THE OLD MASTERS AND THEIR PICTURES
For the Use of Schools and Learners in Art
BY SARAH TYTLER
AUTHOR OF "PAPERS FOR THOUGHTFUL GIRLS" ETC.
NEW AND ENLARGED EDITION
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LONDON ISBISTER AND COMPANY LIMITED 15 & 16 TAVISTOCK STREET COVENT GARDEN 1893
[The Right of Translation is Reserved]
PRINTED BY J.S. VIRTUE AND CO., LIMITED, CITY ROAD.
PREFACE TO FIRST EDITION.
I wish to say, in a very few words, that this book is intended to be a simple account of the great Old Masters in painting of every age and country, with descriptions of their most famous works, for the use of learners and outsiders in art. The book is not, and could not well be, exhaustive in its nature. I have avoided definitions of schools, considering that these should form a later and more elaborate portion of art education, and preferring to group my 'painters' according to what I hold to be the primitive arrangements of time, country, and rank in art.
PREFACE TO NEW EDITION.
The restrictions with regard to space under which the little volume called "The Old Masters" was originally written, caused me to omit, to my regret, many names great, though not first, in art. The circulation which the book has attained induces me to do what I can to remedy the defect, and render the volume more useful by adding two chapters—the one on Italian and the other on German, Dutch, and Flemish masters. These chapters consist almost entirely of condensed notes taken from two trustworthy sources, to which I have been already much indebted—Sir C, and Lady Eastlake's version of Kugler's "Handbook of Italian Art," and Dr. Waagen's "Handbook,"—remodelled from Kugler—of German, Dutch, and Flemish art, revised by J.A. Crowe. I have purposely given numerous records of those Dutch painters whose art has been specially popular in England and who are in some cases better represented in our country than in their own.
CHAP. PAGE I. EARLY ITALIAN ART—GIOTTO, 1276-1337—ANDREA PISANO, 1280-1345—ORCAGNA, 1315-1376—GHIBERTI, 1381-1455—MASACCIO, 1402-1428 OR 1429—FRA ANGELICO, 1387-1455 1
II. EARLY FLEMISH ART—THE VAN EYCKS, 1366-1442—MABUSE, ABOUT 1470-1532—MEMLING, ABOUT 1478-1499—QUINTIN MATSYS, 1460-1530 OR 31 41
III. IN EARLY SCHOOLS OF ITALIAN ART—THE BELLINI, 1422-1512—MANTEGNA, 1431-1506—GHIRLANDAJO, 1449-1498—- IL FRANCIA, 1450-1518—FRA BARTOLOMMEO, 1469-1517—ANDREA DEL SARTO, 1488-1530 53
IV. LIONARDO DA VINCI. 1452-1519—MICHAEL ANGELO, 1475-1564—RAPHAEL, 1483-1520—TITIAN, 1477-1566 83
V. GERMAN ART—ALBRECHT DUeRER, 1471-1528 169
VI. LATER ITALIAN ART—GIORGIONE, 1477-1511—CORREGGIO, ABOUT 1493-1534—TINTORETTO, 1512-1594—VERONESE, 1530-1588 181
VII. CARRACCI, 1555-1609—GUIDO RENI, 1575-1642—DOMENICHINO, 1581-1641—SALVATOR ROSA, 1615-1673 212
VIII. LATER FLEMISH ART—RUBENS, 1577-1640—REMBRANDT, 1606 OR 1608-1669—TENIERS, FATHER AND SON, 1582-1694—WOUVVERMAN, 1620-1668—CUYP, 1605; STILL LIVING, 1638—PAUL POTTER, 1625-1654—CORNELIUS DE HEEM, 1630 225
IX. SPANISH ART—VELASQUEZ, 1599-1660—MURILLO, 1618-1682 260
X. FRENCH ART—NICOLAS POUSSIN, 1594-1665—CLAUDE LORRAINE, 1600-1682—CHARLES LE BRUN, 1619-1690—WATTEAU, 1684-1721—GREUZE, 1726-1805 286
XI. FOREIGN ARTISTS IN ENGLAND—HOLBEIN, 1494-1543—VAN DYCK, 1599-1641—LELY, 1618-1680—CANALETTO, 1697-1768—KNELLER, 1646-1723 309
XII. ITALIAN MASTERS FROM THE FOURTEENTH TO THE SEVENTEENTH CENTURIES—TADDEO GADDI, 1300, SUPPOSED TO HAVE DIED 1366—FRA FILIPPO, 1412-1469—BENOZZO GOZZOLI, 1424-1496—LUCA SIGNORELLI, 1441, SUPPOSED TO HAVE DIED ABOUT 1524—BOTTICELLI, 1447-1515—PERUGINO, 1446-1522—CARPACCIO, DATE AND PLACE OF BIRTH AND DEATH UNKNOWN—CRIVELLI, FILIPPINO LIPI, EARLIER THAN 1460—ANTONELLA DA MESSINA, BELIEVED TO HAVE DIED AT VENICE, 1416—GAROPALO, 1481-1559—LUINI, DATE OF BIRTH UNKNOWN, SUPPOSED TO HAVE DIED ABOUT 1530—PALMA, ABOUT 1480-1528—PARDENONE, 1483-1538—LO SPAGNA, DATE OF BIRTH UNKNOWN, 1533—GIULIO ROMANO, 1492-1546—PARIS BORDONE, 1500-1570—IL PARMIGIANINO, 1503-1540—BAROCCIO, 1528-1612—CARAVAGGIO, 1569-1609—LO SPAGNOLETTO, 1593-1656—GUERCINO, 1592-1666—ALBANO, 1578-1660—SASSOFERRATO, 1605-1615—VASARI, 1512-1574—SOFONISBA ANGUISCIOLA, 1535, ABOUT 1626—LAVINIA FONTANA, 1552-1614 364
XIII. GERMAN, FLEMISH, AND DUTCH ARTISTS FROM THE FIFTEENTH TO THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY—VAN DER WEYDEN, A CONTEMPORARY OF THE VAN EYCKS, 1366-1442—VAN LEYDEN, 1494-1533—VAN SOMER, 1570-1624—SNYDERS, 1579-1657—G. HONTHORST, 1592-1662—JAN STEEN, 1626-1679—GERARD DOW, 1613-1680—DE HOOCH, DATES OF BIRTH AND DEATH UNKNOWN—VAN OSTADE, 1610-1685—MAAS, 1632-1693—METZU, 1615. STILL ALIVE IN 1667—TERBURG, 1608-1681—NETCHER, 1639-1684—BOL, 1611-1680—VAN DER HELST, 1613-1670—RUYSDAEL, 1625 (?)-1682—HOBBEMA, 1638-1709—BERCHEM, 1620-1683—BOTH 1600 (?)-1650(?) DU JARDIN, 1625-1678—ADRIAN VAN DE VELDE, 1639-1672—VAN DER HEYDEN, 1637-1712—DE WITTE, 1607-1692—VAN DER NEER, 1619 (?)-1683—WILLIAM VAN DE VELDE, THE YOUNGER, 1633-1707—BACKHUYSEN, 1631-1708—VAN DE CAPELLA, ABOUT 1653—HONDECOETER, 1636-1695—JAN WEENIX, 1644-1719—PATER SEGERS, 1590-1661—VAN HUYSUM, 1682-1749—VAN DER WERFF, 1659-1722—MENGS, 1728-1774 391
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THE OLD MASTERS AND THEIR PICTURES.
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EARLY ITALIAN ART—GIOTTO, 1276-1337—ANDREA PISANO. 1280-1345—ORCAGNA, 1315-1376 GHIBERTI, 1381-1455—MASACCIO, 1402-1428 OR 1429—FRA ANGELICO, 1387-1455.
A pencil and paper, a box of colours, and a scrap-book, form so often a child's favourite toys that one might expect that a very large portion of men and women would prove painters. But, as we grow in years and knowledge, the discrepancy between nature and our attempts to copy nature, strike us more and more, until we turn in dissatisfaction and disgust from the vain effort.
There was only one old woman in an Esquimaux tribe who could be called forward to draw with a stick on the sand a sufficiently graphic likeness of the Erebus and the Terror. It is only a few groups of men belonging to different countries, throughout the centuries, who have been able to give us paintings to which we turn in wonder and admiration, and say that these are in their degree fair exponents of nature. The old painter's half-haughty, half-humble protest was true—it is 'God Almighty,' who in raising here and there men above their fellows, 'makes painters.'
But let us be thankful that the old propensity to delight in a facsimile, or in an idealized version of nature, survives in the very common satisfaction and joy—whether cultivated or uncultivated—- derived from looking at pictures, thinking over their details, striving to understand the meaning of the painters, and proceeding farther to consider the lives and times which throw light on works of genius. Music itself is not more universally and gladly listened and responded to, than pictures are looked at and remembered.
Thus I have no fear of failing to interest you, my readers, in my subject if I can only treat it sympathetically,—enter at a humble distance into the spirit of the painters and of their paintings, and place before you some of the paintings by reverent and loving word-painting such as others have achieved, and such as I may strive to attain to, that you may be in a sort early familiar with these paintings, before you see them in engravings and photographs, and on canvas and in fresco, as I trust you may be privileged to see many of them, when you may hail them not only for what they are, the glories of art, but for what they have been to you in thoughts of beauty and high desires.
Of the old Greek paintings, of which there are left isolated specimens dug up in Herculaneum and Pompeii, I cannot afford to say anything, and of the more modern Greek art which was spread over Europe after the fall of Constantinople I need on Europe the birth-place of painting as of other arts, that Greek painting which illustrated early Christianity, was painting in its decline and decay, borrowing not only superstitious conventionalities, but barbaric attributes of gilding and blazoning to hide its infirmity and poverty. Virgins of the same weak and meaningless type, between attenuated saints or angels, and doll-like child-Christs in the one invariable attitude holding up two fingers of a baby hand to bless the spectator and worshippers, were for ever repeated. In a similar manner the instances of rude or meagre contemporary paintings with which the early Christians adorned their places of worship and the sepulchres of their dead in the basilicas and catacombs of Rome, are very curious and interesting for their antiquity and their associations, and as illustrations of faith; but they present no intrinsic beauty or worth. They are not only clumsy and childish designs ill executed, but they are rendered unintelligible to all save the initiated in such hieroglyphics, by offering an elaborate ground-work of type, antitype, and symbol, on which the artist probably spent a large part of his strength. Lambs and lilies, serpents, vines, fishes, dolphins, phoenixes, cocks, anchors, and javelins played nearly as conspicuous a part in this art as did the dead believer, or his or her patron saint, who might have been supposed to form the principal figure in the picture.
Italian art existed in these small beginnings, in the gorgeous but quaintly formal or fantastic devices of illuminated missals, and in the stiff spasmodic efforts of here and there an artist spirit such as the old Florentine Cimabue's, when a great man heralded a great epoch. But first I should like to mention the means by which art then worked. Painting on board and on plastered walls, the second styled painting in fresco, preceded painting on canvas. Colours were mixed with water or with size, egg, or fig-juice—the latter practices termed tempera (in English in distemper) before oil was used to mix colours. But painters did not confine themselves then to painting with pencil or brush, else they might have attained technical excellence sooner. It has been well said that the poems of the middle ages were written in stone; so the earlier painters painted in stone, in that mosaic work which one of them called—referring to its durability—'painting for eternity;' and in metals. Many of them were the sons of jewellers or jewellers themselves; they worked in iron as well as in gold and silver, and they were sculptors and architects as well as painters; engineers also, so far as engineering in the construction of roads, bridges, and canals, was known in those days. The Greek knowledge of anatomy was well-nigh lost, so that drawing was incorrect and form bad. The idea of showing degrees of distance, and the management of light and shade, were feebly developed. Even the fore-shortening of figures was so difficult to the old Italian painters that they could not carry it into the extremities, and men and women seem as though standing on the points of their toes. Landscape-painting did not exist farther than that a rock or a bush, or a few blue lines, with fishes out of proportion prominently interposed, indicated, as on the old stage, that a desert, a forest, or a sea, was to play its part in the story of the picture. So also portrait-painting was not thought of, unless it occurred in the likeness of a great man belonging to the time and place of the painter, who was the donor of some picture to chapel or monastery, or of the painter himself, alike introduced into sacred groups and scenes; for pictures were uniformly of a religious character, until a little later, when they merged into allegorical representations, just as one remembers that miracle plays passed into moral plays before ordinary human life was reproduced. Until this period, what we call dramatic expression in making a striking situation, or even in bringing the look of joy or sorrow, pleasure or pain, into a face, had hardly been attained.
Perhaps you will ask, what merit had the old paintings of the middle ages to compensate for so many great disadvantages and incongruities? Certainly before the time I have reached, they have, with rare exceptions, little merit, save that fascination of pathos, half-comic, half-tragic, which belongs to the struggling dawn of all great endeavours, and especially of all endeavours in art. But just at this epoch, art, in one man, took a great stride, began, as I shall try to show, to exert an influence so true, deep, and high that it extends, in the noblest forms, to the present day, and much more than compensates to the thoughtful and poetic for a protracted train of technical blunders and deficiencies.
Giotto, known also as Magister Joctus, was born in 1276 near Florence. I dare say many have heard one legend of him, and I mean to tell the legends of the painters, because even when they are most doubtful they give the most striking indications of the times and the light in which painters and their paintings were regarded by the world of artists, and by the world at large; but so far as I have heard this legend of Giotto has not been disproven. The only objection which can be urged against it, is that it is found preserved in various countries, of very different individuals—a crowning objection also to the legend of William Tell. Giotto was a shepherd boy keeping his father's sheep and amusing himself by drawing with chalk on a stone the favourites of the flock, when his drawings attracted the attention of a traveller passing from the heights into the valley. This traveller was the well-born and highly-esteemed painter Cimabue, who was so delighted with the little lad's rough outlines, that getting the consent of Giotto's father, Cimabue adopted the boy, carried him off to the city of Florence, introduced him to his studio, and so far as man could supplement the work of God, made a painter of the youthful genius. I may add here a later legend of Giotto. Pope Boniface VIII, requested specimens of skill from various artists with the view to the appointment of a painter to decorate St Peter's. Giotto, either in impatient disdain, or to show a careless triumph of skill, with one flourish of his hand, without the aid of compass, executed a perfect circle in red chalk, and sent the circle as his contribution to the specimens required by the Pope. The audacious specimen was accepted as the most conclusive, Giotto was chosen as the Pope's painter for the occasion, and from the incident arose the Italian proverb 'round as the o of Giotto.' Giotto was the friend of Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio, especially of Dante, to whom the grandeur of some of the painter's designs has been vaguely enough attributed. The poet of the 'Inferno' wrote of his friend:
'......... Cimabue thought To lord it over painting's field; and now The cry is Giotto's, and his name eclipsed.'
Petrarch bequeathed in his will a Madonna by Giotto and mentioned it as a rare treasure of art. Boccaccio wrote a merry anecdote of his comrade the painter's wit, in the course of which he referred with notable plain-speaking to Giotto's 'flat currish' plainness of face.
The impression handed down of Giotto's character is that of an independent, high-spirited man, full of invention, full of imagination, and also, by a precious combination, full of shrewdness and common sense; a man genial, given to repartee, and at the same time not deficient in the tact which deprives repartee of its sting. While he was working to King Robert of Naples, the king, who was watching the painter on a very hot day, said, with a shrug, 'If I were you, Giotto, I would leave off work and rest myself this fine day, 'And so would I, sire, if I were you,' replied the wag.
I need scarcely add that Giotto was a man highly esteemed and very prosperous in his day; one account reports him as the head and the father of four sons and four daughters. I have purposely written first of the fame, the reputed character, and the circumstances of Giotto before I proceed to his work. This great work was, in brief, to breathe into painting the living soul which had till then—in mediaeval times—been largely absent. Giotto went to Nature for his inspiration, and not content with the immense innovation of superseding by the actual representation of men and women in outline, tint, and attitude, the rigid traditions of his predecessors, he put men's passions in their faces—the melancholy looked sad, the gay glad. This result, to us so simple, filled Giotto's lively countrymen, who had seldom seen it, with astonishment and delight. They cried out as at a marvel when he made the commonest deed even coarsely lifelike, as in the case of a sailor in a boat, who turned round with his hand before his face and spat into the sea; and when he illustrated the deed with the corresponding expression, as in the thrill of eagerness that perceptibly pervaded the whole figure of a thirsty man who stooped down to drink. But Giotto was no mere realist though he was a great realist; he was also in the highest light an idealist. His sense of harmony and beauty was true and noble; he rose above the real into 'the things unseen and eternal,' of which the real is but a rough manifestation. He was the first to paint a crucifixion robbed of the horrible triumph of physical power, and of the agony which is at its bidding, and invested with the divinity of awe and love.
Giotto's work did not end with himself; he was the founder of the earliest worthy school of Italian art, so worthy in this very glorious idealism, that, as I have already said, the men whose praise is most to be coveted, have learned to turn back to Giotto and his immediate successors, and, forgetting and forgiving all their ignorance, crudeness, quaintness, to dwell never wearied, and extol without measure these oldest masters' dignity of spirit, the earnestness of their originality, the solemnity and heedfulness of their labour. It would seem as if skill and polish, with the amount of attention which they appropriate, with their elevation of manner over matter, and thence their lowered standard, are apt to rob from or blur in men these highest qualifications of genius, for it is true that judges miss even in the Lionardo, Michael Angelo, and Raphael of a later and much more accomplished generation, and, to a far greater extent, in the Rubens of another and still later day, the perfect simplicity, the unalloyed fervour, the purity of tenderness in Giotto, Orcagna, Fra Angelico, and in their Flemish brethren, the Van Eycks and Mabuse.
The difference between the two classes of painters in not so wide as that between the smooth and brilliant epigrammatic poets of Anne's and the ruggedly rich dramatists of Elizabeth's reign, neither was there the unmistakable preponderance of such a mighty genius as that of Shakespeare granted to the first decade, still the distinction was the same in kind.
I wish you, my readers, to note it in the very commencement, and to learn, like the thoughtful students of painting, to put aside any half-childish over-estimate of the absurdity of a blue stroke transfixing a huge flounder-like fish as a likeness of a sea, (which you have been accustomed to see translucid, in breakers and foam, in modern marine pictures,) or your quick sense of the ugliness of straight figures with long hands, wooden feet, and clinging draperies, while your eyes have been familiar with well-modelled frames and limbs and flowing lines. But we must look deeper if we would not be slaves to superficial prettiness, or even superficial correctness; we must try to go into the spirit of a painting and value it more in proportion as it teaches art's noblest lesson—the divinity of the divine, the serenity of utmost strength, the single-heartedness of passion.
I have only space to tell you of three or four of the famous works of Giotto. First, his allegories in the great church, in honour of St Francis, at Assisi, in relation to which, writing of its German architect, an author says: 'He built boldly against the mountain, piling one church upon another; the upper vast, lofty, and admitting through its broad windows the bright rays of the sun: the lower as if in the bowels of the earth—low, solemn, and almost shutting out the light of day. Around the lofty edifice grew the convent, a vast building, resting upon a long line of arches clinging to the hill-sides. As the evening draws nigh, casting its deep shadows across the valley, the traveller beneath gazes upwards with feelings of wonder and delight at this graceful arcade supporting the massy convent; the ancient towers and walls of the silent town gathering around, and the purple rocks rising high above—all still glowing in the lingering sunbeams—a scene scarcely to be surpassed in any clime for its sublime beauty.' The upper church contains frescoes wonderfully fresh, by Cimabue, of Scriptural subjects, and frescoes of scenes from the life vowed to poverty of St Francis. In the lower church, over the tomb of St Francis, are the four masterpieces with which we have to do. These are the three vows of the order figuratively represented. Mark the fitness and grandeur of two of the figures, the suggestion of which has been attributed to Dante, the woman Chastity seated beyond assault in her rocky fortress, and Obedience bowing the neck to curb and yoke. The fourth fresco pictures the saint who died, 'covered by another's cloak cast over his wasted body eaten with sores,' enthroned and glorified amidst the host of Heaven.
I have chosen the second example of the art of Giotto because you may with comparative ease see it for yourselves. It is in the National Gallery, London, having belonged to the collection of the late Samuel Rogers. It is a fragment of an old fresco which had been part of a series illustrating the life of John the Baptist in the church of the Carmine, Florence, a church which was destroyed by fire in 1771. The fragment in the National Gallery has two fine heads of apostles bending sorrowfully over the body of St John. Though it is not necessary to do it, in strict justice, because good work rises superior to all accidents of comparison as well as accidents of circumstance, one must remember in regarding this, the stilted and frozen figures and faces, which, before Giotto broke their bonds and inspired them, had professed to tell the Bible's stories.
The third instance I have chosen to quote is Giotto's portrait of Dante which was so strangely lost for many years. The portrait occurs in a painting, the first recorded performance of Giotto's, in which he was said to have introduced the likeness of many of his contemporaries, on the wall of the Palazzo dell' Podesta or Council Chamber of Florence. During the banishment of Dante the wall was plastered or white-washed over, through the influence of his enemies, and though believed to exist, the picture was hidden down to 1840, when, after various futile efforts to recover it, the figures were again brought to light.
This portrait of Dante is altogether removed from the later portraits of the indignant and weary man, of whom the Italian market-women said that he had been in Hell as well as in exile. Giotto's Dante on the walls of the Council Chamber is a noble young man of thirty, full of ambitious hope and early distinction. The face is slightly pointed, with broad forehead, hazel eyes, straight brows and nose, mouth and chin a little projecting. The close cloak or vest with sleeves, and cap in folds hanging down on the shoulder, the hand holding the triple fruit, in prognostication of the harvest of virtue and renown which was to be so bitter as well as so glorious, are all in keeping and have a majesty of their own. The picture is probably known by engravings to many of my readers.
The last example of Giotto's, is the one which of all his works is most potent and patent in its beauty, and has struck, and, in so far as we can tell, will for ages strike, with its greatness multitudes of widely different degrees of cultivation whose intellectual capacity is as far apart as their critical faculty. I mean the matchless Campanile or bell-tower 'towering over the Dome of Brunelleschi' at Florence, formed of coloured marbles—for which Giotto framed the designs, and even executed with his own hands the models for the sculpture. With this lovely sight Dean Alford's description is more in keeping than the prosaic saying of Charles V., that 'the Campanile ought to be kept under glass.' Dean Alford's enthusiasm thus expresses itself:
'A mass of varied light written on the cloudless sky of unfathomed blue; varied but blended, as never in any other building that we had seen; the warm yellow of the lighter marbles separated but not disunited by the ever-recurring bands of dark; or glowing into red where the kisses of the sun had been hottest; or fading again into white where the shadows mostly haunted, or where the renovating hand had been waging conflict with decay.'
It is known that Giotto, together with his friend Dante, died before this—Giotto's last great work—was finally constructed by Giotto's pupil, Taddeo Gaddi, and that therefore neither of the friends could have really looked on 'Giotto's Tower,' though Italian Ciceroni point out, and strangers love to contemplate, the very stone on which 'Grim Dante' sat and gazed with admiration in the calm light of evening on the enduring memorial of the painter.
Giotto died in the year 1336 or 1337, his biographer adds, 'no less a good Christian than an excellent painter,' and in token of his faith he painted one crucifixion in which he introduced his own figure 'kneeling in an attitude of deep devotion and contrition at the foot of the Cross.' The good taste of such an act has been questioned, so has been the practice which painted the Virgin Mother now as a brown Italian, now as a red and white Fleming, and again as a flaxen-haired German or as a swarthy Spaniard, and draped her and all the minor figures in the grandest drama the world ever saw—as well as the characters in older Scripture histories, in the Florentine, Venetian, and Antwerp fashions of the day. The defence of the practice is, that the Bible is for universal time, that its Virgin Mother, its apostles and saints, were types of other mothers and of other heroes running down the stream of history; that even the one central and holy figure, if He may be represented at all, as the Divine brother of all humanity, may be clad not inaptly in the garments of all. It appears to me that there is reason in this answer, and that viewed in its light the criticism which constantly demands historic fidelity is both carping and narrow. I do not mean, however, to underrate historic accuracy in itself, or to depreciate that longing for completeness in every particular, which drives our modern painters to the East to study patiently for months the aspects of nature under its Oriental climate, with its peculiar people and animals, its ancient costumes and architecture.
Giotto was buried with suitable honours by a city which, like the rest of the nation, has magnified its painters amongst its great men, in the church of Santa Maria del Fiore, where his master Cimabue had been buried. Lorenzo de' Medici afterwards placed over Giotto's tomb his effigy in marble.
In chronicling ancient art I must here diverge a little. I have already mentioned how closely painting was in the beginning allied with working in metals as well as with sculpture and architecture. It is thus necessary to write of a magnificent work in metal, the study and admiration of generations of painters, begun in the life of Giotto, and completed in two divisions, extending over a period of nearly a hundred years. We shall proceed to deal with the first division, and recur to the second a little later.
The old Italian cities. They were then the great merchant cities of the world, more or less republican in their constitution. They stood to the citizens, who rarely left their walls, at once as peculiar possessions and as native countries rather than as cities alone, while they excited all the patriotism, pride, and love that were elsewhere expended on a whole country—which after all was held as belonging largely to its king and nobles. The old Italian merchant guilds, and wealthy merchants as individuals, vied with each other in signalizing their good citizenship by presenting—as gifts identified with their names—to their cities, those palace buildings, chapels, paintings, gates, which are the delight of the world to this day. It was a merchant guild which thought happily of giving to Florence the bronze gates to the baptistery of San Giovanni or St John the Baptist, attached to the Cathedral. After some competition the gates were intrusted to Andrea Pisano, one of a great group of painters, sculptors, and architects linked together and named, as so often happened in Italy, for their place of birth, Pisa. Andrea executed a series of beautiful reliefs from the life of John the Baptist, which were cast in 1330, gilt, and placed in the centre door-way. I shall leave the rest of the gates, still more exquisitely wrought, till their proper time, only observing that the Pisani group of carvers and founders are supposed to have attained their extraordinary superiority in skill and grace, even over such a painter as Giotto, in consequence of one of them, Nicola Pisano, having given his attention to the study of some ancient Greek sarcophagi preserved at Pisa.
Passing for a while from the gates of St John of Florence, we come back to painting and a painter, and with them to another monument—in itself very noble and curious in its mouldering age, of the old Italians' love to their cities. Andrea Orcagna, otherwise known as Andrea di Cione, one of a brotherhood of painters, was born in Florence about 1315. His greatest works are in the Campo Santa of Pisa.
This wonderful 'holy field' is a grand legacy, so far as dilapidation, alas, will let it be, of the old painters. Originally a place of burial, though no longer used as such, it is enclosed by high walls and an arcade, something like the cloisters of a cathedral or college running round, and having on the north and east sides chapels where masses for the dead were celebrated. The space in the centre was filled with earth brought from the Holy Land by the merchant ships of Pisa. It is covered with turf, having tall cypress-trees at the corners, and a little cross in the centre. The arcade is pierced with sixty-two windows, and contains on its marble pavement hundreds of monuments—among them the Greek sarcophagi studied by Nicola Pisano. But the great distinction of the Campo Santa (of which there are many photographs) are the walls opposite the windows of the arcade painted with Scriptural subjects by artists of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, for the decoration of the walls was continued at intervals, during two hundred years. The havoc wrought by time and damp has been terrible; not only are the pictures faded and discoloured, but of the earliest only mutilated fragments, 'here an arm and there a head,' remain. Giotto's illustrations of the book of Job have thus perished. Still Orcagna's work has partially escaped, and left us indications of what it was in his and its youth, when Michael Angelo and Raphael did not disdain to borrow from it in design and arrangement. Dean Alford has thus described Orcagna's mournful, thoughtful 'Triumph of Death:'
'The picture is one of crowded action, and contains very many personages. The action may be supposed to begin in the lower corner on the right hand. There we see what appears to be a wedding-party seated in festivity under a grove of orange-trees laden with fruit. Over two of them a pair entertaining them with merry strains. But close to them on the left comes swooping down on bats' wings, and armed with the inevitable scythe, the genius of Death. Her wild hair streams in the wind, her bosom is invulnerable, being closed in a trellised armour of steel. Beneath her, on the ground, are a heap of corpses, shown by their attire to be the great and wealthy of the world. Three winged figures, two fiends and one angel, are drawing souls, in the form of children, out of the mouths of three of these corpses. Above, the air is full of flying spirits, angels and demons: the former beautiful and saintly, the latter hideous and bestial. Some are dragging, or bearing upwards, human souls: others are on their way to fetch them from the heaps of dead: others, again, are flying about apparently without aim. Further yet to the left, a company of wretched ones, lame and in rags, are invoking Death with outstretched arms to come to their relief; but she sweeps by and heeds them not.
'Dividing one half of the picture from the other, is a high range of rocks, terminating in a fiery mountain, into which the demons are casting the unhappy souls which they have carried off. Beyond that seems to be a repetition of the same lesson respecting Death in another form. A party of knights and dames are issuing on horseback from a mountain pass. In the left hand of the picture there lie in their path three corpses in coffins, with coronets on their heads. One is newly dead; on the second, decay has begun its work; the third is reduced to a grinning skeleton. The impression produced on the gay party by the sight is very various. Some look on carelessly; one holds his nose in disgust; one, a lady jewelled and crowned, leans her head on her hand in solemn thought. Above, on a rising ground, an aged monk (it is said, Saint Macarius) is holding a scroll, and pointing out to passengers the moral of the sight which meets them. The path winds up a hill crowned with a church, and by its side at various points are hermits sitting in calm security, or following peaceful occupations. One of them is milking a doe; another is reading; a third is calmly contemplating from a distance the valley of Death. About them are various animals and birds. The idea evidently intended to be conveyed is that deliverance from the fear of death is to be found not in gaiety and dissipation, but in contemplation and communion with God.
'Such is the wonderful fresco, and the execution is as wonderful as the conception. Belonging as the painter did to a rude and early period of art, he yet had the power of endowing his figures with both majesty and tenderness of expression.'
The Last Judgment is no less solemn and sad, with hope tempering its sadness. Mrs Jameson's note of it is: 'Above, in the centre, Christ and the Virgin are throned in separate glories. He turns to the left, towards the condemned, while he uncovers the wound in his side, and raises his right arm with a menacing gesture, his countenance full of majestic wrath. The Virgin, on the right of her Son, is the picture of heavenly mercy, and, as if terrified at the words of eternal condemnation, she turns away. On either side are ranged the Prophets of the Old Testament, the Apostles and other saints, severe, solemn, dignified figures. Angels, holding the instruments of the Passion, hover over Christ and the Virgin; under them is a group of archangels. The archangel Michael stands in the midst holding a scroll in each hand; immediately before him another archangel, supposed to represent Raphael, the guardian angel of humanity, cowers down, shuddering, while two others sound the awful trumpets of doom. Lower down is the earth where men are seen rising from their graves; armed angels direct them to the right and left. Here is seen King Solomon, who, whilst he rises, seems doubtful to which side he should turn; here a hypocritical monk, whom an angel draws back by the hair from the host of the youth in a gay and rich costume, whom another angel leads away to Paradise. There is wonderful and even terrible power of expression in some of the heads; and it is said that among them are many portraits of contemporaries, but unfortunately no circumstantial traditions as to particular figures have reached us.'
One of Orcagna's altar-pieces, that of 'the coronation of the Virgin,' containing upwards of a hundred figures, and with the colouring still rich, is in our National Gallery. As an architect, Orcagna designed the famous Loggia de' Lanzi of the grand ducal palace at Florence.
Now I must take you back to the bronze gates of the Baptistery in their triumphant completion nearly a hundred years after the first gate was executed by Andrea Pisano. I should have liked, but for our limits, to tell in full the legend of the election of Lorenzo Ghiberti, the step-son of a goldsmith, and skilled in chasing and enamelling, to design the second gate; when yet a lad of twenty-three, how he and two other young men, one of them still younger than Ghiberti, were declared the most promising competitors in the trial for the work; how the last two voluntarily withdrew from the contest, magnanimously proclaiming Lorenzo Ghiberti their superior; how all the three lived to be famous, the one as a founder in metal, the others as an architect and a sculptor, and remained sworn brothers in art till death.
Lorenzo Ghiberti has left us an expression of the feeling with which he set about his task, an expression so suggestive that, even had we no other indication, it is enough to stamp the true and tender nature of the man. He prepared for his achievement 'with infinite diligence and love'—the words deserve to be pondered over. He took at least twenty-two years to his work, receiving for it eleven hundred florins. He chose his subjects from the life and death of the Lord, working them out in twenty panels, ten on each side of the folding doors, and below these were eight panels containing full-length figures of the four evangelists and four doctors of the Latin Church, with a complete border of fruit and foliage, having heads of prophets and sibyls interspersed. So entire was the satisfaction the superb gate gave, that Lorenzo was not merely loaded with praise, he received a commission to design and cast a third and central gate which should surpass the others, that were thenceforth to be the side entrances.
For his second gate Lorenzo Ghiberti repaired to the Old Testament for subjects, beginning with the creation and ending with the meeting of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, and represented them in ten compartments enclosed in a rich border of fruit and foliage, with twenty-four full-length figures of the Hebrew heroes and prophets, clearly and delicately designed and finished, occupying corresponding niches. This crowning gate engaged the founder upwards of eighteen years—forty-nine years are given as the term of the work of both the gates.
The single defect which is found in those marvellous gates—left to us as a testimony of what the life-long devotion of genius could produce—is that they abound floridly both in ornament and action, in place of being severely simple and restrained according to the classical standard.
Michael Angelo called these gates 'worthy to be the gates of Paradise,' and they are still one of the glories of Florence. Casts of the gates are to be found in the School for Art at Kensington, and at the Crystal Palace.
A young village boy learned to draw and model from Ghiberti's gates. He in his turn was to create in the Brancacci Chapel of the Church of the Carmine at Florence a school of painters scarcely less renowned and powerful in its effects than that produced by the works in the Campo Santa. You will find the Italian painters not unfrequently known by nicknames, quite as often by their father's trades as by their father's surnames, and still oftener by the town which was their place of birth or nurture. This Tom village birth-place, was commonly called Masaccio, short for Tomasaccio, 'hulking Tom,' as I have heard it translated, on account of his indifferent, slovenly habits. I think there is a tradition that he entered a studio in Florence as a colour boy, and electrified the painter and his scholars, by brownie like freaks of painting at their unfinished work, in their absence, better than any of his masters, and by the dexterity with which he perpetrated the frolic of putting the facsimile of a fly on one of the faces on the easels. His end was a tragic conclusion to such light comedy. At the age of twenty-six, he quitted Florence for Rome so suddenly that he left his finest frescoes unfinished. It was said that he was summoned thither by the Pope. At Rome, where little or nothing of Masaccio's life is known, he died shortly afterwards, not without a suspicion of his having been poisoned.
A curious anecdote exists of the identification of the time when he forsook Florence to meet his death in Rome. Just as we have read, that the period of the death of Massinger the dramatist has been settled by an entry in an old parish register, 'died, Philip Massinger a stranger,' so there has been found some quaint equivalent to a modern tax-paper which had been delivered at the dwelling of Masaccio when the word 'gone' was written down.
There is a further tradition—not very probable under the circumstances—that Masaccio is buried, without name or stone, under the Brancacci Chapel. Be that as it may, he very early rose to eminence, surpassing all his predecessors in drawing and colouring, and he combined with those acquirements such animation and variety of expression in his characters, that it was said of him 'he painted souls as well as bodies,' while his invention was not less bold and fresh.
It is difficult to indicate Masaccio's pictures because some of them have been repainted and destroyed. As to those in the Brancacci Chapel from the life of St Peter, (with the exception of two,) considerable confusion has arisen as to which are Masaccio's, and which belong to his scholar Filippino Lippi. The fresco which Masaccio left unfinished, that of the Apostles Peter and Paul raising a dead youth (from traditional history), was finished by Lippi. In the fresco of Peter baptizing the converts, generally attributed to Masaccio, there is a lad who has thrown off his garments, and stands shivering with cold, whose figure, according to authority, formed an epoch in art. Lionardo da Vinci, Michael Angelo, Andrea del Sarto, Fra Bartolommeo, all studied their art in this chapel. Raphael borrowed the grand figure of St Paul preaching at Athens in one of the cartoons, from one of Masaccio's or Filippo Lippi's frescoes. Masaccio's excellence as an artist, reached at an immature age, is very remarkable.
I have come to the last and probably the best appreciated among modems of the early Italian painters. Fra Angelico da Fiesole, the gentle devout monk whom Italians called 'Il Beato,' the Blessed, and who probably did receive the distinction of beatification, a distinction only second in the Roman Catholic Church to that of canonization. He was born at the lovely little mountain-town of Fiesole near Florence, 1387, and his worldly name, which he bore only till his twenty-first year, was Guido Petri de Mugello. In his youth, with his gift already recognized, so that he might well have won ease and honour in the world, he entered the Dominican Convent of St Mark, Florence, for what he deemed the good and peace of his soul. He seldom afterwards left it, and that only as directed by his convent superior, or summoned by the Pope. He was a man devoid of personal ambition, pure, humble, and meek. When offered the Archbishopric of Florence as a tribute to his sanctity, he declined it on account of his unworthiness for the office. He would not work for money, and only painted at the command of his prior. He began his painting with fasting and work, he steadfastly refused to make any alteration in the originals. It is said that he was found dead at his easel with a completed picture before him. It is not wonderful, that from such a man should come one side of the perfection of that idealism which Giotto had begun. Fra Angelico's angels, saints, Saviour, and Virgin are more divinely calm, pure, sweet, endowed with a more exulting saintliness, a more immortal youth and joy, and a more utter self-abnegation and sympathetic tenderness than are to be found in the saints and the angels, the Saviour and the Virgin of other painters. Neither is it surprising that Fra Angelico's defects, besides that of the bad drawing which shows more in his large than in his small pictures, are those of a want of human knowledge, power, and freedom. His wicked—even his more earthly-souled characters, are weak and faulty in action. What should the reverent and guileless dreamer know, unless indeed by inspiration of the rude conflicts, the fire and fury of human passions intensified in the malice and anguish of devils? But Fra Angelico's singular successes far transcend his failures. In addition to the sublime serenity and positive radiance of expression which he could impart to his heads, his notions of grouping and draping were full of grace, sometimes of splendour and magnificence. In harmony with his happy temperament and fortunes, he was fond of gay yet delicate colours 'like spring flowers,' and used a profusion of gold ornaments which do not seem out of keeping in his pictures. The most of Fra Angelico's pictures are in Florence—the best in his own old convent of St Mark, where he lovingly adorned not only chapter-hall and court, but the cells of his brother friars. A crucifix with adoring saints worshipping their crucified Saviour is regarded as his masterpiece in St Mark's. A famous coronation of the Virgin, which Fra Angelico painted for a church in his native town, and which is now in the Louvre, Paris, is thus described by Mrs Jameson: 'It represents a throne under a rich Gothic canopy, to which there is an ascent of nine steps; on the highest kneels the Virgin, veiled, her hands crossed on her bosom. She is clothed in a red tunic, a blue robe over it, and a royal mantle with a rich border flowing down behind. The features are most delicately lovely, and the expression of the face full of humility and adoration. Christ, seated on the throne, bends forward, and is in the act of placing the crown on her head; on each side are twelve angels, who are playing a heavenly concert with guitars, tambourines, trumpets, viols, and other musical instruments; lower than these, on each side, are forty holy personages of the Old and New Testament; and at the foot of the throne kneel several saints, male and female, among them St Catherine with her wheel, St Agnes with her lamb, and St Cecilia crowned with flowers. Beneath the principal picture there is a row of seven small ones, forming a border, and representing various incidents in the life of St Dominic.'
EARLY FLEMISH ART—THE VAN EYCKS, 1366-1442—MABUSE, MATSYS, 1460-1530 OR 31.
In the Low Countries painting had very much the same history that it had in Italy, but the dates are later, and there may be a longer interval given to each stage of development. Religious painting, profuse in symbolism, with masses of details elaborately worked in, meets us in the first place. This style of painting reached its culmination, in which it included (as it did not include in its representation in the Italian pictures) many and varied excellencies, among them the establishment of painting in oil in the pictures of the Flemish family of painters—the Van Eycks.
Before going into the little that is known of the family history of the Van Eycks, I should like to call attention to the numerous painter families in the middle ages. What a union, and repose, and happy sympathy of art-life it indicates, which we appear to restlessness and separate interests of modern life. The Van Eycks consisted of no less than four members of a family, three brothers, Hubert, John, and Lambert, and one sister, Margaret, devoted, like her brothers, to her art. There is a suggestion that they belonged to a small village of Limburg called Eyck, and repaired to Bruges in order to pursue their art. Hubert was thirty years older than John, and it is said that he was a serious-minded man as well as an ardent painter, and belonged to the religious fraternity of our Lady of Ghent. He died in 1426. John, though of so much consideration in his profession as to be believed to be 'the Flemish Painter' sent by Duke Philip the Good of Flanders and Burgundy with a mission to Portugal to solicit the hand of a princess in marriage, is reported to have died very poor in 1449, and has the suspicion attached to him of having been a lover of pleasure and a spendthrift. Of Lambert, the third brother, almost nothing is known; indeed, the fact of his existence has only lately come to light. Margaret lived and died unmarried, and belonged, like her brother Hubert, to the religious society of our Lady of Ghent. She died about 1432.
The invention of painting in oil, for which the Van Eycks are commonly known, was not literally that of mixing colours with oil, which was occasionally done before their day. It was the combining oil with resin, so as to produce at once a good varnish, and avoid the necessity of drying pictures in the sun, a bright thought, which may stand in the same rank with the construction, by James Watt, of that valve which rendered practicable the application of steam to machinery. The thought, occasioned by the cracking of a picture in tempera exposed to the sun, is due to Hubert Van Eyck.
The great picture of the Van Eycks, which was worked at for a number of years by both Hubert and John, and, as some reckon, touched by the whole family, is the 'Adoration of the Lamb,' at St Bavon's, Ghent. I should like to give a faint idea of this extraordinary picture, which was painted for a burgomaster of Ghent and his wife in order to adorn their mortuary chapel in the cathedral. It was an altar piece on separate panels, now broken up and dispersed, only a portion of it being retained in Ghent.
It may strike some as strange that a picture should be on panels, but those of the old pictures which were not on plastered walls were commonly on panels, many of them on the lids and sides of chests and presses which were used to hold sacred vessels and priestly raiment.
When the wings of the Van Eycks' altar-piece of the 'Adoration of the Lamb' were opened on festivals, the subjects of the upper central picture were seen, consisting of the Triune God, a majestic figure, and at his side in stately calm the Virgin and the Baptist. On the inside of the wings were angels, at the two extremities Adam and Eve. The lower central picture shows the Lamb of the Revelation, whose blood flows into a cup; over it is the dove of the Holy Spirit. Angels, who hold the instruments of the Passion, worship the Lamb. Four groups of many persons advance from the sides, these are the holy martyrs, men and women, priests and laymen. In the foreground is the fountain of life; in the distance are the towers of the heavenly Jerusalem. On the wings other groups are coming up to adore the Lamb; on the left those who have laboured for the Kingdom of the Lord by worldly deeds—the soldiers of Christ led by St George, St Sebastian, and St Michael, the patron saints of the old Flemish guilds, followed by emperors and kings—a goodly company. Beyond the soldiers and princes, on the left, are the righteous judges, also on horseback. In front of them, on a splendidly caparisoned gray, rides a mild, benevolent old man in blue velvet trimmed with fur. This is the likeness of Hubert Van Eyck, painted after his death by his brother John, and John himself is in the group, clothed in black, with a shrewd, sharp countenance. On the self-renunciation have served the Lamb in the spirit, hermits and pilgrims, among them St Christopher, St Anthony, St Paul the hermit, Mary Magdalene, and St Mary of Egypt. A compartment underneath, which represented hell, finished the whole—yet only the whole on one side, for the wings when closed presented another series of finely thought-out and finished pictures—the Annunciation; figures of Micah and Zechariah; statues of the two St Johns, with the likenesses of the donors who gave to the world so great a work of art, kneeling humbly side by side, the burgomaster somewhat mean-looking in such company in spite of the proof of his liberality, but his wife noble enough in feature and expression to have been the originator of this glory of early Flemish painting. The upper part of the picture is painted on a gold ground, round the central figure of the Lamb is vivid green grass with masses of trees and flowers—indeed there is much lovely landscape no longer indicated by a rock or a bush, but betokening close observation of nature, whether in a fruitful valley, or a rocky defile, or mountain ridges with fleecy clouds overhead. The expression of the immense number of figures is as varied and characteristic as their grouping.
Hubert Van Eyck died while this work was in progress, and it was finished by his brother John six years after Hubert's death. When one thinks of the intense application and devotion which such a work costs, and recalls the bronze gates of St John that occupied Lorenzo Ghiberti 49 years, and when we read, as we shall read a few chapters farther on, of large paintings which were begun and ended in so many days—even so many hours, one can better understand what is the essential difference between the works of the early and the later painters, a difference which no skill, no power even can bridge over. John Van Eyck, who had lived late enough to have departed from the painting of sacred pictures alone, so that he left portraits and an otter hunt among his works, is three times represented in our National Gallery, in three greatly esteemed portraits, one a double portrait, believed to be the likenesses of the painter and his wife, standing hand in hand with a terrier dog at their feet.
Gossaert, called de Mabuse from his native town of Mabeuze, sometimes signing his name Joannes Malbodius, followed in the steps of the Van Eycks, particularly in his great picture of the 'Adoration of the Kings,' which is at Castle Howard, the seat of the Earl of Carlisle. Mabuse was in England and painted the children of Henry VII, in a picture, which is at Hampton Court. There is a picture in the palace of Holyrood, Edinburgh, which has been attributed to Mabuse. It represents on the sides of a triptych or diptych (somewhat like a folding screen) James III. and his queen with attendants. The fur on the queen's dress displays already that marvellous technical skill for which Flemish painting is so celebrated.
Hans Memling belonged to Bruges. There is a tradition of him, which is to a certain extent disproven, that he was a poor soldier relieved by the hospital of St John, Bruges, and that in gratitude he executed for the hospital the well-known reliquary of St Ursula. However it might have originated, this is the most noted work of a painter, who was distinguished frequently by his minute missal-like painting (he was also an illuminator of missals), in which he would introduce fifteen hundred small figures in a picture two feet eight inches, by six feet five inches in size, and work out every detail with the utmost niceness and care. The reliquary, or 'chasse,' is a wooden coffer or shrine about four feet in length, its style and form those of a rich Gothic church, its purpose to hold an arm of the saint. The whole exterior is covered with miniatures by Memling, nearly the whole of them giving incidents in the legendary history of St Ursula, a 'virgin princess of Brittany,' or of England, who, setting out with eleven thousand companions, her lover, and an escort of knights on a pilgrimage to Rome, was, with her whole company, met and murdered, by a horde of heathen Huns, when they had reached Cologne, on their return. My readers may be aware that the supposed bones of the virgins and St Ursula form the ghastly adornment of the church founded in her honour at Cologne. It is absolutely filled with bones, built into the walls, stowed under the pavement, ranged in glass cases about the choir. Hans Memling's is a pleasanter commemoration of St Ursula.
Quintin Matsys, the blacksmith of Antwerp, was born at Louvain about 1460. Though he worked first as a smith he is said by Kugler to have belonged to a family of painters, which somewhat takes from the romance, though it adds to the probability of his story. Another painter in Antwerp having offered the hand and dowry of his daughter—beloved by Quintin Matsys—as a prize to the painter who should paint the best picture in a competition for her hand, the doughty smith took up the art, entered the lists, and carried off the maiden and her portion from all his more experienced rivals. The vitality of the legend is indicated by the inscription on a tablet to the memory of Quintin Matsys in the Cathedral, Antwerp. The Latin inscription reads thus in English:
'Twas love connubial taught the smith to paint,'
Quintin Matsys lived and died a respected burgher of Antwerp, a member of the great Antwerp painters' guild of St Luke. He was twice married, and had thirteen children.
Whatever might have been his source of inspiration, Quintin Matsys was an apt scholar. His 'Descent from the Cross,' now in the Museum, Antwerp, was the 'Descent from the Cross,' and the picture in the Cathedral, until superseded by Rubens' masterpiece on the same subject. Still Quintin Matsys version remains, and is in some respects an unsurpassed picture. There is a traditional grouping of this Divine tragedy, and Quintin Matsys has followed the tradition. The body of the Lord is supported by two venerable old men—Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus—while the holy women anoint the wounds of the Saviour; the Virgin swooning with grief is supported by St John. The figures are full of individuality, and their action is instinct with pathos. For this picture Quintin Matsys—popular painter as he was—got only three hundred florins, equivalent to twenty-five pounds (although, of course, the value of money was much greater in those days). The Joiners' Company, for whom he painted the 'Descent from the Cross,' sold the picture to the City of Antwerp for five times the original amount, and it is said Queen Elizabeth offered the City nearly twenty times the first sum for it, in vain.
Quintin Matsys painted frequently half-length figures of the Virgin and Child, an example of which is in the National Gallery. He excelled in the 'figure painting' of familiar subjects, then just beginning to be established, affording a token of the direction which the future eminence of the Flemish painters would take. One of his famous pictures of this kind is 'The Misers,' in the Queen's collection at Windsor. Two figures in the Flemish costume of the time, are seated at a table; before them are a heap of money and a book, in which one is writing with his right hand, while he tells down the money with his left. The faces express craft and cupidity. The details of the ink-horn on the table, and the bird on its perch behind, have the Flemish graphic exactness.
IN EARLY SCHOOLS OF ITALIAN ART—THE BELLINI, 1422-1512—MANTEGNA, 1431-1506—GHIRLANDAJO, 1449-1498—IL FRANCIA, 1450-1518—FRA BARTOLOMMEO, 1469-1517—ANDREA DEL SARTO, 1488-1530.
I have come to the period when Italian art is divided into many schools—Paduan, Venetian, Umbrian, Florentine, Roman, Bolognese, etc., etc. With the schools and their definitions I do not mean to meddle, except it may be to mention to which school a great painter belonged. Another difficulty meets me here. I have been trying so far as I could to give the representative painters in the order of time. I can no longer follow this rule strictly, and the grouping of this chapter is made on the principle of leading my readers up by some of the predecessors who linked the older to the later Italian painters, and by some of the contemporaries of these later painters, to that central four, Lionardo da Vinci, Michael Angelo, Raphael, and Titian, who occupy so great a place in the history of art.
In the brothers Bellini and their native Venice, we must first deal with that excellence of colouring for which the Venetian painters were signally noted, while they comparatively neglected and underrated drawing. A somewhat fanciful theory has been started, that as Venice, Holland, and England have been distinguished for colour in art, and as all those States are by the sea, so a sea atmosphere has something to do with a passion for colour. Within more reasonable bounds, in reference to the Venetians, is the consideration that no colouring is richer, mellower, more exquisitely tinted than that which belongs to the blue Italian sky over the blue Adriatic, with those merged shades of violet, green, and amber, and that magical soft haze which has to do with a moist climate.
The two brothers Gentile and Gian or John Bellini, the latter the more famous of the two, were the sons of an old Venetian painter, with regard to whom the worthy speech is preserved, that he said it was like the Tuscans for son to beat father, and he hoped, in God's name, that Giovanni or Gian would outstrip him, and Gentile, the elder, outstrip both. The brothers worked together and were true and affectionate brothers, encouraging and appreciating each other.
Gentile was sent by the Doge at the request of the Sultan—either Mahommed II, or Bajazet II., to Constantinople, where Gentile Bellini painted the portrait of the Sultan and the Sultana his mother, now in the British Museum. The painter also painted the head of John the Baptist in a charger as an offering—only too suitable—from him to the Grand Turk. The legend goes on to tell that in the course of the presentation of the gift, an incident occurred which induced Gentile Bellini to quit the Ottoman Court with all haste. The Sultan had criticized the appearance of the neck in John the Baptist's severed head, and when Gentile ventured to defend his work, the Sultan proceeded to prove the correctness of his criticism, by drawing his scimitar and cutting off at a stroke the head of a kneeling slave, and pointing to the spouting blood and the shrinking muscle, gave the horrified painter a lesson in practical anatomy. On Gentile's return from the East, he was pensioned by his State, and lived on painting, till he was eighty years of age, dying in 1501.
Gian Bellini is said to have obtained by a piece of deceit, which is not in keeping with his manly and honourable character, the secret, naturally coveted by a Venetian, of mixing colours with resin and oil. A Venetian painter had brought the secret from Flanders, and communicated it to a friend, who, in turn, communicated it to a third painter, and was murdered by that third painter for his pains, so greedy and criminal was the craving, not only to possess, but to be as far as possible the sole possessor of, the grand discovery. Gian Bellini was much less guilty, if he were really guilty. Disguised as a Venetian nobleman, he proposed to sit for his portrait to that Antonella who first brought the secret from Flanders, and while Antonella worked with unsuspicious openness, Gian Bellini watched the process and stole the secret.
Gian Bellini lived to the age of ninety, and had among his admirers the poet Ariosto and Albrecht Duerer. The latter saw Gian Bellini in his age, and said of him, when foolish mockers had risen up to scout at the old man, and his art now become classic, 'He is very old, but he is still the best of our painters.' Gian Bellini had illustrious pupils, including in their number Titian and Giorgione.
The portraits of Gentile and Gian, which are preserved in a painting by Gian, show Gentile fair-complexioned and red-haired, and Gian with dark hair.
Gian Bellini is considered to have been less gifted with imagination than some of his great brother artists; but he has proved himself a man of high moral sense, and while he stopped short at the boundary between the seen and the unseen, it is certain he must still have painted with much of 'the divine patience' and devout consecration of all his powers, and of every part of his work, which are the attributes of the earliest Italian painters. When he and his brother began to paint, Venetian art had already taken its distinctive character for open-air effects, rich scenic details in architecture, furniture and dress (said to be conspicuous in commercial communities), and a growing tendency to portraiture. Gian went with the tide, but he guided it to noble results. His simplicity and good sense, with his purity and dignity of mind, were always present. He introduced into his pictures 'singing boys, dancing cherubs, glittering thrones, and dewy flowers,' pressing the outer world into his service and that of religious art. It is said also that his Madonnas seem 'amiable beings imbued with a lofty grace;' while his saints are 'powerful and noble forms.' But he never descended to the paltry or the vulgar. He knew from the depths of his own soul how to invest a face with moral grandeur. Especially in his representations of our Saviour Gian Bellini 'displays a perception of moral power and grandeur seldom equalled in the history of art.' The example given is that of the single figure of the Lord in the Dresden Gallery, where the Son of God, without nimbus, or glory, stands forth as the 'ideal of elevated humanity.'
The greater portion of Gian Bellini's pictures remain in the churches and galleries of Venice. But the first great work at which the two brothers in their youth worked in company—the painting of the Hall of Council in the palace of the Doge, with a series of historical and legendary pictures of the Venetian wars with the Emperor Frederick Barbarossa (1177), including the Doge Ziani's receiving from the Pope the gold ring with which the Doge espoused the Adriatic, in token of perpetual dominion over the sea—was unfortunately destroyed by fire in 1577. Giovanni Bellini's greatest work, now at St Salvatore, is Christ at Emmaus, with Venetian senators and a Turkish dragoman introduced as spectators of the risen Lord.
Of another great work at Vicenza, painted in Gian Bellini's old age, when neither his skill nor his strength was abated, 'The Baptism of Christ,' Dean Alford writes thus:
'Let us remain long and look earnestly, for there is indeed much to be seen. That central figure, standing with hands folded on His bosom, so gentle, so majestic, so perfect in blameless humanity, oh what labour of reverent thought; what toil of ceaseless meditation; what changes of fair purpose, oscillating into clearest vision of ideal truth, must it have cost the great painter, before he put forth that which we see now! It is as impossible to find aught but love and majesty in the Divine countenance, as it is to discover a blemish on the complexion of that body, which seems to give forth light from itself, as He stands in obedience, fulfilling all righteousness.
'And even on the accessories to this figure, we see the same loving and reverent toil bestowed. The cincture, where alone the body is hidden from view, is no web of man's weaving; or, if it were, it is of hers whose heart was full of divine thoughts as she wove: so bright and clear is the tint, so exquisitely careful and delicate every fold where light may play or colour vary. And look under the sacred feet, on the ground blessed by their pressure; no dash of hurrying brush has been there: less than a long day's light, eve, did not suffice to give in individual shape and shade every minutest pebble and mote of that shore of Jordan. Every one of them was worth painting, for we are viewing them as in the light of His presence who made them all and knew them all.
'And now let us pass to the other figures: to that living and glowing angelic group in the left hand of the picture. Three of the heavenly host are present, variously affected by that which they behold. The first, next the spectator, in the corner of the picture, is standing in silent adoration, tender and gentle in expression, the hands together, but only the points of the fingers touching, his very reverence being chastened by angelic modesty; the second turns on that which he sees a look of earnest inquiry, but kneels as he looks; and indeed that which he sees is one of the things which angels desire to look into. The third, a majestic herald-like figure, stands, as one speaking, looking to the spectator, with his right hand on his garment, and his left out as in demonstration, unmistakeably saying to us who look on, "Behold what love is here!" Then, hardly noticing what might well be much noticed, the grand dark figure of the Baptist on the right, let us observe how beautifully and accurately all the features of the landscape are given.'
Of the same work another critic records: 'The attendant angels in this work (signed by the artist) are of special interest, instinct with an indefinable purity and depth of reverential tenderness elsewhere hardly rivalled. But the picture, like that in S. Giovanni Crisostomo, with which it is nearly contemporary, is almost more interesting from the astonishing truth and beauty of its landscape portions. These form here a feature more important, perhaps, than in any work of that period; the stratification and form of the rocks in the foreground, the palms and other trees relieved against the lucid distance, and the mountain-ranges of tender blue beyond, are as much beyond praise for their beauty and their truth, as they have been beyond imitation from the solidity and transparent strength of their execution! The minute finish is Nature's, and the colouring more gem-like than gems.'
No praise can exceed that bestowed on Gian Bellini's colouring for its intensity and transparency. 'Many of his draperies are like crystal of the clearest and deepest colour,' declares an authority; and another states' his best works have a clear jewel brightness, an internal gem-like fire such as warms a summer twilight. The shadows are intense and yet transparent, like the Adriatic waves when they lie out of the sun under the palace bridges.'
Portrait-painting, just beginning, was established in Venice, its later stronghold, by Gian Bellini. His truthful portrait of the Doge Loredano, one of the earliest of that series of Doges' portraits which once hung in state in the ducal palace, is now in our National Gallery.
Of Gentile Bellini, whose work was softer, but less vigorous than his brother's, the best painting extant is that at Milan of St Mark preaching at Alexandria, in which the painter showed how he had profited by his residence at Constantinople in the introduction of much rich Turkish costume, and of an animal unknown to Europe at the time—a camelopard.
Andrea Mantegna was born near Padua. He was the son of a farmer. His early history, according to tradition, is very similar to that of Giotto. Just as Cimabue adopted Giotto, Squarcione, a painter who had travelled in Italy and Greece, and made a great collection of antiques, from which he taught in a famous school of painters, adopted Andrea Mantegna at the early age of ten years. It was long believed that Mantegna, in the end, forfeited the favour of his master by marrying Nicolosa Bellini, the sister of Gentile and Gian Bellini, whose father was the great rival of Squarcione; and farther, that Mantegna's style of painting had been considered Bellini. Modern researches, which have substituted another surname for that of Bellini as the surname of Andrea Mantegna's wife, contradict this story.
Andrea Mantegna, a man of much energy and fancy, entered young into the service of the Gonzaga lords of Mantua, receiving from them a salary of thirty pounds a year and a piece of land, on which the painter built a house, and painted it within and without—the latter one of the first examples of artistic waste, followed later by Tintoret and Veronese, regardless of the fact that painting could not survive in the open air of Northern Italy.
Andrea Mantegna had his home at Mantua, except when he was called to Rome to paint for the Pope, Innocent VIII. An anecdote is told by Mrs Jameson of this commission. It seems the Pope's payments were irregular; and one day when he visited his painter at work, and his Holiness asked the meaning of a certain allegorical female figure in the design, Andrea answered, with somewhat audacious point, that he was trying to represent Patience. The Pope, understanding the allusion, paid the painter in his own coin, by remarking in reply, 'If you would place Patience in fitting company, you would paint Discretion at her side.' Andrea took the hint, said no more, and when his work was finished not only received his money, but was munificently rewarded.
Andrea Mantegna had two sons and a daughter. One of his sons painted with his father, and, after Andrea Mantegna's death, completed some of his pictures.
Andrea Mantegna's early study of antique sculpture moulded his whole life's work. He took great delight in modelling, in perspective, of which he made himself a master, and in chiaroscuro, or light and shade. Had his powers of invention and grace not kept pace with his skill, he would have been a stiff and formal worker; as it was, he carried the austerity of sculpture into painting, and his greatest work, the 'Triumph of Julius Caesar,' would have been better suited for the chiselled frieze of a temple than it is for the painted frieze of the hall of a palace. Yet he was a great leader and teacher in art, and the true proportions of his drawing are grand, if his colouring is harsh. I am happy to say that Mantegna's 'Triumph of Julius Caesar' is in England at Hampton Court, having been bought from the Duke of Mantua by Charles I. These cartoons, nine in number, are sketches in water-colour or distemper on paper fixed on cloth. They are faded and dilapidated, as they well may be, considering the slightness of the materials and their age, about four hundred years. At the same time, they are, after the cartoons of Raphael (which formed part of the same art collection of Charles I.), perhaps the most valuable and interesting relic of art in England.
The series of the 'Triumph' contain the different parts, originally separated by pillars, of a long and splendid procession. There are trumpeters and standard bearers, the statues of the gods borne aloft, battering-rams and heaps of glittering armour, trophies of conquest in huge vases filled with coin, garlanded oxen, and elephants. The second last of the series, presents the ranks of captives forming part of the show, rebellious men, submissive women, and unconscious children—a moving picture. In the last of the series comes the great conqueror in his chariot, a youth in the crowd following him, carrying his banner, on which is inscribed Caesar's notable despatch, 'Veni, vidi, vici;' 'I came, I saw, I conquered.'
Another of Mantegna's best pictures is in distemper—in which, and on fresco, Mantegna chiefly painted,—and is in the Louvre, Paris. It is the Madonna of Victory, so called from its being painted to commemorate the deliverance of Italy from the French army under Charles VIII., a name which has acquired a sardonic meaning from the ultimate destination of the picture. This picture—which represents the Virgin and Child on a throne, in an arbour of fruit and flowers, between the archangels, Michael and St Maurice, in complete armour, with the patron saints of Mantua and the infant St John in the front, and the Marquis Ludovico of Mantua and his wife, Isabella D'Este, kneeling to return thanks—was painted by Mantegna at the age of seventy years; and, as if the art of the man had mellowed with time, it is the softest and tenderest of his pictures in execution. A beautiful Madonna of Mantegna's, still later in time, is in the National Gallery.
When Mantegna was sixty years old he took up the art of engraving, and prosecuted it with zeal and success, being one of the earliest painters who engraved his own pictures, and this accomplishment spread them abroad a hundredfold.
Domenico Ghirlandajo was properly Domenico Bicordi, but inherited from his father, a goldsmith in Florence, the by-name of Ghirlandajo or Garland-maker—a distinctive appellation said to have been acquired by the elder man from his skill in making silver garlands for the heads of Florentine women and children. Domenico Ghirlandajo worked at his father's craft till he was twenty-four years of age, when, having in the mean time evinced great cleverness in taking the likenesses of the frequenters of Ghirlandajo the elder's shop, the future painter abandoned the goldsmith's trade for art pure and simple. He soon vindicated the wisdom of the step which he had taken by giving proofs of something of the strength of Masaccio, united with a reflection of the feeling of Fra Angelico.
Ghirlandajo was summoned soon to Rome to paint in the Sistine Chapel, afterwards to be so glorious; but his greatest works were done in the prime of his manhood, in his native city, Florence, where he was chosen as the teacher of Michael Angelo, who was apprenticed to Ghirlandajo for three years.
While still in the flower of his age and crowned with golden opinions, being, it is said with effusion, 'the delight of his city,' Ghirlandajo died after a short illness, in Ghirlandajo's time Florence had reached her meridian, and her citizens outvied each other in the magnificence of their gifts to their fair mother city. Ghirlandajo was fitted to be their painter; himself a generous-spirited artist, in the exuberance of life and power, he wished that his fellow-citizens would give him all the walls of the city to cover with frescoes. He was content with the specified sum for his painting, desiring more the approbation of his employers than additional crowns. His genius lying largely in the direction of portrait painting, he introduced frequently the portraits of contemporaries, causing them to figure as spectators of his sacred scenes. One of these contemporaries thus presented, was Amerigo Vespucci, who was to give his name to a continent. Another was a Florentine beauty, a woman of rank, Ginevra de Benci.
Ghirlandajo was lavish in his employment of rich Florentine costumes and architecture. He even made the legends of the saints and the histories of the Bible appear as if they had happened under the shadow of Brunelleschi's duomo and Giotto's campanile, and within sound of the flow of the Arno. In the peculiar colouring used in fresco painting Ghirlandajo excelled.
He painted a chapel for a Florentine citizen, Francesco Sasetti, in the church of the Trinita, Florence, with scenes from the life of St Francis. Of these, the death of St Francis, surrounded by the sorrowing monks of his order, with the figures of Francesco Sasetti and his wife, Madonna Nera, on one side of the picture, is considered the best. As a curious illustration of the modernizing practice of Ghirlandajo, he has painted an old priest at the foot of the bier, chanting the litanies for the dying, with spectacles on his nose, the earliest known representation of these useful instruments.
Ghirlandajo painted during four years the choir of the church of Santa Maria Novella, Florence, for one of the great Florentine benefactors, Giovanni Tornabuone, and there are to be seen some of Ghirlandajo's finest frescoes from the history of John the Baptist and the Virgin.
A Madonna and Child with angels in the National Gallery is attributed to Ghirlandajo.
Francesco Francia, or Il Francia, was born at Bologna, and was the son of a carpenter, whose surname was Raibaloni, but Francesco assumed the name of his master, a goldsmith, and worked himself at a goldsmith's trade till he was forty years of age. Indeed he may be said never to have relinquished his connection with the trade, and certainly he was no more ashamed of it than of his calling as a painter, for he signed himself indiscriminately 'goldsmith' and 'painter,' and sometimes whimsically put 'goldsmith' to his paintings and 'painter' to his jewellery. He was a famous designer of dies for coins and medals, and it is quite probable, as a countryman of his own has sought to prove, that he was the celebrated type-cutter, known as 'Francesco da Bologna.' But it is with Francesco 'pictor' that we have to do.
Though he only began to prosecute the painter's art in middle age, he rose with remarkable rapidity to eminence, was the great painter of Lombardy in his day, rivalling Squarcione, Mantegna's teacher in his school, which numbered two hundred scholars, and becoming the founder of the early Bolognese school of painters.
Francia is said to have been very handsome in person, with a kindly disposition and an agreeable manner. He was on terms of cordial friendship with Raphael, then in his youth, and thirty years Il Francia's junior. Il Francia addressed an enthusiastic sonnet to Raphael, and there is extant a letter of Raphael's to Il Francia, excusing himself for not sending his friend Raphael's portrait, and making an exchange of sketches, that of his 'Nativity' for the drawing of Il Francia's 'Judith;' while it was to Il Francia's care that Raphael committed his picture of St Cecilia, when it was first sent to Bologna. These relations between the men and their characters throw discredit on the tradition that Il Francia died from jealous grief caused by the sight of Raphael's 'St Cecilia.' As Il Francia was seventy years of age at the time of his death, one may well attribute it to physical causes. Il Francia had at least one son, and another kinsman, painters, whose paintings were so good as to be occasionally confounded with those of Il Francia.
Il Francia is thought to have united, in his works, a certain calm sedateness and frank sincerity to the dreamy imaginativeness of some of his contemporaries. His finest works are considered to be the frescoes from the life of St Cecilia in the church of St Cecilia at Bologna.
Of a Madonna and Child, by Francia, at Bologna, I shall write down another of Dean Alford's descriptions,—many of which I have given for this, among other reasons, that these descriptions are not technical or professional, but the expression of the ardent admiration and grateful comprehension of a sympathetic spectator. 'He,' speaking of the Divine Child, 'is lying in simple nakedness on a rich red carpet, and is supported by a white pillar, over which the carpet passes. Of these accessories every thread is most delicately and carefully painted; no slovenly washes of meretricious colour where He is to be served, before whom all things are open; no perfunctory sparing of toil in serving Him who has given us all that is best. On his right hand kneels the Virgin Mother in adoration, her very face a magnificat—praise, lowliness, confidence; next to her, Joseph, telling by his looks the wonderful story, deeply but simply. Two beautiful angels kneel, one on either side—hereafter, perhaps, to kneel in like manner in the tomb. Their faces seemed to me notable for that which I have no doubt the painter intended to express,—the pure abstraction of reverent adoration, unmingled with human sympathies. The face and figure of the Divine Infant are full of majesty, as he holds his hands in blessing towards the spectator, who symbolizes the world which He has come to save. Close to him on the ground, on his right branch in trustful repose; on his left springs a plant of the meadow-trefoil. Thus lightly and reverently has the master touched the mystery of the Blessed Trinity: the goldfinch symbolizing by its colours, the trefoil by the form of its leaf.'
In our own National Gallery is a picture by Il Francia of the enthroned Virgin and Child and her mother, St Anne, who is presenting a peach to the infant Christ; at the foot of the throne is the little St John; to the right and left are St Paul with the sword, St Sebastian bound to a pillar and pierced with arrows, and St Lawrence with the emblematical grid-iron, etc. etc. Opposite this picture hangs, what once formed part of it, a solemn, sorrowful Pieta, as the Italians call a picture representing the dead Redeemer mourned over by the Virgin and by the other holy women. These pictures were bought by our Government from the Duke of Lucca for three thousand five hundred pounds.
Fra Bartolommeo. We come to a second gentle monk, not unlike Fra Angelico in his nature, but far less happy than Fra Angelico, in having been born in stormy times. Fra Bartolommeo, called also Baccio della Porta, or Bartholomew of the gate, from the situation of his lodgings when a young man, but scarcely known in Italy by any other name than that of Il Frate, or the Friar, was born near Florence, and trained from his boyhood to be a painter. In his youth, however, a terrible public event convulsed Florence, and revolutionized Baccio della Porta's life. He had been employed to paint in that notable Dominican convent of St Mark, where Savonarola, its devoted friar, was denouncing the sins of the times, including the profligate luxury of the nobles and the degradation of the representatives of the Church. Carried away by the fervour and sincerity of the speaker, Baccio joined the enthusiasts who cast into a burning pile the instruments of pride, vanity, and godless intellect denounced by the preacher. Baccio's sacrifice to the flaming heap of splendid furniture and dress, and worldly books, was all his designs from profane subjects and studies of the undraped figure. A little later Savonarola was excommunicated by the Pope and perished as a martyr; and Baccio, timid from his natural temper, distracted by doubt, and altogether horror-stricken, took a monk's vows, and entered the same convent of St Mark, where for four years he never touched a pencil.
At the request of his superior Fra Bartolommeo painted again, and when Raphael visited Florence, and came with all his conquering sweetness and graciousness to greet the monk in his cell, something of Il Frate's old love for his art, and delight in its exercise, returned. He even visited Rome, but there his health failed him, and the great works of Lionardo, Michael Angelo, and Raphael, when he compared his own with theirs, seemed to crush and overwhelm him. But he painted better for his visit to Rome, even as he had painted better for his intimacy with Raphael. Nay, it is said Raphael himself painted better on account of his brotherly regard for, and confidence in, Fra Bartolommeo.
Fra Bartolommeo died aged forty-eight years. Among his best pupils was a nun of St Catherine's, known as Suor Plautilla.
To Il Frate, as a painter, is attributed great softness and harmony, and even majesty, though, like Fra Angelico, he was often deficient in strength. He was great in the management of draperies, for the better study of which he is said to have invented the lay figure. He indulged in the introduction into his pictures of rich architecture. He was fond of painting boy-angels—in which he excelled—playing frequently on musical instruments, or holding a canopy over the Virgin. Very few of his works are out of Italy; the most are in Florence, especially in the Pitti Palace. His two greatest works are the Madonna della Misericordia, or the Madonna of Mercy, at Lucca, where the Virgin stands with outstretched arms pleading for the suppliants, whom she shelters under the canopy, and who look to her as she looks to her Son,—and the grand single figure of St Mark, with his Gospel in his hand, in the Pitti Palace, Florence. Sir David Wilkie said of the Madonna of Mercy, 'that it contained the merits of Raphael, of Titian, of Rembrandt, and of Rubens.'
Andrea Vanucchi, commonly called Andrea del Sarto, from the occupation of his father, who was a tailor (in Italian, sarto), was born at Florence in 1488. He was first a goldsmith, but soon turned painter, winning early the commendatory title of 'Andrea senza errori,' or 'Andrea the Faultless.' His life is a miserable and tragic history. In the early flush of his genius and industry, with its just crown of fame and success, he conceived a passion for a beautiful but worthless woman, whom, in spite of the opposition of his friends, he married. She rendered his home degraded and wretched, and his friends and scholars fell off from him. In disgust he quitted Florence, and entered the service of Francis I, of France; but his wife, for whom his regard was a desperate infatuation, imperiously summoned him back to Florence, to which he returned, bringing with him a large sum of money, entrusted to him by the king for the purchase of works of art. Instigated by his wife, Andrea del Sarto used this money for his, or rather her, purposes, and dared not return to France. Even in his native Florence he was loaded with reproach and shame. He died of the plague at the age of fifty-five years, according to tradition, plundered and abandoned in his extremity by the base woman for whom he had sacrificed principle and honour. We may read the grievous story of Andrea del Sarto, written by one of the greatest of England's modern poets.
As may be imagined, Andrea del Sarto's excellence lay in the charm of his execution. His works were deficient in earnestness and high feeling, and some will have it, that, evilly haunted as he was, he perpetually painted in his Madonnas the beautiful but base-souled face of the woman who ruined him. Andrea del Sarto's best works are in Florence, particularly in the cloisters of the convent of the Annunziata. In the court of the same convent is his famous Riposo (or rest of the Holy Family on their way to Egypt), which is known as the 'Madonna of the Sack,' from the circumstance of Joseph in the picture leaning against a sack. This picture has held a high place in art for hundreds of years.
LIONARDO DA VINCI, 1452-1519—MICHAEL ANGELO, 1475-1564—RAPHAEL, 1483-1520—TITIAN, 1477-1566.
We have arrived at the triumph of art, not, indeed, in unconsciousness and devotion, but in fulness and completeness, as shown in the works of four of the greatest painters and men whom the world ever saw. Of the first, Lionardo da Vinci, born at Vinci in the neighbourhood of Florence, 1452, it may be said that the many-sidedness which characterized Italians—above all Italians of his day—reached its height in him. Not only was he a painter, a sculptor, an architect, and engineer, but also one of the boldest speculators of the generation which gave birth to Columbus, and was not less original and ingenious than he was universally accomplished—an Admirable Crichton among painters. There is a theory that this many-sidedness is a proof of the greatest men, indicating a man who might have been great in any way, who, had his destiny not found and left him a painter, would have been equally great as a philosopher, a man of science, a poet, or a statesman. It may be so; but the life of Lionardo tends also to illustrate the disadvantage of too wide a grasp and diffusion of genius. Beginning much and finishing little, not because he was idle or fickle, but because his schemes were so colossal and his aims so high, he spent his time in preparation for the attainment of perfect excellence, which eluded him. Lionardo was the pioneer, the teacher of others, rather than the complete fulfiller of his own dreams; and the life of the proud, passionate man was, to him self mortification. This result might, in a sense, have been avoided; but Lionardo, great as he was, proved also one of those unfortunate men whose noblest efforts are met and marred by calamities which could have hardly been foreseen or prevented.
Lionardo da Vinci was the son of a notary, and early showed a taste for painting as well as for arithmetic and mathematics. He was apprenticed to a painter, but he also sedulously studied physics. He is said, indeed, to have made marvellous guesses at truth, in chemistry, botany, astronomy, and particularly, as helping him in his art, anatomy. He was, according to other accounts, a man of noble person, like Ghirlandajo. And one can scarcely doubt this who looks at Lionardo's portrait painted by himself, or at any engraving from it, and remarks the grand presence of the man in his cap and furred cloak; his piercing wistful eyes; stately outline of nose; and sensitive mouth, unshaded by his magnificent flowing beard.
He was endowed with surprising bodily strength, and was skilled in the knightly exercises of riding, fencing, and dancing. He was a lover of social pleasure, and inclined to indulge in expensive habits. While a lad he amused himself by inventing machines for swimming, diving, and flying, as well as a compass, a hygrometer, etc. etc. In a combination from the attributes of the toads, lizards, bats, etc. etc., with which his studies in natural history had made him familiar, he painted a nondescript monster, which he showed suddenly to his father, whom it filled with horror. But the horror did not prevent the old lawyer selling the wild phantasmagoria for a large sum of money. As something beyond amusement, Lionardo planned a canal to unite Florence with Pisa (while he executed other canals in the course of his life), and suggested the daring but not impossible idea of raising en masse, by means of levers, the old church of San Giovanni, Florence, till it should stand several feet above its original level, and so get rid of the half-sunken appearance which destroyed the effect of the fine old building. He visited the most frequented places, carrying always with him his sketch-book, in which to note down his observations; he followed criminals to execution in order to witness the pangs of despair; he invited peasants to his house and told them laughable stories, that he might pick up from their faces the essence of comic expression. A mania for truth—alike in great and little things—possessed him.
Lionardo entered young into the service of the Gonzaga family of Milan, being, according to one statement, chosen for the office which he was to fill, as the first singer in improvisatore of his time (among his other inventions he devised a peculiar kind of lyre). He showed no want of confidence in asserting his claims to be elected, for after declaring the various works he would undertake, he added with regard to painting—'I can do what can be done, as well as any man, be he who he may.' He received from the Duke a salary of five hundred crowns a year. He was fourteen years at the court of Milan, where, among other works, he painted his 'Cenacolo,' or 'Last Supper,' one of the grandest pictures ever produced. He painted it, contrary to the usual practice, in oils upon the plastered walls of the refectory of the Dominican convent, Milan. The situation was damp, and the material used proved so unsuitable for work on plaster, that, even before it was exposed to the reverses which in the course of a French occupation of Milan converted the refectory into a stable, the colours had altogether faded, and the very substance of the picture was crumbling into ruin.