THE FLORENTINE PAINTERS OF THE RENAISSANCE
WITH AN INDEX TO THEIR WORKS
BY BERNHARD BERENSON
AUTHOR OF "VENETIAN PAINTERS OF THE RENAISSANCE," "LORENZO LOTTO," "CENTRAL ITALIAN PAINTERS OF THE RENAISSANCE"
THIRD EDITION, REVISED AND ENLARGED
G. P. PUTNAM'S SONS NEW YORK AND LONDON The Knickerbocker Press
COPYRIGHT, 1896 BY G. P. PUTNAM'S SONS Entered at Stationers' Hall, London
* * * * *
COPYRIGHT, 1909 BY G. P. PUTNAM'S SONS (For revised edition)
Made in the United States of America
PREFACE TO THIRD EDITION
Years have passed since the second edition of this book. But as most of this time has been taken up with the writing of my "Drawings of the Florentine Painters," it has, in a sense, been spent in preparing me to make this new edition. Indeed, it is to that bigger work that I must refer the student who may wish to have the reasons for some of my attributions. There, for instance, he will find the intricate Carli question treated quite as fully as it deserves. Jacopo del Sellajo is inserted here for the first time. Ample accounts of this frequently entertaining tenth-rate painter may be found in articles by Hans Makowsky, Mary Logan, and Herbert Horne.
The most important event of the last ten years, in the study of Italian art, has been the rediscovery of an all but forgotten great master, Pietro Cavallini. The study of his fresco at S. Cecilia in Rome, and of the other works that readily group themselves with it, has illuminated with an unhoped-for light the problem of Giotto's origin and development. I felt stimulated to a fresh consideration of the subject. The results will be noted here in the inclusion, for the first time, of Cimabue, and in the lists of paintings ascribed to Giotto and his immediate assistants.
Boston, November, 1908.
PREFACE TO THE SECOND EDITION
The lists have been thoroughly revised, and some of them considerably increased. Botticini, Pier Francesco Fiorentino, and Amico di Sandro have been added, partly for the intrinsic value of their work, and partly because so many of their pictures are exposed to public admiration under greater names. Botticini sounds too much like Botticelli not to have been confounded with him, and Pier Francesco has similarly been confused with Piero della Francesca. Thus, Botticini's famous "Assumption," painted for Matteo Palmieri, and now in the National Gallery, already passed in Vasari's time for a Botticelli, and the attribution at Karlsruhe of the quaint and winning "Nativity" to the sublime, unyielding Piero della Francesca is surely nothing more than the echo of the real author's name.
Most inadequate accounts, yet more than can be given here, of Pier Francesco, as well as of Botticini, will be found in the Italian edition of Cavalcaselle's Storia della Pittura in Italia, Vol. VII. The latter painter will doubtless be dealt with fully and ably in Mr. Herbert P. Horne's forthcoming book on Botticelli, and in this connection I am happy to acknowledge my indebtedness to Mr. Horne for having persuaded me to study Botticini. Of Amico di Sandro I have written at length in the Gazette des Beaux Arts, June and July, 1899.
FIESOLE, November, 1899.
PAGE THE FLORENTINE PAINTERS OF THE RENAISSANCE 1
INDEX TO THE WORKS OF THE PRINCIPAL FLORENTINE PAINTERS 95
INDEX OF PLACES 189
THE FLORENTINE PAINTERS OF THE RENAISSANCE
Florentine painting between Giotto and Michelangelo contains the names of such artists as Orcagna, Masaccio, Fra Filippo, Pollaiuolo, Verrocchio, Leonardo, and Botticelli. Put beside these the greatest names in Venetian art, the Vivarini, the Bellini, Giorgione, Titian, and Tintoret. The difference is striking. The significance of the Venetian names is exhausted with their significance as painters. Not so with the Florentines. Forget that they were painters, they remain great sculptors; forget that they were sculptors, and still they remain architects, poets, and even men of science. They left no form of expression untried, and to none could they say, "This will perfectly convey my meaning." Painting, therefore, offers but a partial and not always the most adequate manifestation of their personality, and we feel the artist as greater than his work, and the man as soaring above the artist.
[Page heading: MANYSIDEDNESS OF THE PAINTERS]
The immense superiority of the artist even to his greatest achievement in any one art form, means that his personality was but slightly determined by the particular art in question, that he tended to mould it rather than let it shape him. It would be absurd, therefore, to treat the Florentine painter as a mere link between two points in a necessary evolution. The history of the art of Florence never can be, as that of Venice, the study of a placid development. Each man of genius brought to bear upon his art a great intellect, which, never condescending merely to please, was tirelessly striving to reincarnate what it comprehended of life in forms that would fitly convey it to others; and in this endeavour each man of genius was necessarily compelled to create forms essentially his own. But because Florentine painting was pre-eminently an art formed by great personalities, it grappled with problems of the highest interest, and offered solutions that can never lose their value. What they aimed at, and what they attained, is the subject of the following essay.
The first of the great personalities in Florentine painting was Giotto. Although he affords no exception to the rule that the great Florentines exploited all the arts in the endeavour to express themselves, he, Giotto, renowned as architect and sculptor, reputed as wit and versifier, differed from most of his Tuscan successors in having peculiar aptitude for the essential in painting as an art.
But before we can appreciate his real value, we must come to an agreement as to what in the art of figure-painting—the craft has its own altogether diverse laws—is the essential; for figure-painting, we may say at once, was not only the one pre-occupation of Giotto, but the dominant interest of the entire Florentine school.
[Page heading: IMAGINATION OF TOUCH]
Psychology has ascertained that sight alone gives us no accurate sense of the third dimension. In our infancy, long before we are conscious of the process, the sense of touch, helped on by muscular sensations of movement, teaches us to appreciate depth, the third dimension, both in objects and in space.
In the same unconscious years we learn to make of touch, of the third dimension, the test of reality. The child is still dimly aware of the intimate connection between touch and the third dimension. He cannot persuade himself of the unreality of Looking-Glass Land until he has touched the back of the mirror. Later, we entirely forget the connection, although it remains true, that every time our eyes recognise reality, we are, as a matter of fact, giving tactile values to retinal impressions.
Now, painting is an art which aims at giving an abiding impression of artistic reality with only two dimensions. The painter must, therefore, do consciously what we all do unconsciously,—construct his third dimension. And he can accomplish his task only as we accomplish ours, by giving tactile values to retinal impressions. His first business, therefore, is to rouse the tactile sense, for I must have the illusion of being able to touch a figure, I must have the illusion of varying muscular sensations inside my palm and fingers corresponding to the various projections of this figure, before I shall take it for granted as real, and let it affect me lastingly.
It follows that the essential in the art of painting—as distinguished from the art of colouring, I beg the reader to observe—is somehow to stimulate our consciousness of tactile values, so that the picture shall have at least as much power as the object represented, to appeal to our tactile imagination.
[Page heading: GIOTTO]
Well, it was of the power to stimulate the tactile consciousness—of the essential, as I have ventured to call it, in the art of painting—that Giotto was supreme master. This is his everlasting claim to greatness, and it is this which will make him a source of highest aesthetic delight for a period at least as long as decipherable traces of his handiwork remain on mouldering panel or crumbling wall. For great though he was as a poet, enthralling as a story-teller, splendid and majestic as a composer, he was in these qualities superior in degree only, to many of the masters who painted in various parts of Europe during the thousand years that intervened between the decline of antique, and the birth, in his own person, of modern painting. But none of these masters had the power to stimulate the tactile imagination, and, consequently, they never painted a figure which has artistic existence. Their works have value, if at all, as highly elaborate, very intelligible symbols, capable, indeed, of communicating something, but losing all higher value the moment the message is delivered.
Giotto's paintings, on the contrary, have not only as much power of appealing to the tactile imagination as is possessed by the objects represented—human figures in particular—but actually more, with the necessary result that to his contemporaries they conveyed a keener sense of reality, of life-likeness than the objects themselves! We whose current knowledge of anatomy is greater, who expect more articulation and suppleness in the human figure, who, in short, see much less naively now than Giotto's contemporaries, no longer find his paintings more than life-like; but we still feel them to be intensely real in the sense that they still powerfully appeal to our tactile imagination, thereby compelling us, as do all things that stimulate our sense of touch while they present themselves to our eyes, to take their existence for granted. And it is only when we can take for granted the existence of the object painted that it can begin to give us pleasure that is genuinely artistic, as separated from the interest we feel in symbols.
[Page heading: ANALYSIS OF ENJOYMENT OF PAINTING]
At the risk of seeming to wander off into the boundless domain of aesthetics, we must stop at this point for a moment to make sure that we are of one mind regarding the meaning of the phrase "artistic pleasure," in so far at least as it is used in connection with painting.
What is the point at which ordinary pleasures pass over into the specific pleasures derived from each one of the arts? Our judgment about the merits of any given work of art depends to a large extent upon our answer to this question. Those who have not yet differentiated the specific pleasures of the art of painting from the pleasures they derive from the art of literature, will be likely to fall into the error of judging the picture by its dramatic presentation of a situation or its rendering of character; will, in short, demand of the painting that it shall be in the first place a good illustration. Those others who seek in painting what is usually sought in music, the communication of a pleasurable state of emotion, will prefer pictures which suggest pleasant associations, nice people, refined amusements, agreeable landscapes. In many cases this lack of clearness is of comparatively slight importance, the given picture containing all these pleasure-giving elements in addition to the qualities peculiar to the art of painting. But in the case of the Florentines, the distinction is of vital consequence, for they have been the artists in Europe who have most resolutely set themselves to work upon the specific problems of the art of figure-painting, and have neglected, more than any other school, to call to their aid the secondary pleasures of association. With them the issue is clear. If we wish to appreciate their merit, we are forced to disregard the desire for pretty or agreeable types, dramatically interpreted situations, and, in fact, "suggestiveness" of any kind. Worse still, we must even forego our pleasure in colour, often a genuinely artistic pleasure, for they never systematically exploited this element, and in some of their best works the colour is actually harsh and unpleasant. It was in fact upon form, and form alone, that the great Florentine masters concentrated their efforts, and we are consequently forced to the belief that, in their pictures at least, form is the principal source of our aesthetic enjoyment.
Now in what way, we ask, can form in painting give me a sensation of pleasure which differs from the ordinary sensations I receive from form? How is it that an object whose recognition in nature may have given me no pleasure, becomes, when recognised in a picture, a source of aesthetic enjoyment, or that recognition pleasurable in nature becomes an enhanced pleasure the moment it is transferred to art? The answer, I believe, depends upon the fact that art stimulates to an unwonted activity psychical processes which are in themselves the source of most (if not all) of our pleasures, and which here, free from disturbing physical sensations, never tend to pass over into pain. For instance: I am in the habit of realising a given object with an intensity that we shall value as 2. If I suddenly realise this familiar object with an intensity of 4, I receive the immediate pleasure which accompanies a doubling of my mental activity. But the pleasure rarely stops here. Those who are capable of receiving direct pleasure from a work of art, are generally led on to the further pleasures of self-consciousness. The fact that the psychical process of recognition goes forward with the unusual intensity of 4 to 2, overwhelms them with the sense of having twice the capacity they had credited themselves with: their whole personality is enhanced, and, being aware that this enhancement is connected with the object in question, they for some time after take not only an increased interest in it, but continue to realise it with the new intensity. Precisely this is what form does in painting: it lends a higher coefficient of reality to the object represented, with the consequent enjoyment of accelerated psychical processes, and the exhilarating sense of increased capacity in the observer. (Hence, by the way, the greater pleasure we take in the object painted than in itself.)
And it happens thus. We remember that to realise form we must give tactile values to retinal sensations. Ordinarily we have considerable difficulty in skimming off these tactile values, and by the time they have reached our consciousness, they have lost much of their strength. Obviously, the artist who gives us these values more rapidly than the object itself gives them, gives us the pleasures consequent upon a more vivid realisation of the object, and the further pleasures that come from the sense of greater psychical capacity.
Furthermore, the stimulation of our tactile imagination awakens our consciousness of the importance of the tactile sense in our physical and mental functioning, and thus, again, by making us feel better provided for life than we were aware of being, gives us a heightened sense of capacity. And this brings us back once more to the statement that the chief business of the figure painter, as an artist, is to stimulate the tactile imagination.
The proportions of this small book forbid me to develop further a theme, the adequate treatment of which would require more than the entire space at my command. I must be satisfied with the crude and unillumined exposition given already, allowing myself this further word only, that I do not mean to imply that we get no pleasure from a picture except the tactile satisfaction. On the contrary, we get much pleasure from composition, more from colour, and perhaps more still from movement, to say nothing of all the possible associative pleasures for which every work of art is the occasion. What I do wish to say is that unless it satisfies our tactile imagination, a picture will not exert the fascination of an ever-heightened reality; first we shall exhaust its ideas, and then its power of appealing to our emotions, and its "beauty" will not seem more significant at the thousandth look than at the first.
My need of dwelling upon this subject at all, I must repeat, arises from the fact that although this principle is important indeed in other schools, it is all-important in the Florentine school. Without its due appreciation it would be impossible to do justice to Florentine painting. We should lose ourselves in admiration of its "teaching," or perchance of its historical importance—as if historical importance were synonymous with artistic significance!—but we should never realise what artistic idea haunted the minds of its great men, and never understand why at a date so early it became academic.
[Page heading: GIOTTO AND VALUES OF TOUCH]
Let us now turn back to Giotto and see in what way he fulfils the first condition of painting as an art, which condition, as we agreed, is somehow to stimulate our tactile imagination. We shall understand this without difficulty if we cover with the same glance two pictures of nearly the same subject that hang side by side in the Florence Academy, one by "Cimabue," and the other by Giotto. The difference is striking, but it does not consist so much in a difference of pattern and types, as of realisation. In the "Cimabue" we patiently decipher the lines and colours, and we conclude at last that they were intended to represent a woman seated, men and angels standing by or kneeling. To recognise these representations we have had to make many times the effort that the actual objects would have required, and in consequence our feeling of capacity has not only not been confirmed, but actually put in question. With what sense of relief, of rapidly rising vitality, we turn to the Giotto! Our eyes scarcely have had time to light on it before we realise it completely—the throne occupying a real space, the Virgin satisfactorily seated upon it, the angels grouped in rows about it. Our tactile imagination is put to play immediately. Our palms and fingers accompany our eyes much more quickly than in presence of real objects, the sensations varying constantly with the various projections represented, as of face, torso, knees; confirming in every way our feeling of capacity for coping with things,—for life, in short. I care little that the picture endowed with the gift of evoking such feelings has faults, that the types represented do not correspond to my ideal of beauty, that the figures are too massive, and almost unarticulated; I forgive them all, because I have much better to do than to dwell upon faults.
But how does Giotto accomplish this miracle? With the simplest means, with almost rudimentary light and shade, and functional line, he contrives to render, out of all the possible outlines, out of all the possible variations of light and shade that a given figure may have, only those that we must isolate for special attention when we are actually realising it. This determines his types, his schemes of colour, even his compositions. He aims at types which both in face and figure are simple, large-boned, and massive,—types, that is to say, which in actual life would furnish the most powerful stimulus to the tactile imagination. Obliged to get the utmost out of his rudimentary light and shade, he makes his scheme of colour of the lightest that his contrasts may be of the strongest. In his compositions, he aims at clearness of grouping, so that each important figure may have its desired tactile value. Note in the "Madonna" we have been looking at, how the shadows compel us to realise every concavity, and the lights every convexity, and how, with the play of the two, under the guidance of line, we realise the significant parts of each figure, whether draped or undraped. Nothing here but has its architectonic reason. Above all, every line is functional; that is to say, charged with purpose. Its existence, its direction, is absolutely determined by the need of rendering the tactile values. Follow any line here, say in the figure of the angel kneeling to the left, and see how it outlines and models, how it enables you to realise the head, the torso, the hips, the legs, the feet, and how its direction, its tension, is always determined by the action. There is not a genuine fragment of Giotto in existence but has these qualities, and to such a degree that the worst treatment has not been able to spoil them. Witness the resurrected frescoes in Santa Croce at Florence!
[Page heading: SYMBOLISM OF GIOTTO]
The rendering of tactile values once recognised as the most important specifically artistic quality of Giotto's work, and as his personal contribution to the art of painting, we are all the better fitted to appreciate his more obvious though less peculiar merits—merits, I must add, which would seem far less extraordinary if it were not for the high plane of reality on which Giotto keeps us. Now what is back of this power of raising us to a higher plane of reality but a genius for grasping and communicating real significance? What is it to render the tactile values of an object but to communicate its material significance? A painter who, after generations of mere manufacturers of symbols, illustrations, and allegories had the power to render the material significance of the objects he painted, must, as a man, have had a profound sense of the significant. No matter, then, what his theme, Giotto feels its real significance and communicates as much of it as the general limitations of his art, and of his own skill permit. When the theme is sacred story, it is scarcely necessary to point out with what processional gravity, with what hieratic dignity, with what sacramental intentness he endows it; the eloquence of the greatest critics has here found a darling subject. But let us look a moment at certain of his symbols in the Arena at Padua, at the "Inconstancy," the "Injustice," the "Avarice," for instance. "What are the significant traits," he seems to have asked himself, "in the appearance and action of a person under the exclusive domination of one of these vices? Let me paint the person with these traits, and I shall have a figure that perforce must call up the vice in question." So he paints "Inconstancy" as a woman with a blank face, her arms held out aimlessly, her torso falling backwards, her feet on the side of a wheel. It makes one giddy to look at her. "Injustice," is a powerfully built man in the vigour of his years dressed in the costume of a judge, with his left hand clenching the hilt of his sword, and his clawed right hand grasping a double hooked lance. His cruel eye is sternly on the watch, and his attitude is one of alert readiness to spring in all his giant force upon his prey. He sits enthroned on a rock, overtowering the tall waving trees, and below him his underlings are stripping and murdering a wayfarer. "Avarice" is a horned hag with ears like trumpets. A snake issuing from her mouth curls back and bites her forehead. Her left hand clutches her money-bag, as she moves forward stealthily, her right hand ready to shut down on whatever it can grasp. No need to label them: as long as these vices exist, for so long has Giotto extracted and presented their visible significance.
[Page heading: GIOTTO]
Still another exemplification of his sense for the significant is furnished by his treatment of action and movement. The grouping, the gestures never fail to be just such as will most rapidly convey the meaning. So with the significant line, the significant light and shade, the significant look up or down, and the significant gesture, with means technically of the simplest, and, be it remembered, with no knowledge of anatomy, Giotto conveys a complete sense of motion such as we get in his Paduan frescoes of the "Resurrection of the Blessed," of the "Ascension of our Lord," of the God the Father in the "Baptism," or the angel in "Zacharias' Dream."
This, then, is Giotto's claim to everlasting appreciation as an artist: that his thorough-going sense for the significant in the visible world enabled him so to represent things that we realise his representations more quickly and more completely than we should realise the things themselves, thus giving us that confirmation of our sense of capacity which is so great a source of pleasure.
[Page heading: FOLLOWERS OF GIOTTO]
For a hundred years after Giotto there appeared in Florence no painter equally endowed with dominion over the significant. His immediate followers so little understood the essence of his power that some thought it resided in his massive types, others in the swiftness of his line, and still others in his light colour, and it never occurred to any of them that the massive form without its material significance, its tactile values, is a shapeless sack, that the line which is not functional is mere calligraphy, and that light colour by itself can at the best spot a surface prettily. The better of them felt their inferiority, but knew no remedy, and all worked busily, copying and distorting Giotto, until they and the public were heartily tired. A change at all costs became necessary, and it was very simple when it came. "Why grope about for the significant, when the obvious is at hand? Let me paint the obvious; the obvious always pleases," said some clever innovator. So he painted the obvious,—pretty clothes, pretty faces, and trivial action, with the results foreseen: he pleased then, and he pleases still. Crowds still flock to the Spanish chapel in S. Maria Novella to celebrate the triumph of the obvious, and non-significant. Pretty faces, pretty colour, pretty clothes, and trivial action! Is there a single figure in the fresco representing the "Triumph of St. Thomas" which incarnates the idea it symbolises, which, without its labelling instrument, would convey any meaning whatever? One pretty woman holds a globe and sword, and I am required to feel the majesty of empire; another has painted over her pretty clothes a bow and arrow, which are supposed to rouse me to a sense of the terrors of war; a third has an organ on what was intended to be her knee, and the sight of this instrument must suffice to put me into the ecstasies of heavenly music; still another pretty lady has her arm akimbo, and if you want to know what edification she can bring, you must read her scroll. Below these pretty women sit a number of men looking as worthy as clothes and beards can make them; one highly dignified old gentleman gazes with all his heart and all his soul at—the point of his quill. The same lack of significance, the same obviousness characterise the fresco representing the "Church Militant and Triumphant." What more obvious symbol for the Church than a church? what more significant of St. Dominic than the refuted Paynim philosopher who (with a movement, by the way, as obvious as it is clever) tears out a leaf from his own book? And I have touched only on the value of these frescoes as allegories. Not to speak of the emptiness of the one and the confusion of the other, as compositions, there is not a figure in either which has tactile values,—that is to say, artistic existence.
While I do not mean to imply that painting between Giotto and Masaccio existed in vain—on the contrary, considerable progress was made in the direction of landscape, perspective, and facial expression,—it is true that, excepting the works of two men, no masterpieces of art were produced. These two, one coming in the middle of the period we have been dwelling upon, and the other just at its close, were Andrea Orcagna and Fra Angelico.
[Page heading: ORCAGNA]
Of Orcagna it is difficult to speak, as only a single fairly intact painting of his remains, the altar-piece in S. Maria Novella. Here he reveals himself as a man of considerable endowment: as in Giotto, we have tactile values, material significance; the figures artistically exist. But while this painting betrays no peculiar feeling for beauty of face and expression, the frescoes in the same chapel, the one in particular representing Paradise, have faces full of charm and grace. I am tempted to believe that we have here a happy improvement made by the recent restorer. But what these mural paintings must always have had is real artistic existence, great dignity of slow but rhythmic movement, and splendid grouping. They still convince us of their high purpose. On the other hand, we are disappointed in Orcagna's sculptured tabernacle at Or Sammichele, where the feeling for both material and spiritual significance is much lower.
[Page heading: FRA ANGELICO]
We are happily far better situated toward Fra Angelico, enough of whose works have come down to us to reveal not only his quality as an artist, but his character as a man. Perfect certainty of purpose, utter devotion to his task, a sacramental earnestness in performing it, are what the quantity and quality of his work together proclaim. It is true that Giotto's profound feeling for either the materially or the spiritually significant was denied him—and there is no possible compensation for the difference; but although his sense for the real was weaker, it yet extended to fields which Giotto had not touched. Like all the supreme artists, Giotto had no inclination to concern himself with his attitude toward the significant, with his feelings about it; the grasping and presentation of it sufficed him. In the weaker personality, the significant, vaguely perceived, is converted into emotion, is merely felt, and not realised. Over this realm of feeling Fra Angelico was the first great master. "God's in his heaven—all's right with the world" he felt with an intensity which prevented him from perceiving evil anywhere. When he was obliged to portray it, his imagination failed him and he became a mere child; his hells are bogy-land; his martyrdoms are enacted by children solemnly playing at martyr and executioner; and he nearly spoils one of the most impressive scenes ever painted—the great "Crucifixion" at San Marco—with the childish violence of St. Jerome's tears. But upon the picturing of blitheness, of ecstatic confidence in God's loving care, he lavished all the resources of his art. Nor were they small. To a power of rendering tactile values, to a sense for the significant in composition, inferior, it is true, to Giotto's, but superior to the qualifications of any intervening painter, Fra Angelico added the charm of great facial beauty, the interest of vivid expression, the attraction of delicate colour. What in the whole world of art more rejuvenating than Angelico's "Coronation" (in the Uffizi)—the happiness on all the faces, the flower-like grace of line and colour, the childlike simplicity yet unqualifiable beauty of the composition? And all this in tactile values which compel us to grant the reality of the scene, although in a world where real people are standing, sitting, and kneeling we know not, and care not, on what. It is true, the significance of the event represented is scarcely touched upon, but then how well Angelico communicates the feeling with which it inspired him! Yet simple though he was as a person, simple and one-sided as was his message, as a product he was singularly complex. He was the typical painter of the transition from Mediaeval to Renaissance. The sources of his feeling are in the Middle Ages, but he enjoys his feelings in a way which is almost modern; and almost modern also are his means of expression. We are too apt to forget this transitional character of his, and, ranking him with the moderns, we count against him every awkwardness of action, and every lack of articulation in his figures. Yet both in action and in articulation he made great progress upon his precursors—so great that, but for Masaccio, who completely surpassed him, we should value him as an innovator. Moreover, he was not only the first Italian to paint a landscape that can be identified (a view of Lake Trasimene from Cortona), but the first to communicate a sense of the pleasantness of nature. How readily we feel the freshness and spring-time gaiety of his gardens in the frescoes of the "Annunciation" and the "Noli me tangere" at San Marco!
[Page heading: MASACCIO]
Giotto born again, starting where death had cut short his advance, instantly making his own all that had been gained during his absence, and profiting by the new conditions, the new demands—imagine such an avatar, and you will understand Masaccio.
Giotto we know already, but what were the new conditions, the new demands? The mediaeval skies had been torn asunder and a new heaven and a new earth had appeared, which the abler spirits were already inhabiting and enjoying. Here new interests and new values prevailed. The thing of sovereign price was the power to subdue and to create; of sovereign interest all that helped man to know the world he was living in and his power over it. To the artist the change offered a field of the freest activity. It is always his business to reveal to an age its ideals. But what room was there for sculpture and painting,—arts whose first purpose it is to make us realise the material significance of things—in a period like the Middle Ages, when the human body was denied all intrinsic significance? In such an age the figure artist can thrive, as Giotto did, only in spite of it, and as an isolated phenomenon. In the Renaissance, on the contrary, the figure artist had a demand made on him such as had not been made since the great Greek days, to reveal to a generation believing in man's power to subdue and to possess the world, the physical types best fitted for the task. And as this demand was imperative and constant, not one, but a hundred Italian artists arose, able each in his own way to meet it,—in their combined achievement, rivalling the art of the Greeks.
In sculpture Donatello had already given body to the new ideals when Masaccio began his brief career, and in the education, the awakening, of the younger artist the example of the elder must have been of incalculable force. But a type gains vastly in significance by being presented in some action along with other individuals of the same type; and here Donatello was apt, rather than to draw his meed of profit, to incur loss by descending to the obvious—witness his bas-reliefs at Siena, Florence, and Padua. Masaccio was untouched by this taint. Types, in themselves of the manliest, he presents with a sense for the materially significant which makes us realise to the utmost their power and dignity; and the spiritual significance thus gained he uses to give the highest import to the event he is portraying; this import, in turn, gives a higher value to the types, and thus, whether we devote our attention to his types or to his action, Masaccio keeps us on a high plane of reality and significance. In later painting we shall easily find greater science, greater craft, and greater perfection of detail, but greater reality, greater significance, I venture to say, never. Dust-bitten and ruined though his Brancacci Chapel frescoes now are, I never see them without the strongest stimulation of my tactile consciousness. I feel that I could touch every figure, that it would yield a definite resistance to my touch, that I should have to expend thus much effort to displace it, that I could walk around it. In short, I scarcely could realise it more, and in real life I should scarcely realise it so well, the attention of each of us being too apt to concentrate itself upon some dynamic quality, before we have at all begun to realise the full material significance of the person before us. Then what strength to his young men, and what gravity and power to his old! How quickly a race like this would possess itself of the earth, and brook no rivals but the forces of nature! Whatever they do—simply because it is they—is impressive and important, and every movement, every gesture, is world-changing. Compared with his figures, those in the same chapel by his precursor, Masolino, are childish, and those by his follower, Filippino, unconvincing and without significance, because without tactile values. Even Michelangelo, where he comes in rivalry, has, for both reality and significance, to take a second place. Compare his "Expulsion from Paradise" (in the Sixtine Chapel) with the one here by Masaccio. Michelangelo's figures are more correct, but far less tangible and less powerful; and while he represents nothing but a man warding off a blow dealt from a sword, and a woman cringing with ignoble fear, Masaccio's Adam and Eve stride away from Eden heart-broken with shame and grief, hearing, perhaps, but not seeing, the angel hovering high overhead who directs their exiled footsteps.
Masaccio, then, like Giotto a century earlier,—himself the Giotto of an artistically more propitious world—was, as an artist, a great master of the significant, and, as a painter, endowed to the highest degree with a sense of tactile values, and with a skill in rendering them. In a career of but few years he gave to Florentine painting the direction it pursued to the end. In many ways he reminds us of the young Bellini. Who knows? Had he but lived as long, he might have laid the foundation for a painting not less delightful and far more profound than that of Venice. As it was, his frescoes at once became, and for as long as there were real artists among them remained, the training-school of Florentine painters.
Masaccio's death left Florentine painting in the hands of three men older, and two somewhat younger than himself, all men of great talent, if not of genius, each of whom—the former to the extent habits already formed would permit, the latter overwhelmingly, felt his influence. The older, who, but for Masaccio, would themselves have been the sole determining personalities in their art, were Fra Angelico, Paolo Uccello, and Andrea del Castagno; the younger, Domenico Veneziano and Fra Filippo. As these were the men who for a whole generation after Masaccio's death remained at the head of their craft, forming the taste of the public, and communicating their habits and aspirations to their pupils, we at this point can scarcely do better than try to get some notion of each of them and of the general art tendencies they represented.
[Page heading: PAOLO UCCELLO]
Fra Angelico we know already as the painter who devoted his life to picturing the departing mediaeval vision of a heaven upon earth. Nothing could have been farther from the purpose of Uccello and Castagno. Different as these two were from each other, they have this much in common, that in their works which remain to us, dating, it is true, from their years of maturity, there is no touch of mediaeval sentiment, no note of transition. As artists they belonged entirely to the new era, and they stand at the beginning of the Renaissance as types of two tendencies which were to prevail in Florence throughout the whole of the fifteenth century, partly supplementing and partly undoing the teaching of Masaccio.
Uccello had a sense of tactile values and a feeling for colour, but in so far as he used these gifts at all, it was to illustrate scientific problems. His real passion was perspective, and painting was to him a mere occasion for solving some problem in this science, and displaying his mastery over its difficulties. Accordingly he composed pictures in which he contrived to get as many lines as possible leading the eye inward. Prostrate horses, dead or dying cavaliers, broken lances, ploughed fields, Noah's arks, are used by him with scarcely an attempt at disguise, to serve his scheme of mathematically converging lines. In his zeal he forgot local colour—he loved to paint his horses green or pink—forgot action, forgot composition, and, it need scarcely be added, significance. Thus in his battle-pieces, instead of adequate action of any sort, we get the feeling of witnessing a show of stuffed figures whose mechanical movements have been suddenly arrested by some clog in their wires; in his fresco of the "Deluge," he has so covered his space with demonstrations of his cleverness in perspective and foreshortening that, far from bringing home to us the terrors of a cataclysm, he at the utmost suggests the bursting of a mill-dam; and in the neighbouring fresco of the "Sacrifice of Noah," just as some capitally constructed figures are about to enable us to realise the scene, all possibility of artistic pleasure is destroyed by our seeing an object in the air which, after some difficulty, we decipher as a human being plunging downward from the clouds. Instead of making this figure, which, by the way, is meant to represent God the Father, plunge toward us, Uccello deliberately preferred to make it dash inward, away from us, thereby displaying his great skill in both perspective and foreshortening, but at the same time writing himself down as the founder of two families of painters which have flourished ever since, the artists for dexterity's sake—mental or manual, it scarcely matters—and the naturalists. As these two clans increased rapidly in Florence, and, for both good and evil, greatly affected the whole subsequent course of Florentine painting, we must, before going farther, briefly define to ourselves dexterity and naturalism, and their relation to art.
[Page heading: ART FOR DEXTERITY'S SAKE]
The essential in painting, especially in figure-painting, is, we agreed, the rendering of the tactile values of the forms represented, because by this means, and this alone, can the art make us realise forms better than we do in life. The great painter, then, is, above all, an artist with a great sense of tactile values and great skill in rendering them. Now this sense, though it will increase as the man is revealed to himself, is something which the great painter possesses at the start, so that he is scarcely, if at all, aware of possessing it. His conscious effort is given to the means of rendering. It is of means of rendering, therefore, that he talks to others; and, because his triumphs here are hard-earned and conscious, it is on his skill in rendering that he prides himself. The greater the painter, the less likely he is to be aware of aught else in his art than problems of rendering—but all the while he is communicating what the force of his genius makes him feel without his striving for it, almost without his being aware of it, the material and spiritual significance of forms. However—his intimates hear him talk of nothing but skill; he seems to think of nothing but skill; and naturally they, and the entire public, conclude that his skill is his genius, and that skill is art. This, alas, has at all times been the too prevalent notion of what art is, divergence of opinion existing not on the principle, but on the kind of dexterity to be prized, each generation, each critic, having an individual standard, based always on the several peculiar problems and difficulties that interest them. At Florence these inverted notions about art were especially prevalent because it was a school of art with a score of men of genius and a thousand mediocrities all egging each other on to exhibitions of dexterity, and in their hot rivalry it was all the great geniuses could do to be faithful to their sense of significance. Even Masaccio was driven to exhibit his mere skill, the much admired and by itself wonderfully realised figure of a naked man trembling with cold being not only without real significance, but positively distracting, in the representation of a baptism. A weaker man like Paolo Uccello almost entirely sacrificed what sense of artistic significance he may have started with, in his eagerness to display his skill and knowledge. As for the rabble, their work has now the interest of prize exhibitions at local art schools, and their number merely helped to accelerate the momentum with which Florentine art rushed to its end. But out of even mere dexterity a certain benefit to art may come. Men without feeling for the significant may yet perfect a thousand matters which make rendering easier and quicker for the man who comes with something to render, and when Botticelli and Leonardo and Michelangelo appeared, they found their artistic patrimony increased in spite of the fact that since Masaccio there had been no man at all approaching their genius. This increase, however, was due not at all so much to the sons of dexterity, as to the intellectually much nobler, but artistically even inferior race of whom also Uccello was the ancestor—the Naturalists.
[Page heading: NATURALISM IN ART]
What is a Naturalist? I venture upon the following definition:—A man with a native gift for science who has taken to art. His purpose is not to extract the material and spiritual significance of objects, thus communicating them to us more rapidly and intensely than we should perceive them ourselves, and thereby giving us a sense of heightened vitality; his purpose is research, and his communication consists of nothing but facts. From this perhaps too abstract statement let us take refuge in an example already touched upon—the figure of the Almighty in Uccello's "Sacrifice of Noah." Instead of presenting this figure as coming toward us in an attitude and with an expression that will appeal to our sense of solemnity, as a man whose chief interest was artistic would have done—as Giotto, in fact, did in his "Baptism"—Uccello seems to have been possessed with nothing but the scientific intention to find out how a man swooping down head-foremost would have looked if at a given instant of his fall he had been suddenly congealed and suspended in space. A figure like this may have a mathematical but certainly has no psychological significance. Uccello, it is true, has studied every detail of this phenomenon and noted down his observations, but because his notes happen to be in form and colour, they do not therefore constitute a work of art. Wherein does his achievement differ in quality from a coloured map of a country? We can easily conceive of a relief map of Cadore or Giverny on so large a scale, and so elaborately coloured, that it will be an exact reproduction of the physical aspects of those regions, but never for a moment should we place it beside a landscape by Titian or Monet, and think of it as a work of art. Yet its relation to the Titian or Monet painting is exactly that of Uccello's achievement to Giotto's. What the scientist who paints—the naturalist, that is to say,—attempts to do is not to give us what art alone can give us, the life-enhancing qualities of objects, but a reproduction of them as they are. If he succeeded, he would give us the exact visual impression of the objects themselves, but art, as we have already agreed, must give us not the mere reproductions of things but a quickened sense of capacity for realising them. Artistically, then, the naturalists, Uccello and his numerous successors, accomplished nothing. Yet their efforts to reproduce objects as they are, their studies in anatomy and perspective, made it inevitable that when another great genius did arise, he should be a Leonardo or a Michelangelo, and not a Giotto.
[Page heading: ANDREA DEL CASTAGNO]
Uccello, as I have said, was the first representative of two strong tendencies in Florentine painting—of art for dexterity's sake, and art for scientific purposes. Andrea del Castagno, while also unable to resist the fascination of mere science and dexterity, had too much artistic genius to succumb to either. He was endowed with great sense for the significant, although, it is true, not enough to save him completely from the pitfalls which beset all Florentines, and even less from one more peculiar to himself—the tendency to communicate at any cost a feeling of power. To make us feel power as Masaccio and Michelangelo do at their best is indeed an achievement, but it requires the highest genius and the profoundest sense for the significant. The moment this sense is at all lacking, the artist will not succeed in conveying power, but such obvious manifestations of it as mere strength, or, worse still, the insolence not infrequently accompanying high spirits. Now Castagno, who succeeds well enough in one or two such single figures as his Cumaean Sibyl or his Farinata degli Uberti, which have great, if not the greatest, power, dignity, and even beauty, elsewhere condescends to mere swagger,—as in his Pipo Spano or Niccolo di Tolentino—or to mere strength, as in his "Last Supper," or, worse still, to actual brutality, as in his Santa Maria Nuova "Crucifixion." Nevertheless, his few remaining works lead us to suspect in him the greatest artist, and the most influential personality among the painters of the first generation after Masaccio.
[Page heading: DOMENICO VENEZIANO]
To distinguish clearly, after the lapse of nearly five centuries, between Uccello and Castagno, and to determine the precise share each had in the formation of the Florentine school, is already a task fraught with difficulties. The scantiness of his remaining works makes it more than difficult, makes it almost impossible, to come to accurate conclusions regarding the character and influence of their somewhat younger contemporary, Domenico Veneziano. That he was an innovator in technique, in affairs of vehicle and medium, we know from Vasari; but as such innovations, indispensable though they may become to painting as a craft, are in themselves questions of theoretic and applied chemistry, and not of art, they do not here concern us. His artistic achievements seem to have consisted in giving to the figure movement and expression, and to the face individuality. In his existing works we find no trace of sacrifice made to dexterity and naturalism, although it is clear that he must have been master of whatever science and whatever craft were prevalent in his day. Otherwise he would not have been able to render a figure like the St. Francis in his Uffizi altar-piece, where tactile values and movement expressive of character—what we usually call individual gait—were perhaps for the first time combined; or to attain to such triumphs as his St. John and St. Francis, at Santa Croce, whose entire figures express as much fervour as their eloquent faces. As to his sense for the significant in the individual, in other words, his power as a portrait-painter, we have in the Pitti one or two heads to witness, perhaps, the first great achievements in this kind of the Renaissance.
[Page heading: FRA FILIPPO LIPPI]
No such difficulties as we have encountered in the study of Uccello, Castagno, and Veneziano meet us as we turn to Fra Filippo. His works are still copious, and many of them are admirably preserved; we therefore have every facility for judging him as an artist, yet nothing is harder than to appreciate him at his due. If attractiveness, and attractiveness of the best kind, sufficed to make a great artist, then Filippo would be one of the greatest, greater perhaps than any other Florentine before Leonardo. Where shall we find faces more winsome, more appealing, than in certain of his Madonnas—the one in the Uffizi, for instance—more momentarily evocative of noble feeling than in his Louvre altar-piece? Where in Florentine painting is there anything more fascinating than the playfulness of his children, more poetic than one or two of his landscapes, more charming than is at times his colour? And with all this, health, even robustness, and almost unfailing good-humour! Yet by themselves all these qualities constitute only a high-class illustrator, and such by native endowment I believe Fra Filippo to have been. That he became more—very much more—is due rather to Masaccio's potent influence than to his own genius; for he had no profound sense of either material or spiritual significance—the essential qualifications of the real artist. Working under the inspiration of Masaccio, he at times renders tactile values admirably, as in the Uffizi Madonna—but most frequently he betrays no genuine feeling for them, failing in his attempt to render them by the introduction of bunchy, billowy, calligraphic draperies. These, acquired from the late Giottesque painter (probably Lorenzo Monaco) who had been his first master, he seems to have prized as artistic elements no less than the tactile values which he attempted to adopt later, serenely unconscious, apparently, of their incompatibility. Filippo's strongest impulse was not toward the pre-eminently artistic one of re-creation, but rather toward expression, and within that field, toward the expression of the pleasant, genial, spiritually comfortable feelings of ordinary life. His real place is with the genre painters; only his genre was of the soul, as that of others—of Benozzo Gozzoli, for example—was of the body. Hence a sin of his own, scarcely less pernicious than that of the naturalists, and cloying to boot—expression at any cost.
[Page heading: NATURALISM IN FLORENTINE ART]
From the brief account just given of the four dominant personalities in Florentine painting from about 1430 to about 1460, it results that the leanings of the school during this interval were not artistic and artistic alone, but that there were other tendencies as well, tendencies on the one side, toward the expression of emotion (scarcely less literary because in form and colour than if in words), and, on the other, toward the naturalistic reproduction of objects. We have also noted that while the former tendency was represented by Filippo alone, the latter had Paolo Uccello, and all of Castagno and Veneziano that the genius of these two men would permit them to sacrifice to naturalism and science. To the extent, however, that they took sides and were conscious of a distinct purpose, these also sided with Uccello and not with Filippo. It may be agreed, therefore, that the main current of Florentine painting for a generation after Masaccio was naturalistic, and that consequently the impact given to the younger painters who during this period were starting, was mainly toward naturalism. Later, in studying Botticelli, we shall see how difficult it was for any one young at the time to escape this tide, even if by temperament farthest removed from scientific interests.
Meanwhile we must continue our study of the naturalists, but now of the second generation. Their number and importance from 1460 to 1490 is not alone due to the fact that art education toward the beginning of this epoch was mainly naturalistic, but also to the real needs of a rapidly advancing craft, and even more to the character of the Florentine mind, the dominant turn of which was to science and not to art. But as there were then no professions scientific in the stricter sense of the word, and as art of some form was the pursuit of a considerable proportion of the male inhabitants of Florence, it happened inevitably that many a lad with the natural capacities of a Galileo was in early boyhood apprenticed as an artist. And as he never acquired ordinary methods of scientific expression, and never had time for occupations not bread-winning, he was obliged his life long to make of his art both the subject of his strong instinctive interest in science, and the vehicle of conveying his knowledge to others.
[Page heading: ALESSIO BALDOVINETTI]
This was literally the case with the oldest among the leaders of the new generation, Alessio Baldovinetti, in whose scanty remaining works no trace of purely artistic feeling or interest can be discerned; and it is only less true of Alessio's somewhat younger, but far more gifted contemporaries, Antonio Pollaiuolo and Andrea Verrocchio. These also we should scarcely suspect of being more than men of science, if Pollaiuolo once or twice, and Verrocchio more frequently, did not dazzle us with works of almost supreme art, which, but for our readiness to believe in the manifold possibilities of Florentine genius, we should with exceeding difficulty accept as their creation—so little do they seem to result from their conscious striving. Alessio's attention being largely devoted to problems of vehicle—to the side of painting which is scarcely superior to cookery—he had time for little else, although that spare time he gave to the study of landscape, in the rendering of which he was among the innovators. Andrea and Antonio set themselves the much worthier task of increasing on every side the effectiveness of the figure arts, of which, sculpture no less than painting, they aimed to be masters.
[Page heading: POLLAIUOLO AND VERROCCHIO]
To confine ourselves, however, as closely as we may to painting, and leaving aside for the present the question of colour, which, as I have already said, is, in Florentine art, of entirely subordinate importance, there were three directions in which painting as Pollaiuolo and Verrocchio found it had greatly to advance before it could attain its maximum of effectiveness: landscape, movement, and the nude. Giotto had attempted none of these. The nude, of course, he scarcely touched; movement he suggested admirably, but never rendered; and in landscape he was satisfied with indications hardly more than symbolical, although quite adequate to his purpose, which was to confine himself to the human figure. In all directions Masaccio made immense progress, guided by his never failing sense for material significance, which, as it led him to render the tactile values of each figure separately, compelled him also to render the tactile values of groups as wholes, and of their landscape surroundings—by preference, hills so shaped as readily to stimulate the tactile imagination. For what he accomplished in the nude and in movement, we have his "Expulsion" and his "Man Trembling with Cold" to witness. But in his works neither landscape nor movement, nor the nude, are as yet distinct sources of artistic pleasure—that is to say, in themselves life-enhancing. Although we can well leave the nude until we come to Michelangelo, who was the first to completely realise its distinctly artistic possibilities, we cannot so well dispense with an enquiry into the sources of our aesthetic pleasure in the representation of movement and of landscape, as it was in these two directions—in movement by Pollaiuolo especially, and in landscape by Baldovinetti, Pollaiuolo, and Verrocchio—that the great advances of this generation of Florentine painters were made.
[Page heading: REPRESENTATION OF MOVEMENT]
Turning our attention first to movement—which, by the way, is not the same as motion, mere change of place—we find that we realise it just as we realise objects, by the stimulation of our tactile imagination, only that here touch retires to a second place before the muscular feelings of varying pressure and strain. I see (to take an example) two men wrestling, but unless my retinal impressions are immediately translated into images of strain and pressure in my muscles, of resistance to my weight, of touch all over my body, it means nothing to me in terms of vivid experience—not more, perhaps, than if I heard some one say "Two men are wrestling." Although a wrestling match may, in fact, contain many genuinely artistic elements, our enjoyment of it can never be quite artistic; we are prevented from completely realising it not only by our dramatic interest in the game, but also, granting the possibility of being devoid of dramatic interest, by the succession of movements being too rapid for us to realise each completely, and too fatiguing, even if realisable. Now if a way could be found of conveying to us the realisation of movement without the confusion and the fatigue of the actuality, we should be getting out of the wrestlers more than they themselves can give us—the heightening of vitality which comes to us whenever we keenly realise life, such as the actuality itself would give us, plus the greater effectiveness of the heightening brought about by the clearer, intenser, and less fatiguing realisation. This is precisely what the artist who succeeds in representing movement achieves: making us realise it as we never can actually, he gives us a heightened sense of capacity, and whatever is in the actuality enjoyable, he allows us to enjoy at our leisure. In words already familiar to us, he extracts the significance of movements, just as, in rendering tactile values, the artist extracts the corporeal significance of objects. His task is, however, far more difficult, although less indispensable:—it is not enough that he should extract the values of what at any given moment is an actuality, as is an object, but what at no moment really is—namely movement. He can accomplish his task in only one way, and that is by so rendering the one particular movement that we shall be able to realise all other movements that the same figure may make. "He is grappling with his enemy now," I say of my wrestler. "What a pleasure to be able to realise in my own muscles, on my own chest, with my own arms and legs, the life that is in him as he is making his supreme effort! What a pleasure, as I look away from the representation, to realise in the same manner, how after the contest his muscles will relax, and rest trickle like a refreshing stream through his nerves!" All this I shall be made to enjoy by the artist who, in representing any one movement, can give me the logical sequence of visible strain and pressure in the parts and muscles.
It is just here that the scientific spirit of the Florentine naturalists was of immense service to art. This logic of sequence is to be attained only by great, although not necessarily more than empiric, knowledge of anatomy, such perhaps as the artist pure would never be inclined to work out for himself, but just such as would be of absorbing interest to those scientists by temperament and artists by profession whom we have in Pollaiuolo and, to a less extent, in Verrocchio. We remember how Giotto contrived to render tactile values. Of all the possible outlines, of all the possible variations of light and shade that a figure may have, he selected those that we must isolate for special attention when we are actually realising it. If instead of figure, we say figure in movement, the same statement applies to the way Pollaiuolo rendered movement—with this difference, however, that he had to render what in actuality we never can perfectly isolate, the line and light and shade most significant of any given action. This the artist must construct himself out of his dramatic feeling for pressure and strain and his ability to articulate the figure in all its logical sequences, for, if he would convey a sense of movement, he must give the line and the light and shade which will best render not tactile values alone, but the sequences of articulations.
[Page heading: "BATTLE OF THE NUDES"]
It would be difficult to find more effective illustration of all that has just been said about movement than one or two of Pollaiuolo's own works, which, in contrast to most of his achievements, where little more than effort and research are visible, are really masterpieces of life-communicating art. Let us look first at his engraving known as the "Battle of the Nudes." What is it that makes us return to this sheet with ever renewed, ever increased pleasure? Surely it is not the hideous faces of most of the figures and their scarcely less hideous bodies. Nor is it the pattern as decorative design, which is of great beauty indeed, but not at all in proportion to the spell exerted upon us. Least of all is it—for most of us—an interest in the technique or history of engraving. No, the pleasure we take in these savagely battling forms arises from their power to directly communicate life, to immensely heighten our sense of vitality. Look at the combatant prostrate on the ground and his assailant bending over, each intent on stabbing the other. See how the prostrate man plants his foot on the thigh of his enemy, and note the tremendous energy he exerts to keep off the foe, who, turning as upon a pivot, with his grip on the other's head, exerts no less force to keep the advantage gained. The significance of all these muscular strains and pressures is so rendered that we cannot help realising them; we imagine ourselves imitating all the movements, and exerting the force required for them—and all without the least effort on our side. If all this without moving a muscle, what should we feel if we too had exerted ourselves! And thus while under the spell of this illusion—this hyperaesthesia not bought with drugs, and not paid for with cheques drawn on our vitality—we feel as if the elixir of life, not our own sluggish blood, were coursing through our veins.
[Page heading: "HERCULES STRANGLING DAVID"]
Let us look now at an even greater triumph of movement than the Nudes, Pollaiuolo's "Hercules Strangling Antaeus." As you realise the suction of Hercules' grip on the earth, the swelling of his calves with the pressure that falls on them, the violent throwing back of his chest, the stifling force of his embrace; as you realise the supreme effort of Antaeus, with one hand crushing down upon the head and the other tearing at the arm of Hercules, you feel as if a fountain of energy had sprung up under your feet and were playing through your veins. I cannot refrain from mentioning still another masterpiece, this time not only of movement, but of tactile values and personal beauty as well—Pollaiuolo's "David" at Berlin. The young warrior has sped his stone, cut off the giant's head, and now he strides over it, his graceful, slender figure still vibrating with the rapidity of his triumph, expectant, as if fearing the ease of it. What lightness, what buoyancy we feel as we realise the movement of this wonderful youth!
[Page heading: VERROCCHIO AND LANDSCAPE]
In all that concerns movement, Verrocchio was a learner from Pollaiuolo, rather than an initiator, and he probably never attained his master's proficiency. We have unfortunately but few terms for comparison, as the only paintings which can be with certainty ascribed to Verrocchio are not pictures of action. A drawing however like that of his angel, in the British Museum, which attempts as much movement as the Hercules by Pollaiuolo, in the same collection, is of obviously inferior quality. Yet in sculpture, along with works which are valuable as harbingers of Leonardo rather than for any intrinsic perfection, he created two such masterpieces of movement as the "Child with the Dolphin" in the courtyard of the Palazzo Vecchio, and the Colleoni monument at Venice—the latter sinning, if at all, by an over-exuberance of movement, by a step and swing too suggestive of drums and trumpets. But in landscape Verrocchio was a decided innovator. To understand what new elements he introduced, we must at this point carry out our determination to enquire into the source of our pleasure in landscape painting; or rather—to avoid a subject of vast extent for which this is not the place—of landscape painting as practised by the Florentines.
[Page heading: LANDSCAPE PAINTING]
Before Verrocchio, his precursors, first Alessio Baldovinetti and then Pollaiuolo, had attempted to treat landscape as naturalistically as painting would permit. Their ideal was to note it down with absolute correctness from a given point of view; their subject almost invariably the Valdarno; their achievement, a bird's-eye view of this Tuscan paradise. Nor can it be denied that this gives pleasure, but the pleasure is only such as is conveyed by tactile values. Instead of having the difficulty we should have in nature to distinguish clearly points near the horizon's edge, we here see them perfectly and without an effort, and in consequence feel great confirmation of capacity for life. Now if landscape were, as most people vaguely believe, a pleasure coming through the eyes alone, then the Pollaiuolesque treatment could be equalled by none that has followed, and surpassed only by Rogier van der Weyden, or by the quaint German "Master of the Lyversberg Passion," who makes us see objects miles away with as great a precision and with as much intensity of local colour as if we were standing off from them a few feet. Were landscape really this, then nothing more inartistic than gradation of tint, atmosphere, and plein air, all of which help to make distant objects less clear, and therefore tend in no way to heighten our sense of capacity. But as a matter of fact the pleasure we take in actual landscape is only to a limited extent an affair of the eye, and to a great extent one of unusually intense well-being. The painter's problem, therefore, is not merely to render the tactile values of the visible objects, but to convey, more rapidly and unfailingly than nature would do, the consciousness of an unusually intense degree of well-being. This task—the communication by means purely visual of feelings occasioned chiefly by sensations non-visual—is of such difficulty that, until recently, successes in the rendering of what is peculiar to landscape as an art, and to landscape alone, were accidental and sporadic. Only now, in our own days, may painting be said to be grappling with this problem seriously; and perhaps we are already at the dawn of an art which will have to what has hitherto been called landscape, the relation of our music to the music of the Greeks or of the Middle Ages.
[Page heading: VERROCCHIO'S LANDSCAPES]
Verrocchio was, among Florentines at least, the first to feel that a faithful reproduction of the contours is not landscape, that the painting of nature is an art distinct from the painting of the figure. He scarcely knew where the difference lay, but felt that light and atmosphere play an entirely different part in each, and that in landscape these have at least as much importance as tactile values. A vision of plein air, vague I must grant, seems to have hovered before him, and, feeling his powerlessness to cope with it in full effects of light such as he attempted in his earlier pictures, he deliberately chose the twilight hour, when, in Tuscany, on fine days, the trees stand out almost black against a sky of light opalescent grey. To render this subduing, soothing effect of the coolness and the dew after the glare and dust of the day—the effect so matchlessly given in Gray's "Elegy"—seemed to be his first desire as a painter, and in presence of his "Annunciation" (in the Uffizi), we feel that he succeeded as only one other Tuscan succeeded after him, that other being his own pupil Leonardo.
[Page heading: GENRE ARTISTS]
It is a temptation to hasten on from Pollaiuolo and Verrocchio to Botticelli and Leonardo, to men of genius as artists reappearing again after two generations, men who accomplished with scarcely an effort what their precursors had been toiling after. But from these it would be even more difficult than at present to turn back to painters of scarcely any rank among the world's great artists, and of scarcely any importance as links in a chain of evolution, but not to be passed by, partly because of certain qualities they do possess, and partly because their names would be missed in an account, even so brief as this, of Florentine painting. The men I chiefly refer to, one most active toward the middle and the other toward the end of the fifteenth century, are Benozzo Gozzoli and Domenico Ghirlandaio. Although they have been rarely coupled together, they have much in common. Both were, as artists, little more than mediocrities with almost no genuine feeling for what makes painting a great art. The real attractiveness of both lies entirely outside the sphere of pure art, in the realms of genre illustration. And here the likeness between them ends; within their common ground they differed widely.
[Page heading: BENOZZO GOZZOLI]
Benozzo was gifted with a rare facility not only of execution but of invention, with a spontaneity, a freshness, a liveliness in telling a story that wake the child in us, and the lover of the fairy tale. Later in life, his more precious gifts deserted him, but who wants to resist the fascination of his early works, painted, as they seem, by a Fra Angelico who had forgotten heaven and become enamoured of the earth and the spring-time? In his Riccardi Palace frescoes, he has sunk already to portraying the Florentine apprentice's dream of a holiday in the country on St. John's Day; but what a naif ideal of luxury and splendour it is! With these, the glamour in which he saw the world began to fade away from him, and in his Pisan frescoes we have, it is true, many a quaint bit of genre (superior to Teniers only because of superior associations), but never again the fairy tale. And as the better recedes, it is replaced by the worse, by the bane of all genre painting, non-significant detail, and positive bad taste. Have London or New York or Berlin worse to show us than the jumble of buildings in his ideal of a great city, his picture of Babylon? It may be said he here continues mediaeval tradition, which is quite true, but this very fact indicates his real place, which, in spite of his adopting so many of the fifteenth-century improvements, is not with the artists of the Renaissance, but with the story-tellers and costumed fairy-tale painters of the transition, with Spinello Aretino and Gentile da Fabriano, for instance. And yet, once in a while, he renders a head with such character, or a movement with such ease that we wonder whether he had not in him, after all, the making of a real artist.
[Page heading: GHIRLANDAIO]
Ghirlandaio was born to far more science and cunning in painting than was current in Benozzo's early years, and all that industry, all that love of his occupation, all that talent even, can do for a man, they did for him; but unfortunately he had not a spark of genius. He appreciated Masaccio's tactile values, Pollaiuolo's movement, Verrocchio's effects of light, and succeeded in so sugaring down what he adopted from these great masters that the superior philistine of Florence could say: "There now is a man who knows as much as any of the great men, but can give me something that I can really enjoy!" Bright colour, pretty faces, good likenesses, and the obvious everywhere—attractive and delightful, it must be granted, but, except in certain single figures, never significant. Let us glance a moment at his famous frescoes in Santa Maria Novella. To begin with, they are so undecorative that, in spite of the tone and surface imparted to them by four centuries, they still suggest so many tableaux vivants pushed into the wall side by side, and in tiers. Then the compositions are as overfilled as the sheets of an illustrated newspaper—witness the "Massacre of the Innocents," a scene of such magnificent artistic possibilities. Finally, irrelevant episodes and irrelevant groups of portraits do what they can to distract our attention from all higher significance. Look at the "Birth of John"; Ginevra dei Benci stands there, in the very foreground, staring out at you as stiff as if she had a photographer's iron behind her head. An even larger group of Florentine housewives in all their finery disfigures the "Birth of the Virgin," which is further spoiled by a bas relief to show off the painter's acquaintance with the antique, and by the figure of the serving maid who pours out water, with the rush of a whirlwind in her skirts—this to show off skill in the rendering of movement. Yet elsewhere, as in his "Epiphany" in the Uffizi, Ghirlandaio has undeniable charm, and occasionally in portraits his talent, here at its highest, rises above mediocrity, in one instance, the fresco of Sassetti in Santa Trinita, becoming almost genius.
[Page heading: LEONARDO]
All that Giotto and Masaccio had attained in the rendering of tactile values, all that Fra Angelico or Filippo had achieved in expression, all that Pollaiuolo had accomplished in movement, or Verrocchio in light and shade, Leonardo, without the faintest trace of that tentativeness, that painfulness of effort which characterised his immediate precursors, equalled or surpassed. Outside Velasquez, and perhaps, when at their best, Rembrandt and Degas, we shall seek in vain for tactile values so stimulating and so convincing as those of his "Mona Lisa"; outside Degas, we shall not find such supreme mastery over the art of movement as in the unfinished "Epiphany" in the Uffizi; and if Leonardo has been left far behind as a painter of light, no one has succeeded in conveying by means of light and shade a more penetrating feeling of mystery and awe than he in his "Virgin of the Rocks." Add to all this, a feeling for beauty and significance that have scarcely ever been approached. Where again youth so poignantly attractive, manhood so potently virile, old age so dignified and possessed of the world's secrets! Who like Leonardo has depicted the mother's happiness in her child and the child's joy in being alive; who like Leonardo has portrayed the timidity, the newness to experience, the delicacy and refinement of maidenhood; or the enchantress intuitions, the inexhaustible fascination of the woman in her years of mastery? Look at his many sketches for Madonnas, look at his profile drawing of Isabella d'Este, or at the Belle Joconde, and see whether elsewhere you find their equals. Leonardo is the one artist of whom it may be said with perfect literalness: Nothing that he touched but turned into a thing of eternal beauty. Whether it be the cross-section of a skull, the structure of a weed, or a study of muscles, he, with his feeling for line and for light and shade, forever transmuted it into life-communicating values; and all without intention, for most of these magical sketches were dashed off to illustrate purely scientific matter, which alone absorbed his mind at the moment.
And just as his art is life-communicating as is that of scarcely another, so the contemplation of his personality is life-enhancing as that of scarcely any other man. Think that great though he was as a painter, he was no less renowned as a sculptor and architect, musician and improviser, and that all artistic occupations whatsoever were in his career but moments snatched from the pursuit of theoretical and practical knowledge. It would seem as if there were scarcely a field of modern science but he either foresaw it in vision, or clearly anticipated it, scarcely a realm of fruitful speculation of which he was not a freeman; and as if there were hardly a form of human energy which he did not manifest. And all that he demanded of life was the chance to be useful! Surely, such a man brings us the gladdest of all tidings—the wonderful possibilities of the human family, of whose chances we all partake.
Painting, then, was to Leonardo so little of a preoccupation that we must regard it as merely a mode of expression used at moments by a man of universal genius, who recurred to it only when he had no more absorbing occupation, and only when it could express what nothing else could, the highest spiritual through the highest material significance. And great though his mastery over his craft, his feeling for significance was so much greater that it caused him to linger long over his pictures, labouring to render the significance he felt but which his hand could not reproduce, so that he rarely finished them. We thus have lost in quantity, but have we lost in quality? Could a mere painter, or even a mere artist, have seen and felt as Leonardo? We may well doubt. We are too apt to regard a universal genius as a number of ordinary brains somehow conjoined in one skull, and not always on the most neighbourly terms. We forget that genius means mental energy, and that a Leonardo, for the self-same reason that prevents his being merely a painter—the fact that it does not exhaust a hundredth part of his energy—will, when he does turn to painting, bring to bear a power of seeing, feeling, and rendering, as utterly above that of the ordinary painter as the "Mona Lisa" is above, let us say, Andrea del Sarto's "Portrait of his Wife." No, let us not join in the reproaches made to Leonardo for having painted so little; because he had much more to do than to paint, he has left all of us heirs to one or two of the supremest works of art ever created.
[Page heading: BOTTICELLI]
Never pretty, scarcely ever charming or even attractive; rarely correct in drawing, and seldom satisfactory in colour; in types, ill-favoured; in feeling acutely intense and even dolorous—what is it then that makes Sandro Botticelli so irresistible that nowadays we may have no alternative but to worship or abhor him? The secret is this, that in European painting there has never again been an artist so indifferent to representation and so intent upon presentation. Educated in a period of triumphant naturalism, he plunged at first into mere representation with almost self-obliterating earnestness; the pupil of Fra Filippo, he was trained to a love of spiritual genre; himself gifted with strong instincts for the significant, he was able to create such a type of the thinker as in his fresco of St. Augustin; yet in his best years he left everything, even spiritual significance, behind him, and abandoned himself to the presentation of those qualities alone which in a picture are directly life-communicating, and life-enhancing. Those of us who care for nothing in the work of art but what it represents, are either powerfully attracted or repelled by his unhackneyed types and quivering feeling; but if we are such as have an imagination of touch and of movement that it is easy to stimulate, we feel a pleasure in Botticelli that few, if any, other artists can give us. Long after we have exhausted both the intensest sympathies and the most violent antipathies with which the representative elements in his pictures may have inspired us, we are only on the verge of fully appreciating his real genius. This in its happiest moments is an unparalleled power of perfectly combining values of touch with values of movement.
Look, for instance, at Botticelli's "Venus Rising from the Sea." Throughout, the tactile imagination is roused to a keen activity, by itself almost as life heightening as music. But the power of music is even surpassed where, as in the goddess' mane-like tresses of hair fluttering to the wind, not in disorderly rout but in masses yielding only after resistance, the movement is directly life-communicating. The entire picture presents us with the quintessence of all that is pleasurable to our imagination of touch and of movement. How we revel in the force and freshness of the wind, in the life of the wave! And such an appeal he always makes. His subject may be fanciful, as in the "Realm of Venus" (the "Spring"); religious, as in the Sixtine Chapel frescoes or in the "Coronation of the Virgin"; political, as in the recently discovered "Pallas Taming a Centaur"; or even crudely allegorical, as in the Louvre frescoes,—no matter how unpropitious, how abstract the idea, the vivid appeal to our tactile sense, the life-communicating movement is always there. Indeed, at times it seems that the less artistic the theme, the more artistic the fulfilment, the painter being impelled to give the utmost values of touch and movement to just those figures which are liable to be read off as mere empty symbols. Thus, on the figure representing political disorder—the Centaur—in the "Pallas," Botticelli has lavished his most intimate gifts. He constructs the torso and flanks in such a way that every line, every indentation, every boss appeals so vividly to the sense of touch that our fingers feel as if they had everywhere been in contact with his body, while his face gives to a still heightened degree this convincing sense of reality, every line functioning perfectly for the osseous structure of brow, nose, and cheeks. As to the hair—imagine shapes having the supreme life of line you may see in the contours of licking flames, and yet possessed of all the plasticity of something which caresses the hand that models it to its own desire!
[Page heading: LINEAL DECORATION]
In fact, the mere subject, and even representation in general, was so indifferent to Botticelli, that he appears almost as if haunted by the idea of communicating the unembodied values of touch and movement. Now there is a way of rendering even tactile values with almost no body, and that is by translating them as faithfully as may be into values of movement. For instance:—we want to render the roundness of a wrist without the slightest touch of either light or shade; we simply give the movement of the wrist's outline and the movement of the drapery as it falls over it, and the roundness is communicated to us almost entirely in terms of movement. But let us go one step further. Take this line that renders the roundness of the wrist, or a more obvious example, the lines that render the movements of the tossing hair, the fluttering draperies, and the dancing waves in the "Birth of Venus"—take these lines alone with all their power of stimulating our imagination of movement, and what do we have? Pure values of movement abstracted, unconnected with any representation whatever. This kind of line, then, being the quintessence of movement, has, like the essential elements in all the arts, a power of stimulating our imagination and of directly communicating life. Well! imagine an art made up entirely of these quintessences of movement-values, and you will have something that holds the same relation to representation that music holds to speech—and this art exists, and is called lineal decoration. In this art of arts Sandro Botticelli may have had rivals in Japan and elsewhere in the East, but in Europe never. To its demands he was ready to sacrifice everything that habits acquired under Filippo and Pollaiuolo,—and his employers!—would permit. The representative element was for him a mere libretto: he was happiest when his subject lent itself to translation into what may be called a lineal symphony. And to this symphony everything was made to yield; tactile values were translated into values of movement, and, for the same reason—to prevent the drawing of the eye inward, to permit it to devote itself to the rhythm of the line—the backgrounds were either entirely suppressed or kept as simple as possible. Colour also, with almost a contempt for its representative function, Botticelli entirely subordinated to his lineal scheme, compelling it to draw attention to the line, rather than, as is usual, away from it.