[Frontispiece: RED RIDING HOOD From the picture by G. F. Watts, in the Birmingham Art Gallery Page 197]
THE BOOK OF ART FOR YOUNG PEOPLE
BY AGNES ETHEL CONWAY AND SIR MARTIN CONWAY
WITH SIXTEEN FULL-PAGE ILLUSTRATIONS IN COLOUR
A. & C. BLACK, LTD. 4, 5 & 6 SOHO SQUARE, LONDON, W.1
First published September 1909 as "The Children's Book of Art" Reprinted in 1914, 1927, and 1935
Made in Great Britain. Printed by R. & R. CLARK, LIMITED, Edinburgh.
TO MY LITTLE FRIENDS AGNES AND ROSANNE
My thanks are due and are cordially rendered to the Earl of Yarborough, Sir Frederick Cook, and the authorities of Trinity College, Cambridge, for permission to reproduce their pictures; to Lady Alfred Douglas and Mr. Henry Newbolt for leave to quote from their poems; to Mr. Everard Green, Somerset Herald, for all that is new in the interpretation of the Wilton diptych; to Miss K. K. Radford for the translation in Chapter VIII., and to all the friends who have helped me with criticism and suggestions.
A. E. C.
I INTRODUCTORY . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1
II THE THIRTEENTH CENTURY IN EUROPE . . . . 14
III RICHARD II. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 29
IV THE VAN EYCKS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 46
V THE RENAISSANCE . . . . . . . . . . . . . 63
VI RAPHAEL . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 78
VII THE RENAISSANCE IN VENICE . . . . . . . . 93
VIII THE RENAISSANCE IN THE NORTH . . . . . . 104
IX REMBRANDT . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 116
X PETER DE HOOGH AND CUYP . . . . . . . . . 133
XI VAN DYCK . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 143
XII VELASQUEZ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 153
XIII REYNOLDS AND THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY . . . 165
XIV TURNER . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 176
XV THE NINETEENTH CENTURY . . . . . . . . . 188
INDEX . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 199
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
IN THE COLOURS OF THE ORIGINAL PAINTINGS
Red Ridinghood . . . . . . . . . . G. F. Watts Frontispiece
Richard II. before the Virgin PAGE and Child . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 33
The Three Maries . . . . . . . . . H. Van Eyck . . . . . 48
St. Jerome in his study . . . . . Antonello da Messina 65
The Nativity . . . . . . . . . . . Sandro Botticelli . . 76
The Knight's Dream . . . . . . . . Raphael . . . . . . . 85
The Golden Age . . . . . . . . . . Giorgione . . . . . . 96
St. George destroying the Dragon . Tintoret . . . . . . 102
Edward, Prince of Wales, afterwards Edward VI. . . . . Holbein . . . . . . . 111
A Man in Armour . . . . . . . . . Rembrandt . . . . . . 126
An Interior . . . . . . . . . . . P. de Hoogh . . . . . 134
Landscape with Cattle . . . . . . Cuyp . . . . . . . . 141
William II. of Orange . . . . . . Van Dyck . . . . . . 146
Don Balthazar Carlos . . . . . . . Velasquez . . . . . . 161
The Duke of Gloucester . . . . . . Sir J. Reynolds . . . 170
The Fighting Temeraire . . . . . . Turner . . . . . . . 177
THE CHILDREN'S BOOK OF ART
Almost the pleasantest thing in the world is to be told a splendid story by a really nice person. There is not the least occasion for the story to be true; indeed I think the untrue stories are the best—those in which we meet delightful beasts and things that talk twenty times better than most human beings ever do, and where extraordinary events happen in the kind of places that are not at all like our world of every day. It is so fine to be taken into a country where it is always summer, and the birds are always singing and the flowers always blowing, and where people get what they want by just wishing for it, and are not told that this or that isn't good for them, and that they'll know better than to want it when they're grown up, and all that kind of thing which is so annoying and so often happening in this obstinate criss-cross world, where the days come and go in such an ordinary fashion.
But if I might choose the person to tell me the kind of story I like to listen to, and hear told to me over and over again, it would be some one who could draw pictures for me while talking—pictures like those of Tenniel in Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. How much better we know Alice herself and the White Knight and the Mad Hatter and all the rest of them from the pictures than even from the story itself. But my story-teller should not only draw the pictures while he talked, but he should paint them too. I want to see the sky blue and the grass green, and I want red cloaks and blue bonnets and pink cheeks and all the bright colours, and some gold and silver too, and not merely black and white—though black and white drawings would be better than nothing, so long as they showed me what the people and beasts and dragons and things were like. I could put up with even rather bad drawings if only they were vivid. Don't you know how good a bad drawing sometimes seems? I have a friend who can make the loveliest folks and the funniest beasts and the quaintest houses and trees, and he really can't draw a bit; and the curious thing is, that if he could draw better I should not like his folks and beasts half as much as I do the lop-sided, crook-legged, crazy-looking people he produces. And then he has such quaint things to tell about them, and while he talks he seems to make them live, so that I can hardly believe they are not real people for all their unlikeness to any one you ever saw.
Now, the old pictures you see in the picture galleries are just like that, only the people that painted them didn't invent the stories but merely illustrated stories which, at the time those painters lived, every one knew. Some of the stories were true and some were just a kind of fairy tale, and it didn't matter to the painters, and it doesn't matter to us, which was true and which wasn't. The only thing that matters is whether the story is a good one and whether the picture is a nice one. There is a delightful old picture painted on a wall away off at Assisi, in Italy, which shows St. Francis preaching to a lot of birds, and the birds are all listening to him and looking pleased—the way birds do look pleased when they find a good fat worm or fresh crumbs. Now, St. Francis was a real man and such a dear person too, but I don't suppose half the stories told about him were really true, yet we can pretend they were and that's just what the painter helps us to do. Don't you know all the games that begin with 'Let's pretend'?—well, that's art. Art is pretending, or most of it is. Pictures take us into a world of make-believe, a world of imagination, where everything is or should be in the right place and in the right light and of the right colour, where all the people are nicely dressed to match one another, and are not standing in one another's way, and not interrupting one another or forgetting to help play the game. That's the difference between pictures and photographs. A photograph is almost always wrong somewhere. Something is out of place, or something is there which ought to be away, or the light is wrong; or, if it's coloured, the colours are just not in keeping with one another. If it's a landscape the trees are where we don't want them; they hide what we want to see, or they don't hide the very thing we want hidden. Then the clouds are in the wrong place, and a wind ruffles the water just where we want to see something reflected. That's the way things actually happen in the real world. But in the world of 'Let's pretend,' in the world of art, they don't happen so. There everything happens right, and everybody does, not so much what they should (that might sometimes be dull), but exactly what we want them to do—which is so very much better. That is the world of your art and my art. Unfortunately all the pictures in the galleries weren't painted just for you and me; but you'll find, if you look for them, plenty that were, and the rest don't matter. Those were painted, no doubt, for some one else. But if you could find the some one else for whom they were painted, the some one else whose world of 'Let's pretend' was just these pictures that don't belong to your world, and if they could tell you about their world of 'Let's pretend,' ten to one you'd find it just as good a world as your own, and you'd soon learn to 'pretend' that way too.
Well, the purpose of this book is to take you into a number of worlds of 'Let's pretend,' most of which I daresay will be new to you, and perhaps you will find some of them quite delightful places. I'm sure you can't help liking St. Jerome's Cell when you come to it. It's not a bit like any room we can find anywhere in the world to-day, but wouldn't it be joyful if we could? What a good time we could have there with the tame lion (not a bit like any lion in the Zoo, but none the worse for that) and the jolly bird, and all St. Jerome's little things. I should like to climb on to his platform and sit in his chair and turn over his books, though I don't believe they'd be interesting to read, but they'd certainly be pretty to look at. If you and I were there, though, we should soon be out away behind, looking round the corner, and finding all sorts of odd places that unfortunately can't all get into the picture, only we know they're there, down yonder corridor, and from what the painter shows us we can invent the rest for ourselves.
One of the troubles of a painter is that he can't paint every detail of things as they are in nature. A primrose, when you first see it, is just a little yellow spot. When you hold it in your hand you find it made up of petals round a tiny centre with little things in it. If you take a magnifying glass you can see all its details multiplied. If you put a tiny bit of it under a microscope, ten thousand more little details come out, and so it might go on as long as you went on magnifying. Now a picture can't be like that. It just has to show you the general look of things as you see them from an ordinary distance. But there comes in another kind of trouble. How do you see things? We don't all see the same things in the same way. Your mother's face looks very different to you from its look to a mere person passing in the street. Your own room has a totally different aspect to you from what it bears to a casual visitor. The things you specially love have a way of standing out and seeming prominent to you, but not, of course, to any one else. Then there are other differences in the look of the same things to different people which you have perhaps noticed. Some people are more sensitive to colours than others. Some are much more sensitive to brightness and shadow. Some will notice one kind of object in a view, or some detail in a face far more emphatically than others. Girls are quicker to take note of the colour of eyes, hair, skin, clothes, and so forth than boys. A woman who merely sees another woman for a moment will be able to describe her and her dress far more accurately than a man. A man will be noticing other things. His picture, if he painted one, would make those other things prominent.
So it is with everything that we see. None of us sees more than certain features in what the eye rests upon, and if we are artists it is only those features that we should paint. We can't possibly paint every detail of everything that comes into the picture. We must make a choice, and of course we choose the features and details that please us best. Now, the purpose of painting anything at all is to paint the beauty of the thing. If you see something that strikes you as ugly, you don't instinctively want to paint it; but when you see an effect of beauty, you feel that it would be very nice indeed to have a picture showing that beauty. So a picture is not really the representation of a thing, but the representation of the beauty of the thing.
Some people can see beauty almost everywhere; they are conscious of beauty all day long. They want to surround themselves with beauty, to make all their acts beautiful, to shed beauty all about them. Those are the really artistic souls. The gift of such perfect instinct for beauty comes by nature to a few. It can be cultivated by almost all. That cultivation of all sorts of beauty in life is what many people call civilization—the real art of living. To see beauty everywhere in nature is not so very difficult. It is all about us where the work of uncivilized man has not come in to destroy it. Artists are people who by nature and by education have acquired the power to see beauty in what they look at, and then to set it down on paper or canvas, or in some other material, so that other people can see it too.
It seems strange that at one time the beauty of natural landscape was hardly perceived by any one at all. People lived in the beautiful country and scarcely knew that it was beautiful. Then came the time when the beauty of landscape began to be felt by the nicest people. They began to put it into their poetry, and to talk and write about it, and to display it in landscape pictures. It was through poems and pictures, which they read and saw, that the general run of folks first learned to look for beauty in nature. I have no doubt that Turner's wonderful sunsets made plenty of people look at sunsets and rejoice in the intricacy and splendour of their glory for the first time in their lives. Well, what Turner and other painters of his generation did for landscape, had had to be done for men and women in earlier days by earlier generations of artists. The Greeks were the first, in their sculpture, to show the wonderful beauty of the human form; till their day people had not recognised what to us now seems obvious. No doubt they had thought one person pretty and another handsome, but they had not known that the human figure was essentially a glorious thing till the Greek sculptors showed them. Another thing painters have taught the world is the beauty of atmosphere. Formerly no one seems to have noticed how atmosphere affects every object that is seen through it. The painters had to show us that it is so. After we had seen the effect of atmosphere in pictures we began to be able to see for ourselves in nature, and thus a whole group of new pleasures in views of nature was opened up to us.
Away back in the Middle Ages, six hundred and more years ago, folks had far less educated eyes than we possess to-day. They looked at nature more simply than we do and saw less in it. So they were satisfied with pictures that omitted a great many features we cannot do without.
But painting does not only concern itself with representing the world we actually see and the people that our eyes actually behold. It concerns itself quite as much with the world of fancy, of make-believe. Indeed, most painters when they look at an actual scene let their fancy play about it, so that presently what they see and what they fancy get mixed up together, and their pictures are a mixture of fancy and of fact, and no one can tell where the one ends and the other begins. The fancies of people are very different at different times, and you can't understand the pictures of old days unless you can share the fancies of the old painters. To do that you must know something about the way they lived and the things they believed, and what they hoped for and what they were afraid of.
Here, for instance, is a very funny fact solemnly recorded in an old account book. A certain Count of Savoy owned the beautiful Castle of Chillon, which you have perhaps seen, on the shores of the Lake of Geneva. But he could not be happy, because he and the people about him thought that in a hole in the rock under one of the cellars a basilisk lived—a very terrible dragon—and they all went in fear of it. So the Count paid a brave mason a large sum of money (and the payment is solemnly set down in his account book) to break a way into this hole and turn the basilisk out; and I have no doubt that he and his people were greatly pleased when the hole was made and no basilisk was found. Folks who believed in dragons as sincerely as that, must have gone in terror in many places where we should go with no particular emotion. A picture of a dragon to them would mean much more than it would to us. So if we are really to understand old pictures, we must begin by understanding the fancies of the artists who painted them, and of the people they were painted for. You see how much study that means for any one who wants to understand all the art of all the world.
We shall not pretend to lead you on any such great quest as that, but ask you to look at just a few old pictures that have been found charming by a great many people of several generations, and to try and see whether they do not charm you as well. You must never, of course, pretend to like what you don't like—that is too silly. We can't all like the same things. Still there are certain pictures that most nice people like. A few of these we have selected to be reproduced in this book for you to look at. And to help you realize who painted them and the kind of people they were painted for, my daughter has written the chapters that follow. I hope you will find them entertaining, and still more that you will like the pictures, and so learn to enjoy the many others that have come down to us from the past, and are among the world's most precious possessions to-day.
THE THIRTEENTH CENTURY IN EUROPE
Before we give our whole attention to the first picture, of which the original was painted in England in 1377, let us imagine ourselves in the year 1200 making a rapid tour through the chief countries of Europe to see for ourselves how the people lived. The first thing that will strike us on our journey is the contrast between the grandeur of the churches and public buildings and the insignificance of most of the houses. Some of the finest churches in England, built in the style of architecture called 'Norman,' one or more of which you may have seen, date before the year 1200, as for example, Durham Cathedral, and the naves of Norwich, Ely, and Peterborough Cathedrals. The great churches abroad were also beautiful and more elaborately decorated, in the North with sculpture and painting, in the South with marble and mosaic. The towns competed one with another in erecting them finer and larger, and in decorating them as magnificently as they could. This was done because the church was a place which the people used for many other purposes besides Sunday services. In the twelfth, thirteenth, and fourteenth centuries, the parish church, on week-days as well as on Sundays, was a very useful and agreeable place to most of the parishioners. The 'holy' days, or saints' days, 'holidays' indeed, were times of rejoicing and festivity, and the Church processions and services were pleasant events in the lives of many who had few entertainments, and who for the most part could neither read nor write. Printing was not yet invented, at least not in Europe, and as every book had to be written out by hand, copies of books were rare and only owned by the few who could read them, so that stories were mostly handed down by word of mouth, the same being told by mother to child for many generations.
The favourites were stories of the saints and martyrs of the Catholic Church, for of course we are speaking now of times long before the Reformation. The Old Testament stories and all the stories of the life of Christ and His Apostles were well known too, and just as we never tire of reading our favourite books over and over again, our forefathers of 1200 wanted to see on the walls of their churches representations of the stories which they could not read. Their daily thoughts were more occupied with the Infant Christ, the saints, and the angels, than ours generally are. They thought of themselves as under the protection of some saint, who would plead with God the Father for them if they asked him, for God Himself seemed too high or remote to be appealed to always directly. He was approached with awe; the saints, the Virgin, and the Infant Christ, with love.
We must realise this difference before we can well understand a picture painted in the twelfth, thirteenth, or fourteenth centuries, nor can we look at one without feeling that the artist and the people for whom he painted, so loved the holy personages. They thought about them always, not only at stated times and on Sundays, and never tired of looking at pictures of them and their doings. It is sometimes said that only Catholics can understand medieval art, because they feel towards the saints as the old painters did. But it is possible for any one to realize how in those far-off days the people felt, and it is this that we must try to do. The religious fervour of the Middle Ages was not a sign of great virtue among all the people. Some were far more cruel, savage, and unrestrained than we are to-day. Very wicked men even became powerful dignitaries in the Church. But it was the Church that fostered the impulses of pity and charity in a fierce age, and some of the saints of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, such as St. Francis of Assisi and St. Catharine of Siena, are still held to be among the most beautiful characters the world has ever known.
The churches of the eleventh and twelfth centuries in Florence were lined with marble, and a great picture frequently stood above the altar. It is difficult to realize to-day that the processes which we call oil and water-colour painting were not then invented, and that no shops existed to sell canvases and paints ready for use. The artist painted upon a wooden panel, which he had himself to make, plane flat, and cut to the size he needed. In order to get a surface upon which he could paint, he covered the panel with a thin coating of plaster which it was difficult to lay on absolutely flat. Upon the plaster he drew the outline of the figures he was going to paint, and filled in the background with a thin layer of gold leaf, such as is to-day used for gilding frames. After the background had been put in, it was impossible to correct the outline of the figures, and the labour of preparing the wooden panel and of laying the gold was so great that an artist would naturally not make risky attempts towards something new, lest he should spoil his work. In the Jerusalem Chamber of Westminster Abbey there is a thirteenth-century altar-piece of this kind, and you can see the strips of vellum that were used to cover the joins of the different pieces of wood forming the panel, beneath the layer of plaster, which has now to a great extent peeled off.
The people liked to see their Old Testament stories and the stories from the Life of Christ painted over and over again. They had become fond of the versions of the tales which they had known and seen painted when they were young, and did not wish them changed, so that the range of subjects was not large. The same were repeated, and because of the painter's fear of making mistakes it was natural that the same figures should be repeated too. Thus, whatever the subject pictured, a tradition was formed in each locality for the grouping and general arrangement of the figures, and the most authoritative tradition for such typical groupings was preserved in Constantinople or Byzantium, from which city the 'Byzantine' school of painting takes its name.
Before 1200, Byzantium had been a centre of residence and the civilizing influence of trade for eighteen centuries. It had been the capital of the Roman Empire, and less civilized peoples from the north had never conquered the town, destroying the Greek and Roman traditions, as happened elsewhere in Europe. You have read how the Romans had to withdraw their armies from England to defend Rome against the attacks of the Goths from the north, and then how Britain was settled by Angles, Saxons, Jutes, and Danes, who destroyed most of the Roman civilization. A similar though much less complete destruction took place in Italy a little later, when Goths and Lombards, who were remotely akin to the Angles and Saxons, overwhelmed Roman culture. But next to Constantinople, Rome had the best continuous tradition of art, for the fine monuments of the great imperial days still existed in the city. In Byzantium the original Greek population struggled on, and continued to paint, and make mosaics, and erect fine buildings, till the Turks conquered them in 1453. The Byzantines were wealthy and made exquisite objects in gold, precious stones, and ivory. While they were painting better than any other people in Europe, they too reproduced the same subjects and the same figures over and over again, only the figures were more graceful than those of the local Italian, English, and French artists, who in varying degrees at different times tried to paint like the Byzantine or Greek artists, but without quite the same success. So long as there was no need for an artist to paint anything but the old well-established subjects, and so long as people desired them to be painted in the old conventional manner, there was little reason why any painter should try to be original and paint what was not wanted. But in the thirteenth century a great change took place.
Let us here refresh our memories of what we may have read of that delightful saint, Francis of Assisi. He was born in 1182, the son of a well-to-do nobleman, in the little town of Assisi in Umbria, and as a lad became inflamed with the ideal of the religious life. But instead of entering one of the existing monastic orders, where he would have been protected, he gave away every possession he had in the world and adopted 'poverty' as his watchword. Clad in an old brown habit, he walked from place to place preaching charity, obedience, and renunciation of all worldly goods. He lived on what was given to him to eat from day to day; he nursed the lepers and the sick. Ever described as a most lovable person, he won by his preaching the hearts of people of all classes, from the King of France to the humblest peasant. He wrote beautiful hymns in praise of the sun, the moon, and the stars, and had a great love for every living thing. The birds were said to have flocked around him because they loved him, and we read that he talked to them and called them his 'little sisters.' An old writer tells this story in good faith:
When St. Francis spake words to them, the birds began all of them to open their beaks and spread their wings and reverently bend their heads down to the ground, and by their acts and by their songs did show that the holy Father gave them joy exceeding great.
Wherever he preached he made converts who 'married Holy Poverty,' as St. Francis expressed it, gave up everything they had, and lived his preaching and roaming life. St. Francis himself had no idea of forming a monastic order. He wished to live a holy life in the world and show others how to do the same, and for years he and his companions worked among the poor, earning their daily bread when they could, and when they could not, begging for it. Gradually, however, ambition stirred in the hearts of some of the followers of Francis, and against the will of their leader they made themselves into the Order of Franciscan Friars, collected gifts of money, and began to build churches and monastic buildings. At first the buildings were said to belong to the Pope, who allowed the Franciscans to use them, since they might not own property; but after the death of St. Francis, the Order built churches throughout the length and breadth of Italy, not of marble and mosaic but of brick, since brick was cheaper; but the brick walls were plastered, and upon the wet plaster there were painted scenes from the life of St. Francis, side by side with the old Christian and saintly legends. This sudden demand for painted churches with paintings of new subjects, stirred the painters of the day to alter their old style. When an artist was asked to paint a large picture of St. Francis preaching to the birds, he had to look at real birds and he had to study a real man in the attitude of preaching. There was no scene that had ever been painted from the life of Christ or of any saint in which a man preached to a bird, so that the artist was driven to paint from nature instead of copying former pictures.
Let us now read what a painter who lived in the sixteenth century, Vasari by name, wrote about the rise of painting in his native city. Some learned people nowadays say that Vasari was wrong in many of the stories he told, but after all he lived much nearer than we do to the times he wrote about, and it is safer to believe what he tells us than what modern students surmise, except when they are able to cite other old authorities to which Vasari did not have access.
The endless flood of misfortunes which overwhelmed unhappy Italy not only ruined everything worthy of the name of a building, but completely extinguished the race of artists, a far more serious matter. Then, as it pleased God, there was born in the year 1240, in the city of Florence, Giovanni, surnamed Cimabue, to shed the first light on the art of painting. Instead of paying attention to his lessons, Cimabue spent the whole day drawing men, horses, houses, and various other fancies on his books and odd sheets, like one who felt himself compelled to do so by nature. Fortune proved favourable to his natural inclination, for some Greek artists were summoned to Florence by the government of the city for no other purpose than the revival of painting in their midst, since the art was not so much debased as altogether lost. In this way Cimabue made a beginning in the art which attracted him, for he often played the truant and spent the whole day in watching the masters work. Thus it came about that his father and the artists considered him so fitted to be a painter that if he devoted himself to the profession he might look for honourable success in it, and to his great satisfaction his father procured him employment with the painters. Thus by dint of continual practice and with the assistance of his natural talent he far surpassed the manner of his teachers. For they had never cared to make any progress and had executed their works, not in the good manner of ancient Greece, but in the rude modern style of that time. Cimabue drew from nature to the best of his powers, although it was a novelty to do so in those days, and he made the draperies, garments, and other things somewhat more life-like, natural, and soft than the Greeks had done, who had taught one another a rough, awkward, and commonplace style for a great number of years, not by means of study but as a matter of custom, without ever dreaming of improving their designs by beauty of colouring or by any invention of worth.
If you were to see a picture by Cimabue (there is one in the National Gallery which resembles his work so closely that it is sometimes said to be his), you would think less highly than Vasari of the life-like quality of his art, though there is something dignified and stately in the picture of the Virgin and Child with angels that he painted for the Church of St. Francis at Assisi. Another story is told by Vasari of a picture by Cimabue, which tradition asserts to be the great Madonna, still in the Church of Santa Maria Novella at Florence.
Cimabue painted a picture of Our Lady for the church of Santa Maria Novella. The figure was of a larger size than any which had been executed up to that time, and the people of that day who had never seen anything better, considered the work so marvellous that they carried it to the church from Cimabue's house in a stately procession with great rejoicing and blowing of trumpets, while Cimabue himself was highly rewarded and honoured. It is reported, and some records of the old painters relate, that while Cimabue was painting this picture in some gardens near the gate of S. Piero, the old King Charles of Anjou passed through Florence. Among the many entertainments prepared for him by the men of the city, they brought him to see the picture of Cimabue. As it had not then been seen by any one, all the men and women of Florence flocked thither in a crowd with the greatest rejoicings, so that those who lived in the neighbourhood called the place the 'Joyful Suburb' because of the rejoicing there. This name it ever afterwards retained, being in the course of time enclosed within the walls of the city.
For this story we may thank Vasari, because it helps us to realize the love the people of Florence felt for the pictures in their churches, and the reverence in which they held an artist who could paint a more beautiful picture of the Virgin and Child than any they had seen before. It is difficult to think of the population of a town to-day walking in procession to honour the painter of a fine picture; but a picture of the Madonna was a very precious thing indeed to a Florentine of the thirteenth century, and we may try to imagine ourselves walking joyfully in that Florentine procession so as the better to understand Florentine Art.
I have repeated this legend about Cimabue, because he was the master of Giotto, who is called the Father of Modern Painting. The story is that Cimabue one day came upon the boy Giotto, who was a shepherd, and found him drawing a sheep with a pointed piece of stone upon a smooth surface of rock. He was so much struck with the drawing that he took the boy home and taught him, and soon he in his turn far surpassed his master. In order to appreciate Giotto we need to go to Assisi, Florence, or Padua, for in each place he has painted a series of wall-paintings. In the great double church of Assisi, built by the Franciscans over the grave of St. Francis within a few years of his death, Giotto has illustrated the whole story of his life. An isolated reproduction of one scene would give you no idea of their power. In many respects he was an innovator, and by the end of his life had broken away completely from the Byzantine school of painting. He composed each one of the scenes from the life of St. Francis in an original and dramatic manner, and so vividly that a person unacquainted with the story would know what was going on. Standing in the nave of the Upper Church, you are able to contrast these speaking scenes of the lives of people upon earth, with the faded glories of great-winged angels and noble Madonnas with Greek faces, that were painted in the Byzantine style when the church was at its newest, before Giotto was born. These look down upon us still from the east end of the church.
Giotto died in 1337, and for the next fifty years painters in Italy did little but imitate him. Scenes from the life of St. Francis and incidents from the legends of other saints remained in vogue, but they were not treated in original fashion by succeeding artists. The new men only tried to paint as Giotto might have painted, and so far from surpassing him, he was never even equalled by his followers.
We need not burden our memories with the names of these 'Giottesque' artists; and now, after this glimpse of an almost vanished world, we will turn our attention to England and to the first picture of our choice.
Our first picture is a portrait of Richard II. on his coronation day in the year 1377, when he was ten years old. It is the earliest one selected, and the eyes of those who see it for the first time will surely look surprised. The jewel-like effect of the sapphire-winged angels and coral-robed Richard against the golden background is not at all what we are accustomed to see. Nowadays it may take some time and a little patience before we can cast ourselves back to the year 1377 and look at the picture with the eyes of the person who painted it. Let us begin with a search for his purpose and meaning at least.
The picture is a diptych—that is to say, it is a painting done upon two wings or shutters hinged, so as to allow of their being closed together. You have no doubt been wondering why I called it a portrait, for the picture is far from being what to-day would commonly be described as such. Richard himself is not even the most conspicuous figure; and he is kneeling and praying to the Virgin. What should we think if any living sovereign, ordering a state portrait, had himself portrayed surrounded on one side by his predecessors on the throne, and on the other side by the Virgin and Child and angels? But, in the fourteenth century, it was nothing strange that the Virgin and Child, the angels, John the Baptist, Edward the Confessor, Edmund the Martyr, and Richard II. should be thus depicted. When we have realized that it was usual for a royal patron to command and an artist to paint such an assemblage of personages, as though all of them were then living and in one another's presence, we have learnt something significant and impressive about a way of thinking in the Middle Ages. Richard II. thought of himself as the successor of a long line of kings, appointed by the Divine Power to rule a small portion of the Divine Territories, so what more natural than that he, as the newly reigning sovereign, should have his portrait painted, surrounded by his holiest predecessors upon the throne, and in the act of dedicating his kingdom to the Virgin Mary?
In an account given of his coronation we read that, after the ceremony in Westminster Abbey, Richard went to the shrine of Our Lady at Pewe, near by, where he made a special offering to Our Lady of eleven angels, each wearing the King's badge, one for each of the eleven years of his young life. What form this offering of angels took, we know not; they may have been little wooden figures, or coins with an angel stamped upon them; but it is reasonable to connect the offering with this very picture of Our Lady and the angels. The King's special badges were the White Hart and the Collar of Broom-pods which you see embroidered all over his magnificent red robe. The White Hart is pinned in the form of a jewel beneath his collar, and each of the eleven angels bears the badge upon her shoulder and the Collar of Broom-pods round her neck. One of the King's angels gives the Royal Standard of England with the Cross of St. George on it to the Infant Christ in token of Richard's dedication of his kingdom to the Virgin and Child.
Edward III. died at Midsummer 1377 and Richard succeeded him in his eleventh year, having been born on January 6, 1367. It is necessary to note the exact day of the year when these events took place, for it can have importance in determining the saint whom a personage chiefly honoured as patron and protector. In this instance St. John the Baptist, whose feast occurs on June 23, near to the day of Richard's accession, obviously stands as patron saint of the young King. Next to him is King Edward the Confessor, the founder of Westminster Abbey, who was canonized for his sanctity and who points to Richard II. as his spiritual successor upon the throne. In medieval art the saints are distinguished by their emblems, which often have an association with the grim way in which they met their death, or with some other prominent feature in their legend. Here Edward holds up a ring, whereof a pretty story is told. Edward once took it off his finger to give it to a beggar, because he had no money with him. But the beggar was no other than John the Evangelist in disguise, and two years later he sent the ring back to the King with the message that in six months Edward would be in the joy of heaven with him. William Caxton, the first English printer, relates in his life of King Edward that when he heard the message he was full of joy and let fall tears from his eyes, giving praise and thanksgiving to Almighty God.
St. Edmund, who stands next to Edward the Confessor, is the other saintly King of England; after whom the town of Bury St. Edmunds takes its name. He was shot to death with arrows by the Danes because he would not give up Christianity. If I could show you several suitably chosen pictures at once, you would recognize in the arrangement of the three Kings here (two standing, one kneeling before the Virgin and Child) a plain resemblance to the typical treatment of a well-known subject—the Adoration of the Magi. You remember how when the three Wise Men of the East—always thought of in the Middle Ages as Kings—had followed the star which led them to the manger where Christ was born, they brought Him gold and frankincense and myrrh as offerings. This beautiful story was a favourite one in the Middle Ages, often represented in sculpture and painting. One King always kneels before the Virgin and Child, presenting his gift, whilst the other two stand behind with theirs in their hands. The standing Kings and the kneeling Richard in our picture, are grouped in just the same relation to the divine Infant as the three Magi. The imitation of the type is clear. There was a special reason for this, in that the birthday of Richard fell upon January 6, the feast of the Epiphany, when the Wise Men did homage to the Babe. The picture, by reminding us of the three Wise Men, commemorated the birthday of the King as well as his coronation, the two chief dates of his life.
You have some idea now of the train of thought which this fourteenth-century painter endeavoured to express in his picture commemorative of the coronation of a King. A medieval coronation was a very solemn ceremony indeed, and the picture had to be a serious expression of the great traditions of the throne of England, suggested by the figures of St. Edward and St. Edmund, and of hope for future good to the realm, to ensue from the blessings of the Virgin and Child upon the young King. Religious feeling is dominant in this picture, and if from it you could turn to others of like date, you would find the same to be true. The meaning was the main thing thought of. When Giotto painted his scenes from the life of St. Francis, his first aim was that the stories should be well told and easily grasped by all who looked at them. Their beauty was of less importance. This difference between the aim of art in the Middle Ages and in our own day is fundamental. If you begin by picking to pieces the pictures of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries because the drawing is bad, the colouring crude, and the grouping unnatural, you might as well never look at them at all. Putting faults and old fashions aside to think of the meaning of the picture, we shall often be rewarded by finding a soul within, and the work may affect us powerfully, notwithstanding its simple forms and few strong colours.
Nevertheless, after the painter had planned his picture so as to convey its message and meaning, he did try to make it beautiful to look upon, and he often succeeded. In the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries it was beauty of outline and a pleasant patching together of bright colours for which the painters strove, both in pictures and in manuscripts. If you think of this picture for a moment as a coloured pattern, you will see how pretty it is. The blue wings against the gold background make a hedge for the angel faces and look extremely well. If the figure of Richard II. seems flat, if you feel as though he were cut out of cardboard and had no thickness, then turn your mind to consider only the outline of the figure. It is very graceful. Artists in the thirteenth century sometimes made their figures over-long if they thought that a sweep of graceful line would look well in a certain position in their picture; the drapery was bent into impossible curves if so they fell into a pretty pattern.
In the fourteenth century, beauty of outlines still prevailed, even when they contained plain masses of brilliant colour so pure and gem-like that the pictures almost came to look like stained-glass windows. In fact probably the constant sight of stained-glass windows in the churches greatly influenced the painters' way of work. The contrast of divers colours placed next one another was more startling than we find in later painting, whilst an effort was made to finish every detail as though it were to be looked at through a magnifying glass.
In this picture which we are now learning how to see, the Virgin was to be shown standing in a meadow of flowers. A modern artist knows how to paint the general effect of many flowers growing out of grass, but the medieval painter had not the skill to do that. He had not learnt to look at the effect of a mass of flowers as a whole, nor could he have rendered such an effect with the colours and processes he possessed. He knew what one flower looked like, and thought that many must be a continued repetition of one. But it was impossible to paint a great number of flowers close together, each finished in detail, so he chose instead to paint a few as completely as he could, and leave the rest to the imagination of the spectator. That was his way of making a selection from nature; thus he hoped to suggest the idea of a flowery meadow, since he could not hope to render the look of it.
Likewise, all the details of the dresses are minutely painted. The robes of Richard and of Edmund the Martyr are beautiful examples of the careful and painstaking work characteristic of the Middle Ages. No medieval painter spared himself trouble. Although he had not mastered the art of drawing the figure, he had learnt how to paint jewellery and stuffs beautifully, and delighted in doing it. The drawing of the figures you can see to be imperfect, yet nothing could be sweeter in feeling than the bevy of girl angels with roses in their hair surrounding the Virgin. Most of them are not unlike English girls of the present day, and the critics who say that this picture must have been painted by a Frenchman may be asked where he is likely to have found these English models for his angels.
Possibly the face of Richard himself may have been painted from life, for the features correspond closely enough with the large full-face portrait of him in Westminster Abbey, and with the sculptured figure upon his tomb. He certainly does not look like a child of ten, for his state robes and crown give him a grown-up appearance. But if you regard the face carefully you can see that it is still that of a child.
The gold background in the original shines out brilliantly, for after the gold was laid on, it was polished with an agate, which gives it a burnished effect, and then the little patterns were carefully punched so as not to pierce the gold and thereby expose the white ground beneath. There is a jewel-like quality in the colour such as you can see in manuscripts of the time, and it is possible that the painter may have learned his art as an illuminator of manuscripts. Artists in those days seldom confined themselves to one kind of work. We do not know this man's name, and are not even certain whether he was French or English.
Before, as in the time of Richard, painting had been mainly a decorative art, and the object of making pictures was to adorn the pages of a book, or the walls and vaults of a building. The most vital artistic energies of Western Europe in the thirteenth century had gone into the building of the great cathedrals and abbeys, which are to-day the glory of that period. Most medieval paintings that still exist in England are decorative wall-paintings of this kind, and only traces of a few remain. In many country places you can see poor and faded vestiges of painting which adorned church walls in the thirteenth century, and occasionally you may come upon a bit by some chance better preserved. These old wall-paintings were done upon the dry plaster. The discovery, or rather the revival, of 'fresco' painting (that is, of painting done upon the wet surface of freshly plastered walls, a more durable process) was made in Italy and did not penetrate to England.
Richard II. was not the only art-loving King of his time. You have read of John, King of France, who was taken prisoner at the Battle of Poitiers by the Black Prince, father of Richard. During his captivity he lived in considerable state in London at the Savoy Palace, which occupied the site of the present Savoy Hotel in the Strand; he brought his own painter from France with him, who painted his portrait which still exists in Paris. This King John was the father of four remarkable sons, Charles V., King of France, with whom Edward III. and the Black Prince fought the latter part of the Hundred Years' War; Philip the Bold, Duke of Burgundy; John, Duke of Berry; and Louis, Duke of Anjou. In this list, all are names of remarkable men and great art-patrons, about whom you may some day read interesting things. Numerous lovely objects still in existence were made for them, and would not have been made at all if they had not been the men they were. It was only just becoming possible in the fourteenth century for a prince to be an art-patron. That required money, and hitherto even princes had rarely been rich. The increasing wealth of England, France, and Flanders at this time was based upon the wool industry and the manufacture and commerce to which it gave rise. The Lord Chancellor in the House of Lords to this day sits on a woolsack, which is a reminder of the time when the woolsacks of England were the chief source of the wealth of English traders.
After the Black Death, an awful plague that swept through Europe in 1349, a large part of the land of England was given up to sheep grazing, because the population had diminished, and it took fewer people to look after sheep than it did to till the soil. Although this had been an evil in the beginning, it became afterwards a benefit, for English wool was sold at an excellent price to the merchants of Flanders, who worked it up into cloth, and in their turn sold that all over Europe with big profits. The larger merchants who regulated the wool traffic were prosperous, and so too the landowners and princes whose property thus increased in value. The four sons of King John became very wealthy men. Philip the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, by marrying the heiress of the Count of Flanders acquired the Flemish territory and the wealth obtained from the wool trade and manufacture there. Berry and Anjou were great provinces in France yielding a large revenue to their two Dukes. Each of these princes employed several artists to illuminate books for him in the most splendid way; they built magnificent chateaux, and had tapestries and paintings made to decorate their walls. They employed many sculptors and goldsmiths, and all gave each other as presents works of art executed by their favourite artists. In the British Museum there is a splendid gold and enamel cup that John, Duke of Berry, caused to be made for his brother King Charles V.; to see it would give you a good idea of the costliness and elaboration of the finest work of that day. The courts of these four brothers were centres of artistic production in all kinds—sculpture, metal-work, tapestries, illuminated manuscripts and pictures, and there was a strong spirit of rivalry among the artists to see who could make the loveliest things, and among the patrons as to which could secure the best artists in his service.
These four princes gave an important impulse to the production of beautiful things in France, Burgundy, and Flanders, but it is needless to burden you with the artists' names.
In the fourteenth century an artist was a workman who existed to do well the work that was desired of him. He was not an independent man with ideas of his own, who attempted to make a living by painting what he thought beautiful, without reference to the ideas of a buyer. Of course, if people prefer and buy good things when they see them, good things will be likely to be made, but if those with money to spend have no taste and buy bad things or order ugly things to be made, then the men who had it in them to be great artists may die unnoticed, because the beautiful things they could have made are not called for. To-day many people spend something upon art and a few spend a great deal. Let us hope we may not see too much of the money spent in creating a demand for what is bad rather than for what is beautiful.
It was not unusual in the fourteenth century for a man to be at one and the same time painter, illuminator, sculptor, metal-worker, and designer of any object that might be called for. One of these many gifted men, Andre Beauneveu of Valenciennes, a good sculptor and a painter of some exquisite miniatures, is sometimes supposed to have been the painter of our picture of Richard II. In the absence of any signature or any definite record it is impossible to say who painted it, but it is unnecessary to assume that it must have been painted by a French artist, since we know that at the end of the fourteenth century there were very good painters in England.
It was by no means an exception not to sign a picture in those days, for the artists had not begun to think of themselves as individuals entitled to public fame. Hand-workers of the fourteenth century mostly belonged to a corporation or guild composed of all the other workers at the same trade in the same town, and to this rule artists were no exception. Each man received a recognized price for his work, and the officers of the guild saw to it that he obtained that price and that he worked with good and durable materials. There were certain advantages in this, but it involved some loss of freedom in the artist, since all had to conform to the rules of the guild. The system was characteristic of the Middle Ages, and arose from the fact that in those troublous times every isolated person needed protection and was content to merge his individuality in some society in order to obtain it. The guilds made for peace and diminished competition, so that a guildsman may have been less tempted to hurry over or scamp his task. The result was much honest, careful work such as you see in the original of this picture. We are told by those who know best that there has never been a time when the actual workmanship of the general run of craftsmen was better than in the Middle Ages.
This picture of Richard II. has not faded or cracked or fallen off the panel, and it seems as though we may hope it never will, for it was well made and, what is even more important, it seems always to have been well cared for. If only the nice things that are produced were all well cared for, how many more of them there would be in the world!
THE VAN EYCKS
Before passing to Hubert van Eyck, the painter of the original of our next picture, please compare carefully the picture of Richard II. and this of the Three Maries, looking first at one and then at the other. The subject of the visit of the Maries to the Sepulchre is, of course, well known to you, but let us read the beautiful passage from St. Matthew telling of it, that we may see how faithfully in every detail it was followed by Hubert van Eyck.
In the end of the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene, and the other Mary, to see the Sepulchre. And, behold, there was a great earthquake: for the Angel of the Lord descended from Heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it. His countenance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow: And for fear of him the keepers did shake, and became as dead men.
Surely this would be thought a beautiful picture had it been painted at any time, but when you compare it with the Richard II. diptych does it not seem to you as though a long era divided the two? Yet one was painted less than fifty years after the other. It is the attitude of mind of the painter that makes the difference.
In the diptych, although the portrait of Richard himself was a likeness, the setting was imaginary and symbolic. The artist wished to tell in his picture how all the Kings who succeed one another upon the throne of England alike depend upon the protection of Heaven, and how Richard in his turn acknowledged that dependence, and pledged his loyalty to the Blessed Virgin and her Holy Child. That picture was intended to take the mind of the spectator away from the everyday world and suggest grave thought, and such was likewise in the main the purpose of all paintings in the Middle Ages. But we are now leaving the Middle Ages behind and approaching a new world nearer to our own.
Hubert van Eyck, in attempting to depict the event at the Sepulchre as it might actually have occurred outside the walls of the City of Jerusalem, was doing something quite novel in his day. His picture might almost be called a Bible illustration. It is at least painted in the same practical spirit as that of a man painting an illustration for any other book. It is not a picture meant to help one to pray, or meditate. It does not express any religious idea. It was intended to be the veracious representation of an actual event, shown as, and when, and how it happened, true to the facts so far as Hubert knew them.
He has dressed the Maries in robes with wrought borders of Hebrew characters, imitated from embroidered stuffs, such as at that time were imported into Europe from the East. The dresses are not accurate copies of eastern dresses; Hubert would scarcely have known what those were like, but was doing his best to paint costumes that should look oriental. Mary Magdalen wears a turban, and the keeper on the right has a strange peaked cap with Hebrew letters on it. Hebrew scholars have done their best to read the inscriptions on these clothes, but we must infer that Hubert only copied the letters without knowing what they meant, since it has not been possible to make any sense of them. In the foreground are masses of flowers most carefully painted, and so accurately drawn that botanists have been able to identify them all; several do not grow in the north of Europe. The town at the back is something like Jerusalem as it looked in Hubert van Eyck's own day. A few of the buildings can be identified still, and a general view of Jerusalem taken in 1486, sixty years after the death of Hubert, bears some resemblance to the town in this picture. The city is painted in miniature, much as it would look if you saw it from near at hand. Every tower, house, and window is there. You can even count the battlements. The great building with the dome in the middle of the picture, is the Mosque of Omar, which occupies the supposed site of Solomon's Temple.
Some people have thought that perhaps Hubert van Eyck, and his brother John, actually went to the East. Many men made pilgrimages in those days, and almost every year parties of Christian pilgrims went to Jerusalem. It was a rough and even a dangerous journey, but not at all impossible for a patient traveller. Dr. Hulin, who has made wonderful discoveries about the early Flemish painters, found a mention, in an old sixteenth-century list, of a 'Portrait of a Moorish King or Prince' by Van Eyck, painted in 1414 or perhaps 1418. If he painted a portrait of an oriental prince, he may have visited one oriental country at least, or at any rate the south of Spain. Probably enough during that journey he made studies of the cypress, stone-pine, date-palm, olive, orange, and palmetto, which occur in his pictures. They grow in the south of Spain and other Mediterranean regions, but not in the cold north where Hubert spent most of his days.
It is difficult at first to realize what an innovation it was for Hubert van Eyck to paint such a landscape. In the Richard II. diptych there is just a suggestion of brown earth for the saints to stand upon, but the rest of the background is of gold, as was the common practice at the time. The great innovator, Giotto, in some of his pictures had attempted to paint landscape backgrounds. In his fresco of St. Francis preaching to the birds there is a tree for them to perch on, but it seems more like a garden vegetable than a tree. Even his buildings look as though they might fall together any moment like a pack of cards. Hubert not only gives landscape a larger place than it ever had in any great picture before, but he paints it with such skill and apparent confidence that we should never dream he was doing it almost for the first time.
St. Matthew says: 'As it began to dawn towards the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene, and the other Mary, to see the Sepulchre.' Even in this point Hubert wished to be accurate. The rising sun is hidden behind the rocks on the left side of the picture, for it was not until years later that any painter ventured to paint the sun in the heavens. But the rays from the hidden orb strike the castles on the hills with shafts of light. The town remains in shadow, while the sky is lit up with floods of glory. An effect such as this must have been very carefully studied from nature. Hubert was evidently one who looked at the world with observant eyes and found it beautiful. When he had flowers to paint, he painted the whole plant accurately, not the blossoms individually, like the painter of Richard II. He liked fine stuffs, embroideries, jewels, and glittering armour. He was no visionary trying to free himself from the earth and live in contemplation of the angels and saints in Paradise, like so many of the thirteenth and fourteenth century artists.
In this new delightful interest in the world as it is, he reflected the tendency of his day. The fifty years that had elapsed between the painting of Richard II.'s portrait and the work of the Van Eycks, had seen a great development of trade and industry in Flanders. Hubert was born, perhaps about 1365, at Maas Eyck, from which he takes his name. Maas Eyck was a little town on the banks of the river Maas, near the frontier of the present Holland and Belgium. He may have spent most of his life in Ghent, the town officials of which city paid him a visit in 1425 to see his work, and gave six groats to his apprentices in memory of their visit. Where he learnt his art, where he worked before he came to Ghent, we do not know for certain, but there is reason to think that he was employed for a while in Holland by the Count.
John, his brother, concerning whom more facts have been gathered, is said to have been twenty years younger than Hubert. He was a painter too, and worked in the employ of Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy and Count of Flanders, the grandson of Philip the Bold, who was one of those four sons of King John of France mentioned in our last chapter. Philip the Good continued the traditions of his family and was in his time a great art-patron. His grandfather had fostered an important school of sculpture in Flanders and Burgundy, which culminated in the superb statues still existing at Dijon. Like his brother the Duke of Berry, he had given work to a number of miniature painters. The Count of Holland also employed some wonderful miniature painters to beautify a manuscript for him. This manuscript and one made for the Duke of Berry were among the finest ever painted so far as the pictures in them are concerned. The Count of Holland's book used to be in the library at Turin, where it was burnt a few years ago, so we can see it no more. But the fortunate ones who did see it thought that the pictures in it were actually painted by the Van Eycks when they were young. The Duke of Berry's finest book is at Chantilly and is well known. Both this and the Turin book contained the loveliest early landscapes, a little earlier in date than this landscape in the 'Three Maries' picture. So you see why it is said that the illuminators first invented beautiful landscape painting, and that landscapes were painted in books before they were painted as pictures to hang on walls.
The practical spirit in which Hubert van Eyck worked exactly matched the sensible, matter-of-fact Flemish character. The Flemings, even in pictures of the Madonna, wanted the Virgin to wear a gown made of the richest stuff that could be woven, truthfully painted, with jewels of the finest Flemish workmanship, and they liked to see a landscape behind her studied from their own native surroundings.
No man could try to paint things as they looked, in the way Hubert did, without making great progress in drawing. If you compare the drawing of the angel appearing to the Maries with any of the angels wearing the badge of Richard II., you will see how much more life-like is the angel of Hubert. The painter of Richard II. was not happy with his figures unless they were standing up or kneeling in profile, but Hubert van Eyck can draw them with tolerable success lying down, or sitting huddled. He can also combine a group in a natural manner. The absence of formal arrangement in the picture of the Maries is quite new in medieval art.
The painter of Richard II. had known very little about perspective. The science of drawing things as they look from one point of view has no doubt been taught to all of you. You know certain rules about vanishing points and can apply them in your drawing. But you would have found it very hard to invent perspective without being taught. I can remember drawing a matchbox by the light of nature, and very queer it contrived to become. Medieval artists were in exactly that same case. The artists of the ancient world had discovered some of the laws of perspective, but the secret was lost, and artists in the Middle Ages had to discover them all over again. Hubert van Eyck made a great stride toward the attainment of this knowledge. When you look at the picture the perspective does not strike you as glaringly wrong, though there was still much that remained to be discovered by later men, as we shall see in our next chapter.
The brothers Van Eyck were, first and foremost, good workmen. Few other painters in the whole of the world's history have aimed at anything like the same finish of detail. In the original of this picture the oriental pot which the green Mary holds in her hand is a perfect marvel of workmanship. There is no detail so small but that when you look into it you discover some fresh wonder. A story is told of how Hubert van Eyck painted a picture upon which he had lavished his usual painstaking care. But when he put it in the sun to dry, the panel cracked down the middle. After this disappointment Hubert went to work and invented a new substance with which colours are made liquid, a 'medium' as it is called, which when mixed with colour dried hard and quickly. It was possible to paint with the new medium in finer detail than before, and the Flemish artists universally adopted it. While very little was remembered about the facts of Hubert van Eyck's life, his name was always associated with the discovery of a new method of painting, and on that account held in great honour.
The 'Three Maries' is in many respects the most attractive of the pictures ascribed to Hubert, but his most famous work was a larger picture, or assemblage of pictures framed together, the 'Adoration of the Lamb,' in St. Bavon's Church at Ghent. It is an altar-piece—a painting set up over an altar in a church or chapel to aid the devotions of those worshipping there. Many of the panels of the Ghent altar-piece are now in the Museums of Berlin and Brussels. They belonged to the wings or shutters which were made to close over the central parts, and which used also to be painted outside and inside with devotional or related subjects. The four great central panels on which these shutters used to close are still at Ghent. The subject of the 'Adoration of the Lamb' was taken from Revelations, where before the Lamb has opened the seals of the book, St. John says:
And every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying, Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever.
Hubert has figured this verse by assembling, as in one time and place, representatives of Christendom. They who worship are the prophets, apostles, popes, martyrs, and virgins. On each side of the central panel the just judges, the soldiers of Christ, the hermits, and the pilgrims, advance to join the throng around the Lamb. Most beautiful of all is the crowd of virgin martyrs bearing palms, moving over the green grass carpeted with flowers, to adore the Lamb of God, the Redeemer of the World. Above, God the Father, the Virgin Mother, and St. John the Baptist, with crowns of wonderful workmanship, are throned amid choirs of singing and playing angels on either hand.
The picture does not illustrate the description of the Adoration of the Lamb in the fifth chapter of Revelations so faithfully as the picture of the 'Three Maries' illustrated St. Matthew. The Lamb has not seven horns and seven eyes, and the four beasts and twenty-four elders are not falling down before it and adoring. The Lamb is an ordinary sheep, and the picture is a symbolic expression of the Catholic faith, founded upon a biblical text, but not what could be described as 'a Bible illustration.' People in the Middle Ages liked to embody their faith in a visible form, and we are told that theologians frequently drew up schemes of doctrine which painters did their best to translate into pictures, and sculptors into sculpture. Such works of art were for instruction rather than beauty, though some also served well the purpose of decoration.
Josse Vyt, who ordered the picture, and whose portrait, with that of his wife, is painted on the shutters, no doubt explained exactly what he wanted, and Hubert sought to please him. But although the design of the central panel was old-fashioned and symbolic, Hubert was able to do what he liked with the landscape, and with the individual figures. They are real men and women with varieties of expression such as had not been painted before, and the landscape is even more beautiful than the one at the back of the 'Three Maries.' Snow mountains rise in the distance, and beautiful cypresses and palms of all kinds clothe the green slopes behind the Lamb. There are flowers in the grass and jewels for pebbles in the brook. Behind, you can see the Cathedrals of Utrecht and Cologne, St. John's of Maestricht, and more churches and houses besides, and the walls of a town, and wide stretches of green country.
[Footnote 1: There are reasons for thinking that the picture may have been ordered by some prince who died before it was finished, and that Vyt only acquired it later, in time to have his own and his wife's portraits added on the shutters.]
Hubert van Eyck died in 1426, and the picture was finished by his younger brother John, of whose life, though more is known than of Hubert's, we need not here repeat details. Many of his pictures still exist, and the most delightful of them for us are his portraits. He was not the first man to paint good portraits, but few artists have ever painted better likenesses. It seems evident that the people in his pictures are 'as like as they can stare,' with no wrinkle or scratch left out. Portraits in earlier days than these were seldom painted for their own sake alone. A pious man who wanted to present an altar-piece or a stained-glass window to a church would modestly have his own image introduced in a corner. By degrees such portraits grew in size and scale, and the neighbouring saints diminished, till at last the saints were left out and the portrait stood alone. Then it came about that such a picture was hung in its owner's house rather than in a church. One of the best portraits John van Eyck ever painted is at Bruges—the likeness of his wife. The panel was discovered about fifty years ago in the market-place of Bruges, where an old woman was using the back of it to skin eels on; but so soundly had the picture been painted that even this ill-usage did not ruin it. The lady was a very plain Flemish woman with no beauty of feature or expression, but John has revealed her character so vividly that to look at her likeness is to know her. It is indeed a long leap from the Richard II. of fifty years before, with its representation of the outline of a youth, to this ample realization of a mature woman's character.
John lived till 1441, and had some pupils and many imitators. One of these, Roger van der Weyden by name, spread his influence far and wide throughout the whole of the Netherlands, France, and Germany. How important this influence was in the history of art we shall see later. Many of the imitators of John learnt his accuracy and thoroughness of workmanship, but none of them attained his deep insight into character.
During the next fifty years many and beautiful were the pictures produced throughout Flanders. All of them have a jewel-like brilliance of colour, approaching in brightness the hues of the Richard II. diptych. The landscape backgrounds are charming miniatures of towns by the side of rivers with spanning bridges. The painting of textures is exquisite. But the Flemish face, placid, plump, and fair-haired, prevails throughout. In the pictures of Paradise, where the saints and angels play with the Infant Christ, we still feel chained to the earth, because the figures and faces are the unidealized images of those one might have met in the streets of Bruges and Ghent. This is not a criticism on the artists. The merit of their work is unchallenged; and how could they paint physical beauty by them scarce ever seen? Yet when all has been said in praise of the Flemish School, the brothers Van Eyck, the founders of it, remain its greatest representatives, and their work is still regarded with that high and almost universal veneration which is the tribute of the greatest achievement.
Who is this old gentleman in our next picture reading so quietly and steadily? Does he not look absorbed in his book? Certainly the peacock, the bird, and the cat do not worry him or each other, and there is still another animal in the distance—a lion! Can you see him? He is walking down the cloister pavement on the right, with his foot lifted as though it were hurt. The story is that this particular lion limped into the monastery in which this old man lived, and while all the other monks fled in terror, this monk saw that the lion's fore-paw was hurt. He raised it up, found what was the matter, and pulled out the thorn; and ever afterwards the lion lived peacefully in the monastery with him. Now, whenever you see a lion in a picture with an old monk, him you will know to be St. Jerome. He was a learned Christian father who lived some fifteen hundred years ago, yet his works are still read, spoken, and heard every day throughout the world. He it was who made the standard Latin version of the Scriptures. The services in Roman Catholic churches in all countries are held in Latin to this day, and St. Jerome's translation of the Bible, called the Vulgate, is the version still in use.
Here you see St. Jerome depicted sitting in his own study, reading to prepare himself for his great undertaking; and what a study it is! You must go to the National Gallery to enjoy all the details, for the original painting is only 18 inches high by 14 inches broad, and the books and writing materials are so tiny that some are inevitably lost in this beautiful photograph. The study is really a part of a monastery assigned to St. Jerome himself, his books, manuscripts, and other such possessions. He has a pot of flowers and a dwarf tree, and a towel to dry his hands on, and a beautiful chair at his desk. He has taken off his dusty shoes and left them at the foot of the steps.
The painter of this picture, must have had in his mind a very happy idea of St. Jerome. Others have sometimes painted him as they thought he looked when living in a horrible desert, as he did for four years. But at the time this picture was painted, about the year 1470, St. Jerome in his study was a more usual subject for painters than St. Jerome in the desert. One reason of this was that in Italy, in the latter half of the fifteenth century, St. Jerome was considered the patron saint of scholars, and for the first time since the fall of the Roman Empire, scholars were perhaps the most influential people of the day.
Of course you all know something about the remarkable revival of learning in the fifteenth century, which started in Italy, spread northward, and reached England in the reign of Henry VIII. Before the fifteenth century, Italians seem to have been indifferent to the monuments around them of ancient civilization. Suddenly they were fired with a passion for antiquity. They learnt Greek and began to take a keen interest in the doings of the Greeks and Romans, who in many ways had lived a life so far superior to their own. Artists studied the old statues, which taught them the beauty of the human figure. The reacquired wisdom of the ancients by degrees broke down the medieval barriers. There was born a spirit of enterprise into the world of thought as well as into the world of fact, which revolutionized life and art. The period which witnessed this great mental change is well known as the Renaissance or 'rebirth.'
When you first looked at this picture you must have thought it very different from the two earlier ones. Such a subject could only have been painted thus in an age when men admired the scholar's life. Though the figure is called that of St. Jerome, there is really nothing typically saintly about him; he is only serious. The subjects chosen by painters of the Renaissance were no longer almost solely religious, but began to be selected from the world of everyday life; even when the subject was taken from Christian legend, it was now generally treated as an event happening in the actual world of the painter's own day.
The manner in which this picture is painted is still more suggestive of change than the subject itself. Our artist knew a great deal about the new science of perspective, for instance. One might almost think that, pleased with his new knowledge, he had multiplied the number of objects on the shelves so as to show how well he could foreshorten them. Medieval painters had not troubled about perspective, and were more concerned, as we have seen, to make a pretty pattern of shapes and colours for their pictures. The Van Eycks, as we noted, only acquired the beginnings of an understanding of it, and were very proud of their new knowledge. It was in Italy that all the rules were at last brought to light.
The Renaissance Period in Italy may be considered as lasting from 1400 to 1550. The pioneer artists who mastered perspective and worked at the human figure till they could draw it correctly in any attitude, lived in the first seventy-five years of the fifteenth century. They were the breakers of stone and hewers of wood who prepared the way for the greater artists of the end of the century, but in the process of learning, many of them painted very lovely things.
The painter of our picture lived within those seventy-five years. He was, probably, a certain Antonello of Messina—that same town in Sicily recently wrecked by earthquakes. Of his life little is known. He seems to have worked chiefly in Venice where there was a fine school of painting during the Renaissance Period; his senior Giovanni Bellini, one of the early great painters of Venice, some of whose pictures are in the National Gallery, taught him much. It is also said that Antonello went to the Netherlands and there learnt the method of laying paint on panel invented by the Van Eycks. Modern students say he did not, but that he picked up his way of painting in Italy. Certainly he and other Venetians and Italians about this time improved their technical methods as the Van Eycks had done, and this picture is an early example of that more brilliant fashion of painting. There is here a Flemish love of detail. The Italian painters had been more accustomed to painting upon walls than the Flemings, for the latter had soon discovered that a damp northern climate was not favourable to the preservation of wall-paintings. Fresco does not admit of much detail, as each day's work has to be finished in the day, before the plaster dries. Thus, a long tradition of fresco painting had accustomed the Italian painters to a broad method of treatment, which they maintained to a certain extent even in their panel pictures. But in our St. Jerome we see a wealth of detail unsurpassed even by John van Eyck.
One needs a magnifying-glass to see everything there is to be seen in the landscape through the window on the left. Besides the city with its towers and walls and the mountains behind, there is a river in the foreground where two little people are sitting in a boat. Observe every tiny stone in the pavement, and every open page of the books on the shelves. Here, too, is breadth in the handling. Hold the book far away from you, so that the detail of the picture vanishes and only the broad masses of the composition stand out. You still have what is essential. The picture is one in which Italian feeling and sentiment blend with Flemish technique and love of little things. There has always been something of a mystery about the picture, and you must not be surprised some day if you hear it asserted that Antonello did not paint it at all. Such changes in the attributions of unsigned paintings are not uncommon.
One of the greatest pioneer artists of the fifteenth century was Andrea Mantegna of Padua in the north of Italy. More than any other painter of his day, he devoted himself to the study of ancient sculpture, even to the extent of sometimes painting in monochrome to imitate the actual marble. Paintings by him, which look like sculptured reliefs, are in the National Gallery; and at Hampton Court is a series of cartoons representing the Triumph of Julius Caesar, in which the conception and the handling are throughout inspired by old Roman bas-reliefs. In other pictures of his, the figures look as though cast of bronze, for he was likewise influenced by the sculptors of his own day, particularly by the Florentine Donatello, one of the geniuses of the early Renaissance. Mantegna's studies of form in sculpture made him an excellent draughtsman. Strangely enough, it was this very severe artist who was, perhaps, the first to depict the charm of babyhood. Often he draws his babes wrapped in swaddling clothes, with their little fingers in their mouths, or else in the act of crying, with their eyes screwed up tight, and their mouths wide open. Such a combination of hard sculpturesque modelling with extreme tenderness of feeling has a charm of its own.
We have now just one more picture of a sacred subject to look at, one of the last that still retains much of the old beautiful religious spirit of the Middle Ages. The painter of it, Sandro Botticelli, a Florentine, in whom were blended the piety of the Middle Ages and the intellectual life of the Renaissance, was a very interesting man, whose like we shall not find among the painters of his own or later days. He was born in 1446, in Florence, the city in Italy most alive to the new ideas and the new learning. Its governing family, the Medici, of whom you have doubtless read, surrounded themselves with a brilliant society of accomplished men, and adorned their palaces with the finest works of art that could be produced in their time. The best artists from the surrounding country were attracted to Florence in the hope of working for the family, who were ever ready to employ a man of artistic gifts.
In such an atmosphere an original and alert person like Botticelli could not fail to keep step with the foremost of his day. His fertile fancy was charmed by the revived stories of Greek Mythology, and for a time he gave himself up to the painting of pagan subjects such as the Birth of Venus from the Sea, and the lovely allegory of Spring with Venus, Cupid, and the Three Graces. He was one of the early artists to break through the old wall of religious convention, painting frankly mythological subjects, and he did them in an exquisite manner all his own.
The true spirit of beauty dwelt within him, and all that he painted and designed was graceful in form and beautiful in colour. If, for instance, you look closely into the designs of the necks of dresses in his pictures, you will find them delightful to copy and far superior to the ordinary designs for such things made to-day. In his love of beauty and his keen appreciation of the new possibilities of painting he was a true child of the Renaissance, though he had not the joyous nature so characteristic of the time. Moreover, as I have said, he retained the old sweet religious spirit, and clothed it with new forms of beauty in his sacred paintings. There is something pathetic about many of these—the Virgin, while she nurses the Infant Christ, seems to foresee all the sorrow in store for her, and but little of the joy. The girl angels who nestle around her in so many of his pictures, have faces of exquisite beauty, but in most of them, notwithstanding the fact that they are evidently painted from Florentine girls of the time, Botticelli has infused his own personal note of sadness.
At the end of the fifteenth century, when Botticelli was beginning to grow old, great events took place in Florence. Despite the revival of learning, we are told by historians that the Church was becoming corrupt and the people more pleasure-loving and less interested in the religious life. Then it was that Savonarola, a friar in one of the convents of Florence, all on fire with enthusiasm for purity and goodness, began to awaken the hearts of the people with his burning eloquence, and his denunciations of their worldliness and the deadness of the Church. He prophesied a great outpouring of the wrath of God, and in particular that the Church would be purified and renewed after a quick and terrible punishment. The passion, the conviction, the eloquence of Savonarola for a time carried the people of Florence away, and Botticelli with them, so that he became one of the 'mourners' as the preacher's followers were called.
At this time many persons burnt in great 'bonfires of vanities' all the pretty trinkets that they possessed. But when the prophecies did not literally come true, and the people began to be weary of Savonarola's vehemence, we read that a reaction set in, which afforded a chance for his enemies within the Church, whom he had lashed with his tongue from the pulpit of the cathedral. They contrived to have him tried for heresy and burnt in the market-place of Florence, in the midst of the people who so shortly before had hung on every word that fell from his lips.
This tragedy entirely overwhelmed Botticelli, who thenceforward almost abandoned painting, and gave up his last years to the practices of the religious life. It was at this time, says Mr. Horne, and under the influence of these emotions, in the year 1500, when he was sixty years of age, that he painted the picture here reproduced, as an illustration to the prophecies of Savonarola, and a tribute to his memory. Savonarola had been wont to use the descriptions, in the Book of Revelations, of the woes that were to fall upon the earth before the building of the new Jerusalem, to illustrate his prophecy of the scourge that was to come upon Italy, before the Church became purified from the wickedness of the times. At the top of the picture is written in Greek: