in his painting he gave evidence of piety and devotion as well as of ability, and the saints that he painted have more of the air of sanctity than have those of any other master.
It was the custom of Fra Angelico to abstain from retouching or improving any painting once finished. He altered nothing, but left all as it was done the first time, believing, as he said, that such was the will of God. It is also affirmed that he would never take his brushes in hand until he had first offered a prayer, and he is said never to have painted a crucifix without tears streaming from his eyes, and in the countenance and attitude of his figures it is easy to perceive proof of his sincerity, his goodness, and the depth of his devotion to the religion of Christ.
This is well seen in the picture of the Coronation of the Virgin, which is now in the Louvre (No. 1290). "Superior to all his other works," Vasari says of this masterpiece, "and one in which he surpassed himself, is a picture in the Church of San Domenico at Fiesole; in this work he proves the high quality of his powers as well as the profound intelligence he possessed of the art he practised. The subject is the Coronation of the Virgin by Jesus Christ; the principal figures are surrounded by a choir of angels, among whom are a vast number of saints and holy personages, male and female. These figures are so numerous, so well executed in attitudes, so various, and with expressions of the head so richly diversified, that one feels infinite pleasure and delight in regarding them. Nay, one is convinced that those blessed spirits can look no otherwise in heaven itself, or, to speak under correction, could not if they had forms appear otherwise; for all the saints male and female assembled here have not only life and expression most delicately and truly rendered, but the colouring also of the whole work would seem to have been given by the hand of a saint or of an angel like themselves. It is not without sufficient reason therefore that this excellent ecclesiastic is always called Frate Giovanni Angelico. The stories from the life of Our Lady and of San Domenico which adorn the predella, moreover, are in the same divine manner; and I for myself can affirm with truth that I never see this work but it appears something new, nor can I ever satisfy myself with the sight of it or have enough of beholding it."
No less beautiful are the five compartments of the predella to the altar-piece still in San Domenico at Fiesole—which were purchased for the National Gallery in 1860 at the then alarming price of L3500—with no less than two hundred and sixty little figures of saintly personages, "so beautiful," as Vasari says, "that they appear to be truly beings of Paradise."
FRA FILIPPO LIPPI, born in Florence about 1406, and dying there in 1469, was the exact antithesis of Fra Angelico, both in his private life and in the method of his painting. He was just as earthly in both respects as Fra Angelico was heavenly. As a child he was put with the Carmelites, and as he showed an inclination for drawing rather than for study, he was allowed every facility for studying the newly painted chapel of the Branacci, and followed the manner of Masaccio so closely that it was said that the spirit of that master had entered into his body. It is only fair to Masaccio to add that this means his artistic spirit, for Filippo's moral character was by no means exemplary. The story of one of his best-known works, The Nativity, which is now in the Louvre (No. 1343), is thus related by Vasari:—"Having received a commission from the nuns of Santa Margherita, at Prato, to paint a picture for the high altar of their church, he chanced one day to see the daughter of Francesco Buti, a citizen of Florence, who had been sent to the convent as a novice. Filippo, after a glance at Lucrezia—for that was her name—was so taken with her beauty that he prevailed upon the nuns to allow him to paint her as the Virgin. This resulted in his falling so violently in love with her that he induced her to run away with him. Resisting every effort of her father and of the nuns to make her leave Filippo, she remained with him, and bore him a son who lived to be almost as famous a painter as his father. He was called Filippino Lippi."
The picture of S. John and six saints in the National Gallery (No. 677) also recalls the story of his wildness, inasmuch as it came from the Palazzo Medici, where Filippo worked for the great Cosimo di Medici. It was well known that Filippo paid no attention to his work when he was engaged in the pursuit of his pleasures, and so Cosimo shut him up in the palace so that he might not waste his time in running about while working for him. But Filippo after a couple of days' confinement made a rope out of his bed clothes, and let himself down from the window, and for several days gave himself up to his own amusements. When Cosimo found that he had disappeared, he had search made for him, and at last Filippo returned; after which Cosimo was afraid to shut him up again in view of the risk he had run in descending from the window.
Vasari considers that Filippo excelled in his smaller pictures—"In these he surpassed himself, imparting to them a grace and beauty than which nothing finer could be imagined. Examples of this may be seen in the predellas of all the works painted by him. He was indeed an
artist of such power that in his own time he was surpassed by none; therefore it is that he has not only been always praised by Michelangelo, but in many particulars has been imitated by him."
As a contributor to the progress of the art of painting he is credited by Vasari with two innovations, which may be seen in his paintings in the church of San Domenico at Prato, namely (1) the figures being larger than life, and thereby forming an example to later artists for giving true grandeur to large figures; and (2) certain figures clothed in vestments but little used at that time, whereby the minds of other artists were awakened and began to depart from that sameness which should rather be called obsolete monotony than antique simplicity.
It is noticeable that despite his bad character—which is said to have been the cause of his death by poison—all his work was in religious subjects. He was painting the chapel in the Church of Our Lady at Spoleto when, in 1469, he died.
PAOLO UCCELLO, as he was called, was born at Florence in 1397, and died there in 1475. His real name was Paolo di Dono, but he was so fond of painting animals and birds—especially the latter—that he officially signed himself as Paolo Uccello. He devoted so much of his time, however, to the study of perspective, that both his life and his work suffered thereby. His wife used to relate that he would stand the whole night through beside his writing table, and when she entreated him to come to bed, would only say, "Oh, what a delightful thing is this perspective!" Donatello, the sculptor, is said to have told him that in his ceaseless study of perspective he was leaving the substance for the shadow; but Donatello was not a painter.
Before his time the painters had not studied the question of perspective scientifically. Giotto had made no attempt at it, and Masaccio only came nearer to realising it by chance. Brunelleschi, the architect, laid down its first principles, but it was Uccello who first put these principles into practice in painting, and thereby paved the way for his successors to walk firmly upon.
How he struggled with the difficulties of this vitally important subject may be seen in the large battle-piece at the National Gallery, and however crude and absurd this fine composition may seem at first sight to those who are only accustomed to looking at modern pictures, it must be remembered that Uccello is here struggling, as it were, with a savage monster which to succeeding painters has, through his efforts, been a submissive slave.
This picture is one of four panels executed for the Bartolini family. One of the others is in the Louvre, and a third in the Uffizi. Another—or indeed almost the only other—work of Uccello which is now to be seen is the colossal painting in monochrome (terra-verde) on the wall of the cathedral at Florence. Strangely enough, this equestrian portrait commemorates an Englishman, Sir John Hawkwood, whose name is Italianized in the inscription into Giovanni Acuto. He was born at Sible Hedingham in Essex, the son of a tanner, and adventuring under Edward III. into France, found his way to Florence, where he served the State so well that they interred him, on his death in 1393, at the public expense, and subsequently commissioned Uccello to execute his monument.
With all his devotion to science, the artist has committed the strange mistake of making the horse stand on two legs on the same side, the other two being lifted.
TO MASACCIO, born in or about 1400, and dying in 1443, we owe a great step in art towards realism. It was he, says Vasari, who first attained the clear perception that painting is only the close imitation, by drawing and colouring simply, of all the forms presented by nature showing them as they are produced by her, and that whoever shall most perfectly effect this may be said to have most nearly approached the summit of excellence. The conviction of this truth, he adds, was the cause of Masaccio's attaining so much knowledge by means of perpetual study that he may be accounted among the first by whom art was in a measure delivered from rudeness and hardness; it was he who led the way to the realisation of beautiful attitudes and movements which were never exhibited by any painter before his day, while he also imparted a life and force to his figures, with a certain roundness and relief which render them truly characteristic and natural. Possessing great correctness of judgment, Masaccio perceived that all figures not sufficiently foreshortened to appear standing firmly on the plane whereon they are placed, but reared up on the points of their feet, must needs be deprived of all grace and excellence in the most important essentials. It is true that Uccello, in his studies of perspective, had helped to lessen this difficulty, but Masaccio managed his foreshortenings with much greater skill (though doubtless with less science) and succeeded better than any artist before him. Moreover, he imparted extreme softness and harmony to his paintings, and was careful to have the carnations of the heads and other nude parts in accordance with the colours of the draperies, which he represented with few and simple folds as they are seen in real life.
Masaccio's principal remaining works are his frescoes in the famous Branacci Chapel at the Carmine convent in Florence. The work of decorating the chapel was begun by Masolino, but finished by Masaccio and Filippo Lippi. Vasari states it as a fact that all the most celebrated sculptors and painters had become excellent and illustrious by studying Masaccio's work in this chapel, and there is good reason to believe that Michelangelo and Raphael profited by their studies there, without mentioning all the names enumerated by Vasari. Seeing how important the influence of Masaccio was destined to become, I have ventured to italicise Vasari's opinions on the causes which operated in creating the Florentine style and in raising the art of painting to heights undreamt of by its earliest pioneers.
THE LATER QUATTROCENTISTS
THREE names stand out conspicuously from the ranks of Florentine painters in the latter half of the fifteenth century. But progress being one of the essential characteristics of the art at this period, as in all others, it is not surprising that the order of their fame coincides (inversely) pretty nearly with that of their date. First, ANTONIO POLLAIUOLO; second, SANDRO BOTTICELLI; and lastly, LEONARDO DA VINCI.
It is important to note that Pollaiuolo was first apprenticed to a goldsmith, and attained such proficiency in that craft that he was employed by Lorenzo Ghiberti in the carving of the gates of the Baptistry, and subsequently set up a workshop for himself. In competition with Finiguerra he "executed various stories," says Vasari, "wherein he fully equalled his competitor in careful execution, while he surpassed him in beauty of design. The guild of merchants, being convinced
of his ability, resolved to employ him to execute certain stories in silver for the altar of San Giovanni, and he performed them so excellently that they were acknowledged to be the best of all those previously executed by various masters.... In other churches also in Florence and Rome, and other parts of Italy, his miraculous enamels are to be seen."
Now whether or not Antonio, like others, continued to exercise this craft, the account given by Vasari, as follows, of his learning to paint is extremely significant as showing how painting was regarded in relation to the kindred arts so widely practised in Florence:—"Eventually, considering that this craft did not secure a long life to the work of its masters, Antonio, desiring for his labours a more enduring memory, resolved to devote himself to it no longer; and his brother Piero being a painter, he joined himself to him for the purpose of learning the modes of proceeding in painting. He then found this to be an art so different from that of the goldsmith that he wished he had never addressed himself to it. But being impelled by shame rather than any advantage to be obtained, he acquired a knowledge of the processes used in painting in the course of a few months, and became an excellent master."
As early as 1460 he had painted the three large canvases of Hercules for Lorenzo de'Medici, now no longer existing, but probably reflected in the two small panels of the same subject in the Uffizi. These alone are enough to mark him as one of the greatest artists of his time. The magnificent David, at Berlin, soon followed, and the little Daphne and Apollo in our National Gallery. These were all accomplished unaided, but a little later he worked in concert with his brother Piero, to whom we are told to attribute parts of the painting of the large S. Sebastian in the National Gallery, painted in 1475 for Antonio Pucci, from whose descendant it was purchased. "For the chapel of the Pucci in the church of San Sebastian," says Vasari, "Antonio painted the altar-piece—a remarkable and wonderfully executed work with numerous horses, many nude figures, and singularly beautiful foreshortenings. Also the portrait of S. Sebastian taken from life, that is to say, from Gino di Ludovico Capponi. This picture has been more extolled than any by Antonio. He has evidently copied nature to the utmost of his power, as we see more especially in one of the archers, who, bending towards the ground, and resting his bow against his breast, is employing all his force to prepare it for action; the veins are swelling, the muscles strained, and the man holds his breath as he applies all his strength to the effort. All the other figures in the diversity of their attitudes clearly prove the artist's ability and the labour he has bestowed on the work."
It is in his superb rendering of the figure, especially in the nude, that Antonio Pollaiuolo marks a decisive step in the progress of painting, and is entitled to be regarded as "the first modern artist to master expression of the human form, its spirit, and its action." But for him we should miss much of the strength and vigour that distinguishes the real from the false Botticelli.
"In the same time with the illustrious Lorenzo de Medici, the elder," Vasari writes, "which was truly an age of gold for men of talent, there flourished a certain Alessandro, called after our custom Sandro, and further named di Botticello, for a reason which we shall presently see. His father, Mariano Filipepi, a Florentine citizen, brought him up with care; but although the boy readily acquired whatever he had a mind to learn,
yet he was always discontented, nor would he take any pleasure in reading, writing, or accounts; so that his father turned him over in despair to a friend of his called Botticello, who was a goldsmith.
"There was at that time a close connection and almost constant intercourse between the goldsmiths and the painters, wherefore Sandro, who had remarkable talent and was strongly disposed to the arts of design, became enamoured of painting and resolved to devote himself entirely to that vocation. He acknowledged his purpose forthwith to his father, who accordingly took him to Fra Filippo. Devoting himself entirely to the vocation he had chosen, Sandro so closely followed the directions and imitated the manner of his master, that Filippo conceived a great love for him, and instructed him so effectually that Sandro rapidly attained a degree in art that none could have predicted for him."
The influence of the Giottesque tradition which was thus handed on to the youthful Botticelli by Filippo Lippi is traceable in the beautiful little Adoration of the Magi—the oblong, not the tondo—in the National Gallery (No. 592). This was formerly attributed to Filippino Lippi, but is now universally recognised as one of Sandro's very earliest productions, when still under the immediate influence of Filippo, and prior to the Fortitude, painted before 1470, which is now in the Uffizi, and is the first picture mentioned by Vasari, thus—"While still a youth he painted the figure of Fortitude among those pictures of the virtues which Antonio and Pietro Pollaiuolo were executing in the Mercatanzia or Tribunal of Commerce in Florence. In Santo Spirito (Vasari continues, naming a picture which is probably The Virgin Enthroned, now at Berlin (No. 106)), he painted a picture for the Bardi family; this work he executed with great diligence, and finished it very successfully, depicting the olive and palm trees with extraordinary care."
The influence of Pollaiuolo is more evident in his two next productions, the two small panels of Holofernes and the Portrait of a Man with a Medal, in the Uffizi, and again in the S. Sebastian now at Berlin, which was painted in 1473.
About 1476 the second Adoration of the Magi in the National Gallery was painted, and a year or two later the famous and more splendid picture of the same subject which is in the Uffizi. With this he established his reputation, showing himself unmistakably as an artist of profound feeling and noble character besides being a skilful painter. It was commissioned for the church of Santa Maria Novella. "In the face of the oldest of the kings," says Vasari, "there is the most lively expression of tenderness as he kisses the foot of the Saviour, and of satisfaction at the attainment of the purpose for which he had undertaken his long journey. This figure is the portrait of Cosimo de'Medici, the most faithful and animated likeness of all now known of him. The second of the kings is the portrait of Giuliano de' Medici, father of Pope Clement VII., and he is presenting his gift with an expression of the most devout sincerity. The third, who is likewise kneeling, seems to be offering thanksgiving as well as adoration; this is the likeness of Giovanni, the son of Cosimo.
"The beauty which Sandro has imparted to these heads cannot be adequately described; all the figures are in different attitudes, some seen full face, others in profile, some almost entirely turned away, others bent down; and to all the artist has given an appropriate expression, whether old or young, showing numerous peculiarities, which prove the mastery he possessed over his art. He has even distinguished the followers of each king, so that one can see which belong to one and which to another. It is indeed a most wonderful work; the composition, the colouring, and the design are so beautiful that every artist to-day is amazed at it, and at the time it acquired so great a fame for Sandro that Pope Sixtus IV. appointed him superintendent of the painting of the chapel he had built in Rome."
The visit to Rome was in 1481, and meantime Botticelli had produced the wayward Primavera, and the more stern and harsh S. Augustine in the church of Ognissanti. Of his frescoes in the Pope's chapel nearly all have survived, including Moses slaying the Egyptian, The Temptation, and The Destruction of Korah's Company, besides such of the heads of the Popes as were not painted by Domenico Ghirlandaio and his other assistants in the work.
Returning to Florence in 1482, he was for twenty years without a rival in the city—after the departure of Leonardo to Milan—and he appears to have been subjected to no new influences, but steadily to have developed the immense forces within him. Before 1492 may be dated the two examples in the National Gallery, the Portrait of a Youth and the fascinating Mars and Venus, which was probably intended as a decoration for some large piece of furniture. The beautiful and extraordinarily life-like frescoes in the Louvre (the only recognised works of the master in that Gallery) from the Villa Lemmi, representing Giovanna Tornabuoni with Venus and the Graces, and Lorenzo Tornabuoni with the Liberal Arts, are assigned to 1486. Of this period are also the more familiar Birth of Venus; The Tondo of the Pomegranate and the Annunciation in the Uffizi, and the San Marco altar-piece, the Coronation of the Virgin in the Florence Academy.
To the influence of Savonarola, however great or little that may have been, is attributed the seriousness of his latest work. Professor Muther characterises Botticelli as "the Jeremiah of the Renaissance," but whether or not this is a rhetorical overstatement, the "tendency to impassioned and feverish action, so evident in the famous Calumny of Apelles, reflects, no doubt, the agitation of his spiritual stress."
This is the latest of Sandro's works which are in public galleries, and there is every probability that the last years of his life were not very productive. "This master is said to have had an extraordinary love for those whom he knew to be zealous students in art," Vasari tells us, "and is affirmed to have gained considerable sums of money, but being a bad manager and very careless, all came to nothing. Finally, having become old, unfit for work, and helpless, he was obliged to go on crutches, being unable to stand upright, and so died, after long illness and decrepitude, in his seventy-eighth year. He was buried at Florence, in the church of Ognissanti in the year 1510."
The large and beautiful Assumption of the Virgin, with the circles of saints and angels, in the National Gallery, which has only of late years been taken out of the catalogue of Botticelli's works, is now said to have been executed by his early pupil FRANCESCO BOTTICINI (c. 1446-1497) in 1470 or thereabouts. "In the church of San Pietro," Vasari writes of Botticelli, "he executed a picture for Matteo Palmieri, with a very large number of figures. The subject is the Assumption of our Lady, and the zones or circles of heaven are
there painted in their order. The patriarchs, prophets, apostles, evangelists, martyrs, confessors, doctors, virgins, and the hierarchies; all of which was executed by Sandro according to the design furnished to him by Matteo, who was a very learned and able man. The whole work was conducted and finished with the most wonderful skill and care; at the foot were the portraits of Matteo and his wife kneeling. But although this picture is exceedingly beautiful, and ought to have put envy to shame, yet there were certain malevolent and censorious persons who, not being able to fix any other blame upon it, declared that Matteo and Sandro had fallen into grievous heresy." It is apparent that the picture has suffered intentional injury, and it is known that in consequence of this supposed heresy the altar which it adorned was interdicted and the picture covered up.
In view of all the circumstances it is certain that it was designed by Botticelli, and very possibly executed under his immediate supervision and with some assistance from him. If we do not see the real Botticelli in it, we see his influence and his power far more clearly than in the numerous tondi of Madonna and Child that have been assigned to him in less critical ages than our own. For the real Botticelli was something very real indeed, and though it was easy enough to imitate his mannerisms, neither the style nor the spirit of his work were ever within reach of his closest followers.
LEONARDO DA VINCI
Twelve years younger than Botticelli was LEONARDO DA VINCI (1452-1520), whose career as a painter commenced in the workshop of Andrea Verrocchio, goldsmith, painter, and sculptor. That so extraordinary a genius should have fixed upon painting for his means of expression rather than any of his other natural gifts is the most telling evidence of the pre-eminence earned for that art by the efforts of those whose works we have been considering. For once we may go all the way with Vasari, and accept his estimate of him as even moderate in comparison with those of modern writers. "The richest gifts," he writes, "are sometimes showered, as by celestial influence, on human creatures, and we see beauty, grace, and talent so united in a single person that whatever the man thus favoured may turn to, his every action is so divine as to leave all other men far behind him, and to prove that he has been specially endowed by the hand of God himself, and has not obtained his pre-eminence by human teaching. This was seen and acknowledged by all men in the case of Leonardo da Vinci, in whom, to say nothing of the beauty of his person, which was such that it could never be sufficiently extolled, there was a grace beyond expression which was manifested without thought or effort in every act and deed, and who besides had so rare a gift of talent and ability that to whatever subject he turned, however difficult, he presently made himself absolute master of it. Extraordinary strength was in him joined with remarkable facility, a mind of regal boldness and magnanimous daring. His gifts were such that his fame extended far and wide, and he was held in the highest estimation not in his own time only, but also and even to a greater extent after his death; and this will continue to be in all succeeding ages. Truly wonderful indeed and divinely gifted was Leonardo."
To his activities in directions other than painting, I need not allude except to say that they account in a great measure for the scarcity of the pictures he has left us, and to emphasise the significance of his having painted at all. To a man of such supreme genius the circumstances in which he found himself, rather than any particular technical facility, determined the course of his career, and in another age and another country he might have been a Pheidias or a Newton, a Shakespeare or a Beethoven.
But if the pictures he has left us are few in number—according to the present estimate not more than a dozen—they are altogether greater than anything else in the realm of painting, and with their marvellous beauty and subtlety have probably had a wider influence, both on painters and on lovers of painting, than those of any other master. They seem to be endowed with a spirit of something beyond painting itself, and in the presence of The Last Supper or the Mona Lisa the babble of conflicting opinions on questions of style, technique, and what not is silenced.
Similarly, in writing of Leonardo's pictures, every one of which is a masterpiece, it seems superfluous to say even a word about what the whole world already knows so well. All that can be usefully added is a little of the tradition, where it is sufficiently authenticated, relating to the circumstances under which they came into existence, and such of the circumstances of his life as concern their production.
When still quite a youth Leonardo was apprenticed to Andrea Verrocchio, and the story goes that it was the marvellous painting of the angel, by the pupil, in the master's Baptism in the Academy at Florence, that induced Verrocchio to abandon painting and devote himself entirely to sculpture. This angel has been attributed to the hand of Leonardo from the earliest times, but can hardly be taken, at any rate in its present condition, as a decided proof of the genius that was to be displayed in manhood. More certain are the S. Jerome in the Vatican, and the Adoration of the Kings in the Uffizi, though neither is carried beyond the earlier stages of "under-painting." A few finished portraits are now assigned with tolerable certainty to his earlier years; but for his famous masterpieces we must jump to the year 1482, when he left Florence and went to Milan, where for the next sixteen years he was intermittently engaged in the execution of the great equestrian statue, which was destroyed by the French mercenaries before it was actually completed.
It appears that he was recommended by Lorenzo de'Medici to Lodovico il Moro, Duke of Milan, probably for the very purpose of executing this statue. However that may be, it is now certain that in 1483 he was commissioned by the Franciscan monks to paint a picture of the Virgin and Child for their church of the Conception, and that between 1491 and 1494 Leonardo and his assistant, Ambrogio di Predis, petitioned the Duke for an arbitration as to price. This was the famous Virgin of the Rocks, now in the Louvre, and the similar, and though not precisely identical, composition in our National Gallery is generally supposed to be a replica, painted by Ambrogio under the supervision of, and possibly with some assistance from, Leonardo himself.
Between 1495 and 1498 Leonardo was engaged on the painting of The Last Supper. In the Forster Library at the Victoria and Albert Museum is a notebook which contains his first memoranda for the wonderful design of this masterpiece. At Windsor are studies for the heads of S. Matthew, S. Philip, and
Judas, and for the right arm of S. Peter. That of the head of the Christ in the Brera at Milan has been so much "restored" that it can hardly be regarded as Leonardo's work. Vasari's account of the delays in the completion of the painting is better known, and probably less trustworthy, than one or two notices of about the same date, quoted by Mr H. P. Horne, in translating and commenting on Vasari. In June 1497, when the work had been in progress over two years, Duke Lodovico wrote to his secretary "to urge Leonardo, the Florentine, to finish the work of the Refectory which he has begun, ... and that articles subscribed by his hand shall be executed which shall oblige him to finish the work within the time that shall be agreed upon." Matteo Bandello, in the prologue to one of his Novelle, describes how he saw him actually at work—"Leonardo, as I have more than once seen and observed him, used often to go early in the morning and mount the scaffolding (for The Last Supper is somewhat raised above the ground), and from morning till dusk never lay the brush out of his hand, but, oblivious of both eating and drinking, paint without ceasing. After that, he would remain two, three, or four days without touching it: yet he always stayed there, sometimes for one or two hours, and only contemplated, considered, and criticised, as he examined with himself the figures he had made."
Vasari's story of the Prior's head serving for that of Judas is related with less colour, but probably more truth, in the Discourses of G. B. Giraldi, who says that when Leonardo had finished the painting with the exception of the head of Judas, the friars complained to the Duke that he had left it in this state for more than a year. Leonardo replied that for more than a year he had gone every morning and evening into the Borghetto, where all the worst sort of people lived, yet he could never find a head sufficiently evil to serve for the likeness of Judas: but he added, "If perchance I shall not find one, I will put there the head of this Father Prior who is now so troublesome to me, which will become him mightily."
In 1500 Leonardo was back again in Florence, and his next important work was the designing, though probably not the actual painting, of the beautiful picture in the Louvre, The Virgin and Child with S. Anne, the commission for which had been given to Filippino Lippi, but resigned by him on Leonardo's return. In 1501 Isabella d'Este wrote to know whether Leonardo was still in Florence, and what he was doing, as she wished him to paint a picture for her in the palace at Mantua, and in the reply of the Vicar-General of the Carmelites we have a valuable account of the artist and his work. "As far as I can gather," he writes, "the life of Leonardo is extremely variable and undetermined. Since his arrival here he has only made a sketch in a cartoon. It represents a Christ as a little child of about a year old, reaching forward out of his mother's arms towards a lamb. The mother, half rising from the lap of S. Anne, catches at the child as though to take it away from the lamb, the animal of sacrifice signifying the Passion. S. Anne, also rising a little from her seat, seems to wish to restrain her daughter from separating the child from the lamb; which perhaps is intended to signify the Church, that would not wish that the Passion of Christ should be hindered. These figures are as large as life, but they are all contained in a small cartoon, since all of them sit or are bent; the figure of the Virgin is somewhat in front of the other, turned towards the left. This sketch is not yet finished. He has not executed any other work, except that his two assistants paint portraits and he, at times, lends a hand to one or another of them. He gives profound study to geometry, and grows most impatient of painting."
The history of this cartoon—as indeed of the Louvre picture—is somewhat obscure, but it is certain that the beautiful cartoon of the same subject in the possession of the Royal Academy is not the one above described.
Lastly, there is the famous—or, may we say, now more famous than ever—portrait of Mona Lisa. "Whoever wishes to know how far art can imitate nature," Vasari writes, "may do so in this head, wherein every detail that could be depicted by the brush has been faithfully reproduced. The eyes have the lustrous brightness and watery sheen that is seen in life, and around them are all those rosy and pearly tints which, like the eyelashes too, can only be rendered by means of the deepest subtlety; the eyebrows also are painted with the closest exactitude, where fuller and where more thinly set, in a manner that could not be more natural. The nose, with its beautiful and delicately roseate nostrils, seems to be alive. The mouth, wonderful in its outline, shows the lips perfectly uniting the rose tints of their colour with that of the face, and the carnation of the cheek appears rather to be flesh and blood than only painted. Looking at the pit of the throat one can hardly believe that one cannot see the beating of the pulse, and in truth it may be said that the whole work is painted in a manner well calculated to make the boldest master tremble.
"Mona Lisa was exceedingly beautiful, and while Leonardo was painting her portrait he kept someone constantly near her to sing or play, to jest or otherwise amuse her, so that she might continue cheerful, and keep away the melancholy that painters are apt to give to their portraits. In this picture there is a smile so pleasing that the sight of it is a thing that appears more divine than human, and it has ever been considered a marvel that it is not actually alive."
It is worth observing that while these rapturous expressions of wonder at the life-like qualities of the portrait may seem somewhat tame and childish in comparison with the appreciation accorded to Leonardo's work in these times—notably that of Walter Pater in this case—they are in reality at the root of all criticism. If Vasari, as I have already pointed out, pitches upon this quality of life-likeness and direct imitation of nature for his particular admiration, it is only because the first and foremost object of the earlier painters was in fact to represent the life; and though in the rarefied atmosphere of modern talk about art these naive criticisms may seem out of date, it is significant that between Vasari and ourselves there is little, if any, difference of opinion as to which masters were the great ones, and which were not. "Truly divine" is a phrase in which he sums up the impressions created in his mind by the less material qualities of some of the greatest, but before even the greatest could create such an impression they must have learnt the rudiments of the art in the school of nature.
IN the opening years of the sixteenth century the art of painting had attained such a pitch of excellence that unless carried onward by a supreme genius it could hardly hope to escape from the common lot of all things in nature, and begin to decline. After Botticelli and Leonardo, the works of Andrea del Sarto, "the perfect painter" as he has been called, fall rather flat; and no less a prodigy than Michelangelo was capable of excelling his marvellous predecessors, or than Raphael of rivalling them.
Vasari prefaces his life to ANDREA DEL SARTO (1486-1531) with something more definite than his usual rhetorical flourishes. "At length we have come," he says, "after having written the lives of many artists distinguished for colour, for design, or for invention, to that of the truly excellent Andrea del Sarto, in whom art and nature combined to show all that may be done in painting when design, colouring, and invention unite in one and the same person. Had he possessed a somewhat bolder and more elevated mind, had he been distinguished for higher qualifications as he was for genius and depth of judgment in the art he practised, he would beyond all doubt have been without an equal. But there was in his nature a certain timidity of mind, a sort of diffidence and want of strength, which prevented those evidences of ardour and animation which are proper to the highest characters from ever appearing in him which, could they have been added to his natural advantages, would have made him truly a divine painter, so that his works are wanting in that grandeur, richness, and force which are so conspicuous in those of many other masters.